The Conservation Of Matter And Energy

1. The whole mechanical theory is based upon a law which is not strictly

biological but belongs to science in general--the law of the conservation

of matter and energy. This was first recognised by Kant as a general

rational concept in his "Critique" and in the "Grundlegung der Metaphysik

der Naturwissenschaft," and was transferred by Robert Mayer and

Helmholtz(59) to the domain of natural science. Just as no particle of

> matter can come from nothing or become nothing, so no quantum of energy

can come from nothing or become nothing. It must come from somewhere and

must remain somewhere. The form of energy is continually changing, but the

sum of energy in the universe remains invariable and constant. Therefore,

it seems to follow, there can be no specific vital phenomena. The energies

concerned in the up-building, growth, and decay of the organism, and the

sum of the functions performed by it, must be the exact resultant and

equivalent of the potential energies stored in its material substance and

the co-operative energies of its environment. The particular course of

transformations they follow must have its sufficient reason in the

configuration of the parts of the organism, in its relations to the

environment, and the like. An intervention of "vitalistic" principles,

directions and so forth, would, we are told, involve a sudden obtrusion

and disappearance again of energy-effects which had no efficient cause in

the previous phenomena. From any point of view it would be a miracle, and

in particular it would be doing violence to the law of the constancy of

the sum of energy.

Apart from the inherent general "instinct"--sit venia verbo, for no more

definite word is available--which is the quiet Socius, the concealed but

powerful spring of the mechanistic convictions, as of most others, this

law of the conservation of energy is probably the really central argument,

and it meets us again more or less disguised in what follows.