Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/551

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
533
ON THE STUDY OF BIOLOGY.

of the position of man in this universe, and his relation to the rest of Nature. We have almost all of us been told, and most of us hold by the tradition, that man occupies an isolated and peculiar position in Nature; that though he is in the world he is not of the world; that his relations to things about him are of a remote character, that his origin is recent, his duration likely to be short, and that he is the great central figure round which other things in this world revolve. But this is not what the biologists tell us. At the present moment you will be kind enough to separate me from them, because it is in no way essential to my argument just now that I should advocate their views. Don't suppose that I am saying this for the purpose of escaping the responsibility of their beliefs, because at other times and in other places I do not think that point has been left doubtful; but I want clearly to point out to you that for my present argument they may all be wrong; nevertheless, my argument will hold good. The biologists tell us that all this is an entire mistake. They turn to the physical organization of man. They examine his whole structure, his bony frame, and all that clothes it. They resolve him into the finest particles into which the microscope will enable them to break him up. They consider the performance of his various functions and activities, and they look at the manner in which he occurs on the surface of the world. Then they turn to other animals, and, taking the first handy domestic animal—say a dog—they profess to be able to demonstrate that the analysis of the dog leads them in gross to precisely the same results as the analysis of the man; that they find almost identically the same bones, having the same relations; that they can name the muscles of the dog by the names of the muscles of the man, and the nerves of the dog by those of the nerves of the man, and that such structures and organs of sense as we find in the man such also we find in the dog; they analyze the brain and spinal cord, and find the nomenclature which does for the one answer for the other. They carry their microscopic inquiries in the case of the dog as far as they can, and they find that his body is resolvable into the same elements as those of the man. Moreover, they trace back the dog's and the man's development, and they find that at a certain stage of their existence the two creatures are not distinguishable the one from the other; they find that the dog and his kind have a certain distribution over the surface of the world comparable in its way to the distribution of the human species. What is true of the dog they tell us is true of all the higher animals; and they find that for the whole of these creatures they can lay down a common plan, and regard the man and the dog, the horse and the ox, as minor modifications of one great fundamental unity. Moreover, the investigations of the last three-quarters of a century have proved, they tell us, that similar inquiries carried out through all the different kinds of animals which are met with in Nature will lead us, not in one straight series, but by many roads,