Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/Correlation of Vital with Chemical and Physical Forces

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 4 December 1873 (1873)
Correlation of Vital with Chemical and Physical Forces by Joseph Le Conte
584326Popular Science Monthly Volume 4 December 1873 — Correlation of Vital with Chemical and Physical Forces1873Joseph Le Conte




VITAL force; whence is it derived? What is its relation to the other forces of Nature? The answer of modern science to these questions is: It is derived from the lower forces of Nature; it is related to other forces much as these are related to each other it is correlated with chemical and physical forces.

At one time matter was supposed to be destructible. By combustion or by evaporation matter seemed to be consumed to pass out of existence; but now we know it only changes its form from the solid or liquid to the gaseous condition—from the visible to the invisible—and that amid all these changes the same quantity of matter remains. Creation or destruction of matter, increase or diminution of matter, lies beyond the domain of Science; her domain is confined entirely to the changes of matter. Now, it is the doctrine of modern science that the same is true of force. Force seems often to be annihilated. Two cannon-balls of equal size and velocity meet each other and fall motionless. The immense energy of these moving bodies seems to pass out of existence. But not so; it is changed into heat, and the exact amount of heat may be calculated; moreover, an equal amount of heat may be changed back again into an equal amount of momentum. Here, therefore, force is not lost, but is changed from a visible to an invisible form. Motion is changed from bodily motion into molecular motion. Thus heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical force, are transmutable into each other, back and forth; but, amid all these changes, the amount of force remains unchanged. Force is incapable of destruction, except by the same power which created it. The domain of Science lies within the limits of these changes—creation and annihilation lie outside of her domain.

The mutual convertibility of forces into each other is called correlation of forces; the persistence of the same amount, amid all these protean forms, is called conservation of force.

The correlation of physical forces with each other and with chemical force is now universally acknowledged and somewhat clearly conceived. The correlation of vital force with these is not universally acknowledged, and, where acknowledged, is only imperfectly conceived. In 1859 I published a paper[2] in which I attempted to put the idea of correlation of vital force with chemical and physical forces in a more definite and scientific form. The views expressed in that paper have been generally adopted by physiologists. Since the publication of the paper referred to, the subject has lain in my mind, and grown at least somewhat. I propose, therefore, now to reëmbody my views in a more popular form, with such additions as have occurred to me since.

There are four planes of material existence, which may be represented as raised one above another. These are: 1. The plane of elementary existence; 2. The plane of chemical compounds, or mineral kingdom; 3. The plane of vegetable existence; and, 4. The plane of animal existence. Their relations to each other are truly expressed by writing them one above the other, thus:

4. Animal Kingdom.
3. Vegetable Kingdom.
2. Mineral Kingdom.
1. Elements.

Now, it is a remarkable fact that there is a special force, whose function it is to raise matter from each plane to the plane above, and to execute movements on the latter. Thus, it is the function of chemical affinity alone to raise matter from No. 1 to No. 2, as well as to execute all the movements, back and forth, by action and reaction; in a word, to produce all the phenomena on No. 2 which together constitute the science of chemistry. It is the prerogative of vegetable life-force alone to lift matter from No. 2 to No. 3, as well as to execute all the movements on that plane, which together constitute the science of vegetable physiology. It is the prerogative of animal life-force alone to lift matter from No. 3 to No. 4, and to preside over the movements on this plane, which together constitute the science of animal physiology. But there is no force in Nature capable of raising matter at once from No. 1 to No. 3, or from No. 2 to No. 4, without stopping and receiving an accession of force, of a different kind, on the intermediate plane. Plants cannot feed upon elements, but only on chemical compounds: animals cannot feed on minerals, but only on vegetables. We will see in the sequel that this is the necessary result of the principle of conservation of force in vital phenomena.

