Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/588

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The entire result of development is preserved in the synthetical intricacies of matter and ether, the sensible and the supersensible substratum. All developmental achievement is embodied in what we chemically call complexity of composition. The more complex a substance, the greater its intrinsic value, the more specific its inherent power, and the less congruous in consequence its response to outside influences.

We cannot make any considerable progress in the philosophy of reality, of which the understanding of our own life is the consummation, before we have first formally reënthroned into their actual seat of power the sovereign energies, so strangely slighted during the long reign of visionary potentates—the eras of anthropomorphism and metaphysics.

Now that we are avowedly appealing to Nature for knowledge, it behooves us to become natural in our mode of thinking. To fix our attention merely on changes and their relation to each other is to grasp at the shadow of reality. That which changes is in every respect the substance, the potentiality and actuality in the case; and it is essentially its specific molecular constitution which determines the nature of the change qualitatively and quantitatively. The scientifically ascertained, most specific behavior shown by the various substances, with regard to their manifestation of different modes of force, or even of one and the same mode of force, is in itself abundant proof that that which we call forces are merely specific modes of reaction on the part of the various substances.

This somewhat lengthy but indispensable discussion on the nature and seat of force will save us the far greater labor of attempting to account for life by computing the foot-pounds of mechanical energy of which it is supposed to be the transformation; or of seeking a standard for the valuation of brain-power, or any other vital activity, by accurately determining the units of heat obtainable from the substances which exhibit these activities.

"But," it will be asked, "if combustion is in no way essential to the manifestation and production of motility, what part is actually played by the oxygen, which is known to permeate all protoplasm, and which is inhaled in such vast quantities by higher organisms?"

Oxygen is the mighty scavenger in the vital economy, the general purifier and clearer. Everywhere among the crevices and interstices of the vital nexus it lies in wait, seizing upon all stray stuff—waste products of function and unassimilable matter of all kinds—and converting the same forthwith into harmless and eliminable compounds. Besides, the heat evolved during this entirely depurative process helps essentially to compose the calorific medium of the organism. But oxidation is in no manner directly conducive to vitality. Within the organism combustion merely hides away death; does not kindle the flame of life; belongs to the domain of destruction, not to that of construction.