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Title: The Breath of Life
Author: Burroughs, John, 1837-1921
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Riverside Press Cambridge



_Published May 1915_


As life nears its end with me, I find myself meditating more and more
upon the mystery of its nature and origin, yet without the least hope
that I can find out the ways of the Eternal in this or in any other
world. In these studies I fancy I am about as far from mastering the
mystery as the ant which I saw this morning industriously exploring a
small section of the garden walk is from getting a clear idea of the
geography of the North American Continent. But the ant was occupied and
was apparently happy, and she must have learned something about a small
fraction of that part of the earth's surface.

I have passed many pleasant summer days in my hay-barn study, or under
the apple trees, exploring these questions, and though I have not solved
them, I am satisfied with the clearer view I have given myself of the
mystery that envelops them. I have set down in these pages all the
thoughts that have come to me on this subject. I have not aimed so much
at consistency as at clearness and definiteness of statement, letting my
mind drift as upon a shoreless sea. Indeed, what are such questions, and
all other ultimate questions, but shoreless seas whereon the chief
reward of the navigator is the joy of the adventure?

Sir Thomas Browne said, over two hundred years ago, that in philosophy
truth seemed double-faced, by which I fancy he meant that there was
always more than one point of view of all great problems, often
contradictory points of view, from which truth is revealed. In the
following pages I am aware that two ideas, or principles, struggle in my
mind for mastery. One is the idea of the super-mechanical and the
super-chemical character of living things; the other is the idea of the
supremacy and universality of what we call natural law. The first
probably springs from my inborn idealism and literary habit of mind; the
second from my love of nature and my scientific bent. It is hard for me
to reduce the life impulse to a level with common material forces that
shape and control the world of inert matter, and it is equally hard for
me to reconcile my reason to the introduction of a new principle, or to
see anything in natural processes that savors of the _ab-extra_. It is
the working of these two different ideas in my mind that seems to give
rise to the obvious contradictions that crop out here and there
throughout this volume. An explanation of life phenomena that savors of
the laboratory and chemism repels me, and an explanation that savors of
the theological point of view is equally distasteful to me. I crave and
seek a natural explanation of all phenomena upon this earth, but the
word "natural" to me implies more than mere chemistry and physics. The
birth of a baby, and the blooming of a flower, are natural events, but
the laboratory methods forever fail to give us the key to the secret of

I am forced to conclude that my passion for nature and for all open-air
life, though tinged and stimulated by science, is not a passion for pure
science, but for literature and philosophy. My imagination and ingrained
humanism are appealed to by the facts and methods of natural history. I
find something akin to poetry and religion (using the latter word in its
non-mythological sense, as indicating the sum of mystery and reverence
we feel in the presence of the great facts of life and death) in the
shows of day and night, and in my excursions to fields and woods. The
love of nature is a different thing from the love of science, though the
two may go together. The Wordsworthian sense in nature, of "something
far more deeply interfused" than the principles of exact science, is
probably the source of nearly if not quite all that this volume holds.
To the rigid man of science this is frank mysticism; but without a sense
of the unknown and unknowable, life is flat and barren. Without the
emotion of the beautiful, the sublime, the mysterious, there is no art,
no religion, no literature. How to get from the clod underfoot to the
brain and consciousness of man without invoking something outside of,
and superior to, natural laws, is the question. For my own part I
content myself with the thought of some unknown and doubtless unknowable
tendency or power in the elements themselves--a kind of universal mind
pervading living matter and the reason of its living, through which the
whole drama of evolution is brought about.

This is getting very near to the old teleological conception, as it is
also near to that of Henri Bergson and Sir Oliver Lodge. Our minds
easily slide into the groove of supernaturalism and spiritualism because
they have long moved therein. We have the words and they mould our
thoughts. But science is fast teaching us that the universe is complete
in itself; that whatever takes place in matter is by virtue of the force
of matter; that it does not defer to or borrow from some other universe;
that there is deep beneath deep in it; that gross matter has its
interior in the molecule, and the molecule has its interior in the atom,
and the atom has its interior in the electron, and that the electron is
matter in its fourth or non-material state--the point where it touches
the super-material. The transformation of physical energy into vital,
and of vital into mental, doubtless takes place in this invisible inner
world of atoms and electrons. The electric constitution of matter is a
deduction of physics. It seems in some degree to bridge over the chasm
between what we call the material and the spiritual. If we are not
within hailing distance of life and mind, we seem assuredly on the road
thither. The mystery of the transformation of the ethereal, imponderable
forces into the vital and the mental seems quite beyond the power of the
mind to solve. The explanation of it in the bald terms of chemistry and
physics can never satisfy a mind with a trace of idealism in it.

The greater number of the chapters of this volume are variations upon a
single theme,--what Tyndall called "the mystery and the miracle of
vitality,"--and I can only hope that the variations are of sufficient
interest to justify the inevitable repetitions which occur. I am no more
inclined than Tyndall was to believe in miracles unless we name
everything a miracle, while at the same time I am deeply impressed with
the inadequacy of all known material forces to account for the phenomena
of living things.

That word of evil repute, materialism, is no longer the black sheep in
the flock that it was before the advent of modern transcendental
physics. The spiritualized materialism of men like Huxley and Tyndall
need not trouble us. It springs from the new conception of matter. It
stands on the threshold of idealism or mysticism with the door ajar.
After Tyndall had cast out the term "vital force," and reduced all
visible phenomena of life to mechanical attraction and repulsion, after
he had exhausted physics, and reached its very rim, a mighty mystery
still hovered beyond him. He recognized that he had made no step toward
its solution, and was forced to confess with the philosophers of all
ages that

                            "We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep."


I.    THE BREATH OF LIFE                   1

II.   THE LIVING WAVE                     24

III.  A WONDERFUL WORLD                   46

IV.   THE BAFFLING PROBLEM                71

V.    SCIENTIFIC VITALISM                104

VI.   A BIRD OF PASSAGE                  115

VII.  LIFE AND MIND                      131

VIII. LIFE AND SCIENCE                   159

IX.   THE JOURNEYING ATOMS               188

X.    THE VITAL ORDER                    212

XI.   THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIT             244


      INDEX                              291

The reproduction of the bust of Mr. Burroughs which appears as the
frontispiece to this volume is used by courtesy of the sculptor, C. S.




When for the third or fourth time during the spring or summer I take my
hoe and go out and cut off the heads of the lusty burdocks that send out
their broad leaves along the edge of my garden or lawn, I often ask
myself, "What is this thing that is so hard to scotch here in the
grass?" I decapitate it time after time and yet it forthwith gets itself
another head. We call it burdock, but what is burdock, and why does it
not change into yellow dock, or into a cabbage? What is it that is so
constant and so irrepressible, and before the summer is ended will be
lying in wait here with its ten thousand little hooks to attach itself
to every skirt or bushy tail or furry or woolly coat that comes along,
in order to get free transportation to other lawns and gardens, to green
fields and pastures new?

It is some living thing; but what is a living thing, and how does it
differ from a mechanical and non-living thing? If I smash or overturn
the sundial with my hoe, or break the hoe itself, these things stay
smashed and broken, but the burdock mends itself, renews itself, and, if
I am not on my guard, will surreptitiously mature some of the burs
before the season is passed.

Evidently a living thing is radically different from a mechanical thing;
yet modern physical science tells me that the burdock is only another
kind of machine, and manifests nothing but the activity of the
mechanical and chemical principles that we see in operation all about us
in dead matter; and that a little different mechanical arrangement of
its ultimate atoms would turn it into a yellow dock or into a cabbage,
into an oak or into a pine, into an ox or into a man.

I see that it is a machine in this respect, that it is set going by a
force exterior to itself--the warmth of the sun acting upon it, and upon
the moisture in the soil; but it is unmechanical in that it repairs
itself and grows and reproduces itself, and after it has ceased running
can never be made to run again. After I have reduced all its activities
to mechanical and chemical principles, my mind seems to see something
that chemistry and mechanics do not explain--something that avails
itself of these forces, but is not of them. This may be only my
anthropomorphic way of looking at things, but are not all our ways of
looking at things anthropomorphic? How can they be any other? They
cannot be deific since we are not gods. They may be scientific. But what
is science but a kind of anthropomorphism? Kant wisely said, "It sounds
at first singular, but is none the less certain, that the understanding
does not derive its laws from nature, but prescribes them to nature."
This is the anthropomorphism of science.

If I attribute the phenomenon of life to a vital force or principle, am
I any more unscientific than I am when I give a local habitation and a
name to any other causal force, as gravity, chemical affinity, cohesion,
osmosis, electricity, and so forth? These terms stand for certain
special activities in nature and are as much the inventions of our own
minds as are any of the rest of our ideas.

We can help ourselves out, as Haeckel does, by calling the physical
forces--such as the magnet that attracts the iron filings, the powder
that explodes, the steam that drives the locomotive, and the
like--"living inorganics," and looking upon them as acting by "living
force as much as the sensitive mimosa does when it contracts its leaves
at touch." But living force is what we are trying to differentiate from
mechanical force, and what do we gain by confounding the two? We can
only look upon a living body as a machine by forming new conceptions of
a machine--a machine utterly unmechanical, which is a contradiction of

A man may expend the same kind of force in thinking that he expends in
chopping his wood, but that fact does not put the two kinds of activity
on the same level. There is no question but that the food consumed is
the source of the energy in both cases, but in the one the energy is
muscular, and in the other it is nervous. When we speak of mental or
spiritual force, we have as distinct a conception as when we speak of
physical force. It requires physical force to produce the effect that we
call mental force, though how the one can result in the other is past
understanding. The law of the correlation and conservation of energy
requires that what goes into the body as physical force must come out in
some form of physical force--heat, light, electricity, and so forth.

Science cannot trace force into the mental realm and connect it with our
states of consciousness. It loses track of it so completely that men
like Tyndall and Huxley and Spencer pause before it as an inscrutable
mystery, while John Fiske helps himself out with the conception of the
soul as quite independent of the body, standing related to it as the
musician is related to his instrument. This idea is the key to Fiske's
proof of the immortality of the soul. Finding himself face to face with
an insoluble mystery, he cuts the knot, or rather, clears the chasm, by
this extra-scientific leap. Since the soul, as we know it, is
inseparably bound up with physical conditions, it seems to me that a
more rational explanation of the phenomenon of mentality is the
conception that the physical force and substance that we use up in a
mental effort or emotional experience gives rise, through some unknown
kind of molecular activity, to something which is analogous to the
electric current in a live wire, and which traverses the nerves and
results in our changing states of consciousness. This is the mechanistic
explanation of mind, consciousness, etc., but it is the only one, or
kind of one, that lends itself to scientific interpretation. Life,
spirit, consciousness, may be a mode of motion as distinct from all
other modes of motion, such as heat, light, electricity, as these are
distinct from each other.

When we speak of force of mind, force of character, we of course speak
in parables, since the force here alluded to is an experience of our own
minds entirely and would not suffice to move the finest dust-particle in
the air.

There could be no vegetable or animal life without the sunbeam, yet when
we have explained or accounted for the growth of a tree in terms of the
chemistry and physics of the sunbeam, do we not have to figure to
ourselves something in the tree that avails itself of this chemistry,
that uses it and profits by it? After this mysterious something has
ceased to operate, or play its part, the chemistry of the sunbeam is no
longer effective, and the tree is dead.

Without the vibrations that we call light, there would have been no eye.
But, as Bergson happily says, it is not light passively received that
makes the eye; it is light meeting an indwelling need in the organism,
which amounts to an active creative principle, that begets the eye. With
fish in underground waters this need does not arise; hence they have no
sight. Fins and wings and legs are developed to meet some end of the
organism, but if the organism were not charged with an expansive or
developing force or impulse, would those needs arise?

Why should the vertebrate series have risen through the fish, the
reptile, the mammal, to man, unless the manward impulse was inherent in
the first vertebrate; something that struggled, that pushed on and up
from the more simple to the more complex forms? Why did not unicellular
life always remain unicellular? Could not the environment have acted
upon it endlessly without causing it to change toward higher and more
complex forms, had there not been some indwelling aboriginal tendency
toward these forms? How could natural selection, or any other process of
selection, work upon species to modify them, if there were not something
in species pushing out and on, seeking new ways, new forms, in fact some
active principle that is modifiable?

Life has risen by stepping-stones of its dead self to higher things. Why
has it risen? Why did it not keep on the same level, and go through the
cycle of change, as the inorganic does, without attaining to higher
forms? Because, it may be replied, it was life, and not mere matter and
motion--something that lifts matter and motion to a new plane.

Under the influence of the life impulse, the old routine of matter--from
compound to compound, from solid to fluid, from fluid to gaseous, from
rock to soil, the cycle always ending where it began--is broken into,
and cycles of a new order are instituted. From the stable equilibrium
which dead matter is always seeking, the same matter in the vital
circuit is always seeking the state of unstable equilibrium, or rather
is forever passing between the two, and evolving the myriad forms of
life in the passage. It is hard to think of the process as the work of
the physical and chemical forces of inorganic nature, without
supplementing them with a new and different force.

The forces of life are constructive forces, and they are operative in a
world of destructive or disintegrating forces which oppose them and
which they overcome. The physical and chemical forces of dead matter are
at war with the forces of life, till life overcomes and uses them.

The mechanical forces go on repeating or dividing through the same
cycles forever and ever, seeking a stable condition, but the vital force
is inventive and creative and constantly breaks the repose that organic
nature seeks to impose upon it.

External forces may modify a body, but they cannot develop it unless
there is something in the body waiting to be developed, craving
development, as it were. The warmth and moisture in the soil act alike
upon the grains of sand and upon the seed-germs; the germ changes into
something else, the sand does not. These agents liberate a force in the
germ that is not in the grain of sand. The warmth of the brooding fowl
does not spend itself upon mere passive, inert matter (unless there is a
china egg in the nest), but upon matter straining upon its leash, and in
a state of expectancy. We do not know how the activity of the molecules
of the egg differs from the activity of the molecules of the pebble,
under the influence of warmth, but we know there must be a difference
between the interior movements of organized and unorganized matter.

Life lifts inert matter up into a thousand varied and beautiful forms
and holds it there for a season,--holds it against gravity and chemical
affinity, though you may say, if you please, not without their aid,--and
then in due course lets go of it, or abandons it, and lets it fall back
into the great sea of the inorganic. Its constant tendency is to fall
back; indeed, in animal life it does fall back every moment; it rises on
the one hand, serves its purpose of life, and falls back on the other.
In going through the cycle of life the mineral elements experience some
change that chemical analysis does not disclose--they are the more
readily absorbed again by life. It is as if the elements had profited
in some way under the tutelage of life. Their experience has been a
unique and exceptional one. Only a small fraction of the sum total of
the inert matter of the globe can have this experience. It must first go
through the vegetable cycle before it can be taken up by the animal. The
only things we can take directly from the inorganic world are water and
air; and the function of water is largely a mechanical one, and the
function of air a chemical one.

I think of the vital as flowing out of the physical, just as the
psychical flows out of the vital, and just as the higher forms of animal
life flow out of the lower. It is a far cry from man to the dumb brutes,
and from the brutes to the vegetable world, and from the vegetable to
inert matter; but the germ and start of each is in the series below it.
The living came out of the not-living. If life is of physico-chemical
origin, it is so by transformations and translations that physics cannot
explain. The butterfly comes out of the grub, man came out of the brute,
but, as Darwin says, "not by his own efforts," any more than the child
becomes the man by its own efforts.

The push of life, of the evolutionary process, is back of all and in
all. We can account for it all by saying the Creative Energy is immanent
in matter, and this gives the mind something to take hold of.


According to the latest scientific views held on the question by such
men as Professor Loeb, the appearance of life on the globe was a purely
accidental circumstance. The proper elements just happened to come
together at the right time in the right proportions and under the right
conditions, and life was the result. It was an accident in the thermal
history of the globe. Professor Loeb has lately published a volume of
essays and addresses called "The Mechanistic Conception of Life,"
enforcing and illustrating this view. He makes war on what he terms the
metaphysical conception of a "life-principle" as the key to the problem,
and urges the scientific conception of the adequacy of
mechanico-chemical forces. In his view, we are only chemical mechanisms;
and all our activities, mental and physical alike, are only automatic
responses to the play of the blind, material forces of external nature.
All forms of life, with all their wonderful adaptations, are only the
chance happenings of the blind gropings and clashings of dead matter:
"We eat, drink, and reproduce [and, of course, think and speculate and
write books on the problems of life], not because mankind has reached an
agreement that this is desirable, but because, machine-like, we are
compelled to do so!"

He reaches the conclusion that all our inner subjective life is
amenable to physico-chemical analysis, because many cases of simple
animal instinct and will can be explained on this basis--the basis of
animal tropism. Certain animals creep or fly to the light, others to the
dark, because they cannot help it. This is tropism. He believes that the
origin of life can be traced to the same physico-chemical activities,
because, in his laboratory experiments, he has been able to dispense
with the male principle, and to fertilize the eggs of certain low forms
of marine life by chemical compounds alone. "The problem of the
beginning and end of individual life is physico-chemically clear"--much
clearer than the first beginnings of life. All individual life begins
with the egg, but where did we get the egg? When chemical synthesis will
give us this, the problem is solved. We can analyze the material
elements of an organism, but we cannot synthesize them and produce the
least spark of living matter. That all forms of life have a mechanical
and chemical basis is beyond question, but when we apply our analysis to
them, life evaporates, vanishes, the vital processes cease. But apply
the same analysis to inert matter, and only the form is changed.

Professor Loeb's artificially fathered embryo and starfish and
sea-urchins soon die. If his chemism could only give him the
mother-principle also! But it will not. The mother-principle is at the
very foundations of the organic world, and defies all attempts of
chemical synthesis to reproduce it.

It would be presumptive in the extreme for me to question Professor
Loeb's scientific conclusions; he is one of the most eminent of living
experimental biologists. I would only dissent from some of his
philosophical conclusions. I dissent from his statement that only the
mechanistic conception of life can throw light on the source of ethics.
Is there any room for the moral law in a world of mechanical
determinism? There is no ethics in the physical order, and if humanity
is entirely in the grip of that order, where do moral obligations come
in? A gun, a steam-engine, knows no ethics, and to the extent that we
are compelled to do things, are we in the same category. Freedom of
choice alone gives any validity to ethical consideration. I dissent from
the idea to which he apparently holds, that biology is only applied
physics and chemistry. Is not geology also applied physics and
chemistry? Is it any more or any less? Yet what a world of difference
between the two--between a rock and a tree, between a man and the soil
he cultivates. Grant that the physical and the chemical forces are the
same in both, yet they work to such different ends in each. In one case
they are tending always to a deadlock, to the slumber of a static
equilibrium; in the other they are ceaselessly striving to reach a state
of dynamic activity--to build up a body that hangs forever between a
state of integration and disintegration. What is it that determines this
new mode and end of their activities?

In all his biological experimentation, Professor Loeb starts with living
matter and, finding its processes capable of physico-chemical analysis,
he hastens to the conclusion that its genesis is to be accounted for by
the action and interaction of these principles alone.

In the inorganic world, everything is in its place through the operation
of blind physical forces; because the place of a dead thing, its
relation to the whole, is a matter of indifference. The rocks, the
hills, the streams are in their place, but any other place would do as
well. But in the organic world we strike another order--an order where
the relation and subordination of parts is everything, and to speak of
human existence as a "matter of chance" in the sense, let us say, that
the forms and positions of inanimate bodies are matters of chance, is to
confuse terms.

Organic evolution upon the earth shows steady and regular progression;
as much so as the growth and development of a tree. If the evolutionary
impulse fails on one line, it picks itself up and tries on another, it
experiments endlessly like an inventor, but always improves on its last
attempts. Chance would have kept things at a standstill; the principle
of chance, give it time enough, must end where it began. Chance is a
man lost in the woods; he never arrives; he wanders aimlessly. If
evolution pursued a course equally fortuitous, would it not still be
wandering in the wilderness of the chaotic nebulæ?


A vastly different and much more stimulating view of life is given by
Henri Bergson in his "Creative Evolution." Though based upon biological
science, it is a philosophical rather than a scientific view, and
appeals to our intuitional and imaginative nature more than to our
constructive reason. M. Bergson interprets the phenomena of life in
terms of spirit, rather than in terms of matter as does Professor Loeb.
The word "creative" is the key-word to his view. Life is a creative
impulse or current which arose in matter at a certain time and place,
and flows through it from form to form, from generation to generation,
augmenting in force as it advances. It is one with spirit, and is
incessant creation; the whole organic world is filled, from bottom to
top, with one tremendous effort. It was long ago felicitously stated by
Whitman in his "Leaves of Grass," "Urge and urge, always the procreant
urge of the world."

This conception of the nature and genesis of life is bound to be
challenged by modern physical science, which, for the most part, sees in
biology only a phase of physics; but the philosophic mind and the
trained literary mind will find in "Creative Evolution" a treasure-house
of inspiring ideas, and engaging forms of original artistic expression.
As Mr. Balfour says, "M. Bergson's 'Evolution Créatrice' is not merely a
philosophical treatise, it has all the charm and all the audacities of a
work of art, and as such defies adequate reproduction."

It delivers us from the hard mechanical conception of determinism, or of
a closed universe which, like a huge manufacturing plant, grinds out
vegetables and animals, minds and spirits, as it grinds out rocks and
soils, gases and fluids, and the inorganic compounds.

With M. Bergson, life is the flowing metamorphosis of the poets,--an
unceasing becoming,--and evolution is a wave of creative energy
overflowing through matter "upon which each visible organism rides
during the short interval of time given it to live." In his view, matter
is held in the iron grip of necessity, but life is freedom itself.
"Before the evolution of life ... the portals of the future remain wide
open. It is a creation that goes on forever in virtue of an initial
movement. This movement constitutes the unity of the organized world--a
prolific unity, of an infinite richness, superior to any that the
intellect could dream of, for the intellect is only one of its aspects
or products."

What a contrast to Herbert Spencer's view of life and evolution!
"Life," says Spencer, "consists of inner action so adjusted as to
balance outer action." True enough, no doubt, but not interesting. If
the philosopher could tell us what it is that brings about the
adjustment, and that profits by it, we should at once prick up our ears.
Of course, it is life. But what is life? It is inner action so adjusted
as to balance outer action!

A recent contemptuous critic of M. Bergson's book, Hugh S. R. Elliot,
points out, as if he were triumphantly vindicating the physico-chemical
theory of the nature and origin of life, what a complete machine a
cabbage is for converting solar energy into chemical and vital
energy--how it takes up the raw material from the soil by a chemical and
mechanical process, how these are brought into contact with the light
and air through the leaves, and thus the cabbage is built up. In like
manner, a man is a machine for converting chemical energy derived from
the food he eats into motion, and the like. As if M. Bergson, or any one
else, would dispute these things! In the same way, a steam-engine is a
machine for converting the energy latent in coal into motion and power;
but what force lies back of the engine, and was active in the

The final question of the cabbage and the man still remains--Where did
you get them?

You assume vitality to start with--how did you get it? Did it arise
spontaneously out of dead matter? Mechanical and chemical forces do all
the work of the living body, but who or what controls and directs them,
so that one compounding of the elements begets a cabbage, and another
compounding of the same elements begets an oak--one mixture of them and
we have a frog, another and we have a man? Is there not room here for
something besides blind, indifferent forces? If we make the molecules
themselves creative, then we are begging the question. The creative
energy by any other name remains the same.


If life itself is not a force or a form of energy, yet behold what
energy it is capable of exerting! It seems to me that Sir Oliver Lodge
is a little confusing when he says in a recent essay that "life does not
exert force--not even the most microscopical force--and certainly does
not supply energy." Sir Oliver is thinking of life as a distinct
entity--something apart from the matter which it animates. But even in
this case can we not say that the mainspring of the energy of living
bodies is the life that is in them?

Apart from the force exerted by living animal bodies, see the force
exerted by living plant bodies. I thought of the remark of Sir Oliver
one day not long after reading it, while I was walking in a beech wood
and noted how the sprouting beechnuts had sent their pale radicles down
through the dry leaves upon which they were lying, often piercing two
or three of them, and forcing their way down into the mingled soil and
leaf-mould a couple of inches. Force was certainly expended in doing
this, and if the life in the sprouting nut did not exert it or expend
it, what did?

When I drive a peg into the ground with my axe or mallet, is the life in
my arm any more strictly the source (the secondary source) of the energy
expended than is the nut in this case? Of course, the sun is the primal
source of the energy in both cases, and in all cases, but does not life
exert the force, use it, bring it to bear, which it receives from the
universal fount of energy?

Life cannot supply energy _de novo_, cannot create it out of nothing,
but it can and must draw upon the store of energy in which the earth
floats as in a sea. When this energy or force is manifest through a
living body, we call it vital force; when it is manifest through a
mechanical contrivance, we call it mechanical force; when it is
developed by the action and reaction of chemical compounds, we call it
chemical force; the same force in each case, but behaving so differently
in the one case from what it does in the other that we come to think of
it as a new and distinct entity. Now if Sir Oliver or any one else could
tell us what force is, this difference between the vitalists and the
mechanists might be reconciled.

Darwin measured the force of the downward growth of the radicle, such as
I have alluded to, as one quarter of a pound, and its lateral pressure
as much greater. We know that the roots of trees insert themselves into
seams in the rocks, and force the parts asunder. This force is
measurable and is often very great. Its seat seems to be in the soft,
milky substance called the cambium layer under the bark. These minute
cells when their force is combined may become regular rock-splitters.

One of the most remarkable exhibitions of plant force I ever saw was in
a Western city where I observed a species of wild sunflower forcing its
way up through the asphalt pavement; the folded and compressed leaves of
the plant, like a man's fist, had pushed against the hard but flexible
concrete till it had bulged up and then split, and let the irrepressible
plant through. The force exerted must have been many pounds. I think it
doubtful if the strongest man could have pushed his fist through such a
resisting medium. If it was not life which exerted this force, what was
it? Life activities are a kind of explosion, and the slow continued
explosions of this growing plant rent the pavement as surely as powder
would have done. It is doubtful if any cultivated plant could have
overcome such odds. It required the force of the untamed hairy plant of
the plains to accomplish this feat.

That life does not supply energy, that is, is not an independent source
of energy, seems to me obvious enough, but that it does not manifest
energy, use energy, or "exert force," is far from obvious. If a growing
plant or tree does not exert force by reason of its growing, or by
virtue of a specific kind of activity among its particles, which we name
life, and which does not take place in a stone or in a bar of iron or in
dead timber, then how can we say that any mechanical device or explosive
compound exerts force? The steam-engine does not create force, neither
does the exploding dynamite, but these things exert force. We have to
think of the sum total of the force of the universe, as of matter
itself, as a constant factor, that can neither be increased nor
diminished. All activity, organic and inorganic, draws upon this force:
the plant and tree, as well as the engine and the explosive--the winds,
the tides, the animal, the vegetable alike. I can think of but one
force, but of any number of manifestations of force, and of two distinct
kinds of manifestations, the organic and the inorganic, or the vital and
the physical,--the latter divisible into the chemical and the
mechanical, the former made up of these two working in infinite
complexity because drawn into new relations, and lifted to higher ends
by this something we call life.

We think of something in the organic that lifts and moves and
redistributes dead matter, and builds it up into the ten thousand new
forms which it would never assume without this something; it lifts lime
and iron and silica and potash and carbon, against gravity, up into
trees and animal forms, not by a new force, but by an old force in the
hands of a new agent.

The cattle move about the field, the drift boulders slowly creep down
the slopes; there is no doubt that the final source of the force is in
both cases the same; what we call gravity, a name for a mystery, is the
form it takes in the case of the rocks, and what we call vitality,
another name for a mystery, is the form it takes in the case of the
cattle; without the solar and stellar energy, could there be any motion
of either rock or beast?

Force is universal, it pervades all nature, one manifestation of it we
call heat, another light, another electricity, another cohesion,
chemical affinity, and so on. May not another manifestation of it be
called life, differing from all the rest more radically than they differ
from one another; bound up with all the rest and inseparable from them
and identical with them only in its ultimate source in the Creative
Energy that is immanent in the universe? I have to think of the Creative
Energy as immanent in all matter, and the final source of all the
transformations and transmutations we see in the organic and the
inorganic worlds. The very nature of our minds compels us to postulate
some power, or some principle, not as lying back of, but as active in,
all the changing forms of life and nature, and their final source and

The mind is satisfied when it finds a word that gives it a hold of a
thing or a process, or when it can picture to itself just how the thing
occurs. Thus, for instance, to account for the power generated by the
rushing together of hydrogen and oxygen to produce water, we have to
conceive of space between the atoms of these elements, and that the
force generated comes from the immense velocity with which the
infinitesimal atoms rush together across this infinitesimal space. It is
quite possible that this is not the true explanation at all, but it
satisfies the mind because it is an explanation in terms of mechanical
forces that we know.

The solar energy goes into the atoms or corpuscles one thing, and it
comes out another; it goes in as inorganic force, and it comes out as
organic and psychic. The change or transformation takes place in those
invisible laboratories of the infinitesimal atoms. It helps my mental
processes to give that change a name--vitality--and to recognize it as a
supra-mechanical force. Pasteur wanted a name for it and called it
"dissymmetric force."

We are all made of one stuff undoubtedly, vegetable and animal, man and
woman, dog and donkey, and the secret of the difference between us, and
of the passing along of the difference from generation to generation
with but slight variations, may be, so to speak, in the way the
molecules and atoms of our bodies take hold of hands and perform their
mystic dances in the inner temple of life. But one would like to know
who or what pipes the tune and directs the figures of the dance.

In the case of the beechnuts, what is it that lies dormant in the
substance of the nuts and becomes alive, under the influence of the
warmth and moisture of spring, and puts out a radicle that pierces the
dry leaves like an awl? The pebbles, though they contain the same
chemical elements, do not become active and put out a radicle.

The chemico-physical explanation of the universe goes but a little way.
These are the tools of the creative process, but they are not that
process, nor its prime cause. Start the flame of life going, and the
rest may be explained in terms of chemistry; start the human body
developing, and physiological processes explain its growth; but why it
becomes a man and not a monkey--what explains that?




If one attempts to reach any rational conclusion on the question of the
nature and origin of life on this planet, he soon finds himself in close
quarters with two difficulties. He must either admit of a break in the
course of nature and the introduction of a new principle, the vital
principle, which, if he is a man of science, he finds it hard to do; or
he must accept the theory of the physico-chemical origin of life, which,
as a being with a soul, he finds it equally hard to do. In other words,
he must either draw an arbitrary line between the inorganic and the
organic when he knows that drawing arbitrary lines in nature, and
fencing off one part from another, is an unscientific procedure, and one
that often leads to bewildering contradictions; or he must look upon
himself with all his high thoughts and aspirations, and upon all other
manifestations of life, as merely a chance product of the blind
mechanical and chemical action and interaction of the inorganic forces.

Either conclusion is distasteful. One does not like to think of himself
as a chance hit of the irrational physical elements; neither does he
feel at ease with the thought that he is the result of any break or
discontinuity in natural law. He likes to see himself as vitally and
inevitably related to the physical order as is the fruit to the tree
that bore it, or the child to the mother that carried it in her womb,
and yet, if only mechanical and chemical forces entered into his
genesis, he does not feel himself well fathered and mothered.

One may evade the difficulty, as Helmholtz did, by regarding life as
eternal--that it had no beginning in time; or, as some other German
biologists have done, that the entire cosmos is alive and the earth a
living organism.

If biogenesis is true, and always has been true,--no life without
antecedent life,--then the question of a beginning is unthinkable. It is
just as easy to think of a stick with only one end.

Such stanch materialists and mechanists as Haeckel and Verworn seem to
have felt compelled, as a last resort, to postulate a psychic principle
in nature, though of a low order. Haeckel says that most chemists and
physicists will not hear a word about a "soul" in the atom. "In my
opinion, however," he says, "in order to explain the simplest physical
and chemical processes, we must necessarily assume a low order of
psychical activity among the homogeneous particles of plasm, rising a
very little above that of the crystal." In crystallization he sees a
low degree of sensation and a little higher degree in the plasm.

Have we not in this rudimentary psychic principle which Haeckel ascribes
to the atom a germ to start with that will ultimately give us the mind
of man? With this spark, it seems to me, we can kindle a flame that will
consume Haeckel's whole mechanical theory of creation. Physical science
is clear that the non-living or inorganic world was before the living or
organic world, but that the latter in some mysterious way lay folded in
the former. Science has for many years been making desperate efforts to
awaken this slumbering life in its laboratories, but has not yet
succeeded, and probably never will succeed. Life without antecedent life
seems a biological impossibility. The theory of spontaneous generation
is rejected by the philosophical mind, because our experience tells us
that everything has its antecedent, and that there is and can be no end
to the causal sequences.

Spencer believes that the organic and inorganic fade into each other by
insensible gradations--that no line can be drawn between them so that
one can say, on this side is the organic, on that the inorganic. In
other words, he says it is not necessary for us to think of an absolute
commencement of organic life, or of a first organism--organic matter was
not produced all at once, but was reached through steps or gradations.
Yet it puzzles one to see how there can be any gradations or degrees
between being and not being. Can there be any halfway house between
something and nothing?


There is another way out of the difficulty that besets our rational
faculties in their efforts to solve this question, and that is the
audacious way of Henri Bergson in his "Creative Evolution." It is to
deny any validity to the conclusion of our logical faculties upon this
subject. Our intellect, Bergson says, cannot grasp the true nature of
life, nor the meaning of the evolutionary movement. With the emphasis of
italics he repeats that "_the intellect is characterized by a natural
inability to comprehend life_." He says this in a good many pages and in
a good many different ways; the idea is one of the main conclusions of
his book. Our intuitions, our spiritual nature, according to this
philosopher, are more _en rapport_ with the secrets of the creative
energy than are our intellectual faculties; the key to the problem is to
be found here, rather than in the mechanics and chemistry of the latter.
Our intellectual faculties can grasp the physical order because they are
formed by a world of solids and fluids and give us the power to deal
with them and act upon them. But they cannot grasp the nature and the
meaning of the vital order.

"We treat the living like the lifeless, and think all reality, however
fluid, under the form of the sharply defined solid. We are at ease only
in the discontinuous, in the immobile, in the dead. Perceiving in an
organism only parts external to parts, the understanding has the choice
between two systems of explanation only: either to regard the infinitely
complex (and thereby infinitely well contrived) organization as a
fortuitous concatenation of atoms, or to relate it to the
incomprehensible influence of an external force that has grouped its
elements together."

"Everything is obscure in the idea of creation, if we think of things
which are created and a thing which creates." If we follow the lead of
our logical, scientific faculties, then, we shall all be mechanists and
materialists. Science can make no other solution of the problem because
it sees from the outside. But if we look from the inside, with the
spirit or "with that faculty of seeing which is immanent in the faculty
of acting," we shall escape from the bondage of the mechanistic view
into the freedom of the larger truth of the ceaseless creative view; we
shall see the unity of the creative impulse which is immanent in life
and which, "passing through generations, links individuals with
individuals, species with species, and makes of the whole series of the
living one single immense wave flowing over matter."

I recall that Tyndall, who was as much poet as scientist, speaks of
life as a wave "which at no two consecutive moments of its existence is
composed of the same particles." In his more sober scientific mood
Tyndall would doubtless have rejected M. Bergson's view of life, yet his
image of the wave is very Bergsonian. But what different meanings the
two writers aim to convey: Tyndall is thinking of the fact that a living
body is constantly taking up new material on the one side and dropping
dead or outworn material on the other. M. Bergson's mind is occupied
with the thought of the primal push or impulsion of matter which travels
through it as the force in the wave traverses the water. The wave
embodies a force which lifts the water up in opposition to its tendency
to seek and keep a level, and travels on, leaving the water behind. So
does this something we call life break the deadlock of inert matter and
lift it into a thousand curious and beautiful forms, and then, passing
on, lets it fall back again into a state of dead equilibrium.

Tyndall was one of the most eloquent exponents of the materialistic
theory of the origin of life, and were he living now would probably feel
little or no sympathy with the Bergsonian view of a primordial life
impulse. He found the key to all life phenomena in the hidden world of
molecular attraction and repulsion. He says: "Molecular forces determine
the form which the solar energy will assume. [What a world of mystery
lies in that determinism of the hidden molecular forces!] In the
separation of the carbon and oxygen this energy may be so conditioned as
to result in one case in the formation of a cabbage and in another case
in the formation of an oak. So also as regards the reunion of the carbon
and the oxygen [in the animal organism] the molecular machinery through
which the combining energy acts may in one case weave the texture of a
frog, while in another it may weave the texture of a man."

But is not this molecular force itself a form of solar energy, and can
it differ in kind from any other form of physical force? If molecular
forces determine whether the solar energy shall weave a head of a
cabbage or a head of a Plato or a Shakespeare, does it not meet all the
requirements of our conception of creative will?

Tyndall thinks that a living man--Socrates, Aristotle, Goethe, Darwin, I
suppose--could be produced directly from inorganic nature in the
laboratory if (and note what a momentous "if" this is) we could put
together the elements of such a man in the same relative positions as
those which they occupy in his body, "with the selfsame forces and
distribution of forces, the selfsame motions and distribution of
motions." Do this and you have a St. Paul or a Luther or a Lincoln. Dr.
Verworn said essentially the same thing in a lecture before one of our
colleges while in this country a few years ago--easy enough to
manufacture a living being of any order of intellect if you can
reproduce in the laboratory his "internal and external _vital
conditions_." (The italics are mine.) To produce those vital conditions
is where the rub comes. Those vital conditions, as regards the minutest
bit of protoplasm, science, with all her tremendous resources, has not
yet been able to produce. The raising of Lazarus from the dead seems no
more a miracle than evoking vital conditions in dead matter. External
and internal vital conditions are no doubt inseparably correlated, and
when we can produce them we shall have life. Life, says Verworn, is like
fire, and "is a phenomenon of nature which appears as soon as the
complex of its conditions is fulfilled." We can easily produce fire by
mechanical and chemical means, but not life. Fire is a chemical process,
it is rapid oxidation, and oxidation is a disintegrating process, while
life is an integrating process, or a balance maintained between the two
by what we call the vital force. Life is evidently a much higher form of
molecular activity than combustion. The old Greek Heraclitus saw, and
the modern scientist sees, very superficially in comparing the two.

I have no doubt that Huxley was right in his inference "that if the
properties of matter result from the nature and disposition of its
component molecules, then there is no intelligible ground for refusing
to say that the properties of protoplasm result from the nature and
disposition of its molecules." It is undoubtedly in that nature and
disposition of the biological molecules that Tyndall's whole "mystery
and miracle of vitality" is wrapped up. If we could only grasp what it
is that transforms the molecule of dead matter into the living molecule!
Pasteur called it "dissymmetric force," which is only a new name for the
mystery. He believed there was an "irrefragable physical barrier between
organic and inorganic nature"--that the molecules of an organism
differed from those of a mineral, and for this difference he found a


There seems to have been of late years a marked reaction, even among men
of science, from the mechanistic conception of life as held by the band
of scientists to which I have referred. Something like a new vitalism is
making headway both on the Continent and in Great Britain. Its exponents
urge that biological problems "defy any attempt at a mechanical
explanation." These men stand for the idea "of the creative
individuality of organisms" and that the main factors in organic
evolution cannot be accounted for by the forces already operative in the
inorganic world.

There is, of course, a mathematical chance that in the endless changes
and permutations of inert matter the four principal elements that make
up a living body may fall or run together in just that order and number
that the kindling of the flame of life requires, but it is a disquieting
proposition. One atom too much or too little of any of them,--three of
oxygen where two were required, or two of nitrogen where only one was
wanted,--and the face of the world might have been vastly different. Not
only did much depend on their coming together, but upon the order of
their coming; they must unite in just such an order. Insinuate an atom
or corpuscle of hydrogen or carbon at the wrong point in the ranks, and
the trick is a failure. Is there any chance that they will hit upon a
combination of things and forces that will make a machine--a watch, a
gun, or even a row of pins?

When we regard all the phenomena of life and the spell it seems to put
upon inert matter, so that it behaves so differently from the same
matter before it is drawn into the life circuit, when we see how it
lifts up a world of dead particles out of the soil against gravity into
trees and animals; how it changes the face of the earth; how it comes
and goes while matter stays; how it defies chemistry and physics to
evoke it from the non-living; how its departure, or cessation, lets the
matter fall back to the inorganic--when we consider these and others
like them, we seem compelled to think of life as something, some force
or principle in itself, as M. Bergson and Sir Oliver Lodge do, existing
apart from the matter it animates.

Sir Oliver Lodge, famous physicist that he is, yet has a vein of
mysticism and idealism in him which sometimes makes him recoil from the
hard-and-fast interpretations of natural phenomena by physical science.
Like M. Bergson, he sees in life some tendency or impetus which arose in
matter at a definite time and place, "and which has continued to
interact with and incarnate itself in matter ever since."

