Rate of Nerve Conduction

Müller maintained that nerve conduction was almost instantaneous, making it too fast to measure. This view reflected his belief that there was a vital, nonmaterial, agent that moved instantaneously and determined the behavior of living organisms. Those believing in such a vital force never considered measuring the speed of nerve conduction.

Helmholtz, however, excluded nothing from the realm of science, not even the rate of nerve con- duction. To measure the rate, Helmholtz isolated the nerve fiber leading to a frog’s leg muscle. He then stimulated the nerve fiber at various distances from the muscle and noted how long it took the mus- cle to respond. He found that the muscular response

Helmholtz, to label a visual experience a “chair” involves applying a great deal of previous experi- ence, as does looking at railroad tracks converging in the distance and insisting that they are parallel. Similarly, we see moving pictures as moving because of our prior experience with events that create a series of images across the retina. And we learn from experience that perceived distance is inversely related to the size of the retinal image. Helmholtz decided that the perception of depth arises because the retinal image an object causes is slightly different on the two retinas. Previous experience with such retinal disparity causes the unconscious inference of depth. Helmholtz was reluctant to use the term unconscious inference because it suggested the type of mysterious process that would violate his oath, but he could not find a better term.

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