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On Bodily States and Intelligence.

Derived from Building Human Intelligence (1917)


Author of “Old Age Deferred” and “Health Through Rational Diet.”

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SEXUAL GLANDS CRITICAL to the development of the brain cortex are often poorly developed or non-existent in idiots. Conversely, the life histories of highly intelligent men and women are rife with tales of  anarchic sexual vitality.

One searches world history in vain for a single castrated genius. (Poor Abelard was fortunate to have developed his mind before the tragic outcome of his romance with Heloise, which seems not to have affected his mental operations unduly.)

Goethe, who had never worked well except in the presence of women, promenaded in the woods with young girls at an advanced age

cerisimilitude-slug B150Precocious sexuality often accompanies surprising mental maturity in young children. The lad Frankl-Hochwarth, who  began discoursing on the immortality of the soul at the age of five, had at the time full-grown pubic hair and a viable sex organ. A boy aged four-and one-half who could recite the names of all the major cities of the world initiated sex play with a five-year-old girl; and the Frenchman writer Restif de la Bretonne, soon after he began writing novels at the age of eight, started seducing young girls, or at least trying.

Women who menstruate early tend to be brighter than their peers; and especially intelligent women often exhibit lively sexual interests.

That said, sexual impulse is generally more restrained in women than in men, which may explain why there are  few women painters of attainment comparable to Velasquez, Rembrandt, and Raphael. The few really talented female artists who wield their brushes vigorously like a man (e.g.  Rosa Bonheur) commonly manifest other masculine traits, as well. A woman artist I know personally, a Belgian, smokes strong cigars.


A strong flow of blood to the brain-cortex is critical to intelligence, memory and creativity. If the brain-cortex enjoys a good supply of blood, energy and desire run high.  That is why a strong infusion of coffee or tea will inspire people to think and work: dilated blood vessels are increasing blood flow to the brain.  The expression “Wake up and smell the coffee” speaks to this point.

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A German youth who could not understand the distinction between noun and adjective in a sentence, after contracting a virulent blood pressure-heightening fever  began speaking fluent Latin. The philosopher Schiller, when meditating deeply, soaked his feet in ice-cold water, a practice known to hurry blood to the brain; and for the same reason, Bishop Bossuet, when contemplating a thesis, wrapped his head in hot towels.

A scarlet-faced hysterical woman with elevated blood pressure, notorious for distributing erotic poems she wrote to passers-by in the streets, complained to Winslow, after her blood pressure was lowered,  to having  been reduced to hausfrau.

A demented general in the asylum at Nizza wrote vaudeville jokes in calm states of mind. During a blood pressure-induced fit that made him feel his head would explode, he envisioned a revolutionary cannon later developed by the army and employed on the battlefield.

If a hyperactive thyroid that heightens blood flow to the brain does not produce incapacitating migraines, it may yield imaginative fireworks.

If a hyperactive thyroid that heightens blood flow to the brain does not produce incapacitating migraines, it may yield imaginative fireworks. Lombroso has described an artist- patient of his who, in manic states, covered with paintings the walls, dining tables, and even the floors of the asylum at Pesaro. Another patient there, in similar states of mind, drew clever caricatures of the asylum staff, including one of the fat, jovial cook who’d denied him his favorite dish, in the posture of the crucified Jesus.

There  is no record bearing on the flow of blood to the brain of the demented artist Magnoni, but it must have been spectacular during  his creative frenzy late in life. He had been unproductive for years, when Dr. Zani urged him to take up his palette again. Magnoni began painting murals on the walls of the asylum. Once he started, he would not stop.  His mural depicting the starving family of Count Ugolin was so movingly lifelike, a female inmate threw pieces of meat at it, and grease spots remained visible on the painting for years.

Beyond the confines of the asylum, extraordinary flows of blood to the brain intimating dubious metabolisms and gravely injured nervous systems, must surely account for the queer misrepresentations of Nature in the art of impressionists, futurists, and cubists—not  to mention “experimental” music, cabaret stage performances, and the slide-dancing that has supplanted the graceful minuet.

An inability to observe true proportions in Nature, and to evaluate the veritable significance of events, notable in hysterical and depressed persons, will inevitably be reflected in what painters or writers produce—which has not prevented a Nietzsche from acquiring a following, at least among those in similar mental conditions.

Syphilitics’ diseased brain cells and elevated blood pressure explain their  migraine headaches and memory decline. However,  euphoria experienced during early stages of the disease have been known to yield peculiarly intense  works like Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, with its conspicuous absence of system and proportion, thoughts swirling like colors in a kaleidoscope. One can scarcely read Nietzsche’s quixotic observations on his Übermensch (Superman) without sensing the impending paralytic storm.


