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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index N > Category: Nerve

Nerve Quotes (70 quotes)

I. Animals have an electricity peculiar to themselves to which the name animal electricity is given.
II. The organs in which animal electricity acts above all others, and by which it is distributed throughout the whole body, are the nerves, and the most important organ of secretion is the brain.
Thierische Elektricitäund Reizbarkeit. Ein Beytrag zu den neuesten Entdeckungen üdiese Gegenstä(1795), 329. Quoted and trans. in Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 180.
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[When recording electrical impulses from a frog nerve-muscle preparation seemed to show a tiresomely oscillating electrical artefact—but only when the muscle was hanging unsupported.] The explanation suddenly dawned on me ... a muscle hanging under its own weight ought, if you come to think of it, to be sending sensory impulses up the nerves coming from the muscle spindles ... That particular day’s work, I think, had all the elements that one could wish for. The new apparatus seemed to be misbehaving very badly indeed, and I suddenly found it was behaving so well that it was opening up an entire new range of data ... it didn’t involve any particular hard work, or any particular intelligence on my part. It was just one of those things which sometimes happens in a laboratory if you stick apparatus together and see what results you get.
From 'Memorable experiences in research', Diabetes (1954), 3, 17-18. As cited in Alan McComa, Galvani's Spark: The Story of the Nerve Impulse (2011), 102-103.
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A New Arithmetic: “I am not much of a mathematician,” said the cigarette, “but I can add nervous troubles to a boy, I can subtract from his physical energy, I can multiply his aches and pains, I can divide his mental powers, I can take interest from his work and discount his chances for success.”
In Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 3, 40.
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Aimed by us are futuristic humane machines wherein human level electronic intelligence and nerve system are combined to machines of ultraprecision capabilities.
In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 467.
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All living organisms are but leaves on the same tree of life. The various functions of plants and animals and their specialized organs are manifestations of the same living matter. This adapts itself to different jobs and circumstances, but operates on the same basic principles. Muscle contraction is only one of these adaptations. In principle it would not matter whether we studied nerve, kidney or muscle to understand the basic principles of life. In practice, however, it matters a great deal.
'Muscle Research', Scientific American, 1949, 180 (6), 22.
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An immune system of enormous complexity is present in all vertebrate animals. When we place a population of lymphocytes from such an animal in appropriate tissue culture fluid, and when we add an antigen, the lymphocytes will produce specific antibody molecules, in the absence of any nerve cells. I find it astonishing that the immune system embodies a degree of complexity which suggests some more or less superficial though striking analogies with human language, and that this cognitive system has evolved and functions without assistance of the brain.
'The Generative Grammar of the Immune System', Nobel Lecture, 8 Dec 1984. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1981-1990 (1993), 223.
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Anatomists see no beautiful woman in all their lives, but only a ghastly sack of bones with Latin names to them, and a network of nerves and muscles and tissues inflamed by disease.
From Letter to the San Francisco Alta California (28 May 1867; published 28 Jul 1867), collected and published by Franklin Walker and G. Ezra Dane in Mark Twain's Travels with Mr. Brown (1940), 238.
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And if incision of the temple is made on the left, spasm seizes the parts on the right, while if the incision is on the right, spasm seizes the parts on the left.
On Wounds in the Head, in Hippocrates, trans. E. T. Withington (1927), Vol. 3, 33.
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Bread has been made (indifferent) from potatoes;
And galvanism has set some corpses grinning,
But has not answer'd like the apparatus
Of the Humane Society's beginning,
By which men are unsuffocated gratis:
What wondrous new machines have late been spinning.
Don Juan (1819, 1858), Canto I, CXXX, 35. Aware of scientific experiments, the poet refers to the animating effects of electrical current on nerves of human corpses investigated by Professor Aldini (nephew of Galvani) on the body of Forster, a murderer (Jan-Feb 1803). Potato flour can be made by grinding dried grated potatoes.