If a living body is a machine, then we behold a new kind of machine with
new kinds of mechanical principles--a machine that repairs itself, that
reproduces itself, a clock that winds itself up, an engine that stokes
itself, a gun that aims itself, a machine that divides and makes two,
two unite and make four, a million or more unite and make a man or a
tree--a machine that is nine tenths water, a machine that feeds on other
machines, a machine that grows stronger with use; in fact, a machine
that does all sorts of unmechanical things and that no known combination
of mechanical and chemical principles can reproduce--a vital machine.
The idea of the vital as something different from and opposed to the
mechanical must come in. Something had to be added to the mechanical and
chemical to make the vital.

Spencer explains in terms of physics why an ox is larger than the sheep,
but he throws no light upon the subject of the individuality of these
animals--what it is that makes an ox an ox or a sheep a sheep. These
animals are built up out of the same elements by the same processes, and
they may both have had the same stem form in remote biologic time. If
so, what made them diverge and develop into such totally different
forms? After the living body is once launched many, if not all, of its
operations and economies can be explained on principles of mechanics and
chemistry, but the something that avails itself of these principles and
develops an ox in the one case and a sheep in the other--what of that?

Spencer is forced into using the terms "amount of vital capital." How
much more of it some men, some animals, some plants have than others!
What is it? What did Spencer mean by it? This capital augments from
youth to manhood, and then after a short or long state of equilibrium
slowly declines to the vanishing-point.

Again, what a man does depends upon what he is, and what he is depends
upon what he does. Structure determines function, and function reacts
upon structure. This interaction goes on throughout life; cause and
effect interchange or play into each other's hands. The more power we
spend within limits the more power we have. This is another respect in
which life is utterly unmechanical. A machine does not grow stronger by
use as our muscles do; it does not store up or conserve the energy it
expends. The gun is weaker by every ball it hurls; not so the baseball
pitcher; he is made stronger up to the limit of his capacity for

It is plain enough that all living beings are machines in this
respect--they are kept going by the reactions between their interior and
their exterior; these reactions are either mechanical, as in flying,
swimming, walking, and involve gravitation, or they are chemical and
assimilative, as in breathing and eating. To that extent all living
things are machines--some force exterior to themselves must aid in
keeping them going; there is no spontaneous or uncaused movement in
them; and yet what a difference between a machine and a living thing!

True it is that a man cannot live and function without heat and oxygen,
nor long without food, and yet his relation to his medium and
environment is as radically different from that of the steam-engine as
it is possible to express. His driving-wheel, the heart, acts in
response to some stimulus as truly as does the piston of the engine, and
the principles involved in circulation are all mechanical; and yet the
main thing is not mechanical, but vital. Analyze the vital activities
into principles of mechanics and of chemistry, if you will, yet there is
something involved that is neither mechanical nor chemical, though it
may be that only the imagination can grasp it.

The type that prints the book is set up and again distributed by a
purely mechanical process, but that which the printed page signifies
involves something not mechanical. The mechanical and chemical
principles operative in men's bodies are all the same; the cell
structure is the same, and yet behold the difference between men in
size, in strength, in appearance, in temperament, in disposition, in
capacities! All the processes of respiration, circulation, and nutrition
in our bodies involve well-known mechanical principles, and the body is
accurately described as a machine; and yet if there were not something
in it that transcends mechanics and chemistry would you and I be here? A
machine is the same whether it is in action or repose, but when a body
ceases to function, it is not the same. It cannot be set going like a
machine; the motor power has ceased to be. But if the life of the body
were no more than the sum of the reactions existing between the body and
the medium in which it lives, this were not so. A body lives as long as
there is a proper renewal of the interior medium through exchanges with
its environment.

Mechanical principles are operative in every part of the body--in the
heart, in the arteries, in the limbs, in the joints, in the bowels, in
the muscles; and chemical principles are operative in the lungs, in the
stomach, in the liver, in the kidneys; but to all these things do we not
have to add something that is not mechanical or chemical to make the
man, to make the plant? A higher mechanics, a higher chemistry, if you
prefer, a force, but a force differing in kind from the physical forces.

The forces of life are constructive forces, and work in a world of
disintegrating or destructive forces which oppose them and which they
overcome. The mechanical and the chemical forces of dead matter are the
enemies of the forces of life till life overcomes and uses them; as much
so as gravity, fire, frost, water are man's enemies till he has learned
how to subdue and use them.


It is a significant fact that the four chief elements which in various
combinations make up living bodies are by their extreme mobility well
suited to their purpose. Three of these are gaseous; only the carbon is
a solid. This renders them facile and adaptive in the ever-changing
conditions of organic evolution. The solid carbon forms the vessel in
which the precious essence of life is carried. Without carbon we should
evaporate or flow away and escape. Much of the oxygen and hydrogen
enters into living bodies as water; nine tenths of the human body is
water; a little nitrogen and a few mineral salts make up the rest. So
that our life in its final elements is little more than a stream of
water holding in solution carbonaceous and other matter and flowing,
forever flowing, a stream of fluid and solid matter plus something else
that scientific analysis cannot reach--some force or principle that
combines and organizes these elements into the living body.

If a man could be reduced instantly into his constituent elements we
should see a pail or two of turbid fluid that would flow down the bank
and soon be lost in the soil. That which gives us our form and stability
and prevents us from slowly spilling down the slope at all times is the
mysterious vital principle or force which knits and marries these
unstable elements together and raises up a mobile but more or less
stable form out of the world of fluids. Venus rising from the sea is a
symbol of the genesis of every living thing.

Inorganic matter seeks only rest. "Let me alone," it says; "do not break
my slumbers." But as soon as life awakens in it, it says: "Give me room,
get out of my way. Ceaseless activity, ceaseless change, a thousand new
forms are what I crave." As soon as life enters matter, matter meets
with a change of heart. It is lifted to another plane, the
supermechanical plane; it behaves in a new way; its movements from being
calculable become incalculable. A straight line has direction, that is
mechanics; what direction has the circle? That is life, a change of
direction every instant. An aeroplane is built entirely on mechanical
principles, but something not so built has to sit in it and guide it; in
fact, had to build it and adjust it to its end.

Mechanical forces seek an equilibrium or a state of rest. The whole
inorganic world under the influence of gravity would flow as water
flows, if it could, till it reached a state of absolute repose. But
vital forces struggle against a state of repose, which to them means
death. They are vital by virtue of their tendency to resist the repose
of inert matter; chemical activity disintegrates a stone or other metal,
but the decay of organized matter is different in kind; living organisms
decompose it and resolve it into its original compounds.

Vital connections and mechanical connections differ in kind. You can
treat mechanical principles mathematically, but can you treat life
mathematically? Will your formulas and equations apply here? You can
figure out the eclipses of the sun and moon for centuries to come, but
who can figure out the eclipses of nations or the overthrow of parties
or the failures of great men? And it is not simply because the problem
is so vastly more complex; it is because you are in a world where
mathematical principles do not apply. Mechanical forces will determine
the place and shape of every particle of inert matter any number of
years or centuries hence, but they will not determine the place and
condition of matter imbued with the principle of life.

We can graft living matter, we can even graft a part of one animal's
body into another animal's body, but the mechanical union which we
bring about must be changed into vital union to be a success, the
spirit of the body has to second our efforts. The same in grafting a
tree or anything else: the mechanical union which we effect must become
a vital union; and this will not take place without some degree of
consanguinity, the live scion must be recognized and adapted by the
stock in which we introduce it.

Living matter may be symbolized by a stream; it is ever and never the
same; life is a constant becoming; our minds and our bodies are never
the same at any two moments of time; life is ceaseless change.

No doubt it is between the stable and the unstable condition of the
molecules of matter that life is born. The static condition to which all
things tend is death. Matter in an unstable condition tends either to
explode or to grow or to disintegrate. So that an explosion bears some
analogy to life, only it is quickly over and the static state of the
elements is restored. Life is an infinitely slower explosion, or a
prolonged explosion, during which some matter of the organism is being
constantly burned up, and thus returned to a state of inorganic repose,
while new matter is taken in and kindled and consumed by the fires of
life. One can visualize all this and make it tangible to the intellect.
Get your fire of life started and all is easy, but how to start it is
the rub. Get your explosive compound, and something must break the
deadlock of the elements before it will explode. So in life, what is it
that sets up this slow gentle explosion that makes the machinery of our
vital economies go--that draws new matter into the vortex and casts the
used-up material out--in short, that creates and keeps up the unstable
condition, the seesaw upon which life depends? To enable the mind to
grasp it we have to invent or posit some principle, call it the vital
force, as so many have done and still do, or call it molecular force, as
Tyndall does, or the power of God, as our orthodox brethren do, it
matters not. We are on the border-land between the knowable and the
unknowable, where the mind can take no further step. There is no life
without carbon and oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, but there is a world
of these elements without life. What must be added to them to set up the
reaction we call life? Nothing that chemistry can disclose.

New tendencies and activities are set up among these elements, but the
elements themselves are not changed; oxygen is still oxygen and carbon
still carbon, yet behold the wonder of their new workmanship under the
tutelage of life!

Life only appears when the stable passes into the unstable, yet this
change takes place all about us in our laboratories, and no life
appears. We can send an electric spark through a room full of oxygen and
hydrogen gas, and with a tremendous explosion we have water--an element
of life, but not life.

Some of the elements seem nearer life than others. Water is near life;
heat, light, the colloid state are near life; osmosis, oxidation,
chemical reactions are near life; the ashes of inorganic bodies are
nearer life than the same minerals in the rocks and soil; but none of
these things is life.

The chemical mixture of some of the elements gives us our high
explosives--gunpowder, guncotton, and the like; their organic mixture
gives a slower kind of explosive--bread, meat, milk, fruit, which, when
acted upon by the vital forces of the body, yield the force that is the
equivalent of the work the body does. But to combine them in the
laboratory so as to produce the compounds out of which the body can
extract force is impossible. We can make an unstable compound that will
hurl a ton of iron ten miles, but not one that when exploded in the
digestive tract of the human body will lift a hair.

We may follow life down to the ground, yes, under the ground, into the
very roots of matter and motion, yea, beyond the roots, into the
imaginary world of molecules and atoms, and their attractions and
repulsions and not find its secret. Indeed, science--the new
science--pursues matter to the vanishing-point, where it ceases to
become matter and becomes pure force or spirit. What takes place in that
imaginary world where ponderable matter ends and becomes disembodied
force, and where the hypothetical atoms are no longer divisible, we may
conjecture but may never know. We may fancy the infinitely little going
through a cycle of evolution like that of the infinitely great, and
solar systems developing and revolving inside of the ultimate atoms, but
the Copernicus or the Laplace of the atomic astronomy has not yet
appeared. The atom itself is an invention of science. To get the mystery
of vitality reduced to the atom is getting it in very close quarters,
but it is a very big mystery still. Just how the dead becomes alive,
even in the atom, is mystery enough to stagger any scientific mind. It
is not the volume of the change; it is the quality or kind. Chemistry
and mechanics we have always known, and they always remain chemistry and
mechanics. They go into our laboratories and through our devices
chemistry and mechanics, and they come out chemistry and mechanics. They
will never come out life, conjure with them as we will, and we can get
no other result. We cannot inaugurate the mystic dance among the atoms
that will give us the least throb of life.

The psychic arises out of the organic and the organic arises out of the
inorganic, and the inorganic arises out of--what? The relation of each
to the other is as intimate as that of the soul to the body; we cannot
get between them even in thought, but the difference is one of kind and
not of degree. The vital transcends the mechanical, and the psychic
transcends the vital--is on another plane, and yet without the sun's
energy there could be neither. Thus are things knit together; thus does
one thing flow out of or bloom out of another. We date from the rocks,
and the rocks date from the fiery nebulæ, and the loom in which the
texture of our lives was woven is the great loom of vital energy about
us and in us; but what hand guided the shuttle and invented the
pattern--who knows?




Science recognizes a more fundamental world than that of matter. This is
the electro-magnetic world which underlies the material world and which,
as Professor Soddy says, probably completely embraces it, and has no
mechanical analogy. To those accustomed only to the grosser ideas of
matter and its motions, says the British scientist, this
electro-magnetic world is as difficult to conceive of as it would be for
us to walk upon air. Yet many times in our lives is this world in
overwhelming evidence before us. During a thunderstorm we get an inkling
of how fearfully and wonderfully the universe in which we live is made,
and what energy and activity its apparent passivity and opacity mark. A
flash of lightning out of a storm-cloud seems instantly to transform the
whole passive universe into a terrible living power. This slow, opaque,
indifferent matter about us and above us, going its silent or noisy
round of mechanical and chemical change, ponderable, insensate,
obstructive, slumbering in the rocks, quietly active in the soil, gently
rustling in the trees, sweetly purling in the brooks, slowly, invisibly
building and shaping our bodies--how could we ever dream that it held in
leash such a terrible, ubiquitous, spectacular thing as this of the
forked lightning? If we were to see and hear it for the first time,
should we not think that the Judgment Day had really come? that the
great seals of the Book of Fate were being broken?

What an awakening it is! what a revelation! what a fearfully dramatic
actor suddenly leaps upon the stage! Had we been permitted to look
behind the scenes, we could not have found him; he was not there, except
potentially; he was born and equipped in a twinkling. One stride, and
one word which shakes the house, and he is gone; gone as quickly as he
came. Look behind the curtain and he is not there. He has vanished more
completely than any stage ghost ever vanished--he has withdrawn into the
innermost recesses of the atomic structure of matter, and is diffused
through the clouds, to be called back again, as the elemental drama
proceeds, as suddenly as before.

All matter is charged with electricity, either actual or potential; the
sun is hot with it, and doubtless our own heart-beats, our own thinking
brains, are intimately related to it; yet it is palpable and visible
only in this sudden and extraordinary way. It defies our analysis, it
defies our definitions; it is inscrutable and incomprehensible, yet it
will do our errands, light our houses, cook our dinners, and pull our

How humdrum and constant and prosaic the other forces--gravity,
cohesion, chemical affinity, and capillary attraction--seem when
compared with this force of forces, electricity! How deep and prolonged
it slumbers at one time, how terribly active and threatening at another,
bellowing through the heavens like an infuriated god seeking whom he may

The warring of the elements at such times is no figure of speech. What
has so disturbed the peace in the electric equilibrium, as to make
possible this sudden outburst, this steep incline in the stream of
energy, this ethereal Niagara pouring from heaven to earth? Is a
thunderstorm a display of the atomic energy of which the physicists
speak, and which, were it available for our use, would do all the work
of the world many times over?

How marvelous that the softest summer breeze, or the impalpable currents
of the calmest day, can be torn asunder with such suddenness and
violence, by the accumulated energy that slumbers in the imaginary
atoms, as to give forth a sound like the rending of mountains or the
detonations of earthquakes!

Electricity is the soul of matter. If Whitman's paradox is true, that
the soul and body are one, in the same sense the scientific paradox is
true: that matter and electricity are one, and both are doubtless a
phase of the universal ether--a reality which can be described only in
terms of the negation of matter. In a flash of lightning we see pure
disembodied energy--probably that which is the main-spring of the
universe. Modern science is more and more inclined to find the
explanation of all vital phenomena in electrical stress and change. We
know that an electric current will bring about chemical changes
otherwise impracticable. Nerve force, if not a form of electricity, is
probably inseparable from it. Chemical changes equivalent to the
combustion of fuel and the corresponding amount of available energy
released have not yet been achieved outside of the living body without
great loss. The living body makes a short cut from fuel to energy, and
this avoids the wasteful process of the engine. What part electricity
plays in this process is, of course, only conjectural.


Our daily lives go on for the most part in two worlds, the world of
mechanical transposition and the world of chemical transformations, but
we are usually conscious only of the former. This is the visible,
palpable world of motion and change that rushes and roars around us in
the winds, the storms, the floods, the moving and falling bodies, and
the whole panorama of our material civilization; the latter is the
world of silent, invisible, unsleeping, and all-potent chemical
reactions that take place all about us and is confined to the atoms and
molecules of matter, as the former is confined to its visible

Mechanical forces and chemical affinities rule our physical lives, and
indirectly our psychic lives as well. When we come into the world and
draw our first breath, mechanics and chemistry start us on our career.
Breathing is a mechanical, or a mechanico-vital, act; the mechanical
principle involved is the same as that involved in the working of a
bellows, but the oxidation of the blood when the air enters the lungs is
a chemical act, or a chemico-vital act. The air gives up a part of its
oxygen, which goes into the arterial circulation, and its place is taken
by carbonic-acid gas and watery vapor. The oxygen feeds and keeps going
the flame of life, as literally as it feeds and keeps going the fires in
our stoves and furnaces.

Hence our most constant and vital relation to the world without is a
chemical one. We can go without food for some days, but we can exist
without breathing only a few moments. Through these spongy lungs of ours
we lay hold upon the outward world in the most intimate and constant
way. Through them we are rooted to the air. The air is a mechanical
mixture of two very unlike gases--nitrogen and oxygen; one very inert,
the other very active. Nitrogen is like a cold-blooded, lethargic
person--it combines with other substances very reluctantly and with but
little energy. Oxygen is just its opposite in this respect: it gives
itself freely; it is "Hail, fellow; well met!" with most substances, and
it enters into co-partnership with them on such a large scale that it
forms nearly one half of the material of the earth's crust. This
invisible gas, this breath of air, through the magic of chemical
combination, forms nearly half the substance of the solid rocks. Deprive
it of its affinity for carbon, or substitute nitrogen or hydrogen in its
place, and the air would quickly suffocate us. That changing of the dark
venous blood in our lungs into the bright, red, arterial blood would
instantly cease. Fancy the sensation of inhaling an odorless,
non-poisonous atmosphere that would make one gasp for breath! We should
be quickly poisoned by the waste of our own bodies. All things that live
must have oxygen, and all things that burn must have oxygen. Oxygen does
not burn, but it supports combustion.

And herein is one of the mysteries of chemistry again. This support
which the oxygen gives is utterly unlike any support we are acquainted
with in the world of mechanical forces. Oxygen supports combustion by
combining chemically with carbon, and the evolution of heat and light is
the result. And this is another mystery--this chemical union which takes
place in the ultimate particles of matter and which is so radically
different from a mechanical mixture. In a chemical union the atoms are
not simply in juxtaposition; they are, so to speak, inside of one
another--each has swallowed another and lost its identity, an impossible
feat, surely, viewed in the light of our experiences with tangible
bodies. In the visible, mechanical world no two bodies can occupy the
same place at the same time, but apparently in chemistry they can and
do. An atom of oxygen and one of carbon, or of hydrogen, unite and are
lost in each other; it is a marriage wherein the two or three become
one. In dealing with the molecules and atoms of matter we are in a world
wherein the laws of solid bodies do not apply; friction is abolished,
elasticity is perfect, and place and form play no part. We have escaped
from matter as we know it, the solid, fluid, or gaseous forms, and are
dealing with it in its fourth or ethereal estate. In breathing, the
oxygen goes into the blood, not to stay there, but to unite with and
bring away the waste of the system in the shape of carbon, and re-enter
the air again as one of the elements of carbonic-acid gas, CO_{2}. Then
the reverse process takes place in the vegetable world, the leaves
breathe this poisonous gas, release the oxygen under the chemistry of
the sun's rays, and appropriate and store up the carbon. Thus do the
animal and vegetable worlds play into each other's hands. The animal is
dependent upon the vegetable for its carbon, which it releases again,
through the life processes, as carbonic-acid gas, to be again drawn into
the cycle of vegetable life.

The act of breathing well illustrates our mysterious relations to
Nature--the cunning way in which she plays the principal part in our
lives without our knowledge. How certain we are that we draw the air
into our lungs--that we seize hold of it in some way as if it were a
continuous substance, and pull it into our bodies! Are we not also
certain that the pump sucks the water up through the pipe, and that we
suck our iced drinks through a straw? We are quite unconscious of the
fact that the weight of the superincumbent air does it all, that
breathing is only to a very limited extent a voluntary act. It is
controlled by muscular machinery, but that machinery would not act in a
vacuum. We contract the diaphragm, or the diaphragm contracts under
stimuli received through the medulla oblongata from those parts of the
body which constantly demand oxygen, and a vacuum tends to form in the
chest, which is constantly prevented by the air rushing in to fill it.
The expansive force of the air under its own weight causes the lungs to
fill, just as it causes the bellows of the blacksmith to fill when he
works the lever, and the water to rise in the pump when we force out the
air by working the handle. Another unconscious muscular effort under the
influence of nerve stimulus, and the air is forced out of the lungs,
charged with the bodily waste which it is the function to relieve. But
the wonder of it all is how slight a part our wills play in the process,
and how our lives are kept going by a mechanical force from without,
seconded or supplemented by chemical and vital forces from within.

The one chemical process with which we are familiar all our lives, but
which we never think of as such, is fire. Here on our own hearthstones
goes on this wonderful spectacular and beneficent transformation of
matter and energy, and yet we are grown so familiar with it that it
moves us not. We can describe combustion in terms of chemistry, just as
we can describe the life-processes in similar terms, yet the mystery is
no more cleared up in the one case than in the other. Indeed, it seems
to me that next to the mystery of life is the mystery of fire. The
oxidizing processes are identical, only one is a building up or
integrating process, and the other is a pulling down or disintegrating
process. More than that, we can evoke fire any time, by both mechanical
and chemical means, from the combustible matter about us; but we cannot
evoke life. The equivalents of life do not slumber in our tools as do
the equivalents of fire. Hence life is the deeper mystery. The ancients
thought of a spirit of fire as they did of a spirit of health and of
disease, and of good and bad spirits all about them, and as we think of
a spirit of life, or of a creative life principle. Are we as wide of
the mark as they were? So think many earnest students of living things.
When we do not have to pass the torch of life along, but can kindle it
in our laboratories, then this charge will assume a different aspect.


Nature works with such simple means! A little more or a little less of
this or that, and behold the difference! A little more or a little less
heat, and the face of the world is changed.

    "And the little more, and how much it is,
    And the little less, and what worlds away!"

At one temperature water is solid, at another it is fluid, at another it
is a visible vapor, at a still higher it is an invisible vapor that
burns like a flame. All possible shades of color lurk in a colorless ray
of light. A little more or a little less heat makes all the difference
between a nebula and a sun, and between a sun and a planet. At one
degree of heat the elements are dissociated; at a lower degree they are
united. At one point in the scale of temperatures life appears; at
another it disappears. With heat enough the earth would melt like a
snowball in a furnace, with still more it would become a vapor and float
away like a cloud. More or less heat only makes the difference between
the fluidity of water and the solidity of the rocks that it beats
against, or of the banks that hold it.

The physical history of the universe is written in terms of heat and
motion. Astronomy is the story of cooling suns and worlds. At a low
enough temperature all chemical activity ceases. In our own experience
we find that frost will blister like flame. In the one case heat passes
into the tissues so quickly and in such quantity that a blister ensues;
in the other, heat is abstracted so quickly and in such quantity that a
like effect is produced. In one sense, life is a thermal phenomenon; so
are all conditions of fluids and solids thermal phenomena.

Great wonders Nature seems to achieve by varying the arrangement of the
same particles. Arrange or unite the atoms of carbon in one way and you
have charcoal; assemble the same atoms in another order, and you have
the diamond. The difference between the pearl and the oyster-shell that
holds it is one of structure or arrangement of the same particles of
matter. Arrange the atoms of silica in one way and you have a quartz
pebble, in another way and you have a precious stone. The chemical
constituents of alcohol and ether are the same; the difference in their
qualities and properties arises from the way the elements are
compounded--the way they take hold of hands, so to speak, in that
marriage ceremony which constitutes a chemical compound. Compounds
identical in composition and in molecular formulæ may yet differ widely
in physical properties; the elements are probably grouped in different
ways, the atoms of carbon or of hydrogen probably carry different
amounts of potential energy, so that the order in which they stand
related to one another accounts for the different properties of the same
chemical compounds. Different groupings of the same atoms of any of the
elements result in a like difference of physical properties.

The physicists tell us that what we call the qualities of things, and
their structure and composition, are but the expressions of internal
atomic movements. A complex substance simply means a whirl, an intricate
dance, of which chemical composition, histological structure, and gross
configuration are the figures. How the atoms take hold of hands, as it
were, the way they face, the poses they assume, the speed of their
gyrations, the partners they exchange, determine the kinds of phenomena
we are dealing with.

There is a striking analogy between the letters of our alphabet and
their relation to the language of the vast volume of printed books, and
the eighty or more primary elements and their relation to the vast
universe of material things. The analogy may not be in all respects a
strictly true one, but it is an illuminating one. Our twenty-six letters
combined and repeated in different orders give us the many thousand
words our language possesses, and these words combined and repeated in
different orders give us the vast body of printed books in our
libraries. The ultimate parts--the atoms and molecules of all
literature, so to speak--are the letters of the alphabet. How often by
changing a letter in a word, by reversing their order, or by
substituting one letter for another, we get a word of an entirely
different meaning, as in umpire and empire, petrifaction and
putrefaction, malt and salt, tool and fool. And by changing the order of
the words in a sentence we express all the infinite variety of ideas and
meanings that the books of the world hold.

The eighty or more primordial elements are Nature's alphabet with which
she writes her "infinite book of secrecy." Science shows pretty
conclusively that the character of the different substances, their
diverse qualities and properties, depend upon the order in which the
atoms and molecules are combined. Change the order in which the
molecules of the carbon and oxygen are combined in alcohol, and we get
ether--the chemical formula remaining the same. Or take ordinary spirits
of wine and add four more atoms of carbon to the carbon molecules, and
we have the poison, carbolic acid. Pure alcohol is turned into a deadly
poison by taking from it one atom of carbon and two of hydrogen. With
the atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, by combining them in
different proportions and in different orders, Nature produces such
diverse bodies as acetic acid, alcohol, sugar, starch, animal fats,
vegetable oils, glycerine, and the like. So with the long list of
hydrocarbons--gaseous, liquid, and solid--called paraffins, that are
obtained from petroleum and that are all composed of hydrogen and
carbon, but with a different number of atoms of each, like a different
number of a's or b's or c's in a word.

What an enormous number of bodies Nature forms out of oxygen by uniting
it chemically with other primary elements! Thus by uniting it with the
element silica she forms half of the solid crust of the globe; by
uniting it with hydrogen in the proportion of two to one she forms all
the water of the globe. With one atom of nitrogen united chemically with
three atoms of hydrogen she forms ammonia. With one atom of carbon
united with four atoms of hydrogen she spells marsh gas; and so on.
Carbon occurs in inorganic nature in two crystalline forms,--the diamond
and black lead, or graphite,--their physical differences evidently being
the result of their different molecular structure. Graphite is a good
conductor of heat and electricity, and the diamond is not. Carbon in the
organic world, where it plays such an important part, is
non-crystalline. Under the influence of life its molecules are
differently put together, as in sugar, starch, wood, charcoal, etc.
There are also two forms of phosphorus, but not two kinds; the same
atoms are probably united differently in each. The yellow waxy variety
has such an affinity for oxygen that it will burn in water, and it is
poisonous. Bring this variety to a high temperature away from the air,
and its molecular structure seems to change, and we have the red
variety, which is tasteless, odorless, and non-poisonous, and is not
affected by contact with the air. Such is the mystery of chemical


Science has developed methods and implements of incredible delicacy. Its
"microbalance" can estimate "the difference of weight of the order of
the millionth of a milligram." Light travels at the speed of 186,000
miles a second, yet science can follow it with its methods, and finds
that it travels faster with the current of running water than against
it. Science has perfected a thermal instrument by which it can detect
the heat of a lighted candle six miles away, and the warmth of the human
face several miles distant. It has devised a method by which it can
count the particles in the alpha rays of radium that move at a velocity
of twenty thousand kilometers a second, and a method by which, through
the use of a screen of zinc-sulphide, it can see the flashes produced by
the alpha atoms when they strike this screen. It weighs and counts and
calculates the motions of particles of matter so infinitely small that
only the imagination can grasp them. Its theories require it to treat
the ultimate particles into which it resolves matter, and which are so
small that they are no longer divisible, as if they were solid bodies
with weight and form, with centre and circumference, colliding with one
another like billiard-balls, or like cosmic bodies in the depths of
space, striking one another squarely, and, for aught I know, each going
through another, or else grazing one another and glancing off. To
particles of matter so small that they can no longer be divided or made
smaller, the impossible feat of each going through the centre of
another, or of each enveloping the other, might be affirmed of them
without adding to their unthinkableness. The theory is that if we divide
a molecule of water the parts are no longer water, but atoms of hydrogen
and oxygen--real bodies with weight and form, and storehouses of energy,
but no longer divisible.

Indeed, the atomic theory of matter leads us into a non-material world,
or a world the inverse of the solid, three-dimensioned world that our
senses reveal to us, or to matter in a fourth estate. We know solids and
fluids and gases; but emanations which are neither we know only as we
know spirits and ghosts--by dreams or hearsay. Yet this fourth or
ethereal estate of matter seems to be the final, real, and fundamental

How it differs from spirit is not easy to define. The beta ray of radium
will penetrate solid iron a foot thick, a feat that would give a spirit
pause. The ether of space, which science is coming more and more to look
upon as the mother-stuff of all things, has many of the attributes of
Deity. It is omnipresent and all-powerful. Neither time nor space has
dominion over it. It is the one immutable and immeasurable thing in the
universe. From it all things arise and to it they return. It is
everywhere and nowhere. It has none of the finite properties of
matter--neither parts, form, nor dimension; neither density nor tenuity;
it cannot be compressed nor expanded nor moved; it has no inertia nor
mass, and offers no resistance; it is subject to no mechanical laws, and
no instrument or experiment that science has yet devised can detect its
presence; it has neither centre nor circumference, neither extension nor
boundary. And yet science is as convinced of its existence as of the
solid ground beneath our feet. It is the one final reality in the
universe, if we may not say that it is the universe. Tremors or
vibrations in it reach the eye and make an impression that we call
light; electrical oscillations in it are the source of other phenomena.
It is the fountain-head of all potential energy. The ether is an
invention of the scientific imagination. We had to have it to account
for light, gravity, and the action of one body upon another at a
distance, as well as to account for other phenomena. The ether is not a
body, it is a medium. All bodies are in motion; matter moves; the ether
is in a state of absolute rest. Says Sir Oliver Lodge, "The ether is
strained, and has the property of exerting strain and recoil." An
electron is like a knot in the ether. The ether is the fluid of fluids,
yet its tension or strain is so great that it is immeasurably more dense
than anything else--a phenomenon that may be paralleled by a jet of
water at such speed that it cannot be cut with a sword or severed by a
hammer. It is so subtle or imponderable that solid bodies are as vacuums
to it, and so pervasive that all conceivable space is filled with it;
"so full," says Clerk Maxwell, "that no human power can remove it from
the smallest portion of space, or produce the slightest flaw in its
infinite continuity."

The scientific imagination, in its attempts to master the workings of
the material universe, has thus given us a creation which in many of its
attributes rivals Omnipotence. It is the sum of all contradictions, and
the source of all reality. The gross matter which we see and feel is one
state of it; electricity, which is without form and void, is another
state of it; and our minds and souls, Sir Oliver Lodge intimates, may be
still another state of it. But all these theories of physical science
are justified by their fruits. The atomic theory of matter, and the
kinetic theory of gases, are mathematically demonstrated. However unreal
and fantastic they may appear to our practical faculties, conversant
only with ponderable bodies, they bear the test of the most rigid and
exact experimentation.


After we have marveled over all these hidden things, and been impressed
by the world within world of the material universe, do we get any nearer
to the mystery of life? Can we see where the tremendous change from the
non-living to the living takes place? Can we evoke life from the
omnipotent ether, or see it arise in the whirling stream of atoms and
electrons? Molecular science opens up to us a world where the infinitely
little matches the infinitely great, where matter is dematerialized and
answers to many of the conceptions of spirit; but does it bring us any
nearer the origin of life? Is radio-active matter any nearer living
matter than is the clod under foot? Are the darting electrons any more
vital than the shooting-stars? Can a flash of radium emanations on a
zinc-sulphide plate kindle the precious spark? It is probably just as
possible to evoke vitality out of the clash of billiard-balls as out of
the clash of atoms and electrons. This allusion to billiard-balls
recalls to my mind a striking passage from Tyndall's famous Belfast
Address which he puts in the mouth of Bishop Butler in his imaginary
argument with Lucretius, and which shows how thoroughly Tyndall
appreciated the difficulties of his own position in advocating the
theory of the physico-chemical origin of life.

The atomic and electronic theory of matter admits one to a world that
does indeed seem unreal and fantastic. "If my bark sinks," says the
poet, "'t is to another sea." If the mind breaks through what we call
gross matter, and explores its interior, it finds itself indeed in a
vast under or hidden world--a world almost as much a creation of the
imagination as that visited by Alice in Wonderland, except that the
existence of this world is capable of demonstration. It is a world of
the infinitely little which science interprets in terms of the
infinitely large. Sir Oliver Lodge sees the molecular spaces that
separate the particles of any material body relatively like the
interstellar spaces that separate the heavenly bodies. Just as all the
so-called solid matter revealed by our astronomy is almost infinitesimal
compared with the space through which it is distributed, so the
electrons which compose the matter with which we deal are comparable to
the bodies of the solar system moving in vast spaces. It is indeed a
fantastic world where science conceives of bodies a thousand times
smaller than the hydrogen atom--the smallest body known to science;
where it conceives of vibrations in the ether millions of millions times
a second; where we are bombarded by a shower of corpuscles from a
burning candle, or a gas-jet, or a red-hot iron surface, moving at the
speed of one hundred thousand miles a second! But this almost omnipotent
ether has, after all, some of the limitations of the finite. It takes
time to transmit the waves of light from the sun and the stars. This
measurable speed, says Sir Oliver Lodge, gives the ether away, and shows
its finite character.

It seems as if the theory of the ether must be true, because it fits in
so well with the enigmatic, contradictory, incomprehensible character of
the universe as revealed to our minds. We can affirm and deny almost
anything of the ether--that it is immaterial, and yet the source of all
material; that it is absolutely motionless, yet the cause of all motion;
that it is the densest body in nature, and yet the most rarified; that
it is everywhere, but defies detection; that it is as undiscoverable as
the Infinite itself; that our physics cannot prove it, though they
cannot get along without it. The ether inside a mass of iron or of lead
is just as dense as the ether outside of it--which means that it is not
dense at all, in our ordinary use of the term.


There are physical changes in matter, there are chemical changes, and
there is a third change, as unlike either of these as they are unlike
each other. I refer to atomic change, as in radio-activity, which gives
us lead from helium--a spontaneous change of the atoms. The energy that
keeps the earth going, says Soddy, is to be sought for in the individual
atoms; not in the great heaven-shaking voice of thunder, but in the
still small voice of the atoms. Radio-activity is the mainspring of the
universe. The only elements so far known that undergo spontaneous change
are uranium and thorium. One pound of uranium contains and slowly gives
out the same amount of energy that a hundred tons of coal evolves in its
combustion, but only one ten-billionth part of this amount is given out
every year.

Man, of course, reaps where he has not sown. How could it be otherwise?
It takes energy to sow or plant energy. We are exhausting the coal, the
natural gas, the petroleum of the rocks, the fertility of the soil. But
we cannot exhaust the energy of the winds or the tides, or of falling
water, because this energy is ever renewed by gravity and the sun. There
can be no exhaustion of our natural mechanical and chemical resources,
as some seem to fear.

I recently visited a noted waterfall in the South where electric power
is being developed on a large scale. A great column of water makes a
vertical fall of six hundred feet through a steel tube, and in the fall
develops two hundred and fifty thousand horse-power. The water comes out
of the tunnel at the bottom, precisely the same water that went in at
the top; no change whatever has occurred in it, yet a vast amount of
power has been taken out of it, or, rather, generated by its fall.
Another drop of six hundred feet would develop as much more; in fact,
the process may be repeated indefinitely, the same amount of power
resulting each time, without effecting any change in the character of
the water. The pull of gravity is the source of the power which is
distributed hundreds of miles across the country as electricity. Two
hundred and fifty thousand invisible, immaterial, noiseless horses are
streaming along these wires with incredible speed to do the work of men
and horses in widely separated parts of the country. A river of sand
falling down those tubes, if its particles moved among themselves with
the same freedom that those of the water do, would develop the same
power. The attraction of gravitation is not supposed to be electricity,
and yet here out of its pull upon the water comes this enormous voltage!
The fact that such a mysterious and ubiquitous power as electricity can
be developed from the action of matter without any alteration in its
particles, suggests the question whether or not this something that we
call life, or life-force, may not slumber in matter in the same way; but
the secret of its development we have not yet learned, as we have that
of electricity.

Radio-activity is uninfluenced by external conditions; hence we are thus
far unable to control it. Nothing that is known will effect the
transmutation of one element into another. It is spontaneous and
uncontrollable. May not life be spontaneous in the same sense?

The release of the energy associated with the structure of the atoms is
not available by any of our mechanical appliances. The process of
radio-activity involves the expulsion of atoms of helium with a velocity
three hundred times greater than that ever previously known for any
material mass or particle, and this power we are incompetent to use. The
atoms remain unchanged amid the heat and pressure of the laboratory of
nature. Iron and oxygen and so forth remain the same in the sun as here
on the earth.

Science strips gross matter of its grossness. When it is done with it,
it is no longer the obstructive something we know and handle; it is
reduced to pure energy--the line between it and spirit does not exist.
We have found that bodies are opaque only to certain rays; the X-ray
sees through this too too solid flesh. Bodies are ponderable only to our
dull senses; to a finer hand than this the door or the wall might offer
no obstruction; a finer eye than this might see the emanations from the
living body; a finer ear might hear the clash of electrons in the air.
Who can doubt, in view of what we already know, that forces and
influences from out the heavens above, and from the earth beneath, that
are beyond our ken, play upon us constantly?

The final mystery of life is no doubt involved in conditions and forces
that are quite outside of or beyond our conscious life activities, in
forces that play about us and upon and through us, that we know not of,
because a knowledge of them is not necessary to our well-being. "Our
eye takes in only an octave of the vibrations we call light," because no
more is necessary for our action or our dealing with things. The
invisible rays of the spectrum are potent, but they are beyond the ken
of our senses. There are sounds or sound vibrations that we do not hear;
our sense of touch cannot recognize a gossamer, or the gentler air

I began with the contemplation of the beauty and terror of the
thunderbolt--"God's autograph," as one of our poets (Joel Benton) said,
"written upon the sky." Let me end with an allusion to another aspect of
the storm that has no terror in it--the bow in the clouds: a sudden
apparition, a cosmic phenomenon no less wonderful and startling than the
lightning's flash. The storm with terror and threatened destruction on
one side of it, and peace and promise on the other! The bow appears like
a miracle, but it is a commonplace of nature; unstable as life, and
beautiful as youth. The raindrops are not changed, the light is not
changed, the laws of the storms are not changed; and yet, behold this

But all these strange and beautiful phenomena springing up in a world of
inert matter are but faint symbols of the mystery and the miracle of the
change of matter from the non-living to the living, from the elements in
the clod to the same elements in the brain and heart of man.




Still the problem of living things haunts my mind and, let me warn my
reader, will continue to haunt it throughout the greater part of this
volume. The final truth about it refuses to be spoken. Every effort to
do so but gives one new evidence of how insoluble the problem is.

In this world of change is there any other change to be compared with
that in matter, from the dead to the living?--a change so great that
most minds feel compelled to go outside of matter and invoke some
super-material force or agent to account for it. The least of living
things is so wonderful, the phenomena it exhibits are so fundamentally
unlike those of inert matter, that we invent a word for it, _vitality_;
and having got the word, we conceive of a vital force or principle to
explain vital phenomena. Hence vitalism--a philosophy of living things,
more or less current in the world from Aristotle's time down to our own.
It conceives of something in nature super-mechanical and super-chemical,
though inseparably bound up with these things. There is no life without
material and chemical forces, but material and chemical forces do not
hold the secret of life. This is vitalism as opposed to mechanism, or
scientific materialism, which is the doctrine of the all-sufficiency of
the physical forces operating in the inorganic world to give rise to all
the phenomena of the organic world--a doctrine coming more and more in
vogue with the progress of physical science. Without holding to any
belief in the supernatural or the teleological, and while adhering to
the idea that there has been, and can be, no break in the causal
sequence in this world, may one still hold to some form of vitalism, and
see in life something more than applied physics and chemistry?

