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Life, Matter, and Mind.

ARISTOPH. Aves, 686.






Fellow of the Royal College of Phyfidans ; Phyfician to King's College Hofpltal.





[All Rights reserved.}

B3 1


THE nature of the changes which occur in matter
that is alive has always excited great interest ;
it is a question which arrests the attention of all
educated persons, as well as of those who make the
pursuit and advancement of natural science their life

The enquiry is necessarily brought under the
attention of every student of medicine, and it is
natural that physicians who have time and oppor-
tunity, should be led to investigate deeply some of
its ramifications. The minute structure and action
of the tissues and organs of living beings, in health
and disease, early attracted my notice. It is a study
which has had a rare charm for me from boyhood,
and for upwards of twenty years I have been dili-
gently engaged in original research as well as in
public teaching in this particular department of
science. Some of the observations I have made
are recorded in this work. I have avoided the use of
technical terms, and have tried to say what I have to
say in the simplest manner. To save lengthy descrip-
tions a few drawings of some of the specimens upon


which my observations were made have been added
with explanations of the points which these are in-
tended to illustrate.

My views upon the nature of vital actions are at
variance with the doctrines now generally entertained
and taught. I am therefore very desirous that those
interested in the subject should have in small com-
pass the general statement of the facts as they
appear to me. It is to be regretted that upon the
most elementary propositions connected with this
enquiry opinions are sadly conflicting, and many of
the facts and statements upon which they are based
and which are urged in their behalf are quite irrecon-
cileable with one another. It is therefore very dim-
cult for readers to form an impartial judgment. But I
trust it is not too much to ask that the observations
which have led me to the views I entertain, should be
brought under the notice of those who have not yet
subscribed to the doctrine that living things are mere
machines built up by physical forces only, and made
to act by force alone.

Intense energy and activity are displayed by
certain members of the new school in giving publicity
to their views ; they press them in many different
forms, and endeavour to enforce the acceptance of
the physical doctrine of life, and much besides which
it is supposed to include, with all the proverbial ardour
and authority of prophets. All this renders it very
desirable that every one who is engaged in actually
investigating a matter of such deep general interest,


should do his utmost to make the conclusions at
which he arrives intelligible, without affectation of
learning, without mystery, and without in any way
exaggerating the importance of what he may have
to communicate. For the public may reasonably
desire some calm statement of proved facts in a matter
of such importance. It should be the writer's en-
deavour to tell his story simply, so that those who
wish may learn, and to take pains to make the facts
as clear to other minds as they appear to his own,
without trying to amaze by calling in the aid of
startling similes and striking illustrations which but
too often divert the attention from the real matter
under consideration, and are calculated to distract
the mind and prejudice the judgment.

In this edition I have introduced a new section on
the Mind. The views now published in a connected
form for the first time, were put forth in my lectures
delivered by direction of the .Radcliffe Trustees, at
Oxford during the Michaelmas term of last year,
reported in the " Medical Times " and " Gazette," and
less systematically in my physiological lectures de-
livered at King's College, London, during the winter
sessions 1863 to 1869.

6 1 , Grosvenor Street ;
Christmas, 1869.

* # * The degree of amplifying power used is stated at
the foot of each figure in diameters, or linear measure.
x 500, means that the representation is 500 times longer
or wider, measured in one direction only, than the object
itself. If the object was i inch in length, the drawing
would extend over 500 inches, or would be 41 feet 8 inches

The diameter of any object can be ascertained by com-
parison with the scales at the foot of each plate.