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But the office of the Cerebral seems to be for the animal Spirits to supply some Nerves; by which involuntary actions (such as are the beating of the Heart, easie respiration, the Concoction of the Aliment, the protrusion of the Chyle, and many others) which are made after a constant manner unknown to us, or whether we will or no, are performed.
In Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1664), trans. Samuel Pordage (1681), reprinted in William Peindel (ed.), Thomas Willis: Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1965), Vol. 2, 111.
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Charles Babbage proposed to make an automaton chess-player which should register mechanically the number of games lost and gained in consequence of every sort of move. Thus, the longer the automaton went on playing game, the more experienced it would become by the accumulation of experimental results. Such a machine precisely represents the acquirement of experience by our nervous organization.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754-5.
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Each nerve cell receives connections from other nerve cells at six sites called synapses. But here is an astonishing fact—there are about one million billion connections in the cortical sheet. If you were to count them, one connection (or synapse) per second, you would finish counting some thirty-two million years after you began. Another way of getting a feeling for the numbers of connections in this extraordinary structure is to consider that a large match-head’s worth of your brain contains about a billion connections. Notice that I only mention counting connections. If we consider how connections might be variously combined, the number would be hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros. (There are about ten followed by eighty zero’s worth of positively charged particles in the whole known universe!)
Bright and Brilliant Fire, On the Matters of the Mind (1992), 17.
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For, every time a certain portion is destroyed, be it of the brain or of the spinal cord, a function is compelled to cease suddenly, and before the time known beforehand when it would stop naturally, it is certain that this function depends upon the area destroyed. It is in this way that I have recognized that the prime motive power of respiration has its seat in that part of the medulla oblongata that gives rise to the nerves of the eighth pair [vagi]; and it is by this method that up to a certain point it will be possible to discover the use of certain parts of the brain.
Expériences sur le Principe de la Vie, Notamment sur celui des Mouvements du Coeur, et sur le Siege de ce Principe (1812), 148-149. Translated in Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna, Nineteenth Century Origins of Neuroscientific Concepts (1987), 247.
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Gauss was not the son of a mathematician; Handel’s father was a surgeon, of whose musical powers nothing is known; Titian was the son and also the nephew of a lawyer, while he and his brother, Francesco Vecellio, were the first painters in a family which produced a succession of seven other artists with diminishing talents. These facts do not, however, prove that the condition of the nerve-tracts and centres of the brain, which determine the specific talent, appeared for the first time in these men: the appropriate condition surely existed previously in their parents, although it did not achieve expression. They prove, as it seems to me, that a high degree of endowment in a special direction, which we call talent, cannot have arisen from the experience of previous generations, that is, by the exercise of the brain in the same specific direction.
In 'On Heredity', Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems (1889), Vol. 1, 96.
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God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won't.
This is not a statement made by Alfred Korzybski, although he quoted it and attributed it as "an old maxim" in the Introduction to the second edition of his book, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1941, 4th ed. 1958), xxxvii. It is included here to provide a correction for readers who find it listed elsewhere as an original quote he made.
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Hitherto the conception of chemical transmission at nerve endings and neuronal synapses, originating in Loewi’s discovery, and with the extension that the work of my colleagues has been able to give to it, can claim one practical result, in the specific, though alas only short, alleviation of the condition of myasthenia gravis, by eserine and its synthetic analogues.
'Some recent extensions of the chemical transmission of the effects of nerve impulses', Nobel Lecture, 12 December 1936. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 412-3.
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I became expert at dissecting crayfish. At one point I had a crayfish claw mounted on an apparatus in such a way that I could operate the individual nerves. I could get the several-jointed claw to reach down and pick up a pencil and wave it around. I am not sure that what I was doing had much scientific value, although I did learn which nerve fiber had to be excited to inhibit the effects of another fiber so that the claw would open. And it did get me interested in robotic instrumentation, something that I have now returned to. I am trying to build better micromanipulators for surgery and the like.
In Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981).
