Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/563

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THE CONSTITUTION OF MATTER.
THE CONSTITUTION OF MATTER.
By FERNAND PAPILLON.

TRANSLATED BY A. R. MACDONOUGH.

WHATEVER empirics and utilitarians may say of them, there are certainties apart from the experimental method, and there is progress disconnected with brilliant or beneficent applications. The mind of man may put forth its power in laboring in harmony with reason, yet discover genuine truths in a sphere as far above that of laboratories and manufactures as their sphere is above the region of the coarsest arts. In a word, there is a temple of light that unfolds its portals to the soul neither through calculation nor through experiment, which the soul nevertheless enters with authority and confidence, so long as it holds the consciousness of its sovereign prerogatives. When will professed scientists, better informed of the close connection between metaphysics and science, whence our modern knowledge of Nature has sprung, better taught in the necessary laws that govern the conflict of reason with the vast unknown, confess that there are realities beyond those they attain? When will science, instead of the arrogant indifference it assumes in presence of philosophy, admit the fertility beyond estimate of the latter? It may be that the hour of this reconciliation, so much to be longed for, is less remote than many suppose; at least, every day brings us nearer to it. The spirit of Descartes cannot fail to arouse before long some genius mighty enough to revive among us a taste and respect for thought in all the departments of scientific activity. Deserted as high abstractions are for the moment, they are not, thank Heaven, so utterly abandoned as to deprive study of its ardor, and essays of their success, when these relate to the problem of the constitution of matter. In fact, this is a question which for several years past has occupied some among our own savants and thinkers, as completely as it has employed most of those of the rest of Europe, a question which bears witness with peculiar eloquence to this fact, that, if philosophers are forced to borrow largely from science, in its turn science can retain clearness, and elevation, and strength, only by drawing its inspiration from, and recognizing its inseparable connection with, the abstract consideration of hidden causes and of first principles.

 
I.

Matter is presented under a great variety of appearances. Let us consider it in its most complicated state, in the human body, for instance. In this, ordinary dissection distinguishes organs, which may be resolved into tissues. The disintegration of the latter yields ana-