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Life And Science
by [?]

Science is supreme in its own sphere, the sphere, or hemisphere, of the objective world, but it does not embrace the whole of human life, because human life is made up of two spheres, or hemispheres, one of which is the subjective world. There is a world within us also, the world of our memories, thoughts, emotions, aspirations, imaginings, which overarches the world of our practical lives and material experience, as the sky overarches the earth. It is in the spirit of science that we conquer and use the material world in which we live; it is in the spirit of art and literature, philosophy and religion, that we explore and draw upon the immaterial world of our own hearts and souls. Of course the man of science is also a philosopher–may I not even say he is also a prophet and poet? Not otherwise could he organize his scientific facts and see their due relations, see their drift and the sequence of forces that bind the universe into a whole. As a man of science he traces out the causes of the tides and the seasons, the nature and origin of disease, and a thousand and one other things; but only as a philosopher can he see the body as a whole and speculate about the mystery of its organization; only as a philosopher can he frame theories and compare values and interpret the phenomena he sees about him.


We can only know, in the scientific sense, the physical and chemical phenomena of life; its essence, its origin, we can only know as philosophy and idealism know them. We have to turn philosophers when we ask any ultimate question. The feeling we have that the scientific conception of life is inadequate springs from the philosophical habit of mind. Yet this habit is quite as legitimate as the scientific habit, and is bound to supplement the latter all through life.

The great men of science, like Darwin and Huxley, are philosophers in their theories and conclusions, and men of science in their observations and experiments. The limitations of science in dealing with such a problem are seen in the fact that science can take no step till it has life to begin with. When it has got the living body, it can analyze its phenomena and reduce them to their chemical and physical equivalents, and thus persuade itself that the secret of life may yet be hit upon in the laboratory. Professor Czapek, of the University of Prague, in his work on “The Chemical Phenomena of Life” speaks for science when he says, “What we call life is nothing else but a complex of innumerable chemical reactions in the living substance which we call protoplasm.” The “living substance” is assumed to begin with, and then we are told that the secret of its living lies in its chemical and physical processes. This is in one sense true. No doubt at all that if these processes were arrested, life would speedily end, but do they alone account for its origin? Is it not like accounting for a baby in terms of its breathing and eating? It was a baby before it did either, and it would seem as if life must in some way ante-date the physical and chemical processes that attend it, or at least be bound up in them in a way that no scientific analysis can reveal.

If life is merely a mode of motion in matter, it is fundamentally unlike any and all other modes of motion, because, while we can institute all the others at will, we are powerless to institute this. The mode of motion we call heat is going on in varying degrees of velocity all about us at all times and seasons, but the vital motion of matter is limited to a comparatively narrow circle. We can end it, but we cannot start it.