Is biology to be interpreted in the same physical and chemical terms as
geology? Are biophysics and geophysics one and the same? One may freely
admit that there cannot be two kinds of physics, nor two kinds of
chemistry--not one kind for a rock, and another kind for a tree, or a
man. There are not two species of oxygen, nor two of carbon, nor two of
hydrogen and nitrogen--one for living and one for dead matter. The water
in the human body is precisely the same as the water that flows by in
the creek or that comes down when it rains; and the sulphur and the lime
and the iron and the phosphorus and the magnesium are identical, so far
as chemical analysis can reveal, in the organic and the inorganic
worlds. But are we not compelled to think of a kind of difference
between a living and a non-living body that we cannot fit into any of
the mechanical or chemical concepts that we apply to the latter?
Professor Loeb, with his "Mechanistic Conception of Life"; Professor
Henderson, of Harvard, with his "Fitness of the Environment"; Professor
Le Dantec, of the Sorbonne in Paris, with his volume on "The Nature and
Origin of Life," published a few years since; Professor Schäfer,
President of the British Association, Professor Verworn of Bonn, and
many others find in the laws and properties of matter itself a
sufficient explanation of all the phenomena of life. They look upon the
living body as only the sum of its physical and chemical activities;
they do not seem to feel the need of accounting for life itself--for
that something which confers vitality upon the heretofore non-vital
elements. That there is new behavior, that there are new chemical
compounds called organic,--tens of thousands of them not found in
inorganic nature,--that there are new processes set up in aggregates of
matter,--growth, assimilation, metabolism, reproduction, thought,
emotion, science, civilization,--no one denies.

How are we going to get these things out of the old physics and
chemistry without some new factor or agent or force? To help ourselves
out here with a "vital principle," or with spirit, or a creative
impulse, as Bergson does, seems to be the only course open to certain
types of mind. Positive science cannot follow us in this step, because
science is limited to the verifiable. The stream of forces with which it
deals is continuous; it must find the physical equivalents of all the
forces that go into the body in the output of the body, and it cannot
admit of a life force which it cannot trace to the physical forces.

What has science done to clear up this mystery of vitality? Professor
Loeb, our most eminent experimental biologist, has succeeded in
fertilizing the eggs of some low forms of sea life by artificial means;
and in one instance, at least, it is reported that the fatherless form
grew to maturity. This is certainly an interesting fact, but takes us no
nearer the solution of the mystery of vitality than the fact that
certain chemical compounds may stimulate the organs of reproduction
helps to clear up the mystery of generation; or the fact that certain
other chemical compounds help the digestive and assimilative processes
and further the metabolism of the body assists in clearing up the
mystery that attaches to these things. In all such cases we have the
living body to begin with. The egg of the sea-urchin and the egg of the
jelly-fish are living beings that responded to certain chemical
substances, so that a process is set going in their cell life that is
equivalent to fertilization. It seems to me that the result of all
Professor Loeb's valuable inquiries is only to give us a more intimate
sense of how closely mechanical and chemical principles are associated
and identified with all the phenomena of life and with all animal
behavior. Given a living organism, mechanics and chemistry will then
explain much of its behavior--practically all the behavior of the lower
organisms, and much of that of the higher. Even when we reach man, our
reactions to the environment and to circumstances play a great part in
our lives; but dare we say that will, liberty of choice, ideation, do
not play a part also? How much reality there is in the so-called animal
will, is a problem; but that there is a foundation for our belief in the
reality of the human will, I, for one, do not for a moment doubt. The
discontinuity here is only apparent and not real. We meet with the same
break when we try to get our mental states, our power of thought--a
poem, a drama, a work of art, a great oration--out of the food we eat;
but life does it, though our science is none the wiser for it. Our
physical life forms a closed circle, science says, and what goes into
our bodies as physical force, must come out in physical force, or as
some of its equivalents. Well, one of the equivalents, transformed by
some unknown chemism within us, is our psychic force, or states of
consciousness. The two circles, the physical and the psychical, are not
concentric, as Fiske fancied, but are linked in some mysterious way.

Professor Loeb is a master critic of the life processes; he and his
compeers analyze them as they have never been analyzed before; but the
solution of the great problem of life that we are awaiting does not
come. A critic may resolve all of Shakespeare's plays into their
historic and other elements, but that will not account for Shakespeare.
Nature's synthesis furnishes occasions for our analysis. Most assuredly
all psychic phenomena have a physical basis; we know the soul only
through the body; but that they are all of physico-chemical origin, is
another matter.


Biological science has hunted the secret of vitality like a detective;
and it has done some famous work; but it has not yet unraveled the
mystery. It knows well the part played by carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen
in organic chemistry, that without water and carbon dioxide there could
be no life; it knows the part played by light, air, heat, gravity,
osmosis, chemical affinity, and all the hundreds or thousands of organic
compounds; it knows the part played by what are called the enzymes, or
ferments, in all living bodies, but it does not know the secret of these
ferments; it knows the part played by colloids, or jelly-like compounds,
that there is no living body without colloids, though there are colloid
bodies that are not living; it knows the part played by oxidation, that
without it a living body ceases to function, though everywhere all about
us is oxidation without life; it knows the part played by chlorophyll in
the vegetable kingdom, and yet how chlorophyll works such magic upon the
sun's rays, using the solar energy to fix the carbon of carbonic acid in
the air, and thereby storing this energy as it is stored in wood and
coal and in much of the food we consume, is a mystery. Chemistry cannot
repeat the process in its laboratories. The fungi do not possess this
wonderful chlorophyllian power, and hence cannot use the sunbeam to
snatch their carbon from the air; they must get it from decomposed
vegetable matter; they feed, as the animals do, upon elements that have
gone through the cycle of vegetable life. The secret of vegetable life,
then, is in the green substance of the leaf where science is powerless
to unlock it. Conjure with the elements as it may, it cannot produce the
least speck of living matter. It can by synthesis produce many of the
organic compounds, but only from matter that has already been through
the organic cycle. It has lately produced rubber, but from other
products of vegetable life.

As soon as the four principal elements, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and
nitrogen, that make up the living body, have entered the world of living
matter, their activities and possible combinations enormously increase;
they enter into new relations with one another and form compounds of
great variety and complexity, characterized by the instability which
life requires. The organic compounds are vastly more sensitive to light
and heat and air than are the same elements in the inorganic world. What
has happened to them? Chemistry cannot tell us. Oxidation, which is only
slow combustion, is the main source of energy in the body, as it is in
the steam-engine. The storing of the solar energy, which occurs only in
the vegetable, is by a process of reduction, that is, the separation of
the carbon and oxygen in carbonic acid and water. The chemical reactions
which liberate energy in the body are slow; in dead matter they are
rapid and violent, or explosive and destructive. It is the chemistry in
the leaf of the plant that diverts or draws the solar energy into the
stream of life, and how it does it is a mystery.

The scientific explanations of life phenomena are all after the fact;
they do not account for the fact; they start with the ready-made
organism and then reduce its activities and processes to their physical
equivalents. Vitality is given, and then the vital processes are fitted
into mechanical and chemical concepts, or into moulds derived from inert
matter--not a difficult thing to do, but no more an explanation of the
mystery of vitality than a painting or a marble bust of Tyndall would be
an explanation of that great scientist.

All Professor Loeb's experiments and criticisms throw light upon the
life processes, or upon the factors that take part in them, but not upon
the secret of the genesis of the processes themselves. Amid all the
activities of his mechanical and chemical factors, there is ever present
a factor which he ignores, which his analytical method cannot seize;
namely, what Verworn calls "the specific energy of living substance."
Without this, chemism and mechanism would work together to quite other
ends. The water in the wave, and the laws that govern it, do not differ
at all from the water and its laws that surround it; but unless one
takes into account the force that makes the wave, an analysis of the
phenomena will leave one where he began.

Professor Le Dantec leaves the subject where he took it up, with the
origin of life and the life processes unaccounted for. His work is a
description, and not an explanation. All our ideas about vitality, or an
unknown factor in the organic world, he calls "mystic" and unscientific.
A sharp line of demarcation between living and non-living bodies is not
permissible. This, he says, is the anthropomorphic error which puts some
mysterious quality or force in all bodies considered to be living. To Le
Dantec, the difference between the quick and the dead is of the same
order as the difference which exists between two chemical compounds--for
example, as that which exists between alcohol and an aldehyde, a liquid
that has two less atoms of hydrogen in its composition. Modify your
chemistry a little, add or subtract an atom or two, more or less, of
this or that gas, and dead matter thrills into life, or living matter
sinks to the inert. In other words, life is the gift of chemistry, its
particular essence is of the chemical order--a bold inference from the
fact that there is no life without chemical reactions, no life without
oxidation. Yet chemical reactions in the laboratory cannot produce life.
With Le Dantec, biology, like geology and astronomy, is only applied
mechanics and chemistry.


Such is the result of the rigidly objective study of life--the only
method analytical science can pursue. The conception of vitality as a
factor in itself answers to nothing that the objective study of life can
disclose; such a study reveals a closed circle of physical forces,
chemical and mechanical, into which no immaterial force or principle can
find entrance. "The fact of being conscious," Le Dantec says with
emphasis, "does not intervene in the slightest degree in directing vital
movements." But common sense and everyday observation tell us that
states of consciousness do influence the bodily processes--influence the
circulation, the digestion, the secretions, the respiration.

An objective scientific study of a living body yields results not
unlike those which we might get from an objective study of a book
considered as something fabricated--its materials, its construction, its
typography, its binding, the number of its chapters and pages, and so
on--without giving any heed to the meaning of the book--its ideas, the
human soul and personality that it embodies, the occasion that gave rise
to it, indeed all its subjective and immaterial aspects. All these
things, the whole significance of the volume, would elude scientific
analysis. It would seem to be a manufactured article, representing only
so much mechanics and chemistry. It is the same with the living body.
Unless we permit ourselves to go behind the mere facts, the mere
mechanics and chemistry of life phenomena, and interpret them in the
light of immaterial principles, in short, unless we apply some sort of
philosophy to them, the result of our analysis will be but dust in our
eyes, and ashes in our mouths. Unless there is something like mind or
intelligence pervading nature, some creative and transforming impulse
that cannot be defined by our mechanical concepts, then, to me, the
whole organic world is meaningless. If man is not more than an "accident
in the history of the thermic evolution of the globe," or the result of
the fortuitous juxtaposition and combination of carbonic acid gas and
water and a few other elements, what shall we say? It is at least a
bewildering proposition.

Could one by analyzing a hive of bees find out the secret of its
organization--its unity as an aggregate of living insects? Behold its
wonderful economics, its division of labor, its complex social
structure,--the queen, the workers, the drones,--thousands of bees
without any head or code of laws or directing agent, all acting as one
individual, all living and working for the common good. There is no
confusion or cross-purpose in the hive. When the time of swarming comes,
they are all of one mind and the swarm comes forth. Who or what decides
who shall stay and who shall go? When the honey supply fails, or if it
fail prematurely, on account of a drought, the swarming instinct is
inhibited, and the unhatched queens are killed in their cells. Who or
what issues the regicide order? We can do no better than to call it the
Spirit of the Hive, as Maeterlinck has done. It is a community of mind.
What one bee knows and feels, they all know and feel at the same
instant. Something like that is true of a living body; the cells are
like the bees: they work together, they build up the tissues and organs,
some are for one thing and some for another, each community of cells
plays its own part, and they all pull together for the good of the
whole. We can introduce cells and even whole organs, for example a
kidney from another living body, and all goes well; and yet we cannot
find the seat of the organization. Can we do any better than to call it
the Spirit of the Body?


Our French biologist is of the opinion that the artificial production of
that marvel of marvels, the living cell, will yet take place in the
laboratory. But the enlightened mind, he says, does not need such proof
to be convinced that there is no essential difference between living and
non-living matter.

Professor Henderson, though an expounder of the mechanistic theory of
the origin of life, admits that he does not know of a biological chemist
to whom the "mechanistic origin of a cell is scientifically imaginable."
Like Professor Loeb, he starts with the vital; how he came by it we get
no inkling; he confesses frankly that the biological chemist cannot even
face the problem of the origin of life. He quotes with approval a remark
of Liebig's, as reported by Lord Kelvin, that he (Liebig) could no more
believe that a leaf or a flower could be formed or could grow by
chemical forces "than a book on chemistry, or on botany, could grow out
of dead matter." Is not this conceding to the vitalists all that they
claim? The cell is the unit of life; all living bodies are but vast
confraternities of cells, some billions or trillions of them in the
human body; the cell builds up the tissues, the tissues build up the
organs, the organs build up the body. Now if it is not thinkable that
chemism could beget a cell, is it any more thinkable that it could build
a living tissue, and then an organ, and then the body as a whole? If
there is an inscrutable something at work at the start, which organizes
that wonderful piece of vital mechanism, the cell, is it any the less
operative ever after, in all life processes, in all living bodies and
their functions,--the vital as distinguished from the mechanical and
chemical? Given the cell, and you have only to multiply it, and organize
these products into industrial communities, and direct them to specific
ends,--certainly a task which we would not assign to chemistry or
physics any more than we would assign to them the production of a work
on chemistry or botany,--and you have all the myriad forms of
terrestrial life.

The cell is the parent of every living thing on the globe; and if it is
unthinkable that the material and irrational forces of inert matter
could produce it, then mechanics and chemistry must play second fiddle
in all that whirl and dance of the atoms that make up life. And that is
all the vitalists claim. The physico-chemical forces do play second
fiddle; that inexplicable something that we call vitality dominates and
leads them. True it is that a living organism yields to scientific
analysis only mechanical and chemical forces--a fact which only limits
the range of scientific analysis, and which by no means exhausts the
possibilities of the living organism. The properties of matter and the
laws of matter are intimately related to life, yea, are inseparable
from it, but they are by no means the whole story. Professor Henderson
repudiates the idea of any extra-physical influence as being involved in
the processes of life, and yet concedes that the very foundation of all
living matter, yea, the whole living universe in embryo--the cell--is
beyond the possibilities of physics and chemistry alone. Mechanism and
chemism are adequate to account for astronomy and geology, and
therefore, he thinks, are sufficient to account for biology, without
calling in the aid of any Bergsonian life impulse. Still these forces
stand impotent before that microscopic world, the cell, the foundation
of all life.

Our professor makes the provisional statement, not in obedience to his
science, but in obedience to his philosophy, that something more than
mechanics and chemistry may have had a hand in shaping the universe,
some primordial tendency impressed upon or working in matter "just
before mechanism begins to act"--"a necessary and preëstablished
associate of mechanism." So that if we start with the universe, with
life, and with this tendency, mechanism will do all the rest. But this
is not science, of course, because it is not verifiable; it is
practically the philosophy of Bergson.

The cast-iron conclusions of physical science do pinch the Harvard
professor a bit, and he pads them with a little of the Bergsonian
philosophy. Bergson himself is not pinched at all by the conclusions of
positive science. He sees that we, as human beings, cannot live in this
universe without supplementing our science with some sort of philosophy
that will help us to escape from the fatalism of matter and force into
the freedom of the spiritual life. If we are merely mechanical and
chemical accidents, all the glory of life, all the meaning of our moral
and spiritual natures, go by the board.

Professor Henderson shows us how well this planet, with its oceans and
continents, and its mechanical and chemical forces and elements, is
suited to sustain life, but he brings us no nearer the solution of the
mystery than we were before. His title, to begin with, is rather
bewildering. Has the "fitness of the environment" ever been questioned?
The environment is fit, of course, else living bodies would not be here.
We are used to taking hold of the other end of the problem. In living
nature the foot is made to fit the shoe, and not the shoe the foot. The
environment is the mould in which the living organism is cast. Hence, it
seems to me, that seeking to prove the fitness of the environment is
very much like seeking to prove the fitness of water for fish to swim
in, or the fitness of the air for birds to fly in. The implication seems
to be made that the environment anticipates the organism, or meets it
half way. But the environment is rather uncompromising. Man alone
modifies his environment by the weapon of science; but not radically; in
the end he has to fit himself to it. Life has been able to adjust
itself to the universal forces and so go along with them; otherwise we
should not be here. We may say, humanly speaking, that the water is
friendly to the swimmer, if he knows how to use it; if not, it is his
deadly enemy. The same is true of all the elements and forces of nature.
Whether they be for or against us, depends upon ourselves. The wind is
never tempered to the shorn lamb, the shorn lamb must clothe itself
against the wind. Life is adaptive, and this faculty of adaptation to
the environment, of itself takes it out of the category of the
physico-chemical. The rivers and seas favor navigation, if we have
gumption enough to use and master their forces. The air is good to
breathe, and food to eat, for those creatures that are adapted to them.
Bergson thinks, not without reason, that life on other planets may be
quite different from what it is on our own, owing to a difference in
chemical and physical conditions. Change the chemical constituents of
sea water, and you radically change the lower organisms. With an
atmosphere entirely of oxygen, the processes of life would go on more
rapidly and perhaps reach a higher form of development. Life on this
planet is limited to a certain rather narrow range of temperature; the
span may be the same in other worlds, but farther up or farther down the
scale. Had the air been differently constituted, would not our lungs
have been different? The lungs of the fish are in his gills: he has to
filter his air from a much heavier medium. The nose of the pig is fitted
for rooting; shall we say, then, that the soil was made friable that
pigs might root in it? The webbed foot is fitted to the water; shall we
say, then, that water is liquid in order that geese and ducks may swim
in it? One more atom of oxygen united to the two atoms that go to make
the molecule of air, and we should have had ozone instead of the air we
now breathe. How unsuited this would have made the air for life as we
know it! Oxidation would have consumed us rapidly. Life would have met
this extra atom by some new device.

One wishes Professor Henderson had told us more about how life fits
itself to the environment--how matter, moved and moulded only by
mechanical and chemical forces, yet has some power of choice that a
machine does not have, and can and does select the environment best
suited to its well-being. In fact, that it should have, or be capable
of, any condition of well-being, if it is only a complex of physical and
chemical forces, is a problem to wrestle with. The ground we walk on is
such a complex, but only the living bodies it supports have conditions
of well-being.

Professor Henderson concedes very little to the vitalists or the
teleologists. He is a thorough mechanist. "Matter and energy," he says,
"have an original property, assuredly not by chance, which organizes
the universe in space and time." Where or how matter got this organizing
property, he offers no opinion. "Given the universe, life, and the
tendency [the tendency to organize], mechanism is inductively proved
sufficient to account for all phenomena." Biology, then, is only
mechanics and chemistry engaged in a new rôle without any change of
character; but what put them up to this new rôle? "The whole
evolutionary process, both cosmic and organic, is one, and the biologist
may now rightly regard the universe in its very essence as biocentric."


Another Harvard voice is less pronounced in favor of the mechanistic
conception of life. Professor Rand thinks that in a mechanically
determined universe, "our conscious life becomes a meaningless replica
of an inexorable physical concatenation"--the soul the result of a
fortuitous concourse of atoms. Hence all the science and art and
literature and religion of the world are merely the result of a
molecular accident.

Dr. Rand himself, in wrestling with the problem of organization in a
late number of "Science," seems to hesitate whether or not to regard man
as a molecular accident, an appearance presented to us by the results of
the curious accidents of molecules--which is essentially Professor
Loeb's view; or whether to look upon the living body as the result of a
"specific something" that organizes, that is, of "dominating organic
agencies," be they psychic or super-mundane, which dominate and
determine the organization of the different parts of the body into a
whole. Yet he is troubled with the idea that this specific something may
be "nothing more than accidental chemical peculiarities of cells." But
would these accidental peculiarities be constant? Do accidents happen
millions of times in the same way? The cell is without variableness or
shadow of turning. The cells are the minute people that build up all
living forms, and what prompts them to build a man in the one case, and
the man's dog in another, is the mystery that puzzles Professor Rand.
"Tissue cells," he says, "are not structures like stone blocks
laboriously carved and immovably cemented in place. They are rather like
the local eddies in an ever-flowing and ever-changing stream of fluids.
Substance which was at one moment a part of a cell, passes out and a new
substance enters. What is it that prevents the local whirl in this
unstable stream from changing its form? How is it that a million muscle
cells remain alike, collectively ready to respond to a nerve impulse?"
According to one view, expressed by Professor Rand, "Organization is
something that we read into natural phenomena. It is in itself nothing."
The alternative view holds that there is a specific organizing agent
that brings about the harmonious operation of all the organs and parts
of the system--a superior dynamic force controlling and guiding all the
individual parts.

A most determined and thorough-going attempt to hunt down the secret of
vitality, and to determine how far its phenomena can be interpreted in
terms of mechanics and chemistry, is to be found in Professor H. W.
Conn's volume entitled "The Living Machine." Professor Conn justifies
his title by defining a machine as "a piece of apparatus so designed
that it can change one kind of energy into another for a definite
purpose." Of course the adjective "living" takes it out of the category
of all mere mechanical devices and makes it super-mechanical, just as
Haeckel's application of the word "living" to his inorganics ("living
inorganics"), takes them out of the category of the inorganic. In every
machine, properly so called, all the factors are known; but do we know
all the factors in a living body? Professor Conn applies his searching
analysis to most of the functions of the human body, to digestion, to
assimilation, to circulation, to respiration, to metabolism, and so on,
and he finds in every function something that does not fall within his
category--some force not mechanical nor chemical, which he names vital.

In following the processes of digestion, all goes well with his
chemistry and his mechanics till he comes to the absorption of
food-particles, or their passage through the walls of the intestines
into the blood. Here, the ordinary physical forces fail him, and living
matter comes to his aid. The inner wall of the intestine is not a
lifeless membrane, and osmosis will not solve the mystery. There is
something there that seizes hold of the droplets of oil by means of
little extruded processes, and then passes them through its own body to
excrete them on an inner surface into the blood-vessels. "This fat
absorption thus appears to be a vital process and not one simply
controlled by physical forces like osmosis. Here our explanation runs
against what we call 'vital power' of the ultimate elements of the
body." Professor Conn next analyzes the processes of circulation, and
his ready-made mechanical concepts carry him along swimmingly, till he
tries to explain by them the beating of the heart, and the contraction
of the small blood-vessels which regulate the blood-supply. Here comes
in play the mysterious vital power again. He comes upon the same power
when he tries to determine what it is that enables the muscle-fibre to
take from the lymph the material needed for its use, and to discard the
rest. The fibre acts as if it knew what it wanted--a very unmechanical

Then Professor Conn applies his mechanics and chemistry to the
respiratory process and, of course, makes out a very clear case till he
comes to the removal of the waste, or ash. The steam-engine cannot
remove its own ash; the "living machine" can. Much of this ash takes
the form of urea, and "the seizing upon the urea by the kidney cells is
a vital phenomenon." Is not the peristaltic movement of the bowels, by
which the solid matter is removed, also a vital phenomenon? Is not the
conception of a pipe or a tube that forces semi-fluid matter along its
hollow interior, by the contraction of its walls, quite beyond the reach
of mechanics? The force is as mechanical as the squeezing of the bulb of
a syringe by the hand, but in the case of the intestines, what does the
squeezing? The vital force?

When the mechanical and chemical concepts are applied to the phenomena
of the nervous system, they work very well till we come to mental
phenomena. When we try to correlate physical energy with thought or
consciousness, we are at the end of our tether. Here is a gulf we cannot
span. The theory of the machine breaks down. Some other force than
material force is demanded here, namely, psychical,--a force or
principle quite beyond the sphere of the analytic method.

Hence Professor Conn concludes that there are vital factors and that
they are the primal factors in the organism. The mechanical and chemical
forces are the secondary factors. It is the primal factors that elude
scientific analysis. Why a muscle contracts, or why a gland secretes, or
"why the oxidation of starch in the living machine gives rise to motion,
growth, and reproduction, while if the oxidation occurs in the
chemist's laboratory ... it simply gives rise to heat," are questions he
cannot answer. In all his inquiries into the parts played by mechanical
and chemical laws in the organism, he is compelled to "assume as their
foundation the simple vital properties of living phenomena."


It should not surprise nor disturb us that the scientific interpretation
of life leads to materialism, or to the conviction of the
all-sufficiency of the mechanical and chemical forces of dead matter to
account for all living phenomena. It need not surprise us because
positive science, as such, can deal only with physical and chemical
forces. If there is anything in this universe besides physical and
chemical force, science does not know it. It does not know it because it
is absolutely beyond the reach of its analysis. When we go beyond the
sphere of the concrete, the experimental, the verifiable, only our
philosophy can help us. The world within us, the world of psychic
forces, is beyond the ken of science. It can analyze the living body,
trace all its vital processes, resolve them into their mechanical and
chemical equivalents, show us the parts played by the primary elements,
the part played by the enzymes, or ferments, and the like, and yet it
cannot tell us the secret of life--of that which makes organic chemistry
so vastly different from inorganic. It discloses to us the wonders of
the cell--a world of mystery by itself; it analyzes the animal body into
organs, and the organs into tissues, and the tissues into cells, but the
secret of organization utterly baffles it. After Professor Wilson had
concluded his masterly work on the cell, he was forced to admit that the
final mystery of the cell eluded him, and that his investigation "on the
whole seemed to widen rather than to narrow the enormous gap that
separates even the lowest forms of life from the inorganic world."

All there is outside the sphere of physical science belongs to religion,
to philosophy, to art, to literature. Huxley spoke strictly and honestly
as a man of science, when he related consciousness to the body, as the
sound of a clock when it strikes is related to the machinery of the
clock. The scientific analysis of a living body reveals nothing but the
action of the mechanical and chemical principles. If you analyze it by
fire or by cremation, you get gases and vapors and mineral ash, that is
all; the main thing about the live body--its organization, its life--you
do not get. Of course science knows this; and to account for this
missing something, it philosophizes, and relegates it to the interior
world of molecular physics--it is all in the way the ultimate particles
of matter were joined or compounded, were held together in the bonds of
molecular matrimony. What factor or agent or intelligence is active or
directive in this molecular marriage of the atoms, science does not
inquire. Only philosophy can deal with that problem.

What can science see or find in the brain of man that answers to the
soul? Only certain movements of matter in the brain cortex. What
difference does it find between inert matter and a living organism? Only
a vastly more complex mechanics and chemistry in the latter. A wide
difference, not of kind, but of degree. The something we call vitality,
that a child recognizes, science does not find; vitality is something
_sui generis_. Scientific analysis cannot show us the difference between
the germ cell of a starfish and the germ cell of a man; and yet think of
what a world of difference is hidden in those microscopic germs! What
force is there in inert matter that can build a machine by the
adjustment of parts to each other? We can explain the most complex
chemical compounds by the action of chemical forces and chemical
affinity, but they cannot explain that adjustment of parts to each
other, the coördination of their activities that makes a living machine.

In organized matter there is something that organizes. "The cell itself
is an organization of smaller units," and to drive or follow the
organizing principle into the last hiding-place is past the power of
biological chemistry. What constitutes the guiding force or principle of
a living body, adjusting all its parts, making them pull together,
making of the circulation one system in which the heart, the veins, the
arteries, the lungs, all work to one common end, coördinating several
different organs into a digestive system, and other parts into the
nervous system, is a mystery that no objective analysis of the body can

To refer vitality to complexity alone, is to dodge the question.
Multiplying the complexity of a machine, say of a watch, any conceivable
number of times would not make it any the less a machine, or change it
from the automatic order to the vital order. A motor-car is a vastly
more complex mechanism than a wheelbarrow, and yet it is not the less a
machine. On the other hand, an amoeba is a far simpler animal than a
man, and yet it is just as truly living. To refer life to complexity
does not help us; we want to know what lies back of the complexity--what
makes it a new species of complexity.

We cannot explain the origin of living matter by the properties which
living matter possesses. There are three things that mechanics and
chemistry cannot explain: the relation of the psychical to the physical
through the law of the conservation and correlation of forces; the agent
or principle that guides the blind chemical and physical forces so as to
produce the living body; and the kind of forces that have contributed to
the origin of that morphological unit--the cell.

A Western university professor in a recent essay sounds quite a
different note on this subject from the one that comes to us from
Harvard. Says Professor Otto C. Glaser, of the University of Michigan,
in a recent issue of the "Popular Science Monthly": "Does not the
fitness of living things; the fact that they perform acts useful to
themselves in an environment which is constantly shifting, and often
very harsh; the fact that in general everything during development,
during digestion, during any of the complicated chains of processes
which we find, happens at the right time, in the right place, and to the
proper extent; does not all this force us to believe that there is
involved something more than mere chemistry and physics?--something, not
consciousness necessarily, yet its analogue--a vital _x_?"

There is this suggestive fact about these recent biological experiments
of Dr. Carrel, of the Rockefeller Institute: they seem to prove that the
life of a man is not merely the sum of the life of the myriad cells of
his body. Stab the man to death, and the cells of his body still live
and will continue to live if grafted upon another live man. Probably
every part of the body would continue to live and grow indefinitely, in
the proper medium. That the cell life should continue after the soul
life has ceased is very significant. It seems a legitimate inference
from this fact that the human body is the organ or instrument of some
agent that is not of the body. The functional or physiological life of
the body as a whole, also seems quite independent of our conscious
volitional or psychic life. That which repairs and renews the body,
heals its wounds, controls and coordinates its parts, adapts it to its
environment, carries on its processes during sleep, in fact in all our
involuntary life, seems quite independent of the man himself. Is the
spirit of a race or a nation, or of the times in which we live, another
illustration of the same mysterious entity?

If the vital principle, or vital force, is a fiction, invented to give
the mind something to take hold of, we are in no worse case than we are
in some other matters. Science tells us that there is no such _thing_ as
heat, or light; these are only modes of activity in matter.

In the same way we seem forced to think of life, vitality, as an
entity--a fact as real as electricity or light, though it may be only a
mode of motion. It may be of physico-chemical origin, as much so as
heat, or light; and yet it is something as distinctive as they are among
material things, and is involved in the same mystery. Is magnetism or
gravitation a real thing? or, in the moral world, is love, charity, or
consciousness itself? The world seems to be run by nonentities. Heat,
light, life, seem nonentities. That which organizes the different parts
or organs of the human body into a unit, and makes of the many organs
one organism, is a nonentity. That which makes an oak an oak, and a
pine a pine, is a nonentity. That which makes a sheep a sheep, and an ox
an ox, is to science a nonentity. To physical science the soul is a

There is something in the cells of the muscles that makes them contract,
and in the cells of the heart that makes it beat; that something is not
active in the other cells of the body. But it is a nonentity. The body
is a machine and a laboratory combined, but that which coördinates them
and makes them work together--what is that? Another nonentity. That
which distinguishes a living machine from a dead machine, science has no
name for, except molecular attraction and repulsion, and these are names
merely; they are nonentities. Is there not molecular attraction and
repulsion in a steam-engine also? And yet it is not alive. What has to
supplement the mechanical and the chemical to make matter alive? We have
no name for it but the vital, be it an entity or a nonentity. We have no
name for a flash of lightning but electricity, be it an entity or a
nonentity. We have no name for that which distinguishes a man from a
brute, but mind, soul, be it an entity or a nonentity. We have no name
for that which distinguishes the organic from the inorganic but
vitality, be it an entity or a nonentity.


Without metaphysics we can do nothing; without mental concepts, where
are we? Natural selection is as much a metaphysical phrase as is
consciousness, or the subjective and the objective. Natural selection is
not an entity, it is a name for what we conceive of as a process. It is
natural rejection as well. The vital principle is a metaphysical
concept; so is instinct; so is reason; so is the soul; so is God.

Many of our concepts have been wrong. The concept of witches, of disease
as the work of evil spirits, of famine and pestilence as the visitation
of the wrath of God, and the like, were unfounded. Science sets us right
about all such matters. It corrects our philosophy, but it cannot
dispense with the philosophical attitude of mind. The philosophical must
supplement the experimental.

In fact, in considering this question of life, it is about as difficult
for the unscientific mind to get along without postulating a vital
principle or force--which, Huxley says, is analogous to the idea of a
principle of aquosity in water--as it is to walk upon the air, or to
hang one's coat upon a sunbeam. It seems as if something must breathe
upon the dead matter, as at the first, to make it live. Yet if there is
a distinct vital force it must be correlated with physical force, it
must be related causally to the rest. The idea of a vital force as
something new and distinct and injected into matter from without at a
given time and place in the earth's history, must undoubtedly be given
up. Instead of escaping from mechanism, this notion surrenders one into
the hands of mechanism, since to supplement or reinforce a principle
with some other principle from without, is strictly a mechanical
procedure. But the conception of vitality as potential in matter, or of
the whole universe as permeated with spirit, which to me is the same
thing, is a conception that takes life out of the categories of the
fortuitous and the automatic.

No doubt but that all things in the material world are causally related,
no doubt of the constancy of matter and force, no doubt but that all
phenomena are the result of natural principles, no doubt that the living
arose from the non-living, no doubt that the evolution process was
inherent in the constitution of the world; and yet there is a mystery
about it all that is insoluble. The miracle of vitality takes place
behind a veil that we cannot penetrate, in the inmost sanctuary of the
molecules of matter, in that invisible, imaginary world on the
borderland between the material and the immaterial. We may fancy that it
is here that the psychical effects its entrance into the physical--that
spirit weds matter--that the creative energy kindles the spark we call
vitality. At any rate, vitality evidently begins in that inner world of
atoms and molecules; but whether as the result of their peculiar and
very complex compounding or as the cause of the compounding--how are we
ever to know? Is it not just as scientific to postulate a new principle,
the principle of vitality, as to postulate a new process, or a new
behavior of an old principle? In either case, we are in the world of the
unverifiable; we take a step in the dark. Most of us, I fancy, will
sympathize with George Eliot, who says in one of her letters: "To me the
Development Theory, and all other explanations of processes by which
things came to be, produce a feeble impression compared with the mystery
that lies under the processes."




All living bodies, when life leaves them, go back to the earth from
whence they came. What was it in the first instance that gathered their
elements from the earth and built them up into such wonderful
mechanisms? If we say it was nature, do we mean by nature a physical
force or an immaterial principle? Did the earth itself bring forth a
man, or did something breathe upon the inert clay till it became a
living spirit?

As life is a physical phenomenon, appearing in a concrete physical
world, it is, to that extent, within the domain of physical science, and
appeals to the scientific mind. Physical science is at home only in the
experimental, the verifiable. Its domain ends where that of philosophy

The question of how life arose in a universe of dead matter is just as
baffling a question to the ordinary mind, as how the universe itself
arose. If we assume that the germs of life drifted to us from other
spheres, propelled by the rays of the sun, or some other celestial
agency, as certain modern scientific philosophers have assumed, we have
only removed the mystery farther away from us. If we assume that it
came by spontaneous generation, as Haeckel and others assume, then we
are only cutting a knot which we cannot untie. The god of spontaneous
generation is as miraculous as any other god. We cannot break the causal
sequence without a miracle. If something came from nothing, then there
is not only the end of the problem, but also the end of our boasted

Science is at home in discussing all the material manifestations of
life--the parts played by colloids and ferments, by fluids and gases,
and all the organic compounds, and by mechanical and chemical
principles; it may analyze and tabulate all life processes, and show the
living body as a most wonderful and complex piece of mechanism, but
before the question of the origin of life itself it stands dumb, and,
when speaking through such a man as Tyndall, it also stands humble and
reverent. After Tyndall had, to his own satisfaction, reduced all like
phenomena to mechanical attraction and repulsion, he stood with
uncovered head before what he called the "mystery and miracle of
vitality." The mystery and miracle lie in the fact that in the organic
world the same elements combine with results so different from those of
the inorganic world. Something seems to have inspired them with a new
purpose. In the inorganic world, the primary elements go their ceaseless
round from compound to compound, from solid to fluid or gaseous, and
back again, forming the world of inert matter as we know it, but in the
organic world the same elements form thousands of new combinations
unknown to them before, and thus give rise to the myriad forms of life
that inhabit the earth.

The much-debated life question has lately found an interesting exponent
in Professor Benjamin Moore, of the University of Liverpool. His volume
on the subject in the "Home University Library" is very readable, and,
in many respects, convincing. At least, so far as it is the word of
exact science on the subject it is convincing; so far as it is
speculative, or philosophical, it is or is not convincing, according to
the type of mind of the reader. Professor Moore is not a bald mechanist
or materialist like Professor Loeb, or Ernst Haeckel, nor is he an
idealist or spiritualist, like Henri Bergson or Sir Oliver Lodge. He may
be called a scientific vitalist. He keeps close to lines of scientific
research as these lines lead him through the maze of the primordial
elements of matter, from electron to atom, from atom to molecule, from
molecule to colloid, and so up to the border of the living world. His
analysis of the processes of molecular physics as they appear in the
organism leads him to recognize and to name a new force, or a new
manifestation of force, which he hesitates to call vital, because of the
associations of this term with a prescientific age, but which he calls
"biotic energy."

Biotic energy is peculiar to living bodies, and "there are precisely the
same criteria for its existence," says Professor Moore, "as for the
existence of any one of the inorganic energy types, viz., a set of
discrete phenomena; and its nature is as mysterious to us as the cause
of any one of these inorganic forms about which also we know so little.
It is biotic energy which guides the development of the ovum, which
regulates the exchanges of the cell, and causes such phenomena as nerve
impulse, muscular contraction, and gland secretion, and it is a form of
energy which arises in colloidal structures, just as magnetism appears
in iron, or radio-activity in uranium or radium, and in its
manifestations it undergoes exchanges with other forms of energy, in the
same manner as these do among one another."

Like Professor Henderson, Professor Moore concedes to the vitalists
about all they claim--namely, that there is some form of force or
manifestation of energy peculiar to living bodies, and one that cannot
be adequately described in terms of physics and chemistry. Professor
Moore says this biotic energy "arises in colloidal structures," and so
far as biochemistry can make out, arises _spontaneously_ and gives rise
to that marvelous bit of mechanism, the cell. In the cell appears "a
form of energy unknown outside life processes which leads the mazy dance
of life from point to point, each new development furnishing a starting
point for the next one." It not only leads the dance along our own line
of descent from our remote ancestors--it leads the dance along the long
road of evolution from the first unicellular form in the dim palæozoic
seas to the complex and highly specialized forms of our own day.

The secret of this life force, or biotic energy, according to Professor
Moore, is in the keeping of matter itself. The steps or stages from the
depths of matter by which life arose, lead up from that imaginary
something, the electron, to the inorganic colloids, or to the
crystallo-colloids, which are the threshold of life, each stage showing
some new transformation of energy. There must be an all-potent energy
transformation before we can get chemical energy out of physical energy,
and then biotic energy out of chemical energy. This transformation of
inorganic energy into life energy cannot be traced or repeated in the
laboratory, yet science believes the secret will sometime be in its
hands. It is here that the materialistic philosophers, such as
Professors Moore and Loeb, differ from the spiritualistic philosophers,
such as Bergson, Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor Thompson, and others.

Professor Moore has no sympathy with those narrow mechanistic views that
see in the life processes "no problems save those of chemistry and
physics." "Each link in the living chain may be physico-chemical, but
the chain as a whole, and its purpose, is something else." He draws an
analogy from the production of music in which purely physical factors
are concerned; the laws of harmonics account for all; but back of all is
something that is not mechanical and chemical--there is the mind of the
composer, and the performers, and the auditors, and something that takes
cognizance of the whole effect. A complete human philosophy cannot be
built upon physical science alone. He thinks the evolution of life from
inert matter is of the same type as the evolution of one form of matter
from another, or the evolution of one form of energy from another--a
mystery, to be sure, but little more startling in the one case than in
the other. "The fundamental mystery lies in the existence of those
entities, or things, which we call matter and energy," out of the play
and interaction of which all life phenomena have arisen. Organic
evolution is a series of energy exchanges and transformations from lower
to higher, but science is powerless to go behind the phenomena presented
and name or verify the underlying mystery. Only philosophy can do this.
And Professor Moore turns philosopher when he says there is beauty and
design in it all, "and an eternal purpose which is ever progressing."

Bergson sets forth his views of evolution in terms of literature and
philosophy. Professor Moore embodies similar views in his volume, set
forth in terms of molecular science. Both make evolution a creative and
a continuous process. Bergson lays the emphasis upon the cosmic spirit
interacting with matter. Professor Moore lays the emphasis upon the
indwelling potencies of matter itself (probably the same spirit
conceived of in different terms). Professor Moore philosophizes as truly
as does Bergson when he says "there must exist a whole world of living
creatures which the microscope has never shown us, leading up to the
bacteria and the protozoa. The brink of life lies not at the production
of protozoa and bacteria, which are highly developed inhabitants of our
world, but away down among the colloids; and the beginning of life was
not a fortuitous event occurring millions of years ago and never again
repeated, but one which in its primordial stages keeps on repeating
itself all the time in our generation. So that if all intelligent
creatures were by some holocaust destroyed, up out of the depths in
process of millions of years, intelligent beings would once more
emerge." This passage shows what a speculative leap or flight the
scientific mind is at times compelled to take when it ventures beyond
the bounds of positive methods. It is good philosophy, I hope, but we
cannot call it science. Thrilled with cosmic emotion, Walt Whitman made
a similar daring assertion:--

    "There is no stoppage, and never can be stoppage,
    If I, you, and the worlds, and all beneath or upon their surfaces,
      were this moment reduced back to a pallid float, it would
      not avail in the long run,
    We should surely bring up again where we now stand,
    And surely go as much farther, and then farther and farther."