Introduction ... ... .., ... ... ... ... ... I

Professor Owen's New Views ... ... ... ... ... ... 5

Note on Ciliary Action ... ... ... ... ... ... 7

Mr. Grove on Experimental Organism ... ... ... ... 9

The term "Protoplasm" II

Huxley's " Endoplast" and "Periplastic Substance" 13

Protoplasm the Physical Basis of Life ... ... ... ... 16

Bathybius of Huxley ... 22

Dr. Wallich's Observations ... ... ... ... ... ... 24

Chemistry of Protoplasm ... ... ... ... ... ... 25

Properties of Matter ... ... ... ... .. ... ... 27

A quosity and Vitality ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 28

Summary of the Things included under " Protoplasm" ... ... 29


Nothing that Lives is Alive in every Part ... .. ... ... 33

Germinal Matter and Formed Material ... ... ... ... 35

The Terms Living and Formed Matter and Pabulum ... ... 37

General Characters of Germinal Matter ... ... ... ... 38

Amoeba... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 39

On Vital Movements 40

Mucus Corpuscle ... . 42

Of New Centres Nuclei and Nucleoli 45



Of the Production of formed Material ... ... ... ... 49

Of the So-called Intercellular Substance ... ... 52

Of the Formation of the Contractile Tissue of Muscle ... ... 54

The Formation of Nerve Fibres ... ,.. ... 55

What is Essential to the Cell 55

Cells are not like Bricks in a Wall ... ... ... ... ... 56

On the Nutrition of a Living Cell .. ... ... ... ... 57

Of the Increase of Cells ... 58

Of the Changes of the Cell in Disease ... ... ... ... 59

Effects of Treatment ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 64


What is to be understood by the term ? ... ... ... ... 61

Non-living Particles of Matter contrasted with Living Particles ... 69

Spontaneous Generation ... ... ... ... ... ... 73

Structure of a Spore of Mildew ... ... ... ... ... 75

Is a Tissue " Living" because attached to a Living Organism ... 79

Chemical and Mechanical Changes in Living Beings ... ... 79

Actions in Living Beings ... ... ... ... ... ... 82

Force guided by Matter ... ... ... ... ... ... 83

Actions which characterize every kind of Living Matter, but which never

occur in any Form of Non-living Matter.

New Views concerning the Vital Processes of Growth and Nu-
trition ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 87

Germinal Matter and Formed Material of the Blood ... ... 96

Nature of the Material which Nourishes the Tissues ... ... 98

Peculiarity of the Nutritive Process... 101

Of Vitality.

Vitality not a Property of Matter ... ... ... ... ... 103

Point at which the Physical School tries to stop further Enquiry ... 107

Of a Living Spherule ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 109

Centrifugal Movement of Living Particles ... ... ...



New Centres not formed by aggregation ... ... ... ...112

Alteration in Vital Power ... ... ... ... ... ... 113

Increased Action ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 114

Hypothesis of Vital Force ... ... ... ... ... ... 116

General Survey of the Phenomena of Living Beings ... ... 118


Of Nerve Action in general ... ... ... ... ... ... 123

Of the Nerve Current 126

Different kinds of Nerve Force ... ... ... ... ... 127

Of the Structure of Nerve Apparatus ... ... ... ... 129

Of Mental Ntrvoiis Action.

Of the Mechanism and its Formation ... ... ... ... 130

Are Mental Nervous Actions of the Nature of Reflex Actions ? ... 133

The Brain is not a Gland ... ... ... ... ... ... 136

Of Mind as a Function of the Brain ... ... ... ... ... 136

Of Mental as compared with Mechanical Action ... ... ... 140.

Of Thought as a Result of Chemical Action... ... ... ... 142

Is the Brain to be looked upon as a Voltaic Battery ? ... ... 143

On Expressing Thoughts ... ... ... ... ... ... 145

Of the Living Matter concerned in Mental Action.

