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Life And Science
by [?]

The rigidly scientific type of mind sees no greater mystery in the difference in contour of different animal bodies than a mere difference in the density of the germ cells: “one density results in a sequence of cell-densities to form a horse; another a dog; another a cat”; and avers that if we “repeat the same complex conditions, the same results are as inevitable as the sequences of forces that result in the formation of hydrogen monoxide from hydrogen and oxygen.”

Different degrees of density may throw light on the different behavior of gases and fluids and solids, but can it throw any light on the question of why a horse is a horse, and a dog a dog? or why one is an herbivorous feeder, and the other a carnivorous?

The scientific explanation of life phenomena is analogous to reducing a living body to its ashes and pointing to them–the lime, the iron, the phosphorus, the hydrogen, the oxygen, the carbon, the nitrogen–as the whole secret.

Professor Czapek is not entirely consistent. He says that it is his conviction that there is something in physiology that transcends the chemistry and the physics of inorganic nature. At the same time he affirms, “It becomes more and more improbable that Life develops forces which are unknown in inanimate Nature.” But psychic forces are a product of life, and they certainly are not found in inanimate nature. But without laying stress upon this fact, may we not say that if no new force is developed by, or is characteristic of, life, certainly new effects, new processes, new compounds of matter are produced by life? Matter undergoes some change that chemical analysis does not reveal. The mystery of isomeric substances appears, a vast number of new compounds of carbon appear, the face of the earth changes. The appearance of life in inert matter is a change analogous to the appearance of the mind of man in animate nature. The old elements and forces are turned to new and higher uses. Man does not add to the list of forces or elements in the earth, but he develops them, and turns them to new purposes; they now obey and serve him, just as the old chemistry and physics obey and serve life. Czapek tells us of the vast number of what are called enzymes, or ferments, that appear in living bodies–“never found in inorganic Nature and not to be gained by chemical synthesis.” Orders and suborders of enzymes, they play a part in respiration, in digestion, in assimilation. Some act on the fats, some on the carbohydrates, some produce inversion, others dissolution and precipitation. These enzymes are at once the products and the agents of life. They must exert force, chemical force, or, shall we say, they transform chemical force into life force, or, to use Professor Moore’s term, into “biotic energy”?


The inorganic seems dreaming of the organic. Behold its dreams in the fern and tree forms upon the window pane and upon the stone flagging of a winter morning! In the Brunonian movement of matter in solution, in crystallization, in chemical affinity, in polarity, in osmosis, in the growth of flint or chert nodules, in limestone formations–like seeking like–in these and in other activities, inert matter seems dreaming of life.

The chemists have played upon this tendency in the inorganic to parody or simulate some of the forms of living matter. A noted European chemist, Dr. Leduc, has produced what he calls “osmotic growths,” from purely unorganized mineral matter–growths in form like seaweed and polyps and corals and trees. His seeds are fragments of calcium chloride, and his soil is a solution of the alkaline carbonates, phosphates, or silicates. When his seeds are sown in these solutions, we see inert matter germinating, “putting forth bud and stem and root and branch and leaf and fruit,” precisely as in the living vegetable kingdom. It is not a growth by accretion, as in crystallization, but by intussusception, as in life. These ghostly things exhibit the phenomena of circulation and respiration and nutrition, and a crude sort of reproduction by budding; they repair their injuries, and are able to perform periodic movements, just as does an animal or a plant; they have a period of vigorous youthful growth, of old age, of decay, and of death. In form, in color, in texture, and in cell structure, they imitate so closely the cell structures of organic growth as to suggest something uncanny or diabolical. And yet the author of them does not claim that they are alive. They are not edible, they contain no protoplasm–no starch or sugar or peptone or fats or carbohydrates. These chemical creations by Dr. Leduc are still dead matter–dead colloids–only one remove from crystallization; on the road to life, fore-runners of life, but not life. If he could set up the chlorophyllian process in his chemical reactions among inorganic compounds, the secret of life would be in his hands. But only the green leaf can produce chlorophyll; and yet, which was first, the leaf or the chlorophyll?