Evolution is creative, whether it works in matter--as Bergson describes,
or whether its path lies up through electrons and atoms and molecules,
as Professor Moore describes. There is something that creates and makes
matter plastic to its will. Whether we call matter "the living garment
of God," as Goethe did, or a reservoir of creative energy, as Tyndall
and his school did, and as Professor Moore still does, we are paying
homage to a power that is super-material. Life came to our earth, says
Professor Moore, through a "well-regulated orderly development," and it
"comes to every mother earth of the universe in the maturity of her
creation when the conditions arrive within suitable limits." That no
intelligent beings appeared upon the earth for millions upon millions of
years, that for whole geologic ages there was no creature with more
brains than a snail possesses, shows the almost infinitely slow progress
of development, and that there has been no arbitrary or high-handed
exercise of creative power. The universe is not run on principles of
modern business efficiency, and man is at the head of living forms, not
by the fiat of some omnipotent power, some superman, but as the result
of the operation of forces that balk at no delay, or waste, or failure,
and that are dependent upon the infinitely slow ripening and
amelioration of both cosmic and terrestrial conditions.

We do not get rid of God by any such dictum, but we get rid of the
anthropomorphic views which we have so long been wont to read into the
processes of nature. We dehumanize the universe, but we do not render it
the less grand and mysterious. Professor Moore points out to us how life
came to a cooling planet as soon as the temperature became low enough
for certain chemical combinations to appear. There must first be oxides
and saline compounds, there must be carbonates of calcium and magnesium,
and the like. As the temperature falls, more and more complex compounds,
such as life requires, appear; till, in due time, carbon dioxide and
water are at hand, and life can make a start. At the white heat of some
of the fixed stars, the primary chemical elements are not yet evolved;
but more and more elements appear, and more and more complex compounds
are formed as the cooling process progresses.

"This note cannot be too strongly sounded, that as matter is allowed
capacity for assuming complex forms, those complex forms appear. As soon
as oxides can be there, oxides appear; when temperature admits of
carbonates, then carbonates are forthwith formed. These are experiments
which any chemist can to-day repeat in a crucible. And on a cooling
planet, as soon as temperature will admit the presence of life, then
life appears, as the evidence of geology shows us." When we speak of the
beginning of life, it is not clear just what we mean. The unit of all
organized bodies is the cell, but the cell is itself an organized body,
and must have organic matter to feed upon. Hence the cell is only a more
complex form of more primitive living matter. As we go down the scale
toward the inorganic, can we find the point where the living and the
non-living meet and become one? "Life had to surge a long way up from
the depths before a green plant cell came into being." When the green
plant cell was found, life was fairly launched. This plant cell, in the
form of chlorophyll, by the aid of water and the trace of carbon dioxide
in the air, began to store up the solar energy in fruit and grain and
woody tissue, and thus furnish power to run all forms of life machinery.

The materialists or naturalists are right in urging that we live in a
much more wonderful universe than we have ever imagined, and that in
matter itself sleep potencies and possibilities not dreamt of in our
philosophy. The world of complex though invisible activities which
science reveals all about us, the solar and stellar energies raining
upon us from above, the terrestrial energies and influences playing
through us from below, the transformations and transmutations taking
place on every hand, the terrible alertness and potency of the world of
inert matter as revealed by a flash of lightning, the mysteries of
chemical affinity, of magnetism, of radio-activity, all point to deep
beneath deep in matter itself. It is little wonder that men who dwell
habitually upon these things and are saturated with the spirit and
traditions of laboratory investigation, should believe that in some way
matter itself holds the mystery of the origin of life. On the other
hand, a different type of mind, the more imaginative, artistic, and
religious type, recoils from the materialistic view.

The sun is the source of all terrestrial energy, but the different forms
that energy takes--in the plant, in the animal, in the brain of
man--this type of mind is bound to ask questions about that. Gravity
pulls matter down; life lifts it up; chemical forces pull it to pieces;
vital forces draw it together and organize it; the winds and the waters
dissolve and scatter it; vegetation recaptures and integrates it and
gives it new qualities. At every turn, minds like that of Sir Oliver
Lodge are compelled to think of life as a principle or force doing
something with matter. The physico-chemical forces will not do in the
hands of man what they do in the hands of Nature. Such minds, therefore,
feel justified in thinking that something which we call "the hands of
Nature," plays a part--some principle or force which the hands of man do
not hold.




There is one phase of the much-discussed question of the nature and
origin of life which, so far as I know, has not been considered either
by those who hold a brief for the physico-chemical view or by those who
stand for some form of vitalism or idealism. I refer to the small part
that life plays in the total scheme of things. The great cosmic machine
would go on just as well without it. Its relation to the whole appears
to be little different from that of a man to the train in which he
journeys. Life rides on the mechanical and chemical forces, but it does
not seem to be a part of them, nor identical with them, because they
were before it, and will continue after it is gone.

The everlasting, all-inclusive thing in this universe seems to be inert
matter with the energy it holds; while the slight, flitting, casual
thing seems to be living matter. The inorganic is from all eternity to
all eternity; it is distributed throughout all space and endures through
all time, while the organic is, in comparison, only of the here and the
now; it was not here yesterday, and it may not be here to-morrow; it
comes and goes. Life is like a bird of passage which alights and tarries
for a time and is gone, and the places where it perched and nested and
led forth its brood know it no more. Apparently it flits from world to
world as the great cosmic spring comes to each, and departs as the
cosmic winter returns to each. It is a visitor, a migrant, a frail,
timid thing, which waits upon the seasons and flees from the coming
tempests and vicissitudes.

How casual, uncertain, and inconsequential the vital order seems in our
own solar system--a mere incident or by-product in its cosmic evolution!
Astronomy sounds the depths of space, and sees only mechanical and
chemical forces at work there. It is almost certain that only a small
fraction of the planetary surfaces is the abode of life. On the earth
alone, of all the great family of planets and satellites, is the vital
order in full career. It may yet linger upon Mars, but it is evidently
waning. On the inferior planets it probably had its day long ago, while
it must be millions of years before it comes to the superior planets, if
it ever comes to them. What a vast, inconceivable outlay of time and
energy for such small returns! Evidently the vital order is only an
episode, a transient or secondary phase of matter in the process of
sidereal evolution. Astronomic space is strewn with dead worlds, as a
New England field is with drift boulders. That life has touched and
tarried here and there upon them can hardly be doubted, but if it is
anything more than a passing incident, an infant crying in the night, a
flush of color upon the cheek, a flower blooming by the wayside,
appearances are against it.

We read our astronomy and geology in the light of our enormous egotism,
and appropriate all to ourselves; but science sees in our appearance
here a no more significant event than in the foam and bubbles that whirl
and dance for a moment upon the river's current. The bubbles have their
reason for being; all the mysteries of molecular attraction and
repulsion may be involved in their production; without the solar energy,
and the revolution of the earth upon its axis, they would not appear;
and yet they are only bubbles upon the river's current, as we are
bubbles upon the stream of energy that flows through the universe.
Apparently the cosmic game is played for us no more than for the
parasites that infest our bodies, or for the frost ferns that form upon
our window-panes in winter. The making of suns and systems goes on in
the depths of space, and doubtless will go on to all eternity, without
any more reference to the vital order than to the chemical compounds.

The amount of living matter in the universe, so far as we can penetrate
it, compared with the non-living, is, in amount, like a flurry of snow
that whitens the fields and hills of a spring morning compared to the
miles of rock and soil beneath it; and with reference to geologic time
it is about as fleeting. In the vast welter of suns and systems in the
heavens above us, we see only dead matter, and most of it is in a
condition of glowing metallic vapor. There are doubtless living
organisms upon some of the invisible planetary bodies, but they are
probably as fugitive and temporary as upon our own world. Much of the
surface of the earth is clothed in a light vestment of life, which, back
in geologic time, seems to have more completely enveloped it than at
present, as both the arctic and the antarctic regions bear evidence in
their coal-beds and other fossil remains of luxuriant vegetable growths.

Strip the earth of its thin pellicle of soil, thinner with reference to
the mass than is the peel to the apple, and you have stripped it of its
life. Or, rob it of its watery vapor and the carbon dioxide in the air,
both stages in its evolution, and you have a dead world. The huge globe
swings through space only as a mass of insensate rock. So limited and
evanescent is the world of living matter, so vast and enduring is the
world of the non-living. Looked at in this way, in the light of physical
science, life, I repeat, seems like a mere passing phase of the cosmic
evolution, a flitting and temporary stage of matter which it passes
through in the procession of changes on the surface of a cooling planet.
Between the fiery mist of the nebula, and the frigid and consolidated
globe, there is a brief span, ranging over about one hundred and twenty
degrees of temperature, where life appears and organic evolution takes
place. Compared with the whole scale of temperature, from absolute zero
to the white heat of the hottest stars, it is about a hand's-breadth
compared to a mile.

Life processes cease, but chemical and mechanical processes go on
forever. Life is as fugitive and uncertain as the bow in the clouds,
and, like the bow in the clouds, is confined to a limited range of
conditions. Like the bow, also, it is a perpetual creation, a constant
becoming, and its source is not in the matter through which it is
manifested, though inseparable from it. The material substance of life,
like the rain-drops, is in perpetual flux and change; it hangs always on
the verge of dissolution and vanishes when the material conditions fail,
to be renewed again when they return. We know, do we not? that life is
as literally dependent upon the sun as is the rainbow, and equally
dependent upon the material elements; but whether the physical
conditions sum up the whole truth about it, as they do with the bow, is
the insoluble question. Science says "Yes," but our philosophy and our
religion say "No." The poets and the prophets say "No," and our hopes
and aspirations say "No."


Where, then, shall we look for the key to this mysterious thing we call
life? Modern biochemistry will not listen to the old notion of a vital
force--that is only a metaphysical will-o'-the-wisp that leaves us
floundering in the quagmire. If I question the forces about me, what
answer do I get? Molecular attraction and repulsion seem to say, "It is
not in us; we are as active in the clod as in the flower." The four
principal elements--oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon--say, "It is
not in us, because we are from all eternity, and life is not; we form
only its physical basis." Warmth and moisture say, "It is not in us; we
are only its faithful nurses and handmaidens." The sun says: "It is not
in me; I shine on dead worlds as well. I but quicken life after it is
planted." The stars say, "It is not in us; we have seen life come and go
among myriads of worlds for untold ages." No questioning of the heavens
above nor of the earth below can reveal to us the secret we are in quest

I can fancy brute matter saying to life: "You tarry with me at your
peril. You will always be on the firing-line of my blind, contending
forces; they will respect you not; you must take your chances amid my
flying missiles. My forces go their eternal round without variableness
or shadow of turning, and woe to you if you cross their courses. You
may bring all your gods with you--gods of love, mercy, gentleness,
altruism; but I know them not. Your prayers will fall upon ears of
stone, your appealing gesture upon eyes of stone, your cries for mercy
upon hearts of stone. I shall be neither your enemy nor your friend. I
shall be utterly indifferent to you. My floods will drown you, my winds
wreck you, my fires burn you, my quicksands suck you down, and not know
what they are doing. My earth is a theatre of storms and cyclones, of
avalanches and earthquakes, of lightnings and cloudbursts; wrecks and
ruins strew my course. All my elements and forces are at your service;
all my fluids and gases and solids; my stars in their courses will fight
on your side, if you put and keep yourself in right relations to them.
My atoms and electrons will build your houses, my lightning do your
errands, my winds sail your ships, on the same terms. You cannot live
without my air and my water and my warmth; but each of them is a source
of power that will crush or engulf or devour you before it will turn one
hair's-breadth from its course. Your trees will be uprooted by my
tornadoes, your fair fields will be laid waste by floods or fires; my
mountains will fall on your delicate forms and utterly crush and bury
them; my glaciers will overspread vast areas and banish or destroy whole
tribes and races of your handiwork; the shrinking and wrinkling crust of
my earth will fold in its insensate bosom vast forests of your tropical
growths, and convert them into black rock, and I will make rock of the
myriad forms of minute life with which you plant the seas; through
immense geologic ages my relentless, unseeing, unfeeling forces will
drive on like the ploughshare that buries every flower and grass-blade
and tiny creature in its path. My winds are life-giving breezes to-day,
and the besom of destruction to-morrow; my rains will moisten and
nourish you one day, and wash you into the gulf the next; my earthquakes
will bury your cities as if they were ant-hills. So you must take your
chances, but the chances are on your side. I am not all tempest, or
flood, or fire, or earthquake. Your career will be a warfare, but you
will win more battles than you will lose. But remember, you are nothing
to me, while I am everything to you. I have nothing to lose or gain,
while you have everything to gain. Without my soils and moisture and
warmth, without my carbon and oxygen and nitrogen and hydrogen, you can
do or be nothing; without my sunshine you perish; but you have these
things on condition of effort and struggle. You have evolution on
condition of pain and failure and the hazard of the warring geologic
ages. Fate and necessity rule in my realm. When you fail, or are crushed
or swallowed by my remorseless forces, do not blame my gods, or your
own; there is no blame, there is only the price to be paid: the hazards
of invading the closed circle of my unseeing forces."

In California I saw an epitome of the merciless way inorganic Nature
deals with life. An old, dried, and hardened asphalt lake near Los
Angeles tells a horrible tale of animal suffering and failure. It had
been a pit of horrors for long ages; it was Nature concentrated--her
wild welter of struggling and devouring forms through the geologic ages
made visible and tangible in a small patch of mingled pitch and animal
bones. There was nearly as much bone as pitch. The fate of the unlucky
flies that alight upon tangle-foot fly-paper in our houses had been the
fate of the victims that had perished here. How many wild creatures had
turned appealing eyes to the great unheeding void as they felt
themselves helpless and sinking in this all-engulfing pitch! In like
manner how many human beings in storms and disasters at sea and in flood
and fire upon land have turned the same appealing look to the unpitying
heavens! There is no power in the world of physical forces, or apart
from our own kind, that heeds us or turns aside for us, or bestows one
pitying glance upon us. Life has run, and still runs, the gantlet of a
long line of hostile forces, and escapes by dint of fleetness of foot,
or agility in dodging, or else by toughness of fibre.

Yet here we are; here is love and charity and mercy and intelligence;
the fair face of childhood, the beautiful face of youth, the clear,
strong face of manhood and womanhood, and the calm, benign face of old
age, seen, it is true, as against a background of their opposites, but
seeming to indicate something above chance and change at the heart of
Nature. Here is life in the midst of death; but death forever playing
into the hands of life; here is the organic in the midst of the
inorganic, at strife with it, hourly crushed by it, yet sustained and
kept going by its aid.


Vitality is only a word, but it marks a class of phenomena in nature
that stands apart from all merely mechanical manifestations in the
universe. The cosmos is a vast machine, but in this machine--this
tremendous complex of physical forces--there appears, at least on this
earth, in the course of its evolution, this something, or this peculiar
manifestation of energy, that we call vital. Apparently it is a
transient phase of activity in matter, which, unlike other chemical and
physical activities, has its beginning and its ending, and out of which
have arisen all the myriad forms of terrestrial life. The merely
material forces, blind and haphazard from the first, did not arise in
matter; they are inseparable from it; they are as eternal as matter
itself; but the activities called vital arose in time and place, and
must eventually disappear as they arose, while the career of the
inorganic elements goes on as if life had never visited the sphere. Was
it, or is it, a visitation--something _ab extra_ that implies
super-mundane, or supernatural, powers?

Added to this wonder is the fact that the vital order has gone on
unfolding through the geologic ages, mounting from form to form, or from
order to order, becoming more and more complex, passing from the
emphasis of size of body, to the emphasis of size of brain, and finally
from instinct and reflex activities to free volition, and the reason and
consciousness of man; while the purely physical and chemical forces
remain where they began. There has been endless change among them,
endless shifting of the balance of power, but always the tendency to a
dead equilibrium, while the genius of the organic forces has been in the
power to disturb the equilibrium and to ride into port on the crest of
the wave it has created, or to hang forever between the stable and the

So there we are, confronted by two apparently contrary truths. It is to
me unthinkable that the vital order is not as truly rooted in the
constitution of things as are the mechanical and chemical orders; and
yet, here we are face to face with its limited, fugitive, or
transitional character. It comes and goes like the dews of the morning;
it has all the features of an exceptional, unexpected, extraordinary
occurrence--of miracle, if you will; but if the light which physical
science turns on the universe is not a delusion, if the habit of mind
which it begets is not a false one, then life belongs to the same
category of things as do day and night, rain and sun, rest and motion.
Who shall reconcile these contradictions?

Huxley spoke for physical science when he said that he did not know what
it was that constituted life--what it was that made the "wonderful
difference between the dead particles and the living particles of matter
appearing in other respects identical." He thought there might be some
bond between physico-chemical phenomena, on the one hand, and vital
phenomena, on the other, which philosophers will some day find out.
Living matter is characterized by "spontaneity of action," which is
entirely absent from inert matter. Huxley cannot or does not think of a
vital force distinct from all other forces, as the cause of life
phenomena, as so many philosophers have done, from Aristotle down to our
day. He finds protoplasm to be the physical basis of life; it is one in
both the vegetable and animal worlds; the animal takes it from the
vegetable, and the vegetable, by the aid of sunlight, takes or
manufactures it from the inorganic elements. But protoplasm is living
matter. Before there was any protoplasm, what brought about the
stupendous change of the dead into the living? Protoplasm makes more
protoplasm, as fire makes more fire, but what kindled the first spark of
this living flame? Here we corner the mystery, but it is still a
mystery that defies us. Cause and effect meet and are lost in each
other. Science cannot admit a miracle, or a break in the continuity of
life, yet here it reaches a point where no step can be taken. Huxley's
illustrations do not help his argument. "Protoplasm," he says, "is the
clay of the potter; which, bake it and paint it as he will, remains
clay, separated by artifice, and not by nature, from the commonest brick
or sun-dried clod." Clay is certainly the physical basis of the potter's
art, but would there be any pottery in the world if it contained only
clay? Do we not have to think of the potter? In the same way, do we not
have to think of something that fashions these myriad forms of life out
of protoplasm?--and back of that, of something that begat protoplasm out
of non-protoplasmic matter, and started the flame of life going? Life
accounts for protoplasm, but what accounts for life? We have to think of
the living clay as separated by Nature from the inert "sun-dried clod."
There is something in the one that is not in the other. There is really
no authentic analogy between the potter's art and Nature's art of life.

The force of the analogy, if it has any, drives us to the conclusion
that life is an entity, or an agent, working upon matter and independent
of it.

There is more wit than science in Huxley's question, "What better
philosophical status has vitality than aquosity?" There is at least this
difference: When vitality is gone, you cannot recall it, or reproduce
it by your chemistry; but you can recombine the two gases in which you
have decomposed water, any number of times, and get your aquosity back
again; it never fails; it is a power of chemistry. But vitality will not
come at your beck; it is not a chemical product, at least in the same
sense that water is; it is not in the same category as the wetness or
liquidity of water. It is a name for a phenomenon--the most remarkable
phenomenon in nature. It is one that the art of man is powerless to
reproduce, while water may be made to go through its cycle of
change--solid, fluid, vapor, gas--and always come back to water. Well
does the late Professor Brooks, of Johns Hopkins, say that "living
things do, in some way and in some degree, control or condition
inorganic nature; that they hold their own by setting the mechanical
properties of matter in opposition to each other, and that this is their
most notable and distinctive characteristic." Does not Ray Lankester,
the irate champion of the mechanistic view of life, say essentially the
same thing when he calls man the great Insurgent in Nature's
camp--"crossing her courses, reversing her processes, and defeating her

Life appears like the introduction of a new element or force or tendency
into the cosmos. Henceforth the elements go new ways, form new
compounds, build up new forms, and change the face of nature. Rivers
flow where they never would have flowed without it, mountains fall in a
space of time during which they never would have fallen; barriers arise,
rough ways are made smooth, a new world appears--the world of man's
physical and mental activities.

If the gods of the inorganic elements are neither for nor against us,
but utterly indifferent to us, how came we here? Nature's method is
always from the inside, while ours is from the outside; hers is circular
while ours is direct. We think, as Bergson says, of things created, and
of a thing that creates, but things in nature are not created, they are
evolved; they grow, and the thing that grows is not separable from the
force that causes it to grow. The water turns the wheel, and can be shut
off or let on. This is the way of the mechanical world. But the wheels
in organic nature go around from something inside them, a kind of
perpetual motion, or self-supplying power. They are not turned, they
turn; they are not repaired, they repair. The nature of living things
cannot be interpreted by the laws of mechanical and chemical things,
though mechanics and chemistry play the visible, tangible part in them.
If we must discard the notion of a vital force, we may, as Professor
Hartog suggests, make use of the term "vital behavior."

Of course man tries everything by himself and his own standards. He
knows no intelligence but his own, no prudence, no love, no mercy, no
justice, no economy, but his own, no god but such a one as fits his

In view of all these things, how man got here is a problem. Why the
slender thread of his line of descent was not broken in the warrings and
upheavals of the terrible geologic ages, what power or agent took a hand
in furthering his development, is beyond the reach of our biologic

Man's is the only intelligence, as we understand the word, in the
universe, and his intelligence demands something akin to intelligence in
the nature from which he sprang.




There are three kinds of change in the world in which we live--physical
and mechanical change which goes on in time and place among the tangible
bodies about us, chemical change which goes on in the world of hidden
molecules and atoms of which bodies are composed, and vital change which
involves the two former, but which also involves the mysterious
principle or activity which we call life. Life comes and goes, but the
physical and chemical orders remain. The vegetable and animal kingdoms
wax and wane, or disappear entirely, but the physico-chemical forces are
as indestructible as matter itself. This fugitive and evanescent
character of life, the way it uses and triumphs over the material
forces, setting up new chemical activities in matter, sweeping over the
land-areas of the earth like a conflagration, lifting the inorganic
elements up into myriads of changing and beautiful forms, instituting a
vast number of new chemical processes and compounds, defying the
laboratory to reproduce it or kindle its least spark--a flame that
cannot exist without carbon and oxygen, but of which carbon and oxygen
do not hold the secret, a fire reversed, building up instead of pulling
down, in the vegetable with power to absorb and transmute the inorganic
elements into leaves and fruit and tissue; in the animal with power to
change the vegetable products into bone and muscle and nerve and brain,
and finally into thought and consciousness; run by the solar energy and
dependent upon it, yet involving something which the sunlight cannot
give us; in short, an activity in matter, or in a limited part of
matter, as real as the physico-chemical activity, but, unlike it,
defying all analysis and explanation and all our attempts at synthesis.
It is this character of life, I say, that so easily leads us to look
upon it as something _ab extra_, or super-added to matter, and not an
evolution from it. It has led Sir Oliver Lodge to conceive of life as a
distinct entity, existing independent of matter, and it is this
conception that gives the key to Henri Bergson's wonderful book,
"Creative Evolution."

There is possibly or probably a fourth change in matter, physical in its
nature, but much more subtle and mysterious than any of the physical
changes which our senses reveal to us. I refer to radioactive change, or
to the atomic transformation of one element into another, such as the
change of radium into helium, and the change of helium into lead--a
subject that takes us to the borderland between physics and chemistry
where is still debatable ground.

I began by saying that there were three kinds of changes in matter--the
physical, the chemical, and the vital. But if we follow up this idea and
declare that there are three kinds of force also, claiming this
distinction for the third term of our proposition, we shall be running
counter to the main current of recent biological science. "The idea that
a peculiar 'vital force' acts in the chemistry of life," says Professor
Soddy, "is extinct."

"Only chemical and physical agents influence the vital processes," says
Professor Czapek, of the University of Prague, "and we need no longer
take refuge in mysterious 'vital forces' when we want to explain these."

Tyndall was obliged to think of a force that guided the molecules of
matter into the special forms of a tree. This force was in the ultimate
particles of matter. But when he came to the brain and to consciousness,
he said a new product appeared that defies mechanical treatment.

The attempt of the biological science of our time to wipe out all
distinctions between the living and the non-living, solely because
scientific analysis reveals no difference, is a curious and interesting

Professor Schäfer, in his presidential address before the British
Association in 1912, argued that all the main characteristics of living
matter, such as assimilation and disassimilation, growth and
reproduction, spontaneous and amoeboid movement, osmotic pressure,
karyokinesis, etc., were equally apparent in the non-living; therefore
he concluded that life is only one of the many chemical reactions, and
that it is not improbable that it will yet be produced by chemical
synthesis in the laboratory. The logic of the position taken by
Professor Schäfer and of the school to which he belongs, demands this
artificial production of life--an achievement that seems no nearer than
it did a half-century ago. When it has been attained, the problem will
be simplified, but the mystery of life will by no means have been
cleared up. One follows these later biochemists in working out their
problem of the genesis of life with keen interest, but always with a
feeling that there is more in their conclusions than is justified by
their premises. For my own part, I am convinced that whatever is, is
natural, but to obtain life I feel the need of something of a different
order from the force that evokes the spark from the flint and the steel,
or brings about the reaction of chemical compounds. If asked to explain
what this something is that is characteristic of living matter, I should
say intelligence.

The new school of biologists start with matter that possesses
extraordinary properties--with matter that seems inspired with the
desire for life, and behaving in a way that it never will behave in the
laboratory. They begin with the earth's surface warm and moist, the
atmosphere saturated with watery vapor and carbon dioxide and many other
complex unstable compounds; then they summon all the material elements
of life--carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, with a little sodium,
chlorine, iron, sulphur, phosphorus, and others--and make these run
together to form a jelly-like body called a colloid; then they endow
this jelly mass with the power of growth, and of subdivision when it
gets too large; they make it able to absorb various unstable compounds
from the air, giving it internal stores of energy, "the setting free of
which would cause automatic movements in the lump of jelly." Thus they
lay the foundations of life. This carbonaceous material with properties
of movement and subdivision due to mechanical and physical forces is the
immediate ancestor of the first imaginary living being, the _protobion_.
To get this _protobion_ the chemists summon a reagent known as a
catalyser. The catalyser works its magic on the jelly mass. It sets up a
wonderful reaction by its mere presence, without parting with any of its
substance. Thus, if a bit of platinum which has this catalytic power is
dropped into a vessel containing a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, the
two gases instantly unite and form water. A catalyser introduced in the
primordial jelly liberates energy and gives the substance power to break
up the various complex unstable compounds into food, and promote growth
and subdivision. In fact, it awakens or imparts a vital force and leads
to "indefinite increase, subdivision, and movement."

With Professor Schäfer there is first "the fortuitous production of life
upon this globe"--the chance meeting or jostling of the elements that
resulted in a bit of living protoplasm, "or a mass of colloid slime" in
the old seas, or on their shores, "possessing the property of
assimilation and therefore of growth." Here the whole mystery is
swallowed at one gulp. "Reproduction would follow as a matter of
course," because all material of this physical nature--fluid or
semi-fluid in character--"has a tendency to undergo subdivision when its
bulk exceeds a certain size."

"A mass of colloidal slime" that has the power of assimilation and of
growth and reproduction, is certainly a new thing in the world, and no
chemical analysis of it can clear up the mystery. It is easy enough to
produce colloidal slime, but to endow it with these wonderful powers so
that "the promise and the potency of all terrestrial life" slumbers in
it is a staggering proposition.

Whatever the character of this subdivision, whether into equal parts or
in the form of buds, "every separate part would resemble the parent in
chemical and physical properties, and would equally possess the property
of taking in and assimilating suitable material from its liquid
environment, growing in bulk and reproducing its like by subdivision.
In this way from any beginning of living material a primitive form of
life would spread and would gradually people the globe. The
establishment of life being once effected, all forms of organization
follow under the inevitable laws of evolution." Why all forms of
organization--why the body and brain of man--must inevitably follow from
the primitive bit of living matter, is just the question upon which we
want light. The proposition begs the question. Certainly when you have
got the evolutionary process once started in matter which has these
wonderful powers, all is easy. The professor simply describes what has
taken place and seems to think that the mystery is thereby cleared up,
as if by naming all the parts of a machine and their relation to one
another, the machine is accounted for. What caused the iron and steel
and wood of the machine to take this special form, while in other cases
the iron and steel and wood took other radically different forms, and
vast quantities of these substances took no form at all?

In working out the evolution of living forms by the aid of the blind
physical and chemical agents alone, Professor Schäfer unconsciously
ascribes the power of choice and purpose to the individual cells, as
when he says that the cells of the external layer sink below the surface
for better protection and better nutrition. It seems to have been a
matter of choice or will that the cells developed a nervous system in
the animal and not in the vegetable. Man came because a few cells in
some early form of life acquired a slightly greater tendency to react to
an external stimulus. In this way they were brought into closer touch
with the outer world and thereby gained the lead of their duller
neighbor cells, and became the real rulers of the body, and developed
the mind.

It is bewildering to be told by so competent a person as Professor
Schäfer that at bottom there is no fundamental difference between the
living and non-living. We need not urge the existence of a peculiar
vital force, as distinct from all other forces, but all distinctions
between things are useless if we cannot say that a new behavior is set
up in matter which we describe by the word "vital," and that a new
principle is operative in organized matter which we must call
"intelligence." Of course all movements and processes of living beings
are in conformity with the general laws of matter, but does such a
statement necessarily rule out all idea of the operation of an
organizing and directing principle that is not operative in the world of
inanimate things?

In Schäfer's philosophy evolution is purely a mechanical process--there
is no inborn tendency, no inherent push, no organizing effort, but all
results from the blind groping and chance jostling of the inorganic
elements; from the molecules of undifferentiated protoplasm to the
brain of a Christ or a Plato, is just one series of unintelligent
physical and chemical activities in matter.

May we not say that all the marks or characteristics of a living body
which distinguish it in our experience from an inanimate body, are of a
non-scientific character, or outside the sphere of experimental science?
We recognize them as readily as we distinguish day from night, but we
cannot describe them in the fixed terms of science. When we say growth,
metabolism, osmosis, the colloidal state, science points out that all
this may be affirmed of inorganic bodies. When we say a life principle,
a vital force or soul or spirit or intelligence, science turns a deaf

The difference between the living and the non-living is not so much a
physical difference as a metaphysical difference. Living matter is
actuated by intelligence. Its activities are spontaneous and
self-directing. The rock, and the tree that grows beside it, and the
insects and rodents that burrow under it, may all be made of one stuff,
but their difference to the beholder is fundamental; there is an
intelligent activity in the one that is not in the other. Now no
scientific analysis of a body will reveal the secret of this activity.
As well might your analysis of a phonographic record hope to disclose a
sonata of Beethoven latent in the waving lines. No power of chemistry
could reveal any difference between the gray matter of Plato's brain
and that of the humblest citizen of Athens. All the difference between
man, all that makes a man a man, and an ox an ox, is beyond the reach of
any of your physico-chemical tests. By the same token the gulf that
separates the organic from the inorganic is not within the power of
science to disclose. The biochemist is bound to put life in the category
of the material forces because his science can deal with no other. To
him the word "vital" is a word merely, it stands for no reality, and the
secret of life is merely a chemical reaction. A living body awakens a
train of ideas in our minds that a non-living fails to awaken--a train
of ideas that belong to another order from that awakened by scientific
demonstration. We cannot blame science for ruling out that which it
cannot touch with its analysis, or repeat with its synthesis. The
phenomena of life are as obvious to us as anything in the world; we know
their signs and ways, and witness their power, yet in the alembic of our
science they turn out to be only physico-chemical processes; hence that
is all there is of them. Vitality, says Huxley, has no more reality than
the horology of a clock. Yet Huxley sees three equal realities in the
universe--matter, energy, and consciousness. But consciousness is the
crown of a vital process. Hence it would seem as if there must be
something more real in vitality than Huxley is willing to admit.


Nearly all the later biologists or biological philosophers are as shy of
the term "vital force," and even of the word "vitality," as they are of
the words "soul," "spirit," "intelligence," when discussing natural
phenomena. To experimental science such words have no meaning because
the supposed realities for which they stand are quite beyond the reach
of scientific analysis. Ray Lankester, in his "Science from an Easy
Chair," following Huxley, compares vitality with aquosity, and says that
to have recourse to a vital principle or force to explain a living body
is no better philosophy than to appeal to a principle of aquosity to
explain water. Of course words are words, and they have such weight with
us that when we have got a name for a thing it is very easy to persuade
ourselves that the thing exists. The terms "vitality," "vital force,"
have long been in use, and it is not easy to convince one's self that
they stand for no reality. Certain it is that living and non-living
matter are sharply separated, though when reduced to their chemical
constituents in the laboratory they are found to be identical. The
carbon, the hydrogen, the nitrogen, the oxygen, and the lime, sulphur,
iron, etc., in a living body are in no way peculiar, but are the same as
these elements in the rocks and the soil. We are all made of one stuff;
a man and his dog are made of one stuff; an oak and a pine are made of
one stuff; Jew and Gentile are made of one stuff. Should we be
justified, then, in saying that there is no difference between them?
There is certainly a moral and an intellectual difference between a man
and his dog, if there is no chemical and mechanical difference. And
there is as certainly as wide or a wider difference between living and
non-living matter, though it be beyond the reach of science to detect.
For this difference we have to have a name, and we use the words
"vital," "vitality," which seem to me to stand for as undeniable
realities as the words heat, light, chemical affinity, gravitation.
There is not a principle of roundness, though "nature centres into
balls," nor of squareness, though crystallization is in right lines, nor
of aquosity, though two thirds of the surface of the earth is covered
with water. Can we on any better philosophical grounds say that there is
a principle of vitality, though the earth swarms with living beings? Yet
the word vitality stands for a reality, it stands for a peculiar
activity in matter--for certain movements and characteristics for which
we have no other term. I fail to see any analogy between aquosity and
that condition of matter we call vital or living. Aquosity is not an
activity, it is a property, the property of wetness; viscosity is a term
to describe other conditions of matter; solidity, to describe still
another condition; and opacity and transparency, to describe still
others--as they affect another of our senses. But the vital activity in
matter is a concrete reality. With it there goes the organizing tendency
or impulse, and upon it hinges the whole evolutionary movement of the
biological history of the globe. We can do all sorts of things with
water and still keep its aquosity. If we resolve it into its constituent
gases we destroy its aquosity, but by uniting these gases chemically we
have the wetness back again. But if a body loses its vitality, its life,
can we by the power of chemistry, or any other power within our reach,
bring the vitality back to it? Can we make the dead live? You may bray
your living body in a mortar, destroy every one of its myriad cells, and
yet you may not extinguish the last spark of life; the protoplasm is
still living. But boil it or bake it and the vitality is gone, and all
the art and science of mankind cannot bring it back again. The physical
and chemical activities remain after the vital activities have ceased.
Do we not then have to supply a non-chemical, a non-physical force or
factor to account for the living body? Is there no difference between
the growth of a plant or an animal, and the increase in size of a
sand-bank or a snow-bank, or a river delta? or between the wear and
repair of a working-man's body and the wear and repair of the machine he
drives? Excretion and secretion are not in the same categories. The
living and the non-living mark off the two grand divisions of matter in
the world in which we live, as no two terms merely descriptive of
chemical and physical phenomena ever can. Life is a motion in matter,
but of another order from that of the physico-chemical, though
inseparable from it. We may forego the convenient term "vital force."
Modern science shies at the term "force." We must have force or energy
or pressure of some kind to lift dead matter up into the myriad forms of
life, though in the last analysis of it it may all date from the sun.
When it builds a living body, we call it a vital force; when it builds a
gravel-bank, or moves a glacier, we call it a mechanical force; when it
writes a poem or composes a symphony, we call it a psychic force--all
distinctions which we cannot well dispense with, though of the ultimate
reality for which these terms stand we can know little. In the latest
science heat and light are not substances, though electricity is. They
are peculiar motions in matter which give rise to sensations in certain
living bodies that we name light and heat, as another peculiar motion in
matter gives rise to a sensation we call sound. Life is another kind of
motion in certain aggregates of matter--more mysterious or inexplicable
than all others because it cannot be described in terms of the others,
and because it defies the art and science of man to reproduce.

Though the concepts "vital force" and "life principle" have no standing
in the court of modern biological science, it is interesting to observe
how often recourse is had by biological writers to terms that embody
the same idea. Thus the German physiologist Verworn, the determined
enemy of the old conception of life, in his great work on
"Irritability," has recourse to "the specific energy of living
substances." One is forced to believe that without this "specific
energy" his "living substances" would never have arisen out of the

Professor Moore, of Liverpool University, as I have already pointed out
while discussing the term "vital force," invents a new phrase, "biotic
energy," to explain the same phenomena. Surely a force by any other name
is no more and no less potent. Both Verworn and Moore feel the need, as
we all do, of some term, or terms, by which to explain that activity in
matter which we call vital. Other writers have referred to "a peculiar
power of synthesis" in plants and animals, which the inanimate forms do
not possess.

Ray Lankester, to whom I have already referred in discussing this
subject, helps himself out by inventing, not a new force, but a new
substance in which he fancies "resides the peculiar property of living
matter." He calls this hypothetical substance "plasmogen," and thinks of
it as an ultimate chemical compound hidden in protoplasm. Has this
"ultimate molecule of life" any more scientific or philosophical
validity than the old conception of a vital force? It looks very much
like another name for the same thing--an attempt to give the mind
something to take hold of in dealing with the mystery of living things.
This imaginary "life-stuff" of the British scientist is entirely beyond
the reach of chemical analysis; no man has ever seen it or proved its
existence. In fact it is simply an invention of Ray Lankester to fill a
break in the sequence of observed phenomena. Something seems to possess
the power of starting or kindling that organizing activity in a living
body, and it seems to me it matters little whether we call it
"plasmogen," or a "life principle," or "biotic energy," or what not; it
surely leavens the loaf. Matter takes on new activities under its
influence. Ray Lankester thinks that plasmogen came into being in early
geologic ages, and that the conditions which led to its formation have
probably never recurred. Whether he thinks its formation was merely a
chance hit or not, he does not say.

We see matter all about us, acted upon by the mechanico-chemical forces,
that never takes on any of the distinctive phenomena of living bodies.
Yet Verworn is convinced that if we could bring the elements of a living
body together as Nature does, in the same order and proportion, and
combine them in the selfsame way, or bring about the vital conditions, a
living being would result. Undoubtedly. It amounts to saying that if we
had Nature's power we could do what she does. _If_ we could marry the
elements as she does, and bless the banns as she seems to, we could
build a man out of a clay-bank. But clearly physics and chemistry alone,
as we know and practice them, are not equal to the task.


One of the fundamental characteristics of life is power of adaptation;
it will adapt itself to almost any condition; it is willing and
accommodating. It is like a stream that can be turned into various
channels; the gall insects turn it into channels to suit their ends when
they sting the leaf of a tree or the stalk of a plant, and deposit an
egg in the wound. "Build me a home and a nursery for my young," says the
insect. "With all my heart," says the leaf, and forthwith forgets its
function as a leaf, and proceeds to build up a structure, often of great
delicacy and complexity, to house and cradle its enemy. The current of
life flows on blindly and takes any form imposed upon it. But in the
case of the vegetable galls it takes life to control life. Man cannot
produce these galls by artificial means. But we can take various
mechanical and chemical liberties with embryonic animal life in its
lower sea-forms. Professor Loeb has fertilized the eggs of sea-urchins
by artificial means. The eggs of certain forms may be made to produce
twins by altering the constitution of the sea-water, and the twins can
be made to grow together so as to produce monstrosities by another
chemical change in the sea-water. The eyes of certain fish embryos may
be fused into a single cyclopean eye by adding magnesium chloride to the
water in which they live. Loeb says, "It is _a priori_ obvious that an
unlimited number of pathological variations might be produced by a
variation in the concentration and constitution of the sea water, and
experience confirms this statement." It has been found that when frog's
eggs are turned upside down and compressed between two glass plates for
a number of hours, some of the eggs give rise to twins. Professor Morgan
found that if he destroyed half of a frog's egg after the first
segmentation, the remaining half gave rise to half an embryo, but that
if he put the half-egg upside down, and compressed it between two glass
plates, he got a perfect embryo frog of half the normal size. Such
things show how plastic and adaptive life is. Dr. Carrel's experiments
with living animal tissue immersed in a proper mother-liquid illustrate
how the vital process--cell-multiplication--may be induced to go on and
on, blindly, aimlessly, for an almost indefinite time. The cells
multiply, but they do not organize themselves into a constructive
community and build an organ or any purposeful part. They may be likened
to a lot of blind masons piling up brick and mortar without any
architect to direct their work or furnish them a plan. A living body of
the higher type is not merely an association of cells; it is an
association and coöperation of communities of cells, each community
working to a definite end and building an harmonious whole. The
biochemist who would produce life in the laboratory has before him the
problem of compounding matter charged with this organizing tendency or
power, and doubtless if he ever should evoke this mysterious process
through his chemical reactions, it would possess this power, as this is
what distinguishes the organic from the inorganic.

I do not see mind or intelligence in the inorganic world in the sense in
which I see it in the organic. In the heavens one sees power, vastness,
sublimity, unspeakable, but one sees only the physical laws working on a
grander scale than on the earth. Celestial mechanics do not differ from
terrestrial mechanics, however tremendous and imposing the result of
their activities. But in the humblest living thing--in a spear of grass
by the roadside, in a gnat, in a flea--there lurks a greater mystery. In
an animate body, however small, there abides something of which we get
no trace in the vast reaches of astronomy, a kind of activity that is
incalculable, indeterminate, and super-mechanical, not lawless, but
making its own laws, and escaping from the iron necessity that rules in
the inorganic world.

