Samuel Butler.

Selections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal online

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the original performance by A, yet B and C both act with the guidance of
a memory and experience of some kind, while A acted without any. Thus
the clerk referred to in Chapter X. will act on the third day much as he
acted on the second - that is to say, he will see the policeman at the
corner of the street, but will not question him.

When the action is repeated by J for the tenth time, the difference
between J's repetition of it and I's will be due solely to the difference
between a recollection of nine past performances by J against only eight
by I, and this is so much proportionately less than the difference
between a recollection of two performances and of only one, that a less
modification of action should be expected. At the same time
consciousness concerning an action repeated for the tenth time should be
less acute than on the first repetition. Memory, therefore, though
tending to disturb similarity of action less and less continually, must
always cause some disturbance. At the same time the possession of a
memory on the successive repetitions of an action after the first, and,
perhaps, the first two or three, during which the recollection may be
supposed still imperfect, will tend to ensure uniformity, for it will be
one of the elements of sameness in the agents - they both acting by the
light of experience and memory.

During the embryonic stages and in childhood we are almost entirely under
the guidance of a practised and powerful memory of circumstances which
have been often repeated, not only in detail and piecemeal, but as a
whole, and under many slightly varying conditions; thus the performance
has become well averaged and matured in its arrangements, so as to meet
all ordinary emergencies. We therefore act with great unconsciousness
and vary our performances little. Babies are much more alike than
persons of middle age.

Up to the average age at which our ancestors have had children during
many generations, we are still guided in great measure by memory; but the
variations in external circumstances begin to make themselves perceptible
in our characters. In middle life we live more and more continually upon
the piecing together of details of memory drawn from our personal
experience, that is to say, upon the memory of our own antecedents; and
this resembles the kind of memory we hypothetically attached to cream a
little time ago. It is not surprising, then, that a son who has
inherited his father's tastes and constitution, and who lives much as his
father had done, should make the same mistakes as his father did when he
reaches his father's age - we will say of seventy - though he cannot
possibly remember his father's having made the mistakes. It were to be
wished we could, for then we might know better how to avoid gout, cancer,
or what not. And it is to be noticed that the developments of old age
are generally things we should be glad enough to avoid if we knew how to
do so.


If we observed the resemblance between successive generations to be as
close as that between distilled water and distilled water through all
time, and if we observed that perfect unchangeableness in the action of
living beings which we see in what we call chemical and mechanical
combinations, we might indeed suspect that memory had as little place
among the causes of their action as it can have in anything, and that
each repetition, whether of a habit or the practice of art, or of an
embryonic process in successive generations, was as original as the
"Origin of Species" itself, for all that memory had to do with it. I
submit, however, that in the case of the reproductive forms of life we
see just so much variety, in spite of uniformity, as is consistent with a
repetition involving not only a nearly perfect similarity in the agents
and their circumstances, but also the little departure therefrom that is
inevitably involved in the supposition that a memory of like presents as
well as of like antecedents (as distinguished from a memory of like
antecedents only) has played a part in their development - a cyclical
memory, if the expression may be pardoned.

There is life infinitely lower and more minute than any which our most
powerful microscopes reveal to us, but let us leave this upon one side
and begin with the amoeba. Let us suppose that this "structureless"
morsel of protoplasm is, for all its "structurelessness," composed of an
infinite number of living molecules, each one of them with hopes and
fears of its own, and all dwelling together like Tekke Turcomans, of whom
we read that they live for plunder only, and that each man of them is
entirely independent, acknowledging no constituted authority, but that
some among them exercise a tacit and undefined influence over the others.
Let us suppose these molecules capable of memory, both in their capacity
as individuals and as societies, and able to transmit their memories to
their descendants from the traditions of the dimmest past to the
experiences of their own lifetime. Some of these societies will remain
simple, as having had no history, but to the greater number unfamiliar,
and therefore striking, incidents will from time to time occur, which,
when they do not disturb memory so greatly as to kill, will leave their
impression upon it. The body or society will remember these incidents
and be modified by them in its conduct, and therefore more or less in its
internal arrangements, which will tend inevitably to specialisation. This
memory of the most striking events of varied lifetimes I maintain, with
Professor Hering, to be the differentiating cause, which, accumulated in
countless generations, has led up from the amoeba to man. If there had
been no such memory, the amoeba of one generation would have exactly
resembled the amoeba of the preceding, and a perfect cycle would have
been established; the modifying effects of an additional memory in each
generation have made the cycle into a spiral, and into a spiral whose
eccentricities, in the outset hardly perceptible, is becoming greater and
greater with increasing longevity and more complex social and mechanical