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I call that part of the human body irritable, which becomes shorter upon being touched; very irritable if it contracts upon a slight touch, and the contrary if by a violent touch it contracts but little. I call that a sensible part of the human body, which upon being touched transmits the impression of it to the soul; and in brutes, in whom the existence of a soul is not so clear, I call those parts sensible, the Irritation of which occasions evident signs of pain and disquiet in the animal. On the contrary, I call that insensible, which being burnt, tore, pricked, or cut till it is quite destroyed, occasions no sign of pain nor convulsion, nor any sort of change in the situation of the body.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 658-9.

I defend the following postulate as an indisputable principle: that each nerve fibre originates as a process from a single cell. This is its genetic, nutritive, and functional center; all other connections of the fibre are either indirect or secondary.
'Zur Geschichte des menschlichen Rückenmarkes und der Nervenwurzeln' (1887). Trans. Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 103.
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I have found that a measurable period of time elapses before the stimulus applied to the iliac plexus of the frog is transmitted to the insertion of the crural nerve into the gastrocnemius muscle by a brief electric current. In large frogs, in which the nerves were from 50-60 mm. in length, and which were preserved at a temperature of 2-6° C, although the temperature of the observation chanber was between 11° and 150° C, the elapsed time was 0.0014 to 0.0020 of a second.
'Vorläufiger Bericht über die Fortpflanzungsgeschwindigkeit der Nervenreizung' (1850). Trans. Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 207.
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I have never had reason, up to now, to give up the concept which I have always stressed, that nerve cells, instead of working individually, act together, so that we must think that several groups of elements exercise a cumulative effect on the peripheral organs through whole bundles of fibres. It is understood that this concept implies another regarding the opposite action of sensory functions. However opposed it may seem to the popular tendency to individualize the elements, I cannot abandon the idea of a unitary action of the nervous system, without bothering if, by that, I approach old conceptions.
'The Neuron Doctrine-Theory and Facts', Nobel Lecture 11 Dec 1906. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 216.

I see…. Scientists call that phenomenon an obsession of the visual nerve.
In Epigrams of Oscar Wilde (2007), 111.
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I took this view of the subject. The medulla spinalis has a central division, and also a distinction into anterior and posterior fasciculi, corresponding with the anterior and posterior portions of the brain. Further we can trace down the crura of the cerebrum into the anterior fasciculus of the spinal marrow, and the crura of the cerebellum into the posterior fasciculus. I thought that here I might have an opportunity of touching the cerebellum, as it were, through the posterior portion of the spinal marrow, and the cerebrum by the anterior portion. To this end I made experiments which, though they were not conclusive, encouraged me in the view I had taken. I found that injury done to the anterior portion of the spinal marrow, convulsed the animal more certainly than injury done to the posterior portion; but I found it difficult to make the experiment without injuring both portions.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811), 21-22.
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Is it a fact—or have I dreamt it—that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?
In The House of the Seven Gables (1851), 203.
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Mr. [Granville T.] Woods says that he has been frequently refused work because of the previous condition of his race, but he has had great determination and will and never despaired because of disappointments. He always carried his point by persistent efforts. He says the day is past when colored boys will be refused work only because of race prejudice. There are other causes. First, the boy has not the nerve to apply for work after being refused at two or three places. Second, the boy should have some knowledge of mechanics. The latter could be gained at technical schools, which should be founded for the purpose. And these schools must sooner or later be established, and thereby, we should be enabled to put into the hands of our boys and girls the actual means of livelihood.
From William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887), 108.
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Nervous messages are invariably associated with an electrical change known as the action potential. This potential is generally believed to arise at a membrane which is situated between the axoplasm and the external medium. If this theory is correct, it should be possible to record the action potential between an electrode inside a nerve fibre and the conducting fluid outside it. Most nerve fibres are too small for this to be tested directly, but we have recently succeeded in inserting micro-electrodes into the giant axons of squids (Loligo forbesi).
