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CRITICISM OF MECHANICAL THEORIES

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 Views Of Botanists Illustrated








It might have been expected that in the domain of plant-biology, if
anywhere, the mechanistic standpoint would have been the prevailing one.
For it is almost a matter of course to regard plants as devoid of
sensation or "psychical" life, and as mechanical systems, chemical
laboratories, and reflex mechanisms, and this way of regarding them has
been made easy by the very marked uniformity and lack of spontaneity in
their vital processes as compared with those of animals. But it is not the
case that mechanical theories have here prevailed. The opposition to them
is just as great here as elsewhere, and from the days of Wigand onwards it
has been almost continuously sustained.(88) Very characteristic is
Pfeffer's "Pflanzen-Physiologie" (1897), which is written professedly from
the mechanist point of view. "Vitalism," according to this authority, is
to be rejected, but instead of "vital force" he offers us "given
properties," and the alleged machine-like collocations of the most minute
elements. In regard, for instance, to the riddle of development and
morphogenesis, we must simply accept it as a "given property," that the
acorn grows in an oak and nothing else. The chemical explanation of the
vital functions of protoplasm is also to be rejected; as a shattered watch
is no longer a watch though it remains chemically the same, so it is with
protoplasm. The available chemical knowledge of the substances of which
protoplasm is made up is insufficient to render the vital processes
intelligible. Here, as everywhere else, we have to reckon with ultimate
"properties (entities), which we neither can, nor desire to analyse
further." "The human mind is no more capable of forming a conception of
the ultimate cause of things than of eternity." If all the views here
indicated were followed out to their logical conclusions, they would
hinder rather than further the process of reduction to terms of
physico-chemical sequences.

Kerner von Marilaun in his "Pflanzenleben" deliberately takes up a
thorough-going vitalist position, and on this point as well as on many
others he opposed the current theory of the school (Darwinism). It is
true, he admits, that many of the phenomena in plants can be explained in
purely mechanical terms, but they are only those which may occur also in
non-living structures. The specific expressions of life cannot be
explained in this way. He shows this more fully in regard to the most
fundamental of all the vital processes in the plant-body--the breaking up
of carbonic acid gas by the chlorophyll to obtain the carbon which is the
fundamental element in all living organisms. We know the requisite
conditions: the supply of raw material, and the sunlight from which the
energy is derived. But how the chlorophyll makes use of these to effect
the breaking up, and how it starts the subsequent syntheses of the carbon
into the most complex organic compounds remains a mystery. And so on
upwards through all the strictly vital phenomena.

Wiesner's(89) view of things is essentially similar. He gives a very
impressive picture of the mystery of the chemistry of the plant, showing
how small is the number of food-stuffs and raw materials in comparison to
the thousands of highly complex chemical substances which the plant
produces, and how much work there is involved in de-oxydising the food and
in forming syntheses. He, too, refuses, as usual, to postulate "vital
force." Yet to speak of "the fundamental peculiarities of the living
matter inherent in the organism" and to admit that plants are "irritable,"
"heliotropic," "geotropic," &c., amounts to much the same thing as
postulating vital force; that is to say, to a mere naming of the specific
problem of life without explaining it. The author himself admits this when
he says in another place: "If I compare organisms with inorganic systems,
I find that the progress of our knowledge is continually enlarging the
gulf which separates the one from the other!"

These anti-mechanical tendencies show themselves most emphatically in the
work of Fr. Ludwig.(90) In his concluding chapter, after a discussion of
the theories of Darwin, Naegeli, and Weismann, he postulates, for
variation, heredity, and species-formation in particular, "forces other
than physico-chemical," "let us call them frankly psychical."

It is instructive to see how these "vitalistic" views crop up even in
studies of detail and of the microscopically small, as for instance in E.
Crato's "Beitraege zur Anatomie und Physiologie des Elementar-organismus."
How the living organism contains within itself what is in its turn living,
down into ever smaller detail, (amoeboid movements of certain plastines,
physodes,) how incomparable the living organism is with a "machine," to
which its libellers are so fond of likening it, how it builds itself up,
steers, and stokes itself, how it produces with "playful ease" the most
marvellous and graceful forms, makes combinations and breaks them up, how
analogous its whole activity is to "being able" and "willing," all this is
clearly brought out.(91)

A very fresh and lucid presentation of the whole case is given by Borodin,
Professor of Botany in St. Petersburg, in his essay, "Protoplasm and Vital
Force."(92) He sharply castigates the one-sidedness and impetuosity of the
mechanical theory, as in Haeckel's discovery of Bathybius and of
non-nucleated bacteria. The latter are problematical, and the former has
been proved an illusion. To penetrate farther into the processes of life
is simply to become aware of an ever-deepening series of riddles. There is
no such thing as "protoplasm," or "living proteid," or indeed any unified,
simple "living matter" whatever. Artificial "oil-emulsion amoebae"(93) bear
the same relation to living ones that Vaucanson's mechanical duck bears to
a real one; that is, none at all. Our "protoplasm" is as mystical as the
old "vital force," and both are only camping-grounds for our ignorance.
Neither the mechanical nor the atomic theory were the results of exact
investigations; they were borrowed from philosophy. We do indeed
investigate the typically vital process of irritability by physical
methods. But the response made by the organism to physical coercion may be
called a mockery of physics. The mechanists help themselves out with crude
analogies from the mechanical, conceal the problem with the name
"irritability," and thus get rid of the greatest marvels. If vital force
itself were to call out from its cells, "Here I am," they would probably
see in it only a remarkable case of "irritability." Mechanism is no more
positive knowledge than vitalism is; it is only the dogmatic faith of the
majority of present-day naturalists.





Next: Constructive Criticism

Previous: The Position Of Bunge And Other Physiologists



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