Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/402

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
388
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

eyes falls to be considered, the affinity of the skin-layer and the nervous system is a fact worth noting. It is this truest of relationships which may reasonably enough explain, not merely why the sense-organs arise from the skin-surface, but also why the brain grows outward to meet with the structure to which it is so near akin.

Degeneration of a very pronounced kind thus accounts for the peculiarities of sea-squirt structure to-day. The case of ascidian retrogression is likewise the more interesting, seeing that its reverse side is that of progressive evolution and development of the highest forms of life the existing world knows. It is, therefore, important to note in passing that the possibilities of development may include degeneration of a very marked type, along with progressive evolution of equally pronounced kind. The category of life's extension includes, in fact, many possibilities which at first sight might appear of most unlikely kind; and, among these possibilities, that of extreme degeneration is by no means the least notable as an element in inducing the material variety of life we behold in the animal and plant worlds of to-day. The list of causes which lead to the degeneration of living beings includes, however, other fashions of producing retrogression than by fixation and parasitic habits, and operates in different ways upon organisms of varied structure and social or biological rank. Changes in food and feeding may thus accomplish degeneration and induce physiological backsliding of the most typical description. It is a familiar fact that the animal organism is of relatively higher nature than the plant, seeing that the animal frame can, as a rule, feed upon and build up its tissues from organic or living matter only. Animals, in other words, demand the substance of other animals or of plants, or of both combined, as a necessity of their commissariat arrangements. Plants, on the other hand, are specially constructive and elaborative in their feeding. They build up from the non-living matters around them—carbonic acid, water, ammonia, and minerals—the tissues of their living bodies. They "transubstantiate" this nonliving matter into living tissue; and the verdant tints of spring, the full glory of the summer's blossom, or the mellow ruddiness of autumn's fruits, represents, each in its way, the result at once of the plant's constructive chemistry and of the elaboration into living matter of the inorganic materials of air and soil around.

The animal frame, therefore, presents us—amid exceptions to the above rule in both animal and plant series—with relatively greater complexity of organs and tissues than the plant-body presents. This statement simply reëchoes what commonplace observation daily demonstrates. Hence, it may be a natural enough inference that whatever causes tend to bring the animal feeding nearer in type to that of the plant will tend to simplify animal structure, and so to produce retrogression and degeneration of the animal type. Many animals are thus known to develop chlorophyl, or the green color we see charac-