Co-author with Andrew Aelding Huxley, British physiologist, (1917- ).
'Action Potentials Recorded from Inside a Nerve Fibre', Nature (1939), 144, 710.

Now, there are a very large number of bodily movements, having their source in our nervous system, that do not possess the character of conscious actions.

On laying bare the roots of the spinal nerves, I found that I could cut across the posterior fasciculus of nerves, which took its origin from the posterior portion of the spinal marrow without convulsing the muscles of the back; but that on touching the anterior fasciculus with the point of a knife, the muscles of the back were immediately convulsed.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811, 22.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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One most necessary function of the brain is to exert an inhibitory power over the nerve centres that lie below it, just as man exercises a beneficial control over his fellow animals of a lower order of dignity; and the increased irregular activity of the lower centres surely betokens a degeneration: it is like the turbulent, aimless action of a democracy without a head.
The Physiology and Pathology of Mind (1868), 94.
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One of the many useful properties of giant nerve fibres is that samples of protoplasm or axoplasm as it is usually called can be obtained by squeezing out the contents from a cut end … As in many other cells there is a high concentration of potassium ions and relatively low concentration of sodium and chloride ions. This is the reverse of the situation in the animals’ blood or in sea water, where sodium and chloride are the dominant ions and potassium is relatively dilute.
The Conduction of the Nervous Impulse (1964), 27.
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Pavlov’s data on the two fundamental antagonistic nervous processes—stimulation and inhibition—and his profound generalizations regarding them, in particular, that these processes are parts of a united whole, that they are in a state of constant conflict and constant transition of the one to the other, and his views on the dominant role they play in the formation of the higher nervous activity—all those belong to the most established natural—scientific validation of the Marxist dialectal method. They are in complete accord with the Leninist concepts on the role of the struggle between opposites in the evolution, the motion of matter.
In E. A. Asratyan, I. P. Pavlov: His Life and Work (1953), 153.
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Pictures, propagated by motion along the fibers of the optic nerves in the brain, are the cause of vision.
In Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and Colours of Light (3rd ed., corrected, 1721), 12.
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Plasticity, then, in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once. Each relatively stable phase of equilibrium in such a structure is marked by what we may call a new set of habits. Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort ; so that we may without hesitation lay down as our first proposition the following, that the phenomena of habit in living beings are due to plasticity of the organic materials of which their bodies are composed.
'The Laws of Habit', The Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887), 434.
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That the Anatomy of the Nerves yields more pleasant and profitable Speculations, than the Theory of any parts besides in the animated Body: for from hence the true and genuine Reasons are drawn of very many Actions and Passions that are wont to happen in our Body, which otherwise seem most difficult and unexplicable; and no less from this Fountain the hidden Causes of Diseases and their Symptoms, which commonly are ascribed to the Incantations of Witches, may be found out and clearly laid open. But as to our observations about the Nerves, from our following Discourse it will plainly appear, that I have not trod the paths or footsteps of others, nor repeated what hath been before told.
In Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1664), trans. Samuel Pordage (1681), reprinted in William Peindel (ed.), Thomas Willis: Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1965), Vol. 2, 125.
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The advances of biology during the past 20 years have been breathtaking, particularly in cracking the mystery of heredity. Nevertheless, the greatest and most difficult problems still lie ahead. The discoveries of the 1970‘s about the chemical roots of memory in nerve cells or the basis of learning, about the complex behavior of man and animals, the nature of growth, development, disease and aging will be at least as fundamental and spectacular as those of the recent past.
As quoted in 'H. Bentley Glass', New York Times (12 Jan 1970), 96.
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The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”
In 'Introduction', The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (1994), 3.
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The axis cylinders of all nerve fibers (motor, secretory, sensitive and sensory, conducting centrifugally or centripetally) have been proved to proceed directly from the cells. A connection with a fiber network, or an origin from such a network, does not take place.
