Yet finalism is not, like mechanism, a doctrine with fixed rigid outlines. It admits of as many inflections as we like. The mechanistic philosophy is to be taken or left: it must be left if the least grain of dust, by straying from the path foreseen by mechanics, should show the slightest trace of spontaneity. The doctrine of final causes, on the contrary, will never be definitively refuted. If one form of it be put aside, it will take another. Its principle, which is essentially psychological, is very flexible. It is so extensible, and thereby so comprehensive, that one accepts something of it as soon as one rejects pure mechanism. The theory we shall put forward in this book will therefore necessarily partake of finalism to a certain extent. For that reason it is important to intimate exactly what we are going to take of it, and what we mean to leave.
Let us say at once that to thin out the Leibnizian finalism by breaking it into an infinite number of pieces seems to us a step in the wrong direction. This is, however, the tendency of the doctrine of finality. It fully realizes that if the universe as a whole is the carrying out of a plan, this cannot be demonstrated empirically, and that even of the organized world alone it is hardly easier to prove all harmonious: facts would equally well testify to the contrary. Nature sets living beings at discord with one another. She everywhere presents disorder alongside of order, retrogression alongside of progress. But, though finality cannot be affirmed either of the whole of matter or of the whole of life, might it not yet be true, says the finalist, of each organism taken separately? Is there not a wonderful division of labor, a marvellous solidarity among the parts of an organism, perfect order in infinite complexity? Does not each living being thus realize a plan immanent in its substance?—This theory consists, at bottom, in breaking up the original notion of finality into bits. It does not accept, indeed it ridicules, the idea of an external finality, according to which living beings are ordered with regard to each other: to suppose the grass made for the cow, the lamb for the wolf—that is all acknowledged to be absurd. But there is, we are told, an internal finality: each being is made for itself, all its parts conspire for the greatest good of the whole and are intelligently organized in view of that end. Such is the notion of finality which has long been classic. Finalism has shrunk to the point of never embracing more than one living being at a time. By making itself smaller, it probably thought it would offer less surface for blows.
The truth is, it lay open to them a great deal more. Radical as our own theory may appear, finality is external or it is nothing at all.
Consider the most complex and the most harmonious organism. All the elements, we are told, conspire for the greatest good of the whole. Very well, but let us not forget that each of these elements may itself be an organism in certain cases, and that in subordinating the existence of this small organism to the life of the great one we accept the principle of an external finality. The idea of a finality that is always internal is therefore a self-destructive notion. An organism is composed of tissues, each of which lives for itself. The cells of which the tissues are made have also a certain independence. Strictly speaking, if the subordination of all the elements of the individual to the individual itself were complete, we might contend that they are not organisms, reserve the name organism for the individual, and recognize only internal finality. But every one knows that these elements may possess a true autonomy. To say nothing of phagocytes, which push independence to the point of attacking the organism that nourishes them, or of germinal cells, which have their own life alongside the somatic cells—the facts of regeneration are enough: here an element or a group of elements suddenly reveals that, however limited its normal space and function, it can transcend them occasionally; it may even, in certain cases, be regarded as the equivalent of the whole.
There lies the stumbling-block of the vitalistic theories. We shall not reproach them, as is ordinarily done, with replying to the question by the question itself: the "vital principle" may indeed not explain much, but it is at least a sort of label affixed to our ignorance, so as to remind us of this occasionally, while mechanism invites us to ignore that ignorance. But the position of vitalism is rendered very difficult by the fact that, in nature, there is neither purely internal finality nor absolutely distinct individuality. The organized elements composing the individual have themselves a certain individuality, and each will claim its vital principle if the individual pretends to have its own. But, on the other hand, the individual itself is not sufficiently independent, not sufficiently cut off from other things, for us to allow it a "vital principle" of its own. An organism such as a higher vertebrate is the most individuated of all organisms; yet, if we take into account that it is only the development of an ovum forming part of the body of its mother and of a spermatozoon belonging to the body of its father, that the egg (i.e. the ovum fertilized) is a connecting link between the two progenitors since it is common to their two substances, we shall realize that every individual organism, even that of a man, is merely a bud that has sprouted on the combined body of both its parents. Where, then, does the vital principle of the individual begin or end? Gradually we shall be carried further and further back, up to the individual's remotest ancestors: we shall find him solidary with each of them, solidary with that little mass of protoplasmic jelly which is probably at the root of the genealogical tree of life. Being, to a certain extent, one with this primitive ancestor, he is also solidary with all that descends from the ancestor in divergent directions. In this sense each individual may be said to remain united with the totality of living beings by invisible bonds. So it is of no use to try to restrict finality to the individuality of the living being. If there is finality in the world of life, it includes the whole of life in a single indivisible embrace. This life common to all the living undoubtedly presents many gaps and incoherences, and again it is not so mathematically one that it cannot allow each being to become individualized to a certain degree. But it forms a single whole, none the less; and we have to choose between the out-and-out negation of finality and the hypothesis which co-ordinates not only the parts of an organism with the organism itself, but also each living being with the collective whole of all others.
Finality will not go down any easier for being taken as a powder. Either the hypothesis of a finality immanent in life should be rejected as a whole, or it must undergo a treatment very different from pulverization.
* * * * *
The error of radical finalism, as also that of radical mechanism, is to extend too far the application of certain concepts that are natural to our intellect. Originally, we think only in order to act. Our intellect has been cast in the mold of action. Speculation is a luxury, while action is a necessity. Now, in order to act, we begin by proposing an end; we make a plan, then we go on to the detail of the mechanism which will bring it to pass. This latter operation is possible only if we know what we can reckon on. We must therefore have managed to extract resemblances from nature, which enable us to anticipate the future. Thus we must, consciously or unconsciously, have made use of the law of causality. Moreover, the more sharply the idea of efficient causality is defined in our mind, the more it takes the form of a mechanical causality. And this scheme, in its turn, is the more mathematical according as it expresses a more rigorous necessity. That is why we have only to follow the bent of our mind to become mathematicians. But, on the other hand, this natural mathematics is only the rigid unconscious skeleton beneath our conscious supple habit of linking the same causes to the same effects; and the usual object of this habit is to guide actions inspired by intentions, or, what comes to the same, to direct movements combined with a view to reproducing a pattern. We are born artisans as we are born geometricians, and indeed we are geometricians only because we are artisans. Thus the human intellect, inasmuch as it is fashioned for the needs of human action, is an intellect which proceeds at the same time by intention and by calculation, by adapting means to ends and by thinking out mechanisms of more and more geometrical form. Whether nature be conceived as an immense machine regulated by mathematical laws, or as the realization of a plan, these two ways of regarding it are only the consummation of two tendencies of mind which are complementary to each other, and which have their origin in the same vital necessities.
For that reason, radical finalism is very near radical mechanism on many points. Both doctrines are reluctant to see in the course of things generally, or even simply in the development of life, an unforeseeable creation of form. In considering reality, mechanism regards only the aspect of similarity or repetition. It is therefore dominated by this law, that in nature there is only like reproducing like. The more the geometry in mechanism is emphasized, the less can mechanism admit that anything is ever created, even pure form. In so far as we are geometricians, then, we reject the unforeseeable. We might accept it, assuredly, in so far as we are artists, for art lives on creation and implies a latent belief in the spontaneity of nature. But disinterested art is a luxury, like pure speculation. Long before being artists, we are artisans; and all fabrication, however rudimentary, lives on likeness and repetition, like the natural geometry which serves as its fulcrum. Fabrication works on models which it sets out to reproduce; and even when it invents, it proceeds, or imagines itself to proceed, by a new arrangement of elements already known. Its principle is that "we must have like to produce like." In short, the strict application of the principle of finality, like that of the principle of mechanical causality, leads to the conclusion that "all is given." Both principles say the same thing in their respective languages, because they respond to the same need.
