from physical to chemical, or from chemical to vital, is not, as far as we can see, by sliding scale, but suddenly. The groups of phenomena which we call physical, chemical, vital, animal, rational, and moral, do not merge into each other by insensible gradations. In the ascension scale in the evolution of the higher forces there are places of rapid paroxysmal change.
b. Vital force is transformed into physical and chemical forces; but it is not on that account identical with physical and chemical force, and therefore we ought not, as some would have us, discard the term vital force. There are two opposite errors on this subject: one is the old error of regarding vital force as something innate, underived, having no relation to the other forces of Nature; the other is the new error of regarding the forces of the living body as nothing but ordinary physical and chemical forces, and therefore insisting that the use of the term vital force is absurd and injurious to science. The old error is still prevalent in the popular mind, and still haunts the minds of many physiologists; the new error is apparently a revelation from the other, and is therefore common among the most advanced scientific minds. There are many of the best scientists who ridicule the use of the term vital force, or vitality, as a remnant of superstition; and yet the same men use the words gravity, magnetic force, chemical force, physical force, etc. Vital force is not underived—is not unrelated to other forces—is, in fact, correlated with them; but it is nevertheless a distinct form of force, far more distinct than any other form, unless it be still higher forms, and therefore better entitled to a distinct name than any lower form. Each form of force gives rise to a peculiar group of phenomena, and the study of these to a peculiar department of science. Now, the group of phenomena called vital is more peculiar, and different from other groups, than these are from each other; and the science of physiology is a more distinct department than either physics or chemistry; and therefore the form of force which determines these phenomena is more distinct, and better entitled to a distinct name, than either physical or chemical forces. De Candolle, in a recent paper, suggests the term vital movement instead of vital force; but can we conceive of movement without force? And, if the movement is peculiar, so also is the form of force.
c. Vital is transformed physical and chemical forces; true, but the necessary and very peculiar condition of this transformation is the previous existence then and there of living matter. There is something so wonderful in this peculiarity of vital force that I must dwell on it a little.
Elements brought in contact with each other under certain physical conditions—perhaps heat or electricity—unite and rise into the second plane, i. e., of chemical compounds; so also several elements, C, H, O and N, etc., brought in contact with each other under certain
- Archives des Sciences, vol. xlv., p. 345, December, 1872