It is well known that atoms, in a nascent state, i. e., at the moment of their separation from previous combination, are endowed with peculiar and powerful affinity. Oxygen and nitrogen, nitrogen and hydrogen, hydrogen and carbon, which show no affinity for each other under ordinary circumstances, readily unite when one or both are in a nascent condition. The reason seems to be that, when the elements of a compound are torn asunder, the chemical affinity which previously bound them together is set free, ready and eager to unite the nascent elements with whatever they come in contact with. This state of exalted chemical energy is retained but a little while, because it is liable to be changed into some other form of force, probably heat, and is therefore no longer chemical energy. To illustrate by the planes: matter falling down from No. 2 to No. 1 generates force by which matter is lifted from No. 1 to No. 2. Decomposition generates the force by which combination is effected. This principle underlies every thing I shall further say.

There are, therefore, two ideas or principles underlying this paper: 1. The correlation of vital with physical and chemical forces; 2. That in all cases vital force is produced by decomposition––is transformed by nascent affinity. Neither of these is new. Grove, many years ago, brought out, in a vague manner, the idea that vital force was correlated with chemical and physical forces.[3] In 1848 Dr. Freke, M. R. I. A., of Dublin, first advanced the idea that vital force of animal life was generated by decomposition. In 1851 the same idea was brought out again by Dr. Walters, of St. Louis. These papers were unknown to me when I wrote my article. They have been sent to me in the last few years by their respective authors. Neither of these authors, however, extends this principle to vegetation, the most fundamental and most important phenomenon of life. In 1857 the same idea was again brought out by Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, and by him extended to vegetation. I do not, therefore, now claim to have first advanced this idea, but I do claim to have in some measure rescued it from vagueness, and given it a clearer and more scientific form.

I wish now to apply these principles in the explanation of the most important phenomena of vegetable and animal life:

1. Vegetation.—The most important phenomenon in the life-history of a plant—in fact, the starting-point of all life, both vegetable and animal—is the formation of organic matter in the leaves. The necessary conditions for this wonderful change of mineral into organic matter seem to be, sunlight, chlorophyl, and living protoplasm, or bioplasm. This is the phenomenon I wish now to discuss.

The plastic matters of which vegetable structure is built are of two kinds—amyloids and albuminoids. The amyloids, or starch and sugar groups, consist of C, H, and O; the albuminoids of C, H, O, N, and SP. The quantity of sulphur and phosphorus is very small, and we will neglect them in this discussion. The food out of which these substances are elaborated are, CO2, H2O, and H3N—carbonic acid, water, and ammonia. Now, by the agency of sunlight in the presence of chlorophyl and bioplasm, these chemical compounds (CO2, H2O, H3N) are torn asunder, or shaken asunder, or decomposed; the excess of O, or of O and H, is rejected, and the remaining elements in a nascent condition combine to form organic matter. To form the amyloids, starch, dextrine, sugar, cellulose, only CO2 and H2O are decomposed, and excess of O rejected. To form albuminoids or protoplasm, CO2, H2O, and H3N are decomposed, and excess of O and H rejected.

It would seem in this case, therefore, that physical force (light) is changed into nascent chemical force, and this nascent chemical energy, under the peculiar conditions present, forms organic matter and reappears as vital force. Light falling on living green leaves is destroyed or consumed in doing the work of decomposition; disappears as light, to reappear as nascent chemical energy; and this in its turn disappears in forming organic matter, to reappear as the vital force of the organic matter thus formed. The light which disappears is proportioned to the O, or the O and H rejected; is proportioned also to the quantity of organic matter formed, and also to the amount of vital force resulting. To illustrate: In the case of amyloids, oxygen-excess falling or running down from plane No. 2 to plane No. 1 generates force to raise C, H, and O, from plane No. 2 to plane No. 3. In the case of albuminoids, oxygen-excess and hydrogen-excess running down from No. 2 to No. 1 generate force to raise C, H, O, and N, from No. 2 to No. 3. To illustrate again: As sun-heat falling upon water disappears as heat, to reappear as mechanical power, raising the water into the clouds, so sunlight falling upon green leaves disappears as light, to reappear as vital force lifting matter from the mineral into the organic kingdom.