Accurate, detailed sensory perception and intelligence, are obviously closely related. Phenomena that might barely register in the sensorium of a dummkopf may strike the keen eye of a genius like lightning, causing  him to ponder them for hours. Newton was affected in this way by a falling apple, Galileo by the sight of a lamp swinging in a church. The ancient masters in medicine could diagnosis diabetes by merely touching their tongues to urine.

The negative aspect of such sensitivity is,  of course,  the nervousness that commonly assails great scientists, inventors, detectives, statesmen and financiers. They perceive things to worry about that less sensitive persons overlook. Very slight sounds offended Goethe, and Schopenhauer. Kant once changed his residence because a rooster’s crowing disturbed him at night, and a second time in response to bawdy singing of prisoners jailed nearby.

Only strong impressions are likely to impress the feeble-minded. Hence, their enthusiasm for El Greco.

Only strong impressions are likely to impress the feeble-minded. Hence, their enthusiasm for dazzling colors, loud music, strong perfumes, and El Greco.  Among idiots of the most degraded kind, retarded development of the retina allows them look straight into the sun or into a brilliant source of light without blinking, and they seem to enjoy doing this, though I am at a loss to understand what they get out of it.

In analyzing both neurasthenics (depressed people) and hysterics, one discerns an impoverishment of sensory experience. Walking in the streets, they may pass by acquaintances without recognition. In persons of either kind, attention commandeered by a distressed  subjective state yields an obliviousness to external events—or very  peculiar interpretations of them. Hysterics tend to see everything through rose-colored glasses, while neurasthenics see the world draped in funereal colors. Moreover, such persons will respond powerfully to sensations that seem pertinent to their subjective conditions, while ignoring events of actually much greater practical significance.  Hysterical women or men tremble at things that need not be feared, and weep at trivia. One of Oppenheim’s hysterical patients who shed tears while reading novels was unmoved by the death of her only child.

Memory requires that  attention be paid to what is deemed worth remembering. Not surprisingly, neither hysterics nor neurasthenics have good memories for what lies external to consciousness, including their own possessions. An hysterical lady I once treated left her pocketbook in my office; the next time she visited me, she forgot her gloves, and on another occasion her umbrella.


When pondering stupidity, the professional literature commonly overlooks the significance of impaired blood flow in the nose, although a person with a nose-cold will not likely do so. As we know from the studies of Berger, if all is to be well in the brain-cortex there must be a smooth, regular flow of oxygenated blood to it via the nose. That is why, in my personal experience, when one feels dull and lacks a desire to work, sniffing ammonia may be of value. I also often recommend vibratory nasal massage to migraine-sufferers.

An appearance of idiocy in children may well result from adenoid vegetations that disturb blood supply to the brain-cortex. When the adenoids are removed, children may brighten.

The oracle at Delphi was apparently more or less dümmlich in uninspired states, which was why  pre-prophesy she would descend to the basement of the temple, and sniff what some believe to have been petrochemical gas ethylene issuing from rock fissures beneath the temple floor. What then came from her mouth was a sort of delirious poetry. She had cool, critical  attendants who pretended at least to make sense of her utterances, rather like our literary critics who illuminate the mad Nietzsche.

Sneezing may benefit headachy conditions, especially if accompanied by profuse nasal discharge. I have often relieved headaches in both myself and patients with a sneeze-producing snuff concocted of sneezing root, marjoram, and Florentine root. Because there is frequently a correlation between intense thought and headaches, it is not surprising that some of the greatest modern minds—Kant, Hegel, Frederick the Great, Napoleon—snuffed, and presumably sneezed and vented, although history has not recorded this.

Nose-bleeds, spontaneous or induced, may bring relief to rhinal-based dullness. Bleeding of any kind may, in fact, benefit mental disturbances. A maniac in the asylum at Nizza who had attempted suicide by cutting himself about the neck failed, but the next day, having shed a good deal of blood, he was calm and reasonable, not at all himself.


When we compare the brain-cortex of mankind with that of animals, we discover in the latter very large numbers of cells crammed closely together. This situation in the animal brain has the paradoxical effect of discouraging associations of perceptions and ideas required in thinking, just as crowding large populations in modern cities discourages human associations. Hence, we find in animal mentality a wealth of disconnected thoughts and impressions, with a resulting  inability to formulate similarities and contrasts, thus an absence of logic. By contrast, in the human brain-cortex there are fewer cells with spaces between them, and a network of fine fibrils that allows thoughts and sensory perceptions to flow back and forth between one brain cell and another: a situation that recalls the networks of telephone wires in nations demonstrating  high culture and industry.


