Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/93

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The three pairs of canals would have as sole function to tell us that space has three dimensions. Japanese mice have only two pairs of canals; they believe, it would seem, that space has only two dimensions, and they manifest this opinion in the strongest way; they put themselves in a circle, and, so ordered, they spin rapidly around. The lampreys, having only one pair of canals, believe that space has only one dimension, but their manifestations are less turbulent.

It is evident that such a theory is inadmissible. The sense-organs are designed to tell us of changes which happen in the exterior world. We could not understand why the Creator should have given us organs destined to cry without cease: Remember that space has three dimensions, since the number of these three dimensions is not subject to change.

We must, therefore, come back to the thory of Mach-Delage. What the nerves of the canals can tell us is the difference of pressure on the two extremities of the same canal, and thereby: (1) the direction of the vertical with regard to three axes rigidly bound to the head; (2) the three components of the acceleration of translation of the center of gravity of the head; (3) the centrifugal forces developed by the rotation of the head; (4) the acceleration of the motion of rotation of the head.

It follows from the experiments of M. Delage that it is this last indication which is much the most important; doubtless because the nerves are less sensible to the difference of pressure itself than to the brusque variations of this difference. The first three indications may thus be neglected.

Knowing the acceleration of the motion of rotation of the head at each instant, we deduce from it, by an unconscious integration, the final orientation of the head, referred to a certain initial orientation taken as origin. The circular canals contribute, therefore, to inform us of the movements that we have executed, and that on the same ground as the muscular sensations. When, therefore, above we speak of the series or of the series , we should say, not that these were series of muscular sensations alone, but that they were series at the same time of muscular sensations due to the semicircular canals. Apart from this addition, we should have nothing to change in what precedes.

In the series and , these sensations of the semicircular canals evidently hold a very important place. Yet alone they would not suffice, because they can tell us only of the movements of the head; they tell us nothing of the relative movements of the body, or of the members in regard to the head. And more, it seems that they tell us only of the rotations of the head and not of the translations it may undergo.