In 'Uber einige neuere Forschungen im Gebiete der Anatomie des Centralnervensystems', Deutsche Medizirusche Wochenschrlft (1891), 7, 1352. Trans. Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna, Nineteenth Century Origins of Neuroscientific Concepts (1987), 99.
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The brain seems a thoroughfare for nerve-action passing its way to the motor animal. It has been remarked that Life's aim is an act not a thought. To-day the dictum must be modified to admit that, often, to refrain from an act is no less an act than to commit one, because inhibition is coequally with excitation a nervous activity.
The Brain and its Mechanism (1933), 10.
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The cerebrum I consider as the grand organ by which the mind is united to the body. Into it all the nerves from the external organs of the senses enter; and from it all the nerves which are agents of the will pass out.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811), 27.
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The doctrine of evolution implies the passage from the most organised to the least organised, or, in other terms, from the most general to the most special. Roughly, we say that there is a gradual 'adding on' of the more and more special, a continual adding on of new organisations. But this 'adding on' is at the same time a 'keeping down'. The higher nervous arrangements evolved out of the lower keep down those lower, just as a government evolved out of a nation controls as well as directs that nation.
'Evolution and Dissolution of the Nervous System', British Medical Journal (1884), I, 662.
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The electric age ... established a global network that has much the character of our central nervous system.
Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man? (2nd Ed.,1964), 302.
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The external impressions which are made on the sensorial nerves are very quickly transmitted along the whole length of the nerves, as far as their origin; and having arrived there, they are reflected by a certain law, and pass on to certain and corresponding motor nerves, through which, being again very quickly transmitted to muscles, they excite certain and definite motions. This part, in which, as in a centre, the sensorial nerves, as well as the motor nerves, meet and communicate, and in which the impressions made on the sensorial nerves are reflected on the motor nerves, is designated by a term, now adopted by most physiologists, the sensorium commune.
A Dissertation on the Functions of the Nervous System (1784), trans. and ed. Thomas Laycock (1851), 429.
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The inhibitory nerves are of as fundamental importance in the economy of the body as the motor nerves. No evidence exists that the same nerve fibre is sometimes capable of acting as a motor nerve, sometimes as a nerve of inhibition, but on the contrary the latter nerves form a separate and complete nervous system subject to as definite anatomical and histological laws as the former.
'On the Structure, Distribution and Function of the Nerves which Innervate the Visceral and Vascular Systems', The Journal of Physiology, 1886, 7, 40.

The injurious agent in cigarettes comes principally from the burning paper wrapper. The substance thereby formed is called “acrolein.” It has a violent action on the nerve centers, producing degeneration of the cells of the brain, which is quite rapid among boys. Unlike most narcotics, this degeneration is permanent and uncontrollable. I employ no person who smokes cigarettes.
[From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison, Orange, N.J., April 26, 1914.]
Quoted in Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 1, 5.
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The most remarkable thing was his [Clifford’s] great strength as compared with his weight, as shown in some exercises. At one time he could pull up on the bar with either hand, which is well known to be one of the greatest feats of strength. His nerve at dangerous heights was extraordinary. I am appalled now to think that he climbed up and sat on the cross bars of the weathercock on a church tower, and when by way of doing something worse I went up and hung by my toes to the bars he did the same.
Quoted from a letter by one of Clifford’s friends to F. Pollock, in Clifford’s Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, Introduction, 8.
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The nervous system is the most complex and delicate instrument on our planet, by means of which relations, connections are established between the numerous parts of the organism, as well as between the organism, as a highly complex system, and the innumerable, external influences. If the closing and opening of electric current is now regarded as an ordinary technical device, why should there be any objection to the idea that the same principle acts in this wonderful instrument? On this basis the constant connection between the external agent and the response of the organism, which it evokes, can be rightly called an unconditioned reflex, and the temporary connection—a conditioned reflex.
The Conditioned Reflex (1935), 249.
