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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/380

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374
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

STUFFY ROOMS[1]
By LEONARD HILL, M.B., F.R.S.

LAST year the distinguished president of this section raised lis to the contemplation of the workings of the soul. I ask you to accompany me in the consideration of nothing higher than a stuffy room. Every one thinks that he suffers in an ill-ventilated room owing to some change in the chemical quality of the air, be it want of oxygen, or excess of carbon dioxide, the addition of some exhaled organic poison, or the destruction of some subtle property by passage of the air over steam-coils, or other heating or conducting apparatus. We hear of "devitalized" or "dead" air, and of "tinned" ox "potted" air of the battleship. The good effects of open-air treatment, sea and mountain air, are no less generally ascribed to the chemical purity of the air. In reality the health-giving properties are those of temperature, light, movement and relative moisture of the surrounding atmosphere, and leaving on one side those gross chemical impurities which arise in mines and in some manufacturing processes, and the question of bacterial infection, the alterations in chemical composition of the air in buildings where people crowd together and suffer from the effects of ill-ventilation have nothing to do with the causation of these effects.

Satisfied with the maintenance of a specious standard of chemical purity, the public has acquiesced in the elevation of sky-scrapers and the sinking of cavernous places of business. Many have thus become cave-dwellers, confined for most of their waking and sleeping hours in windless places, artificially lit, monotonously warmed. The sun is cut off by the shadow of tall buildings and by smoke—the sun, the energizer of the world, the giver of all things which bring joy to the heart of man, the fitting object of worship of our forefathers. The ventilating and heating engineer hitherto has followed a great illusion in thinking that the main objects to be attained in our dwellings and places of business are chemical purity of the air and a uniform draughtless summer temperature.

Life is the reaction of the living substance to the ceaseless play of the environment. Biotic energy arises from the transformation of those other forms of energy—heat, light, sound, etc.—which beat upon the transformer—the living substance (B. Moore). Thus, when all

  1. Address of the president to the Physiological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Dundee, 1912.