Our mathematics and our science can break into the circle of the
celestial and the terrestrial forces, and weigh and measure and separate
them, and in a degree understand them; but the forces of life defy our
analysis as well as our synthesis.

Knowing as we do all the elements that make up the body and brain of a
man, all the physiological processes, and all the relations and
interdependence of his various organs, if, in addition, we knew all his
inheritances, his whole ancestry back to the primordial cells from which
he sprang, and if we also knew that of every person with whom he comes
in contact and who influences his life, could we forecast his future,
predict the orbit in which his life would revolve, indicate its
eclipses, its perturbations, and the like, as we do that of an
astronomic body? or could we foresee his affinities and combinations as
we do that of a chemical body? Had we known any of the animal forms in
his line of ascent, could we have foretold man as we know him to-day?
Could we have foretold the future of any form of life from its remote
beginnings? Would our mathematics and our chemistry have been of any
avail in our dealing with such a problem? Biology is not in the same
category with geology and astronomy. In the inorganic world, chemical
affinity builds up and pulls down. It integrates the rocks and, under
changed conditions, it disintegrates them. In the organic world chemical
affinity is equally active, but it plays a subordinate part. It neither
builds up nor pulls down. Vital activities, if we must shun the term
"vital force," do both. Barring accidents, the life of all organisms is
terminated by other organisms. In the order of nature, life destroys
life, and compounds destroy compounds. When the air and soil and water
hold no invisible living germs, organic bodies never decay. It is not
the heat that begets putrefaction, but germs in the air. Sufficient heat
kills the germs, but what disintegrates the germs and reduces them to
dust? Other still smaller organisms? and so on _ad infinitum_? Does the
sequence of life have no end? The destruction of one chemical compound
means the formation of other chemical compounds; chemical affinity
cannot be annulled, but the activity we call vital is easily arrested. A
living body can be killed, but a chemical body can only be changed into
another chemical body.

The least of living things, I repeat, holds a more profound mystery than
all our astronomy and our geology hold. It introduces us to activities
which our mathematics do not help us to deal with. Our science can
describe the processes of a living body, and name all the material
elements that enter into it, but it cannot tell us in what the peculiar
activity consists, or just what it is that differentiates living matter
from non-living. Its analysis reveals no difference. But this difference
consists in something beyond the reach of chemistry and of physics; it
is active intelligence, the power of self-direction, of self-adjustment,
of self-maintenance, of adapting means to an end. It is notorious that
the hand cannot always cover the flea; this atom has will, and knows
the road to safety. Behold what our bodies know over and above what we
know! Professor Czapek reveals to us a chemist at work in the body who
proceeds precisely like the chemist in his laboratory; they might both
have graduated at the same school. Thus the chemist in the laboratory is
accustomed to dissolve the substance which is to be used in an
experiment to react on other substances. The chemical course in living
cells is the same. All substances destined for reactions are first
dissolved. No compound is taken up in living cells before it is
dissolved. Digestion is essentially identical with dissolving or
bringing into a liquid state. On the other hand, when the chemist wishes
to preserve a living substance from chemical change, he transfers it
from a state of solution into a solid state. The chemist in the living
body does the same thing. Substances which are to be stored up, such as
starch, fat, or protein bodies, are deposited in insoluble form, ready
to be dissolved and used whenever wanted for the life processes.
Poisonous substances are eliminated from living bodies by the same
process of precipitation. Oxalic acid is a product of oxidation in
living cells, and has strong poisonous properties. To get rid of it, the
chemist inside the body, by the aid of calcium salts, forms insoluble
compounds of it, and thus casts it out. To separate substances from each
other by filtration, or by shaking with suitable liquids, is one of the
daily tasks of the chemist. Analogous processes occur regularly in
living cells. Again, when the chemist wishes to finish his filtration
quickly, he uses filters which have a large surface. "In living
protoplasms, this condition is very well fulfilled by the foam-like
structure which affords an immense surface in a very small space." In
the laboratory the chemist mixes his substances by stirring. The body
chemist achieves the same result by the streaming of protoplasm. The
cells know what they want, and how to attain it, as clearly as the
chemist does. The intelligence of the living body, or what we must call
such for want of a better term, is shown in scores of ways--by the means
it takes to protect itself against microbes, by the antitoxins that it
forms. Indeed, if we knew all that our bodies know, what mysteries would
be revealed to us!


Life goes up-stream--goes against the tendency to a static equilibrium
in matter; decay and death go down. What is it in the body that
struggles against poisons and seeks to neutralize their effects? What is
it that protects the body against a second attack of certain diseases,
making it immune? Chemical changes, undoubtedly, but what brings about
the chemical changes? The body is a _colony_ of living units called
cells, that behaves much like a colony of insects when it takes measures
to protect itself against its enemies. The body forms anti-toxins when
it has to. It knows how to do it as well as bees know how to ventilate
the hive, or how to seal up or entomb the grub of an invading moth.
Indeed, how much the act of the body, in encysting a bullet in its
tissues, is like the act of the bees in encasing with wax a worm in the

What is that in the body which at great altitudes increases the number
of red corpuscles in the blood, those oxygen-bearers, so as to make up
for the lessened amount of oxygen breathed by reason of the rarity of
the air? Under such conditions, the amount of hæmoglobin is almost
doubled. I do not call this thing a force; I call it an
intelligence--the intelligence that pervades the body and all animate
nature, and does the right thing at the right time. We, no doubt, speak
too loosely of it when we say that it prompts or causes the body to do
this, or to do that; it _is_ the body; the relation of the two has no
human analogy; the two are one.

Man breaks into the circuit of the natural inorganic forces and arrests
them and controls them, and makes them do his work--turn his wheels,
drive his engines, run his errands, etc.; but he cannot do this in the
same sense with the organic forces; he cannot put a spell upon the pine
tree and cause it to build him a house or a nursery. Only the insects
can do a thing like that; only certain insects can break into the
circuit of vegetable life and divert its forces to serve their special
ends. One kind of an insect stings a bud or a leaf of the oak, and the
tree forthwith grows a solid nutlike protuberance the size of a
chestnut, in which the larvæ of the insect live and feed and mature.
Another insect stings the same leaf and produces the common oak-apple--a
smooth, round, green, shell-like body filled with a network of radiating
filaments, with the egg and then the grub of the insect at the centre.
Still another kind of insect stings the oak bud and deposits its eggs
there, and the oak proceeds to grow a large white ball made up of a kind
of succulent vegetable wool with red spots evenly distributed over its
surface, as if it were some kind of spotted fruit or flower. In June, it
is about the size of a small apple. Cut it in half and you find scores
of small shell-like growths radiating from the bud-stem, like the seeds
of the dandelion, each with a kind of vegetable pappus rising from it,
and together making up the ball as the pappus of the dandelion seeds
makes up the seed-globe of this plant. It is one of the most singular
vegetable products, or vegetable perversions, that I know of. A sham
fruit filled with sham seeds; each seed-like growth contains a grub,
which later in the season pupates and eats its way out, a winged insect.
How foreign to anything we know as mechanical or chemical it all
is!--the surprising and incalculable tricks of life!

Another kind of insect stings the oak leaf and there develops a pale,
smooth, solid, semi-transparent sphere, the size of a robin's egg, dense
and succulent like the flesh of an apple, with the larvæ of the insect
subsisting in its interior. Each of these widely different forms is
evoked from the oak leaf by the magic of an insect's ovipositor.
Chemically, the constituents of all of them are undoubtedly the same.

It is one of the most curious and suggestive things in living nature. It
shows how plastic and versatile life is, and how utterly unmechanical.
Life plays so many and such various tunes upon the same instruments; or
rather, the living organism is like many instruments in one; the tones
of all instruments slumber in it to be awakened when the right performer
appears. At least four different insects get four different tunes, so to
speak, out of the oak leaf.

Certain insects avail themselves of the animal organism also and go
through their cycle of development and metamorphosis within its tissues
or organs in a similar manner.


On the threshold of the world of living organisms stands that wonderful
minute body, the cell, the unit of life--a piece of self-regulating and
self-renewing mechanism that holds the key to all the myriads of living
forms that fill the world, from the amoeba up to man. For chemistry
to produce the cell is apparently as impossible as for it to produce a
bird's egg, or a living flower, or the heart and brain of man. The body
is a communal state made up of myriads of cells that all work together
to build up and keep going the human personality. There is the same
coöperation and division of labor that takes place in the civic state,
and in certain insect communities. As in the social and political
organism, thousands of the citizen cells die every day and new cells of
the same kind take their place. Or, it is like an army in battle being
constantly recruited--as fast as a soldier falls another takes his
place, till the whole army is changed, and yet remains the same. The
waste is greatest at the surface of the body through the skin, and
through the stomach and lungs. The worker cells, namely, the tissue
cells, like the worker bees in the hive, pass away the most rapidly;
then, according to Haeckel, there are certain constants, certain cells
that remain throughout life. "There is always a solid groundwork of
conservative cells, the descendants of which secure the further
regeneration." The traditions of the state are kept up by the
citizen-cells that remain, so that, though all is changed in time, the
genius of the state remains; the individuality of the man is not lost.
"The sense of personal identity is maintained across the flight of
molecules," just as it is maintained in the state or nation, by the
units that remain, and by the established order. There is an unwritten
constitution, a spirit that governs, like Maeterlinck's "spirit of the
hive." The traditions of the body are handed down from mother cell to
daughter cell, though just what that means in terms of physiology or
metabolism I do not know. But this we know--that you are you and I am I,
and that human life and personality can never be fully explained or
accounted for in terms of the material forces.




The limited and peculiar activity which arises in matter and which we
call vital; which comes and goes; which will not stay to be analyzed;
which we in vain try to reproduce in our laboratories; which is
inseparable from chemistry and physics, but which is not summed up by
them; which seems to use them and direct them to new ends,--an entity
which seems to have invaded the kingdom of inert matter at some definite
time in the earth's history, and to have set up an insurgent movement
there; cutting across the circuits of the mechanical and chemical
forces; turning them about, pitting one against the other; availing
itself of gravity, of chemical affinity, of fluids and gases, of osmosis
and exosmosis, of colloids, of oxidation and hydration, and yet
explicable by none of these things; clothing itself with garments of
warmth and color and perfume woven from the cold, insensate elements;
setting up new activities in matter; building up myriads of new unstable
compounds; struggling against the tendency of the physical forces to a
dead equilibrium; indeterminate, intermittent, fugitive; limited in
time, limited in space; present in some worlds, absent from others;
breaking up the old routine of the material forces, and instituting new
currents, new tendencies; departing from the linear activities of the
inorganic, and setting up the circular activities of living currents;
replacing change by metamorphosis, revolution by evolution, accretion by
secretion, crystallization by cell-formation, aggregation by growth;
and, finally, introducing a new power into the world--the mind and soul
of man--this wonderful, and apparently transcendental something which we
call life--how baffling and yet how fascinating is the inquiry into its
nature and origin! Are we to regard it as Tyndall did, and as others
before and since his time did and do, as potential in the constitution
of matter, and self-evolved, like the chemical compounds that are
involved in its processes?

As mechanical energy is latent in coal, and in all combustible bodies,
is vital energy latent in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and so forth,
needing only the right conditions to bring it out? Mechanical energy is
convertible into electrical energy, and _vice versa_. Indeed, the circle
of the physical forces is easily traced, easily broken into, but when or
how these forces merge into the vital and psychic forces, or support
them, or become them--there is the puzzle. If we limit the natural to
the inorganic order, then are living bodies supernatural?
Super-mechanical and super-chemical certainly, and chemics and
mechanics and electro-statics include all the material forces. Is life
outside this circle? It is certain that this circle does not always
include life, but can life exist outside this circle? When it appears it
is always inside it.

Science can only deal with life as a physical phenomenon; as a psychic
phenomenon it is beyond its scope, except so far as the psychic is
manifested through the physical. Not till it has produced living matter
from dead can it speak with authority upon the question of the origin of
life. Its province is limited to the description and analysis of life
processes, but when it essays to name what institutes the processes, or
to disclose the secret of organization, it becomes philosophy or
theology. When Haeckel says that life originated spontaneously, he does
not speak with the authority of science, because he cannot prove his
assertion; it is his opinion, and that is all. When Helmholtz says that
life had no beginning, he is in the same case. When our later
biophysicists say that life is of physico-chemical origin, they are in
the same case; when Tyndall says that there is no energy in the universe
but solar energy, he is in the same case; when Sir Oliver Lodge says
that life is an entity outside of and independent of matter, he is in
the same case. Philosophy and theology can take leaps in the dark, but
science must have solid ground to go upon. When it speculates or
theorizes, it must make its speculations good. Scientific prophecy is
amenable to the same tests as other prophecy. In the absence of proof by
experiment--scientific proof--to get the living out of the non-living we
have either got to conceive of matter itself as fundamentally creative,
as the new materialism assumes, or else we have got to have an external
Creator, as the old theology assumes. And the difference is more
apparent than real. Tyndall is "baffled and bewildered" by the fact that
out of its molecular vibrations and activities "things so utterly
incongruous with them as sensation, thought, and emotion can be
derived." His science is baffled and bewildered because it cannot, bound
as it is by the iron law of the conservation and correlation of energy,
trace the connection between them. But his philosophy or his theology
would experience little difficulty. Henri Bergson shows no hesitation in
declaring that the fate of consciousness is not involved in the fate of
the brain through which it is manifested, but it is his philosophy and
not his science that inspires this faith. Tyndall deifies matter to get
life out of it--makes the creative energy potential in it. Bergson
deifies or spiritualizes life as a psychic, creative principle, and
makes matter its instrument or vehicle.

Science is supreme in its own sphere, the sphere, or hemisphere, of the
objective world, but it does not embrace the whole of human life,
because human life is made up of two spheres, or hemispheres, one of
which is the subjective world. There is a world within us also, the
world of our memories, thoughts, emotions, aspirations, imaginings,
which overarches the world of our practical lives and material
experience, as the sky overarches the earth. It is in the spirit of
science that we conquer and use the material world in which we live; it
is in the spirit of art and literature, philosophy and religion, that we
explore and draw upon the immaterial world of our own hearts and souls.
Of course the man of science is also a philosopher--may I not even say
he is also a prophet and poet? Not otherwise could he organize his
scientific facts and see their due relations, see their drift and the
sequence of forces that bind the universe into a whole. As a man of
science he traces out the causes of the tides and the seasons, the
nature and origin of disease, and a thousand and one other things; but
only as a philosopher can he see the body as a whole and speculate about
the mystery of its organization; only as a philosopher can he frame
theories and compare values and interpret the phenomena he sees about


We can only know, in the scientific sense, the physical and chemical
phenomena of life; its essence, its origin, we can only know as
philosophy and idealism know them. We have to turn philosophers when we
ask any ultimate question. The feeling we have that the scientific
conception of life is inadequate springs from the philosophical habit of
mind. Yet this habit is quite as legitimate as the scientific habit, and
is bound to supplement the latter all through life.

The great men of science, like Darwin and Huxley, are philosophers in
their theories and conclusions, and men of science in their observations
and experiments. The limitations of science in dealing with such a
problem are seen in the fact that science can take no step till it has
life to begin with. When it has got the living body, it can analyze its
phenomena and reduce them to their chemical and physical equivalents,
and thus persuade itself that the secret of life may yet be hit upon in
the laboratory. Professor Czapek, of the University of Prague, in his
work on "The Chemical Phenomena of Life" speaks for science when he
says, "What we call life is nothing else but a complex of innumerable
chemical reactions in the living substance which we call protoplasm."
The "living substance" is assumed to begin with, and then we are told
that the secret of its living lies in its chemical and physical
processes. This is in one sense true. No doubt at all that if these
processes were arrested, life would speedily end, but do they alone
account for its origin? Is it not like accounting for a baby in terms of
its breathing and eating? It was a baby before it did either, and it
would seem as if life must in some way ante-date the physical and
chemical processes that attend it, or at least be bound up in them in a
way that no scientific analysis can reveal.

If life is merely a mode of motion in matter, it is fundamentally unlike
any and all other modes of motion, because, while we can institute all
the others at will, we are powerless to institute this. The mode of
motion we call heat is going on in varying degrees of velocity all about
us at all times and seasons, but the vital motion of matter is limited
to a comparatively narrow circle. We can end it, but we cannot start it.

The rigidly scientific type of mind sees no greater mystery in the
difference in contour of different animal bodies than a mere difference
in the density of the germ cells: "one density results in a sequence of
cell-densities to form a horse; another a dog; another a cat"; and avers
that if we "repeat the same complex conditions, the same results are as
inevitable as the sequences of forces that result in the formation of
hydrogen monoxide from hydrogen and oxygen."

Different degrees of density may throw light on the different behavior
of gases and fluids and solids, but can it throw any light on the
question of why a horse is a horse, and a dog a dog? or why one is an
herbivorous feeder, and the other a carnivorous?

The scientific explanation of life phenomena is analogous to reducing a
living body to its ashes and pointing to them--the lime, the iron, the
phosphorus, the hydrogen, the oxygen, the carbon, the nitrogen--as the
whole secret.

Professor Czapek is not entirely consistent. He says that it is his
conviction that there is something in physiology that transcends the
chemistry and the physics of inorganic nature. At the same time he
affirms, "It becomes more and more improbable that Life develops forces
which are unknown in inanimate Nature." But psychic forces are a product
of life, and they certainly are not found in inanimate nature. But
without laying stress upon this fact, may we not say that if no new
force is developed by, or is characteristic of, life, certainly new
effects, new processes, new compounds of matter are produced by life?
Matter undergoes some change that chemical analysis does not reveal. The
mystery of isomeric substances appears, a vast number of new compounds
of carbon appear, the face of the earth changes. The appearance of life
in inert matter is a change analogous to the appearance of the mind of
man in animate nature. The old elements and forces are turned to new and
higher uses. Man does not add to the list of forces or elements in the
earth, but he develops them, and turns them to new purposes; they now
obey and serve him, just as the old chemistry and physics obey and
serve life. Czapek tells us of the vast number of what are called
enzymes, or ferments, that appear in living bodies--"never found in
inorganic Nature and not to be gained by chemical synthesis." Orders and
suborders of enzymes, they play a part in respiration, in digestion, in
assimilation. Some act on the fats, some on the carbohydrates, some
produce inversion, others dissolution and precipitation. These enzymes
are at once the products and the agents of life. They must exert force,
chemical force, or, shall we say, they transform chemical force into
life force, or, to use Professor Moore's term, into "biotic energy"?


The inorganic seems dreaming of the organic. Behold its dreams in the
fern and tree forms upon the window pane and upon the stone flagging of
a winter morning! In the Brunonian movement of matter in solution, in
crystallization, in chemical affinity, in polarity, in osmosis, in the
growth of flint or chert nodules, in limestone formations--like seeking
like--in these and in other activities, inert matter seems dreaming of

The chemists have played upon this tendency in the inorganic to parody
or simulate some of the forms of living matter. A noted European
chemist, Dr. Leduc, has produced what he calls "osmotic growths," from
purely unorganized mineral matter--growths in form like seaweed and
polyps and corals and trees. His seeds are fragments of calcium
chloride, and his soil is a solution of the alkaline carbonates,
phosphates, or silicates. When his seeds are sown in these solutions, we
see inert matter germinating, "putting forth bud and stem and root and
branch and leaf and fruit," precisely as in the living vegetable
kingdom. It is not a growth by accretion, as in crystallization, but by
intussusception, as in life. These ghostly things exhibit the phenomena
of circulation and respiration and nutrition, and a crude sort of
reproduction by budding; they repair their injuries, and are able to
perform periodic movements, just as does an animal or a plant; they have
a period of vigorous youthful growth, of old age, of decay, and of
death. In form, in color, in texture, and in cell structure, they
imitate so closely the cell structures of organic growth as to suggest
something uncanny or diabolical. And yet the author of them does not
claim that they are alive. They are not edible, they contain no
protoplasm--no starch or sugar or peptone or fats or carbohydrates.
These chemical creations by Dr. Leduc are still dead matter--dead
colloids--only one remove from crystallization; on the road to life,
fore-runners of life, but not life. If he could set up the
chlorophyllian process in his chemical reactions among inorganic
compounds, the secret of life would be in his hands. But only the green
leaf can produce chlorophyll; and yet, which was first, the leaf or the

Professor Czapek is convinced that "some substances must exist in
protoplasm which are directly responsible for the life processes," and
yet the chemists cannot isolate and identify those substances.

How utterly unmechanical a living body is, at least how far it
transcends mere mechanics is shown by what the chemists call
"autolysis." Pulverize your watch, and you have completely destroyed
everything that made it a watch except the dead matter; but pulverize or
reduce to a pulp a living plant, and though you have destroyed all cell
structure, you have not yet destroyed the living substance; you have
annihilated the mechanism, but you have not killed the something that
keeps up the life process. Protoplasm takes time to die, but your
machine stops instantly, and its elements are no more potent in a new
machine than they were at first. "In the pulp prepared by grinding down
living organisms in a mortar, some vital phenomena continue for a long
time." The life processes cease, and the substances or elements of the
dead body remain as before. Their chemical reactions are the same. There
is no new chemistry, no new mechanics, no new substance in a live body,
but there is a new tendency or force or impulse acting in matter,
inspiring it, so to speak, to new ends. It is here that idealism parts
company with exact science. It is here that the philosophers go one
way, and the rigid scientists the other. It is from this point of view
that the philosophy of Henri Bergson, based so largely as it is upon
scientific material, has been so bitterly assailed from the scientific

The living cell is a wonderful machine, but if we ask which is first,
life or the cell, where are we? There is the synthetical reaction in the
cell, and the analytical or splitting reaction--the organizing, and the
disorganizing processes--what keeps up this seesaw and preserves the
equilibrium? A life force, said the older scientists; only chemical
laws, say the new. A prodigious change in the behavior of matter is
wrought by life, and whether we say it is by chemical laws, or by a life
force, the mystery remains.

The whole secret of life centres in the cell, in the plant cell; and
this cell does not exceed .005 millimetres in diameter. An enormous
number of chemical reactions take place in this minute space. It is a
world in little. Here are bodies of different shapes whose service is to
absorb carbon dioxide, and form sugar and carbohydrates. Must we go
outside of matter itself, and of chemical reactions, to account for it?
Call this unknown factor "vital force," as has so long been done, or
name it "biotic energy," as Professor Moore has lately done, and the
mystery remains the same. It is a new behavior in matter, call it by
what name we will.

Inanimate nature seems governed by definite laws; that is, given the
same conditions, the same results always follow. The reactions between
two chemical elements under the same conditions are always the same. The
physical forces go their unchanging ways, and are variable only as the
conditions vary. In dealing with them we know exactly what to expect. We
know at what degree of temperature, under the same conditions, water
will boil, and at what degree of temperature it will freeze. Chance and
probability play no part in such matters. But when we reach the world of
animate nature, what a contrast we behold! Here, within certain limits,
all is in perpetual flux and change. Living bodies are never two moments
the same. Variability is the rule. We never know just how a living body
will behave, under given conditions, till we try it. A late spring frost
may kill nearly every bean stalk or potato plant or hill of corn in your
garden, or nearly every shoot upon your grapevine. The survivors have
greater powers of resistance--a larger measure of that mysterious
something we call vitality. One horse will endure hardships and
exposures that will kill scores of others. What will agitate one
community will not in the same measure agitate another. What will break
or discourage one human heart will sit much more lightly upon another.
Life introduces an element of uncertainty or indeterminateness that we
do not find in the inorganic world. Bodies still have their laws or
conditions of activity, but they are elastic and variable. Among living
things we have in a measure escaped from the iron necessity that holds
the world of dead matter in its grip. Dead matter ever tends to a static
equilibrium; living matter to a dynamic poise, or a balance between the
intake and the output of energy. Life is a peculiar activity in matter.
If the bicyclist stops, his wheel falls down; no mechanical contrivance
could be devised that could take his place on the wheel, and no
combination of purely chemical and physical forces can alone do with
matter what life does with it. The analogy here hinted at is only
tentative. I would not imply that the relation of life to matter is
merely mechanical and external, like that of the rider to his wheel. In
life, the rider and his wheel are one, but when life vanishes, the wheel
falls down. The chemical and physical activity of matter is perpetual;
with a high-power microscope we may see the Brunonian movement in
liquids and gases any time and at all times, but the movement we call
vitality dominates these and turns them to new ends. I suppose the
nature of the activity of the bombarding molecules of gases and liquids
is the same in our bodies as out; that turmoil of the particles goes on
forever; it is, in itself, blind, fateful, purposeless; but life
furnishes, or _is_, an organizing principle that brings order and
purpose out of this chaos. It does not annul any of the mechanical or
chemical principles, but under its tutelage or inspiration they produce
a host of new substances, and a world of new and beautiful and wonderful


Bergson says the intellect is characterized by a natural inability to
understand life. Certain it is, I think, that science alone cannot grasp
its mystery. We must finally appeal to philosophy; we must have recourse
to ideal values--to a non-scientific or super-scientific principle. We
cannot live intellectually or emotionally upon science alone. Science
reveals to us the relations and inter-dependence of things in the
physical world and their relations to our physical well-being;
philosophy reveals their relations to our mental and spiritual life,
their meanings and their ideal values. Poor, indeed, is the man who has
no philosophy, no commanding outlook over the tangles and contradictions
of the world of sense. There is probably some unknown and unknowable
factor involved in the genesis of life, but that that factor or
principle does not belong to the natural, universal order is
unthinkable. Yet to fail to see that what we must call intelligence
pervades and is active in all organic nature is to be spiritually blind.
But to see it as something foreign to or separable from nature is to do
violence to our faith in the constancy and sufficiency of the natural
order. One star differeth from another in glory. There are degrees of
mystery in the universe. The most mystifying thing in inorganic nature
is electricity,--that disembodied energy that slumbers in the ultimate
particles of matter, unseen, unfelt, unknown, till it suddenly leaps
forth with such terrible vividness and power on the face of the storm,
or till we summon it through the transformation of some other form of
energy. A still higher and more inscrutable mystery is life, that
something which clothes itself in each infinitely varied and beautiful
as well as unbeautiful form of matter. We can evoke electricity at will
from many different sources, but we can evoke life only from other life;
the biogenetic law is inviolable.

Professor Soddy says, "Natural philosophy may explain a rainbow but not
a rabbit." There is no secret about a rainbow; we can produce it at will
out of perfectly colorless beginnings. "But nothing but rabbits will or
can produce a rabbit, a proof again that we cannot say what a rabbit is,
though we may have a perfect knowledge of every anatomical and
microscopic detail."

To regard life as of non-natural origin puts it beyond the sphere of
legitimate inquiry; to look upon it as of natural origin, or as bound in
a chain of chemical sequences, as so many late biochemists do, is still
to put it where our science cannot unlock the mystery. If we should ever
succeed in producing living matter in our laboratories, it would not
lessen the mystery any more than the birth of a baby in the household
lessens the mystery of generation. It only brings it nearer home.


What is peculiar to organic nature is the living cell. Inside the cell,
doubtless, the same old chemistry and physics go on--the same universal
law of the transformation of energy is operative. In its minute compass
the transmutation of the inorganic into the organic, which constitutes
what Tyndall called "the miracle and the mystery of vitality," is
perpetually enacted. But what is the secret of the cell itself? Science
is powerless to tell us. You may point out to your heart's content that
only chemical and physical forces are discoverable in living matter;
that there is no element or force in a plant that is not in the stone
beside which it grew, or in the soil in which it takes root; and yet,
until your chemistry and your physics will enable you to produce the
living cell, or account for its mysterious self-directed activities,
your science avails not. "Living cells," says a late European authority,
"possess most effective means to accelerate reactions and to cause
surprising chemical results."

Behold the four principal elements forming stones and soils and water
and air for whole geologic or astronomic ages, and then behold them
forming plants and animals, and finally forming the brains that give us
art and literature and philosophy and modern civilization. What prompted
the elements to this new and extraordinary behavior? Science is dumb
before such a question.

Living bodies are immersed in physical conditions as in a sea. External
agencies--light, moisture, air, gravity, mechanical and chemical
influences--cause great changes in them; but their power to adapt
themselves to these changes, and profit by them, remains unexplained.
Are morphological processes identical with chemical ones?

In the inorganic world we everywhere see mechanical adjustment, repose,
stability, equilibrium, through the action and interaction of outward
physical forces; a natural bridge is a striking example of the action of
blind mechanical forces among the rocks. In the organic world we see
living adaptation which involves a non-mechanical principle. An
adjustment is an outward fitting together of parts; an adaptation
implies something flowing, unstable, plastic, compromising; it is a
moulding process; passivity on one side, and activity on the other.
Living things struggle; they struggle up as well as down; they struggle
all round the circle, while the pull of dead matter is down only.

Behold what a good chemist a plant is! With what skill it analyzes the
carbonic acid in the air, retaining the carbon and returning the oxygen
to the atmosphere! Then the plant can do what no chemist has yet been
able to do; it can manufacture chlorophyll, a substance which is the
basis of all life on the globe. Without chlorophyll (the green substance
in plants) the solar energy could not be stored up in the vegetable
world. Chlorophyll makes the plant, and the plant makes chlorophyll. To
ask which is first is to call up the old puzzle, Which is first, the
egg, or the hen that laid it?

According to Professor Soddy, the engineer's unit of power, that of the
British cart-horse, has to be multiplied many times in a machine before
it can do the work of a horse. He says that a car which two horses used
to pull, it now takes twelve or fifteen engine-horse to pull. The
machine horse belongs to a different order. He does not respond to the
whip; he has no nervous system; he has none of the mysterious reserve
power which a machine built up of living cells seems to possess; he is
inelastic, non-creative, non-adaptive; he cannot take advantage of the
ground; his pull is a dead, unvarying pull. Living energy is elastic,
adaptive, self-directive, and suffers little loss through friction, or
through imperfect adjustment of the parts. A live body converts its fuel
into energy at a low temperature. One of the great problems of the
mechanics of the future is to develop electricity or power directly from
fuel and thus cut out the enormous loss of eighty or ninety per cent
which we now suffer. The growing body does this all the time; life
possesses this secret; the solar energy stored up in fuel suffers no
loss in being transformed into work by the animal mechanism.

Soddy asks whether or not the minute cells of the body may not have the
power of taking advantage of the difference in temperature of the
molecules bombarding them, and thus of utilizing energy that is beyond
the capacity of the machinery of the motor-car. Man can make no machine
that can avail itself of the stores of energy in the uniform temperature
of the earth or air or water, or that can draw upon the potential energy
of the atoms, but it may be that the living cell can do this, and thus a
horse can pull more than a one-horse-power engine. Soddy makes the
suggestive inquiry: "If life begins in a single cell, does intelligence?
does the physical distinction between living and dead matter begin in
the jostling molecular crowd? Inanimate molecules, in all their
movements, obey the law of probability, the law which governs the
successive falls of a true die. In the presence of a rudimentary
intelligence, do they still follow that law, or do they now obey another
law--the law of a die that is loaded?" In a machine the energy of fuel
has first to be converted into heat before it is available, but in a
living machine the chemical energy of food undergoes direct
transformation into work, and the wasteful heat-process is cut off.


Professor Soddy, in discussing the relation of life to energy, does not
commit himself to the theory of the vitalistic or non-mechanical origin
of life, but makes the significant statement that there is a consensus
of opinion that the life processes are not bound by the second law of
thermo-dynamics, namely, the law of the non-availability of the energy
latent in low temperatures, or in the chaotic movements of molecules
everywhere around us. To get energy, one must have a fall or an incline
of some sort, as of water from a higher to a lower level, or of
temperature from a higher to a lower degree, or of electricity from one
condition of high stress to another less so. But the living machine
seems able to dispense with this break or incline, or else has the
secret of creating one for itself.

In the living body the chemical energy of food is directly transformed
into work, without first being converted into heat. Why a horse can do
more work than a one-horse-power engine is probably because his living
cells can and do draw upon this molecular energy. Molecules of matter
outside the living body all obey the law of probability, or the law of
chance; but inside the living body they at least seem to obey some other
law--the law of design, or of dice that are loaded, as Soddy says. They
are more likely always to act in a particular way. Life supplies a
directing agency. Soddy asks if the physical distinction between living
and dead matter begins in the jostling molecular crowd--begins by the
crowd being directed and governed in a particular way. If so, by what?
Ah! that is the question. Science will have none of it, because science
would have to go outside of matter for such an agent, and that science
cannot do. Such a theory implies intelligence apart from matter, or
working in matter. Is that a hard proposition? Intelligence clearly
works in our bodies and brains, and in those of all the animals--a
controlled and directed activity in matter that seems to be life. The
cell which builds up all living bodies behaves not like a machine, but
like a living being; its activities, so far as we can judge, are
spontaneous, its motions and all its other processes are self-prompted.
But, of course, in it the mechanical, the chemical, and the vital are so
blended, so interdependent, that we may never hope to separate them; but
without the activity called vital, there would be no cell, and hence no

It were unreasonable to expect that scientific analysis should show that
the physics and chemistry of a living body differs from that of the
non-living. What is new and beyond the reach of science to explain is
the _kind of activity_ of these elements. They enter into new compounds;
they build up bodies that have new powers and properties; they people
the seas and the air and the earth with living creatures, they build
the body and brain of man. The secret of the activity in matter that we
call vital is certainly beyond the power of science to tell us. It is
like expecting that the paint and oil used in a great picture must
differ from those in a daub. The great artist mixed his paint with
brains, and the universal elements in a living body are mixed with
something that science cannot disclose. Organic chemistry does not
differ intrinsically from inorganic; the difference between the two lies
in the purposive activity of the elements that build up a living body.

Or is life, as a New England college professor claims, "an _x_-entity,
additional to matter and energy, but of the same cosmic rank as they,"
and "manifesting itself to our senses only through its power to keep a
certain quantity of matter and energy in the continuous orderly ferment
we call life"?

I recall that Huxley said that there was a third reality in this
universe besides matter and energy, and this third reality was
consciousness. But neither the "_x_-entity" of Professor Ganong nor the
"consciousness" of Huxley can be said to be of the same cosmic rank as
matter and energy, because they do not pervade the universe as matter
and energy do. These forces abound throughout all space and endure
throughout all time, but life and consciousness are flitting and
uncertain phenomena of matter. A prick of a pin, or a blow from a
hammer, may destroy both. Unless we consider them as potential in all
matter (and who shall say that they are not?) may we look upon them as
of cosmic rank?

It is often urged that it is not the eye that sees, or the brain that
thinks, but something in them. But it is something in them that never
went into them; it arose in them. It is the living eye and the living
brain that do the seeing and the thinking. When the life activity
ceases, these organs cease to see and to think. Their activity is kept
up by certain physiological processes in the organs of the body, and to
ask what keeps up these is like the puppy trying to overtake its own
tail, or to run a race with its own shadow.

The brain is not merely the organ of the mind in an external and
mechanical sense; it is the mind. When we come to living things, all
such analogies fail us. Life is not a thing; thought is not a thing; but
rather the effect of a certain activity in matter, which mind alone can
recognize. When we try to explain or account for that which we are, it
is as if a man were trying to lift himself.

Life seems like something apart. It does not seem to be amenable to the
law of the correlation and conservation of forces. You cannot transform
it into heat or light or electricity. The force which a man extracts
from the food he eats while he is writing a poem, or doing any other
mental work, seems lost to the universe. The force which the engine, or
any machine, uses up, reappears as work done, or as heat or light or
some other physical manifestation. But the energy of foodstuffs which a
man uses up in a mental effort does not appear again in the circuit of
the law of the conservation of energy. A man uses up more energy in his
waking moments, though his body be passive, than in his sleeping. What
we call mental force cannot be accounted for in terms of physical force.
The sun's energy goes into our bodies through the food we eat, and so
runs our mental faculties, but how does it get back again into the
physical realm? Science does not know.

It must be some sort of energy that lights the lamps of the firefly and
the glow-worm, and it must be some sort or degree of energy that keeps
consciousness going. The brain of a Newton, or of a Plato, must make a
larger draft on the solar energy latent in food-stuffs than the brain of
a day laborer, and his body less. The same amount of food-consumption,
or of oxidation, results in physical force in the one case, and mental
force in the other, but the mental force escapes the great law of the
equivalence of the material forces.

John Fiske solves the problem when he drops his physical science and
takes up his philosophy, declaring that the relation of the mind to the
body is that of a musician to his instrument, and this is practically
the position of Sir Oliver Lodge.

Inheritance and adaptation, says Haeckel, are sufficient to account for
all the variety of animal and vegetable forms on the earth. But is there
not a previous question? Do we not want inheritance and adaptation
accounted for? What mysteries they hold! Does the river-bed account for
the river? How can a body adapt itself to its environment unless it
possess an inherent, plastic, changing, and adaptive principle? A stone
does not adapt itself to its surroundings; its change is external and
not internal. There is mechanical adjustment between inert bodies, but
there is no adaptation without the push of life. A response to new
conditions by change of form implies something actively
responsive--something that profits by the change.


If we could tell what determines the division of labor in the hive of
bees or a colony of ants, we could tell what determines the division of
labor among the cells in the body. A hive of bees and a colony of ants
is a unit--a single organism. The spirit of the body, that which
regulates all its economies, which directs all its functions, which
coördinates its powers, which brings about all its adaptations, which
adjusts it to its environment, which sees to its repairs, heals its
wounds, meets its demands, provides more force when more is needed,
which makes one organ help do the work of another, which wages war on
disease germs by specific ferments, which renders us immune to this or
that disease; in fact, which carries on all the processes of our
physical life without asking leave or seeking counsel of us,--all this
is on another plane from the mechanical or chemical--super-mechanical.

The human spirit, the brute spirit, the vegetable spirit--all are mere
names to fill a void. The spirit of the oak, the beech, the pine, the
palm--how different! how different the plan or idea or interior
economies of each, though the chemical and mechanical processes are the
same, the same mineral and gaseous elements build them up, the same sun
is their architect! But what physical principle can account for the
difference between a pine and an oak, or, for that matter, between a man
and his dog, or a bird and a fish, or a crow and a lark? What play and
action or interaction and reaction of purely chemical and mechanical
forces can throw any light on the course evolution has taken in the
animal life of the globe--why the camel is the camel, and the horse the
horse? or in the development of the nervous system, or the circulatory
system, or the digestive system, or of the eye, or of the ear?

A living body is never in a state of chemical repose, but inorganic
bodies usually are. Take away the organism and the environment remains
essentially the same; take away the environment and the organism changes
rapidly and perishes--it goes back to the inorganic. Now, what keeps up
the constant interchange--this seesaw? The environment is permanent; the
organism is transient. The spray of the falls is permanent; the bow
comes and goes. Life struggles to appropriate the environment; a rock,
for example, does not, in the same sense, struggle with its
surroundings, it weathers passively, but a tree struggles with the
winds, and to appropriate minerals and water from the soil, and the
leaves struggle to store up the sun's energy. The body struggles to
eliminate poisons or to neutralize them; it becomes immune to certain
diseases, learns to resist them; the thing is _alive_. Organisms
struggle with one another; inert bodies clash and pulverize one another,
but do not devour one another.

Life is a struggle between two forces, a force within and a force
without, but the force within does all the struggling. The air does not
struggle to get into the lungs, nor the lime and iron to get into our
blood. The body struggles to digest and assimilate the food; the
chlorophyll in the leaf struggles to store up the solar energy. The
environment is unaware of the organism; the light is indifferent to the
sensitized plate of the photographer. Something in the seed we plant
avails itself of the heat and the moisture. The relation is not that of
a thermometer or hygrometer to the warmth and moisture of the air; it is
a vital relation.

Life may be called an aquatic phenomenon, because there can be no life
without water. It may be called a thermal phenomenon, because there can
be no life below or above a certain degree of temperature. It may be
called a chemical phenomenon, because there can be no life without
chemical reactions. Yet none of these things define life. We may discuss
biological facts in terms of chemistry without throwing any light on the
nature of life itself. If we say the particular essence of life is
chemical, do we mean any more than that life is inseparable from
chemical reactions?

After we have mastered the chemistry of life, laid bare all its
processes, named all its transformations and transmutations, analyzed
the living cell, seen the inorganic pass into the organic, and beheld
chemical reaction, the chief priestess of this hidden rite, we shall
have to ask ourselves, Is chemistry the creator of life, or does life
create or use chemistry? These "chemical reaction complexes" in living
cells, as the biochemists call them, are they the cause of life, or only
the effect of life? We shall decide according to our temperaments or our
habits of thought.




Emerson confessed in his "Journal" that he could not read the
physicists; their works did not appeal to him. He was probably repelled
by their formulas and their mathematics. But add a touch of chemistry,
and he was interested. Chemistry leads up to life. He said he did not
think he would feel threatened or insulted if a chemist should take his
protoplasm, or mix his hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, and make an
animalcule incontestably swimming and jumping before his eyes. It would
be only evidence of a new degree of power over matter which man had
attained to. It would all finally redound to the glory of matter itself,
which, it appears, "is impregnated with thought and heaven, and is
really of God, and not of the Devil, as we had too hastily believed."
This conception of matter underlies the new materialism of such men as
Huxley and Tyndall. But there is much in the new physics apart from its
chemical aspects that ought to appeal to the Emersonian type of mind.
Did not Emerson in his first poem, "The Sphinx," sing of

    Journeying atoms,
    Primordial wholes?