We say that the chicken grows the horny tip to its beak with which it
ultimately pecks its way out of its shell, because it remembers having
grown it before, and the use it made of it. We say that it made it on
the same principles as a man makes a spade or a hammer, that is to say,
as the joint result both of desire and experience. When I say
experience, I mean, experience not only of what will be wanted, but also
of the details of all the means that must be taken in order to effect
this. Memory, therefore, is supposed to guide the chicken not only in
respect of the main design, but in respect also of every atomic action,
so to speak, which goes to make up the execution of this design. It is
not only the suggestion of a plan which is due to memory, but, as
Professor Hering has so well said, it is the binding power of memory
which alone renders any consolidation or coherence of action possible,
inasmuch as without this no action could have parts subordinate one to
another, yet bearing upon a common end; no part of an action, great or
small, could have reference to any other part, much less to a combination
of all the parts; nothing, in fact, but ultimate atoms of actions could
ever happen - these bearing the same relation to such an action, we will
say, as a railway journey from London to Edinburgh as a single molecule
of hydrogen to a gallon of water.

If asked how it is that the chicken shows no sign of consciousness
concerning this design, nor yet of the steps it is taking to carry it
out, we reply that such unconsciousness is usual in all cases where an
action, and the design which prompts it, have been repeated exceedingly
often. If, again, we are asked how we account for the regularity with
which each step is taken in its due order, we answer that this too is
characteristic of actions that are done habitually - they being very
rarely misplaced in respect of any part.

When I wrote Life and Habit, I had arrived at the conclusion that memory
was the most essential characteristic of life, and went so far as to say,
"Life is that property of matter whereby it can remember - matter which
can remember is living." I should perhaps have written, "Life is the
being possessed of a memory - the life of a thing at any moment is the
memories which at that moment it retains;" and I would modify the words
that immediately follow, namely, "Matter which cannot remember is dead;"
for they imply that there is such a thing as matter which cannot remember
anything at all, and this on fuller consideration I do not believe to be
the case; I can conceive of no matter which is not able to remember a
little, and which is not living in respect of what it can remember. I do
not see how action of any kind (chemical as much as vital) is conceivable
without the supposition that every atom retains a memory of certain
antecedents. I cannot, however, at this point, enter upon the reasons
which have compelled me to join the many who are now adopting this
conclusion. Whether these would be deemed sufficient or no, at any rate
we cannot believe that a system of self-reproducing associations should
develop from the simplicity of the amoeba to the complexity of the human
body without the presence of that memory which can alone account at once
for the resemblances and the differences between successive generations,
for the arising and the accumulation of divergences - for the tendency to
differ and the tendency not to differ.

At parting, therefore, I would recommend the reader to see every atom in
the universe as living and able to feel and to remember, but in a humble
way. He must have life eternal, as well as matter eternal; and the life
and the matter must be joined together inseparably as body and soul to
one another. Thus he will see God everywhere, not as those who repeat
phrases conventionally, but as people who would have their words taken
according to their most natural and legitimate meaning; and he will feel
that the main difference between him and many of those who oppose him
lies in the fact that whereas both he and they use the same language, his
opponents only half mean what they say, while he means it entirely.

