Man's Incredible Nervous System
( Originally Published 1957 )
"The human brain is the most powerful embodiment of electromagnetic energy of which we have any knowledge."
This fundamental fact was so expressed by the Englishman, Francis Grierson, and appeared in the Westminster Review. Its immense truth is becoming more and more apparent every day as increasingly delicate and precise means of studying the structure and the workings of the brain come into existence.
Within the brain's 1,350 or so cubic centimeters of gray and white matter lie inestimable billions of neurons or nerve cells. It has been hazarded roughly that there are more than fourteen billion such cells in the cerebral cortex or outer layers of the upper, conscious brain alone. If all its possible neuron connections were utilized in a manner identical with the laying out of all possible combinations of playing cards, for example, the brain would achieve more "thought combinations," no two of them identical, than there are stars in the entire universe!
It has been said that man can never hope to build an electronic brain capable of duplicating the capacities of the human brain for the simple reason that such a machine would require the power of many Niagaras while the space required to house it would be many cubic miles. Thus the idea that "robot brains" will ever replace thinking man is absurd.
D. D. Palmer was ridiculed widely when he first ex-pressed the thought that the normally functioning brain, operating through a sound nervous system, regulates and integrates every body activity down to the workings of the tiniest cell. He called this capacity "innate intelligence."
Palmer was far ahead of his time. Today his theory has been amply proven and is almost universally accepted. One of the most vivid descriptions of the immense executive powers of the brain was written by the late Dr. Frank Crane and it is both highly picturesque and accurate :
"The smartest man in the world is the Man Inside. By the Man Inside I mean that Other Man within each of us that does most of the things we give ourselves credit for doing. You may refer to him as Nature or the Subconscious Self, or think of him as merely a Force or a Natural Law or, if you are religiously inclined, you may use the term God .. .
"I say that he is the smartest man in the world. I know he is infinitely more clever and resourceful than I am or any other man is that I ever heard of. When I cut my finger it is he that calls up the little phagocytes to come and kill the septic germs that get into the wound and cause blood poisoning. It is he that coagulates the blood, stops the gash, and weaves the new skin . . . No living man- knows enough to make toenails grow, but the Man Inside thinks nothing of growing nails and teeth and thousands of hairs all over my body; long hairs on my head and little fuzzy ones over the rest of the surface of the skin . . Most of our happiness, as well as our struggles and misery, comes from the Man Inside . . ."
Detailed knowledge of the extent to which the brain is capable of controlling the most minute bodily parts and processes has been achieved only recently. It has come from precise study of the working of the brain not only in health but in sickness as well. With instruments like the electroencephalograph the various brain waves and their rhythms under varying circumstances have been observed as, for example, the "electrical storms" that occur in the brains of epileptics. With devices like the so-called "lie detector" the influence of the emotions upon such functions as pulse, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and production of perspiration has been noted. There has been much study of the effect of brain tumors and other brain injuries. Much work has been done on the brains of animals.
Remove a tiny portion of the hypothalamus or brain stem of a cat and his heartbeat slows, his temperature and blood pressure fall, and he sleeps the remainder of his life. A similar effect can be produced by applying an electric current to the same area.
The anolis lizard is quite a remarkable animal in that he is able to change the color of his skin in accordance with the color of his surroundings. Remove his pituitary gland, however, and he turns a bright green and remains that shade permanently. The protective function that once was able to alter the color of millions of surface cells in unison no longer exists.
Brain tumors can cause a multitude of symptoms ranging from blurred vision to paralysis. Just a few of them are hiccoughs, headaches, failure of speech and memory, epilepsy, abnormal acuteness of the senses, vomiting, the faithful mimicking of a wide variety of diseases including syphilis, heart trouble, nephritis, and indeed disturbances anywhere in the body.