There is hardly any single factor that will ordinarily do more damage to our capacity for thought than sleeplessness. John Locke reported that Sir Isaac Newton, once, after very strenuous mental work, suffered insomnia uninterruptedly the next two weeks. He became confused, and only regained his mental faculties by refraining from all mental work for months.

The psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin who, after laboring uninterruptedly through a whole night at a demanding intellectual task, was more or less brain-dead for days afterward.

The distinguished naturalist, Sir Humphry Davy would habitually work after dinner in his laboratory into the early morning, then sleep restlessly. He contracted arteriosclerosis prematurely, and died not yet fifty.

Insomnia is not necessarily incompatible with “brainstorm,” however. Morse, to whom we are indebted for the telegraph, sleepless in his bunk aboard a ship tossing on high seas, was contemplating electricity when the idea that it might be employed to power long-distance writing struck him. He  leapt from bed and managed, notwithstanding a heaving paper, to draw a picture of his conception. Then he  awoke his cabinmate, who after extensive sea-sickness had finally  achieved sleep, thrust the drawing before him, and exclaimed, “God has sent me an idea which will astound the world!”

Thomas A. Edison, unquestionably a man of great intelligence, rarely slept throughout a night. Mainly, he just  took naps. At the height of his powers, he was conceiving a new invention every ten to twelve days, and by the end of his life had patented 1039 of them. We are indebted to him for the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and waxed paper. Spotty slumber might, perhaps, account for some of his more dubious  inspirations, such as shoe umbrellas to keep socks dry, and battery-powered ice skates.


The traveler in the Canton Valais, or Pays-de-Vaud, in Switzerland, or into the less frequented dusky valley regions of Savoy, Aosta, or Styria, impressed as he or she may be with the grandeur of the scenery, cannot but find noteworthy in these regions thrown into shadow by the mountains the number of people more or less blind, deaf and dumb, with leprous skin, intelligence below that of the dog or monkey.

The sources of such degeneration are undoubtedly various, but it is noteworthy how commonly it turns up in rarely sunlit areas, while being virtually non-existent in populations at higher elevations. The sun’s rays activate the thyroid gland, which, in turn, enhances blood-circulation, growth, and metabolism.

The inadequacy of sunlight in the polar regions, along with a monotonously unvaried  diet, must account for the very low level of civilization in them. The Esquimaux, according to Crantz, are hardly able to count the fingers of one hand. They cannot tell you the time of day, or their ages, and do not seem to feel that these are matters worth knowing!

In my view, to put on a black suit or dress, and unsheathe a black umbrella, before perambulating beneath summer sun is sheer madness. One should wear, rather, very light, porous clothing of white or light-gray color so as to reflect as much sunlight as possible. Some of my colleagues at Carlsbad consider me a “queer fellow,” something of a dandy, for venturing into the streets on a sunny day in a white suit. Admittedly, abundant access to sunlight has not enhanced scientific progress among Abyssinians, Arabs and Bedouins, but I submit that the white clothing they all wear in bright sunlight is evidence that they transcend Europeans in common sense.



Contemplating world populations, we find that when food is limited and/or lacking in variety, intelligence is generally slight. Some Esquimaux have probably never seen a vegetable.

Peoples of the world weakest in intelligence are those for whom meat (or, more correctly, albumin, protein) is in short supply, or non-existent. Scarcely surprising this, since albumin is necessary for the formation of blood-plasm and blood-corpuscles, and indispensable for the development and proper functioning of the central nervous system.

Notably, the inventions and discoveries that have fueled modern progress have been mainly the work of the meat-eating English and Americans.

Meat is likely to be rarely, if ever, available to the tribes in tropical climates inhospitable to cattle-raising. However, peoples of those regions seem to have an instinctive understanding of meat’s value, because when they can lay hands on some, they devour it. The cannibalism of peoples we regard as “wild” has undoubtedly a basis in such appreciation. According to Wallist in his Universal History of Voyages, the inhabitants of the islands of Tierra del Fuego will sink their teeth into a raw bird, and devour from head to tail a fish that is still wiggling.

The Bushmen’s regular foods are grasshoppers, larva and plant-roots–but if an animal should fall into their clutches, they will gnaw it half-alive, and suck the bones. The Kaffirs and Bongos of eastern Africa will contest with hawks for lion carcasses; and when meat of a large dead animal is available to Blacks in the interior of Africa, they reportedly stage orgiastic feasts, recovery from which may take days.

JAMES GALLANT, an independent scholar, is the Fortnightly Review’s “Verisimilitudes” columnist, and author of Verisimilitudes: Essays and Approximations, published recently in our Odd Volumes series. He is also the author of Whatever Happened to Ohio? and an earlier novel, The Big Bust at Tyrone’s Rooming House: A Novel of Atlantapublished by Glad Day Books.

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