The attempt to get a higher form of a life from a lower one is in
accordance with our observation and experience. It is therefore proper
to be believed. The attempt to get it from that which has absolutely no
life is like trying to get something out of nothing. The millionth part
of a farthing put out to interest at ten per cent. will in five hundred
years become over a million pounds, and so long as we have any millionth
of a millionth of the farthing to start with, our getting as many million
pounds as we have a fancy for is only a question of time, but without the
initial millionth of a millionth of a millionth part, we shall get no
increment whatever. A little leaven will leaven the whole lump, but
there must be _some_ leaven.

We should endeavour to see the so-called inorganic as living, in respect
of the qualities it has in common with the organic, rather than the
organic as non-living in respect of the qualities it has in common with
the inorganic. True, it would be hard to place one's self on the same
moral platform as a stone, but this is not necessary; it is enough that
we should feel the stone to have a moral platform of its own, though that
platform embraces little more than a profound respect for the laws of
gravitation, chemical affinity, &c. As for the difficulty of conceiving
a body as living that has not got a reproductive system - we should
remember that neuter insects are living but are believed to have no
reproductive system. Again, we should bear in mind that mere
assimilation involves all the essentials of reproduction, and that both
air and water possess this power in a very high degree. The essence of a
reproductive system, then, is found low down in the scheme of nature.

At present our leading men of science are in this difficulty; on the one
hand their experiments and their theories alike teach them that
spontaneous generation ought not to be accepted; on the other, they must
have an origin for the life of the living forms, which, by their own
theory, have been evolved, and they can at present get this origin in no
other way than by _Deus ex machina_ method, which they reject as
unproved, or spontaneous generation of living from non-living matter,
which is no less foreign to their experience. As a general rule, they
prefer the latter alternative. So Professor Tyndall, in his celebrated
article (_Nineteenth Century_, November 1878), wrote: -

"The theory of evolution in its complete form involves the assumption
that at some period or other of the earth's history there occurred what
would be now called 'spontaneous generation.'" {217} And so Professor
Huxley -

"It is argued that a belief in abiogenesis is a necessary corollary
from the doctrine of Evolution. This may be" [which I submit is
equivalent here to "is"] "true of the occurrence of abiogenesis at
some time." {218}

Professor Huxley goes on to say that however this may be, abiogenesis (or
spontaneous generation) is not respectable and will not do at all now.
There may have been one case once; this may be winked at, but it must not
occur again. "It is enough," he writes, "that a single particle of
living protoplasm should once have appeared on the globe as the result of
no matter what agency. In the eyes of a consistent [!] evolutionist any
further [!] independent formation of protoplasm would be sheer waste" - and
the sooner the Almighty gets to understand that He must not make that
single act of special creation into a precedent the better for Him.

Professor Huxley, in fact, excuses the single case of spontaneous
generation which he appears to admit, because however illegitimate, it
was still "only a very little one," and came off a long time ago in a
foreign country. For my own part I think it will prove in the end more
convenient if we say that there is a low kind of livingness in every atom
of matter, and adopt Life eternal as no less inevitable a conclusion than
matter eternal.

It should not be doubted that wherever there is vibration or motion there
is life and memory, and that there is vibration and motion at all times
in all things. The reader who takes the above position will find that he
can explain the entry of what he calls death among what he calls the
living, whereas he could by no means introduce life into his system if he
started without it. Death is deducible; life is not deducible. Death is
a change of memories; it is not the destruction of all memory. It is as
the liquidation of one company each member of which will presently join a
new one, and retain a trifle even of the old cancelled memory, by way of
greater aptitude for working in concert with other molecules. This is
why animals feed on grass and on each other, and cannot proselytise or
convert the rude ground before it has been tutored in the first
principles of the higher kinds of association.

