Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/97

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87
SENSATION AND SENSIFEROUS ORGANS.

is not a little curious to observe that those who most loudly profess to abstain from such commodities are all the while unconscious consumers, on a great scale, of one or other of their multitudinous disguises or adulterations. With mouths full of the particular kind of heavily buttered toast which they affect, they inveigh against the eating of plain bread. In truth, the attempt to nourish the human intellect upon a diet which contains no metaphysics is about as hopeful as that of certain Eastern sages to nourish their bodies without destroying life. Everybody has heard the story of the pitiless microscopist, who ruined the peace of mind of one of these mild enthusiasts by showing him the animals moving in a drop of the water with which, in the innocency of his heart, he slaked his thirst; and the unsuspecting devotee of plain common sense may look for as unexpected a shock when the magnifier of severe logic reveals the germs, if not the full-grown shapes, of lively metaphysical postulates rampant amid his most positive and matter-of-fact notions.

By way of escape from the metaphysical Will-o'-the-wisps generated in the marshes of literature and theology, the serious student is sometimes bidden to betake himself to the solid ground of physical science. But the fish of immortal memory, who threw himself out of the frying-pan into the fire, was not more ill advised than the man who seeks sanctuary from philosophical persecution within the walls of the observatory or of the laboratory. It is said that "metaphysics" owe their name to the fact that, in Aristotle's works, questions of pure philosophy are dealt with immediately after those of physics. If so, the accident is happily symbolical of the essential relations of things; for metaphysical speculation follows as closely upon physical theory as black care upon the horseman.

One need but mention such fundamental, and indeed indispensable, conceptions of the natural philosopher as those of atoms and forces; or that of attraction considered as action at a distance; or that of potential energy; or the antinomies of a vacuum and a plenum; to call to mind the metaphysical background of physics and chemistry; while, in the biological sciences, the case is still worse. What is an individual among the lower plants and animals? Are genera and species realities or abstractions? Is there such a thing as Vital Force? or does the name denote a mere relic of metaphysical fetichism? Is the doctrine of final causes legitimate or illegitimate? These are a few of the metaphysical topics which are suggested by the most elementary study of biological facts. But, more than this, it may be truly said that the roots of every system of philosophy lie deep among the facts of physiology. No one can doubt that the organs and the functions of Sensation are as much a part of the province of the physiologist as are the organs and functions of motion, or those of digestion; and yet it is impossible to gain an acquaintance with even the rudiments of the physiology of sensation without being led straight to one of the most fundamental of all