Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/750

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not "brass and iron or steel" manifest the phenomena of watch-making? For essentially the same reason that primitive man did not manifest them: because in these metals, as in primitive man in an immensely less degree, the synthesis of forces is too simple and unevolved, it being a law of matter that every state of material forces not only is derived from preceding states, and manifests phenomena peculiar to itself, but that the more complex and evolved the state, the more complex and evolved the phenomena. In this law, speaking broadly, we have a key to the source of life. Oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, uncombined, present, for example, one state of material forces, which manifests one set of phenomena; water, formed by the combination of oxygen and hydrogen, is another state, less simple, and manifesting less simple phenomena; alcohol, resulting from the union of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon, is another state, more complex, and manifesting more complex phenomena; carbonate of ammonia, consisting of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, is another state, more complex still, and manifesting phenomena of corresponding complexity; and protoplasm, containing the same elements as carbonate of ammonia, but united in higher multiples, and uniting under conditions unknown though not unknowable, is simply another state, more complex than any of the others, and manifesting the phenomena of life, which, it deserves to be noted, are no more peculiar to life than the phenomena of alcohol are peculiar to alcohol, or the phenomena of water peculiar to water. The peculiarity is the peculiarity of every state alike, as could hardly be otherwise, unless a thing could be itself and at the same time something else.

In the lower states of matter this law offers no difficulty; but, as the successive states become more and more removed from the elementary state, exhibiting phenomena more and more removed from the elementary phenomena, it grows, first indistinct, next unperceived, then unimagined, till at length, culminating in life and mind, it eludes definite conception in the bewildering complexity of the phenomena, and its consummate product, puffed up by the height to which it has raised him, turns round and disowns it altogether, perversely kicking over the ladder by which he ascended, and proudly asserting his right to pose upon nothing. Yet the law is none the less operative at every stage, from nebula to consciousness, and in itself is as comprehensible in the last stage as in the first. That one synthesis of forces should issue in life is at bottom not more wonderful than that another synthesis should issue in water. The two manifestations are equally comprehensible up to a certain point, beyond which they are equally incomprehensible, a mystic chasm, soundless yet crossed by a step, bounding equally every atom of the wide universe; only, in so simple a thing as water, the step whereby we cross this ever-recurring interval need not be often repeated, and the approach is comparatively open, whereas, in life, to say nothing of mind, the step is to be taken