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THE MECHANICAL THEORY OF LIFE.

Activity Of Consciousness
Aim And Method Of Naturalism
Autonomy Of Spirit
Consciousness Of The Ego
Constructive Criticism
Contrast Between Darwinian And Post-darwinian Views
Creative Power Of Consciousness
Criticisms Of The Mechanistic Theory Of Life
Crities Of Darwinism
Darwinish In General
Darwinism And Teleology
Darwinism In The Strict Sense
De Vries's Mutation-theory
Differences Of Opinion As To The Factors In Evolution
Eimer's Orthogenesis
Evolution And New Beginnings
Feeling
Feeling Individuality Genius And Mysticism
Freedom Of Spirit
Fundamental Principles Of Naturalism
Genius
Goethe's Attitude To Naturalism
Haeckel's Evolutionist Position
Heredity
How All This Affects The Religious Outlook
How The Religious And The Naturalistic Outlooks Conflict
Immortality
Individual Development
Individuality
Intuitions Of Reality
Irritability
Is There Ageing Of The Mind?
Lamarckism And Neo-lamarckism
Machnical Theories Criticism
Mind And Spirit The Human And The Animal Soul
Mystery : Dependence : Purpose
Mysticism
Natural Selection
Naturalism
Naturalistic Attacks On The Autonomy Of The Spiritual
No Parallelism
Other Instances Of Dissatisfaction With The Theory Of Descent
Parallelism
Personality
Pre-eminence Of Consciousness
Preyer's Position
Religion And The Theory Of Descent
Self-consciousness
Spontaneous Generation
Teleological And Scientific Interpretations Are Alike Necessary
The Antimony Of Our Conception Of Space
The Antimony Of Our Conception Of Time
The Antimony Of The Conditioned And The Unconditioned
The Characteristic Features Of Darwinism
The Conservation Of Matter And Energy
The Constructive Work Of Driesch
The Contingency Of The World
The Dependence Of The Order Of Nature
The Development Of Darwinism
The Ego
The Fundamental Answer
The Law Of The Conservation Of Energy
The Mechanics Of Development
The Mystery Of Existence Remains Unexplained
The Organic And The Inorganic
The Position Of Bunge And Other Physiologists
The Problema Continui
The Real World
The Recognition Of Purpose
The Religious Interpretation Of The World
The Spontaneous Activity Of The Organism
The Supremacy Of Mind
The Theory Of Descent
The True Naturalism
The Two Kinds Of Naturalism
The Unconscious
The Unity Of Consciousness
The Views Of Albrecht And Schneider
The Views Of Botanists Illustrated
The World And God
Theory Of Definite Variation
Theory Of Life
Underivability
Various Forms Of Darwinism
Virchow's Caution
Virchow's Position
Weismann's Evolutionist Position
Weismannism
What Is Distinctive In The Naturalistic Outlook
What Is Distinctive In The Religious Outlook



Irritability








3. A property which seems to be quite peculiar to living matter is
irritability, or the power of responding to "stimuli," that is to say, of
reacting to some influence from without in such a manner that the
reaction is not the mere equivalent of the action, but that the stimulus
is to the organism as a contingent cause or impulse setting up a new
process or a new series of processes, which seem as though they occurred
spontaneously and freely. Thus the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica droops
its feathery leaves when touched. Here, too, must be classed also all the
innumerable phenomena of Heliotropism, Geotropism, Rheotropism,
Chemotropism, and other tropisms, in which the sun, or the earth, or
currents, or chemical stimuli so affect a form of life--plant, alga, or
spore--that it disposes its own movements or the arrangements of its parts
accordingly, turning towards, or away from, or in an oblique direction to
the source of stimulus, or otherwise behaving in some definite manner
which could not have been deduced or predicted from the direct effects of
the stimulating factors. The upholders of the mechanical theory have
attempted to conquer this vast and mysterious domain of facts by seeking
to do away with the appearance of spontaneity and freedom, by
demonstrating in suitable cases that these phenomena of spontaneity and
the like would be impossible were it not that the potential energies
previously stored up within the organism are liberated by the stimulus.
Thus the effect caused is not equivalent to the stimulus alone, but is
rather the resultant of the conditions given in the chemo-physical
predispositions of the organism itself, and in the architecture of its
parts, plus the stimulus.

Directly associated with this property of irritability is another form of
spontaneity and freedom in living beings--the power of adapting themselves
to changed conditions of existence. Some do not show this at all, while
others show it in an astonishing degree, helping themselves out by new
contrivances, so to speak. Thus the organism may protect itself against
temperature and other influences, against injury, making damages good
again by self-repairing processes, "regenerating" lost organs, and
sometimes even building up the whole organism anew from amputated parts.
The mechanical interpretation must here proceed in the same way as in
dealing with the question of stimuli, applying to the development of form
the same explanations as are there employed. And just because this domain
does not lend itself readily to mechanical explanation, we can understand
that confidence in the sufficiency of this mode of interpretation grows
rapidly with each fresh conquest, when this or that particular process is
shown to be actually explicable on mechanical principles. Processes of
development or morphogenesis--which are among the most intricate and
difficult--are attacked in various ways. The processes of regeneration, for
instance, are compared with the similar tendencies observed in crystals,
which when they are injured have the capacity of restoring their normal
form. This capacity therefore obtains in the realm of the inorganic as
well as among organisms, and is referred to the tendency of all substances
to maintain a definite state of equilibrium, conditioned by their form,
and, if that is disturbed, to return to a similar or a new state of
equilibrium. Or, the procedure may be to reduce the processes of a
developmental or morphogenetic category to processes of stimulation in
general, and then it is believed, or even demonstrated, that
chemo-physical analogies or explanations can be found for them.

Thus, for instance, it is shown that the egg of the sea-urchin may be
"stimulated" to development, not exclusively by the fertilising sperm, but
even by a simple chemical agent, or that spermatozoids which are seeking
the ovum to be fertilised may be attracted by malic acid. These are
"reductions" of the higher phenomena of life to the terms of a lower and
simpler process of "stimulus," that is to say, to chemotropism in the
second case and something analogous in the first. A further reduction
would be to show that the movement of the spermatozoids towards the malic
acid is not a "vitalistic" act, much less a psychically conditioned one,
(that is, conditioned by "taste," "sensation," and the voluntary or
instinctive impulse liberated thereby), but is a chemo-physical process,
although perhaps an exceedingly complex one. It would be another
"reduction" of this second kind, if, for instance, the well-known effect
of light on plants, which makes them turn their leaves towards it
(heliotropism), could be shown to be due to more rapid growth of the leaf
on the shaded side, which would lift up the leaf and cause it to turn, or
to an increase of turgescence on the shaded side, and if it could be shown
that the increase in either case was a simple and obvious physical
process, the necessary consequence of the decreased amount of light.

It is obvious, and it is also thoroughly justifiable, that all attempts
along these lines of interpretation should be undertaken in the first
place in connection with the simplest and lowest forms of life. It is in
the investigation of the "Protists," the study of the vital phenomena of
the microscopically minute unicellular organisms, that attempts of this
kind have been most frequently made. And they follow the course we have
just indicated; the "apparently" vitalistic and psychical behaviour of
unicellulars (impulse, will, spontaneous movement, selecting and
experimenting) is interpreted in terms of reflex processes and the
"irritability" of the cell, and these again are traced back, like all
stimulus-processes, to the subtle mechanics of the atoms.





Next: Spontaneous Generation

Previous: The Organic And The Inorganic



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