That is why again they agree in doing away with time. Real duration is that duration which gnaws on things, and leaves on them the mark of its tooth. If everything is in time, everything changes inwardly, and the same concrete reality never recurs. Repetition is therefore possible only in the abstract: what is repeated is some aspect that our senses, and especially our intellect, have singled out from reality, just because our action, upon which all the effort of our intellect is directed, can move only among repetitions. Thus, concentrated on that which repeats, solely preoccupied in welding the same to the same, intellect turns away from the vision of time. It dislikes what is fluid, and solidifies everything it touches. We do not think real time. But we live it, because life transcends intellect. The feeling we have of our evolution and of the evolution of all things in pure duration is there, forming around the intellectual concept properly so-called an indistinct fringe that fades off into darkness. Mechanism and finalism agree in taking account only of the bright nucleus shining in the centre. They forget that this nucleus has been formed out of the rest by condensation, and that the whole must be used, the fluid as well as and more than the condensed, in order to grasp the inner movement of life.
Indeed, if the fringe exists, however delicate and indistinct, it should have more importance for philosophy than the bright nucleus it surrounds. For it is its presence that enables us to affirm that the nucleus is a nucleus, that pure intellect is a contraction, by condensation, of a more extensive power. And, just because this vague intuition is of no help in directing our action on things, which action takes place exclusively on the surface of reality, we may presume that it is to be exercised not merely on the surface, but below.
As soon as we go out of the encasings in which radical mechanism and radical finalism confine our thought, reality appears as a ceaseless upspringing of something new, which has no sooner arisen to make the present than it has already fallen back into the past; at this exact moment it falls under the glance of the intellect, whose eyes are ever turned to the rear. This is already the case with our inner life. For each of our acts we shall easily find antecedents of which it may in some sort be said to be the mechanical resultant. And it may equally well be said that each action is the realization of an intention. In this sense mechanism is everywhere, and finality everywhere, in the evolution of our conduct. But if our action be one that involves the whole of our person and is truly ours, it could not have been foreseen, even though its antecedents explain it when once it has been accomplished. And though it be the realizing of an intention, it differs, as a present and new reality, from the intention, which can never aim at anything but recommencing or rearranging the past. Mechanism and finalism are therefore, here, only external views of our conduct. They extract its intellectuality. But our conduct slips between them and extends much further. Once again, this does not mean that free action is capricious, unreasonable action. To behave according to caprice is to oscillate mechanically between two or more ready-made alternatives and at length to settle on one of them; it is no real maturing of an internal state, no real evolution; it is merely—however paradoxical the assertion may seem—bending the will to imitate the mechanism of the intellect. A conduct that is truly our own, on the contrary, is that of a will which does not try to counterfeit intellect, and which, remaining itself—that is to say, evolving—ripens gradually into acts which the intellect will be able to resolve indefinitely into intelligible elements without ever reaching its goal. The free act is incommensurable with the idea, and its "rationality" must be defined by this very incommensurability, which admits the discovery of as much intelligibility within it as we will. Such is the character of our own evolution; and such also, without doubt, that of the evolution of life.
Our reason, incorrigibly presumptuous, imagines itself possessed, by right of birth or by right of conquest, innate or acquired, of all the essential elements of the knowledge of truth. Even where it confesses that it does not know the object presented to it, it believes that its ignorance consists only in not knowing which one of its time-honored categories suits the new object. In what drawer, ready to open, shall we put it? In what garment, already cut out, shall we clothe it? Is it this, or that, or the other thing? And "this," and "that," and "the other thing" are always something already conceived, already known. The idea that for a new object we might have to create a new concept, perhaps a new method of thinking, is deeply repugnant to us. The history of philosophy is there, however, and shows us the eternal conflict of systems, the impossibility of satisfactorily getting the real into the ready-made garments of our ready-made concepts, the necessity of making to measure. But, rather than go to this extremity, our reason prefers to announce once for all, with a proud modesty, that it has to do only with the relative, and that the absolute is not in its province. This preliminary declaration enables it to apply its habitual method of thought without any scruple, and thus, under pretense that it does not touch the absolute, to make absolute judgments upon everything. Plato was the first to set up the theory that to know the real consists in finding its Idea, that is to say, in forcing it into a pre-existing frame already at our disposal—as if we implicitly possessed universal knowledge. But this belief is natural to the human intellect, always engaged as it is in determining under what former heading it shall catalogue any new object; and it may be said that, in a certain sense, we are all born Platonists.
Nowhere is the inadequacy of this method so obvious as in theories of life. If, in evolving in the direction of the vertebrates in general, of man and intellect in particular, life has had to abandon by the way many elements incompatible with this particular mode of organization and consign them, as we shall show, to other lines of development, it is the totality of these elements that we must find again and rejoin to the intellect proper, in order to grasp the true nature of vital activity. And we shall probably be aided in this by the fringe of vague intuition that surrounds our distinct—that is, intellectual—representation. For what can this useless fringe be, if not that part of the evolving principle which has not shrunk to the peculiar form of our organization, but has settled around it unasked for, unwanted? It is there, accordingly, that we must look for hints to expand the intellectual form of our thought; from there shall we derive the impetus necessary to lift us above ourselves. To form an idea of the whole of life cannot consist in combining simple ideas that have been left behind in us by life itself in the course of its evolution. How could the part be equivalent to the whole, the content to the container, a by-product of the vital operation to the operation itself? Such, however, is our illusion when we define the evolution of life as a "passage from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous," or by any other concept obtained by putting fragments of intellect side by side. We place ourselves in one of the points where evolution comes to a head—the principal one, no doubt, but not the only one; and there we do not even take all we find, for of the intellect we keep only one or two of the concepts by which it expresses itself; and it is this part of a part that we declare representative of the whole, of something indeed which goes beyond the concrete whole, I mean of the evolution movement of which this "whole" is only the present stage! The truth is, that to represent this the entire intellect would not be too much—nay, it would not be enough. It would be necessary to add to it what we find in every other terminal point of evolution. And these diverse and divergent elements must be considered as so many extracts which are, or at least which were, in their humblest form, mutually complementary. Only then might we have an inkling of the real nature of the evolution movement; and even then we should fail to grasp it completely, for we should still be dealing only with the evolved, which is a result, and not with evolution itself, which is the act by which the result is obtained.
Such is the philosophy of life to which we are leading up. It claims to transcend both mechanism and finalism; but, as we announced at the beginning, it is nearer the second doctrine than the first. It will not be amiss to dwell on this point, and show more precisely how far this philosophy of life resembles finalism and wherein it is different.
Like radical finalism, although in a vaguer form, our philosophy represents the organized world as a harmonious whole. But this harmony is far from being as perfect as it has been claimed to be. It admits of much discord, because each species, each individual even, retains only a certain impetus from the universal vital impulsion and tends to use this energy in its own interest. In this consists adaptation. The species and the individual thus think only of themselves—whence arises a possible conflict with other forms of life. Harmony, therefore, does not exist in fact; it exists rather in principle; I mean that the original impetus is a common impetus, and the higher we ascend the stream of life the more do diverse tendencies appear complementary to each other. Thus the wind at a street-corner divides into diverging currents which are all one and the same gust. Harmony, or rather "complementarity," is revealed only in the mass, in tendencies rather than in states. Especially (and this is the point on which finalism has been most seriously mistaken) harmony is rather behind us than before. It is due to an identity of impulsion and not to a common aspiration. It would be futile to try to assign to life an end, in the human sense of the word. To speak of an end is to think of a pre-existing model which has only to be realized. It is to suppose, therefore, that all is given, and that the future can be read in the present. It is to believe that life, in its movement and in its entirety, goes to work like our intellect, which is only a motionless and fragmentary view of life, and which naturally takes its stand outside of time. Life, on the contrary, progresses and endures in time. Of course, when once the road has been traveled, we can glance over it, mark its direction, note this in psychological terms and speak as if there had been pursuit of an end. Thus shall we speak ourselves. But, of the road which was going to be traveled, the human mind could have nothing to say, for the road has been created pari passu with the act of traveling over it, being nothing but the direction of this act itself. At every instant, then, evolution must admit of a psychological interpretation which is, from our point of view, the best interpretation; but this explanation has neither value nor even significance except retrospectively. Never could the finalistic interpretation, such as we shall propose it, be taken for an anticipation of the future. It is a particular mode of viewing the past in the light of the present. In short, the classic conception of finality postulates at once too much and too little: it is both too wide and too narrow. In explaining life by intellect, it limits too much the meaning of life: intellect, such at least as we find it in ourselves, has been fashioned by evolution during the course of progress; it is cut out of something larger, or, rather, it is only the projection, necessarily on a plane, of a reality that possesses both relief and depth. It is this more comprehensive reality that true finalism ought to reconstruct, or, rather, if possible, embrace in one view. But, on the other hand, just because it goes beyond intellect—the faculty of connecting the same with the same, of perceiving and also of producing repetitions—this reality is undoubtedly creative, i.e. productive of effects in which it expands and transcends its own being. These effects were therefore not given in it in advance, and so it could not take them for ends, although, when once produced, they admit of a rational interpretation, like that of the manufactured article that has reproduced a model. In short, the theory of final causes does not go far enough when it confines itself to ascribing some intelligence to nature, and it goes too far when it supposes a pre-existence of the future in the present in the form of idea. And the second theory, which sins by excess, is the outcome of the first, which sins by defect. In place of intellect proper must be substituted the more comprehensive reality of which intellect is only the contraction. The future then appears as expanding the present: it was not, therefore, contained in the present in the form of a represented end. And yet, once realized, it will explain the present as much as the present explains it, and even more; it must be viewed as an end as much as, and more than, a result. Our intellect has a right to consider the future abstractly from its habitual point of view, being itself an abstract view of the cause of its own being.
