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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



Theory Of Life








What is life--not in the spiritual and transcendental sense, but in its
physical and physiological aspects? What is this mysterious complex of
processes and phenomena, common to everything animate, from the seaweed to
the rose, and from the human body to the bacterium, this ability to "move"
of itself, to change and yet to remain like itself, to take up dead
substances into itself, to assimilate and to excrete, to initiate and
sustain, in respiration, in nutrition, in external and internal movements,
the most complex chemical and physical processes, to develop and build up
through a long series of stages a complete whole from the primitive
beginnings in the germ, to grow, to become mature, and gradually to break
up again, and with all this to repeat in itself the type of its parent,
and to bring forth others like itself, thus perpetuating its own species,
to react effectively to stimuli, to produce protective devices against
injury, and to regenerate lost parts? All this is done by living
organisms, all this is the expression in them of "Life." What is it?
Whence comes it? And how can it be explained?

The problem of the nature of life, of the principle of vitality, is almost
as old as philosophy itself, and from the earliest times in which men
began to ponder over the problem, the same antitheses have been apparent
which we find to-day. Disguised under various catchwords and with the
greatest diversities of expression, the antitheses remain essentially the
same through the centuries, competing with one another, often mingling
curiously, so that from time to time one or other almost disappears, but
always crops up again, so that it seems as if the conflict would be a
never-ending one--the antitheses between the mechanical and the
"vitalistic" view of life. On the one side there is the conviction that
the processes of life may be interpreted in terms of natural processes of
a simple and obvious kind, indeed directly in terms of those which are
most general and most intelligible--namely, the simplest movements of the
smallest particles of matter, which are governed by the same laws as
movement in general. And associated with this is the attempt to take away
any special halo from around the processes of life, to admit even here no
other processes but the mechanical ones, and to explain everything as the
effect of material causes. On the opposite side is the conviction that
vital phenomena occupy a special and peculiar sphere in the world of
natural phenomena, a higher platform; that they cannot be explained by
merely physical or chemical or mechanical factors, and that, if
"explaining" means reducing to terms of such factors, they do in truth
include something inexplicable. These opposing conceptions of the living
and the organic have been contrasted with one another, in most precise
form and exact expression, by Kant in certain chapters of the Kritik der
Urteilskraft, which must be regarded as a classic for our subject.(56) But
as far as their general tendency is concerned, they were already
represented in the nature-philosophies of Democritus on the one hand, and
of Aristotle on the other.

All the essential constituents of the modern mechanical theories are
really to be found in Democritus, the causal interpretation, the denial of
any operative purposes or formative principles, the admission and
assertion of quantitative explanations alone, the denial of qualities, the
reduction of all cosmic developments to the "mechanics of the atom" (even
to attractions and repulsions, thus setting aside the "energies"), the
inevitable necessity of these mechanical sequences, indeed at bottom even
the conviction of the "constancy of the sum of matter and energy." (For,
as he says, "nothing comes out of nothing.") And although he makes the
"soul" the principle of the phenomena of life, that is in no way
contradictory to his general mechanical theory, but is quite congruent
with it. For the "soul" is to him only an aggregation of thinner,
smoother, and rounder atoms, which as such are more mobile, and can, as it
were, quarter themselves in the body, but nevertheless stand in a purely
mechanical relation to it.

Aristotle, who was well aware of the diametrical opposition, represents,
as compared with Democritus, the Socratic-Platonic teleological
interpretation of nature, and in regard to the question of living
organisms his point of view may quite well be designated by the modern
name of "vitalism." Especially in his theory of the vegetable soul, the
essence of vitalism is already contained. It is the {~GREEK SMALL LETTER LAMDA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON WITH OXIA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER GAMMA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA~} {~GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON WITH PSILI~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER NU~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER LAMDA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA~} (logos
enhylos), the idea immanent in the matter, the conceptual essence of the
organism, or its ideal whole, which is inherent in it from its beginnings
in the germ, and determines, like a directing law, all its vegetative
processes, and so raises it from a state of "possibility" to one of
"reality." All that we meet with later as "nisus formativus," as
"life-force" (vis vitalis), as "endeavour after an end" (Zielstrebigkeit),
is included in the scope of Aristotelian thought. And he has the advantage
over many of his successors of being very much clearer.(57)

The present state of the problem of life may be regarded as due to a
reaction of biological investigation and opinion from the "vitalistic"
theories which prevailed in the first half of last century, and which were
in turn at once the root and the fruit of the German Nature-philosophy of
that time.