If the posterior lobe of the brain is badly damaged, the awareness of fear with all its attendant defenses such as stepped-up metabolism and production of adrenalin are lost. Injuries to the brain sometimes produce even more bizarre symptoms. A man who was hit on the right side of the head with a block of wood promptly developed an abnormal thirst, drinking as much as thirty-two and one-half pints of water in a single day. The symptom gradually declined as the brain healed and in about two weeks the man was drinking normal quantities of water as before. A soldier was shot above the right ear. Formerly his behavior had been excellent and he had been a teetotaller, but now he became insubordinate and a drunkard besides. An oil feeder spout was accidentally driven into a railroad fireman's brain above his right eye; much of his left side became paralyzed and memory of the previous twenty years was totally wiped out. A man injured on the right side of the head developed auditory hallucinations and epileptic fits and finally murdered an entire family.
Following an automobile accident in which the back of his head was bumped, a man developed sinusitis, numbness of the muscles, and arthritis. A boy received a bump on his head while playing "touch ball" and instantly went deaf. Two weeks later he was bumped on the head again and regained his hearing.
These are just a few of the multitudinous symptoms that can and frequently do follow brain injuries. They demonstrate some of the ill effects that can be produced in various parts of the body and indeed throughout the entire body by a brain that is not functioning normally.
What are the beneficial effects that may be expected from a brain that is functioning properly and that is "getting its signals through" to all parts of the body?
In attempting to answer this question another question might well be posed: "What is the secret of natural immunity?"
That a natural immunity, exists in some of us possibly all of the time, and perhaps in all of us at least some of the time, has been demonstrated beyond doubt. But the reason for this remains to the vast majority as much of an enigma today as it was to D. D. Palmer when he "desired to know why one person was ailing and his associate, eating at the same table, working in the same shop, was not ."
Here is a portion of that enigma. In the deadliest epidemic of all time, the "Black Plague" of the mid 14th Century, an estimated fifty per cent of the population of the then known world were stricken and of those who contracted the plague almost all died. Yet half of the population were mysteriously not stricken, although the bubonic bacilli could enter the system via the nose or mouth or a mere scratch on the skin. What saved this other half?
Probably every person contains some tubercle bacilli _ at some time or another during his lifetime. When cadavers are autopsied, almost invariably lesions typical of tuberculosis are found. Yet few of us ever reveal the symptoms of tuberculosis, while only a small minority are seriously attacked by the disease.
The antibodies of poliomyelitis exist in almost every-one, indicating that the germs have been active in most of us, yet few ever show even the slightest symptoms of polio.
Following an epidemic of typhoid in Croydon, England, the British bacteriologist, Hugh Nicol, asked plaintively in his book Microbes by the Millions, "The question that is still unsolved is not why did tens die and hundreds fall ill, but why did thousands fail to get the disease?"
And, according to Dr. Lars F. Gulbrandtsen of the University of Illinois there is no such thing as a "germ-free" person. Every human being contains the germs of disease in his blood and tissues within a few minutes after birth.
There is amazing evidence that the properly functioning body contains within itself all the resources it requires to combat successfully the development of any and all disease. It produces its own germicidal agents; the skin itself kills germs better than the majority of antiseptics. The mucous membranes secrete germ killers and the gastric and intestinal juices contain germicides. If inimical germs get into the blood stream specialized blood cells go after them and destroy them or render them harmless in some way or other.
Consider what happens in the healthy body when tuberculosis germs are present, for example. Macrophages or "wandering" germ-destroying cells are produced in enormous quantities, seek out the bacteria, surround and devour them. Thriving on their choice diet of germs, the macrophages develop far beyond their normal size and build living walls around the bacteria with their bodies, thus depriving the attackers of oxygen and nourishment. If ulceration occurs, scar tissue forms, providing a further barrier. Enzymes and hormones of various sorts also aid in the battle.
The efficiency with which the healthy body at-tacks and destroys disease germs is dramatically demonstrated in the case of meningitis, which has been carefully studied during epidemics. It is an inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal cord and very often it is lethal. During a meningitis epidemic, examination of any 1,000 persons selected at random will reveal that from 50 to 200 of the group have the potentially deadly meningococci in their bodies. But if these same 1,000 persons are examined the very next day, it is not unlikely that most or many who harbored the germs the day before will be entirely free of meningococci.
