Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/551

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535
THE MATERIAL VIEW OF LIFE.

trine that there is no fundamental difference whether of properties or of governing laws between the animate and the inaminate. The chemist turns starch into sugar in the laboratory; the intestines do the same.

We find at the beginning of this century a theory supported by Lavoisier which declared that, to form an organic compound, life was necessary. The organic compounds had properties essentially different from the inorganic or mineral, and were formed under different influences—under the influence of a "vital force."

The greatest blow to this theory was the discovery by Wöhler, in 1828, that he could make urea in the laboratory. Here, then, was a characteristic animal substance, which was actually formed in the laboratory without the intervention of any "vital force" whatever. Since Wöhler's discovery an overwhelming number of similar bodies have been formed in like manner. Sugar may be made from its elements—carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There is little doubt that at some future time the method of making all the materials of any organization will be known to the chemist.

It has been said that organic materials are more easily decomposable than inorganic; but albumen, if dried, will keep for years, whereas silver iodide on the sensitive photographic plate is changed by light in the hundred-thousandth part of a second.

Hence, it is not difference in materials that can distinguish the organized from the unorganized. Indeed, every organization consists in major part of water, which is inorganic, and every organization must contain salts. In both organic and inorganic we find crystals; white of egg, has already been crystallized. In fact, there is no boundary to be drawn. Over the organic and inorganic rule the same natural laws. The distinction is merely conventional.

The difference between the organized and the unorganized does not lie in the materials represented, only in the arrangement of the materials. The element of life is the minute cell. All life in the organization is dependent upon the activity of the cells. I have said that the conditions in the organized were different from those in the unorganized. The cell furnishes the conditions for life. Now, the arrangement of the materials in the cell is different from that in unorganized matter. In the piece of copper or crystal of sugar the smallest particles are everywhere the same. In the living organized cell the smallest particles are everywhere different. Such arrangement of materials that the conditions for life are present is the so-called protoplasm.

The yeast cell is a microscopic sausage-shaped organization which, under proper conditions, changes sugar into alcohol and carbonic acid. This is a characteristic function. In the same manner the cells in the body have their characteristic functions in decomposing the materials furnished by the blood.