2. germination.—Growing plants, it is seen, take their life-force from the sun; but seeds germinate and commence to grow in the dark. Evidently there must be some other source from which they draw their supply of force. They cannot draw force from the sun. This fact is intimately connected with another fact, viz., that they do not draw their food from the mineral kingdom. The seed in germination feeds entirely upon a supply of organic matter laid up for it by the mother-plant. It is the decomposition of this organic matter which supplies the force of germination. Chemical compounds are comparatively stable—it requires sunlight to tear them asunder; but organic matter is more easily decomposed—it is almost spontaneously decomposed. It may be that heat (a necessary condition of germination) is the force which determines the decomposition. However this may be, it is certain that a portion of the organic matter laid up in the seed is decomposed, burned up, to form CO2 and H2O, and that this combustion furnishes the force by which the mason-work of tissue-making is accomplished. In other words, of the food laid up in the form of starch, dextrine, protoplasm, a portion is decomposed to furnish the force by which the remainder is organized. Hence the seed always loses weight in germination; it cannot develop unless it is in part consumed; "it is not quickened except it die." This self-consumption continues until the leaves and roots are formed; then it begins to draw force from the sun, and food from the mineral kingdom.

To illustrate: In germination, matter running down from plane No. 3 to plane No. 2 generates force by which other similar matter is moved about and raised to a somewhat higher position on plane No. 3. As water raised by the sun may be stored in reservoirs, and in running down from these may do work, so matter raised by sun-force into the organic kingdom by one generation is stored as force to do the work of germination of the next generation. Again, as, in water running through an hydraulic ram, a portion runs to waste, in order to generate force to lift the remainder to a higher level, so, of organic matter stored in the seed, a portion runs to waste to create force to organize the remainder.

Thus, then, it will be seen, that three things, viz., the absence of sunlight, the use of organic food, and the loss of weight, are indissolubly connected in germination, and all explained by the principle of conservation of force.

3. starting of buds.—Deciduous trees are entirely destitute of leaves during the winter. The buds must start to grow in the spring without leaves, and therefore without drawing force from the sun. Hence, also, food in the organic form must be, and is, laid up from the previous year in the body of the tree. A portion of this is consumed with the formation of CO2 and H2O, in order to create force for the development of the buds. So soon as by this means the leaves are formed, the plant begins to draw force from the sun, and food from the mineral kingdom.

4. Pale Plants.—Fungi and etiolated plants have no chlorophyl, therefore cannot draw their force from the sun, nor make organic matters from inorganic. Hence these also must feed on organic matter: not, indeed, on starch, dextrine, and protoplasm, but on decaying organic matter. In these plants the organic matter is taken up in some form intermediate between the planes No. 3 and No. 2. The matter thus taken up is, a portion of it, consumed with the formation of CO2 and HO, in order to create force necessary to organize the remainder. To illustrate: Matter falling from some intermediate point between No. 2 and No. 3 to No. 2, produces force sufficient to raise matter from the same intermediate point to No. 3; a portion runs to waste downward, and creates force to push the remainder upward.

5. Growth of Green Plants at Night.—It is well known that almost all plants grow at night as well as in the day. It is also known that plants at night exhale CO2. These two facts have not, however, as far as I know, been connected with one another, and with the principle of conservation of force. It is usually supposed that in the night the decomposition of CO2 and exhalation of oxygen are checked by withdrawal of sunlight, and some of the CO2 in the ascending sap is exhaled by a physical law. But this does not account for the growth. It is evident that, in the absence of sunlight, the force required for the work of tissue-building can be derived only from the decomposition and combustion of organic matter. There are two views as to the source of this organic matter, either or both of which may be correct: First. There seems to be no doubt that most plants, especially those grown in soils rich in humus, take up a portion of their food in the form of semi-organic matter, or soluble humus. The combustion of a portion of this in every part of the plant, by means of oxygen also absorbed by the roots, and the formation of CO2, undoubtedly creates a supply of force night and day, independently of sunlight. The force thus produced by the combustion of a portion might be used to raise the remainder into starch, dextrine, etc., or might be used in tissue-building. During the day, the CO2 thus produced would be again decomposed in the leaves by sunlight, and thus create an additional supply of force. During the night, the CO2 would be exhaled.[4]

Again: It is possible that more organic matter is made by sunlight during the day than is used up in tissue-building. Some of this excess is again consumed, and forms CO2 and H2O, in order to continue the tissue-building process during the night. Thus the plant during the day stores up sun-force sufficient to do its work during the night. It has been suggested by Dr. J. C. Draper,[5] though not proved, or even rendered probable, that the force of tissue-building (force plastique) is always derived from decomposition, or combustion of organic matter. In that case, the force of organic-matter formation is derived from the sun, while the force of tissue-building (which is relatively small) is derived from the combustion of organic matter thus previously formed.