Thus D. D. Palmer's "innate intelligence" or Dr. Crane's "Man Inside" is a very efficient fighter of disease provided he is able to marshal his forces and get them to where they are needed. But to do this, the brain must tell him just what is going on and where and just what sort of defense is needed and in what degree. Otherwise there is no such thing as "natural immunity" or "resistance to disease." As Dr. Crile noted, when there is only a "partial flow" of electrical messages between the brain and the body a "disease process" is able to exist.
The human brain is of fantastic complexity for a very simple reason. It is, or is intended to be, the dictator of every cell and function of the body. It is not surprising therefore that its communications system, the nervous system, is also fantastically complex.
Perhaps the most graphic description of the thoroughness with which the nervous system permeates the entire body was written for Morris' Human Anatomy by Dr. Irving Hardesty, professor of anatomy at Tulane University. "So intimate and extensive is the distribution (of nerves) throughout the body," stated Dr. Hardesty, "that could all the other tissues be dissolved away, still there would be left in gossamer its form and proportions—a phantom of the body composed entirely of nerves."
The nervous system somewhat resembles an inverted tree, whose trunk stems downward from the base of the brain and whose tiniest twig endings are in the cells. Its "main line" is of course the spinal cord which is silvery colored and about as thick as the little finger. The spinal cord is in essence a secondary brain, a cable of millions of living wires performing the same function as a telephone trunk line with this important difference: there is no two-way trans-mission on any given wire. Some of the wires handle only "incoming" messages to the brain while others handle only "outgoing" messages to the various areas and units of the body. The nerves leading to the brain are known as "afferent" or inward in direction of their transmission; the nerves leading from the brain are known as "efferent" or outward transmitting.
Like branches emanating from the trunk of a tree, smaller nerve cables lead from the spinal cord at intervals along its length. They emerge through openings or foramina between the vertebrae of the spinal column, and they emerge in pairs, one to the left and one to the right. This mechanism is extremely intricate and will be described later in this chapter.
Every afferent or incoming nerve has its beginning in a highly specialized information-gathering device which is called a "receptor end organ." These receptors are located throughout the body, in the skin, subcutaneous tissues, hair follicles, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilages, joints, capsules, periosteum, and all viscera. Each, according to its function, picks up in-formation concerning such important items as temperature, light, pressure and other sensations.
The total number of receptor end organs in the entire body is probably incalculable. In the skin alone there are millions which are sensitive only to heat and cold. Millions more that are light sensitive are clustered in the eyes. In the taste buds are additional millions which are sensitive to sweet, sour, and bitter.
Ultimately every bit of information that is picked up by the receptor end organs goes into a "weather report" that reaches the brain, where it is processed. If action of some sort is necessary, instructions are sent to the appropriate destinations via the efferent or outgoing nerves.
Some idea of the complexity of this process may be gained from the fact that in the performance of even the simplest act or function, such as yanking a hand away from a hot stove or blinking an eye, the incoming and outgoing impulses travel over millions of separate nerve connections, being "switched" to their proper destinations by some master selective device whose nature one cannot even remotely begin to guess.
Almost invariably, the instructions sent out by the brain are far more complicated than are the incoming bits of information and require the employment of far more nerves and -nerve connections. This in itself would seem to prove that in the brain is centered the control of everything that goes on in the body. Conclusive anatomical proof exists, too, in the overwhelmingly greater numbers of outgoing nerves as compared with incoming ones. At each spinal foramina, for ex-ample, there are somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 cables that carry outgoing messages from the brain. By contrast there are only about 40,000 cables that carry incoming messages. All are bound together at this point in one super-cable which, however, is still much slimmer than the spinal cord.
Here a very puzzling question is likely to arise : If the brain controls all bodily processes, how is it that the adjustment of a spinal vertebra, as in the case of Harvey Lillard, can effect any improvement in an ailment existing above that vertebra, as Lillard's deafness? For that matter, how can an adjustment at any point in the spine below the region that is ailing correct the condition above?
The answer is found in the structure and functions of a specialized branch of the nervous system known as the sympathetic system which is connected with the incoming and outgoing spinal nerves but is also entirely distinct in itself.
