Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/21

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
17
THE MECHANISTIC CONCEPTION OF LIFE

7. The Harmonious Character of the Organisms

It is not possible to prove in a short address that all life phenomena will yield to a physico-chemical analysis. We have selected only the phenomena of fertilization and heredity, since these phenomena are specific for living organisms and without analogues in inanimate nature; and if we can convince ourselves that these processes can be explained physico-chemically we may safely expect the same of such processes for which there exist a priori analogies in inanimate nature, as, e. g., for absorption and secretion.

We must, however, settle a question which offers itself not only to the layman but also to every biologist, namely, how we shall conceive that wonderful "adaptation of each part to the whole" by which an organism becomes possible. In the answer of this question the metaphysician finds an opportunity to put above the purely chemical and physical processes something specific which is characteristic of life only: the "Zielstrebigkeit," the "harmony" of the phenomena, or the "dominants" of Reinke and similar things.

With all due personal respect for the authors of such terms I am of the opinion that we are dealing here, as in all cases of metaphysics, with a play on words. That a part is so constructed that it serves the "whole" is only an unclear expression for the fact that a species is only able to live—or to use Roux's expression—is only durable, if it is provided with the automatic mechanism for self-preservation and reproduction. If, for instance, warm-blooded animals should originate without a circulation they could not remain alive, and this is the reason why we never find such forms. The phenomena of "adaptation" cause only apparent difficulties since we rarely or never become aware of the numerous faultily constructed organisms which appear in nature. I will illustrate by a concrete example that the number of species which we observe is only an infinitely small fraction of those which can originate and possibly not rarely do originate, but which we never see since their organization does not allow them to exist long. Moenkhaus found ten years ago that it is possible to fertilize the egg of each marine bony fish with the sperm of practically any other marine bony fish. His embryos apparently lived only a very short time. This year I succeeded in keeping such hybrid embryos between distantly related bony fish alive for over a month. It is, therefore, clear that it is possible to cross practically any marine teleost with any other.

The number of teleosts at present in existence is about 10,000. If we accomplish all possible hybridization 100,000,000 different crosses will result. Of these teleosts only a very small proportion, namely about one one-hundredth of one per cent., can live. It turned out in my experiments that the heterogeneous hybrids between bony fishes formed