Again, I would recommend the reader to beware of believing anything in
this book unless he either likes it, or feels angry at being told it. If
required belief in this or that makes a man angry, I suppose he should,
as a general rule, swallow it whole then and there upon the spot,
otherwise he may take it or leave it as he likes.

I have not gone far for my facts, nor yet far from them; all on which I
rest are as open to the reader as to me. If I have sometimes used hard
terms, the probability is that I have not understood them, but have done
so by a slip, as one who has caught a bad habit from the company he has
been lately keeping. They should be skipped.

Do not let the reader be too much cast down by the bad language with
which professional scientists obscure the issue, nor by their seeming to
make it their business to fog us under the pretext of removing our
difficulties. It is not the ratcatcher's interest to catch all the rats;
and, as Handel observed so sensibly, "Every professional gentleman must
do his best for to live." The art of some of our philosophers, however,
is sufficiently transparent, and consists too often in saying "organism
which . . . must be classified among fishes," {220a} instead of "fish"
and then proclaiming that they have "an ineradicable tendency to try to
make things clear." {220b}

If another example is required, here is the following from an article
than which I have seen few with which I more completely agree, or which
have given me greater pleasure. If our men of science would take to
writing in this way, we should be glad enough to follow them. The
passage I refer to runs thus: -

"Professor Huxley speaks of a 'verbal fog by which the question at
issue may be hidden;' is there no verbal fog in the statement that
_the aetiology of crayfishes resolves itself into a gradual evolution
in the course of the mesozoic and subsequent epochs of the world's
history of these animals from a primitive astacomorphous form_? Would
it be fog or light that would envelop the history of man if we say
that the existence of man was explained by the hypothesis of his
gradual evolution from a primitive anthropomorphous form? I should
call this fog, not light." {220c}

Especially let him mistrust those who are holding forth about protoplasm,
and maintaining that this is the only living substance. Protoplasm may
be, and perhaps is, the _most_ living part of an organism, as the most
capable of retaining vibrations, of a certain character, but this is the
utmost that can be claimed for it. I have noticed, however, that
protoplasm has not been buoyant lately in the scientific market.

Having mentioned protoplasm, I may ask the reader to note the breakdown
of that school of philosophy which divided the _ego_ from the _non ego_.
The protoplasmists, on the one hand, are whittling away at _ego_, till
they have reduced it to a little jelly in certain parts of the body, and
they will whittle away this too presently, if they go on as they are
doing now.

Others, again, are so unifying the _ego_ and the _non ego_, that with
them there will soon be as little of the _non ego_ left as there is of
the _ego_ with their opponents. Both, however, are so far agreed as that
we know not where to draw the line between the two, and this renders
nugatory any system which is founded upon a distinction between them.

The truth is, that all classification whatever, when we examine its
_raison d'etre_ closely, is found to be arbitrary - to depend on our sense
of our own convenience, and not on any inherent distinction in the nature
of the things themselves. Strictly speaking, there is only one thing and
one action. The universe, or God, and the action of the universe as a

Lastly, I may predict with some certainty that before long we shall find
the original Darwinism of Dr. Erasmus Darwin (with an infusion of
Professor Hering into the bargain) generally accepted instead of the neo-
Darwinism of to-day, and that the variations whose accumulation results
in species will be recognised as due to the wants and endeavours of the
living forms in which they appear, instead of being ascribed to chance,
or, in other words, to unknown causes, as by Mr. Charles Darwin's system.
We shall have some idyllic young naturalists bringing up Dr. Erasmus
Darwin's note on _Trapa natans_ {221} and Lamarck's kindred passage on
the descent of _Ranunculus hederaceus_ from _Ranunculus aquatilis_ {222a}
as fresh discoveries, and be told with much happy simplicity, that those
animals and plants which have felt the need of such a structure have
developed it, while those which have not wanted it have gone without it.
Thus it will be declared, every leaf we see around us, every structure of
the minutest insect, will bear witness to the truth of the "great guess"
of the greatest of naturalists concerning the memory of living matter.

