Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/34

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24
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

beings now in the same way that they were first produced. And even though we never could succeed in observing the original production of organisms—to say nothing of experimenting on it—that fact would constitute no absolute objection to our view. Were matter and force intelligible to us, the world would not cease to be so, even though we should conceive the earth to be covered with the most luxuriant growth of vegetable life, from its emerald equatorial girdle to the last lichen-gray cliffs of the pole; and it would remain equally so, whatever share in the formation of the vegetable world we might concede to the laws of organic development, or to natural selection.

But, for reasons which will readily appear, we must leave out of view, in the present consideration, the now well-known indispensable aid rendered by insects in the fertilization of plants. For the rest, the grandest picture ever sketched of a primeval forest in the tropics by Bernardin de St. Pierre, Von Humboldt, or Pöppig, offers to the view of theoretical science absolutely nothing but matter in motion. This, I think, is the new and very simple form that can be given to the argument against "life-force," in the sense of the vitalists.

But now there comes in, at some point in the development of life upon the earth which we cannot ascertain—the ascertainment of which does not concern us here— something new and extraordinary; something incomprehensible, again, as was the case with the essence of matter and force. The thread of intelligence, which stretches back into negatively-infinite time, is broken, and our natural science comes to a chasm across which is no bridge, over which no pinion can carry us: we are here at the other limit of our understanding.

This other incomprehensible is consciousness. I will now, conclusively as I believe, prove that not only is consciousness unexplainable by its material conditions in the present status of science, which every one will readily admit, but that, even in the nature of things, it never can be explained by these conditions. The contrary opinion, that we must not give up all hope of getting at consciousness from its material conditions, and that in the course of hundreds or thousands of years the mind of man, having invaded now unthought-of realms of knowledge, might succeed where we fail—this is the other error which I propose to combat here.

I use the term "consciousness" designedly, the question here being only as to the fact of an intellectual phenomenon, of any kind whatsoever, even of the lowest grade. There is no need to think of Watt, engrossed with his parallelogram, nor of Shakespeare, Raffaelle, or Mozart, engaged in producing their grand creations, in order to have an instance of a mental fact unexplainable by its material conditions. Just as the most powerful and best developed muscular performance of man or animal is in fact no more obscure than the simple-contraction of a single muscle—as the single secretory cell involves the whole problem of secretion—so the most exalted mental activity