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The night before Easter Sunday of that year (1920) I awoke, turned on the light, and jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper. Then I fell asleep again. It occurred to me at six o’clock in the morning that during the night I had written down something most important, but I was unable to decipher the scrawl. The next night, at three o’clock, the idea returned. It was the design of an experiment to determine whether the hypothesis of chemical transmission that I had uttered seventeen years ago was correct. I got up immediately, went to the laboratory, and performed a simple experiment on a frog heart according to the nocturnal design. I have to describe this experiment briefly since its results became the foundation of the theory of chemical transmission of the nervous impulse. The hearts of two frogs were isolated, the first with its nerves, the second without. Both hearts were attached to Straub cannulas filled with a little Ringer solution. The vagus nerve of the first heart was stimulated for a few minutes. Then the Ringer solution that had been in the first heart during the stimulation of the vagus was transferred to the second heart. It slowed and its beats diminished just as if its vagus had been stimulated. Similarly, when the accelerator nerve was stimulated and the Ringer from this period transferred, the second heart speeded up and its beats increased. These results unequivocally proved that the nerves do not influence the heart directly but liberate from their terminals specific chemical substances which, in their turn, cause the well-known modifications of the function of the heart characteristic of the stimulation of its nerves.
'An Autobiographic Sketch', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (1960), 4, 17.
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The question of a possible physiological significance, in the resemblance between the action of choline esters and the effects of certain divisions of the involuntary nervous system, is one of great interest, but one for the discussion of which little evidence is available. Acetyl-choline is, of all the substances examined, the one whose action is most suggestive in this direction. The fact that its action surpasses even that of adrenaline, both in intensity and evanescence, when considered in conjunction with the fact that each of these two bases reproduces those effects of involuntary nerves which are absent from the action of the other, so that the two actions are in many directions at once complementary and antagonistic, gives plenty of scope for speculation.
In 'The Action of Certain Esters and Ethers of Choline, and Their Relation to Muscarine', The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1914-15, 6, 188.
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The relative importance of the white and gray matter is often misunderstood. Were it not for the manifold connection of the nerve cells in the cortex by the tens of millions of fibres which make up the under-estimated white matter, such a brain would be useless as a telephone or telegraph station with all the interconnecting wires destroyed.
Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia (28 Dec 1904), as quoted in 'Americans of Future Will Have Best Brains', New York Times (29 Dec 1904), 6.
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The result of all these experiments has given place to a new division of the parts of the human body, which I shall follow in this short essay, by distinguishing those which are susceptible of Irritability and Sensibility, from those which are not. But the theory, why some parts of the human body are endowed with these properties, while others are not, I shall not at all meddle with. For I am persuaded that the source of both lies concealed beyond the reach of the knife and microscope, beyond which I do not chuse to hazard many conjectures, as I have no desire of teaching what I am ignorant of myself. For the vanity of attempting to guide others in paths where we find ourselves in the dark, shews, in my humble opinion, the last degree of arrogance and ignorance.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 657-8.
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The source and origin of the nerves is the brain and spinal marrow, and hence some nerves originate from the brain and some from the spinal marrow. Some … experts set down the heart as the origin of the nerves and some the hard membrane that envelops the brain; none of them, however, thought it was the liver or any other viscus of that kind … Aristotle in particular, and quite a few others, thought that the nerves took origin from the heart.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (1543), Book IV, 315, as translated by William Frank Richardson and John Burd Carman, in 'The Nerves Originate From the Brain', On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book III: The Veins And Arteries; Book IV: The Nerves (1998), 160
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The stimulus of competition, when applied at an early age to real thought processes, is injurious both to nerve-power and to scientific insight.
In The Preparation of the Child for Science (1904), 44.
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The terminal path may, to distinguish it from internuncial common paths, be called the final common path. The motor nerve to a muscle is a collection of such final common paths.
'Correlation of Reflexes and the Principle of the Common Path', Report of the Seventy-Fourth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1904), 730.