In those ever-moving and indivisible atoms he touches the very
corner-stone of the modern scientific conception of matter. It is hardly
an exaggeration to say that in this conception we are brought into
contact with a kind of transcendental physics. A new world for the
imagination is open--a world where the laws and necessities of
ponderable bodies do not apply. The world of gross matter disappears,
and in its place we see matter dematerialized, and escaping from the
bondage of the world of tangible bodies; we see a world where friction
is abolished, where perpetual motion is no longer impossible; where two
bodies may occupy the same space at the same time; where collisions and
disruptions take place without loss of energy; where subtraction often
means more--as when the poison of a substance is rendered more virulent
by the removal of one or more atoms of one of the elements; and where
addition often means less--as when three parts of the gases of oxygen
and hydrogen unite and form only two parts of watery vapor; where mass
and form, centre and circumference, size and structure, exist without
any of the qualities ordinarily associated with these things through our
experience in a three-dimension world. We see, or contemplate, bodies
which are indivisible; if we divide them, their nature changes; if we
divide a molecule of water, we get atoms of hydrogen and oxygen gas; if
we divide a molecule of salt, we get atoms of chlorine gas and atoms of
the metal sodium, which means that we have reached a point where matter
is no longer divisible in a mechanical sense, but only in a chemical
sense; which again means that great and small, place and time, inside
and outside, dimensions and spatial relations, have lost their ordinary
meanings. Two bodies get inside of each other. To the physicist, heat
and motion are one; light is only a mechanical vibration in the ether;
sound is only a vibration in the air, which the ear interprets as sound.
The world is as still as death till the living ear comes to receive the
vibrations in the air; motion, or the energy which it implies, is the
life of the universe.

Physics proves to us the impossibility of perpetual motion among
visible, tangible bodies, at the same time that it reveals to us a world
where perpetual motion is the rule--the world of molecules and atoms. In
the world of gross matter, or of ponderable bodies, perpetual motion is
impossible because here it takes energy, or its equivalent, to beget
energy. Friction very soon turns the kinetic energy of motion into the
potential energy of heat, which quickly disappears in that great sea of
energy, the low uniform temperature of the earth. But when we reach the
interior world of matter, the world of molecules, atoms, and electrons,
we have reached a world where perpetual motion _is_ the rule; we have
reached the fountain-head of energy, and the motion of one body is not
at the expense of the motion of some other body, but is a part of the
spontaneous struggling and jostling and vibration that go on forever in
all the matter of the universe. What is called the Brunonian movement
(first discovered by the botanist Robert Brown in 1827) is within reach
of the eye armed with a high-power microscope. Look into any liquid that
holds in suspension very small particles of solid matter, such as dust
particles in the air, or the granules of ordinary water-color paints
dissolved in water: not a single one of the particles is at rest; they
are all mysteriously agitated; they jump hither and thither; it is a
wild chaotic whirl and dance of minute particles. Brown at first thought
they were alive, but they were only non-living particles dancing to the
same tune which probably sets suns and systems whirling in the heavens.
Ramsay says that tobacco smoke confined in the small flat chamber formed
in the slide of a microscope, shows this movement, in appearance like
the flight of minute butterflies. The Brunonian movement is now believed
to be due to the bombardment of the particles by the molecules of the
liquid or gas in which they are suspended. The smaller the particles,
the livelier they are. These particles themselves are made up of a vast
number of molecules, among which the same movement or agitation, much
more intense, is supposed to be taking place; the atoms which compose
the molecules are dancing and frisking about like gnats in the air, and
the electrons inside the atoms are still more rapidly changing places.

We meet with the same staggering figures in the science of the
infinitely little that we do in the science of the infinitely vast. Thus
the physicist deals with a quantity of matter a million million times
smaller than can be detected in the most delicate chemical balance.
Molecules inconceivably small rush about in molecular space
inconceivably small. Ramsay calculates how many collisions the molecules
of gas make with other molecules every second, which is four and one
half quintillions. This staggers the mind like the tremendous
revelations of astronomy. Mathematics has no trouble to compute the
figures, but our slow, clumsy minds feel helpless before them. In every
drop of water we drink, and in every mouthful of air we breathe, there
is a movement and collision of particles so rapid in every second of
time that it can only be expressed by four with eighteen naughts. If the
movement of these particles were attended by friction, or if the energy
of their impact were translated into heat, what hot mouthfuls we should
have! But the heat, as well as the particles, is infinitesimal, and is
not perceptible.


The molecules and atoms and electrons into which science resolves matter
are hypothetical bodies which no human eye has ever seen, or ever can
see, but they build up the solid frame of the universe. The air and the
rocks are not so far apart in their constituents as they might seem to
our senses. The invisible and indivisible molecules of oxygen which we
breathe, and which keep our life-currents going, form about half the
crust of the earth. The soft breeze that fans and refreshes us, and the
rocks that crush us, are at least half-brothers. And herein we get a
glimpse of the magic of chemical combinations. That mysterious property
in matter which we call chemical affinity, a property beside which human
affinities and passions are tame and inconstant affairs, is the
architect of the universe. Certain elements attract certain other
elements with a fierce and unalterable attraction, and when they unite,
the resultant compound is a body totally unlike either of the
constituents. Both substances have disappeared, and a new one has taken
their place. This is the magic of chemical change. A physical change, as
of water into ice, or into steam, is a simple matter; it is merely a
matter of more or less heat; but the change of oxygen and hydrogen into
water, or of chlorine gas and the mineral sodium into common salt, is a
chemical change. In nature, chlorine and sodium are not found in a free
or separate state; they hunted each other up long ago, and united to
produce the enormous quantities of rock salt that the earth holds. One
can give his imagination free range in trying to picture what takes
place when two or more elements unite chemically, but probably there is
no physical image that can afford even a hint of it. A snake trying to
swallow himself, or two fishes swallowing each other, or two bullets
meeting in the air and each going through the centre of the other, or
the fourth dimension, or almost any other impossible thing, from the
point of view of tangible bodies, will serve as well as anything. The
atoms seem to get inside of one another, to jump down one another's
throats, and to suffer a complete transformation. Yet we know that they
do not; oxygen is still oxygen, and carbon still carbon, amid all the
strange partnerships entered into, and all the disguises assumed. We can
easily evoke hydrogen and oxygen from water, but just how their
molecules unite, how they interpenetrate and are lost in one another, it
is impossible for us to conceive.

We cannot visualize a chemical combination because we have no experience
upon which to found it. It is so fundamentally unlike a mechanical
mixture that even our imagination can give us no clew to it. It is
thinkable that the particles of two or more substances however fine,
mechanically mixed, could be seen and recognized if sufficiently
magnified; but in a chemical combination, say like iron sulphide, no
amount of magnification could reveal the two elements of iron and
sulphur. They no longer exist. A third substance unlike either has taken
their place.

We extract aluminum from clay, but no conceivable power of vision could
reveal to us that metal in the clay. It is there only potentially. In a
chemical combination the different substances interpenetrate and are
lost in one another: they are not mechanically separable nor
individually distinguishable. The iron in the red corpuscles of the
blood is not the metal we know, but one of its many chemical disguises.
Indeed it seems as if what we call the ultimate particles of matter did
not belong to the visible order and hence were incapable of

That mysterious force, chemical affinity, is the true and original
magic. That two substances should cleave to each other and absorb each
other and produce a third totally unlike either is one of the profound
mysteries of science. Of the nature of the change that takes place, I
say, we can form no image. Chemical force is selective; it is not
promiscuous and indiscriminate like gravity, but specific and
individual. Nearly all the elements have their preferences and they will
choose no other. Oxygen comes the nearest to being a free lover among
the elements, but its power of choice is limited.

Science conceives of all matter as grained or discrete, like a bag of
shot, or a pile of sand. Matter does not occupy space continuously, not
even in the hardest substances, such as the diamond; there is space,
molecular space, between the particles. A rifle bullet whizzing past is
no more a continuous body than is a flock of birds wheeling and swooping
in the air. Air spaces separate the birds, and molecular spaces separate
the molecules of the bullet. Of course it is unthinkable that
indivisible particles of matter can occupy space and have dimensions.
But science goes upon this hypothesis, and the hypothesis proves itself.

After we have reached the point of the utmost divisibility of matter in
the atom, we are called upon to go still further and divide the
indivisible. The electrons, of which the atom is composed, are one
hundred thousand times smaller, and two thousand times lighter than the
smallest particle hitherto recognized, namely, the hydrogen atom. A
French physicist conceives of the electrons as rushing about in the
interior of the atom like swarms of gnats whirling about in the dome of
a cathedral. The smallest particle of dust that we can recognize in the
air is millions of times larger than the atom, and millions of millions
of times larger than the electron. Yet science avers that the
manifestations of energy which we call light, radiant heat, magnetism,
and electricity, all come from the activities of the electrons. Sir J.
J. Thomson conceives of a free electron as dashing about from one atom
to another at a speed so great as to change its location forty million
times a second. In the electron we have matter dematerialized; the
electron is not a material particle. Hence the step to the electric
constitution of matter is an easy one. In the last analysis we have pure
disembodied energy. "With many of the feelings of an air-man," says
Soddy, "who has left behind for the first time the solid ground beneath
him," we make this plunge into the demonstrable verities of the newest
physics; matter in the old sense--gross matter--fades away. To the three
states in which we have always known it, the solid, the liquid, and the
gaseous, we must add a fourth, the ethereal--the state of matter which
Sir Oliver Lodge thinks borders on, or is identical with, what we call
the spiritual, and which affords the key to all the occult phenomena of
life and mind.

As we have said, no human eye has ever seen, or will see, an atom; only
the mind's eye, or the imagination, sees atoms and molecules, yet the
atomic theory of matter rests upon the sure foundation of experimental
science. Both the chemist and the physicist are as convinced of the
existence of these atoms as they are of the objects we see and touch.
The theory "is a necessity to explain the experimental facts of chemical
composition." "Through metaphysics first," says Soddy, "then through
alchemy and chemistry, through physical and astronomical spectroscopy,
lastly through radio-activity, science has slowly groped its way to the
atom." The physicists make definite statements about these hypothetical
bodies all based upon definite chemical phenomena. Thus Clerk Maxwell
assumes that they are spherical, that the spheres are hard and elastic
like billiard-balls, that they collide and glance off from one another
in the same way, that is, that they collide at their surfaces and not at
their centres.

Only two of our senses make us acquainted with matter in a state which
may be said to approach the atomic--smell and taste. Odors are material
emanations, and represent a division of matter into inconceivably small
particles. What are the perfumes we smell but emanations, flying atoms
or electrons, radiating in all directions, and continuing for a shorter
or longer time without any appreciable diminution in bulk or weight of
the substances that give them off? How many millions or trillions of
times does the rose divide its heart in the perfume it sheds so freely
upon the air? The odor of the musk of certain animals lingers under
certain conditions for years. The imagination is baffled in trying to
conceive of the number and minuteness of the particles which the fox
leaves of itself in the snow where its foot was imprinted--so palpable
that the scent of a hound can seize upon them hours after the fox has
passed! The all but infinite divisibility of matter is proved by every
odor that the breeze brings us from field and wood, and by the delicate
flavors that the tongue detects in the food we eat and drink. But these
emanations and solutions that affect our senses probably do not
represent a chemical division of matter; when we smell an apple or a
flower, we probably get a real fragment of the apple, or of the flower,
and not one or more of its chemical constituents represented by atoms or
electrons. A chemical analysis of odors, if it were possible, would
probably show the elements in the same state of combination as the
substances from which the odors emanated.

The physicists herd these ultimate particles of matter about; they have
a regular circus with them; they make them go through films and screens;
they guide them through openings; they count them as their tiny flash is
seen on a sensitized plate; they weigh them; they reckon their velocity.
The alpha-rays from radio-active substances are swarms of tiny meteors
flying at the incredible speed of twelve thousand miles a second, while
the meteors of the midnight sky fly at the speed of only forty miles a
second. Those alpha particles are helium atoms. They are much larger
than beta particles, and have less penetrative power. Sir J. J. Thomson
has devised a method by which he has been able to photograph the atoms.
The photographic plate upon which their flight is recorded suggests a
shower of shooting stars. Oxygen is found to be made up of atoms of
several different forms.


The "free path" of molecules, both in liquids and in gases, is so minute
as to be beyond the reach of the most powerful microscope. This free
path in liquids is a zigzag course, owing to the perpetual collisions
with other molecules. The molecular behavior of liquids differs from
that of gases only in what is called surface tension. Liquids have a
skin, a peculiar stress of the surface molecules; gases do not, but tend
to dissipate and fill all space. A drop of water remains intact till
vaporization sets in; then it too becomes more and more diffused.

When two substances combine chemically, more or less heat is evolved.
When the combination is effected slowly, as in an animal's body, heat is
slowly evolved. When the combustion is rapid, as in actual fire, heat is
rapidly evolved. The same phenomenon may reach the eye as light, and the
hand as heat, though different senses get two different impressions of
the same thing. So a mechanical disturbance may reach the ear as sound,
and be so interpreted, and reach the hand as motion in matter. In
combustion, the oxygen combines rapidly with the carbon, giving out heat
and light and carbon dioxide, but why it does so admits of no
explanation. Herein again is where life differs from fire; we can
describe combustion in terms of chemistry, but after we have described
life in the same terms something--and this something is the main
thing--remains untouched.

The facts of radio-activity alone demonstrate the truth of the atomic
theory. The beta rays, or emanations from radium, penetrating one foot
of solid iron are very convincing. And this may go on for hundreds of
years without any appreciable diminution of size or weight of the
radio-active substance. "A gram of such substance," says Sir Oliver
Lodge, "might lose a few thousand of atoms a second, and yet we could
not detect the loss if we continued to weigh it for a century." The
volatile essences of organic bodies which we detect in odors and
flavors, are not potent like the radium emanations. We can confine them
and control them, but we cannot control the rays of radio-active matter
any more than we can confine a spirit. We can separate the three
different kinds of rays--the alpha, the beta, and the gamma--by magnetic
devices, but we cannot cork them up and isolate them, as we can musk and
the attar of roses.

And these emanations are taking place more or less continuously all
about us and we know it not. In fact, we are at all times subjected to a
molecular bombardment of which we never dream; minute projectiles,
indivisible points of matter, are shot out at us in the form of
electrons from glowing metals, from lighted candles, and from other
noiseless and unsuspected batteries at a speed of tens of thousands of
miles a second, and we are none the wiser for it. Indeed, if we could
see or feel or be made aware of it, in what a different world we should
find ourselves! How many million-or billion-fold our sense of sight and
touch would have to be increased to bring this about! We live in a world
of collisions, disruptions, and hurtling missiles of which our senses
give us not the slightest evidence, and it is well that they do not.
There is a tremendous activity in the air we breathe, in the water we
drink, in the food we eat, and in the soil we walk upon, which, if
magnified till our senses could take it in, would probably drive us mad.
It is in this interior world of molecular activity, this world of
electric vibrations and oscillations, that the many transformations of
energy take place. This is the hiding-place of the lightning, of the
electrons which moulded together make the thunderbolt. What an
underworld of mystery and power it is! In it slumbers all the might and
menace of the storm, the power that rends the earth and shakes the
heavens. With the mind's eye one can see the indivisible atoms giving up
their electrons, see the invisible hosts, in numbers beyond the power of
mathematics to compute, being summoned and marshalled by some mysterious
commander and hurled in terrible fiery phalanxes across the battlefield
of the storm.

The physicist describes the atom and talks about it as if it were "a
tangible body which one could hold in his hand like a baseball." "An
atom," Sir Oliver Lodge says, "consists of a globular mass of positive
electricity with minute negative electrons embedded in it." He speaks of
the spherical form of the atom, and of its outer surface, of its centre,
and of its passing through other atoms, and of the electrons that
revolve around its centre as planets around a sun. The electron, one
hundred thousand times smaller than an atom, yet has surface, and that
surface is a dimpled and corrugated sheet--like the cover of a mattress.
What a flight of the scientific imagination is that!

The disproportion between the size of an atom and the size of an
electron is vastly greater than that between the sun and the earth.
Represent an atom, says Sir Oliver Lodge, by a church one hundred and
sixty feet long, eighty feet broad, and forty feet high; the electrons
are like gnats inside it. Yet on the electric theory of matter,
electrons are all of the atom there is; there is no church, but only the
gnats rushing about. We know of nothing so empty and hollow, so near a
vacuum, as matter in this conception of it. Indeed, in the new physics,
matter is only a hole in the ether. Hence the newspaper joke about the
bank sliding down and leaving the woodchuck-hole sticking out, looks
like pretty good physics. The electrons give matter its inertia, and
give it the force we call cohesion, give it its toughness, its strength,
and all its other properties. They make water wet, and the diamond hard.
They are the fountain-head of the immense stores of the inter-atomic
energy, which, if it could be tapped and controlled, would so easily do
all the work of the world. But this we cannot do. "We are no more
competent," says Professor Soddy, "to make use of these supplies of
atomic energy than a savage, ignorant of how to kindle a fire, could
make use of a steam-engine." The natural rate of flow of this energy
from its atomic sources we get as heat, and it suffices to keep life
going upon this planet. It is the source of all the activity we see upon
the globe. Its results, in the geologic ages, are stored up for us in
coal and oil and natural gas, and, in our day, are available in the
winds, the tides, and the waterfalls, and in electricity.


The electric constitution of matter is quite beyond anything we can
imagine. The atoms are little worlds by themselves, and the whole
mystery of life and death is in their keeping. The whole difference in
the types of mind and character among men is supposed to be in their
keeping. The different qualities and properties of bodies are in their
keeping. Whether an object is hot or cold to our senses, depends upon
the character of their vibrations; whether it be sweet or sour,
poisonous or innocuous to us, depends upon how the atoms select their
partners in the whirl and dance of their activities. The hardness and
brilliancy of the diamond is supposed to depend upon how the atoms of
carbon unite and join hands.

I have heard the view expressed that all matter, as such, is dead
matter, that the molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, iron,
phosphorus, calcium, and so on, in a living body, are themselves no more
alive than the same molecules in inorganic matter. Nearly nine tenths of
a living body is water; is not this water the same as the water we get
at the spring or the brook? is it any more alive? does water undergo any
chemical change in the body? is it anything more than a solvent, than a
current that carries the other elements to all parts of the body? There
are any number of chemical changes or reactions in a living body, but
are the atoms and molecules that are involved in such changes radically
changed? Can oxygen be anything but oxygen, or carbon anything but
carbon? Is what we call life the result of their various new
combinations? Many modern biologists hold to this view. In this
conception merely a change in the order of arrangement of the molecules
of a substance--which follows which or which is joined to which--is
fraught with consequences as great as the order in which the letters of
the alphabet are arranged in words, or the words themselves are arranged
in sentences. The change of one letter in a word often utterly changes
the meaning of that word, and the changing of a word in the sentence may
give expression to an entirely different idea. Reverse the letters in
the word "God," and you get the name of our faithful friend the dog.
Huxley and Tyndall both taught that it was the way that the ultimate
particles of matter are compounded that makes the whole difference
between a cabbage and an oak, or between a frog and a man. It is a hard
proposition. We know with scientific certainty that the difference
between a diamond and a piece of charcoal, or between a pearl and an
oyster-shell, is the way that the particles of carbon in the one case,
and of calcium carbide in the other, are arranged. We know with equal
certainty that the difference between certain chemical bodies, like
alcohol and ether, is the arrangement of their ultimate particles, since
both have the same chemical formula. We do not spell acetic acid,
alcohol, sugar, starch, animal fat, vegetable oils, glycerine, and the
like, with the same letters; yet nature compounds them all of the same
atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but in different proportions and
in different orders.

Chemistry is all-potent. A mechanical mixture of two or more elements
is a simple affair, but a chemical mixture introduces an element of
magic. No conjurer's trick can approach such a transformation as that of
oxygen and hydrogen gases into water. The miracle of turning water into
wine is tame by comparison. Dip plain cotton into a mixture of nitric
and sulphuric acids and let it dry, and we have that terrible explosive,
guncotton. Or, take the cellulose of which cotton is composed, and add
two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, and we have sugar. But we are
to remember that the difference here indicated is not a quantitative,
but a qualitative one, not one affecting bulk, but affecting structure.
Truly chemistry works wonders. Take ethyl alcohol, or ordinary spirits
of wine, and add four more atoms of carbon to the carbon molecule, and
we have the poison carbolic acid. Pure alcohol can be turned into a
deadly poison, not by adding to, but simply by taking from it; take out
one atom of carbon and two of hydrogen from the alcohol molecule, and we
have the poison methyl alcohol. But we are to remember that the
difference here indicated is not a quantitative, but a qualitative one,
not one affecting bulk, but affecting structure.

In our atmosphere we have a mechanical mixture of nitrogen and oxygen,
four parts of nitrogen to one of oxygen. By uniting the nitrogen and
oxygen chemically (N_{2}O) we have nitrous oxide, laughing-gas. Ordinary
starch is made up of three different elements--six parts of carbon, ten
parts of hydrogen, and five parts of oxygen (C_{6}H_{10}O_{5}). Now if
we add water to this compound, we have a simple mixture of starch and
water, but if we bring about a chemical union with the elements of water
(hydrogen and oxygen), we have grape sugar. This sugar is formed in
green leaves by the agency of sunlight, and is the basis of all plant
and animal food, and hence one of the most important things in nature.

Carbon is a solid, and is seen in its pure state in the diamond, the
hardest body in nature and the most valued of all precious stones, but
it enters largely into all living bodies and is an important constituent
of all the food we eat. As a gas, united with the oxygen of the air,
forming carbon dioxide, it was present at the beginning of life, and
probably helped kindle the first vital spark. In the shape of wood and
coal, it now warms us and makes the wheels of our material civilization
go round. Diamond stuff, through the magic of chemistry, plays one of
the principle rôles in our physical life; we eat it, and are warmed and
propelled by it, and cheered by it. Taken as carbonic acid gas into our
lungs, it poisons us; taken into our stomachs, it stimulates us;
dissolved in water, it disintegrates the rocks, eating out the carbonate
of lime which they contain. It is one of the principal actors in the
drama of organized matter.


We have a good illustration of the power of chemistry, and how closely
it is dogging the footsteps of life, in the many organic compounds it
has built up out of the elements, such as sugar, starch, indigo,
camphor, rubber, and so forth, all of which used to be looked upon as
impossible aside from life-processes. It is such progress as this that
leads some men of science to believe that the creation of life itself is
within the reach of chemistry. I do not believe that any occult or
transcendental principle bars the way, but that some unknown and perhaps
unknowable condition does, as mysterious and unrepeatable as that which
separates our mental life from our physical. The transmutation of the
physical into the psychical takes place, but the secret of it we do not
know. It does not seem to fall within the law of the correlation and the
conservation of energy.

Free or single atoms are very rare; they all quickly find their mates or
partners. This eagerness of the elements to combine is one of the
mysteries. If the world of visible matter were at one stroke resolved
into its constituent atoms, it would practically disappear; we might
smell it, or taste it, if we were left, but we could not see it, or feel
it; the water would vanish, the solid ground would vanish--more than
half of it into oxygen atoms, and the rest mainly into silicon atoms.

The atoms of different bodies are all alike, and presumably each holds
the same amount of electric energy. One wonders, then, how the order in
which they are arranged can affect them so widely as to produce bodies
so unlike as, say, alcohol and ether. This brings before us again the
mystery of chemical arrangement or combination, so different from
anything we know among tangible bodies. It seems to imply that each atom
has its own individuality. Mix up a lot of pebbles together, and the
result would be hardly affected by the order of the arrangement, but mix
up a lot of people, and the result would be greatly affected by the fact
of who is elbowing who. It seems the same among the mysterious atoms, as
if some complemented or stimulated those next them, or had an opposite
effect. But can we think of the atoms in a chemical compound as being
next one another, or merely in juxtaposition? Do we not rather have to
think of them as identified with one another to an extent that has no
parallel in the world of ponderable bodies? A kind of sympathy or
affinity makes them one in a sense that we only see realized among
living beings.

Chemical activity is the first step from physical activity to vital
activity, but the last step is taken rarely--the other two are
universal. Chemical changes involve the atom. What do vital changes
involve? We do not know. We can easily bring about the chemical
changes, but not so the vital changes. A chemical change destroys one or
more substances and produces others totally unlike them; a vital change
breaks up substances and builds up other bodies out of them; it results
in new compounds that finally cover the earth with myriads of new and
strange forms.




The mechanistic theory of life--the theory that all living things can be
explained and fully accounted for on purely physico-chemical
principles--has many defenders in our day. The main aim of the foregoing
chapters is to point out the inadequacy of this view. At the risk of
wearying my reader I am going to collect under the above heading a few
more considerations bearing on this point.

A thing that grows, that develops, cannot, except by very free use of
language, be called a machine. We speak of the body as a machine, but we
have to qualify it by prefixing the adjective living--the living
machine, which takes it out of the mechanical order of things
fabricated, contrived, built up from without, and puts it in the order
we call vital, the order of things self-developed from within, the order
of things autonomous, as contrasted with things automatic. All the
mechanical principles are operative in the life processes, but they have
been vitalized, not changed in any way but in the service of a new order
of reality. The heart with its chambers and valves is a pump that
forces the blood through the system, but a pump that works itself and
does not depend upon pneumatic pressure--a pump in which vital energy
takes the place of gravitational energy. The peristaltic movement in the
intestines involves a mechanical principle, but it is set up by an
inward stimulus, and not by outward force. It is these inward stimuli,
which of course involve chemical reactions, that afford the motive power
for all living bodies and that put the living in another order from the
mechanical. The eye is an optical instrument,--a rather crude one, it is
said,--but it cannot be separated from its function, as can a mere
instrument--the eye sees as literally as the brain thinks. In breathing
we unconsciously apply the principle of the bellows; it is a bellows
again which works itself, but the function of which, in a very limited
sense, we can inhibit and control. An artificial, or man-made, machine
always implies an artificer, but the living machine is not made in any
such sense; it grows, it arises out of the organizing principle that
becomes active in matter under conditions that we only dimly understand,
and that we cannot reproduce.

The vital and the mechanical coöperate in all our bodily functions.
Swallowing our food is a mechanical process, the digestion of it is a
chemical process and the assimilation and elimination of it a vital
process. Inhaling and exhaling the air is a mechanical process, the
oxidation of the blood is a chemical process, and the renewal of the
corpuscles is a vital process. Growth, assimilation, elimination,
reproduction, metabolism, and secretion, are all vital processes which
cannot be described in terms of physics and chemistry. All our bodily
movements--lifting, striking, walking, running--are mechanical, but
seeing, hearing, and tasting, are of another order. And that which
controls, directs, coördinates, and inhibits our activities belongs to a
still higher order, the psychic. The world of thoughts and emotions
within us, while dependent upon and interacting with the physical world
without us, cannot be accounted for in terms of the physical world. A
living thing is more than a machine, more than a chemical laboratory.

We can analyze the processes of a tree into their mechanical and
chemical elements, but there is besides a kind of force there which we
must call vital. The whole growth and development of the tree, its
manner of branching and gripping the soil, its fixity of species, its
individuality--all imply something that does not belong to the order of
the inorganic, automatic forces. In the living animal how the psychic
stands related to the physical or physiological and arises out of it,
science cannot tell us, but the relation must be real; only philosophy
can grapple with that question. To resolve the psychic and the vital
into the mechanical and chemical and refuse to see any other factors at
work is the essence of materialism.


Any contrivance which shows an interdependence of parts, that results in
unity of action, is super-mechanical. The solar system may be regarded
as a unit, but it has not the purposive unity of a living body. It is
one only in the sense that its separate bodies are all made of one
stuff, and obey the same laws and move together in the same direction,
but a living body is a unit because all its parts are in the service of
one purposive end. An army is a unit, a flock of gregarious birds, a
colony of ants or bees, is a unit because the spirit and purpose of one
is the spirit and purpose of all; the unity is psychological.

Only living bodies are adaptive. Adaptation, of course, has its physics
or its chemistry, because it is a physical phenomenon; but there is no
adaptation of a rock or a clay-bank to its environment; there is only
mechanical and chemical adjustment. The influence of the environment may
bring about chemical and physical changes in a non-living body, but they
are not purposive as in a living body. The fat in the seeds of plants in
northern countries is liquid and solid at a lower temperature than in
tropical climates. Living organisms alone react in a formative or
deformative way to external stimuli. In warm climates the fur of
animals and the wool of sheep become thin and light. The colder the
climate, the thicker these coverings. Such facts only show that in the
matter of adaptation among living organisms, there is a factor at work
other than chemistry and physics--not independent of them, but making a
purposive use of them. Cut off the central shoot that leads the young
spruce tree upwards, and one of the shoots from the whirl of lateral
branches below it slowly rises up and takes the place of the lost
leader. Here is an action not prompted by the environment, but by the
morphological needs of the tree, and it illustrates how different is its
unity from the unity of a mere machine. I am only aiming to point out
that in all living things the material forces behave in a purposive way
to a degree that cannot be affirmed of them in non-living, and that,
therefore, they imply intelligence.

Evidently the cells in the body do not all have the same degree of
life,--that is, the same degree of irritability. The bone cells and the
hair cells, for instance, can hardly be so much alive--or so
irritable--as the muscle cells; nor these as intensely alive as the
nerve and brain cells. Does not a bird possess a higher degree of life
than a mollusk, or a turtle? Is not a brook trout more alive than a
mud-sucker? You can freeze the latter as stiff as an icicle and
resuscitate it, but not the former. There is a scale of degrees in life
as clearly as there is a scale of degrees in temperature. There is an
endless gradation of sensibilities of the living cells, dependent
probably upon the degree of differentiation of function. Anæsthetics
dull or suspend this irritability. The more highly developed and complex
the nervous system, the higher the degree of life, till we pass from
mere physical life to psychic life. Science might trace this difference
to cell structure, but what brings about the change in the character of
the cell, or starts the cells to building a complex nervous system, is a
question unanswerable to science. The biologist imagines this and that
about the invisible or hypothetical molecular structure; he assigns
different functions to the atoms; some are for endosmosis, others for
contraction, others for conduction of stimuli. Intramolecular oxygen
plays a part. Other names are given to the mystery--the micellar strings
of Naegeli, the biophores of Weismann, the plastidules of Haeckel; they
all presuppose millions of molecules peculiarly arranged in the

On purely mechanical and chemical principles Tyndall accounts for the
growth from the germ of a tree. The germ would be quiet, but the solar
light and heat disturb its dreams, break up its atomic equilibrium. The
germ makes an "effort" to restore it (why does it make an effort?),
which effort is necessarily defeated and incessantly renewed, and in
the turmoil or "scrapping" between the germ and the solar forces, matter
is gathered from the soil and from the air and built into the special
form of a tree. Why not in the form of a cabbage, or a donkey, or a
clam? If the forces are purely automatic, why not? Why should matter be
gathered in at all in a mechanical struggle between inorganic elements?
But these are not all inorganic; the seed is organic. Ah! that makes the
difference! That accounts for the "effort." So we have to have the
organic to start with, then the rest is easy. No doubt the molecules of
the seed would remain in a quiescent state, if they were not disturbed
by external influences, chemical and mechanical. But there is something
latent or potential in that seed that is the opposite of the mechanical,
namely, the vital, and in what that consists, and where it came from, is
the mystery.


I fancy that the difficulty which an increasing number of persons find
in accepting the mechanistic view of life, or evolution,--the view which
Herbert Spencer built into such a ponderous system of philosophy, and
which such men as Huxley, Tyndall, Gifford, Haeckel, Verworn, and
others, have upheld and illustrated,--is temperamental rather than
logical. The view is distasteful to a certain type of mind--the
flexible, imaginative, artistic, and literary type--the type that loves
to see itself reflected in nature or that reads its own thoughts and
emotions into nature. In a few eminent examples the two types of mind to
which I refer seem more or less blended. Sir Oliver Lodge is a case in
point. Sir Oliver is an eminent physicist who in his conception of the
totality of things is yet a thoroughgoing idealist and mystic. His
solution of the problem of living things is extra-scientific. He sees in
life a distinct transcendental principle, not involved in the
constitution of matter, but independent of it, entering into it and
using it for its own purposes.

Tyndall was another great scientist with an inborn idealistic strain in
him. His famous, and to many minds disquieting, declaration, made in his
Belfast address over thirty years ago, that in matter itself he saw the
promise and the potency of all terrestrial life, stamps him as a
scientific materialist. But his conception of matter, as "at bottom
essentially mystical and transcendental," stamps him as also an
idealist. The idealist in him speaks very eloquently in the passage
which, in the same address, he puts into the mouth of Bishop Butler, in
the latter's imaginary debate with Lucretius: "Your atoms," says the
Bishop, "are individually without sensation, much more are they without
intelligence. May I ask you, then, to try your hand upon this problem.
Take your dead hydrogen atoms, your dead oxygen atoms, your dead carbon
atoms, your dead nitrogen atoms, your dead phosphorus atoms, and all
the other atoms, dead as grains of shot, of which the brain is formed.
Imagine them separate and sensationless, observe them running together
and forming all imaginable combinations. This, as a purely mechanical
process, is _seeable_ by the mind. But can you see or dream, or in any
way imagine, how out of that mechanical art, and from these individually
dead atoms, sensation, thought, and emotion are to arise? Are you likely
to extract Homer out of the rattling of dice, or the Differential
Calculus out of the clash of billiard balls?" Could any vitalist, or
Bergsonian idealist have stated his case better?

Now the Bishop Butler type of mind--the visualizing, idealizing,
analogy-loving, literary, and philosophical mind--is shared by a good
many people; it is shared by or is characteristic of all the great
poets, artists, seers, idealists of the world; it is the humanistic type
that sees man everywhere reflected in nature; and is radically different
from the strictly scientific type which dehumanizes nature and reduces
it to impersonal laws and forces, which distrusts analogy and sentiment
and poetry, and clings to a rigid logical method.

This type of mind is bound to have trouble in accepting the
physico-chemical theory of the nature and origin of life. It visualizes
life, sees it as a distinct force or principle working in and through
matter but not of it, super-physical in its origin and psychological in
its nature. This is the view Henri Bergson exploits in his "Creative
Evolution." This is the view Kant took when he said, "It is quite
certain that we cannot even satisfactorily understand, much less
explain, the nature of an organism and its internal forces on purely
mechanical principles." It is the view Goethe took when he said, "Matter
can never exist without spirit, nor spirit without matter."

Tyndall says Goethe was helped by his poetic training in the field of
natural history, but hindered as regards the physical and mechanical
sciences. "He could not formulate distinct mechanical conceptions; he
could not see the force of mechanical reasoning." His literary culture
helped him to a literary interpretation of living nature, but not to a
scientific explanation of it; it helped put him in sympathy with living
things, and just to that extent barred him from the mechanistic
conception of those of pure science. Goethe, like every great poet, saw
the universe through the colored medium of his imagination, his
emotional and æsthetic nature; in short, through his humanism, and not
in the white light of the scientific reason. His contributions to
literature were of the first order, but his contributions to science
have not taken high rank. He was a "prophet of the soul," and not a
disciple of the scientific understanding.

If we look upon life as inherent or potential in the constitution of
matter, dependent upon outward physical and chemical conditions for its
development, we are accounting for life in terms of matter and motion,
and are in the ranks of the materialists. But if we find ourselves
unable to set the ultimate particles of matter in action, or so working
as to produce the reaction which results in life, without conceiving of
some new force or principle operating upon them, then we are in the
ranks of the vitalists or idealists. The idealists see the original
atoms slumbering there in rock and sea and soil for untold ages, till,
moved upon by some unknown factor, they draw together in certain fixed
order and numbers, and life is the result. Something seems to put a
spell upon them and cause them to behave so differently from the way
they behaved before they were drawn into the life circuit.

When we think of life, as the materialists do, as of mechanico-chemical
origin, or explicable in terms of the natural universal order, we think
of the play of material forces amid which we live, we think of their
subtle action and interaction all about us--of osmosis, capillarity,
radio-activity, electricity, thermism, and the like; we think of the
four states of matter,--solid, fluid, gaseous, and ethereal,--of how
little our senses take in of their total activities, and we do not feel
the need of invoking a transcendental principle to account for it.

Yet to fail to see that what we must call intelligence pervades and is
active in all organic nature is to be spiritually blind. But to see it
as something foreign to, or separable from, nature is to do violence to
our faith in the constancy and sufficiency of the natural order. One
star differeth from another star in glory. There are degrees of mystery
in the universe. The most mysterious thing in inorganic nature is
electricity--that disembodied energy that slumbers in the ultimate
particles of matter--unseen, unfelt, unknown, till it suddenly leaps
forth with such terrible vividness and power on the face of the storm,
or till we summon it through the transformation of some other form of
energy. A still higher and more inscrutable mystery is life--that
something which clothes itself in such infinitely varied and beautiful
as well as unbeautiful forms of matter. We can evoke electricity at will
from many different sources, but we can evoke life only from other life;
the biogenetic law is inviolable.


It takes some of the cold iron out of the mechanistic theory of life if
we divest it of all our associations with the machine-mad and
machine-ridden world in which we live and out of which our material
civilization came. The mechanical, the automatic, is the antithesis of
the spontaneous and the poetic, and it repels us on that account. We are
so made that the artificial systems please us far less than the natural
systems. A sailing-ship takes us more than a steamship. It is nearer
life, nearer the winged creatures. There is determinism in nature,
mechanical forces are everywhere operative, but there are no machines in
the proper sense of the word. When we call an organism a living machine
we at once take it out of the categories of the merely mechanical and
automatic and lift it into a higher order--the vital order.

Professor Le Dantec says we are mechanisms in the third degree, a
mechanism of a mechanism of a mechanism. The body is a mechanism by
virtue of its anatomy--its framework, its levers, its hinges; it is a
mechanism by virtue of its chemical activities; and it is a mechanism by
virtue of its colloid states--three kinds of mechanisms in one, and all
acting together harmoniously and as a unit--in other words, a
super-mechanical combination of activities.

The mechanical conception of life repels us because of its association
in our minds with the fabrications of our own hands--the dead metal and
wood and the noise and dust of our machine-ridden and machine-produced

But Nature makes no machines like our own. She uses mechanical
principles everywhere, in inert matter and in living bodies, but she
does not use them in the bald and literal way we do. We must divest her
mechanisms of the rigidity and angularity that pertain to the works of
our own hands. Her hooks and hinges and springs and sails and coils and
aeroplanes, all involve mechanical contrivances, but how differently
they impress us from our own application of the same principles! Even in
inert matter--in the dews, the rains, the winds, the tides, the snows,
the streams,--her mechanics and her chemistry and her hydrostatics and
pneumatics, seem much nearer akin to life than our own. We must remember
that Nature's machines are not human machines. When we place our machine
so that it is driven by the great universal currents,--the wheel in the
stream, the sail on the water,--the result is much more pleasing and
poetic than when propelled by artificial power. The more machinery we
get between ourselves and Nature, the farther off Nature seems. The
marvels of crystallization, the beautiful vegetable forms which the
frost etches upon the stone flagging of the sidewalk, and upon the
window-pane, delight us and we do not reason why. A natural bridge
pleases more than one which is the work of an engineer, yet the natural
bridge can only stand when it is based upon good engineering principles.
I found at the great Colorado Cañon, that the more the monuments of
erosion were suggestive of human structures, or engineering and
architectural works, the more I was impressed by them. We are pleased
when Nature imitates man, and we are pleased when man imitates Nature,
and yet we recoil from the thought that life is only applied mechanics
and chemistry. But the thought that it is mechanics and chemistry
applied by something of which they as such, form no part, some agent or
principle which we call vitality, is welcome to us. No machine we have
ever made or seen can wind itself up, or has life, no chemical compound
from the laboratories ever develops a bit of organic matter, and
therefore we are disbelievers in the powers of these things.