It is true that the cause may then seem beyond our grasp. Already the finalist theory of life eludes all precise verification. What if we go beyond it in one of its directions? Here, in fact, after a necessary digression, we are back at the question which we regard as essential: can the insufficiency of mechanism be proved by facts? We said that if this demonstration is possible, it is on condition of frankly accepting the evolutionist hypothesis. We must now show that if mechanism is insufficient to account for evolution, the way of proving this insufficiency is not to stop at the classic conception of finality, still less to contract or attenuate it, but, on the contrary, to go further.
Let us indicate at once the principle of our demonstration. We said of life that, from its origin, it is the continuation of one and the same impetus, divided into divergent lines of evolution. Something has grown, something has developed by a series of additions which have been so many creations. This very development has brought about a dissociation of tendencies which were unable to grow beyond a certain point without becoming mutually incompatible. Strictly speaking, there is nothing to prevent our imagining that the evolution of life might have taken place in one single individual by means of a series of transformations spread over thousands of ages. Or, instead of a single individual, any number might be supposed, succeeding each other in a unilinear series. In both cases evolution would have had, so to speak, one dimension only. But evolution has actually taken place through millions of individuals, on divergent lines, each ending at a crossing from which new paths radiate, and so on indefinitely. If our hypothesis is justified, if the essential causes working along these diverse roads are of psychological nature, they must keep something in common in spite of the divergence of their effects, as school-fellows long separated keep the same memories of boyhood. Roads may fork or by-ways be opened along which dissociated elements may evolve in an independent manner, but nevertheless it is in virtue of the primitive impetus of the whole that the movement of the parts continues. Something of the whole, therefore, must abide in the parts; and this common element will be evident to us in some way, perhaps by the presence of identical organs in very different organisms. Suppose, for an instant, that the mechanistic explanation is the true one: evolution must then have occurred through a series of accidents added to one another, each new accident being preserved by selection if it is advantageous to that sum of former advantageous accidents which the present form of the living being represents. What likelihood is there that, by two entirely different series of accidents being added together, two entirely different evolutions will arrive at similar results? The more two lines of evolution diverge, the less probability is there that accidental outer influences or accidental inner variations bring about the construction of the same apparatus upon them, especially if there was no trace of this apparatus at the moment of divergence. But such similarity of the two products would be natural, on the contrary, on a hypothesis like ours: even in the latest channel there would be something of the impulsion received at the source. Pure mechanism, then, would be refutable, and finality, in the special sense in which we understand it, would be demonstrable in a certain aspect, if it could be proved that life may manufacture the like apparatus, by unlike means, on divergent lines of evolution; and the strength of the proof would be proportional both to the divergency between the lines of evolution thus chosen and to the complexity of the similar structures found in them.
It will be said that resemblance of structure is due to sameness of the general conditions in which life has evolved, and that these permanent outer conditions may have imposed the same direction on the forces constructing this or that apparatus, in spite of the diversity of transient outer influences and accidental inner changes. We are not, of course, blind to the role which the concept of adaptation plays in the science of to-day. Biologists certainly do not all make the same use of it. Some think the outer conditions capable of causing change in organisms in a direct manner, in a definite direction, through physico-chemical alterations induced by them in the living substance; such is the hypothesis of Eimer, for example. Others, more faithful to the spirit of Darwinism, believe the influence of conditions works indirectly only, through favoring, in the struggle for life, those representatives of a species which the chance of birth has best adapted to the environment. In other words, some attribute a positive influence to outer conditions, and say that they actually give rise to variations, while the others say these conditions have only a negative influence and merely eliminate variations. But, in both cases, the outer conditions are supposed to bring about a precise adjustment of the organism to its circumstances. Both parties, then, will attempt to explain mechanically, by adaptation to similar conditions, the similarities of structure which we think are the strongest argument against mechanism. So we must at once indicate in a general way, before passing to the detail, why explanations from "adaptation" seem to us insufficient.
Let us first remark that, of the two hypotheses just described, the latter is the only one which is not equivocal. The Darwinian idea of adaptation by automatic elimination of the unadapted is a simple and clear idea. But, just because it attributes to the outer cause which controls evolution a merely negative influence, it has great difficulty in accounting for the progressive and, so to say, rectilinear development of complex apparatus such as we are about to examine. How much greater will this difficulty be in the case of the similar structure of two extremely complex organs on two entirely different lines of evolution! An accidental variation, however minute, implies the working of a great number of small physical and chemical causes. An accumulation of accidental variations, such as would be necessary to produce a complex structure, requires therefore the concurrence of an almost infinite number of infinitesimal causes. Why should these causes, entirely accidental, recur the same, and in the same order, at different points of space and time? No one will hold that this is the case, and the Darwinian himself will probably merely maintain that identical effects may arise from different causes, that more than one road leads to the same spot. But let us not be fooled by a metaphor. The place reached does not give the form of the road that leads there; while an organic structure is just the accumulation of those small differences which evolution has had to go through in order to achieve it. The struggle for life and natural selection can be of no use to us in solving this part of the problem, for we are not concerned here with what has perished, we have to do only with what has survived. Now, we see that identical structures have been formed on independent lines of evolution by a gradual accumulation of effects. How can accidental causes, occurring in an accidental order, be supposed to have repeatedly come to the same result, the causes being infinitely numerous and the effect infinitely complicated?
The principle of mechanism is that "the same causes produce the same effects." This principle, of course, does not always imply that the same effects must have the same causes; but it does involve this consequence in the particular case in which the causes remain visible in the effect that they produce and are indeed its constitutive elements. That two walkers starting from different points and wandering at random should finally meet, is no great wonder. But that, throughout their walk, they should describe two identical curves exactly superposable on each other, is altogether unlikely. The improbability will be the greater, the more complicated the routes; and it will become impossibility, if the zigzags are infinitely complicated. Now, what is this complexity of zigzags as compared with that of an organ in which thousands of different cells, each being itself a kind of organism, are arranged in a definite order?
Let us turn, then, to the other hypothesis, and see how it would solve the problem. Adaptation, it says, is not merely elimination of the unadapted; it is due to the positive influence of outer conditions that have molded the organism on their own form. This time, similarity of effects will be explained by similarity of cause. We shall remain, apparently, in pure mechanism. But if we look closely, we shall see that the explanation is merely verbal, that we are again the dupes of words, and that the trick of the solution consists in taking the term "adaptation" in two entirely different senses at the same time.
