Catalog # SKU3687
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Eugene S. Talbot
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000



Its Causes, Signs, and Results

Eugene S. Talbot

The present work is the result of more than twenty years' labour in a limited medical department of biology. It demonstrates once more the truth of the scientific principle, that the truth or falsity of any theory or working hypothesis becomes more and more demonstrable the further its application is attempted in the explanation of new lines of facts.

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The truth of the degeneracy doctrine had forced itself on the writer long before its popular apotheosis under Lombroso and Nordau, because it alone sufficed for an explanation of constitutional and local defects (encountered in a seemingly limited speciality of medicine), which local causes failed entirely to explain. The investigations thereon resultant have appeared in medical and dental journals for the past two decades.

The work has been written with a special intention of reaching educators and parents. With this object, it has avoided laying stress on any one cause of degeneracy, and ignoring factors which produce it and are aggravated by it. The doctrinaire reformer will here find no support for any limited theory. While it does not pretend in the slightest degree to give all the details of degeneracy, it attempts to lay down general principles for practical purposes in a way that permits their application to the solution of sociologic problems.

From a sense of scientific accuracy no attempts have been made to demarcate, rigidly, abnormality from disease, or atavism from arrested development, except as may be done by the features of the cases in which the terms are used. The guiding principle adopted has been that the factors of degeneracy affect in the ancestor the checks on excessive action[Pg ix] acquired during the evolution of the race, thus producing a state of nervous exhaustion. The descendant in consequence is unable to reach the state of the ancestor thus nervously exhausted.


The attempt made by Morel to limit the doctrine of degeneracy to the domain of the morbid proved impossible, because of the rapid accumulation of data by his own school, which demonstrated that atavistic deformity played a larger part in the production of diseases. Bland Sutton does not too forcibly put this result when he states59 that if it be difficult to define disease when restricted to the human family, it becomes obviously more difficult when disease is investigated on a broad biological basis. As the great barrier which exists between man and those members of his class most closely allied to him consists not in structural characters but in mental power, it necessarily follows that there should be a similarity in the structural alterations induced by diseased conditions in all kinds of animals, allowing of course for the difference in environment.

This is known to be the case, and it is clear that as there has been a gradual evolution of complex from simple organisms, it necessarily follows that the principles of evolution ought to apply to diseased conditions if they hold good for the normal or healthy states or organism; in plain words, there has been an evolution of disease pari passu with evolution of animal forms. For a long time it has been customary to talk of physiologic types of diseased tissues; Sutton's earlier efforts were directed to searching among animals for the purpose of detecting in them the occurrence of tissues, which in man are only found under abnormal conditions. The statement proved to be true in a limited sense.

At the same time the truth of an opinion held by nearly all thoughtful physicians, that disease may in many instances be regarded as an exaggerated function, was forcibly illustrated; the manifestations of disease were found to be regulated by the same law which governs physiological processes in general, and many conditions regarded as pathological in one animal were revealed as physiological in another.

The doctrine, therefore, has its scope limited only by biologic data. It of necessity begins with the cell itself in its relation to other cells of that practically compound organism which constitutes a single vertebrate. The cell may, therefore, degenerate as a single member of that organism, producing danger or benefit to the other cells. Thus the cancer cell degenerates in its power of reproduction below the tissue to which it belongs. It is peculiarly true here, as has been said by Herbert Spencer, that every vertebrate is an aggregate whose internal actions are adapted to counterbalance its external actions; hence the preservation of its movable equilibrium depends upon its development and the proper number of these actions; the movable equilibrium may be ruined when one of these actions is too great or too small, and through deficiency or need of some organic or inorganic cause in its surroundings.

Every individual can adapt itself to these changeable influences in two ways, either directly or by producing new individuals who will take the place of those whom the equilibrium has destroyed. Therefore there exist forces preservative and destructive of the race. As it is impossible that these two kinds of force should counterbalance each other, it is necessary that the equilibrium should re-establish itself in an orderly way. Since there are two preservative forces of every animal group-the impulse of every individual to self-preservation and the impulse to the production of other individuals-these faculties must vary in an inverse ratio; the former must diminish when the second augments. Degeneration constitutes a process of disintegration, the reverse of integration. Hence, if the term individuation be applied to all the processes which complete and sustain the life of the individual, and that of generation to those which aid the formation and development of new individuals, individuation and generation are necessarily antagonistic.

In the phenomena of unisexual generation we see that the larger organisms never reproduce themselves in the unisexual way, while the smaller organisms reproduce themselves with the greatest rapidity by this method. Between these two extremes unisexual reproduction decreases while the size increases. In the history of all plants and animals is evident the physiologic truth, that while the general growth of the individual proceeds rapidly, the reproductive organs remain imperfectly developed and inactive. On the contrary, the principle of reproduction indicates decrease in the intensity of growth and becomes a cause of cessation.

Great fecundity is always attended by great mortality. Each superior degree of organic evolution is accompanied by an inferior degree of fecundity. The greater the germs the less is the individuation, and vice versa. The greater and more complex the organisation, the less is the power of multiplication.

What is true of the cells is also true of organs composed of them. Each organ can be regarded as a distinct animal (a parasite is preferable for comparison) which has its own nervous system (the ganglia), but is fed and controlled by the organism as a whole. Degeneration of this organ may therefore be an expression of a local state peculiar to it and either beneficial or maleficent, or both in inverse degree, to the organism as a whole, or it may be the expression of a general defect in the whole organism. The sclerotic states of the appendix vermiformis in man and of the human liver are, as Kiernan has shown, two excellent illustrations of the degeneracies last described. Man, in common with the four anthropoid apes, has a little thin tube attached to the cæcum known as the appendix vermiformis.

In the early embryo it is equal in calibre to the other bowels, but ceases to grow proportionately after a certain time. In the new-born child it is almost as large as in the adult. As this tube proved disadvantageous to man's precursor (as it does to certain mammals) from catching foreign bodies which form the nucleus of enteroliths or bowel stones, it has lost the nutritive supply of the other intestines and is tending to disappear. It is often absent in man. The defect in its structure, while predisposing to the attacks of germs and an expression of its own degeneracy, is an evidence of an advance in evolution in the organism as a whole by which great danger and waste of nutritive force are avoided.

292 pages - 8½ x 11 softcover

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