Is gravity or chemical affinity any more real to the mind than vitality?
Both are names for mysteries. Something which we call life lifts matter
up, in opposition to gravity, into thousands of living forms. The tree
lifts potash, silica, and lime up one or two hundred feet into the air;
it elbows the soil away from its hole where it enters the ground; its
roots split rocks. A giant sequoia lifts tons of solid matter and water
up hundreds of feet. So will an explosion of powder or dynamite, but the
tree does it slowly and silently by the organizing power of life. The
vital is as inscrutably identified with the mechanical and chemical as
the soul is identified with the body. They are one while yet they are

For purely mechanical things we can find equivalents. Arrest a purely
mechanical process, and the machine only rests or rusts; arrest a vital
process, and the machine evaporates, disintegrates, myriads of other
machines reduce it to its original mineral and gaseous elements. In the
organic world we strike a principle that is incalculable in its
operation and incommensurable in its results. The physico-chemical
forces we can bring to book; we know their orbits, their attractions and
repulsions, and just what they will and will not do; we can forecast
their movements and foresee their effects. But the vital forces
transcend all our mathematics; we cannot anticipate their behavior.
Start inert matter in motion and we know pretty nearly what will happen
to it; mix the chemical elements together and we can foresee the
results; but start processes or reactions we call life, and who can
foresee the end? We know the sap will mount in the tree and the tree
will be true to its type, but what do we or can we know of what it is
that determines its kind and size? We know that in certain plants the
leaves will always be opposite each other on the stalk, and that in
other plants the leaves will alternate; that certain plants will have
conspicuous and others inconspicuous flowers; but how can we know what
it is in the cells of the plants that determines these things? We can
graft the scion of a sour apple tree upon a sweet, and _vice versa_, and
the fruit of the scion will be true to its kind, but no analysis of the
scion or of the stock will reveal the secret, as it would in the case of
chemical compounds. In inorganic nature we meet with concretions, but
not secretions; with crystallization, but not with assimilation and
growth from within. Chemistry tells us that the composition of animal
bodies is identical with that of vegetable; that there is nothing in one
that is not in the other; and yet, behold the difference! a difference
beyond the reach of chemistry to explain. Biology can tell us all about
these differences and many other things, but it cannot tell us the
secret we are looking for,--what it is that fashions from the same
elements two bodies so unlike as a tree and a man.

Decay and disintegration in the inorganic world often lead to the
production of beautiful forms. In life the reverse is true; the vital
forces build up varied and picturesque forms which when pulled down are
shapeless and displeasing. The immense layers of sandstone and limestone
out of which the wonderful forms that fill the Grand Cañon of the
Colorado are carved were laid down in wide uniform sheets; if the waters
had deposited their material in the forms which we now see, it would
have been a miracle. We marvel and admire as we gaze upon them now; we
do more, we have to speculate as to how it was all done by the blind,
unintelligent forces. Giant stairways, enormous alcoves, dizzy, highly
wrought balustrades, massive vertical walls standing four-square like
huge foundations--how did all the unguided erosive forces do it? The
secret is in the structure of the rock, in the lines of cleavage, in the
unequal hardness, and in the impulsive, irregular, and unequal action of
the eroding agents. These agents follow the lines of least resistance;
they are active at different times and seasons, and from different
directions; they work with infinite slowness; they undermine, they
disintegrate, they dislodge, they transport; the hard streaks resist
them, the soft streaks invite them; water charged with sand and gravel
saws down; the wind, armed with fine sand, rounds off and hollows out;
and thus the sculpturing goes on. But after you have reasoned out all
these things, you still marvel at the symmetry and the structural beauty
of the forms. They look like the handiwork of barbarian gods. They are
the handiwork of physical forces which we can see and measure and in a
degree control. But what a gulf separates them from the handiwork of the
organic forces!


Some things come and some things arise; things that already exist may
come, but potential things arise; my friend comes to visit me, the tide
comes up the river, the cold or hot wave comes from the west; but the
seasons, night and morning, health and disease, and the like, do not
come in this sense; they arise. Life does not come to dead matter in
this sense; it arises. Day and night are not traveling round the earth,
though we view them that way; they arise from the turning of the earth
upon its axis. If we could keep up with the flying moments,--that is,
with the revolution of the earth,--we could live always at sunrise, or
sunset, or at noon, or at any other moment we cared to elect. Love or
hate does not come to our hearts; it is born there; the breath does not
come to the newborn infant; respiration arises there automatically. See
how the life of the infant is involved in that first breath, yet it is
not its life; the infant must first be alive before it can breathe. If
it is still-born, the respiratory reaction does not take place. We can
say, then, that the breath means life, and the life means breath; only
we must say the latter first. We can say in the same way that
organization means life, and life means organization. Something sets up
the organizing process in matter. We may take all the physical elements
of life known to us and jumble them together and shake them up to all
eternity, and life will not result. A little friction between solid
bodies begets heat, a little more and we get fire. But no amount of
friction begets life. Heat and life go together, but heat is the
secondary factor.

Life is always a vanishing-point, a constant becoming--an unstable
something that escapes us while we seem to analyze it. In its nature or
essence, it is a metaphysical problem, and not one of physical science.
Science cannot grasp it; it evaporates in its crucibles. And science is
compelled finally to drive it into an imaginary region--I had almost
said, metaphysical region, the region of the invisible, hypothetical
atoms of matter. Here in the mysteries of molecular attraction and
repulsion, it conceives the secret of life to lie.

"Life is a wave," says Tyndall, but does not one conceive of something,
some force or impulse in the wave that is not of the wave? What is it
that travels along lifting new water each moment up into waves? It is a
physical force communicated usually by the winds. When the wave dies
upon the shore, this force is dissipated, not lost, or is turned into
heat. Why may we not think of life as a vital force traveling through
matter and lifting up into organic life waves in the same way? But not
translatable into any other form of energy because not derivable from
any other form.

Every species of animal has something about it that is unique and
individual and that no chemical or physiological analysis of it will
show--probably some mode of motion among its ultimate particles that is
peculiar to itself. This prevents cross-breeding among different species
and avoids a chaos of animal and vegetable forms. Living tissues and
living organs from one species cannot be grafted upon the individuals
of another species; the kidney of a cat, for instance, cannot be
substituted for that of a dog, although the functions and the anatomy of
the two are identical. It is suggested that an element of felineness and
an element of canineness adhere in the cells of each, and the two are
antagonistic. This specific quality, or selfness, of an animal pervades
every drop of its blood, so that the blood relationship of the different
forms may be thus tested, where chemistry is incompetent to show
agreement or antagonism. The reactions of life are surer and more subtle
than those of chemistry. Thus the blood relationship between birds and
reptiles is clearly shown, as is the relationship of man and the
chimpanzee and the orang-outang. The same general fact holds true in the
vegetable world. You cannot graft the apple upon the oak, or the plum
upon the elm. It seems as if there were the quality of oakness and the
quality of appleness, and they would not mix.

The same thing holds among different chemical compounds. Substances
which have precisely the same chemical formulæ (called isomers) have
properties as widely apart as alcohol and ether.

If chemistry is powerless to trace the relationship between different
forms of life, is it not highly improbable that the secret of life
itself is in the keeping of chemistry?

Analytical science has reached the end of its tether when it has
resolved a body into its constituent elements. Why or how these elements
build up a man in the one case, and a monkey in another, is beyond its
province to say. It can deal with all the elements of the living body,
vegetable and animal; it can take them apart and isolate them in
different bottles; but it cannot put them together again as they were in
life. It knows that the human body is built up of a vast multitude of
minute cells, that these cells build tissues, that the tissues build
organs, that the organs build the body; but the secret of the man, or
the dog, or even the flea, is beyond its reach. The secret of biology,
that which makes its laws and processes differ so widely from those of
geology or astronomy, is a profound mystery. Science can take living
tissue and make it grow outside of the body from which it came, but it
will only repeat endlessly the first step of life--that of
cell-multiplication; it is like a fire that will burn as long as fuel is
given it and the ashes are removed; but it is entirely purposeless; it
will not build up the organ of which it once formed a part, much less
the whole organized body.

The difference between one man and another does not reside in his
anatomy or physiology, or in the elements of which the brains and bodies
are composed, but in something entirely beyond the reach of experimental
science to disclose. The difference is psychological, or, we may say,
philosophical, and science is none the wiser for it. The mechanics and
the chemistry of a machine are quite sufficient to account for it, plus
the man behind it. To the physics and chemistry of a living body, we are
compelled to add some intangible, unknowable principle or tendency that
physics and chemistry cannot disclose or define. One hesitates to make
such a statement lest he do violence to that oneness, that sameness,
that pervades the universe.

All trees go to the same soil for their ponderable elements, their
ashes, and to the air and the light for their imponderable,--their
carbon and their energy,--but what makes the tree, and makes one tree
differ from another? Has the career of life upon this globe, the
unfolding of the evolutionary process, been accounted for when you have
named all the physical and material elements and processes which it
involves? We take refuge in the phrase "the nature of things," but the
nature of things evidently embraces something not dreamed of in our


It is reported that a French scientist has discovered the secret of the
glow-worm's light. Of course it is a chemical reaction,--what else could
it be?--but it is a chemical reaction in a vital process. Our mental and
spiritual life--our emotions of art, poetry, religion--are inseparable
from physical processes in the brain and the nervous system; but is
that their final explanation? The sunlight has little effect on a
withered leaf, but see what effect it has upon the green leaf upon the
tree! The sunlight is the same, but it falls upon a new force or potency
in the chlorophyll of the leaf,--a bit of chemistry there inspired by
life,--and the heat of the sun is stored up in the carbon or woody
tissues of the plant or tree, to be given out again in our stoves or
fireplaces. And behold how much more of the solar heat is stored up in
one kind of a tree than in certain other kinds,--how much in the
hickory, oak, maple, and how little comparatively in the pine, spruce,
linden,--all through the magic of something in the leaf, or shall we say
of the spirit of the tree? If the laws of matter and force alone account
for the living organism, if we do not have to think of something that
organizes, then how do we account for the marvelous diversity of living
forms, and their still more marvelous power of adaptation to changed
conditions, since the laws of matter and force are the same everywhere?
Science can deal only with the mechanism and chemistry of life, not with
its essence; that which sets up the new activity in matter that we call
vital is beyond its analysis. It is hard to believe that we have told
the whole truth about a living body when we have enumerated all its
chemical and mechanical activities. It is by such enumeration that we
describe a watch, or a steam-engine, or any other piece of machinery.
Describe I say, but such description does not account for the watch or
tell us its full significance. To do this, we must include the
watchmaker, and the world of mind and ideas amid which he lives. Now, in
a living machine, the machine and the maker are one. The watch is
perpetually self-wound and self-regulated and self-repaired. It is made
up of millions of other little watches, the cells, all working together
for one common end and ticking out the seconds and minutes of life with
unfailing regularity. Unlike the watch we carry in our pockets, if we
take it apart so as to stop its ticking, it can never be put together
again. It has not merely stopped; it is dead.

The late William Keith Brooks, of Johns Hopkins University, said in
opposition to Huxley that he held to the "old-fashioned conviction that
living things do in some way, and in some degree, control or condition
inorganic nature; that they hold their own by setting the mechanical
properties of matter in opposition to each other, and that this is their
most notable and distinctive characteristic." And yet, he said, to think
of the living world as "anything but natural" is impossible.


Life seems to beget a new kind of chemistry, the same elements behave so
differently when they are drawn into the life circuit from what they
did before. Carbon, for instance, enters into hundreds of new compounds
in the organic world that are unknown in the inorganic world. I am thus
speaking of life as if it were something, some force or agent, that
antedates its material manifestations, whereas in the eyes of science
there is no separation of the one from the other. In an explosion there
is usually something anterior to, or apart from, the explosive compound,
that pulls the trigger, or touches the match, or completes the circuit,
but in the slow and gentle explosions that keep the life machinery
going, we cannot make such a distinction. The spark and the powder are
one; the gun primes and fires itself; the battery is perpetually
self-charged; the lamp is self-trimmed and self-lit.

Sir Oliver Lodge is apparently so impressed with some such
considerations that he spiritualizes life, and makes it some mysterious
entity in itself, existing apart from the matter which it animates and
uses; not a source of energy but a timer and releaser of energy. Henri
Bergson, in his "Creative Evolution," expounds a similar philosophy of
life. Life is a current in opposition to matter which it enters into,
and organizes into the myriads of living forms.

I confess that it is easier for me to think of life in these terms than
in terms of physical science. The view falls in better with our
anthropomorphic tendencies. It appeals to the imagination and to our
myth-making aptitudes. It gives a dramatic interest to the question.
With Bergson we see life struggling with matter, seeking to overcome its
obduracy, compromising with it, taking a half-loaf when it cannot get a
whole one; we see evolution as the unfolding of a vast drama acted upon
the stage of geologic time. Creation becomes a perpetual process, the
creative energy an ever-present and familiar fact. Bergson's book is a
wonderful addition to the literature of science and of philosophy. The
poet, the dreamer, the mystic, in each of us takes heart at Bergson's
beautiful philosophy; it seems like a part of life; it goes so well with
living things. As James said, it is like the light of the morning and
the singing of birds; we glory in seeing the intellect humbled as he
humbles it. The concepts of science try our mettle. They do not appeal
to our humanity, or to our myth-making tendencies; they appeal to the
purely intellectual, impersonal force within us. Though all our gods
totter and fall, science goes its way; though our hearts are chilled and
our lives are orphaned, science cannot turn aside, or veil its light. It
does not temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

Hence the scientific conception of the universe repels many people. They
are not equal to it. To think of life as involved in the very
constitution of matter itself is a much harder proposition than to
conceive of it as Bergson and Sir Oliver Lodge do, as an independent
reality. The latter view gives the mind something more tangible to lay
hold of. Indeed, science gives the mind nothing to take hold of. Does
any chemical process give the mind any separate reality to take hold of?
Is there a spirit of fire, or of decay, or of disease, or of health?


Behold a man with his wonderful body, and still more wonderful mind; try
to think of him as being fathered and mothered by the mere mechanical
and chemical forces that we see at work in the rocks and soil underfoot,
begotten by chemical affinity or the solar energy working as molecular
physic, and mothered by the warmth and moisture, by osmosis and the
colloid state--and all through the chance clashings and groupings of the
irrational physical forces. Nothing is added to them, nothing guides or
inspires them, nothing moves upon the face of the waters, nothing
breathes upon the insensate clay. The molecules or corpuscles of the
four principal elements--carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen--just
happened to come together in certain definite numbers, and in a certain
definite order, and invented or built up that most marvelous thing in
the universe, the cell. The cells put their heads, or bodies, together,
and built the tissues, the tissues formed the organs, the organs in
convention assembled organized themselves into the body, and behold! a
man, a bird, or a tree!--as chance a happening as the juxtaposition of
the grains of sand upon the shore, or the shape of the summer clouds in
the sky.

Aristotle dwells upon the internal necessity. The teeth of an animal
arise from necessity, he says; the animal must have them in order to
live. Yet it must have lived before it had them, else how would the
necessity arise? If the horns of an animal arise from the same
necessity, the changing conditions of its life begat the necessity; its
life problem became more and more complicated, till new tools arose to
meet new wants. But without some indwelling principle of development and
progress, how could the new wants arise? Spencer says this progress is
the result of the action and reaction between organisms and their
changing environment. But you must first get your organism before the
environment can work its effects, and you must have something in the
organism that organizes and reacts from the environment. We see the
agents he names astronomic, geologic, meteorologic, having their effects
upon inanimate objects as well, but they do not start the process of
development in them; they change a stone, but do not transform it into
an organism. The chemist can take the living body apart as surely as the
watchmaker can take a watch apart, but he cannot put the parts together
again so that life will reappear, as the watchmaker can restore the
time-keeping power of the watch. The watch is a mere mechanical
contrivance with parts fitted to parts externally, while the living body
is a mechanical and chemical contrivance, with parts blended with parts
internally, so to speak, and acting together through sympathy, and not
merely by mechanical adjustment. Do we not have to think of some
organizing agent embracing and controlling all the parts, and integral
in each of them, making a vital bond instead of a mechanical one?

There are degrees of vitality in living things, whereas there are only
degrees of complexity and delicacy and efficiency in mechanical
contrivances. One watch differs from another in the perfection of its
works, but not as two living bodies with precisely similar structure
differ from each other in their hold upon life, or in their measure of
vitality. No analysis possible to science could show any difference in
the chemistry and physics of two persons of whom one would withstand
hardships and diseases that would kill the other, or with whom one would
have the gift of long life and the other not. Machines differ from one
another quantitatively--more or less efficiency; a living body differs
from a machine qualitatively--its efficiency is of a different order;
its unity is of a different order; its complexity is of a different
order; the interdependence of its parts is of a different order. Yet
what a parallel there is between a machine and a living body! Both are
run by external forces or agents, solar energy in one applied
mechanically from without; in the other applied vitally from within;
both suffer from the wear and tear of time and from abuse, but one is
self-repaired and the other powerless in this respect--two machines with
the same treatment running the same number of years, but two men with
the same treatment running a very unequal number of years. Machines of
the same kind differ in durability, men differ in powers of endurance; a
man can "screw up his courage," but a machine has no courage to screw
up. Science may be unable to see any difference between vital mechanics,
vital chemistry, and the chemics and mechanics of inorganic bodies--its
analysis reveals no difference; but that there is a difference as
between two different orders, all men see and feel.

Science cannot deal with fundamental questions. Only philosophy can do
this. Science is only a tool or a key, and it can unlock only certain
material problems. It cannot appraise itself. It is not a judge but a
witness. Problems of mind, of character, moral, æsthetic, literary,
artistic problems, are not its sphere. It counts and weighs and measures
and analyzes, it traces relations, but it cannot appraise its own
results. Science and religion come in conflict only when the latter
seeks to deal with objective facts, and the former seeks to deal with
subjective ideas and emotions. On the question of miracle they clash,
because religion is then dealing with natural phenomena and challenges
science. Philosophy offends science when it puts its own interpretation
upon scientific facts. Science displeases literature when it dehumanizes
nature and shows us irrefragable laws when we had looked for humanistic



In my youth I once heard the then well-known lecturer Starr King speak
on "The Law of Disorder." I have no recollection of the main thought of
his discourse, but can see that it might have been upon the order and
harmony that finally come out of the disharmonies of nature and of man.
The whole universe goes blundering on, but surely arrives. Collisions
and dispersions in the heavens above, and failure and destruction among
living things on the earth below, yet here we all are in a world good to
be in! The proof that it is good to be in is that we are actually here.
It is as if the Creator played his right hand against his left--what one
loses the other gains.

It has been aptly said that while Darwin's theory of natural selection
may account for the survival of the fittest, it does not account for the
arrival of the fittest. The arrival of the fittest, sooner or later,
seems in some way guaranteed by tendencies that are beyond the
hit-and-miss method of natural selection.

When we look back over the course of organic evolution, we see the
unfolding of a great drama, or tragedy, in which, for millions upon
millions of years the sole actors are low and all but brainless forms
of life, devouring and devoured, in the old seas. We see, during other
millions upon millions of years, a savage carnival of huge bestial forms
upon the land, amphibian monsters and dragons of the land and air,
devouring and being devoured, a riot of blood and carnage. We see the
shifting of land and sea, the folding and crumpling of the earth's
crust, the rise of mountains, the engulfing of forests, a vast
destruction of life, immense numbers of animal forms becoming extinct
through inability to adapt themselves to new conditions, or from other
causes. We see creatures, half beast, half bird, or half dragon, half
fish; we see the evolutionary process thwarted or delayed apparently by
the hardening or fixing of its own forms. We see it groping its way like
a blind man, and experimenting with this device and with that, fumbling,
awkward, ineffectual, trying magnitude of body and physical strength
first, and then shifting the emphasis to size of brain and delicacy and
complexity of nerve-organization, pushing on but gropingly, learning
only by experience, regardless of pain and waste and suffering; whole
races of sentient beings swept away by some terrestrial cataclysm, as at
the end of Palæozoic and Mesozoic times; prodigal, inhuman, riotous,
arming some vegetable growths with spurs and thorns that tear and stab,
some insects with stings, some serpents with deadly fangs, the
production of pain as much a part of the scheme of things as the
production of pleasure; the creative impulse feeling its way through the
mollusk to the fish, and through the fish to the amphibian and the
reptile, through the reptile to the mammal, and through the mammal to
the anthropoid apes, and through the apes to man, then through the rude
and savage races of man, the long-jawed, small-brained, Pliocene man,
hairy and savage, to the cave-dwellers and stone-implement man of
Pleistocene times, and so on to our rude ancestors whom we see dimly at
the dawn of history, and thus rapidly upward to the European man of our
own era. What a record! What savagery, what thwartings and delays, what
carnage and suffering, what an absence of all that we mean by
intelligent planning and oversight, of love, of fatherhood! Just a clash
of forces, the battle to the strong and the race to the fleet.

It is hard to believe that the course of organic evolution would have
eventuated in man and the other higher forms of life without some
guiding principle; yet it is equally difficult to believe that the
course of any guiding intelligence down the ages would have been strewn
with so many failures and monstrosities, so much waste and suffering and
delay. Man has not been specially favored by one force or element in
nature. Behold the enemies that beset him without and within, and that
are armed for his destruction! The intelligence that appears to pervade
the organic world, and that reaches its conscious expression in the
brain of man, is just as manifest in all the forms of animals and plants
that are inimical to him, in all his natural enemies,--venomous snakes
and beasts of prey, and insect pests,--as in anything else. Nature is as
wise and solicitous for rats and mice as for men. In fact, she has
endowed many of the lower creatures with physical powers that she has
denied him. Evidently man is only one of the cards in her pack;
doubtless the highest one, but the game is not played for him alone.

There is no economy of effort or of material in nature as a whole,
whatever there may be in special parts. The universe is not run on
modern business-efficiency principles. There is no question of time, or
of profit, of solvency or insolvency. The profit-and-loss account in the
long run always balances. In our astronomic age there are probably
vastly more dead suns and planets strewing the depths of sidereal space
than there are living suns and planets. But in some earlier period in
the cycle of time the reverse may have been true, or it may be true in
some future period.

There is economy of effort in the individual organism, but not in the
organic series, at least from the human point of view. During the
biologic ages there have been a vast number of animal forms, great and
small, and are still, that had no relation to man, that were not in his
line of descent, and played no part in his evolution. During that
carnival of monstrous and gigantic forms in Mesozoic time the ancestor
of man was probably some small and insignificant creature whose life was
constantly imperiled by the huge beasts about it. That it survived at
all in the clash of forces, bestial and elemental, during those early
ages, is one of the wonders of time. The drama or tragedy of evolution
has had many actors, some of them fearful and terrible to look upon, who
have played their parts and passed off the stage, as if the sole purpose
was the entertainment of some unseen spectator. When we reach human
history, what wasted effort, what failures, what blind groping, what
futile undertakings!--war, famine, pestilence, delaying progress or
bringing to naught the wisdom of generations of men! Those who live in
this age are witnessing in the terrible European war something analogous
to the blind, wasteful fury of the elemental forces; millions of men who
never saw one another, and who have not the shadow of a quarrel, engage
in a life-and-death struggle, armed with all the aids that centuries of
science and civilization can give them--a tragedy that darkens the very
heavens and makes a mockery of all our age-old gospel of peace and good
will to men. It is a catastrophe on a scale with the cataclysms of
geologic time when whole races disappeared and the face of continents
was changed. It seems that men in the aggregate, with all their science
and religion, are no more exempt from the operation of cosmic laws than
are the stocks and stones. Each party to this gigantic struggle declares
that he is in it against his will; the fate that rules in the solar
system seems to have them all in its grip; the working of forces and
tendencies for which no man was responsible seems to have brought it
about. Social communities grow in grace and good-fellowship, but
governments in their relations to one another, and often in relation to
their own subjects, are still barbarous. Men become christianized, but
man is still a heathen, the victim of savage instincts. In this struggle
one of the most admirable and efficient of nations, and one of the most
solicitous for the lives and well-being of its citizens, is suddenly
seized with a fury of destruction, hurling its soldiers to death as if
they were only the waste of the fields, and trampling down other peoples
whose geographic position placed them in their way as if they were
merely vermin, throwing international morality to the winds, looking
upon treaties as "scraps of paper," regarding themselves as the salt of
the earth, the chosen of the Lord, appropriating the Supreme Being as
did the colossal egotism of old Israel, and quickly getting down to the
basic principle of savage life--that might makes right.

Little wonder that the good people are asking, Have we lost faith? We
may or we may not have lost faith, but can we not see that our faith
does not give us a key to the problem? Our faith is founded on the old
prescientific conception of a universe in which good and evil are
struggling with each other, with a Supreme Being aiding and abetting the
good. We fail to appreciate that the cosmic laws are no respecters of
persons. Emerson says there is no god dare wrong a worm, but worms dare
wrong one another, and there is no god dare take sides with either. The
tides in the affairs of men are as little subject to human control as
the tides of the sea and the air. We may fix the blame of the European
war upon this government or upon that, but race antagonisms and
geographical position are not matters of choice. An island empire, like
England, is bound to be jealous of all rivals upon the sea, because her
very life, when nations clash, depends upon her control of it; and an
inland empire, like Germany, is bound to grow restless under the
pressure of contiguous states of other races. A vast empire, like
Russia, is always in danger of falling apart by its own weight. It is
fused and consolidated by a turn of events that arouse the patriotic
emotions of the whole people and unite them in a common enthusiasm.

The evolution of nations is attended by the same contingencies, the same
law of probability, the same law of the survival of the fit, as are
organic bodies. I say the survival of the fit; there are degrees of
fitness in the scale of life; the fit survive, and the fittest lead and
dominate, as did the reptiles in Mesozoic time, and the mammals in
Tertiary time. Among the mammals man is dominant because he is the
fittest. Nations break up or become extinct when they are no longer fit,
or equal to the exigencies of the struggles of life. The Roman Empire
would still exist if it had been entirely fit. The causes of its
unfitness form a long and intricate problem. Germany of to-day evidently
looks upon herself as the dominant nation, the one fittest to survive,
and she has committed herself to the desperate struggle of justifying
her self-estimate. She tramples down weaker nations as we do the stubble
of the fields. She would plough and harrow the world to plant her
Prussian _Kultur_. This _Kultur_ is a mighty good product, but we
outside of its pale think that French _Kultur_, and English _Kultur_,
and American _Kultur_ are good products also, and equally fit to
survive. We naturally object to being ploughed under. That Russian
_Kultur_ has so far proved itself a vastly inferior product cannot be
doubted, but the evolutionary processes will in time bring a finer and
higher Russia out of this vast weltering and fermenting mass of
humanity. In all these things impersonal laws and forces are at work,
and the balance of power, if temporarily disturbed, is bound, sooner or
later, to be restored just as it is in the inorganic realm.

Evolution is creative, as Bergson contends. The wonder is that,
notwithstanding the indifference of the elemental forces and the blind
clashing of opposing tendencies among living forms,--a universe that
seems run entirely on the trial-and-error principle,--evolution has gone
steadily forward, a certain order and stability has been reached in the
world of inert bodies and forces, and myriads of forms of wonderful
fitness and beauty have been reached in the organic realm. Just as the
water-system and the weather-system of the globe have worked themselves
out on the hit-and-miss plan, but not without serious defects,--much too
much water and heat at a few places, and much too little at a few
others,--so the organic impulse, warred upon by the blind inorganic
elements and preyed upon by the forms it gave rise to, has worked itself
out and peopled the world as we see it peopled to-day--not with forms
altogether admirable and lovely from our point of view, but so from the
point of view of the whole. The forests get themselves planted by the
go-as-you-please winds and currents, the pines in one place, the spruce,
the oaks, the elms, the beeches, in another, all with a certain fitness
and system. The waters gather themselves together in great bodies and
breathe salubrity and fertility upon the land.

A certain order and reasonableness emerges from the chaos and
cross-purposes. There are harmony and coöperation among the elemental
forces, as well as strife and antagonism. Life gets on, for all groping
and blundering. There is the inherent variability of living forms to
begin with--the primordial push toward the development from within
which, so far as we can see, is not fortuitous, but predestined; and
there is the stream of influences from without, constantly playing upon
and modifying the organism and taken advantage of by it.

The essence of life is in adaptability; it goes into partnership with
the forces and conditions that surround it. It is this trait which leads
the teleological philosopher to celebrate the fitness of the environment
when its fitness is a foregone conclusion. Shall we praise the fitness
of the air for breathing, or of the water for drinking, or of the winds
for filling our sails? If we cannot say explicitly, without speaking
from our anthropomorphism, that there is a guiding intelligence in the
evolution of living forms, we can at least say, I think, that the
struggle for life is favored by the very constitution of the universe
and that man in some inscrutable way was potential in the fiery nebula




William James said that one of the privileges of a philosopher was to
contradict other philosophers. I may add in the same spirit that one of
the fatalities of many philosophers is, sooner or later, to contradict
themselves. I do not know that James ever contradicted himself, but I
have little doubt that a critical examination of his works would show
that he sometimes did so; I remember that he said he often had trouble
to make both ends of his philosophy meet. Any man who seeks to compass
any of the fundamental problems with the little span of his finite mind,
is bound at times to have trouble to make both ends meet. The man of
science seldom has any such trouble with his problems; he usually knows
what is the matter and forthwith seeks to remedy it. But the philosopher
works with a much more intangible and elusive material, and is lucky if
he is ever aware when both ends fail to meet.

I have often wondered if Darwin, who was a great philosopher as well as
a great man of science, saw or felt the contradiction between his theory
of the origin of species through natural selection working upon
fortuitous variations, and his statement, made in his old age, that he
could not look upon man, with all his wonderful powers, as the result of
mere chance. The result of chance man certainly is--is he not?--as are
all other forms of life, if evolution is a mere mechanical process set
going and kept going by the hit-and-miss action of the environment upon
the organism, or by the struggle for existence. If evolution involves no
intelligence in nature, no guiding or animating principle, then is not
man an accidental outcome of the blind clashing and jolting of the
material forces, as much so as the great stone face in the rocks which
Hawthorne used so suggestively in one of his stories?

I have wondered if Huxley was aware that both ends of his argument did
not quite meet when he contended for the truth of determinism--that
there is and can be no free or spontaneous volition; and at the same
time set man apart from the cosmic order, and represented him as working
his will upon it, crossing and reversing its processes. In one of his
earlier essays, Huxley said that to the student of living things, as
contrasted with the student of inert matter, the aspect of nature is
reversed. "In living matter, incessant, and so far as we know,
spontaneous, change is the rule, rest the exception, the anomaly, to be
accounted for. Living things have no inertia, and tend to no
equilibrium," except the equilibrium of death. This is good vitalistic
doctrine, as far as it goes, yet Huxley saw no difference between the
matter of life and other matter, except in the manner in which the atoms
are aggregated. Probably the only difference between a diamond and a
piece of charcoal, or between a pearl and an oyster-shell, is the manner
in which the atoms are aggregated; but that the secret of life is in the
peculiar compounding of the atoms or molecules--a spatial arrangement of
them--is a harder proposition. It seems to me also that Haeckel involves
himself in obvious contradictions when he ascribes will, sensation,
inclination, dislike, though of a low order, to the atoms of matter; in
fact, sees them as living beings with souls, and then denies soul, will,
power of choice, and the like to their collective unity in the brain of

A philosopher cannot well afford to assume the air of lofty indifference
that the poet Whitman does when he asks, "Do I contradict myself? Very
well, then, I contradict myself"; but he may take comfort in the thought
that contradictions are often only apparent, and not real, as when two
men standing on opposite sides of the earth seem to oppose each other,
and yet their heads point to the same heavens, and their feet to the
same terrestrial centre. The logic of the earth completely contradicts
the ideas we draw from our experience with other globes, both our
artificial globes and the globes in the forms of the sun and the moon
that we see in the heavens. The earth has only one side, the outside,
which is always the upper side; at the South Pole, as at the North, we
are on the top side. I fancy the whole truth of any of the great
problems, if we could see it, would reconcile all our half-truths, all
the contradictions in our philosophy.

In considering this problem of the mystery of living things, I have had
a good deal of trouble in trying to make my inborn idealism go hand in
hand with my inborn naturalism; but I am not certain that there is any
real break or contradiction between them, only a surface one, and that
deeper down the strata still unite them. Life seems beyond the capacity
of inorganic nature to produce; and yet here is life in its myriad
forms, here is the body and mind of man, and here is the world of
inanimate matter out of which all living beings arise, and into which
they sooner or later return; and we must either introduce a new
principle to account for it all, or else hold to the idea that what is
is natural--a legitimate outcome of the universal laws and processes
that have been operating through all time. This last is the point of
view of the present chapter,--the point of view of naturalism; not
strictly the scientific view which aims to explain all life phenomena in
terms of exact experimental science, but the larger, freer view of the
open-air naturalist and literary philosopher. I cannot get rid of, or
hold in abeyance, my inevitable idealism, if I would; neither can I do
violence to my equally inevitable naturalism, but may I not hope to make
the face of my naturalism beam with the light of the ideal--the light
that never was in the physico-chemical order, and never can be there?


The naturalist cannot get away from the natural order, and he sees man,
and all other forms of life, as an integral part of it--the order, which
in inert matter is automatic and fateful, and which in living matter is
prophetic and indeterminate; the course of one down the geologic ages,
seeking only a mechanical repose, being marked by collisions and
disruptions; the other in its course down the biologic ages seeking a
vital and unstable repose, being marked by pain, failure, carnage,
extinction, and ceaseless struggle with the physical order upon which it
depends. Man has taken his chances in the clash of blind matter, and in
the warfare of living forms. He has been the pet of no god, the favorite
of no power on earth or in heaven. He is one of the fruits of the great
cosmic tree, and is subject to the same hazards and failures as the
fruit of all other trees. The frosts may nip him in the bud, the storms
beat him down, foes of earth and air prey upon him, and hostile
influences from all sides impede or mar him. The very forces that
uphold him and furnish him his armory of tools and of power, will
destroy him the moment he is off his guard. He is like the trainer of
wild beasts who, at his peril, for one instant relaxes his mastery over
them. Gravity, electricity, fire, flood, hurricane, will crush or
consume him if his hand is unsteady or his wits tardy. Nature has dealt
with him upon the same terms as with all other forms of life. She has
shown him no favor. The same elements--the same water, air, lime, iron,
sulphur, oxygen, carbon, and so on--make up his body and his brain as
make up theirs, and the same make up theirs as are the constituents of
the insensate rocks, soils, and clouds. The same elements, the same
atoms and molecules, but a different order; the same solar energy, but
working to other ends; the same life principle but lifted to a higher
plane. How can we separate man from the total system of things, setting
him upon one side and them upon another, making the relation of the two
mechanical or accidental? It is only in thought, or in obedience to some
creed or philosophy, that we do it. In life, in action, we unconsciously
recognize ourselves as a part of Nature. Our success and well-being
depend upon the closeness and spontaneousness of the relation.

If all this is interpreted to mean that life, that the mind and soul of
man, are of material origin, science does not shrink from the inference.
Only the inference demands a newer and higher conception of matter--the
conception that Tyndall expressed when he wrote the word with a capital
M, and declared that Matter was "at bottom essentially mystical and
transcendental"; that Goethe expressed when he called matter "the living
garment of God"; and that Whitman expressed when he said that the soul
and the body were one. The materialism of the great seers and prophets
of science who penetrate into the true inwardness of matter, who see
through the veil of its gross obstructive forms and behold it translated
into pure energy, need disturb no one.

In our religious culture we have beggared matter that we might exalt
spirit; we have bankrupted earth that we might enrich heaven; we have
debased the body that we might glorify the soul. But science has changed
all this. Mankind can never again rest in the old crude dualism. The
Devil has had his day, and the terrible Hebrew Jehovah has had his day;
the divinities of this world are now having their day.

The puzzle or the contradiction in the naturalistic view of life appears
when we try to think of a being as a part of Nature, having his genesis
in her material forces, who is yet able to master and direct Nature,
reversing her processes and defeating her ends, opposing his will to her
fatalism, his mercy to her cruelty--in short, a being who thinks,
dreams, aspires, loves truth, justice, goodness, and sits in judgment
upon the very gods he worships. Must he not bring a new force, an alien
power? Can a part be greater than the whole? Can the psychic dominate
the physical out of which it came? Again we have only to enlarge our
conception of the physical--the natural--or make our faith measure up to
the demands of reason. Our reason demands that the natural order be
all-inclusive. Can our faith in the divinity of matter measure up to
this standard? Not till we free ourselves from the inherited prejudices
which have grown up from our everyday struggles with gross matter. We
must follow the guidance of science till we penetrate this husk and see
its real mystical and transcendental character, as Tyndall did.

When we have followed matter from mass to molecule, from molecule to
atom, from atom to electron, and seen it in effect dematerialized,--seen
it in its fourth or ethereal, I had almost said spiritual, state,--when
we have grasped the wonder of radio-activity, and the atomic
transformations that attend it, we shall have a conception of the
potencies and possibilities of matter that robs scientific materialism
of most of its ugliness. Of course, no deductions of science can satisfy
our longings for something kindred to our own spirits in the universe.
But neither our telescopes nor our microscopes reveal such a reality. Is
this longing only the result of our inevitable anthropomorphism, or is
it the evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for, the
prophecy of our kinship with the farthest star? Can soul arise out of a
soulless universe?

Though the secret of life is under our feet, yet how strange and
mysterious it seems! It draws our attention away from matter. It arises
among the inorganic elements like a visitant from another sphere. It is
a new thing in the world. Consciousness is a new thing, yet Huxley makes
it one of his trinity of realities--matter, energy, and consciousness.
We are so immersed in these realities that we do not see the divinity
they embody. We call that sacred and divine which is far off and
unattainable. Life and mind are so impossible of explanation in terms of
matter and energy, that it is not to be wondered at that mankind has so
long looked upon their appearance upon this earth as a miraculous event.
But until science opened our eyes we did not know that the celestial and
the terrestrial are one, and that we are already in the heavens among
the stars. When we emancipate ourselves from the bondage of wont and
use, and see with clear vision our relations to the Cosmos, all our
ideas of materialism and spiritualism are made over, and we see how the
two are one; how life and death play into each other's hands, and how
the whole truth of things cannot be compassed by any number of finite


When we are bold enough to ask the question, Is life an addition to
matter or an evolution from matter? how all these extra-scientific
theories about life as a separate entity wilt and fade away! If we know
anything about the ways of creative energy, we know that they are not as
our ways; we know its processes bear no analogy to the linear and
external doings of man. Creative energy works from within; it identifies
itself with, and is inseparable from, the element in which it works. I
know that in this very statement I am idealizing the creative energy,
but my reader will, I trust, excuse this inevitable anthropomorphism.
The way of the creative energy is the way of evolution. When we begin to
introduce things, when we begin to separate the two orders, the vital
and the material, or, as Bergson says, when we begin to think of things
created, and of a thing that creates, we are not far from the state of
mind of our childhood, and of the childhood of the race. We are not far
from the Mosaic account of creation. Life appears as an introduction,
man and his soul as introductions.

Our reason, our knowledge of the method of Nature, declare for
evolution; because here we are, here is this amazing world of life about
us, and here it goes on through the action and interaction of purely
physical and chemical forces. Life seems as natural as day and night,
as the dews and the rain. Our studies of the past history of the globe
reveal the fact that life appeared upon a cooling planet when the
temperature was suitable, and when its basic elements, water and carbon
dioxide, were at hand. How it began, whether through insensible changes
in the activities of inert matter, lasting whole geologic ages, or by a
sudden transformation at many points on the earth's surface, we can
never know. But science can see no reason for believing that its
beginning was other than natural; it was inevitable from the
constitution of matter itself. Moreover, since the law of evolution
seems of universal application, and affords the key to more great
problems than any other generalization of the human mind, one would say
on _a priori_ grounds that life is an evolution, that its genesis is to
be sought in the inherent capacities and potentialities of matter
itself. How else could it come? Science cannot go outside of matter and
its laws for an explanation of any phenomena that appear in matter. It
goes inside of matter instead, and in its mysterious molecular
attractions and repulsions, in the whirl and dance of the atoms and
electrons, in their emanations and transformations, in their amazing
potencies and activities, sees, or seems to see, the secret of the
origin of life itself. But this view is distasteful to a large number of
thinking persons. Many would call it frank materialism, and declare
that it is utterly inadequate to supply the spiritual and ideal
background which is the strength and solace of our human life.


The lay mind can hardly appreciate the necessity under which the man of
science feels to account for all the phenomena of life in terms of the
natural order. To the scientist the universe is complete in itself. He
can admit of no break or discontinuity anywhere. Threads of relation,
visible and invisible,--chemical, mechanical, electric, magnetic, solar,
lunar, stellar, geologic, biologic,--forming an intricate web of subtle
forces and influences, bind all things, living and dead, into a cosmic
unity. Creation is one, and that one is symbolized by the sphere which
rests forever on itself, which is whole at every point, which holds all
forms, which reconciles all contradictions, which has no beginning and
no ending, which has no upper and no under, and all of whose lines are
fluid and continuous. The disruptions and antagonisms which we fancy we
see are only the result of our limited vision; nature is not at war with
itself; there is no room or need for miracle; there is no outside to the
universe, because there are no bounds to matter or spirit; all is
inside; deep beneath deep, height above height, and this mystery and
miracle that we call life must arise out of the natural order in the
course of time as inevitably as the dew forms and the rain falls. When
the rains and the dews and the snows cease to fall,--a time which
science predicts,--then life, as we know it, must inevitably vanish from
the earth. Human life is a physical phenomenon, and though it involves,
as we believe, a psychic or non-physical principle, it is still not
exempt from the operation of the universal physical laws. It came by
them or through them, and it must go by them or through them.

