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The Living Wave
by [?]

New tendencies and activities are set up among these elements, but the elements themselves are not changed; oxygen is still oxygen and carbon still carbon, yet behold the wonder of their new workmanship under the tutelage of life!

Life only appears when the stable passes into the unstable, yet this change takes place all about us in our laboratories, and no life appears. We can send an electric spark through a room full of oxygen and hydrogen gas, and with a tremendous explosion we have water–an element of life, but not life.

Some of the elements seem nearer life than others. Water is near life; heat, light, the colloid state are near life; osmosis, oxidation, chemical reactions are near life; the ashes of inorganic bodies are nearer life than the same minerals in the rocks and soil; but none of these things is life.

The chemical mixture of some of the elements gives us our high explosives–gunpowder, guncotton, and the like; their organic mixture gives a slower kind of explosive–bread, meat, milk, fruit, which, when acted upon by the vital forces of the body, yield the force that is the equivalent of the work the body does. But to combine them in the laboratory so as to produce the compounds out of which the body can extract force is impossible. We can make an unstable compound that will hurl a ton of iron ten miles, but not one that when exploded in the digestive tract of the human body will lift a hair.

We may follow life down to the ground, yes, under the ground, into the very roots of matter and motion, yea, beyond the roots, into the imaginary world of molecules and atoms, and their attractions and repulsions and not find its secret. Indeed, science–the new science–pursues matter to the vanishing-point, where it ceases to become matter and becomes pure force or spirit. What takes place in that imaginary world where ponderable matter ends and becomes disembodied force, and where the hypothetical atoms are no longer divisible, we may conjecture but may never know. We may fancy the infinitely little going through a cycle of evolution like that of the infinitely great, and solar systems developing and revolving inside of the ultimate atoms, but the Copernicus or the Laplace of the atomic astronomy has not yet appeared. The atom itself is an invention of science. To get the mystery of vitality reduced to the atom is getting it in very close quarters, but it is a very big mystery still. Just how the dead becomes alive, even in the atom, is mystery enough to stagger any scientific mind. It is not the volume of the change; it is the quality or kind. Chemistry and mechanics we have always known, and they always remain chemistry and mechanics. They go into our laboratories and through our devices chemistry and mechanics, and they come out chemistry and mechanics. They will never come out life, conjure with them as we will, and we can get no other result. We cannot inaugurate the mystic dance among the atoms that will give us the least throb of life.

The psychic arises out of the organic and the organic arises out of the inorganic, and the inorganic arises out of–what? The relation of each to the other is as intimate as that of the soul to the body; we cannot get between them even in thought, but the difference is one of kind and not of degree. The vital transcends the mechanical, and the psychic transcends the vital–is on another plane, and yet without the sun’s energy there could be neither. Thus are things knit together; thus does one thing flow out of or bloom out of another. We date from the rocks, and the rocks date from the fiery nebulae, and the loom in which the texture of our lives was woven is the great loom of vital energy about us and in us; but what hand guided the shuttle and invented the pattern–who knows?