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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/34

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

put together thus and so, information, important information, it may well be, is given. But plainly our question is not answered, it is merely pushed a step farther back. In the equations of science, it would seem, matter is represented by an x, whose value is seldom sought. But with everything made out of matter, it is certainly worth the while to search out its intrinsic nature.

Possibly then, since common sense and science appear to be equally unable to say what matter is, the problem is beyond the scope of human powers. May be, as Lord Dundreary says, it is one of those things no fellow can tell. It may be so, but it is well to remember that the discoveries of science have nearly all been things that the faint-hearted said no fellow could tell. Besides, as regards the problem of matter, no philosophic generation has ever been wholly agnostic, and the foremost members of the present and latest scientific generation are not agnostic. And, moreover—a point of especial significance—it is well to remind ourselves that philosophers and scientists, in spite of the difference of their points of view, and of their methods, seem rapidly to be approaching agreement as to the nature of matter. It should then repay us to hear what they have to say.

Insisting, as we have seen, that sensations—colors, sounds, tastes and the rest, are not matter, or any part of matter, philosophers—at least those unconfused by Hume's oversophisticated attack on causes, taken so seriously by Kant—these philosophers, I say, maintain that sensations rightly studied tell us what matter is. Known directly, and indirectly as effects of matter working on our senses, sensations, critically considered, show matter to be a vastly complicated system of active causes, occupying space, that and nothing more.[1] Each material object is thus known to be a group of forces, more or less complicated in their interplay, and varied as to their constituent elements.

The forces constituting a living cell are very varied in kind and complicated in interplay, as compared with those composing an equal volume of hydrogen gas; but complicated and varied forces are forces none the less. Moreover, all kinds of matter have one quality in common, the forceful defense of the space they occupy. This is called their solidity or impenetrability. Everything material opposes force to attempted encroachment on its space, and, unless given room elsewhere, absolutely prevents its entire appropriation; though all the forces of the universe pressed upon a single drop of water, it could not be annihilated. Thus impenetrability is the active defense of space. The fundamental constituent of matter is force.[2] And other constituents are the chemical, electrical and remaining physical activities, whose

  1. Nothing more so far as sensations of the special senses can help us to know the intrinsic nature of matter.
  2. Some would prefer the term "energy," others "activity." I know of no satisfactory term; but the thing denoted is real, many and baffling as are the mysteries it contains.