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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/243

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WHY PROGRESS IS BY LEAPS.

things and know them more fully and exactly than ever before. The brain, informed and stimulated by its new harvest of impressions, imagined fresh feats of skill and directed them. The rude stone, lifted from the ground and used as a hammer, was gradually shaped as an axe, a scraper, a chisel, an arrowhead. There lay the germ of the ingenuity which blossoms to-day in the locomotive and steamship, in the observatory camera which multiplies the known universe a thousand times, which in the telephone catches the echo of storms sweeping the solar disk. As with the faculty of speech, so doubtless also when the hand began to handle and to tell the brain what it could feel and do. A gain so pregnant as dexterity, even in its feeble inception, would come as an irresistible wedge between the fighters and the workers who had it and their fellows who missed it by however little.

The permutative tendency which we are tracing has dug other gulfs than those which part man and anthropoid. Let us glance for a moment at creatures far beneath mankind in the scale of being. Birds are clearly derived from reptiles, but how far apart to-day are the bird and the reptile! It was the power of flight, with all that it involved in transforming every organ of the body, in revolutionizing habit, that stood at the parting of the ways. Even in its beginnings this power would promote escape from enemies, the procuring food in places otherwise inaccessible. In the process of natural selection here would be the faculty valuable beyond any other, and therefore first seized in its favoring variations. Flight beyond any other capacity would thus be developed and increased as one generation succeeded another, until at last the flier could disregard its unwinged enemies, seek food on steepest crag or farthest islet, and there lay its eggs and nurse its brood with none to make it afraid. As far as the fossil record has been pieced together, it amply warrants this view of the early history of the avian race.

Take passage now to a widely different realm and note the permutative effect wrought when insects supplant the winds at the business of fertilizing flowers. Nectar secreted near the pollen of a plant attracts flies and moths brushed by this pollen; they sail away to other flowers and tie a marriage knot with an effectiveness impossible to the aimless air. The consequence is that simply through such woolliness of vesture as enables them to catch dust on their clothes, insects of narrowest intelligence are unknowingly the painters, sculptors, and perfumers of unnumbered varieties of blossoms. And indefinitely prior to either flower or reptile was the day when the earth, a fiery cloud, had come to the critical point, in its gradual loss of heat, where atom stood almost within the attractive range of atom, when the latent combinability of matter we call chemical was ready to be born. Was not the