Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/157

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

for a negative conclusion is the absence of those outward manifestations from which feeling is usually inferred. But even these are not entirely absent. In the greenhouses of Kew we may see that a leaf can close, in response to a proper stimulus, as promptly as the human fingers themselves; and while there Dr. Hooker will tell us of the wondrous fly-catching and fly-devouring power of the Dionæa. No man can say that the feelings of the animal are not represented by a drowsier consciousness in the vegetable world. At all events, no line has ever been drawn between the conscious and the unconscious; for the vegetable shades into the animal by such fine gradations, that it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other begins.

In all such inquiries we are necessarily limited by our own powers: we observe what our senses, armed with the aids furnished by science, enable us to observe; nothing more. The evidences as to consciousness in the vegetable world depend wholly upon our capacity to observe and weigh them. Alter the capacity, and the evidence would alter too. Would that which to us is a total absence of any manifestation of consciousness be the same to a being with our capacities indefinitely multiplied? To such a being I can imagine not only the vegetable, but the mineral world, responsive to the proper irritants; the response differing only in degree from those exaggerated manifestations which, in virtue of their grossness, appeal to our weak powers of observation.

Our conclusions, however, must be based, not on powers that we can imagine, but upon those that we possess. What do they reveal? As the earth and atmosphere offer themselves as the nutriment of the vegetable world, so does the latter, which contains no constituent not found in inorganic nature, offer itself to the animal world. Mixed with certain inorganic substances—water, for example—the vegetable constitutes, in the long-run, the sole sustenance of the animal. Animals may be divided into two classes, the first of which can utilize the vegetable world immediately, having chemical forces strong enough to cope with its most refractory parts; the second class use the vegetable world mediately; that is to say, after its finer portions have been extracted and stored up by the first. But in neither class have we an atom newly created. The animal world is, so to say, a distillation through the vegetable world from inorganic nature.

From this point of view all three worlds would constitute a unity, in which I picture life as immanent everywhere. Nor am I anxious to shut out the idea that the life here spoken of may be but a subordinate part and function of a higher life, as the living, moving blood is subordinate to the living man. I resist no such idea as long as it is not dogmatically imposed. Left for the human mind freely to operate upon, the idea has ethical vitality; but, stiffened into a dogma, this inner force disappears, and the outward yoke of a usurping hierarchy takes its place.

The problem before us is, at all events, capable of definite state-