Section 9 - Voluntary Motions by@erasmusdarwin

Section 9 - Voluntary Motions

When pleasure or pain affect the animal system, many of its motions both muscular and sensual are brought into action; as was shewn in the preceding section, and were called sensitive motions. The general tendency of these motions is to arrest and to possess the pleasure, or to dislodge or avoid the pain: but if this cannot immediately be accomplished, desire or aversion are produced, and the motions in consequence of this new faculty of the sensorium are called voluntary.
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Erasmus Darwin

Zoonomia; Or, the Laws of Organic Life

Zoonomia, Vol. I Or, the Laws of Organic Life by Erasmus Darwin is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Section I: Of Voluntary Motions

SECTION IX. OF VOLUNTARY MOTIONS

When pleasure or pain affect the animal system, many of its motions both muscular and sensual are brought into action; as was shewn in the preceding section, and were called sensitive motions. The general tendency of these motions is to arrest and to possess the pleasure, or to dislodge or avoid the pain: but if this cannot immediately be accomplished, desire or aversion are produced, and the motions in consequence of this new faculty of the sensorium are called voluntary.

I1. Those muscles of the body that are attached to bones, have in general their principal connections with volition, as I move my pen or raise my body. These motions were originally excited by irritation, as was explained in the section on that subject, afterwards the sensations of pleasure or pain, that accompanied the motions thus excited, induced a repetition of them; and at length many of them were voluntarily practised in succession or in combination for the common purposes of life, as in learning to walk, or to speak; and are performed with strength and velocity in proportion to the energy of the volition, that excites them, and the quantity of sensorial power.

2. Another great class of voluntary motions consists of the ideas of recollection. We will to repeat a certain train of ideas, as of the alphabet backwards; and if any ideas, that do not belong to this intended train, intrude themselves by other connections, we will to reject them, and voluntarily persist in the determined train. So at my approach to a house which I have but once visited, and that at the distance of many months, I will to recollect the names of the numerous family I expect to see there, and I do recollect them.

On this voluntary recollection of ideas our faculty of reason depends, as it enables us to acquire an idea of the dissimilitude of any two ideas. Thus if you voluntarily produce the idea of a right-angled triangle, and then of a square; and after having excited these ideas repeatedly, you excite the idea of their difference, which is that of another right-angled triangle inverted over the former; you are said to reason upon this subject, or to compare your ideas.

These ideas of recollection, like the muscular motions above mentioned, were originally excited by the irritation of external bodies, and were termed ideas of perception: afterwards the pleasure or pain, that accompanied these motions, induced a repetition of them in the absence of the external body, by which they were first excited; and then they were termed ideas of imagination. At length they become voluntarily practised in succession or in combination for the common purposes of life; as when we make ourselves masters of the history of mankind, or of the sciences they have investigated; and are then called ideas of recollection; and are performed with strength and velocity in proportion to the energy of the volition that excites them, and the quantity of sensorial power.

II1. The muscular motions above described, that are most frequently obedient to the will are nevertheless occasionally causable by painful or pleasurable sensation, as in the starting from fear, and the contraction of the calf of the leg in the cramp.

2. In like manner the sensual motions, or ideas, that are most frequently connected with volition, are nevertheless occasionally causable by painful or pleasurable sensation. As the histories of men, or the description of places, which we have voluntarily taken pains to remember, sometimes occur to us in our dreams.

III1. The muscular motions that are generally subservient to volition, are also occasionally causable by irritation, as in stretching the limbs after sleep, and yawning. In this manner a contraction of the arm is produced by passing the electric fluid from the Leyden phial along its muscles; and that even though the limb is paralytic. The sudden motion of the arm produces a disagreeable sensation in the joint, but the muscles seem to be brought into action simply by irritation.

2. The ideas, that are generally subservient to the will, are in like manner occasionally excited by irritation; as when we view again an object, we have before well studied, and often recollected.

IV1. Innumerable trains or tribes of motions are associated with these voluntary muscular motions above mentioned; as when I will to extend my arm to a distant object, some other muscles are brought into action, and preserve the balance of my body. And when I wish to perform any steady exertion, as in threading a needle, or chopping with an ax, the pectoral muscles are at the same time brought into action to preserve the trunk of the body motionless, and we cease to respire for a time.

2. In like manner the voluntary sensual motions, or ideas of recollection, are associated with many other trains or tribes of ideas. As when I voluntarily recollect a gothic window, that I saw some time ago, the whole front of the cathedral occurs to me at the same time.

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Darwin, Erasmus, 2005. Zoonomia, Vol. Or, the Laws of Organic Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15707/15707-h/15707-h.htm#sect_IX

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.

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