Automatism of Animals


YOUR correspondent Mr. Wetterhan, has, I think, misunderstood Prof. Huxley's argument; which is, not that the adjusted motions he refers to never were the result of conscious and voluntary motion, but that they are not so now. His letter has, however, induced me to call attention to what has always seemed to me a real difficulty. As I understand automatic or reflex actions, they are those which have been so constantly repeated and which are so essential to the well-being of the individual, that the various nerves implicated have become so perfectly co-ordinated that the appropriate stimulus sets the whole machinery in motion without any conscious or voluntary action on the part of the individual. Thus we can quite understand how a paralysed limb would be drawn up when the sole of the foot is tickled or the toe pricked. If, however, any such irritation continues to be felt in the normal state, a man would stoop down and remove the irritating substance with his hand, or would place his foot upon the opposite knee, and, stooping down, endeavour to see the object which caused the irritation. But these are conscious, not reflex, acts. They are not repeated often enough, and are not sufficiently identical in form, to become automatic; and we are not told that a wholly paralysed human body does actually go through these various motions, as it certainly would do if not paralysed.

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WALLACE, A. Automatism of Animals. Nature 10, 502–503 (1874).

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