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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



The Organic And The Inorganic








2. What is on a priori grounds demanded as a necessity, or set aside as
impossible, on the strength of the axiom of the conservation of energy,
must be proved a posteriori by investigation. It must be shown in detail
that the difference between the organic and the inorganic is only
apparent. And it is here that the mechanical view of life celebrates its
greatest triumph.

For a long time it seemed as though there were an absolute difference
between "inorganic" and "organic" chemistry, between the chemical
processes and products found in free nature, and those within the "living"
body. The same elements were indeed found in both, but it seemed as if
they were subject in the living body to other and higher laws than those
observed in inanimate nature. Out of these elements the organism builds
up, by unexplained processes, peculiar chemical individualities, highly
organised and complex combinations which are never attained in inorganic
nature. This seems to afford indubitable evidence of a vital force with
mysterious super-chemical capacities.

But modern chemical science has succeeded in doing away with this absolute
difference between the two departments of chemistry, for it has achieved,
in retorts, in the laboratory, and with "natural" chemical means, what had
hitherto only been accomplished by "organic" chemistry. Since Woehler's
discovery that urea could be built up by artificial combination, more and
more of the carbon-compounds which were previously regarded as
specialities of the vital force have been produced by artificial
syntheses. The highest synthesis, that of proteids, has not yet been
discovered, but perhaps that, too, may yet be achieved.

And further: intensive observation through the microscope and in the
laboratory increases the knowledge of processes which can be analysed into
simple chemical processes, both in the plant and the animal body. These
are astonishing in their diversity and complexity, but nevertheless they
fulfil themselves according to known chemical laws, and they can be
imitated apart from the living substance. The "breaking up" of the
molecules of nutritive material,--that is to say, the preparation of them
as building material for the body,--does not take place magically and
automatically, but is associated with definitely demonstrable chemical
stuffs, which produce their effect even outside of the organism. The
fundamental function of living matter--"metabolism,"--that is, the constant
disruption and reconstruction of its own substance, has, it seems, been
brought at least nearer to a possible future explanation by the
recognition of a series of phenomena of a purely chemical nature, the
catalytic phenomena (the effects of ferments or "enzymes"). Ingenious
hypotheses are already being constructed, if not to explain, at least to
give a general formulation of these facts, which will serve as a framework
and guiding clue, as a "working hypothesis" for the further progress of
investigation.

The most recent of these hypotheses is that set forth by Verworn in his
book "Die Biogenhypothese."(60) He assumes, as the central vehicle of the
vital functions, a unified living substance, the "biogen," nearly related
to the proteids which form the fundamental substance of protoplasm and of
the cell-nucleus, and in contrast to which the other substances found in
the living body are in part raw materials and reserves, and in part of a
derivative nature, or the results of disruptive metabolism. Very complex
chemically, "biogen" is able to operate upon the circulating or reserve
"nutritive" materials in a way comparable, for instance, to the action of
"nitric acid in the production of English sulphuric acid." That is to say,
it is able to set up processes of disruption and of recombination,
apparently by its mere presence, but, in reality, by its own continual
breaking down and building up again. At the same time it has the power,
analogous to that of polymerisation in molecules, of increasing, of
"growing."

The case is the same in regard to physical laws. They are identical in the
living and the non-living. And many of the processes of life have already
been analysed into a complex of simpler physical processes. The
circulation of the blood is subject to the same laws of hydrostatics as
are illustrated in all other fluids. Mechanical, static, and osmotic
processes occur in the organism and constitute its vital phenomena. The
eye is a camera obscura, an optical apparatus; the ear an acoustic
instrument; the skeleton an ingenious system of levers, which obey the
same laws as all other levers. E. du Bois-Reymond, in his lectures on "The
Physics of Organic Metabolism" ("Physik des organischen
Stoffwechsels"),(61) compiles a long and detailed list of the physical
factors associated and intertwined in the most diverse ways with the
fundamental phenomenon of life, namely, metabolism:--the capacities and
effects of solution, diffusion of liquids, capillarity, surface tension,
coagulation, transfusion with filtration, the capacities and effects of
gases, aero-diffusion through porous walls, the absorption of gases
through solid bodies and through fluids, and so on.

Very impressive, too, are the manifold "mechanical" interpretations of
intimate vital characteristics, such as the infinitely fine structure of
protoplasm. For protoplasm does not fill the cell as a compact mass, but
spreads itself out and builds itself up in the most delicate network or
meshwork, of which it forms the threads and walls, enclosing innumerable
vacuoles and alveoli, and Buetschli succeeded in making a surprisingly good
imitation of this "structure" by mechanical means. Drops of oil intimately
mixed with potash and placed between glass plates formed a very similar
emulsion-like or foam-like structure with a visible network and with
enclosed alveoli.(62)

Rhumbler, too, succeeded in explaining by "developmental mechanics" some
of the apparently extremely subtle processes at the beginning of embryonic
development (the invagination of the blastula to form the gastrula); by
imitating the sphere of cells which compose the blastula with elastic
steel bands he deduced the invagination mechanically from the model.(63)

Here, too, must be mentioned Verworn's attempts to explain "the movements
of the living substance."(64) "Kinesis," the power to move, has since the
time of Aristotle been regarded as one of the peculiar characteristics of
life. From the gliding "amoeboid" movements of the moneron, with its
mysterious power of shifting its position, spreading itself out, and
spinning out long threads ("pseudopodia"), up to the contractility of the
muscle-fibre, the same riddle reappears in many different forms. Verworn
attacks it at the lowest level, and attempts to solve it by reference to
the surface tension to which all fluid bodies are subject, and to the
partial relaxation of this, which forces the mass to give off radiating
processes or "pseudopodia." The mechanical causes of the suspension of the
surface tension are inquired into, and striking examples of pseudopod-like
rays are found in the inorganic world, for instance, in a drop of oil.
Thus a starting-point is discovered for mechanical interpretations at a
higher level.(65)





Next: Irritability

Previous: The Conservation Of Matter And Energy



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