If I pour into the same glass, by turns, water and wine, the two liquids will take the same form, and the sameness in form will be due to the sameness in adaptation of content to container. Adaptation, here, really means mechanical adjustment. The reason is that the form to which the matter has adapted itself was there, ready-made, and has forced its own shape on the matter. But, in the adaptation of an organism to the circumstances it has to live in, where is the pre-existing form awaiting its matter? The circumstances are not a mold into which life is inserted and whose form life adopts: this is indeed to be fooled by a metaphor. There is no form yet, and the life must create a form for itself, suited to the circumstances which are made for it. It will have to make the best of these circumstances, neutralize their inconveniences and utilize their advantages—in short, respond to outer actions by building up a machine which has no resemblance to them. Such adapting is not repeating, but replying,—an entirely different thing. If there is still adaptation, it will be in the sense in which one may say of the solution of a problem of geometry, for example, that it is adapted to the conditions. I grant indeed that adaptation so understood explains why different evolutionary processes result in similar forms: the same problem, of course, calls for the same solution. But it is necessary then to introduce, as for the solution of a problem of geometry, an intelligent activity, or at least a cause which behaves in the same way. This is to bring in finality again, and a finality this time more than ever charged with anthropomorphic elements. In a word, if the adaptation is passive, if it is mere repetition in the relief of what the conditions give in the mold, it will build up nothing that one tries to make it build; and if it is active, capable of responding by a calculated solution to the problem which is set out in the conditions, that is going further than we do—too far, indeed, in our opinion—in the direction we indicated in the beginning. But the truth is that there is a surreptitious passing from one of these two meanings to the other, a flight for refuge to the first whenever one is about to be caught in flagrante delicto of finalism by employing the second. It is really the second which serves the usual practice of science, but it is the first that generally provides its philosophy. In any particular case one talks as if the process of adaptation were an effort of the organism to build up a machine capable of turning external circumstances to the best possible account: then one speaks of adaptation in general as if it were the very impress of circumstances, passively received by an indifferent matter.
But let us come to the examples. It would be interesting first to institute here a general comparison between plants and animals. One cannot fail to be struck with the parallel progress which has been accomplished, on both sides, in the direction of sexuality. Not only is fecundation itself the same in higher plants and in animals, since it consists, in both, in the union of two nuclei that differ in their properties and structure before their union and immediately after become equivalent to each other; but the preparation of sexual elements goes on in both under like conditions: it consists essentially in the reduction of the number of chromosomes and the rejection of a certain quantity of chromatic substance. Yet vegetables and animals have evolved on independent lines, favored by unlike circumstances, opposed by unlike obstacles. Here are two great series which have gone on diverging. On either line, thousands and thousands of causes have combined to determine the morphological and functional evolution. Yet these infinitely complicated causes have been consummated, in each series, in the same effect. And this effect, could hardly be called a phenomenon of "adaptation": where is the adaptation, where is the pressure of external circumstances? There is no striking utility in sexual generation; it has been interpreted in the most diverse ways; and some very acute enquirers even regard the sexuality of the plant, at least, as a luxury which nature might have dispensed with. But we do not wish to dwell on facts so disputed. The ambiguity of the term "adaptation," and the necessity of transcending both the point of view of mechanical causality and that of anthropomorphic finality, will stand out more clearly with simpler examples. At all times the doctrine of finality has laid much stress on the marvellous structure of the sense-organs, in order to liken the work of nature to that of an intelligent workman. Now, since these organs are found, in a rudimentary state, in the lower animals, and since nature offers us many intermediaries between the pigment-spot of the simplest organisms and the infinitely complex eye of the vertebrates, it may just as well be alleged that the result has been brought about by natural selection perfecting the organ automatically. In short, if there is a case in which it seems justifiable to invoke adaptation, it is this particular one. For there may be discussion about the function and meaning of such a thing as sexual generation, in so far as it is related to the conditions in which it occurs; but the relation of the eye to light is obvious, and when we call this relation an adaptation, we must know what we mean. If, then, we can show, in this privileged case, the insufficiency of the principles invoked on both sides, our demonstration will at once have reached a high degree of generality.
Let us consider the example on which the advocates of finality have always insisted: the structure of such an organ as the human eye. They have had no difficulty in showing that in this extremely complicated apparatus all the elements are marvelously co-ordinated. In order that vision shall operate, says the author of a well-known book on Final Causes, "the sclerotic membrane must become transparent in one point of its surface, so as to enable luminous rays to pierce it;... the cornea must correspond exactly with the opening of the socket;... behind this transparent opening there must be refracting media;... there must be a retina at the extremity of the dark chamber;... perpendicular to the retina there must be an innumerable quantity of transparent cones permitting only the light directed in the line of their axes to reach the nervous membrane," etc. etc. In reply, the advocate of final causes has been invited to assume the evolutionist hypothesis. Everything is marvelous, indeed, if one consider an eye like ours, in which thousands of elements are coordinated in a single function. But take the function at its origin, in the Infusorian, where it is reduced to the mere impressionability (almost purely chemical) of a pigment-spot to light: this function, possibly only an accidental fact in the beginning, may have brought about a slight complication of the organ, which again induced an improvement of the function. It may have done this either directly, through some unknown mechanism, or indirectly, merely through the effect of the advantages it brought to the living being and the hold it thus offered to natural selection. Thus the progressive formation of an eye as well contrived as ours would be explained by an almost infinite number of actions and reactions between the function and the organ, without the intervention of other than mechanical causes.
The question is hard to decide, indeed, when put directly between the function and the organ, as is done in the doctrine of finality, as also mechanism itself does. For organ and function are terms of different nature, and each conditions the other so closely that it is impossible to say a priori whether in expressing their relation we should begin with the first, as does mechanism, or with the second, as finalism requires. But the discussion would take an entirely different turn, we think, if we began by comparing together two terms of the same nature, an organ with an organ, instead of an organ with its function. In this case, it would be possible to proceed little by little to a solution more and more plausible, and there would be the more chance of a successful issue the more resolutely we assumed the evolutionist hypothesis.
Let us place side by side the eye of a vertebrate and that of a mollusc such as the common Pecten. We find the same essential parts in each, composed of analogous elements. The eye of the Pecten presents a retina, a cornea, a lens of cellular structure like our own. There is even that peculiar inversion of retinal elements which is not met with, in general, in the retina of the invertebrates. Now, the origin of molluscs may be a debated question, but, whatever opinion we hold, all are agreed that molluscs and vertebrates separated from their common parent-stem long before the appearance of an eye so complex as that of the Pecten. Whence, then, the structural analogy?
Let us question on this point the two opposed systems of evolutionist explanation in turn—the hypothesis of purely accidental variations, and that of a variation directed in a definite way under the influence of external conditions.
The first, as is well known, is presented to-day in two quite different forms. Darwin spoke of very slight variations being accumulated by natural selection. He was not ignorant of the facts of sudden variation; but he thought these "sports," as he called them, were only monstrosities incapable of perpetuating themselves; and he accounted for the genesis of species by an accumulation of insensible variations. Such is still the opinion of many naturalists. It is tending, however, to give way to the opposite idea that a new species comes into being all at once by the simultaneous appearance of several new characters, all somewhat different from the previous ones. This latter hypothesis, already proposed by various authors, notably by Bateson in a remarkable book, has become deeply significant and acquired great force since the striking experiments of Hugo de Vries. This botanist, working on the OEnothera Lamarckiana, obtained at the end of a few generations a certain number of new species. The theory he deduces from his experiments is of the highest interest. Species pass through alternate periods of stability and transformation. When the period of "mutability" occurs, unexpected forms spring forth in a great number of different directions.—We will not attempt to take sides between this hypothesis and that of insensible variations. Indeed, perhaps both are partly true. We wish merely to point out that if the variations invoked are accidental, they do not, whether small or great, account for a similarity of structure such as we have cited.