6. Fermentation.—The plastic matters out of which vegetable tissue is built, and which are formed by sunlight in the leaves, are of two kinds, viz., amyloids (dextrine, sugar, starch, cellulose), and albuminoids, or protoplasm. Now, the amyloids are comparatively stable, and do not spontaneously decompose; but the albuminoids not only decompose spontaneously themselves, but drag down the amyloids with which they are associated into concurrent decomposition—not only change themselves, but propagate a change into amyloids. Albuminoids, in various stages and kinds of decomposition, are called ferments. The propagated change in amyloids is called fermentation. By various kinds of ferments, amyloids are thus dragged down step by step to the mineral kingdom, viz., to CO2 and H2O. The accompanying table exhibits the various stages of the descent of starch, and the ferments by which they are effected:[6]

1. Starch Diastase.
2. Dextrine
3. Sugar
4. Alcohol and CO2 Yeast.
5. Acetic acid Mother of vinegar.
6. CO2 and HO Mould.

By appropriate means, the process of descent may be stopped on any one of these planes. By far too much is, unfortunately, stopped on the fourth plane. The manufacturer and chemist may determine the downward change through all the planes, and the chemist has recently succeeded in ascending again to No. 4; but the plant ascends and descends the scale at pleasure (avoiding, however, the fourth and fifth), and even passes at one step from the lowest to the highest.

Now, it will be seen by the table that, connected with each of these descensive changes, there is a peculiar ferment associated. Diastase determines the change from starch to dextrine and sugar—saccharification; yeast, the change from sugar to alcohol—fermentation; mother of vinegar, the change from alcohol to acetic acid—acetification; and a peculiar mould, the change from acetic acid to CO2 and water. But what is far more wonderful and significant is, that, associated with each of these ferments, except diastase, and therefore with each of these descensive changes, except the change from starch to sugar, or saccharification, there is a peculiar form of life. Associated with alcoholic fermentation, there is the yeast-plant; with acetification, the vinegar-plant; and, with the decomposition of vinegar, a peculiar kind of mould. We will take the one which is best understood, viz., yeast-plant (saccharomyce), and its relation to alcoholic fermentation.

It is well known that, in connection with alcoholic fermentation, there is a peculiar unicelled plant which grows and multiplies. Fermentation never takes place without the presence of this plant; this plant never grows without producing fermentation, and the rapidity of the fermentation is in exact proportion to the rapidity of the growth of the plant. But, as far as I know, the fact has not been distinctly brought out that the decomposition of the sugar into alcohol and carbonic acid furnishes the force by which the plant grows and multiplies. If the growing cells of the yeast-plant be observed under the microscope, it will be seen that the carbonic-acid bubbles form, and therefore probably the decomposition of sugar takes place only in contact with the surface of the yeast-cells. The yeast-plant not only assimilates matter, but also force. It decomposes the sugar, in order that it may assimilate the chemical force set free.

We have already said that the change from starch to sugar, determined by diastase (saccharification), is the only one in connection with which there is no life. Now, it is a most significant fact, in this connection, that this is also the only change which is not, in a proper sense, descensive, or, at least, where there is no decomposition.

We now pass from the phenomena of vegetable to the phenomena of animal life.

7. Development of the Egg in Incubation.—The development of the egg in incubation is very similar to the germination of a seed. An egg consists of albuminous and fatty matters, so inclosed that, while oxygen of the air is admitted, nutrient matters are excluded. During incubation the egg changes into an embryo; it passes from an almost unorganized to a highly-organized condition, from a lower to a higher condition. There is work done: there must be expenditure of force; but, as we have already seen, vital force is always derived from decomposition. But, as the matters to be decomposed are not taken ab extra, the egg must consume itself; that it does so, is proved by the fact that in incubation the egg absorbs oxygen, eliminates CO2 and probably H2O, and loses weight. As in the seed, a portion of the matters contained in the egg is consumed in order to create force to organize the remainder. Matter runs down from plane No. 4 to plane No. 2, and generates force to do the work of organization on plane No. 4. The amount of CO2 and H2O formed, and therefore the loss of weight, is a measure of the amount of plastic work done.