Of the Germinal Matter taking part in Mental Operations ... ... 149

Difference between this and other kinds of Germinal Matter ... 150

Of the Order in which different kinds of Germinal Matter are

affected in Disease... ... ... ... ... ... ... 151

Origin of Germinal Matter ... ... ... ... ... ... 153

New Powers acquired in Development ... ... ... ... 154

Effects of Exercise ... ... ... ... ... 155

Of the Nature of Will, and of the Life of Germinal Matter taking

part in Mental Operations ... ... ... ... ... 156



In this drawing the germinal or living matter of mildew duiing growth is represented. The figures
have been copied from specimens well stained by immersion in carmine fluid, a, spores protected
by a thick layer of formed material. 6, smallest particles of germinal or living matter within ; any
one of these minute particles might grow, c, a spore bursting ; germinal matter escaping, d, a spore
enlarged by growth, e, a spore sprouting. /, an old spore, the formed material of which has b<-en
much thickened by the formation of new layers within. The remaining figures show the growth of
the long filaments (mycelium) and the fructification of the fungus. It will be noticed that in all
these changes the germinal matter only takes part. The formed material is perfectly passive, and
does not GROW. Magnified 17CO diameters.

lOOCth of an inch


[HE opinion that life is a form or mode of energy
or motion has for many years past been gaining
an increased number of advocates, and now ap-
pears to be very generally entertained and taught by
scientific men. The idea that life is a power, force, or
property of a special and peculiar kind, temporarily influ-
encing matter and its ordinary forces, but entirely different
from, and in no way correlated with any of these, has been
ridiculed, and is often spoken of as if it were too absurd to
require refutation. And yet it is doubtful if any one who
has carefully studied the matter is fully satisfied as to the
accuracy of the facts, and the cogency of the arguments
advanced in favour of the physical doctrine of life. The
very positive affirmations made by some authorities, un-
supported as they are by well-demonstrated facts, almost
suggest to the reader a suspicion whether after all, the
writer himself believes the doctrine to which he has com-
mitted himself, and which he has determined to advocate
with all the force of his authority, and to the very utmost
of his power, to be really true.

It may be that facts recently discovered strongly support


this now popular notion : it may be that the tendency of
modern research is, as has been said, indubitably and
strongly in this direction, but some of us cannot feel satis-
fied that this is really so. Surely it is not too much to ask
that the exact way should be pointed out in which new
facts afford support to the doctrine, and that we should be
furnished with something more definite to guide our reason
than what is called the " tendency" of investigation, of
thought, or opinion; for this " tendency," when carefully
analyzed, will sometimes be found to amount only to this,
that certain influential persons have determined that a par-
ticular opinion shall be widely taught, or a particular theory
agreed upon shall be expounded and diffused as widely and
as quickly as possible.

Disclaiming authority of every kind, the adherents of
the new school of opinion profess to influence others, and to
be influenced themselves, by reason alone. But by urging
" the tendency of investigation" and "the spirit of modern
thought" in favour of doctrines they cannot support by evi-
dence, they appeal to the shadow of an authority which they
affect to despise. Every student has undoubted right to
require that scientific doctrines, which he is asked and
expected to accept as true, should be supported by facts
rather than by the authority of tendencies and prophecies.
In favour of regarding living beings as mere machines built
by force alone, maintained and preserved by force, and even
created by force, it is true, very positive statements have
been made ; but these have been, for the most part, sup-
ported by arguments more ingenious than conclusive. I for
one am ready to accept these views, no matter what change


in opinions, beliefs, or hopes that acceptance may involve,
provided only they are shown to rest upon facts of obser-
vation and experiment. But should mere authority alone
induce any conscientious, thoughtful man, who has devoted
himself to the study of nature, to believe and confess that
a living, moving, growing thing is but a force-created, force-
impelled machine? When we watch the lowest forms of
living matter under high magnifying powers, do we learn
anything to justify us in accepting such a view ? When we
ask our confident teachers of the new philosophy to assist
us, we get dogmatic assertions, but nothing by way of
explanation. Grand words are freely used, but the terms
employed are not denned. It is, however, true enough,
that men eminent among philosophers, as well as some
of the most distinguished living physicists, chemists, and
naturalists, have accepted this physical theory of life. They
have taught that life is but a mode of ordinary force, and
that the living thing differs from the non-living thing, not
in quality, or essence, or kind, but merely in degree.
They do not attempt to explain the difference between a
living thing and the same thing dead. They would perhaps
tell us that living and dead are only relative terms ; that
there is no absolute difference between the dead and living
states ; and that the thing which we call dead, is, after all,
only a few degrees less actively living than the thing we say
is alive. But is this sort of reasoning convincing, seeing
that although matter in the living state may suddenly pass
into the dead state, this same matter can never pass back
again into the living condition ? Those who advocate this
doctrine do not believe in the annihilation of force, when