The rigidly scientific mind, impressed with all these things as the lay
mind cannot be, used to the searching laboratory methods, and familiar
with the phenomenon of life in its very roots, as it were, dealing with
the wonders of chemical compounds, and the forces that lurk in molecules
and atoms, seeing in the cosmic universe, and in the evolution of the
earth, only the operation of mechanical and chemical principles; seeing
the irrefragable law of the correlation and the conservation of forces;
tracing consciousness and all our changes in mental states to changes in
the brain substance; drilled in methods of proof by experimentation;
knowing that the same number of ultimate atoms may be so combined or
married as to produce compounds that differ as radically as alcohol and
ether,--conversant with all these things, and more, I say,--the strictly
scientific mind falls naturally and inevitably into the mechanistic
conception of all life phenomena.

Science traces the chain of cause and effect everywhere and finds no
break. It follows down animal life till it merges in the vegetable,
though it cannot put its finger or its microscope on the point where one
ends and the other begins. It finds forms that partake of the
characteristics of both. It is reasonable to expect that the vegetable
merges into the mineral by the same insensible degrees, and that the one
becomes the other without any real discontinuity. The change, if we may
call it such, probably takes place in the interior world of matter among
the primordial atoms, where only the imagination can penetrate. In that
sleep of the ultimate corpuscle, what dreams may come, what miracles may
be wrought, what transformations take place! When I try to think of life
as a mode of motion in matter, I seem to see the particles in a mystic
dance, a whirling maze of motions, the infinitely little people taking
hold of hands, changing partners, facing this way and that, doing all
sorts of impossible things, like jumping down one another's throats, or
occupying one another's bodies, thrilled and vibrating at an
inconceivable rate.

The theological solution of this problem of life fails more and more to
satisfy thinking men of to-day. Living things are natural phenomena, and
we feel that they must in some way be an outcome of the natural order.
Science is more and more familiarizing our minds with the idea that the
universe is a universe, a oneness; that its laws are continuous. We
follow the chemistry of it to the farthest stars and there is no serious
break or exception; it is all of one stuff. We follow the mechanics of
it into the same abysmal depths, and there are no breaks or exceptions.
The biology of it we cannot follow beyond our own little corner of the
universe; indeed, we have no proof that there is any biology anywhere
else. But if there is, it must be similar to our own. There is only one
kind of electricity (though two phases of it), only one kind of light
and heat, one kind of chemical affinity, in the universe; and hence only
one kind of life. Looked at in its relation to the whole, life appears
like a transient phenomenon of matter. I will not say accidental; it
seems inseparably bound up with the cosmic processes, but, I may say,
fugitive, superficial, circumscribed. Life comes and goes; it penetrates
but a little way into the earth; it is confined to a certain range of
temperature. Beyond a certain degree of cold, on the one hand, it does
not appear; and beyond a certain degree of heat, on the other, it is cut
off. Without water or moisture, it ceases; and without air, it is not.
It has evidently disappeared from the moon, and probably from the
inferior planets, and it is doubtful if it has yet appeared on any of
the superior planets, save Mars.

Life comes to matter as the flowers come in the spring,--when the time
is ripe for it,--and it disappears when the time is over-ripe. Man
appears in due course and has his little day upon the earth, but that
day must as surely come to an end. Yet can we conceive of the end of the
physical order? the end of gravity? or of cohesion? The air may
disappear, the water may disappear, combustion may cease; but oxygen,
hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon will continue somewhere.


Science is the redeemer of the physical world. It opens our eyes to its
true inwardness, and purges it of the coarse and brutal qualities with
which, in our practical lives, it is associated. It has its inner world
of activities and possibilities of which our senses give us no hint.
This inner world of molecules and atoms and electrons, thrilled and
vibrating with energy, the infinitely little, the almost infinitely
rapid, in the bosom of the infinitely vast and distant and
automatic--what a revelation it all is! what a glimpse into "Nature's
infinite book of secrecy"!

Our senses reveal to us but one kind of motion--mass motion--the change
of place of visible bodies. But there is another motion in all matter
which our senses do not reveal to us as motion--molecular vibration, or
the thrill of the atoms. At the heart of the most massive rock this
whirl of the atoms or corpuscles is going on. If our ears were fine
enough to hear it, probably every rock and granite monument would sing,
as did Memnon, when the sun shone upon it. This molecular vibration is
revealed to us as heat, light, sound, electricity. Heat is only a mode
of this invisible motion of the particles of matter. Mass motion is
quickly converted into this molecular motion when two bodies strike each
other. May not life itself be the outcome of a peculiar whirl of the
ultimate atoms of matter?

Says Professor Gotch, as quoted by J. Arthur Thomson in his
"Introduction to Science": "To the thought of a scientific mind the
universe with all its suns and worlds is throughout one seething welter
of modes of motion, playing in space, playing in ether, playing in all
existing matter, playing in all living things, playing, therefore, in
ourselves." Physical science, as Professor Thomson says, leads us from
our static way of looking at things to the dynamic way. It teaches us to
regard the atom, not as a fixed and motionless structure, like the
bricks in a wall, but as a centre of ever-moving energy; it sees the
whole universe is in a state of perpetual flux, a flowing stream of
creative energy out of which life arises as one of the manifestations of
this energy.

When we have learned all that science can tell us about the earth, is it
not more rather than less wonderful? When we know all it can tell us
about the heavens above, or about the sea, or about our own bodies, or
about a flower, or a bird, or a tree, or a cloud, are they less
beautiful and wonderful? The mysteries of generation, of inheritance, of
cell life, are rather enhanced by science.


When the man of science seeks to understand and explain the world in
which we live, he guards himself against seeing double, or seeing two
worlds instead of one, as our unscientific fathers did--an immaterial or
spiritual world surrounding and interpenetrating the physical world, or
the supernatural enveloping and directing the natural. He sees but one
world, and that a world complete in itself; surrounded, it is true, by
invisible forces, and holding immeasured and immeasurable potencies; a
vastly more complex and wonderful world than our fathers ever dreamed
of; a fruit, as it were, of the great sidereal tree, bound by natal
bonds to myriads of other worlds, of one stuff with them, ahead or
behind them in its ripening, but still complete in itself, needing no
miracle to explain it, no spirits or demons to account for its
processes, not even its vital processes.

In the light of what he knows of the past history of the earth, the man
of science sees with his mind's eye the successive changes that have
taken place in it; he sees the globe a mass of incandescent matter
rolling through space; he sees the crust cooling and hardening; he sees
the waters appear, the air and the soil appear, he sees the clouds begin
to form and the rain to fall, he sees living things appear in the
waters, then upon the land, and in the air; he sees the two forms of
life arise, the vegetable and the animal, the latter standing upon the
former; he sees more and more complex forms of both vegetable and animal
arise and cover the earth. They all appear in the course of the geologic
ages on the surface of the earth; they arise out of it; they are a part
of it; they come naturally; no hand reaches down from heaven and places
them there; they are not an addendum; they are not a sudden creation;
they are an evolution; they were potential in the earth before they
arose out of it. The earth ripened, her crust mellowed, and thickened,
her airs softened and cleared, her waters were purified, and in due time
her finer fruits were evolved, and, last of all, man arose. It was all
one process. There was no miracle, no first day of creation; all were
days of creation. Brooded by the sun, the earth hatched her offspring;
the promise and the potency of all terrestrial life was in the earth
herself; her womb was fertile from the first. All that we call the
spiritual, the divine, the celestial, were hers, because man is hers.
Our religions and our philosophies and our literatures are hers; man is
a part of the whole system of things; he is not an alien, nor an
accident, nor an interloper; he is here as the rains, the dews, the
flowers, the rocks, the soil, the trees, are here. He appeared when the
time was ripe, and he will disappear when the time is over-ripe. He is
of the same stuff as the ground he walks upon; there is no better stuff
in the heavens above him, nor in the depths below him, than sticks to
his own ribs. The celestial and the terrestrial forces unite and work
together in him, as in all other creatures. We cannot magnify man
without magnifying the universe of which he is a part; and we cannot
belittle it without belittling him.

Now we can turn all this about and look upon it as mankind looked upon
it in the prescientific ages, and as so many persons still look upon it,
and think of it all as the work of external and higher powers. We can
think of the earth as the footstool of some god, or the sport of some
demon; we can people the earth and the air with innumerable spirits,
high and low; we can think of life as something apart from matter. But
science will not, cannot follow us; it cannot discredit the world it has
disclosed--I had almost said, the world it has created. Science has made
us at home in the universe. It has visited the farthest stars with its
telescope and spectroscope, and finds we are all akin. It has sounded
the depths of matter with its analysis, and it finds nothing alien to
our own bodies. It sees motion everywhere, motion within motion,
transformation, metamorphosis everywhere, energy everywhere, currents
and counter-currents everywhere, ceaseless change everywhere; it finds
nothing in the heavens more spiritual, more mysterious, more celestial,
more godlike, than it finds upon this earth. This does not imply that
evolution may not have progressed farther upon other worlds, and given
rise to a higher order of intelligences than here; it only implies that
creation is one, and that the same forces, the same elements and
possibilities, exist everywhere.


Give free rein to our anthropomorphic tendencies, and we fill the world
with spirits, good and bad--bad in war, famine, pestilence, disease;
good in all the events and fortunes that favor us. Early man did this on
all occasions; he read his own hopes and fears and passions into all the
operations of nature. Our fathers did it in many things; good people of
our own time do it in exceptional instances, and credit any good fortune
to Providence. Men high in the intellectual and philosophical world,
still invoke something antithetical to matter, to account for the
appearance of life on the planet.

It may be justly urged that the effect upon our habits of thought of the
long ages during which this process has been going on, leading us to
differentiate matter and spirit and look upon them as two opposite
entities, hindering or contending with each other,--one heavenly, the
other earthly, one everlasting, the other perishable, one the supreme
good, the other the seat and parent of all that is evil,--the cumulative
effect of this habit of thought in the race-mind is, I say, not easily
changed or overcome. We still think, and probably many of us always will
think, of spirit as something alien to matter, something mystical,
transcendental, and not of this world. We look upon matter as gross,
obstructive, and the enemy of the spirit. We do not know how we are
going to get along without it, but we solace ourselves with the thought
that by and by, in some other, non-material world, we shall get along
without it, and experience a great expansion of life by reason of our
emancipation from it. Our practical life upon this planet is more or
less a struggle with gross matter; our senses apprehend it coarsely; of
its true inwardness they tell us nothing; of the perpetual change and
transformation of energy going on in bodies about us they tell us
nothing; of the wonders and potencies of matter as revealed in
radio-activity, in the X-ray, in chemical affinity and polarity, they
tell us nothing; of the all-pervasive ether, without which we could not
see or live at all, they tell us nothing. In fact we live and move and
have our being in a complex of forces and tendencies of which, even by
the aid of science, we but see as through a glass darkly. Of the
effluence of things, the emanations from the minds and bodies of our
friends, and from other living forms about us, from the heavens above
and from the earth below, our daily lives tell us nothing, any more than
our eyes tell us of the invisible rays in the sun's spectrum, or than
our ears tell us of the murmurs of the life-currents in growing things.
Science alone unveils the hidden wonders and sleepless activities of the
world forces that play through us and about us. It alone brings the
heavens near, and reveals the brotherhood or sisterhood of worlds. It
alone makes man at home in the universe, and shows us how many friendly
powers wait upon him day and night. It alone shows him the glories and
the wonders of the voyage we are making upon this ship in the stellar
infinitude, and that, whatever the port, we shall still be on familiar
ground--we cannot get away from home.

There is always an activity in inert matter that we little suspect. See
the processes going on in the stratified rocks that suggest or parody
those of life. See the particles of silica that are diffused through the
limestone, hunting out each other and coming together in concretions and
forming flint or chert nodules; or see them in the process of
petrifaction slowly building up a tree of chalcedony or onyx in place of
a tree of wood, repeating every cell, every knot, every worm-hole--dead
matter copying exactly a form of living matter; or see the phenomenon of
crystallization everywhere; see the solution of salt mimicking, as
Tyndall says, the architecture of Egypt, building up miniature
pyramids, terrace upon terrace, from base to apex, forming a series of
steps like those up which the traveler in Egypt is dragged by his
guides! We can fancy, if we like, these infinitesimal structures built
by an invisible population which swarms among the constituent molecules,
controlled and coerced by some invisible matter, says Tyndall. This
might be called literature, or poetry, or religion, but it would not be
science; science says that these salt pyramids are the result of the
play of attraction and repulsion among the salt molecules themselves;
that they are self-poised and self-quarried; it goes further than that
and says that the quality we call saltness is the result of a certain
definite arrangement of their ultimate atoms of matter; that the
qualities of things as they affect our senses--hardness, softness,
sweetness, bitterness--are the result of molecular motion and
combination among the ultimate atoms. All these things seem on the
threshold of life, waiting in the antechamber, as it were; to-morrow
they will be life, or, as Tyndall says, "Incipient life, as it were,
manifests itself throughout the whole of what is called inorganic


The question of the nature and origin of life is a kind of perpetual
motion question in biology. Life without antecedent life, so far as
human experience goes, is an impossibility, and motion without previous
motion, is equally impossible. Yet, while science shows us that this
last is true among ponderable bodies where friction occurs, it is not
true among the finer particles of matter, where friction does not exist.
Here perpetual or spontaneous motion is the rule. The motions of the
molecules of gases and liquids, and their vibrations in solids, are
beyond the reach of our unaided senses, yet they are unceasing. By
analogy we may infer that while living bodies, as we know them, do not
and cannot originate spontaneously, yet the movement that we call life
may and probably does take place spontaneously in the ultimate particles
of matter. But can atomic energy be translated into the motion of
ponderable bodies, or mass energy? In like manner can, or does, this
potential life of the world of atoms and electrons give rise to
organized living beings?

This distrust of the physical forces, or our disbelief in their ability
to give rise to life, is like a survival in us of the Calvinistic creed
of our fathers. The world of inert matter is dead in trespasses and sin
and must be born again before it can enter the kingdom of the organic.
We must supplement the natural forces with the spiritual, or the
supernatural, to get life. The common or carnal nature, like the natural
man, must be converted, breathed upon by the non-natural or divine,
before it can rise to the plane of life--the doctrine of Paul carried
into the processes of nature.

The scientific mind sees in nature an infinitely complex mechanism
directed to no special human ends, but working towards universal ends.
It sees in the human body an infinite number of cell units building up
tissues and organs,--muscles, nerves, bones, cartilage,--a living
machine of infinite complexity; but what shapes and coördinates the
parts, how the cells arose, how consciousness arose, how the mind is
related to the body, how or why the body acts as a unit--on these
questions science can throw no light. With all its mastery of the laws
of heredity, of cytology, and of embryology, it cannot tell why a man is
a man, and a dog is a dog. No cell-analysis will give the secret; no
chemical conjuring with the elements will reveal why in the one case
they build up a head of cabbage, and in the other a head of Plato.

It must be admitted that the scientific conception of the universe robs
us of something--it is hard to say just what--that we do not willingly
part with; yet who can divest himself of this conception? And the
scientific conception of the nature of life, hard and unfamiliar as it
may seem in its mere terms, is difficult to get away from. Life must
arise through the play and transformations of matter and energy that are
taking place all around us; though it seems a long and impossible road
from mere chemistry to the body and soul of man. But if life, with all
that has come out of it, did not come by way of matter and energy, by
what way did it come? Must we have recourse to the so-called
supernatural?--as Emerson's line puts it,--

    "When half-gods go, the gods arrive."

When our traditional conception of matter as essentially vulgar and
obstructive and the enemy of the spirit gives place to the new
scientific conception of it as at bottom electrical and all-potent, we
may find the poet's great line come true, and that for a thing to be
natural, is to be divine. For my own part, I do not see how we can get
intelligence out of matter unless we postulate intelligence in matter.
Any system of philosophy that sees in the organic world only a
fortuitous concourse of chemical atoms, repels me, though the
contradiction here implied is not easily cleared up. The theory of life
as a chemical reaction and nothing more does not interest me, but I am
attracted by that conception of life which, while binding it to the
material order, sees in the organic more than the physics and chemistry
of the inorganic--call it whatever name you will--vitalism, idealism, or

In our religious moods, we may speak, as Theodore Parker did, of the
universe as a "handful of dust which God enchants," or we may speak of
it, as Goethe did, as "the living garment of God"; but as men of
science we can see it only as a vast complex of forces, out of which man
has arisen, and of which he forms a part. We are not to forget that we
are a part of it, and that the more we magnify ourselves, the more we
magnify it; that its glory is our glory, and our glory its glory,
because we are its children. In some way utterly beyond the reach of
science to explain, or of philosophy to confirm, we have come out of it,
and all we are or can be, is, or has been, potential in it.


The evolution of life is, of course, bound up with the evolution of the
world. As the globe has ripened and matured, life has matured; higher
and higher forms--forms with larger and larger brains and more and more
complex nerve mechanisms--have appeared.

Physicists teach us that the evolution of the primary
elements--hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, calcium, and the
like--takes place in a solar body as the body cools. As temperature
decreases, one after another of the chemical elements makes its
appearance, the simpler elements appearing first, and the more complex
compounds appearing last, all apparently having their origin in some
simple parent element. It appears as if the evolution of life upon the
globe had followed the same law and had waited upon the secular cooling
of the earth.

Does not a man imply a cooler planet and a greater depth and refinement
of soil than a dinosaur? Only after a certain housecleaning and
purification of the elements do higher forms appear; the vast
accumulation of Silurian limestone must have hastened the age of fishes.
The age of reptiles waited for the clearing of the air of the burden of
carbon dioxide. The age of mammals awaited the deepening and the
enrichment of the soil and the stability of the earth's crust. Who knows
upon what physical conditions of the earth's elements the brain of man
was dependent? Its highest development has certainly taken place in a
temperate climate. There can be little doubt that beyond a certain point
the running-down of the earth-temperature will result in a running-down
of life till it finally goes out. Life is confined to a very narrow
range of temperature. If we were to translate degrees into miles and
represent the temperature of the hottest stars, which is put at 30,000
degrees, by a line 30,000 miles long, then the part of the line marking
the limits of life would be approximately three hundred miles.

Life does not appear in a hard, immobile, utterly inert world, but in a
world thrilling with energy and activity, a world of ceaseless
transformations of energy, of radio-activity, of electro-magnetic
currents, of perpetual motion in its ultimate particles, a world whose
heavens are at times hung with rainbows, curtained with tremulous
shifting auroras, and veined and illumined with forked lightnings, a
world of rolling rivers and heaving seas, activity, physical and
chemical, everywhere. On such a world life appeared, bringing no new
element or force, but setting up a new activity in matter, an activity
that tends to check and control the natural tendency to the dissipation
and degradation of energy. The question is, Did it arise through some
transformation of the existing energy, or out of the preëxisting
conditions, or was it supplementary to them, an addition from some
unknown source? Was it a miraculous or a natural event? We shall answer
according to our temperaments.

One sees with his mind's eye this stream of energy, which we name the
material universe, flowing down the endless cycles of time; at a certain
point in its course, a change comes over its surface; what we call life
appears, and assumes many forms; at a point farther along in its course,
life disappears, and the eternal river flows on regardless, till, at
some other point, the same changes take place again. Life is inseparable
from this river of energy, but it is not coextensive with it, either in
time or in space.

In midsummer what river-men call "the blossoming of the water" takes
place in the Hudson River; the water is full of minute vegetable
organisms; they are seasonal and temporary; they are born of the
midsummer heats. By and by the water is clear again. Life in the
universe seems as seasonal and fugitive as this blossoming of the
water. More and more does science hold us to the view of the unity of
nature--that the universe of life and matter and force is all natural or
all supernatural, it matters little which you call it, but it is not
both. One need not go away from his own doorstep to find mysteries
enough to last him a lifetime, but he will find them in his own body, in
the ground upon which he stands, not less than in his mind, and in the
invisible forces that play around him. We may marvel how the delicate
color and perfume of the flower could come by way of the root and stalk
of the plant, or how the crude mussel could give birth to the
rainbow-tinted pearl, or how the precious metals and stones arise from
the flux of the baser elements, or how the ugly worm wakes up and finds
itself a winged creature of the air; yet we do not invoke the
supernatural to account for these things.

It is certain that in the human scale of values the spirituality of man
far transcends anything in the animal or physical world, but that even
that came by the road of evolution, is, indeed, the flowering of ruder
and cruder powers and attributes of the life below us, I cannot for a
moment doubt. Call it a transmutation or a metamorphosis, if you will;
it is still within the domain of the natural. The spiritual always has
its root and genesis in the physical. We do not degrade the spiritual in
such a conception; we open our eyes to the spirituality of the
physical. And this is what science has always been doing and is doing
more and more--making us familiar with marvelous and transcendent powers
that hedge us about and enter into every act of our lives. The more we
know matter, the more we know mind; the more we know nature, the more we
know God; the more familiar we are with the earth forces, the more
intimate will be our acquaintance with the celestial forces.


When we speak of the gulf that separates the living from the non-living,
are we not thinking of the higher forms of life only? Are we not
thinking of the far cry it is from man to inorganic nature? When we get
down to the lowest organism, is the gulf so impressive? Under the
scrutiny of biologic science the gulf that separates the animal from the
vegetable all but vanishes, and the two seem to run together. The chasm
between the lowest vegetable forms and unorganized matter is evidently a
slight affair. The state of unorganized protoplasm which Haeckel named
the Monera, that precedes the development of that architect of life, the
cell, can hardly be more than one remove from inert matter. By
insensible molecular changes and transformations of energy, the miracle
of living matter takes place. We can conceive of life arising only
through these minute avenues, or in the invisible, molecular
constitution of matter itself. What part the atoms and electrons, and
the energy they bear, play in it we shall never know. Even if we ever
succeed in bringing the elements together in our laboratories so that
there living matter appears, shall we then know the secret of life?

After we have got the spark of life kindled, how are we going to get all
the myriad forms of life that swarm upon the earth? How are we going to
get man with physics and chemistry alone? How are we going to get this
tremendous drama of evolution out of mere protoplasm from the bottom of
the old geologic seas? Of course, only by making protoplasm creative,
only by conceiving as potential in it all that we behold coming out of
it. We imagine it equal to the task we set before it; the task is
accomplished; therefore protoplasm was all-sufficient. I am not
postulating any extra-mundane power or influence; I am only stating the
difficulties which the idealist experiences when he tries to see life in
its nature and origin as the scientific mind sees it. Animal life and
vegetable life have a common physical basis in protoplasm, and all their
different forms are mere aggregations of cells which are constituted
alike and behave alike in each, and yet in the one case they give rise
to trees, and in the other they give rise to man. Science is powerless
to penetrate this mystery, and philosophy can only give its own elastic
interpretation. Why consciousness should be born of cell structure in
one form of life and not in another, who shall tell us? Why matter in
the brain should think, and in the cabbage only grow, is a question.

The naturalist has not the slightest doubt that the mind of man was
evolved from some order of animals below him that had less mind, and
that the mind of this order was evolved from that of a still lower
order, and so on down the scale till we reach a point where the animal
and vegetable meet and blend, and the vegetable mind, if we may call it
such, passed into the animal, and still downward till the vegetable is
evolved from the mineral. If to believe this is to be a monist, then
science is monistic; it accepts the transformation or metamorphosis of
the lower into the higher from the bottom of creation to the top, and
without any break of the causal sequence. There has been no miracle,
except in the sense that all life is a miracle. Of how the organic rose
out of the inorganic, we can form no mental image; the intellect cannot
bridge the chasm; but that such is the fact, there can be no doubt.
There is no solution except that life is latent or potential in matter,
but these again are only words that cover a mystery.

I do not see why there may not be some force latent in matter that we
may call the vital force, physical force transformed and heightened, as
justifiably as we can postulate a chemical force latent in matter. The
chemical force underlies and is the basis of the vital force. There is
no life without chemism, but there is chemism without life.

We have to have a name for the action and reaction of the primary
elements upon one another and we call it chemical affinity; we have to
have a name for their behavior in building up organic bodies, and we
call it vitality or vitalism.

The rigidly scientific man sees no need of the conception of a new form
or kind of force; the physico-chemical forces as we see them in action
all about us are adequate to do the work, so that it seems like a
dispute about names. But my mind has to form a new conception of these
forces to bridge the chasm between the organic and the inorganic; not a
quantitative but a qualitative change is demanded, like the change in
the animal mind to make it the human mind, an unfolding into a higher

Whether the evolution of the human mind from the animal was by
insensible gradations, or by a few sudden leaps, who knows? The animal
brain began to increase in size in Tertiary times, and seems to have
done so suddenly, but the geologic ages were so long that a change in
one hundred thousand years would seem sudden. "The brains of some
species increase one hundred per cent." The mammal brain greatly
outstripped the reptile brain. Was Nature getting ready for man?

The air begins at once to act chemically upon the blood in the lungs of
the newly born, and the gastric juices to act chemically upon the food
as soon as there is any in the stomach of the newly born, and breathing
and swallowing are both mechanical acts; but what is it that breathes
and swallows, and profits by it? a machine?

Maybe the development of life, and its upward tendency toward higher and
higher forms, is in some way the result of the ripening of the earth,
its long steeping in the sea of sidereal influences. The earth is not
alone, it is not like a single apple on a tree; there are many apples on
the tree, and there are many trees in the orchard.



Adaptation, 184, 215, 216.

Alpha rays, 60, 199.

Aquosity, 127, 128, 141-143.

Aristotle, 240.

Asphalt lake, 123.

Atoms, different groupings of, 56-60;
  weighed and counted, 60, 61;
  indivisibility, 61;
  the hydrogen atom, 65;
  chemical affinity, 193-195;
  photography of, 199, 200;
  form, 203;
  atomic energy, 204;
  qualities and properties of bodies in their keeping, 204;
  unchanging character, 205, 206;
  rarity of free atoms, 209;
  mystery of combination, 210.

Autolysis, 169.

Balfour, Arthur James, on Bergson's "Evolution Créatrice," 15.

Bees, the spirit of the hive, 82.

Benton, Joel, quoted, 70.

Bergson, Henri, 129, 173, 263;
  on light and the eye, 5;
  his view of life, 14-16, 27-29, 221, 237, 238;
  on the need of philosophy, 85, 86;
  on life on other planets, 87;
  his method, 109, 110;
  the key to his "Creative Evolution," 132;
  on life as a psychic principle, 162;
  his book as literature, 238.

Beta rays, 61, 199, 201.

Biogenesis, 25. _See also_ Life.

Biophores, 217.

Body, the, elements of, 38, 39;
  the chemist in, 152, 153;
  intelligence of, 153, 154;
  a community of cells, 157, 158;
  viewed as a machine, 212-214, 224.

Brain, evolution of, 288.

Breathing, mechanics and chemistry of, 50-54, 213.

Brooks, William Keith, quoted, 128, 236.

Brown, Robert, 191;
  the Brunonian movement, 167, 172, 191.

Brunonian movement, 167, 172, 191.

Butler, Bishop, imaginary debate with Lucretius, 219, 220.

Carbon, 38, 56, 59;
  importance, 208.

Carbonic-acid gas, 52, 53.

Carrel, Dr. Alexis, 98, 148.

Catalysers, 135, 136.

Cell, the, 83-85, 90, 96, 97, 180;
  Wilson on, 95;
  living after the death of the body, 98;
  Prof. Benjamin Moore on, 107;
  nature of, 113;
  aimless multiplication, 148, 233;
  the unit of life, 156;
  communistic activity, 157, 158, 184;
  a world in little, 170;
  mystery of, 175;
  different degrees of irritability, 216, 217.

Changes in matter, 131, 133.

Chemist, in the body, 152, 153.

Chemistry, the silent world of, 49-54;
  wonders worked by varying arrangement of atoms, 56-60;
  leads up to life, 188;
  a new world for the imagination, 189-192;
  chemical affinity, 193-195;
  various combinations of elements, 205-208;
  organic compounds, 209;
  mystery of chemical combinations, 210;
  chemical changes, 210, 211;
  powerless to trace relationships between different forms
          of life, 231, 232;
  cannot account for differences in organisms, 233, 234.

Chlorophyll, 77, 113, 168, 169, 177, 235.

Colloids, 76, 108, 135, 136.

Conn, H. W., on mechanism, 91-94.

Consciousness, Huxley on, 95, 181, 262.

Corpuscles, speed in the ether, 65.

Creative energy, immanent in matter, 9, 21;
  its methods, 263.

Crystallization, 276, 277.

Czapek, Frederick, on vital forces, 133, 152;
  on life, 164, 166, 169;
  on enzymes in living bodies, 167.

Darwin, Charles, quoted, 9;
  on force of growing radicles, 19;
  a contradiction in his philosophy, 254, 255.

Electricity, in the constitution of matter, 46-49;
  a state of the ether, 63;
  power from, 67, 68;
  the most mysterious thing in inorganic nature, 223.

Electrons, knots in the ether, 63;
  size and weight, 196;
  speed, 197;
  matter dematerialized, 197;
  bombardment from, 201, 202;
  revolving in the atom, 203;
  surface, 203;
  compared with atoms, 203;
  properties of matter supplied by, 204.

Elements, of living bodies, 38, 39, 77, 78;
  analogy with the alphabet, 57-59, 206;
  undergoing spontaneous change, 67;
  various combinations, 205-208;
  eagerness to combine, 209.
  _See also_ Atoms.

Eliot, George, on the development theory, 103.

Elliot, Hugh S. R., on mechanism, 16.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 250;
  on physics and chemistry, 188;
  quoted, 280.

Energy, relation of life to, 177-183;
  atomic, 204.
  _See also_ Creative energy _and_ Force.

Energy, biotic, 106-111, 145, 146.

England, 250.

Entities, 99, 100.

Environment, 86-88.

Enzymes, 167.

Ether, the, omnipresent and all-powerful, 61, 62;
  its nature, 62, 63;
  its finite character, 65, 66;
  paradoxes of, 66.

Ethics, and the mechanistic conception, 12.

Evolution, creative impulse in, 6, 111;
  progression in, 13, 14;
  and the arrival of the fit, 244-253;
  creative, 251-253;
  evolution of life bound up with the evolution of the world, 281-283;
  creative protoplasm in, 286;
  a cosmic view of, 289.

Explosives, 43.

Fire, chemistry of, 54.

Fiske, John, on the soul and immortality, 4;
  on the physical and the psychical, 75, 183.

Fittest, arrival and survival of the, 244-253.

Force, physical and mental, 3-5;
  and life, 17-23;
  dissymmetric force, 22;
  the origin of matter, 43, 44.
  _See also_ Energy.

Galls, 147, 154-156.

Ganong, William Francis, on life, 181.

Germany, in the War of 1914, 249-251.

Glaser, Otto C., quoted, 98.

Goethe, quoted, 111, 221, 260, 280;
  as a scientific man, 221.

Gotch, Prof., quoted, 270.

Grafting, 40, 41.

Grand Cañon of the Colorado, 225, 228, 229.

Grape sugar, 208.

Growth, of a germ, 217, 218.

Haeckel, Ernst, 3, 285;
  on physical activity in the atom, 25, 26;
  his "living inorganics," 91;
  on the origin of life, 161;
  on inheritance and adaptation, 184;
  his "plastidules," 217;
  a contradiction in his philosophy, 256.

Hartog, Marcus, 129.

Heat, changes wrought by, 55, 56;
  detection of, at a distance, 60.

Helmholtz, Hermann von, on life, 25, 161.

Henderson, Lawrence J., his "Fitness of the Environment," 73;
  his concession to the vitalists, 83, 85;
  on the environment, 86-88;
  a thorough mechanist, 88, 89.

Horse-power, 177, 178.

Hudson River, "blossoming of the water," 283.

Huxley, Thomas Henry, on the
  properties of protoplasm, 31, 126, 127;
  on consciousness, 95, 181, 262;
  on the vital principle, 101, 126, 127, 140;
  his three realities, 140;
  a contradiction in his philosophy, 255, 256.

Hydrogen, the atom of, 65.

Idealist, view of life, 218-222.

Inorganic world, beauty in decay in, 228, 229.

Intelligence, characteristic of living matter, 134, 139, 151-154;
  pervading organic nature, 223.

Irritability, degrees of, 216, 217.

James, William, 254.

Kant, Immanuel, quoted, 221.

Kelvin, Lord, 83.

King, Starr, 244.

Lankester, Sir Edwin Ray, quoted, 128, 141;
  his "plasmogen," 145, 146.

Le Dantec, Félix Alexandre, his "Nature and Origin of Life," 73, 79, 80;
  on consciousness, 80;
  on the artificial production of the cell, 83;
  on the mechanism of the body, 224.

Leduc, Stephane, his "osmotic growths," 167, 168.

Liebig, Baron Justus von, quoted, 83.

Life, may be a mode of motion, 5;
  evolution of, 6;
  its action on matter, 8, 9;
  its physico-chemical origin, 9;
  its appearance viewed as accidental, 10-14;
  Bergson's view, 14-17, 27-29;
  Sir Oliver Lodge's view, 17, 18;
  and energy, 17-23;
  theories as to its origin, 24-27;
  Tyndall's view, 28-30;
  Verworn's view, 30, 31;
  the vitalistic view, 32-38;
  matter as affected by, 39;
  not to be treated mathematically, 40;
  a slow explosion, 41, 42;
  an insoluble mystery, 43, 44;
  relations with the psychic and the inorganic, 44, 45;
  compared with fire, 54, 55;
  the final mystery of, 69, 70;
  vitalistic and mechanistic views, 71-114;
  Benjamin Moore's view, 106-113;
  the theory of derivation from other spheres, 104;
  spontaneous generation, 105;
  plays a small part in the cosmic scheme, 115-119;
  mystery of, 120;
  nature merciless towards, 120-124;
  as an entity, 124-130;
  evanescent character, 131, 132;
  Prof. Schäfer's view, 133-138;
  intelligence the characteristic of, 134, 139, 151-154;
  power of adaptation, 147-149;
  versatility, 155, 156;
  the fields of science and philosophy in dealing with, 161-166, 173-176;
  simulation of, 167, 168;
  and protoplasm, 169;
  and the cell, 170;
  variability, 171, 172;
  the biogenetic law, 174;
  relation to energy, 177-183;
  an _x_-entity, 181, 182;
  struggle with environment, 185, 186;
  as a chemical phenomenon, 187;
  inadequacy of the mechanistic view, 212-243;
  degrees of, 216, 217;
  arises, not comes, 230;
  a metaphysical problem, 231;
  as a wave, 231;
  its adaptability, 253;
  a vitalistic view, 254-289;
  naturalness of, 263-268;
  advent and disappearance, 268, 269;
  the unscientific view, 274, 275;
  analogy with the question of perpetual motion, 277, 278;
  no great gulf between animate and inanimate, 285;
  a cosmic view, 289.
  _See also_ Living thing, Vital force, Vitalism, Vitality.

Light, measuring its speed, 60.

Liquids, molecular behavior, 200.

Living thing, not a machine, 1-3, 212-214;
  viewed as a machine, 34-37, 224-228;
  a unit, 215;
  adaptation, 215, 216;
  contrasted and compared with a machine, 241, 242.

Lodge, Sir Oliver, 183, 197;
  his view of life, 17, 18, 34, 132, 161, 219, 237;
  his vein of mysticism, 34;
  on the ether, 62, 63, 66;
  on molecular spaces, 65;
  on radium, 201;
  on the atom, 203;
  on electrons, 203.

Loeb, Jacques, on mechanism, 10-13, 73;
  his experiments, 74, 76, 79, 147;
  on variations, 148.

Machines, Nature's and man's, 224-226;
   contrasted and compared with living bodies, 241, 242.

Maeterlinck, Maurice, on the Spirit of the Hive, 82.

Man, evolution of, 246-251;
  as the result of chance, 255;
  as a part of the natural order, 258, 259;
  his little day, 269.

Matter, as acted upon by life, 8, 9;
  creative energy immanent in, 9;
  change upon entry of life, 39;
  constitution of, 43, 44, 46-48;
  a state of the ether, 63;
  changes in, 131, 133;
  Emerson on, 188;
  discrete, 196;
  emanations detected by smell and taste, 198, 199;
  a hole in the ether, 203;
  origin of its properties, 204-206;
  a higher conception of, 259-261;
  common view of grossness of, 274, 275.

Maxwell, James Clerk, on the ether, 63;
  on atoms, 198.

Mechanism, the scientific explanation of mind, 5;
  and ethics, 12;
  reaction against, 32;
  definition, 72;
  Prof. Henderson's view, 88, 89;
  _vs._ vitalism, 212-243.
  _See also_ Life.

Metaphysics, necessity of, 101.

Micellar strings, 217.

Microbalance, 60.

Mind, evolution of, 287, 288.
  _See also_ Intelligence.

Molecules, spaces between, 65, 196;
  speed, 192;
  unchanging character, 205, 206.

Monera, 285.

Moore, Benjamin, a scientific vitalist, 106;
  his "biotic energy," 106-113, 145, 146.

Morgan, Thomas Hunt, 148.

Motion, perpetual, 190, 191, 278;
  mass and molecular, 269, 270.

Naegeli, Karl Wilhelm von, 217.

Nitrogen, 51.

Nonentities, 99, 100.

Odors, 198, 199.

Osmotic growths, 167, 168.

Oxygen, activities of, 51, 52, 59;
  in the crust of the earth, 193;
  chemical affinities, 193-195;
  different forms of atoms, 200.

Parker, Theodore, on the universe, 280.

Parthenogenesis, artificial, 11, 74.

Pasteur, Louis, his "dissymmetric force," 22, 32.

Philosophy, supplements science, 94-96, 104, 109, 163, 164;
  deals with fundamental problems, 242, 243;
  contradictions in, 254-258.

Phosphorus, 59, 60.

Physics, staggering figures in, 192.

Pitch lake, 123.

Plants, force exerted by growing, 17-20.

Plasmogen, 145, 146.

Plastidules, 217.

Protobion, 135.

Protoplasm, vitality of, 169;
  creative, 286.

Radio-activity, 66-70, 132.

Radium, 61, 201.
  _See also_ Beta rays.

Rainbow, 70.

Ramsay, Sir William, 191, 192.

Rand, Herbert W., on the mechanistic view of life, 89, 90.

Russia, 250, 251.

Salt, crystallization, 276, 277.

Schäfer, Sir Edward Albert, 73;
  his mechanistic view of life, 133-138.

Science, delicacy of its methods and implements, 60, 61;
  limitations of its field, 94-100, 104;
  cannot deal with life except as a physical phenomenon, 161, 162;
  does not embrace the whole of human life, 162, 163;
  inadequacy, 163-166;
  cannot grasp the mystery of life, 173, 175, 176, 234-236;
  cannot deal with fundamental problems, 242, 243;
  concerns itself with matter only, 264;
  inevitably mechanistic, 265, 266;
  views the universe as one, 267, 268, 271-274;
  the redeemer of the physical world, 269-271, 276;
  spiritual insight gained through, 278.

Sea-urchins, Loeb's experiments, 147.

Seed, growth of, 217, 218.

Soddy, Frederick, 46, 66;
  on vital force, 133;
  on rainbows and rabbits, 174;
  on the relation of life to energy, 177-180;
  on the atom, 197, 198;
  on atomic energy, 204.

Spencer, Herbert, 218, 240;
  quoted, 15, 16;
  on the origin of life, 26;
  on vital capital, 34, 35.

Spirit, common view of, 274, 275.

Spirituality, evolution of, 284.

Sugar, grape, 208.

Sunflower, wild, force exerted by, 19.

Thomson, J. Arthur, 270.

Thomson, Sir J. J., on electrons, 197;
  photographing atoms, 199, 200.

Tropisms, 11.

Tyndall, John, his view of life, 28-30, 160, 162, 231;
  his "molecular force," 42, 133;
  his Belfast Address, 64, 219;
  and the "miracle of vitality," 105;
  on energy, 161;
  on growth from the germ, 217;
  an idealist, 219, 220;
  on Goethe, 221;
  on matter, 260;
  on crystallisation of salt, 276, 277;
  on incipient life in inorganic nature, 277.

Universe, the, oneness of, 267, 268;
  a view of, 289.

Uranium, 67.

Verworn, Max, 25, 79, 146;
  his view of life, 30, 31, 73;
  his term for vital force, 145.

Vital force, constructive, 7, 38;
  inventive and creative, 7;
  resisting repose, 40;
  as a postulate, 99-103;
  its existence denied by science, 133;
  convenience of the term, 144;
  other names, 144-146.
  _See also_ Life.

Vitalism, making headway, 32;
  reason for, 71, 72;
  Moore's scientific vitalism, 106-112;
  type of mind believing in, 218-223.
  _See also_ Life.

Vitality, the question of its reality, 140-143;
  degrees of, 241, 242.
  _See also_ Life.

War of 1914, 248-251.

Water-power, and electricity, 67, 68.

Weismann, August, 217.

Whitman, Walt, quoted, 14, 48, 110, 256, 260.

Wilson, Edmund Beecher, on the cell, 95.

[Transcriber's Notes:

1. The phrase 'To resolve the pyschic and the vital' was changed to
'To resolve the psychic and the vital'.]

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