8. Development within the Chrysalis Shell.—It is well known that many insects emerge from the egg not in their final form, but in a wormlike form, called a larva. After this they pass into a second passive state, in which they are again covered with a kind of shell—a sort of second egg-state, called the chrysalis. From this they again emerge as the perfect insect. The butterfly is the most familiar, as well as the best illustrated, of these changes. The larva or caterpillar eats with enormous voracity, and grows very rapidly. When its growth is complete, it covers itself with a shell, and remains perfectly passive and almost immovable for many days or weeks. During this period of quiescence of animal functions there are, however, the most important changes going on within. The wings and legs are formed, the muscles are aggregated in bundles for moving these appendages, the nervous system is more highly developed, the mouth, organs, and alimentary canal, are greatly changed and more highly organized, the simple eyes are changed into compound eyes. Now, all this requires expenditure of force, and therefore decomposition of matter; but no food is taken, therefore the chrysalis must consume its own substance, and therefore lose weight. It does so; the weight of the emerging butterfly is in many cases not one-tenth that of the caterpillar. Force is stored up in the form of organic matter only to be consumed in doing plastic work.

9. Mature Animals.—Whence do animals derive their vital force? I answer, from the decomposition of their food and the decomposition of their tissues.

Plants, as we have seen, derive their vital force from the decomposition of their mineral food. But the chemical compounds on which plants feed are very stable. Their decomposition requires a peculiar and complex contrivance for the reception and utilization of sunlight. These conditions are wanting in animals. Animals, therefore, cannot feed on chemical compounds of the mineral kingdom; they must have organic food, which easily runs into decomposition; they must feed on the vegetable kingdom.

Animals are distinguished from vegetables by incessant decay in every tissue—a decay which is proportional to animal activity. This incessant decay necessitates incessant repair, so that the animal body has been likened to a temple on which two opposite forces are at work in every part, the one tearing down, the other repairing the breach as fast as made. In vegetables no such incessant decay has ever been made out. If it exists, it must be very trifling in comparison. Protoplasm, it is true, is taken up from the older parts of vegetables, and these parts die; but the protoplasm does not seem to decompose, but is used again for tissue-building. Thus the internal activity of animals is of two kinds, tissue-destroying and tissue-building; while that of plants seems to be, principally, at least, of one kind, tissue-building. Animals use food for force and repair and growth, and in the mature animal only for force and repair. Plants use food for force and growth—they never stop growing.

Now, the food of animals is of two kinds, amyloids and albuminoids. The carnivora feed entirely on albuminoids; the herbivora on both amyloids and albuminoids. All this food comes from the vegetable kingdom directly in the case of herbivora, indirectly in the case of carnivora. Animals cannot make organic matter. Now, the tissues of animals are wholly albuminoid. It is obvious, therefore, that for the repair of the tissues the food must be albuminoid. The amyloid food, therefore (and, as we shall see in carnivora, much of the albuminoid), must be used wholly for force. As coal or wood, burned in a steam-engine, changes chemical into mechanical energy, so food, in excess of what is used for repair, is burned up to produce animal activity. Let us trace more accurately the origin of animal force by examples.

10. Carnivora.—The food of carnivora is entirely albuminoid. The idea of the older physiologists, in regard to the use of this food, seems to have been as follows: Albuminoid matter is exceedingly unstable; it is matter raised, with much difficulty and against chemical forces, high, and delicately balanced on a pinnacle, in a state of unstable equilibrium, for a brief time, and then rushes down again into the mineral kingdom. The animal tissues, being formed of albuminoid matter, are short-lived; the parts are constantly dying and decomposing; the law of death necessitates the law of reproduction; decomposition necessitates repair, and therefore food for repair. But the force by which repair is effected was for them, and for many physiologists now, underived, innate. But, the doctrine maintained by me in the paper referred to is, that the decomposition of the tissues creates not only the necessity, but also the force, of repair.