Let us assume, to begin with, the Darwinian theory of insensible variations, and suppose the occurrence of small differences due to chance, and continually accumulating. It must not be forgotten that all the parts of an organism are necessarily coordinated. Whether the function be the effect of the organ or its cause, it matters little; one point is certain—the organ will be of no use and will not give selection a hold unless it functions. However the minute structure of the retina may develop, and however complicated it may become, such progress, instead of favoring vision, will probably hinder it if the visual centres do not develop at the same time, as well as several parts of the visual organ itself. If the variations are accidental, how can they ever agree to arise in every part of the organ at the same time, in such way that the organ will continue to perform its function? Darwin quite understood this; it is one of the reasons why he regarded variation as insensible. For a difference which arises accidentally at one point of the visual apparatus, if it be very slight, will not hinder the functioning of the organ; and hence this first accidental variation can, in a sense, wait for complementary variations to accumulate and raise vision to a higher degree of perfection. Granted; but while the insensible variation does not hinder the functioning of the eye, neither does it help it, so long as the variations that are complementary do not occur. How, in that case, can the variation be retained by natural selection? Unwittingly one will reason as if the slight variation were a toothing stone set up by the organism and reserved for a later construction. This hypothesis, so little conformable to the Darwinian principle, is difficult enough to avoid even in the case of an organ which has been developed along one single main line of evolution, e.g. the vertebrate eye. But it is absolutely forced upon us when we observe the likeness of structure of the vertebrate eye and that of the molluscs. How could the same small variations, incalculable in number, have ever occurred in the same order on two independent lines of evolution, if they were purely accidental? And how could they have been preserved by selection and accumulated in both cases, the same in the same order, when each of them, taken separately, was of no use?
Let us turn, then, to the hypothesis of sudden variations, and see whether it will solve the problem. It certainly lessens the difficulty on one point, but it makes it much worse on another. If the eye of the mollusc and that of the vertebrate have both been raised to their present form by a relatively small number of sudden leaps, I have less difficulty in understanding the resemblance of the two organs than if this resemblance were due to an incalculable number of infinitesimal resemblances acquired successively: in both cases it is chance that operates, but in the second case chance is not required to work the miracle it would have to perform in the first. Not only is the number of resemblances to be added somewhat reduced, but I can also understand better how each could be preserved and added to the others; for the elementary variation is now considerable enough to be an advantage to the living being, and so to lend itself to the play of selection. But here there arises another problem, no less formidable, viz., how do all the parts of the visual apparatus, suddenly changed, remain so well coordinated that the eye continues to exercise its function? For the change of one part alone will make vision impossible, unless this change is absolutely infinitesimal. The parts must then all change at once, each consulting the others. I agree that a great number of uncoordinated variations may indeed have arisen in less fortunate individuals, that natural selection may have eliminated these, and that only the combination fit to endure, capable of preserving and improving vision, has survived. Still, this combination had to be produced. And, supposing chance to have granted this favor once, can we admit that it repeats the self-same favor in the course of the history of a species, so as to give rise, every time, all at once, to new complications marvelously regulated with reference to each other, and so related to former complications as to go further on in the same direction? How, especially, can we suppose that by a series of mere "accidents" these sudden variations occur, the same, in the same order,—involving in each case a perfect harmony of elements more and more numerous and complex—along two independent lines of evolution?
The law of correlation will be invoked, of course; Darwin himself appealed to it. It will be alleged that a change is not localized in a single point of the organism, but has its necessary recoil on other points. The examples cited by Darwin remain classic: white cats with blue eyes are generally deaf; hairless dogs have imperfect dentition, etc.—Granted; but let us not play now on the word "correlation." A collective whole of solidary changes is one thing, a system of complementary changes—changes so coordinated as to keep up and even improve the functioning of an organ under more complicated conditions—is another. That an anomaly of the pilous system should be accompanied by an anomaly of dentition is quite conceivable without our having to call for a special principle of explanation; for hair and teeth are similar formations, and the same chemical change of the germ that hinders the formation of hair would probably obstruct that of teeth: it may be for the same sort of reason that white cats with blue eyes are deaf. In these different examples the "correlative" changes are only solidary changes (not to mention the fact that they are really lesions, namely, diminutions or suppressions, and not additions, which makes a great difference). But when we speak of "correlative" changes occurring suddenly in the different parts of the eye, we use the word in an entirely new sense: this time there is a whole set of changes not only simultaneous, not only bound together by community of origin, but so coordinated that the organ keeps on performing the same simple function, and even performs it better. That a change in the germ, which influences the formation of the retina, may affect at the same time also the formation of the cornea, the iris, the lens, the visual centres, etc., I admit, if necessary, although they are formations that differ much more from one another in their original nature than do probably hair and teeth. But that all these simultaneous changes should occur in such a way as to improve or even merely maintain vision, this is what, in the hypothesis of sudden variation, I cannot admit, unless a mysterious principle is to come in, whose duty it is to watch over the interest of the function. But this would be to give up the idea of "accidental" variation. In reality, these two senses of the word "correlation" are often interchanged in the mind of the biologist, just like the two senses of the word "adaptation." And the confusion is almost legitimate in botany, that science in which the theory of the formation of species by sudden variation rests on the firmest experimental basis. In vegetables, function is far less narrowly bound to form than in animals. Even profound morphological differences, such as a change in the form of leaves, have no appreciable influence on the exercise of function, and so do not require a whole system of complementary changes for the plant to remain fit to survive. But it is not so in the animal, especially in the case of an organ like the eye, a very complex structure and very delicate function. Here it is impossible to identify changes that are simply solidary with changes which are also complementary. The two senses of the word "correlation" must be carefully distinguished; it would be a downright paralogism to adopt one of them in the premisses of the reasoning, and the other in the conclusion. And this is just what is done when the principle of correlation is invoked in explanations of detail in order to account for complementary variations, and then correlation in general is spoken of as if it were any group of variations provoked by any variation of the germ. Thus, the notion of correlation is first used in current science as it might be used by an advocate of finality; it is understood that this is only a convenient way of expressing oneself, that one will correct it and fall back on pure mechanism when explaining the nature of the principles and turning from science to philosophy. And one does then come back to pure mechanism, but only by giving a new meaning to the word "correlation"—a meaning which would now make correlation inapplicable to the detail it is called upon to explain.
To sum up, if the accidental variations that bring about evolution are insensible variations, some good genius must be appealed to—the genius of the future species—in order to preserve and accumulate these variations, for selection will not look after this. If, on the other hand, the accidental variations are sudden, then, for the previous function to go on or for a new function to take its place, all the changes that have happened together must be complementary. So we have to fall back on the good genius again, this time to obtain the convergence of simultaneous changes, as before to be assured of the continuity of direction of successive variations. But in neither case can parallel development of the same complex structures on independent lines of evolution be due to a mere accumulation of accidental variations. So we come to the second of the two great hypotheses we have to examine. Suppose the variations are due, not to accidental and inner causes, but to the direct influence of outer circumstances. Let us see what line we should have to take, on this hypothesis, to account for the resemblance of eye-structure in two series that are independent of each other from the phylogenetic point of view.
Though molluscs and vertebrates have evolved separately, both have remained exposed to the influence of light. And light is a physical cause bringing forth certain definite effects. Acting in a continuous way, it has been able to produce a continuous variation in a constant direction. Of course it is unlikely that the eye of the vertebrate and that of the mollusc have been built up by a series of variations due to simple chance. Admitting even that light enters into the case as an instrument of selection, in order to allow only useful variations to persist, there is no possibility that the play of chance, even thus supervised from without, should bring about in both cases the same juxtaposition of elements coordinated in the same way. But it would be different supposing that light acted directly on the organized matter so as to change its structure and somehow adapt this structure to its own form. The resemblance of the two effects would then be explained by the identity of the cause. The more and more complex eye would be something like the deeper and deeper imprint of light on a matter which, being organized, possesses a special aptitude for receiving it.