The sympathetic system consists of two strings of ganglia or groups of nerve cells, one on each side of the spinal column. Its first ganglion or knot of cells located in the upper part of the spine -sends nerve fibers to the nerves of the cranium and indeed to all organs of the head. Impulses from these fibers control the secretion of all glands and the blood supply to the various organs in the head.
However, this top most ganglion of the sympathetic system, called the superior cervical, also connects with all four of the topmost nerves emanating from the spine. Because of this fact, a subluxation of spinal vertebrae can seriously interfere with the functioning of the ganglion and in turn with various functionings of the head, even though the subluxation is below the head. In effect, the ganglion is serving as a shunt. Subluxations much farther down the spine can also affect the head due to the fact that there are superior cervical connections in that area as well.
The brain itself can also be adversely affected by subluxations of the spine. Although both the brain and the spinal cord are sheathed by a continuous membrane, they have different sources of blood supply. Interference with the functioning of any of the spinal nerves which emanate from between the vertebrae and then re-enter the vertebral canal to innervate or energize the blood vessels there, may in turn adversely affect brain functioning. Finally, a subluxation in the upper neck region which causes pressure upon the vertebral arteries leading upward to the brain may also be detrimental to the brain.
These and other complexities in the nervous system explain such peculiar phenomena as "referred pain" in which an injury, malfunctioning, or disease condition is felt not where it actually exists but somewhere else. They also explain how a brain that is not working properly or that is getting its signals incorrectly can produce all manner of false symptoms anywhere in the body. And they explain that eeriest of all sensations—feeling a portion of the body that is no longer a part of it, such as a leg that has been amputated.
To understand just how gravely spinal subluxations can affect the transmission of nerve impulses to and fro along the spinal cord and the great nerve cables emanating therefrom, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the spinal column itself.
This "interlocking chain of bones" known as the spine is a marvelously complicated and efficient structure which performs a multitude of duties so effortlessly that we are seldom aware of them. Yet a moment's thought will make it clear that, among other things, the spine supports and balances the head, supports the arms and serves as a fulcrum for them, partially supports the trunk, serves as a vertical spring which absorbs shocks such as those incurred in walking, serves as a flexible mechanism that coordinates a vast variety of bodily activities such as walking, stooping and twisting, and supports and protects the spinal cord and its emanating nerves.
Just how intricate and successful an engineering accomplishment the spinal column is was beautifully expressed in Men in Structure and Function by Dr. Fritz Kahn :
"If an engineer were given a job of constructing the vertebral column—a flexible column consisting of 33 rings with 150 joints and almost 1,000 ligamentary connections capable of supporting a load of 500 pounds, and yet flexible and elastic he would perhaps solve the problem tolerably well after a number of years of activity. Yet he would not be able to equal or surpass the work of Nature. If on the day when he delivered his work, the further task was suggested to him of installing the spinal cord within the vetebral column, that is, of laying a nerve cord consisting of millions of wires that pass out between the rings and are not injured in the least by any normal movements of the spinal column itself or the body as a whole, the engineer would certainly consider the suggestion the plan of a madman ..."
The spine is all the more amazing because, like everything else in nature and in fact throughout this constantly changing universe, it is in a state of evolution, of changing from one form into another. In the case of the spine, the change is from the horizontal to the vertical. Millions of years ago our ancestors crawled upon their bellies; today we are standing erect, although not perfectly so. Ultimately our spines will be perfectly adapted to erect posture, but now they have several pronounced curves caused by the stress of assemblies to whose weight the body has not yet fully adapted. There is a cervical curve caused by the weight of the head not being balanced squarely atop the spine but rather hung somewhat forward (the word cervical, of course, stems quite simply from cervix, which means "neck," while anterior means "forward" or toward the front). A little farther downward is the thoracic, posterior curve; it bends backward under the weight of the ribs and the organs suspended within the chest.
Still farther downward comes the lumbar curve, which is anterior due to the forward pull of the lower belly weight (lumbus incidentally means loin). Finally comes the pelvic curve in which the spine bends sharply rearward again.
