Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/421

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415
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

as enzymes, that effect assimilation and disassimilation. Quite similar changes can be produced outside the body (in vitro) by the employment of methods of a purely physical and chemical nature. It is true that we are not yet familiar with all the intermediate stages of transformation of the materials which are taken in by a living body into the materials which are given out from it. But since the initial processes and the final results are the same as they would be on the assumption that the changes are brought about in conformity with the known laws of chemistry and physics, we may fairly conclude that all changes in living substance are brought about by ordinary chemical and physical forces.

"Should it be contended that growth and reproduction are properties possessed only by living bodies and constitute a test by which we may differentiate between life and non-life, between the animate and inanimate creation, it must be replied that no contention can be more fallacious. Inorganic crystals grow and multiply and reproduce their like, given a supply of the requisite pabulum. In most cases for each kind of crystal there is, as with living organisms, a limit of growth which is not exceeded, and further increase of the crystalline matter results not in further increase in size but in multiplication of similar crystals. Leduc has shown that the growth and division of artificial colloids of an inorganic nature, when placed in an appropriate medium, present singular resemblances to the phenomena of the growth and division of living organisms. Even so complex a process as | the division of a cell-nucleus by karyokinesis as a preliminary to the multiplication of the cell by division—a phenomenon which would primâ facie have seemed and has been commonly regarded as a distinctive manifestation of the life of the cell—can be imitated with solutions of a simple inorganic salt, such as chloride of sodium, containing a suspension of carbon particles; which arrange and rearrange themselves under the influence of the movements of the electrolytes in a manner indistinguishable from that adopted by the particles of chromatin in a dividing nucleus. And in the process of sexual reproduction, the researches of J. Loeb and others upon the ova of the sea-urchin have proved that we can no longer consider such an apparently vital phenomenon as the fertilization of the egg as being the result of living material brought to it by the spermatozoon, since it is possible to start the process of division of the ovum and the resulting formation of cells, and ultimately of all the tissues and organs—in short, to bring about the development of the whole body—if a simple chemical reagent is substituted for the male element in the process of fertilization. Indeed, even a mechanical or electrical stimulus may suffice to start development. Kurz und gut, as the Germans say, vitalism as a working hypothesis has not only had its foundations undermined, but most of the superstructure has toppled over, and if any difficulties of explanation still persist, we are justified in assuming that the cause is to be found in our imperfect knowledge of the constitution and working of living material. At the best vitalism explains nothing, and the term 'vital force' is an expression of ignorance which can bring us no further along the path of knowledge. Nor is the problem in any way advanced by substituting for the term 'vitalism' 'neo-vitalism,' and for 'vital force' 'biotic energy.' 'New presbyter is but old priest writ large. '

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of Dr. W J McGee, known for his contributions to geology, anthropology and the conservation of natural resources; of Dr. T. B. McClintic, of the United States Public Health Service, who died