But can an organic structure be likened to an imprint? We have already called attention to the ambiguity of the term "adaptation." The gradual complication of a form which is being better and better adapted to the mold of outward circumstances is one thing, the increasingly complex structure of an instrument which derives more and more advantage from these circumstances is another. In the former case, the matter merely receives an imprint; in the second, it reacts positively, it solves a problem. Obviously it is this second sense of the word "adapt" that is used when one says that the eye has become better and better adapted to the influence of light. But one passes more or less unconsciously from this sense to the other, and a purely mechanistic biology will strive to make the passive adaptation of an inert matter, which submits to the influence of its environment, mean the same as the active adaptation of an organism which derives from this influence an advantage it can appropriate. It must be owned, indeed, that Nature herself appears to invite our mind to confuse these two kinds of adaptation, for she usually begins by a passive adaptation where, later on, she will build up a mechanism for active response. Thus, in the case before us, it is unquestionable that the first rudiment of the eye is found in the pigment-spot of the lower organisms; this spot may indeed have been produced physically, by the mere action of light, and there are a great number of intermediaries between the simple spot of pigment and a complicated eye like that of the vertebrates.—But, from the fact that we pass from one thing to another by degrees, it does not follow that the two things are of the same nature. From the fact that an orator falls in, at first, with the passions of his audience in order to make himself master of them, it will not be concluded that to follow is the same as to lead. Now, living matter seems to have no other means of turning circumstances to good account than by adapting itself to them passively at the outset. Where it has to direct a movement, it begins by adopting it. Life proceeds by insinuation. The intermediate degrees between a pigment-spot and an eye are nothing to the point: however numerous the degrees, there will still be the same interval between the pigment-spot and the eye as between a photograph and a photographic apparatus. Certainly the photograph has been gradually turned into a photographic apparatus; but could light alone, a physical force, ever have provoked this change, and converted an impression left by it into a machine capable of using it?
It may be claimed that considerations of utility are out of place here; that the eye is not made to see, but that we see because we have eyes; that the organ is what it is, and "utility" is a word by which we designate the functional effects of the structure. But when I say that the eye "makes use of" light, I do not merely mean that the eye is capable of seeing; I allude to the very precise relations that exist between this organ and the apparatus of locomotion. The retina of vertebrates is prolonged in an optic nerve, which, again, is continued by cerebral centres connected with motor mechanisms. Our eye makes use of light in that it enables us to utilize, by movements of reaction, the objects that we see to be advantageous, and to avoid those which we see to be injurious. Now, of course, as light may have produced a pigment-spot by physical means, so it can physically determine the movements of certain organisms; ciliated Infusoria, for instance, react to light. But no one would hold that the influence of light has physically caused the formation of a nervous system, of a muscular system, of an osseous system, all things which are continuous with the apparatus of vision in vertebrate animals. The truth is, when one speaks of the gradual formation of the eye, and, still more, when one takes into account all that is inseparably connected with it, one brings in something entirely different from the direct action of light. One implicitly attributes to organized matter a certain capacity sui generis, the mysterious power of building up very complicated machines to utilize the simple excitation that it undergoes.
But this is just what is claimed to be unnecessary. Physics and chemistry are said to give us the key to everything. Eimer's great work is instructive in this respect. It is well known what persevering effort this biologist has devoted to demonstrating that transformation is brought about by the influence of the external on the internal, continuously exerted in the same direction, and not, as Darwin held, by accidental variations. His theory rests on observations of the highest interest, of which the starting-point was the study of the course followed by the color variation of the skin in certain lizards. Before this, the already old experiments of Dorfmeister had shown that the same chrysalis, according as it was submitted to cold or heat, gave rise to very different butterflies, which had long been regarded as independent species, Vanessa levana and Vanessa prorsa: an intermediate temperature produces an intermediate form. We might class with these facts the important transformations observed in a little crustacean, Artemia salina, when the salt of the water it lives in is increased or diminished. In these various experiments the external agent seems to act as a cause of transformation. But what does the word "cause" mean here? Without undertaking an exhaustive analysis of the idea of causality, we will merely remark that three very different meanings of this term are commonly confused. A cause may act by impelling, releasing, or unwinding. The billiard-ball, that strikes another, determines its movement by impelling. The spark that explodes the powder acts by releasing. The gradual relaxing of the spring, that makes the phonograph turn, unwinds the melody inscribed on the cylinder: if the melody which is played be the effect, and the relaxing of the spring the cause, we must say that the cause acts by unwinding. What distinguishes these three cases from each other is the greater or less solidarity between the cause and the effect. In the first, the quantity and quality of the effect vary with the quantity and quality of the cause. In the second, neither quality nor quantity of the effect varies with quality and quantity of the cause: the effect is invariable. In the third, the quantity of the effect depends on the quantity of the cause, but the cause does not influence the quality of the effect: the longer the cylinder turns by the action of the spring, the more of the melody I shall hear, but the nature of the melody, or of the part heard, does not depend on the action of the spring. Only in the first case, really, does cause explain effect; in the others the effect is more or less given in advance, and the antecedent invoked is—in different degrees, of course—its occasion rather than its cause. Now, in saying that the saltness of the water is the cause of the transformations of Artemia, or that the degree of temperature determines the color and marks of the wings which a certain chrysalis will assume on becoming a butterfly, is the word "cause" used in the first sense? Obviously not: causality has here an intermediary sense between those of unwinding and releasing. Such, indeed, seems to be Eimer's own meaning when he speaks of the "kaleidoscopic" character of the variation, or when he says that the variation of organized matter works in a definite way, just as inorganic matter crystallizes in definite directions. And it may be granted, perhaps, that the process is a merely physical and chemical one in the case of the color-changes of the skin. But if this sort of explanation is extended to the case of the gradual formation of the eye of the vertebrate, for instance, it must be supposed that the physico-chemistry of living bodies is such that the influence of light has caused the organism to construct a progressive series of visual apparatus, all extremely complex, yet all capable of seeing, and of seeing better and better. What more could the most confirmed finalist say, in order to mark out so exceptional a physico-chemistry? And will not the position of a mechanistic philosophy become still more difficult, when it is pointed out to it that the egg of a mollusc cannot have the same chemical composition as that of a vertebrate, that the organic substance which evolved toward the first of these two forms could not have been chemically identical with that of the substance which went in the other direction, and that, nevertheless, under the influence of light, the same organ has been constructed in the one case as in the other?
The more we reflect upon it, the more we shall see that this production of the same effect by two different accumulations of an enormous number of small causes is contrary to the principles of mechanistic philosophy. We have concentrated the full force of our discussion upon an example drawn from phylogenesis. But ontogenesis would have furnished us with facts no less cogent. Every moment, right before our eyes, nature arrives at identical results, in sometimes neighboring species, by entirely different embryogenic processes. Observations of "heteroblastia" have multiplied in late years, and it has been necessary to reject the almost classical theory of the specificity of embryonic gills. Still keeping to our comparison between the eye of vertebrates and that of molluscs, we may point out that the retina of the vertebrate is produced by an expansion in the rudimentary brain of the young embryo. It is a regular nervous centre which has moved toward the periphery. In the mollusc, on the contrary, the retina is derived from the ectoderm directly, and not indirectly by means of the embryonic encephalon. Quite different, therefore, are the evolutionary processes which lead, in man and in the Pecten, to the development of a like retina. But, without going so far as to compare two organisms so distant from each other, we might reach the same conclusion simply by looking at certain very curious facts of regeneration in one and the same organism. If the crystalline lens of a Triton be removed, it is regenerated by the iris. Now, the original lens was built out of the ectoderm, while the iris is of mesodermic origin. What is more, in the Salamandra maculata, if the lens be removed and the iris left, the regeneration of the lens takes place at the upper part of the iris; but if this upper part of the iris itself be taken away, the regeneration takes place in the inner or retinal layer of the remaining region. Thus, parts differently situated, differently constituted, meant normally for different functions, are capable of performing the same duties and even of manufacturing, when necessary, the same pieces of the machine. Here we have, indeed, the same effect obtained by different combinations of causes.