So it is obvious that our spines are by no means ideal vertical supports and that their development is still going on. For example, our spines are shortening while some of the lower vertebrae are in the process of fusing together to provide more rigid support. Our legs are lengthening. The shorter spine of the future will eliminate the bulging abdomen, the hernia, and the pro-lapsed uterus, as well as many other mechanical ills to which we are presently so prone. Other mechanical improvements now underway will also prove of great benefit. For instance, the fusion of certain bones in the feet will eliminate fallen arches. The fact that these improvements, particularly in the spine, are still far from complete accounts for a great many of the bodily ills to which we are now subject.
Very simply, the spine consists of an assembly of twenty-four vertebrae. These comprise what we popularly refer to as the backbone. Below these twenty-four vertebrae is the sacrum, which is a part of the pelvic "sacroiliac arrangement" in which a multitude of aches and pains originate. The tail bone below is the coccyx.
While the structures of the individual vertebrae vary, basically they consist of solid disks of bone from which bony protrusions or "processes" extend to the sides and rear and give the spine its characteristic bumpy feeling. These processes fulfill the function of a bony cage which encloses and protects the spinal cord. Examination of any two adjoining vertebrae will reveal semicircular openings in the processes of both that extend to right and left. It is these openings which allow for the passage of the nerves outward from the spinal cord even though the processes themselves are pressed tightly together.
Chiropractors hold that if the vertebrae of the spine are in proper alignment, then the semicircular openings in any two adjoining vertebrae will coincide to provide full circular openings even as the spine is bent and twisted in the normal activities of living, and there will be no interference with the emerging nerves. They also emphasize that if the spinal vertebrae are not properly aligned, the nerves issuing through the foramina will be compressed, stretched, twisted or otherwise distorted.
In particular, they stress that such derangements are almost inevitable in our highly unnatural way of living which necessitates prolonged repetition of mechanical activities or compels many of us to sit in the same con-strained position for hours on end. These derangements begin in childhood when many of us develop a "postural slouch" that persists throughout life. For adults there is a whole battery of occupational requirements that tend to throw the spine out of line and make the body sick. Some ailments resulting from various occupations even have descriptive names, such as "typist's neck" and "policeman's feet" (flat-feet). There is a "railroad back" and even a "jazz spine" which afflicts hot drummers. The new dance craze, "The Twist," may damage the spine. There is a "house-wife's backache" and a "pianist's slouch." There are "one-handed occupations" that produce their own distinctive symptoms. In particular, participants in a wide variety of sports such as baseball, bowling, golf, and tennis often pay for their fun with specialized aches and pains. Butchers, carpenters, engineers, farmers, mailmen, mechanics, painters, plasterers, plumbers, printers, and tailors all have their own peculiar ills.
It is quite obvious that in the normal course of everyday activities the vertebrae of the spine would grind and even bump against each other constantly unless Nature had taken some precaution to cushion these shocks. Imagine, for instance, the wear and tear on the solid disks, processes, spinal cord, and emerging nerves that would occur in even so simple and common a pastime as playing ball with a child or hopping about in a game of leap-frog. The noise would probably resemble the proverbial skeletons dancing on a tin roof. Fortunately, cushions have been provided in the form of disks of tough yet elastic cartilage—known as the intervertebral disks-which separate the solid, supporting disks of the spine. There is also cushioning where the nerves emerge from the spinal cord between the processes. This cushioning, however, is unable to protect either the bones or the nerves properly when the spinal bones themselves are out of line.
There are, incidentally, many other cushions located at points of friction, shock, pressure, torque, and so on throughout the body. The best known of these are the bursae. Anybody who has experienced the pain of bursitis knows what happens when they are not functioning properly.
To repeat, chiropractic holds that by the correction of structural misalignments in the body, for the most part in the spinal column, interferences with the nervous system are eliminated and the body is enabled to cure itself. It may come as a surprise to many to Iearn that spinal adjustment as a very effective health restorer in many areas of illness is by no means new, although it is only beginning to be "discovered" by the medical profession today.