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The true-spinal system consists of a series of nerves passing principally from the cutaneous surface, and the surface of the mucous membranes, to the spinal marrow; and of another series of nerves passing from the spinal marrow to a series of muscles, destined to be moved simultaneously. The former, thence designated the incident nerves; the latter, reflex nerves: the spinal marrow is their common centre.
On the Mutual Relations between Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology and Therapeutics, and the Practice of Medicine. Being the Gulstonian Lectures for 1842 (1842), 32.
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The vacuum-apparatus requires that its manipulators constantly handle considerable amounts of mercury. Mercury is a strong poison, particularly dangerous because of its liquid form and noticeable volatility even at room temperature. Its poisonous character has been rather lost sight of during the present generation. My co-workers and myself found from personal experience-confirmed on many sides when published—that protracted stay in an atmosphere charged with only 1/100 of the amount of mercury required for its saturation, sufficed to induce chronic mercury poisoning. This first reveals itself as an affection of the nerves, causing headaches, numbness, mental lassitude, depression, and loss of memory; such are very disturbing to one engaged in intellectual occupations.
Hydrides of Boron and Silicon (1933), 203.
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Thus a nerve element, a nerve entity, or ‘neuron’, as I propose to call it, consists‥of the following pieces:—(a) a nerve cell, (b) the nerve process, (c) its collaterals, and (d) the end-branching.
[Coining the word ‘neuron’ in the sense of a nerve cell.]
In original German text by Waldeyer in Berliner Klin. Wochenschr. (13 July 1891), 691:1. As translated in Brain (1891), 14, 569. Note: The word ‘neuron’ was used earlier in difference senses, now obsolete, by B.T. Lowne (1883) for the neural part of the compound eye of athropods, and by B.G. Wilder (1884) for the neuraxis.
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To describe all the several pairs of the spinal Nerves, and to rehearse all their branchings, and to unfold the uses and actions of them, would be a work of an immense labour and trouble: and as this Neurologie cannot be learned nor understood without an exact knowledge of the Muscles, we may justly here forbear entring upon its particular institution.
In Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1664), trans. Samuel Pordage (1681), reprinted in William Peindel (ed.), Thomas Willis: Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1965), Vol. 2, 178.
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To vary the compression of the muscle therefore, and so to swell and shrink it, there needs nothing but to change the consistency of the included ether… . Thus may therefore the soul, by determining this ethereal animal spirit or wind into this or that nerve, perhaps with as much ease as air is moved in open spaces, cause all the motions we see in animals.
From 'An Hypothesis explaining the Properties of Light, discoursed of in my several Papers', in Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society (1757), Vol. 3, 252. This was from Newton’s Second Paper on Color and Light, read at the Royal Society (9 Dec 1675).
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We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.
John Muir
In My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), 20. Based on Muir’s original journals and sketches of his 1869 stay in the Sierra.
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We come back then to our records of nervous messages with a reasonable assurance that they do tell us what the message is like. It is a succession of brief waves of surface breakdown, each allowing a momentary leakage of ions from the nerve fibre. The waves can be set up so that they follow one another in rapid or in slow succession, and this is the only form of gradation of which the message is capable. Essentially the same kind of activity is found in all sorts of nerve fibres from all sorts of animals and there is no evidence to suggest that any other kind of nervous transmission is possible. In fact we may conclude that the electrical method can tell us how the nerve fibre carries out its function as the conducting unit of the nervous system, and that it does so by reactions of a fairly simple type.
The Mechanism of Nervous Action (1932), 21.
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We have learned that there is an endocrinology of elation and despair, a chemistry of mystical insight, and, in relation to the autonomic nervous system, a meteorology and even... an astro-physics of changing moods.
Literature and Science (1963), 90.
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We have seen that the cytoplasm of nerve has a fluid consistency. Hence its molecules are free to move. According to the thermodynamic principle known as the Gibbs-Thompson rule, any substance in the interior of a liquid which will reduce the free energy of the surface of the liquid, will be concentrated in the surface. The composition of the surface is, therefore, determined by the composition of the fluid from which it is formed; and as the rule is one having universal application, it must hold also for the cytoplasm of nerve. We must think of the surface membrane, then, as a structure which is in equilibrium with the interior of the axon, or at least as one which deviates from equilibrium only because, for dynamic reasons, equilibrium cannot be attained.