Suppose, in the first place, a carnivorous animal uses just enough food to repair the tissues, and no more—say an ounce. Then I say the ounce of tissue decayed not only necessitates the ounce of albuminous food for repair, but the decomposition sets free the force by which the repair is effected. But it will be perhaps objected that the force would all be consumed in repair, and none left for animal activity of all kinds. I answer: it would not all be used up in repair, for, the food being already albuminoid, there is probably little expenditure of force necessary to change it into tissue; while, on the other hand, the force generated by the decomposition of tissue into CO2, H2O, and urea, is very great—the ascensive change is small, the descensive change is great. The decomposition of one ounce of albuminous tissue into CO2, H2O, and urea, would therefore create force sufficient not only to change one ounce of albuminous matter into tissue, but also leave a considerable amount for animal activities of all kinds. A certain quantity of matter, running down from plane No. 4 to plane No. 2, creates force enough not only to move the same quantity of matter about on plane No. 2, but also to do much other work besides. It is probable, however, that the wants of animal activity are so immediate and urgent that, under these conditions, much food would be burned for this purpose, and would not reach the tissues, and the tissues would be imperfectly repaired, and would therefore waste.

Take next the carnivorous animal full fed. In this case there can be no doubt that, while a portion of the food goes to repair the tissues, by far the larger portion is consumed in the blood, and passes away partly as CO2 and H2O through the lungs, and partly as urea through the kidneys. This part is used, and can be of use only, to create force. The food of carnivora, therefore, goes partly to tissue-building, and partly to create heat and force. The force of carnivorous animals is derived partly from decomposing tissues and partly from food-excess consumed in the blood.

11. Herbivora.—The food of herbivora and of man is mixed—partly albuminoid and partly amyloid. In man, doubtless, the albuminoids are usually in excess of what is required for tissue-building; but in herbivora, probably, the albuminoids are not in excess of the requirements of the decomposing tissues. In this case, therefore, the whole of the albuminoids is used for tissue-making, and the whole of the amyloids for force-making. In this class, therefore, these two classes of food may be called tissue-food and force-food. The force of these animals, therefore, is derived partly from the decomposition of the tissues, but principally from the decomposition and combustion of the amyloids and fats.

Some physiologists speak of the amyloid and fat food as being burned to keep up the animal heat; but it is evident that the prime object in the body, as in the steam-engine, is not heat, but force. Heat is a mere condition and perhaps a necessary concomitant of the change, but evidently not the prime object. In tropical regions the heat is not wanted. In the steam-engine, chemical energy is first changed into heat and heat into mechanical energy; in the body the change is, probably, much of it direct and not through the intermediation of heat.

12. We see at once, from the above, why it is that plants cannot feed on elements, viz., because their food must be decomposed in order to create the organic matter out of which all organisms are built. This elevation of matter, which takes place in the green leaves of plants, is the starting-point of life; upon it alone is based the possibility of the existence of the organic kingdom. The running down of the matter there raised determines the vital phenomena of germination of pale plants, and even of some of the vital phenomena of green plants, and all the vital phenomena of the animal kingdom. The stability of chemical compounds, usable as food, is such that a peculiar contrivance and peculiar conditions found only in the green leaves of plants are necessary for their decomposition. We see, therefore, also, why animals as well as pale plants cannot feed on mineral matter.

We easily see also why the animal activity of carnivora is greater than that of herbivora, for the amount of force necessary for the assimilation of their albuminoid food is small, and therefore a larger amount is left over for animal activity. Their food is already on plane No. 4; assimilation, therefore, is little more than a shifting on the plane No. 4 from a liquid to a solid condition—from liquid albuminoid of the blood to solid albuminoid of the tissues.

We see also why the internal activity of plants may conceivably be only of one kind; for, drawing their force from the sun, tissue-making is not necessarily dependent on tissue-decay. While, on the other hand, the internal activity of animals must be of two kinds, decay and repair; for animals always draw a portion of their force, and starving animals the whole of their force, from decaying tissue.

