« AnteriorContinuar »
All this, of course, does not in the least affect or minimise the practical importance of the conception of the chemical elements as understood before these discoveries. Every chemist knows the conception has had and will continue to have a real significance as representing the limit of the spectroscopic and chemical analysis of matter which remains, although it now is known to convey something very different from the original and natural conception of the chemical elements as the m n's of the material alphabet.
MATTER, ENERGY, CONSCIOUSNESS
THE feeling is gradually awakening in the consciousness of the community, that the discoveries and advances made by science in the past century are not such as they have been accustomed to be represented by people to whom they are a sealed book, as important to money-making and trade, for waging war and overtaking the heavy drudgery of the world, but in an altogether different category from humane studies. The scientific materialist in seeking to understand the external physical universe, and the relation in which men stand thereto, has invaded territories which formerly the humanist and theologian had to themselves, and made discoveries which are essential to the understanding of modern life and its problems. If it were necessary to make choice between the old and the new in its relation to the world of to-day, rather than in relation to some remote childhood of the world, the knowledge gained in the last hundred years surely is the part of the whole of knowledge which could least be spared. It is just this part which men who have to govern modern peoples, administer the affairs of present-day empires, and instruct and educate the youth of the world, usually know least about. That science has something to say apart from its
1 Lecture to the Aberdeen University Christian Union, Marischal College, 25th April 1919.
application to the material and utilitarian interests of men, that its revelation is both clear and inspiring, "a source not merely of material convenience but of spiritual elevation," as Mr Arthur Balfour has said, is, however, now being more generally understood.
Science has wrecked beyond repair certain dogmas and beliefs generally current prior to the development of the doctrine of evolution on the biological side. That doctrine has completely reversed the traditional outlook of men and turned their highest interest from the contemplation of the past to the problems of the future. But physical science, the science, in the first instance, of the inanimate world, contemporaneously with these great developments of biology, has contributed in its doctrine of energy an advance of direct and living human interest certainly not less, and possibly even of greater fundamental importance than the conception of evolution. It, therefore, is almost a duty of the scientific man, however little he may desire or feel himself competent for the task, to attempt to rebuild as well as destroy, and to state, so far as he can, what is his view of the matters in which hitherto the priest and the philosopher have, with insufficient knowledge of external nature, been left to themselves. Such a synthesis has been hitherto attempted, if at all, from the standpoint of biological science, with which, I need scarcely say, I am totally unfitted to deal. In approaching it from the purely physical standpoint, one has the very great advantage that one starts from a basis which now may be considered beyond controversy or cavil, and which even the phenomena of life cannot complicate or make obscure. On the other hand, the corresponding disadvantage is that one starts farther off from and has a greater distance to go
to reach the domain that has to be brought into reconciliation with external nature. The biologist dealing with life from the scientific standpoint has the more central position. The ultimate problems of matter and energy, on the one hand, and consciousness and spirit, on the other, lie equally outside his true domain, and are apt to appear, perhaps, equally inaccessible and mysterious. The physicist from his more extreme standpoint, completely outside of the realm of life, may not be able to see very far, but what he can see is seen with all the certainty and definiteness that distinguish and characterise the explanation of the phenomena with which he deals. Do not draw the hasty conclusion that, because the clarity and unanimity reached in the study of inanimate nature have not been approached in the study of life, they have therefore no application whatever to the higher aspects of life. On the contrary, I hope to show that, as regards what it is impossible to believe at least, they effect a not inconsiderable simplification, and so pave the way at least for a more definite and truer human philosophy to replace the old.
IMMORTALITY OR THE CONSERVATION OF
Life, so far as our direct experience is concerned, is lived in an intimate relation with the external physical universe, and the breaking of that connection is death. Almost before men could count or reason correctly about the simplest phenomena, they have contended that life transcends the breaking of the bond between it and the external world and persists after it has departed from this world. The attitude of mind is very familiar in science, as in other fields. Amid a world of appearance and
change, science seeks the fundamental and abiding realities, and the test it applies is the test of conservation." Whatever is conserved unchanged during all possible changes is regarded as real. We speak of the conservation of matter, because though, to casual observation, matter is anything but conserved,-for example, fuel is "consumed by fire, and the acorn grows into the oak,—yet the appearances are false, and the total amount of matter remains constant in these as in all other changes.
Nor is it necessary that what is conserved should be material and tangible. We speak of the conservation of energy, meaning that in the variegated interplay of matter, motion and force, whatever happens, however complicated the mechanism or however violent and catastrophic the events, something is unchanged and remains the same before and after, and that something is termed energy. It is a complex conception capable of being illustrated in simple cases by reference to actual phenomena, but to be accurately defined needs to be expressed as a mathematical relation between the matter, forces and motions involved. But nothing, not even money, has a more real existence.
In modern science, matter and energy are the unchangeable realities that can neither be created nor destroyed. If they appear they must come from somewhere, and if they disappear they must go somewhere. So whatever extraordinary events may occur, behind the changing appearances there is a definite basis of unalterable reality in the physical world.
The doctrine of the immortality of the spirit or conservation of personality may be regarded as the inverse form of the scientific argument above. The real part of a man is not his bodily organism, which is continually wasting away and being as continually