Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/187

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175
AIMS, ETC., OF SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT.

had been wrongly stated. Cases were found of wonderfully complicated structures that served no purpose at all; like the teeth of that whale of which you heard in Section D the other day, or of the Dugong, which has a horny palate covering them all up and used instead of them; like the eyes of the unborn mole, that are never used, though perfect as those of a mouse until the skull-opening closes up, cutting them off from the brain, when they dry up and become incapable of use; like the outsides of your own ears, which are absolutely of no use to you. And when human contrivances were more advanced it became clear that the natural adaptations were subject to criticism. The eye, regarded as an optical instrument of human manufacture, was thus described by Helmholtz—the physiologist who learned physics for the sake of his physiology, and mathematics for the sake of his physics, and is now in the first rank of all three. He said, "If an optician sent me that as an instrument, I should send it back to him with grave reproaches for the carelessness of his work, and demand the return of my money."

The extensions of the doctrine into physics were found to be still more at fault. That remarkable property of pure water, which was to have kept the sea from freezing, does not belong to salt-water, of which the sea itself is composed. It was found, in fact, that the idea of a reasonable adaptation of means to ends, useful as it had been in its proper sphere, could yet not be called universal, or applied to the order of Nature as a whole.

Secondly, this idea has given way because it has been superseded by a higher and more general idea of what is reasonable, which has the advantage of being applicable to a large portion of physical phenomena besides. Both the adaptation and the non-adaptation which occur in organic structures have been explained. The scientific thought of Dr. Darwin, of Mr. Herbert Spencer, and of Mr. Wallace, has described that hitherto unknown process of adaptation as consisting of perfectly well-known and familiar processes. There are two kinds of these: the direct processes, in which the physical changes required to produce a structure are worked out by the very actions for which that structure becomes adapted—as the backbone or notocord has been modified from generation to generation, by the bendings which it has undergone; and the indirect processes, included under the head of Natural Selection—the reproduction of children slightly different from their parents, and the survival of those which are best fitted to hold their own in the struggle for existence. Naturalists might give you some idea of the rate at which we are getting explanations of the evolution of all parts of animals and plants—the growth of the skeleton, the nervous system and its mind, of leaf and flower. But what, then, do we mean by explanation?

We were considering just now an explanation of a law of gases—the law according to which pressure increases in the same proportion