Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/152

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130
CHAP.
DARWINISM

this time soft and flexible, the constant repetition of this effort causes the eye gradually to move round the head till it comes to the upper side. Now if we suppose this process, which in the young is completed in a few days or weeks, to have been spread over thousands of generations during the development of these fish, those usually surviving whose eyes retained more and more of the position into which the young fish tried to twist them, the change becomes intelligible; though it still remains one of the most extraordinary cases of degeneration, by which symmetry—which is so universal a characteristic of the higher animals—is lost, in order that the creature may be adapted to a new mode of life, whereby it is enabled the better to escape danger and continue its existence.

The most difficult case of all, that of the eye—the thought of which even to the last, Mr. Darwin says, "gave him a cold shiver"—is nevertheless shown to be not unintelligible; granting of course the sensitiveness to light of some forms of nervous tissue. For he shows that there are, in several of the lower animals, rudiments of eyes, consisting merely of pigment cells covered with a translucent skin, which may possibly serve to distinguish light from darkness, but nothing more. Then we have an optic nerve and pigment cells; then we find a hollow filled with gelatinous substance of a convex form—the first rudiment of a lens. Many of the succeeding steps are lost, as would necessarily be the case, owing to the great advantage of each modification which gave increased distinctness of vision, the creatures possessing it inevitably surviving, while those below them became extinct. But we can well understand how, after the first step was taken, every variation tending to more complete vision would be preserved till we reached the perfect eye of birds and mammals. Even this, as we know, is not absolutely, but only relatively, perfect. Neither the chromatic nor the spherical aberration is absolutely corrected; while long-and short-sightedness, and the various diseases and imperfections to which the eye is liable, may be looked upon as relics of the imperfect condition from which the eye has been raised by variation and natural selection.

These few examples of difficulties as to the origin of remarkable or complex organs must suffice here; but the reader who wishes further information on the matter may study carefully