Motora's unevaluated theory of nerve conduction, or, What psychologists thought about nerves a hundred years ago

Psychology Laboratory, Yamano College of Aesthetics, Tokyo, Japan

Yujiro Motora (1858-1912) is regarded as the founder of modern psychology in Japan. He acquired his Ph.D. under G. Stanley Hall in 1888 at Johns Hopkins University, then returned to Japan and, in 1890, became a professor of psychology at Tokyo Imperial University. It was there that he made a series of unique experiments in collaboration with physiologists involving nerve conduction or, more precisely, a way to simulate nerve conduction using rubber tubes. In 1903, his results were published in two journals: the Journal of Neurology (Shinkei-gaku Zasshi) in Japanese and the American Journal of Psychology in English.

American psychologist C.E. Price (Psych. Bull., 1904) wrote a brief review of this paper, but he did not evaluate the theory. In fact, no one could evaluate his experiments with written words even in Japanese. Still, the photos showing the apparati used in the experiments were printed in the Illustrated Picture Book of Instrumentation in Experimental Psychology (1910).

Motora's theory of nerve conduction used virtually hydraulic model, and since everyone could easily recall the model by Descartes, this type of model was outdated. Though it seemed so, Motora suggested that the phenomena of attention and inhibition could be conveniently explained by the supposition of a plastic tube and, moreover, his theory did not necessarily require continuity of the path of conduction. This point would fit in the neuron doctrine. In the end, Motora's theory of nerve conduction was really a strange mixture of old and new theories about nerves.

Session IV -- Poster Session 1
Friday, 15 June 2001, 9:00 - 10:00 am

Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Eighth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Cologne, Germany