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A Handbook of Health by Woods Hutchinson

When this message reached the brain


This

weeping and rocking yourself backward and forward and nursing your foot seem rather foolish,--indeed you have perhaps often been told that they are both foolish and babyish,--but, as you say, you "can't help it," and there is a good reason for it. The howl is a call for help; and if the hurt were due to the bite of a wolf or a bear, or the cut had gone deep enough to open an artery, this dreadfully unmusical noise might be the means of saving your life; while the rocking backward and forward and jerking yourself about would also send a message that you needed help, supposing you were so badly hurt that you couldn't call out, to anyone who happened to be within sight of you. So that it isn't entirely babyish and foolish to howl and squirm about when you are hurt--though it is manly to keep both within reasonable limits.

If the message about the thorn had been brought by your eyes,--in other words, if you had seen it before you stepped on it,--then a similar but much simpler and less painful reflex would have been carried out. The image of the thorn would fall on the _retina_ of the eye and through its _optic nerve_ the message would be flashed to the brain: "There is something slim and sharp in the path,--looks like a thorn." When this message reached the brain, and not till then, would you see the thorn, just as in the case of the pain message from the foot. Then the brain would take charge of the situation just as before, flashing a hasty message

to the muscles of the legs, saying, "Jump!" while its message to the throat and lungs, instead of "Yell," would be merely, "Say, 'Goodness!' or 'Whew!'" and you would say it and run on.

If the thing in the grass, instead of a thorn, happened to be a snake, and you heard it rustle, then the warning message would come through your ears to the brain, and you would jump just the same; though, as it is not so easy to tell by a hearing message exactly where the sound is coming from, you might possibly jump in the wrong direction and land on top of the danger.

This is the way in which you see, hear, and form ideas of things. Your eye telegraphs to the brain the colors; your ear, the sounds; and your nose, the smells of the particular object; and then your brain puts these all together and compares them with its records of things that it has seen before, which looked, or sounded, or smelt like that, and decides what it is; and you say you _see_ an apple, or you _hear_ a rooster crow, or you _smell_ pies baking. Remember that, strange as it may seem, you don't see an orange, for instance, but only a circular patch of yellowness, which, when you had seen it before, and felt of it with your hand, you found to be associated with a feeling of roundness and solidness; and when you lifted it toward your nose, with the well-known smell of orange-peel; so you called it an orange. If the yellow patch were hard, instead of elastic, to the touch, and didn't have any aromatic smell when you brought it up to your nose, you would probably say it was a gourd, or an apple, or perhaps a yellow croquet ball. This is the way in which, we say, our senses may "deceive" us, and is one of the reasons why three different people who have seen something happen will often differ so much in their accounts of it.

It is not so much that our senses deceive us, but that we draw the wrong conclusions from the sights, sounds, and smells that they report to our brains, usually from being in too great a hurry and not looking carefully enough, or not waiting to check up what we _see_ by touching, hearing, or tasting the thing that we look at.


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