I dare say the public will not object to this, and am very sure that none
of the admirers of Mr. Charles Darwin or Mr. Wallace will protest against
it; but it may be as well to point out that this was not the view of the
matter taken by Mr. Wallace in 1858 when he and Mr. Darwin first came
forward as preachers of natural selection. At that time Mr. Wallace saw
clearly enough the difference between the theory of "natural selection"
and that of Lamarck. He wrote: -

"The hypothesis of Lamarck - that progressive changes in species have
been produced by the attempts of animals to increase the development
of their own organs and thus modify their structure and habits - has
been repeatedly and easily refuted by all writers on the subject of
varieties and species, . . . but the view here developed renders such
a hypothesis quite unnecessary . . . The powerful retractile talons
of the falcon and the cat tribes have not been produced or increased
by the volition of those animals, . . . neither did the giraffe
acquire its long neck by desiring to reach the foliage of the more
lofty shrubs, and constantly stretching its neck for this purpose, but
because any varieties which occurred among its antitypes with a longer
neck than usual _at once secured a fresh range of pasture over the
same ground as their short-necked companions_, _and on the first
scarcity of food were thereby enabled to outlive them_" (italics in
original). {223a}

This is absolutely the neo-Darwin doctrine, and a denial of the mainly
fortuitous character of the variations in animal and vegetable forms cuts
at its root. That Mr. Wallace, after years of reflection, still adhered
to this view, is proved by his heading a reprint of the paragraph just
quoted from {223b} with the words "Lamarck's hypothesis very different
from that now advanced;" nor do any of his more recent works show that he
has modified his opinion. It should be noted that Mr. Wallace does not
call his work Contributions to the Theory of Evolution, but to that of
Natural Selection.

Mr. Darwin, with characteristic caution, only commits himself to saying
that Mr. Wallace has arrived at _almost_ (italics mine) the same general
conclusions as he, Mr. Darwin, has done; {223c} but he still, as in 1859,
declares that it would be "a serious error to suppose that the greater
number of instincts have been acquired by habit in one generation and
then transmitted by inheritance to succeeding generations," {223d} and he
still comprehensively condemns the "well-known doctrine of inherited
habit, as advanced by Lamarck." {224}

As for the statement in the passage quoted from Mr. Wallace, to the
effect that Lamarck's hypothesis "has been repeatedly and easily refuted
by all writers on the subject of varieties and species," it is a very
surprising one. I have searched Evolution literature in vain for any
refutation of the Erasmus Darwinian system (for this is what Lamarck's
hypothesis really is), which need make the defenders of that system at
all uneasy. The best attempt at an answer to Erasmus Darwin that has yet
been made is Paley's Natural Theology, which was throughout obviously
written to meet Buffon and the Zoonomia. It is the manner of theologians
to say that such and such an objection "has been refuted over and over
again," without at the same time telling us when and where; it is to be
regretted that Mr. Wallace has here taken a leaf out of the theologians'
book. His statement is one which will not pass muster with those whom
public opinion is sure in the end to follow.

Did Mr. Herbert Spencer, for example, "repeatedly and easily refute"
Lamarck's hypothesis in his brilliant article in the _Leader_, March 20,
1852? On the contrary, that article is expressly directed against those
"who cavalierly reject the hypothesis of Lamarck and his followers." This
article was written six years before the words last quoted from Mr.
Wallace; how absolutely, however, does the word "cavalierly" apply to

Does Isidore Geoffrey, again, bear Mr. Wallace's assertion out better? In
1859 - that is to say but a short time after Mr. Wallace had written - he
wrote as follows: -

"Such was the language which Lamarck heard during his protracted old
age, saddened alike by the weight of years and blindness; this was
what people did not hesitate to utter over his grave yet barely
closed, and what indeed they are still saying - commonly too without

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerSelections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal → online text (page 15 of 23)