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Life and Matter A Criticism of Professor Haeckel's 'Riddle of the Universe'   By: (1851-1940)

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"'Attraction' and 'repulsion' seem to be the sources of will that momentous element of the soul which determines the character of the individual" (p. 45).

"The positive ponderable matter, the element with the feeling of like or desire, is continually striving to complete the process of condensation, and thus collecting an enormous amount of potential energy; the negative imponderable matter, on the other hand, offers a perpetual and equal resistance to the further increase of its strain and of the feeling of dislike connected therewith, and thus gathers the utmost amount of actual energy.

"I think that this pyknotic theory of substance will prove more acceptable to every biologist who is convinced of the unity of nature than the kinetic theory which prevails in physics to day" (p. 78).

In other words, he appeals to a presumed sentiment of biologists against the knowledge of the physicist in his own sphere a strange attitude for a man of science. After this it is less surprising to find him ignoring the elementary axiom that "action and reaction are equal and opposite," i.e. that internal forces can have no motive power on a body as a whole, and making the grotesque assertion that matter is moved, not by external forces, but by internal likes and desires:

"I must lay down the following theses, which are involved in Vogt's pyknotic theory, as indispensable for a truly monistic view of substance, and one that covers the whole field of organic and inorganic nature:

"1. The two fundamental forms of substance, ponderable matter and ether, are not dead and only moved by extrinsic force, but they are endowed with sensation and will (though, naturally, of the lowest grade); they experience an inclination for condensation, a dislike of strain; they strive after the one and struggle against the other" (p. 78).

My desire is to criticise politely, and hence I refrain from characterising this sentence as a physicist should.

"Every shade of inclination, from complete indifference to the fiercest passion, is exemplified in the chemical relation of the various elements towards each other" (p. 79).

"On those phenomena we base our conviction that even the atom is not without a rudimentary form of sensation and will, or, as it is better expressed, of feeling ( ├Žsthesis ) and inclination ( tropesis ) that is, a universal 'soul' of the simplest character" (p. 80).

"I gave the outlines of cellular psychology in 1866 in my paper on 'Cell souls and Soul cells'" (p. 63).

Thus, then, in order to explain life and mind and consciousness by means of matter, all that is done is to assume that matter possesses these unexplained attributes.

What the full meaning of that may be, and whether there be any philosophic justification for any such idea, is a matter on which I will not now express an opinion; but, at any rate, as it stands, it is not science, and its formulation gives no sort of conception of what life and will and consciousness really are.

Even if it were true, it contains nothing whatever in the nature of explanation: it recognises the inexplicable, and relegates it to the atoms, where it seems to hope that further quest may cease. Instead of tackling the difficulty where it actually occurs; instead of associating life, will, and consciousness with the organisms in which they are actually in experience found, these ideas are foisted into the atoms of matter; and then the properties which have been conferred on the atoms are denied in all essential reality to the fully developed organisms which those atoms help to compose!

I show later on (Chapters V. and X.) that there is no necessary justification for assuming that a phenomenon exhibited by an aggregate of particles must be possessed by the ingredients of which it is composed; on the contrary, wholly new properties may make their appearance simply by aggregation; though I admit that such a proposition is by no means obvious, and that it may be a legitimate subject for controversy... Continue reading book >>

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