La Mettrie, and sin against one of the first rules of philosophizing—"Entia non creanda sunt sine necessitate"; for what purpose does consciousness serve, what mechanism? And if the atoms feel, what need of organs of sense? He furthermore overlooks the difficulty that I have fully pointed out, of comprehending how the numerous "atom-souls" can give rise to the aggregated consciousness of the whole brain.
A more accomplished morphologist might he excused for not being able to distinguish the ideas of will and force, for misconceptions similar to this have been shown even by better-schooled men. Philosophers and physicists have attempted to explain the distant action of bodies upon each other through presumably empty space by means of a will dwelling within the atoms. A wonderful will, indeed, that must always belong to two!—that must will whether it wills or not, and that in the direct ratio of the product of the masses, and the inverse ratio of the square of the distance!—a will, the projected subject of which must move in a conic section—a will that reminds us of the faith that can move mountains, but which has never been taken account of in mechanics as a cause of motion.
At all events, the opposition that has been offered to my assertion of the incomprehensibility of consciousness on a mechanical theory, shows how mistaken is the idea of the later philosophy that that incomprehensibility is self-evident. It appears, rather, that all philosophizing upon the mind must begin with the statement of this point, and thus with one of my corresponding arguments; if mechanical consciousness were comprehensible, there would be, in the strict sense, no metaphysics.
A more recent effort to enlarge the barriers of knowledge and throw light upon the nature of matter proceeds from the Scottish mathematico-physical school, from Sir William Thomson and that Mr. Tait whose chauvinism renewed the dispute over Leibnitz's part in the discovery of the infinitesimal calculus, and who went so far as to call Leibnitz a thief, and to whom, therefore, the honor of being named in this hall does not properly belong. Sir William Thomson and Mr. Tait believe that certain important peculiarities that we must ascribe to atoms may be derived from the remarkable properties which Herr Helmholtz has discovered in the vortices of fluids. While it would be rash lightly to reject this theory because it may fall short on some points, it can be safely asserted that it is as little competent as any of the previous theories to reconcile the contradictions which our understanding encounters in its efforts to comprehend matter and force. It, moreover, acknowledges the second of the difficulties that oppose our conception of the world, by granting that the vortex-movement either has existed from eternity or has arisen through a supernatural impulse.
We may count and distinguish seven of these difficulties, of which I call those transcendental which appear insurmountable when we