Page:Aether and Matter, 1900.djvu/202
possesses all the dynamical properties of a vortex ring in a frictionless fluid, so that everything that can be done in the domain of vortex-ring illustration is implicitly attached to the present scheme. The fact that virtually nothing has been achieved in the department of forces of cohesion is not a valid objection to the development of a theory of the present kind. For the aim of theoretical physics is not a complete and summary conquest of the modus operandi of natural phenomena: that would be hopelessly unattainable if only for the reason that the mental apparatus with which we conduct the search is itself in one of its aspects a part of the scheme of Nature which it attempts to unravel. But the very fact that this is so is evidence of a correlation between the process of thought and the processes of external phenomena, and is an incitement to push on further and bring out into still clearer and more direct view their inter-connexions. When we have mentally reduced to their simple elements the correlations of a large domain of physical phenomena, an objection does not lie because we do not know the way to push the same principles to the explanation of other phenomena to which they should presumably apply, but which are mainly beyond the reach of our direct examination.
The natural conclusion would rather be that a scheme, which has been successful in the simple and large-scale physical phenomena that we can explore in detail, must also have its place, with proper modifications or additions on account of the difference of scale, in the more minute features of the material world as to which direct knowledge in detail is not available. And in any case, whatever view may be held as to the necessity of the whole complex of chemical reaction being explicable in detail by an efficient physical scheme, a limit is imposed when vital activity is approached: any complete analysis of the conditions of the latter, when merely superficial sequences of phenomena are excluded, must remain outside the limits of our reasoning faculties. The object of scientific explanation is in fact to coordinate mentally, but not to exhaust, the interlaced maze of natural phenomena: a theory which gives an adequate correlation of a portion of this field maintains its