« AnteriorContinuar »
POISONS AND CATALYSTS
there is a "vital chemistry” different from ordinary chemistry. Some of the most peculiarly vital chemical processes have lately been found to be precisely similar to those that occur in mineral and inorganic chemistry. Thus fermentation, once thought to depend upon living organisms, is now known to do so only indirectly. Directly, fermentation processes are due to unorganised "enzymes,” secreted by the organism, and these enzymes are analogous to the “catalysts” of inorganic chemistry. A suggestive point is that such catalysts—finely divided platinum metal is one of the commonest used—are “poisoned” by the same poisons-arsenic, prussic acid, and so on-as are most deadly to life. This means that the chemical processes occurring in the living body, through the presence of enzymes, are largely of the same character as those that occur with mineral substances in presence of finely divided platinum and similar "catalysts." The poison acts by destroying the peculiar activities of these catalysts, and so stops the processes they bring about.
I do not wish to imply that bio-chemistry, as yet, has been reduced to a special branch of ordinary chemistry, but that all the principles that govern chemical phenomena in inanimate matter are observed in the processes peculiar to life.
THE ORGANISM AS A MECHANISM UNDER INTERNAL
CONTROL. The achievement of a certain limited, but still very significant, control over the processes of inanimate nature so as to make them proceed to ends different from that which naturally they would take, and, especially, in directions which are useful, or which produce results otherwise only attainable by the complex processes in the living organism, enables us to construct, as it were, a model of the living organism. It is a machine, or mechanical microcosm, under continuous and varying control, by means of an internally resident directing intelligence or personality. It may assist in making the abstraction of the personality from the organism more clear if we consider a somewhat parallel case.
For ages Niagara roared over its gorge in accordance with the laws of nature, uncontrolled. To-day, the laws of Nature are obeyed as perfectly as before, but the flow of the water is under human control to a considerable extent. The sun shines and vaporises the waters of the ocean. The solar energy is used in lifting the water to the skies to descend subsequently as rain, which arrives in due course at the Falls. Here the water suddenly drops 160 feet clear, acquiring a velocity of about 100 feet a second before it mingles with the river in the pool below the fall. At this moment it has mechanical energy, and this is the moment that must be seized if that energy is not to be dissipated and lost for use. A moment later, otherwise, its motion is replaced by commotion, the water eddies and swirls in all directions at once, until its former motion is evenly distributed among its molecules, moving in every possible direction. At this stage the energy has become heat energy, which is due to the perfectly deco-ordinated motion of the individual molecules. If the temperature at the bottom of the fall were taken, it would be found to be about one-ninth of a degree, Centigrade, higher than at the top. Such is a simple natural system, a colossal example of waste and æsthetic indulgence which would have delighted the heart of a Ruskin, but which humanity is scarcely yet so wealthy as to be able to afford.
Now tunnels have been drilled in the rock,
NIAGARA AT WORK
through which a part of the water falls, no longer to run riot in commotion at the bottom, but smoothly to be checked and deprived of its energy in a turbine, to which is geared a dynamo, from which, again, the transformed energy flows out as electric power capable of lightening the labours of men.
Niagara to-day is a mechanism as before, but it has been linked to an external intelligence, capable of guiding and varying its action at will. It is thus one step nearer to being a living organism than before, and it may serve as a rough and partial model of that which I have conceived the living organism to be.
There is no life-body, mind or soul, so far as this world is concerned-no birth, growth or even existence, without a continuous supply and expenditure of energy. For good or evil, man has geared his own mechanism with the unbounded machinery of inanimate Nature, and so has made possible the elimination of the ugliest features of his existence, under wisdom, or their accentuation to a degree hitherto unimagined, under folly. Not only fertilisers but also high explosives, or some of raw materials from which they are made, such as nitric acid, are now largely produced by the power of hydroelectric installations. A modern definition of the i valleys of Switzerland is “glacier at one end and 98 per cent. nitric acid at the other."
Man is thus able to project out of himself the personality, that is in control of his own body, into the mechanism of Nature, so that, without violating any law or principle, a process that goes naturally in a useless direction may be made to go in a direction that is useful. In the control of his own mechanism, similarly, it is the energy of the external inanimate universe which is guided, not coerced, and still less created. The guidance with
drawn, the processes of life resume their uncontrolled natural direction. In low organisms the guidance seems to be largely automatic, a response to stimuli which can be artificially imitated. Even in man, the more important routine functions of life are performed, asleep and awake, by a subconscious regulation, or, as some hold, a subconscious personality. But in the higher animals there has developed a consciousness or awareness
awareness of its individual existence and of the existence of its environment, which intelligently varies and directs the acts of life at will. The mystery is in none of the phenomena of life upon which, perhaps, the most wonder and poetic fervour have been lavished, and which are hardly more wonderful than those that occur in inanimate materials under human guidance. It is in the combination of the intelligent guidance with what, for present purposes, has to be considered a perfectly understandable machine. Separately the two functions are readily comprehensible. Their combination in a single self-contained organism is the real mystery of life.
AN ARGUMENT IN FAVOUR OF THEISM.
It is quite outside my intention or capacity to indulge in any specifically theological argument. But perhaps I may be allowed, in passing, to point out that the argument might be extended in favour of theism. The self-contained organism is not comprehensible, but the combination of an inanimate mechanism and an external will is more intelligible. But there is in man a conscience as well as a consciousness, an ineradicable aspiration towards virtue, which is certainly no less difficult to understand. The combination of the machine and soul is as much a riddle as the combination of machine and
THE PERSONAL DEITY
mind. Theology has striven to separate the two, has abstracted the soul as an independent existence, and regarded it as a projection from and part of a general soul of humanity, existing distinct from and outside of individual men. For the mechanism of Niagara we have the bodily mechanism, and for the personality in control, instead of the humble representative of applied science, the humble individual soul, acting upon orders received from and owing allegiance to an external deity of which it forms a part.
H. G. Wells has defined the main difference between an ordinary, modern, intelligent, welleducated, benevolent and morally right-minded atheist or agnostic and the genuine religious enthusiast, as being in the former's view of his, as I have indicated, very high-minded and unimpeachable personality as a separate isolated existence, independent of all others, and the latter's view that what is benevolent, high-minded and noble in his personality is not a natural consequence of the lifeprocess, but part of a personal God, who responds to and lives in the closest relationship with the individual souls of men.
The engineers in the power-house of Niagara are assuredly not isolated existences actuating their machinery out of their own self-sufficiency. They take their instructions from a superior, and the science and practice embodied in those orders are an accumulation of all that is best in the labours of many men, alive and dead. No single mind could create that knowledge, even if one could be found fully to comprehend it. If you talk to these men at their work, you would find, no doubt, that they were astonishingly self-contained, knowing little of and caring less for the mere theoretical amateurs who, with a few bits of sealing-wax and wire and some