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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Training Spinal Cord Cells

Training Spinal Cord Cells.

With the help of an assistant the lecturer made plain the state of a man who is an inmate of Sea-cliff As the result, of a severe fright coming at the end of a period of heavy drink-fag the cells of this man's brain lost the power of registering any new memories that would last for more than ten minutes, although he retains his old memory of things that happened and were registered before the change in his brain took place. Though be has been in close association with Dr king for eighteen years, this man never bows him and never learns anything, because he has no proper physical basis for memory. But he has reason, and uses it. If he is asked the hour of day or the time of year he looks about him and reasons it at before he answers. In the latter case he would probably look out of the window and say. "Well," friend, I think it'll be spring." Ask him why he thinks so, and he will say: "Well,'I see the bulbs in flower," or something of that sort. Now comes the part, of the story that sounds like miracle-working when you hear it first. Dr King has taught a new memory to this man's spinal cord. He started by handing the blighted man a pair of Indian clubs. "Do you know what those are?" "No, friend, I don't." "Never seen them before, "No."—" But surely you know what they are" "Well, they're pieces of wood, friend." And so it went on. How could such a man, who had no power of recollecting, be taught anything? The doctor concluded that it was the highest brain cells alone that had seriously suffered, and that the more primitive and resistive lower brain and spinal cord cells might be more or less sound. Then he began to have his patient instructed in the art of club-swinging. The patient tried to follow the movements of his instructor, but at first was as clumsy and awkward as any middle-aged man would be on trying to perform entirely new motions. However, day by day and week by week he improved, though he never acquired any knowledge of what the clubs were or what they were for. Without his instructor to give the spinal cord the cue he was as powerless to conceive what the clubs were for or to use them as when they were first brought under his notice. Yet at the end of a month this man, when started by the example before him, could swing his clubs quite well—the servant was trained, but not the master. This meant that an actual change had been wrought in the cells of the lower brain and spinal cord, though the man never realised himself anything regarding his new accomplishment. The man had got a kind of technical education in spite of himself. Here, indeed, was a bright light on a most important matter.