Whether we will or no, we must appeal to some inner directing principle in order to account for this convergence of effects. Such convergence does not appear possible in the Darwinian, and especially the neo-Darwinian, theory of insensible accidental variations, nor in the hypothesis of sudden accidental variations, nor even in the theory that assigns definite directions to the evolution of the various organs by a kind of mechanical composition of the external with the internal forces. So we come to the only one of the present forms of evolution which remains for us to mention, viz., neo-Lamarckism.
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It is well known that Lamarck attributed to the living being the power of varying by use or disuse of its organs, and also of passing on the variation so acquired to its descendants. A certain number of biologists hold a doctrine of this kind to-day. The variation that results in a new species is not, they believe, merely an accidental variation inherent in the germ itself, nor is it governed by a determinism sui generis which develops definite characters in a definite direction, apart from every consideration of utility. It springs from the very effort of the living being to adapt itself to the circumstances of its existence. The effort may indeed be only the mechanical exercise of certain organs, mechanically elicited by the pressure of external circumstances. But it may also imply consciousness and will, and it is in this sense that it appears to be understood by one of the most eminent representatives of the doctrine, the American naturalist Cope. Neo-Lamarckism is therefore, of all the later forms of evolutionism, the only one capable of admitting an internal and psychological principle of development, although it is not bound to do so. And it is also the only evolutionism that seems to us to account for the building up of identical complex organs on independent lines of development. For it is quite conceivable that the same effort to turn the same circumstances to good account might have the same result, especially if the problem put by the circumstances is such as to admit of only one solution. But the question remains, whether the term "effort" must not then be taken in a deeper sense, a sense even more psychological than any neo-Lamarckian supposes.
For a mere variation of size is one thing, and a change of form is another. That an organ can be strengthened and grow by exercise, nobody will deny. But it is a long way from that to the progressive development of an eye like that of the molluscs and of the vertebrates. If this development be ascribed to the influence of light, long continued but passively received, we fall back on the theory we have just criticized. If, on the other hand, an internal activity is appealed to, then it must be something quite different from what we usually call an effort, for never has an effort been known to produce the slightest complication of an organ, and yet an enormous number of complications, all admirably coordinated, have been necessary to pass from the pigment-spot of the Infusorian to the eye of the vertebrate. But, even if we accept this notion of the evolutionary process in the case of animals, how can we apply it to plants? Here, variations of form do not seem to imply, nor always to lead to, functional changes; and even if the cause of the variation is of a psychological nature, we can hardly call it an effort, unless we give a very unusual extension to the meaning of the word. The truth is, it is necessary to dig beneath the effort itself and look for a deeper cause.
This is especially necessary, we believe, if we wish to get at a cause of regular hereditary variations. We are not going to enter here into the controversies over the transmissibility of acquired characters; still less do we wish to take too definite a side on this question, which is not within our province. But we cannot remain completely indifferent to it. Nowhere is it clearer that philosophers can not to-day content themselves with vague generalities, but must follow the scientists in experimental detail and discuss the results with them. If Spencer had begun by putting to himself the question of the hereditability of acquired characters, his evolutionism would no doubt have taken an altogether different form. If (as seems probable to us) a habit contracted by the individual were transmitted to its descendants only in very exceptional cases, all the Spencerian psychology would need remaking, and a large part of Spencer's philosophy would fall to pieces. Let us say, then, how the problem seems to us to present itself, and in what direction an attempt might be made to solve it.
After having been affirmed as a dogma, the transmissibility of acquired characters has been no less dogmatically denied, for reasons drawn a priori from the supposed nature of germinal cells. It is well known how Weismann was led, by his hypothesis of the continuity of the germ-plasm, to regard the germinal cells—ova and spermatozoa—as almost independent of the somatic cells. Starting from this, it has been claimed, and is still claimed by many, that the hereditary transmission of an acquired character is inconceivable. But if, perchance, experiment should show that acquired characters are transmissible, it would prove thereby that the germ-plasm is not so independent of the somatic envelope as has been contended, and the transmissibility of acquired characters would become ipso facto conceivable; which amounts to saying that conceivability and inconceivability have nothing to do with the case, and that experience alone must settle the matter. But it is just here that the difficulty begins. The acquired characters we are speaking of are generally habits or the effects of habit, and at the root of most habits there is a natural disposition. So that one can always ask whether it is really the habit acquired by the soma of the individual that is transmitted, or whether it is not rather a natural aptitude, which existed prior to the habit. This aptitude would have remained inherent in the germ-plasm which the individual bears within him, as it was in the individual himself and consequently in the germ whence he sprang. Thus, for instance, there is no proof that the mole has become blind because it has formed the habit of living underground; it is perhaps because its eyes were becoming atrophied that it condemned itself to a life underground. If this is the case, the tendency to lose the power of vision has been transmitted from germ to germ without anything being acquired or lost by the soma of the mole itself. From the fact that the son of a fencing-master has become a good fencer much more quickly than his father, we cannot infer that the habit of the parent has been transmitted to the child; for certain natural dispositions in course of growth may have passed from the plasma engendering the father to the plasma engendering the son, may have grown on the way by the effect of the primitive impetus, and thus assured to the son a greater suppleness than the father had, without troubling, so to speak, about what the father did. So of many examples drawn from the progressive domestication of animals: it is hard to say whether it is the acquired habit that is transmitted or only a certain natural tendency—that, indeed, which has caused such and such a particular species or certain of its representatives to be specially chosen for domestication. The truth is, when every doubtful case, every fact open to more than one interpretation, has been eliminated, there remains hardly a single unquestionable example of acquired and transmitted peculiarities, beyond the famous experiments of Brown-Sequard, repeated and confirmed by other physiologists. By cutting the spinal cord or the sciatic nerve of guinea-pigs, Brown-Sequard brought about an epileptic state which was transmitted to the descendants. Lesions of the same sciatic nerve, of the restiform body, etc., provoked various troubles in the guinea-pig which its progeny inherited sometimes in a quite different form: exophthalmia, loss of toes, etc. But it is not demonstrated that in these different cases of hereditary transmission there had been a real influence of the soma of the animal on its germ-plasm. Weismann at once objected that the operations of Brown-Sequard might have introduced certain special microbes into the body of the guinea-pig, which had found their means of nutrition in the nervous tissues and transmitted the malady by penetrating into the sexual elements. This objection has been answered by Brown-Sequard himself; but a more plausible one might be raised. Some experiments of Voisin and Peron have shown that fits of epilepsy are followed by the elimination of a toxic body which, when injected into animals, is capable of producing convulsive symptoms. Perhaps the trophic disorders following the nerve lesions made by Brown-Sequard correspond to the formation of precisely this convulsion-causing poison. If so, the toxin passed from the guinea-pig to its spermatozoon or ovum, and caused in the development of the embryo a general disturbance, which, however, had no visible effects except at one point or another of the organism when developed. In that case, what occurred would have been somewhat the same as in the experiments of Charrin, Delamare, and Moussu, where guinea-pigs in gestation, whose liver or kidney was injured, transmitted the lesion to their progeny, simply because the injury to the mother's organ had given rise to specific "cytotoxins" which acted on the corresponding organ of the foetus. It is true that, in these experiments, as in a former observation of the same physiologists, it was the already formed foetus that was influenced by the toxins. But other researches of Charrin have resulted in showing that the same effect may be produced, by an analogous process, on the spermatozoa and the ova. To conclude, then: the inheritance of an acquired peculiarity in the experiments of Brown-Sequard can be explained by the effect of a toxin on the germ. The lesion, however well localized it seems, is transmitted by the same process as, for instance, the taint of alcoholism. But may it not be the same in the case of every acquired peculiarity that has become hereditary?
