Studies in the Osteopathic Sciences
Basic Principles: Volume 1
Louisa Burns, M.S., D.O., D.Sc.O.

The Cause of Human Endurance.

            Normal individuals should be able to withstand much that is abnormal in their environment, if need be.  Our bodies are not made stingily, just able to survive with care, but they are generously planned, sufficient to the demands of everchanging foods, seasons and habits.

            This adaptability, greater than is found to exist in all nature elsewhere, is probably the result of the weeding out of the unfit, such as has been unconsciously practiced from time immemorial by our progenitors.  These ancestors of ours have subjected themselves and their offspring to such severe and rigorous training that only those whose bodies were able to withstand a tremendous amount of mal-treatment were able to live at all.  If there be any inheritance of acquired traits, the influence of these was surely to render the race capable of enduring hardships.  Our savage ancestors either survived or did not survive the rigors of winter, the heat of summer and the onsets of some diseases.  Those who survived perpetuated their qualities.  The race learned in this way to carry more of reserve force than was needed for the daily demands of life, since the person who carried little of reserve force lived only until some pressing exigency displayed his weakness.  Not only must savage muscles be strong enough to tear the meat from the bones of the dying prey, but they must  also be able to recover quickly from the wounds inflicted upon them by both prey and perhaps a hungry neighbor or two.

            Those who recovered most quickly went to fight again most speedily, and thus proved their fitness to survive.  This environment of hardship and excessive demanding perpetuated, if it did not actually produce, a race with superlative possibilities of endurance.  Thus it is that the present generation is able to endure hardships both mental and physical under such trying conditions, to work in tropical or in arctic climates, at the seaside or on the mountain-top, alone in the wilds, or in the crowded city where a breath of fresh air or a moment’s silence are things almost unimaginable.  Such adaptability has been purchased for us by our progenitors at the expense of hundreds of those weaker ones who perished, being unable to endure the hardships.


Present Racial Tendencies.

             A more urgent endurance is now being secured by the demands of the environment of our own day.  It is impossible to foretell the effect of the persistent nerve strain which broods like a whirling pall over every effort of our strenuous lives.  Daily we see the unfit go down under the strain,--unfit to cope with the nerve strain, though not unfit for a rational existence.  These perish daily and with them perish the possibilities of their attainments.  That which they succeed in bringing to pass is the property of the race, and survives in spite of the death of the one whose work we preserve.

            But there are too many who perish before they have finished their work.  It is one characteristic of civilization, that the race inherits all that the race has done, even though the workman may have been childless.  Now those who are finest of brain are often least fit to endure the stress of our present noisy, nerve-racking, competitive existence.  We let these great minds die and their promise dies with them.  No one can tell what the effect of this will be upon the future.  Perhaps the ones who survive present conditions are the very ones who are best fitted to be the ancestors of the next generation.  On the other hand, there is serious danger that our present haste is at the expense of that physical superiority which our primitive and unhurried ancestors have bequeathed to us.  There is danger that in living under these very unhappy and strenuous conditions, we are securing the persistence of characters which we consider neither admirable nor truly strong.  Present industrial and social conditions make for the perpetuation of selfishness and greed.

            This is, however, only the superficial view.  Naturally, those who make the most noise are those who attract the most attention.  The quiet, sturdy folk, who pursue their unruffled existence without being unduly affected by the tension and fury of their noisy neighbors, who choose rather the simpler and kindlier habits of living, perhaps these are holding fast the traits that will persist after this blatant turmoil has frothed itself away.

            The environment of tomorrow’s race depends upon the attitude of today’s inhabitants.  The physician of today should join all other thoughtful men and women in the consideration of this aspect of the matter.  The sane and wholesome lives, full of the labor that upbuilds and refines both the worker and his neighbor, lives that are busy in profitable ways, with some playtimes in them that are joyous and refreshing, and with occasional glimpses into the broader aspects of life—such lives as these ought to be made possible for tomorrow’s children.


Persistence of Rational Habits.

            The rational habits of life are really within the reach of most people now, if they choose it.  Most people do not choose the manner of their lives at all, but simply live that life which accident has led them into.  Anyone who has any vital interest in life would, if he chose at all, choose the conditions which would make for the success of that in which he is interested.  It is simply impossible for anyone to do the best work of which he is capable in the presence of an irrational environment.  The reason so many errors in living are made, is that very few people think of the possibility of their work’s being affect ed by the way they live, or that their pleasure in life can possibly rest upon any habits of their own.  Even the people who do think of these things are very apt to be led into some dark and mysterious superstition.  The simple fact that the laws of the universe are active within our own bodies, that health is simply the occurrence of a normal body in a normal environment, is a thing almost unheard of, and most unbelievable.

