Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/65

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61
UNIVERSITY REFORMS

ever there was any obstruction to the drawing in of air through the nasal passages it was extremely difficult for the individual, thus afflicted, to focus his attention for any considerable length of time upon any one subject. Since the days of Krishaber, great numbers of other physical causes have been found which, if not removed, may greatly impair the dynamic power of the attention even if the cause is slight. The general irritability and fretfulness of children with defective vision or enlarged tonsils, the malaise and apparent laziness so frequently a symptom of anæmia or neurasthenic states, the emotional outbreaks of temper, the destructiveness, the grimacing and the tics of St. Vitus' dance, the abnormal imagination, the tendency to lying, precocity and self-centeredness in hysteria, are symptoms which, if exaggerated, should be regarded as signs of immediate danger to the individual, but even when less pronounced they often become the danger signals indicating a serious but slow degeneration in the mental and moral development of the child. The important point to be born in mind in this connection is that an almost inappreciable defect in the mental activity of an individual, if persistent for a long period of years, may ultimately result in profound changes of the entire personality. This is not only true in regard to defects in capacity for attention, but is equally true in regard to the still more important functions of feeling and will. As an example we may cite the popular conception, to which expression is so frequently given, that a young man should not work too hard during his university days. This notion takes no cognizance of the fact that the sloppy mental processes following a protracted period of mental inactivity make it impossible later for the individual to direct his own thoughts. One of the chief lessons taught by modern psychiatry is that the persons the most subject to mental disturbances are those who early in life have failed to form good mental habits. Individuals do not break down as the result of hard work, but failure comes from the inability to adapt their mental processes to the new conditions in which they have frequently been cast and by the sudden strain put upon the brain whose functions have deteriorated through inactivity. The attempt of the indolent to find an intellectual justification for their sins of omission is in direct opposition to the doctrines of physiology, which teach us that the strength of any organ is increased by the proper exercise of its functions. This is a lesson which should be taught to students in our universities, and a few hints should at the same time be given as to the methods of work to be adopted, after which the students should be encouraged to go forward themselves.

The importance of emphasizing the cultivation of a healthy initiative in thought, as well as action, is a subject upon which there is apparently little opportunity for disagreement among intelligent persons; and yet many forces operating at present are antagonistic to the de-