B 2


a living thing suddenly passes from the living into the
dead state ; but yet they do not demonstrate the new form
or mode which the departing life-energy assumes, or explain
to us what in their opinion becomes of it. If the dead
thing only differs from the living thing by a few degrees of
heat or units of force, why can we not, by supplying more
heat or force, prevent dissolution, or cause the actions to
go on again after they have once stopped ?

In fact this view has been supported by assertions
instead of by facts, and of the arguments hitherto advanced
in its favour by its most powerful advocates, all are incon-
clusive, and some quite unjustifiable. He who chooses may
accept upon faith as an article of belief the dogma that all
the actions of living beings are due to ordinary forces only
but it is absurd to put forward such a conclusion as if it
had been proved, or as if it were in the existing state of
knowledge capable of proof. So long as the advocates of
the physical doctrine of life contented themselves with
ridiculing " vitality" as a fiction and a myth, because it could
not be made evident to the senses, measured or weighed,
or proved scientifically to exist, their position was not easily
assailed ; but now when they assert dogmatically that vital
force is only a form or mode of ordinary motion, they are
bound to show that the assertion rests upon evidence, or it
will be regarded by thoughtful men as one of a large num-
ber of fanciful hypotheses, advocated only by those who
desire to swell the ranks of the teachers and expounders
of dogmatic science, which, although pretentious and autho-
ritative, must ever be intolerant and unprogressive.



T)ROFESSOR OWEN has lately avowed his belief in
-L the doctrine that the so-called vital forces are really
ordinary physical forces. Unlike many advocates, however,
he admits that " on one or two points " proof is wanting.
But Owen goes much farther than the most advanced micro-
scopical observers and scientific investigators. He main-
tains that the formation of living beings out of inanimate
matter, by the conversion of physical and chemical into
vital modes of force, is going on daily and hourly ! The
evidence he has adduced in favour of this strange view, it
need scarcely be said, is scanty, uncertain, and uncon-
vincing ; while a mass of facts and arguments which have
been adduced in favour of the opposite conclusion, that
every particle of living matter comes from a pre-existing particle,
has been unconsciously neglected or purposely ignored.

It is very significant that so great a master is unable to
suggest a better instance of the analogy which he affirms
exists between physical and vital actions than is afforded
by magnetism. He says that there is nothing peculiar to
living things in their power of selecting certain constituents,
because a magnet selects also. Let the reader consider
how different is the process called selection in these two
cases. A magnet, says Owen, attracts towards it only
certain kinds (a certain kind ?) of matter. Is there, then,
no difference between selection and attraction ? Nor, he
further observes, is death characteristic of things living


only; for if the steel be unmagnetized, is it not " dead?"
Devitalize the sarcode (living amoeba), unmagnetize the
steel, and both cease to manifest their respective vital or
magnetic phenomena. In that respect both are " defunct."
" Only," remarks the same authority, " the steel resists
much longer the surrounding decomposing agencies ;" and
I would add, but this Owen would regard as a matter of
the utmost indifference, you can unmagnetize and remag-
netize the magnet as often as you like, but you can only
kill the amoeba once, and you can never revitalize it.

In answer to my objections to some of his statements,
Professor Owen observes that " there are organisms (Vibrio
Rotifer, Macrobiotus, &c.) which we can devitalize and
revitalize devive and revive many times."* That such
organisms can be revived, all will admit, but probably Pro-
fessor Owen will be alone in not recognizing any distinction
between the words revitalizing and reviving. The animal-
cule that can be revived has never been dead, but that
which is not dead cannot be revitalized. The difference
between the living state and the dead state is absolute, for
that which has once lost its life can never regain it. The
half-drowned man that can be revived has never been dead.

