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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 23/30, 2002


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2002;287(4):422. doi:10.1001/jama.287.4.422


From the earliest records of primitive man there are evidences of a wide range of his fears, and the noble advantages secured through the pedagogy of fear. Ere reason ascended its lofty throne, fear expressed itself through the somatic life, and with a celerity which outruns human thought still continues to protect us against threatening harm, even before we know in what the harmful thing consists. Whether originating in the soma or psyche, and however modified, fear invariably appeals to the sentiency of the breathing apparatus and exalts the pulmonary movements beyond the realms of automatism. Those fears which in primeval days prompted directly the exercise of the pulmonary sentiency or indirectly necessitated excessive activity of the lungs added to the efficiency of these organs by maintaining and cultivating their primary allotment of somatic and neural energy and became factors in the attainment of normal intercourse between the nerves distributed to the breathing apparatus and the higher centers. Hundreds of generations have regarded the respiratory organs with a reverential awe, which is the outgrowth of fear, and the ancients considered the terms "breath" and "breathing" as etymologic equivalents of "soul" and "spirit." From the very nature of his inheritance, man is at birth a pulmophobiac. The first new impulse is inaugurated through fears which are products of primal psychisms and impels the newly born to fill his lungs with air, and as he is but a reflex and automatic organism, these fears gain expression through somatic channels. The teleologic significance of this awakening of the breathing apparatus is emphasized by the oft-repeated and obvious prenatal efforts at self-protection during that portion of gestation within the range of fetal impressionability. The first betrayal of fear influence upon the pulmonary apparatus on the child's advent into independent existence, is repeated thereafter in consequence of each wavering or irregular action of the lungs. Sleeping or waking, fear guards, protects and dominates respiration, as it does no other function. Throughout the early life of those who have their proper legacy of fear, the threatened pulmonary apparatus startles like a guilty thing, as a result of limitations. Even in the semi-consciousness of dreams respiratory modifications cause the most acute alarms.