With Joseph Erlanger (1874-1965), American physiologist.
Joseph Erlanger and Herbert S. Gasser (eds.), Electrical Signs of Nervous Activity (1937), 136.

When Aloisio Galvani first stimulated the nervous fiber by the accidental contact of two heterogeneous metals, his contemporaries could never have anticipated that the action of the voltaic pile would discover to us, in the alkalies, metals of a silvery luster, so light as to swim on water, and eminently inflammable; or that it would become a powerful instrument of chemical analysis, and at the same time a thermoscope and a magnet.
In 'Introduction' Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1860), Vol. 1, 52, as translated by E.C. Otté.
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When coming to close quarters with a skunk … one has to fear from an encounter; the worst is that effluvium, after which crushed garlic is lavender, which tortures the olfactory nerves, and appears to pervade the whole system like a pestilent ether, nauseating one until sea-sickness seems almost a pleasant sensation in comparison.
In The Naturalist in La Plata (1892, 1895), 116-117.
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When external objects are impressed on the sensory nerves, they excite vibrations in the aether residing in the pores of these nerves... Thus it seems that light affects both the optic nerve and the aether and ... the affections of the aether are communicated to the optic nerve, and vice versa. And the same may be observed of frictions of the skin, taste, smells and sounds... Vibrations in the aether will agitate the small particles of the medullary substance of the sensory nerves with synchronous vibrations... up to the brain... These vibrations are motions backwards and forwards of small particles, of the same kind with the oscillations of pendulums, and the tremblings of the particles of the sounding bodies (but) exceedingly short and small, so as not to have the least efficacy to disturb or move the whole bodies of the nerves... That the nerves themselves should vibrate like musical strings is highly absurd.
Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749), part 1, 11-22.
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Why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating the rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by Art is created the great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part I, Introduction, 81.
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[It would not be long] ere the whole surface of this country would be channelled for those nerves which are to diffuse, with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country.
Samuel F.B. Morse: His Letters and Journals (1914), vol. 2, 85.
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… (T)he same cause, such as electricity, can simultaneously affect all sensory organs, since they are all sensitive to it; and yet, every sensory nerve reacts to it differently; one nerve perceives it as light, another hears its sound, another one smells it; another tastes the electricity, and another one feels it as pain and shock. One nerve perceives a luminous picture through mechanical irritation, another one hears it as buzzing, another one senses it as pain… He who feels compelled to consider the consequences of these facts cannot but realize that the specific sensibility of nerves for certain impressions is not enough, since all nerves are sensitive to the same cause but react to the same cause in different ways… (S)ensation is not the conduction of a quality or state of external bodies to consciousness, but the conduction of a quality or state of our nerves to consciousness, excited by an external cause.
Law of Specific Nerve Energies.
Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen für Vorlesungen, 2nd Ed. translation by Edwin Clarke and Charles Donald O'Malley

“True is it, my incorporate friends,” quoth he, “That I receive the general food at first, Which you do live upon; and fit it is, Because I am the storehouse and the shop Of the whole body. But, if you do remember, I send it through the rivers of your blood, Even to the court, the heart, to th’ seat o’ th’ brain; And, through the cranks and offices of man, The strongest nerves and small inferior veins From me receive that natural competency Whereby they live. And though that all at once”— You, good friends, this says the belly, mark me.
[Told as a fable, this is the belly’s answer to a complaint from the other members of the body that it received all the food but did no work.] In Coriolanus (1623), Act 1, Scene 1, line 130-141. Webmaster’s note: The Fable of the Belly has its roots in antiquity. William Harvey delivered a lecture in Apr 1616 on his discovery the circulation of blood in the body, but did not publish until 1628.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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