If Owen regards the (apparently) dried animalcule as
being " as completely lifeless as is the drowned man whose
breath and heat have gone, and whose blood has ceased to
circulate," he will not find many to agree with him ; for
will not a drop of water resuscitate or revive the one, but
who shall revitalize the other ?

* "The Monthly Microscopical Journal," No. V, May I, 1869,
p. 294.



In the case of ciliary action we have an example of a movement
which, though not strictly a vital movement, like that of the amoeba
(see p. 39), is really dependent upon changes which are a direct result
of vital phenomena. The cilium itself is not composed of living matter,
but its base is certainly in very intimate relation with matter that is
alive. The latter may indeed be actually prolonged into the base of
the cilium. The vibratile movement is probably due to an alteration
taking place in the tension of the fluid which pervades the tissue,
induced by the action of the living matter of the cell. The rate of
vibration varying according to the rapidity with which the living matter
of the cell absorbs nutrient substances, and undergoes conversion into
formed matter, or in other words, the rapidity with which the formation
of new living matter and the death of the old particles takes place.
When ciliary action ceases, we cannot, I think, say that each individual
cilium dies, for after all action has ceased a little alkaline fluid will
cause the cilium to vibrate again actively. We must not, therefore,
infer that the dying cilium has been revived or the dead cilium
revitalized by. the liquor potassse, for the fact seems rather to point to
the conclusion that the action of the cilium which occurs during life
is due to physical changes, and is not a vital action.

My friend, Dr. Rutherford, has suggested that the fact of the
cessation of movement at the base of the cilium, while the thin part
still continues to vibrate, might be advanced as an argument against
the views advocated by me in the following pages, and if the cilium
itself were composed of living matter, like the body of an amoeba,
such an objection would undoubtedly hold : but if, on the other
hand, the movement is physical, due to alterations in the currents
of fluid through the cell, we should expect that it would continue
longer at the apex than at the base, for the simple reason that
an impulse which would be sufficient to make the thin free part vibrate
freely would be insufficient to move the thicker portion attached to
the cell. We cannot say that the cilium dies from base to apex,
for the whole vibratile appendage is as destitute of life while it is yet
vibrating actively, as after it has ceased to move, and if we could only
make fluid flow through the cell after its death interruptedly in the same


direction, and with the same force as it is made to flow during life by
the action of the living matter, ciliary movement would continue,
although the living matter of the cell was actually dead. It is most
important to distinguish between vital movements occurring in living
matter, and mechanical movements which result from alterations in
tension, the flow of currents, &c., consequent upon changes effected by
living matter.



MR. GROVE has recently* affirmed that "in a voltaic
battery and its effects" we have "the nearest ap-
proach man has made to experimental organism :" but surely
it should be shown in what particulars a voltaic battery
resembles an organism. All organisms come from pre-
existing organisms, and all their tissues and organs are formed
from or by a little clear, transparent, structureless, moving
matter which came from matter like itself, but may increase
by appropriating to itself matter having none of its properties
or powers. Now, voltaic batteries do not grow or multiply,
nor do they evolve themselves out of structureless material,
nor, if you give them ever so much pabulum in the shape of
the constituents of which they are made, do they appro-
priate this. Where too is the chemist who gives what is to
be selected ? What then does Mr. Grove mean by asserting
that a voltaic battery is the nearest approach man has made
to experimental organism ? Has man yet made the slightest
approach to experimental organism ? If any apparatus we
could contrive developed all possible modes of force
motion, heat/ light, electricity, magnetism, chemical action,
and any number of others yet to be discovered that
apparatus would still present no approach whatever to any
organism known. Of course such a thing might he called
an organism, just as a watch, or water, or a gas, or an
elementary substance may be called a creature, or a worm

* "British Medical Journal," May 29, 1869, p. 486.


a machine ; but everything that lives every so-called living
machine grows of itself, builds itself up, and multiplies,
while every non-living machine is made, does not grow, and

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