13. There are several general thoughts suggested by this subject, which I wish to present in conclusion:

a. We have said there are four planes of matter raised one above the other: 1. Elements; 2. Chemical compounds; 3. Vegetables; 4. Animals. Now, there are also four planes of force similarly related to each other, viz., physical force, chemical force, vitality, and will.

4. Animals.
3. Plants.
2. Chemical compounds.
1. Elements.

On the first plane of matter operates physical force only; for chemical force immediately raises matter into the second plane. On the second plane operates, in addition to physical, also chemical force. On the third plane operates, in addition to physical and chemical, also vital force. On the fourth plane, in addition to physical, chemical, and vital, also the force characteristic of animals, viz., will.[7] With each elevation there is a peculiar force added to the already existing, and a peculiar group of phenomena is the result. As matter only rises step by step from plane to plane, and never two steps at a time, so also force, in its transformation into higher forms of force, rises only step by step. Physical force does not become vital except through chemical force, and chemical force does not become will except through vital force.

Again, we have compared the various grades of matter, not to a gradually rising inclined plane, but to successive planes raised one above the other. There are, no doubt, some intermediate conditions; but, as a broad, general fact, the changes from plane to plane are sudden. Now, the same is true also of the forces operating on these planes—of the different grades of force, and their corresponding groups of phenomena. The change from one grade to another, as from physical to chemical, or from chemical to vital, is not, as far as we can see, by sliding scale, but suddenly. The groups of phenomena which we call physical, chemical, vital, animal, rational, and moral, do not merge into each other by insensible gradations. In the ascension scale in the evolution of the higher forces there are places of rapid paroxysmal change.

b. Vital force is transformed into physical and chemical forces; but it is not on that account identical with physical and chemical force, and therefore we ought not, as some would have us, discard the term vital force. There are two opposite errors on this subject: one is the old error of regarding vital force as something innate, underived, having no relation to the other forces of Nature; the other is the new error of regarding the forces of the living body as nothing but ordinary physical and chemical forces, and therefore insisting that the use of the term vital force is absurd and injurious to science. The old error is still prevalent in the popular mind, and still haunts the minds of many physiologists; the new error is apparently a revelation from the other, and is therefore common among the most advanced scientific minds. There are many of the best scientists who ridicule the use of the term vital force, or vitality, as a remnant of superstition; and yet the same men use the words gravity, magnetic force, chemical force, physical force, etc. Vital force is not underived—is not unrelated to other forces—is, in fact, correlated with them; but it is nevertheless a distinct form of force, far more distinct than any other form, unless it be still higher forms, and therefore better entitled to a distinct name than any lower form. Each form of force gives rise to a peculiar group of phenomena, and the study of these to a peculiar department of science. Now, the group of phenomena called vital is more peculiar, and different from other groups, than these are from each other; and the science of physiology is a more distinct department than either physics or chemistry; and therefore the form of force which determines these phenomena is more distinct, and better entitled to a distinct name, than either physical or chemical forces. De Candolle, in a recent paper,[8] suggests the term vital movement instead of vital force; but can we conceive of movement without force? And, if the movement is peculiar, so also is the form of force.

c. Vital is transformed physical and chemical forces; true, but the necessary and very peculiar condition of this transformation is the previous existence then and there of living matter. There is something so wonderful in this peculiarity of vital force that I must dwell on it a little.

Elements brought in contact with each other under certain physical conditions—perhaps heat or electricity—unite and rise into the second plane, i. e., of chemical compounds; so also several elements, C, H, O and N, etc., brought in contact with each other under certain physical or chemical conditions, such as light, nascency, etc., unite and rise into plane No. 3, i. e., form organic matter. In both cases there is chemical union under certain physical conditions; but in the latter there is one unique condition, viz., the previous existence then and there of organic matter, under the guidance of which apparently the transformation of matter takes place. In a word, organic matter is necessary to produce organic matter; there is here a law of like producing like—there is an assimilation of matter.

Again, physical force changes into other forms of physical force, or into chemical force, under certain physical conditions; so also physical and chemical forces are changed into vital force under certain physical conditions. But, in addition, there is one altogether unique condition of the latter change, viz., the previous existence then and there of vital force. Here, again, like produces like—here, again, there is assimilation of force.

