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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/233

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DEGENERATION.

no denial. On any other theory, the existence of gill-arches in the young of an animal which never possesses gills is to be viewed as an inexplicable freak of Nature—a dictum which, it is needless to remark, belongs to an era one might well term prescientific, in comparison with the "sweetness and light" of these latter days.

PSM V19 D233 Evolution of gill arches in mammals.jpg
Fig. 2.—Pig Calf. Rabbit. Man.

Hanging very closely on the aphorism respecting development and its meaning, is another biological axiom, wellnigh as important as the former. If development teaches that life has been and still is progressive in its ways, and that the simpler stages in an animal's history represent the conditions of its earliest ancestors, it is a no less stable proposition that at all stages of their growth living beings are subject to the action of outward and inward forces. Every living organism lives under the sway and dominance of forces acting upon it from without, and which it is enabled to modify and to utilize by its own inherent capabilities of action. It is, in fact, the old problem of the living being and its surroundings applied to the newer conceptions of life and nature which modern biology has revealed. The living thing is not a stable unit in its universe, however wide or narrow that sphere may be. On the contrary, it exists in a condition of continual war, if one may so put it, between its own innate powers of life and action, of living and being, and the physical powers and conditions outside. This much is now accepted by all scientists. Differences of opinion certainly exist as to the share which the internal constitution of the living being plays in the drama of life and progress. It seems, however, most reasonable to conclude that two parties exist to this, as to every other bargain; and, regarding the animal or plant as plastic in its nature, we may assume such plasticity to be modified on the one hand by outside forces, and on the other by internal actions proper to the organism as a living thing. Examples of such tendencies of life are freely scattered everywhere in Nature's domain. For instance, we know of many organisms which have continued from the remotest ages to the present time, without manifest change of form or life, and which appear before us to-day the living counterparts of their fossilized representatives of the chalk, or it may be of Silurian or Cambrian times. The lamp-shells (Terebratula) of the chalk exist in our own seas with wellnigh inappreciable differences. The Lingula