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The Living Wave
by [?]


If one attempts to reach any rational conclusion on the question of the nature and origin of life on this planet, he soon finds himself in close quarters with two difficulties. He must either admit of a break in the course of nature and the introduction of a new principle, the vital principle, which, if he is a man of science, he finds it hard to do; or he must accept the theory of the physico-chemical origin of life, which, as a being with a soul, he finds it equally hard to do. In other words, he must either draw an arbitrary line between the inorganic and the organic when he knows that drawing arbitrary lines in nature, and fencing off one part from another, is an unscientific procedure, and one that often leads to bewildering contradictions; or he must look upon himself with all his high thoughts and aspirations, and upon all other manifestations of life, as merely a chance product of the blind mechanical and chemical action and interaction of the inorganic forces.

Either conclusion is distasteful. One does not like to think of himself as a chance hit of the irrational physical elements; neither does he feel at ease with the thought that he is the result of any break or discontinuity in natural law. He likes to see himself as vitally and inevitably related to the physical order as is the fruit to the tree that bore it, or the child to the mother that carried it in her womb, and yet, if only mechanical and chemical forces entered into his genesis, he does not feel himself well fathered and mothered.

One may evade the difficulty, as Helmholtz did, by regarding life as eternal–that it had no beginning in time; or, as some other German biologists have done, that the entire cosmos is alive and the earth a living organism.

If biogenesis is true, and always has been true,–no life without antecedent life,–then the question of a beginning is unthinkable. It is just as easy to think of a stick with only one end.

Such stanch materialists and mechanists as Haeckel and Verworn seem to have felt compelled, as a last resort, to postulate a psychic principle in nature, though of a low order. Haeckel says that most chemists and physicists will not hear a word about a “soul” in the atom. “In my opinion, however,” he says, “in order to explain the simplest physical and chemical processes, we must necessarily assume a low order of psychical activity among the homogeneous particles of plasm, rising a very little above that of the crystal.” In crystallization he sees a low degree of sensation and a little higher degree in the plasm.

Have we not in this rudimentary psychic principle which Haeckel ascribes to the atom a germ to start with that will ultimately give us the mind of man? With this spark, it seems to me, we can kindle a flame that will consume Haeckel’s whole mechanical theory of creation. Physical science is clear that the non-living or inorganic world was before the living or organic world, but that the latter in some mysterious way lay folded in the former. Science has for many years been making desperate efforts to awaken this slumbering life in its laboratories, but has not yet succeeded, and probably never will succeed. Life without antecedent life seems a biological impossibility. The theory of spontaneous generation is rejected by the philosophical mind, because our experience tells us that everything has its antecedent, and that there is and can be no end to the causal sequences.

Spencer believes that the organic and inorganic fade into each other by insensible gradations–that no line can be drawn between them so that one can say, on this side is the organic, on that the inorganic. In other words, he says it is not necessary for us to think of an absolute commencement of organic life, or of a first organism–organic matter was not produced all at once, but was reached through steps or gradations. Yet it puzzles one to see how there can be any gradations or degrees between being and not being. Can there be any halfway house between something and nothing?