            We may endure for a long time an abnormal environment, else there would be no one left to tell the tale, but in so doing we lose the possibilities of the best development.  Work that is performed under a handicap can never be the best work.  The more normal environment means the better work, the greater pleasure, the longer life, the saner and purer mind.  The physician is the only person who is capable and is free to lead people into the more rational manner of living.  Almost alone, the osteopath is free from traditions that so often cripple the teachings of others.  Recognizing, as scarcely any others dare, the relations of cause and effect in producing disease and in facilitating recovery, the osteopath has opportunities for good in this respect that very few other people ever enjoy.

            The rational habits of life bring their own reward.  Any return to the normal environment will be persisted in, if it be a rational return, for the sake of the good there is in it.  Many of the efforts toward the normal life are very irrational indeed.  These perish.  The rational efforts persist, and the normal life soon becomes second nature, -- or, rather, the real “second nature,” the abnormal habit, becomes forgotten, and the “first nature,” or the normal existence becomes recognized as such.

Noise an Abnormal Factor.

            One bane of our modern cities is noise, and another is light, or the lack of light.  The noise is really a very serious menace to the health of the nervous system.  The continual storm of discordant noises that assails the ear all the day and all the night is a source of nerve strain which is scarcely appreciated by those who suffer from it most .  For consciousness is not affected by noises a long time present, and yet the reflex actions continue to be initiated.  The lack of conscious perception of noises preserves the power to attend to other matters, but it does not eliminate the exhaustion of the nerve centers produced by the stream of impulses aroused by the stimulation of the sensory nerves.  Any long continued sensory stimulation is injurious, because of this exhaustion, even though consciousness be not affected.  Indeed, if consciousness were affected by the noises in as serious a manner as the nerve cells are, the cities would soon become more quiet.

            There is absolutely no excuse for the greater number of unearthly screeches and clangs which disgrace our streets.  If the merely unnecessary noises were eliminated, and the others decreased to the degree sufficient to meet the requirements of modern living, no harm could result, and all the people would be placed in a much more nearly normal environment.  This matter is being agitated in some cities, and the physician should be prepared to offer a rational opinion concerning the evils of every condition affecting the general health of the people, and he should also give sufficient attention to the matter to be able to suggest wise methods for the correction of evils as he sees them.


Abnormal Lighting.

            Another abnormal factor in the environment of many people is an unequal and unpleasant distribution of light.  Through the day, the sun shines unrelieved down into the deep wells of the streets, and is reflected from the walls of the buildings in a merciless glare.  The presence of fine dust particles in the air renders the effect the more trying.  The interiors of buildings are too dark, and the person who goes in and out has his pupils continually changing in size, but almost never exactly adapted to one light before another change occurs.  At night, unshaded artificial lights stab the eyes at every turn.


Eye Strain in Narrow Streets.

            Eye strain is increased by the narrowness and the crookedness of the streets.  The intrinsic muscles of the eye are at rest only when looking toward objects at a distance.  Among narrow and irregular streets, there is no opportunity for resting the eyes by looking at distant objects.

            The air is contaminated in many useless ways, both in cities and in country places.  Water and foods are too often impure.  Swamps perpetuate insect pests.  Flies and mosquitoes are not only themselves an annoyance, but they carry infectious organisms which increase the bad effects of wounds or of temporary diseases.  All questions of both public and domestic hygiene lie within the province of the physician.  The word “doctor” means “teacher.”  The word should in part return to its original significance.


The Value of the Normal Environment.

            The whole essence of life is found in the nature of the reply which is made to the environment.  The whole source of the energy displayed in life is found in its environment.  The nature of the environment, then, plays a very important part in the determination of the quality of life.  Given the ordinary life, in an environment which is wholesome, both for the body and mind, and a good, wholesome, useful life will be the result almost invariably..  Give the ordinary child bad air, stimulating and undigestible foods, let him sleep too much or too little, let him be kept attentive and excited, and unrestrained in self-indulgence, and a worthless and unhappy life will be the result.  The extraordinary person may remain of pure and rational mind even under abnormal surroundings, but the ordinary person does not.  Normal function of the brain cells depends upon their normal environment, and the mental and moral manifestations of any life are in large part determined by the quality of the metabolism of the cortical neurons.

The Normal Environment.

            The normal environment of any individual is that which makes his life most useful and most happy through the longest term of years.  It is the duty of the physician to endeavor, with all wisdom, to secure for his patients and associates as nearly this environment as possible, and to encourage all rational plans for providing a better environment for the folk of tomorrow than is possible for those of today.



            The Effect of External Influences on Cells.  Tigerstedt’s Physiology, p. 50, Edition of 1906.