The Law Of The Conservation Of Energy

Helmholtz's proof established mathematically what Kant had already, by

direct insight, advanced as an a priori fundamental axiom: that in any

given system the sum of energy can neither increase (impossibility of a

perpetuum mobile) nor diminish (there is no disappearance of energy, but

only transformation into another form). But even the vitalist had no need

to deny this proposition. The "energy" which is required for the work of
directing, setting agoing, changing and rearranging the chemico-physical

processes in the body, and bringing about the effective reactions to

stimuli which result in "development," "transmission," "regeneration," and

so on--if indeed any energy is required--of course could not come "from

within" as a spontaneous increase of the existing sum of energy--that

would, indeed, be a magical becoming out of nothing!--but must naturally be

thought of as coming "from without." The appeal to the law of the

conservation of energy is therefore in itself irrelevant; but it conceals

behind it an assertion of a totally different kind, namely, that in

relation to physico-chemical sequences there can be no "without," nothing

transcending them--an assertion which Helmholtz's arguments cannot and were

never intended to establish. But before any definite attitude to this

newly imported assertion could be taken up, it would require to be

distinctly defined, and that would lead us at once into all the depths of

epistemological discussion. Here, therefore, we can only say so much: If

this assertion is accepted it is well to see where it carries us; namely,

back to the first-described naive standpoint, which, without critical

scruples, quite seriously accepts the world as it appears to it for the

reality, and quite seriously speaks of an infinity lying in time behind

us--and therefore come to an end--and is not in the least disturbed from its

"dogmatic slumber" by this or any of the other great antinomies of our

conception of the universe. And it remains, too, for this standpoint to

come to terms with the fact that, in voluntary actions, of which we have

the most direct knowledge, we have through our will the power of

intervention in the physico-chemical nexus of our bodily energies--a fact

which implies the existence of a "without," from which interpolations or

influences may flow into the physico-chemical system, even if there be

none in regard to the domain of "vital" phenomena. And we should require

to find out through what parallelistic or abruptly idealistic system the

"without" was done away with in this case. For if a transcendental basis,

or reverse side, or cause of things, be admitted--even if only in the form

of our materialistic popular metaphysics (the "substance" of Haeckel's

"world-riddle")--then a "without," from which primarily the cosmic system

with its constant sum of matter and energy is explained, is also admitted,

and it is difficult to see why it should have exhausted itself in this

single effort.