Lotze in his oft-quoted article, "Leben, Lebenskraft" (Life, Vital Force),
in Wagner's "Hand-Woerterbuch der Physiologie," 1842, gave the signal for
this reaction. The change, however, did not take place suddenly. The most
important investigators in their special domain, the physiologist Johannes
Mueller, the chemist Julius Liebig, remained faithful to a modified
vitalistic standpoint. But in the following generation the revolution was
complete and energetic. With Du Bois-Reymond, Virchow, Haeckel, the
anti-vitalistic trend became more definite and more widespread. It had a
powerful ally in the Darwinian theory, which had been promulgated
meanwhile, and at the same time in the increasingly materialistic tendency
of thought, which afforded support to the mechanical system and also
sought foundations in it.

The naturalistic, "mechanical" interpretation of life was so much in the
tenor of Darwin's doctrine that it would have arisen out of it if it had
not existed before. It is so generally regarded as a self-evident and
necessary corollary of the strictly Darwinian doctrine, that it is often
included with it under the name of Darwinism, although Darwin personally
did not devote any attention to the problem of the mechanical
interpretation of life. Any estimate of the value of one must be
associated with an estimate of the other also.

It goes without saying that the theory of life is dependent upon, and in a
large measure consists of physico-chemical interpretations,
investigations, and methods. For ever since the attention of investigators
was directed to the problems of growth, of nutrition, of development and
so on, and particularly as knowledge has passed from primitive and
unmethodical forms to real science, it has been taken as a matter of
course that chemical and physical processes play a large part in life, and
indeed that everything demonstrable, visible, or analysable, does come
about "naturally," as it is said. And from the vitalistic standpoint it
has to be asked whether detailed biological investigation and analysis can
ever accomplish more than the observation and tracing out of these
chemical and physical processes. Anything beyond this will probably be
only the defining and formulating of the limits of its own proper sphere
of inquiry, and a recognition, though no knowledge, of what lies beyond
and of the co-operative factors. The difference between vitalism and the
mechanical theory of life is not, that the one regards the processes in
the organism as opposed to those in the inorganic world while the other
identifies them, but that vitalism regards life as a combination of
chemical and physical processes, with the co-operation and under the
regulation of other principles, while the mechanical theory leaves these
other principles out.

Notwithstanding the many noteworthy reactions, we are bound to regard the
present state of the theory of life as on the whole mechanical. The
majority of experts--not to speak of the popular materialists, and
especially those who, sailing under the flag of materialistic
interpretation, have their ships full of vitalistic contraband--regard as
the ideal of their science an ultimate analysis of the phenomena of life
into mechanical processes, into "mechanics of the atom." They believe in
this ideal, and without concealing that it is still very far off, do not
doubt its ultimate attainability, and regard vitalistic assumptions as
obstacles to the progress of investigation. Moreover, this aspect of the
problem seems likely enough to be permanent with the majority, or, at any
rate, with many naturalists, though it is obviously one-sided. For it has
always been the task of this line of investigation to extend the sphere
within which physical and chemical laws can be validly applied in
interpreting vital processes, and the results reached along this line will
always be so numerous and important that even on psychological grounds the
mechanical point of view has the best chance for the future. Furthermore,
the maxim that all the phenomena of nature must be explained by means of
the simplest factors and according to the smallest possible number of
laws, is usually regarded as one of the most legitimate maxims of science
in general, so that the resolute pertinacity with which many investigators
maintain the entire sufficiency of the mechanical interpretation, far from
being condemned as materialistic fanaticism, must be respected as the
expression of scientific conscience. Even when confidence in the one-sided
mechanical interpretation of vital processes sometimes fails in face of
the great and striking riddles of life, it is to be expected that it will
revive again with each new success, great or small.(58)

The mechanical conception of life which now prevails is made up of the
following characteristics and component elements. These also indicate the
lines along which the arguments are worked out--lines which glimmered
faintly through the mechanical theories of ancient times, but which have
now been definitely formulated and supported by evidence.





Next: The Conservation Of Matter And Energy

Previous: Contrast Between Darwinian And Post-darwinian Views



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