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to his attempt to explain the origin of the material universe by the vortex-ring hypothesis, and also to his other attempt to explain gravitation by the modification of the hypothesis of ultramundane corpuscles. If we add to these his attempt to explain the origin of life as consistently as possible with the principle of Continuity, we think it must be acknowledged that he is a true pioneer in such inquiries as those of this volume as well as in the more ordinary branches of Physical Science.
The explanation of the origin of life proposed by Sir W. Thomson had also occurred independently to Professor Helmholtz. This latter physicist, in an article on the use and abuse of the deductive method in Physical Science, tells us very clearly what led himself, and no doubt Sir W. Thomson likewise, to suggest the meteoric hypothesis as a possible way of accounting for the origin of terrestrial life :-'If failure attends all our efforts to obtain a generation of organisms from lifeless matter, it seems to me (says Professor Helmholtz) a thoroughly correct procedure to inquire whether there has ever been an origination of life, or whether it is not as old as matter, and whether its germs, borne from one world to another, have not been developed wherever they have found a favourable soil'
239. We have already sufficiently pointed out that the man of science objects to separate creations, and that, in consequence, he tries to explain the present terrestrial life by means of a single primordial germ. But the difficulty still remains regarding the original appearance of this germ.
1 Nature, January 14, 2875
Now, according to the meteoric hypothesis, this germ may have been wafted to us from some other world, or its fragments, and thus one act of creation of life might possibly serve for many worlds. If therefore this hypothesis were otherwise tenable it would diminish the difficulty implied by separate creations, but would it entirely remove it? We doubt this very much.
For, in the first place, as far as we can judge (Art. 163) the visible universe—the universe of worlds-is not eternal, while however the invisible universe, or that which we may for illustration at least associate with the ethereal medium, is necessarily eternal. The visible universe must have had its origin in time (Art. 116), no doubt from a nebulous condition. But in this condition it can hardly have been fit for the reception of life. Life must therefore have been created afterwards. We have thus at least two separate creations, both taking place in time—the one of matter and the other of life. And even if it were possible, which it is not, to get over one of the difficulties attending this hypothesis, that of creation in time, by regarding the visible universe as eternal; yet even then we must regard matter and life as implying two separate creative acts if we assume the nebulous hypothesis to be true. For if x denote the date of the advent of life, and xta that of the advent of matter, a being a constant quantity, the two operations cannot be made simultaneous by merely increasing the value of x without limit. Now this is what we mean by eternity, and therefore we cannot help thinking that this want of simultaneity implies a defect in this mode of viewing the origin of things.
240. Yet another hypothesis has been produced, which starts with the assumption that all matter is in some simple sense alive. Looking upon the atom as the essential thing in the universe, the various motions of the atom are by this school supposed to be accompanied by a species of consciousness inconceivably simple. Under certain circumstances this eternal and immortal consciousness is supposed to be consistent with that which we call the life of the individual, while under other circumstances these two lives are not consistent with one another. The individual then dies, but nevertheless the simple immortal lives of the atoms which compose his body remain attached to them as truly as before.
There is no disappearance of anything from the universe, only the mode in which the simple immortal life becomes manifested has undergone a change of expression, just as energy may be supposed to undergo a change without disappearing. It is thought by the members of this school that such a hypothesis satisfies the Principle of Continuity more fully than any other. For, looking at things from the old point of view, we see that certain atoms are concerned in the manifestation of consciousness, as for instance the particles of our brains, while certain other atoms are not so concerned, as for instance the inorganic matter we see around us.
Here then, it is argued, we have a breach of the Principle of Continuity, inasmuch as certain things of the universe (brain particles) have a function assigned to them in their association with consciousness, which other things (gold, silver, etc.) do not possess in any measure, if the distinction between organic and inor
ganic be an essential one. To avert this breach, it is essential that all matter should be considered as in some sense alive. It is furthermore argued, that by this hypothesis there is no difficulty in accounting for the introduction of life, inasmuch as life always accompanies matter, the mode of manifestation of the one being regulated by the mode of collocation of the other.
241. Now it appears to us that this school of thought are justified in declining to accept a hypothesis which attributes to certain substances of the universe a power which is entirely wanting in others, or that gives to the same substance at one time a fundamental power or property that is entirely wanting at another. It is not so much the premiss as the conclusion of this school to which we object. For let us consider for a moment what is implied in the astounding inference that the atom is the true abode of immortal life in the universe, and that its life is of an extremely simple kind.
It implies, in the first place, that the atom is eternal, and to this we object. It implies, in the next place, that the atom is extremely simple in its constitution, and to this we object. It implies, thirdly, that for the antecedents of the motions of the atom it is unnecessary to resort to anything beyond the atom itself, and to this we object.
242. We have in other places sufficiently set forth our objection to regarding the atom either as eternal or as extremely simple in constitution, let us now state our objection to regarding the motions of the atom (in this generalisation) apart from the surrounding universe.
Our objection is, that in order to conceive the nature of the forces by which atoms act upon each other, we are driven at once, if not to the very hypothesis of Le Sage, at least to something which implies the existence and agency of the Unseen Universe.
But when once we have taken this step, we are not permitted to rest, for another journey is before us, and after that another, and so on. In fine, there is no end to the process, and no halting-place for the mind, except in the belief that the universe as a whole participates in every motion which takes place even in the smallest of atoms.1
Undoubtedly as regards certain practical scientific results, it is allowable to regard the atom as a thing by itself, and to sum up the apparent actions of the various atoms as if each were independent of everything else. But when we come to a generalisation so fundamental as this hypothesis regarding life, we are forced to ask whether the apparent and visible action of atoms on one another is really everything which takes place, and then we find, as we have just shown, that we are driven at once into the Unseen Universe, and thence into an endless complexity of antecedent.
In fine, we conclude that inasmuch as the universe in its various orders participates in every conceivable motion, the consciousness which accompanies this motion cannot logically be confined to the apparently moving body or atom, but must in some sense extend to the Unseen Universe in its various orders. But
1 The Rev. James Martineau has, we perceive, taken up a similar line of argument. (See Art. on ‘Modern Materialism,’ Contemporary Reviour, February 1876.)