This law of like producing like—this law of assimilation of matter and force—runs throughout all vital phenomena, runs to the minutest details. It is a universal law of generation, and determines the existence of species; it is the law of formation of organic matter and organic force; it determines all the varieties of organic matter which we call tissues and organs, and all the varieties of organic force which we call functions. The same nutrient pabulum, endowed with the same properties and powers, carried to all parts of a complex organism by this wonderful law of like producing like, is changed into the most various forms and endowed with the most various powers. There are certainly limits and exceptions to this law, however; otherwise differentiation of tissues, organs, and functions, could not take place in embryonic development; but the limits and exceptions are themselves subject to a law even more wonderful than the law of like producing like itself, viz., the law of evolution. There is in all organic nature, whether organic kingdom, organic individual, or organic tissues, a law of variation, strongest in the early stages, limited very strictly by another law—the law of inheritance, of like producing like.

d. We have seen that all development takes place at the expense of decay—all elevation of one thing, in one place, at the expense of corresponding running down of something else in another place. Force is only transferred and transformed. The plant draws its force from the sun, and therefore what the plant gains the sun loses. Animals draw from plants, and therefore what the animal kingdom gains the vegetable kingdom loses. Again, an egg, a seed, or a chrysalis, developing to a higher condition, and yet taking nothing ab extra, must lose weight. Some part must run down, in order that the remainder should be raised to a higher condition. The amount of evolution is measured by the loss of weight. By the law of conservation of force, it is inconceivable that it should be otherwise. Evidently, therefore, in the universe, evolution of one part must be at the expense of some other part. The evolution or development of the whole cosmos—of the whole universe of matter—as a unit, according to the doctrine of conservation of force, is inconceivable. It could only take place by a constant increase of the whole sum of energy, i. e., by a constant influx of divine energy.

e. Finally, as organic matter is so much matter taken from the common fund of matter of earth and air, embodied for a brief space, to be again by death and decomposition returned to that common fund, so also it would seem that the organic forces of the living bodies of plants and animals may be regarded as so much force drawn from the common fund of physical and chemical forces, to be again all refunded by death and decomposition. Yes, by decomposition; we can understand this. But death! can we detect any thing returned by simple death? What is the nature of the difference between the living organism and a dead organism? We can detect none, physical or chemical. All the physical and chemical forces withdrawn from the common fund of Nature, and embodied in the living organism, seem to be still embodied in the dead until little by little it is returned by decomposition. Yet the difference is immense, is inconceivably great. What is the nature of this difference expressed in the formula of material science? What is it that is gone, and whither is it gone? There is something here which science cannot yet understand. Yet it is just this loss which takes place in death, and before decomposition, which is in the highest sense vital force.

Let no one from the above views, or from similar views expressed by others, draw hasty conclusions in favor of a pure materialism. Force and matter, or spirit and matter, or God and Nature, these are the opposite poles of philosophy they are the opposite poles of thought. There is no clear thinking without them. Not only religion and virtue, but science and philosophy, cannot even exist without them. The belief in spirit, like the belief in matter, rests on its own basis of phenomena. The true domain of philosophy is to reconcile these with each other.

  1. An abstract of two Lectures given to the class in Comparative Physiology in the University of California.
  2. American Journal of Science, November, 1859. Philadelphia Magazine, vol. xix., p. 133.
  3. In 1845 Dr. J. R. Mayer published a paper on "Organic Motion and Nutrition." I have not seen it.
  4. For more full account, see my paper, American Journal of Science, November, 1859, sixth and seventh heads.
  5. American Journal of Science, November, 1872. The experiments of Dr. Draper are inconclusive, because they are made on seedlings, which, until their supply of organic food is exhausted, are independent of sunlight.
  6. J. C. Draper, American Journal of Science, November, 1872
  7. I might add still another plane and another force, viz., the human plane, on which operate, in addition to all the lower forces, also free-will and reason. I do not speak of these, only because they lie beyond the present ken of inductive science.
  8. Archives des Sciences, vol. xlv., p. 345, December, 1872