There is, indeed, one point on which both those who affirm and those who deny the transmissibility of acquired characters are agreed, namely, that certain influences, such as that of alcohol, can affect at the same time both the living being and the germ-plasm it contains. In such case, there is inheritance of a defect, and the result is as if the soma of the parent had acted on the germ-plasm, although in reality soma and plasma have simply both suffered the action of the same cause. Now, suppose that the soma can influence the germ-plasm, as those believe who hold that acquired characters are transmissible. Is not the most natural hypothesis to suppose that things happen in this second case as in the first, and that the direct effect of the influence of the soma is a general alteration of the germ-plasm? If this is the case, it is by exception, and in some sort by accident, that the modification of the descendant is the same as that of the parent. It is like the hereditability of the alcoholic taint: it passes from father to children, but it may take a different form in each child, and in none of them be like what it was in the father. Let the letter C represent the change in the plasm, C being either positive or negative, that is to say, showing either the gain or loss of certain substances. The effect will not be an exact reproduction of the cause, nor will the change in the germ-plasm, provoked by a certain modification of a certain part of the soma, determine a similar modification of the corresponding part of the new organism in process of formation, unless all the other nascent parts of this organism enjoy a kind of immunity as regards C: the same part will then undergo alteration in the new organism, because it happens that the development of this part is alone subject to the new influence. And, even then, the part might be altered in an entirely different way from that in which the corresponding part was altered in the generating organism.
We should propose, then, to introduce a distinction between the hereditability of deviation and that of character. An individual which acquires a new character thereby deviates from the form it previously had, which form the germs, or oftener the half-germs, it contains would have reproduced in their development. If this modification does not involve the production of substances capable of changing the germ-plasm, or does not so affect nutrition as to deprive the germ-plasm of certain of its elements, it will have no effect on the offspring of the individual. This is probably the case as a rule. If, on the contrary, it has some effect, this is likely to be due to a chemical change which it has induced in the germ-plasm. This chemical change might, by exception, bring about the original modification again in the organism which the germ is about to develop, but there are as many and more chances that it will do something else. In this latter case, the generated organism will perhaps deviate from the normal type as much as the generating organism, but it will do so differently. It will have inherited deviation and not character. In general, therefore, the habits formed by an individual have probably no echo in its offspring; and when they have, the modification in the descendants may have no visible likeness to the original one. Such, at least, is the hypothesis which seems to us most likely. In any case, in default of proof to the contrary, and so long as the decisive experiments called for by an eminent biologist have not been made, we must keep to the actual results of observation. Now, even if we take the most favorable view of the theory of the transmissibility of acquired characters, and assume that the ostensible acquired character is not, in most cases, the more or less tardy development of an innate character, facts show us that hereditary transmission is the exception and not the rule. How, then, shall we expect it to develop an organ such as the eye? When we think of the enormous number of variations, all in the same direction, that we must suppose to be accumulated before the passage from the pigment-spot of the Infusorian to the eye of the mollusc and of the vertebrate is possible, we do not see how heredity, as we observe it, could ever have determined this piling-up of differences, even supposing that individual efforts could have produced each of them singly. That is to say that neo-Lamarckism is no more able than any other form of evolutionism to solve the problem.
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In thus submitting the various present forms of evolutionism to a common test, in showing that they all strike against the same insurmountable difficulty, we have in no wise the intention of rejecting them altogether. On the contrary, each of them, being supported by a considerable number of facts, must be true in its way. Each of them must correspond to a certain aspect of the process of evolution. Perhaps even it is necessary that a theory should restrict itself exclusively to a particular point of view, in order to remain scientific, i.e. to give a precise direction to researches into detail. But the reality of which each of these theories takes a partial view must transcend them all. And this reality is the special object of philosophy, which is not constrained to scientific precision because it contemplates no practical application. Let us therefore indicate in a word or two the positive contribution that each of the three present forms of evolutionism seems to us to make toward the solution of the problem, what each of them leaves out, and on what point this threefold effort should, in our opinion, converge in order to obtain a more comprehensive, although thereby of necessity a less definite, idea of the evolutionary process.
The neo-Darwinians are probably right, we believe, when they teach that the essential causes of variation are the differences inherent in the germ borne by the individual, and not the experiences or behavior of the individual in the course of his career. Where we fail to follow these biologists, is in regarding the differences inherent in the germ as purely accidental and individual. We cannot help believing that these differences are the development of an impulsion which passes from germ to germ across the individuals, that they are therefore not pure accidents, and that they might well appear at the same time, in the same form, in all the representatives of the same species, or at least in a certain number of them. Already, in fact, the theory of mutations is modifying Darwinism profoundly on this point. It asserts that at a given moment, after a long period, the entire species is beset with a tendency to change. The tendency to change, therefore, is not accidental. True, the change itself would be accidental, since the mutation works, according to De Vries, in different directions in the different representatives of the species. But, first we must see if the theory is confirmed by many other vegetable species (De Vries has verified it only by the OEnothera Lamarckiana), and then there is the possibility, as we shall explain further on, that the part played by chance is much greater in the variation of plants than in that of animals, because, in the vegetable world, function does not depend so strictly on form. Be that as it may, the neo-Darwinians are inclined to admit that the periods of mutation are determinate. The direction of the mutation may therefore be so as well, at least in animals, and to the extent we shall have to indicate.
We thus arrive at a hypothesis like Eimer's, according to which the variations of different characters continue from generation to generation in definite directions. This hypothesis seems plausible to us, within the limits in which Eimer himself retains it. Of course, the evolution of the organic world cannot be predetermined as a whole. We claim, on the contrary, that the spontaneity of life is manifested by a continual creation of new forms succeeding others. But this indetermination cannot be complete; it must leave a certain part to determination. An organ like the eye, for example, must have been formed by just a continual changing in a definite direction. Indeed, we do not see how otherwise to explain the likeness of structure of the eye in species that have not the same history. Where we differ from Eimer is in his claim that combinations of physical and chemical causes are enough to secure the result. We have tried to prove, on the contrary, by the example of the eye, that if there is "orthogenesis" here, a psychological cause intervenes.
Certain neo-Lamarckians do indeed resort to a cause of a psychological nature. There, to our thinking, is one of the most solid positions of neo-Lamarckism. But if this cause is nothing but the conscious effort of the individual, it cannot operate in more than a restricted number of cases—at most in the animal world, and not at all in the vegetable kingdom. Even in animals, it will act only on points which are under the direct or indirect control of the will. And even where it does act, it is not clear how it could compass a change so profound as an increase of complexity: at most this would be conceivable if the acquired characters were regularly transmitted so as to be added together; but this transmission seems to be the exception rather than the rule. A hereditary change in a definite direction, which continues to accumulate and add to itself so as to build up a more and more complex machine, must certainly be related to some sort of effort, but to an effort of far greater depth than the individual effort, far more independent of circumstances, an effort common to most representatives of the same species, inherent in the germs they bear rather than in their substance alone, an effort thereby assured of being passed on to their descendants.
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So we come back, by a somewhat roundabout way, to the idea we started from, that of an original impetus of life, passing from one generation of germs to the following generation of germs through the developed organisms which bridge the interval between the generations. This impetus, sustained right along the lines of evolution among which it gets divided, is the fundamental cause of variations, at least of those that are regularly passed on, that accumulate and create new species. In general, when species have begun to diverge from a common stock, they accentuate their divergence as they progress in their evolution. Yet, in certain definite points, they may evolve identically; in fact, they must do so if the hypothesis of a common impetus be accepted. This is just what we shall have to show now in a more precise way, by the same example we have chosen, the formation of the eye in molluscs and vertebrates. The idea of an "original impetus," moreover, will thus be made clearer.
Two points are equally striking in an organ like the eye: the complexity of its structure and the simplicity of its function. The eye is composed of distinct parts, such as the sclerotic, the cornea, the retina, the crystalline lens, etc. In each of these parts the detail is infinite. The retina alone comprises three layers of nervous elements—multipolar cells, bipolar cells, visual cells—each of which has its individuality and is undoubtedly a very complicated organism: so complicated, indeed, is the retinal membrane in its intimate structure, that no simple description can give an adequate idea of it. The mechanism of the eye is, in short, composed of an infinity of mechanisms, all of extreme complexity. Yet vision is one simple fact. As soon as the eye opens, the visual act is effected. Just because the act is simple, the slightest negligence on the part of nature in the building of the infinitely complex machine would have made vision impossible. This contrast between the complexity of the organ and the unity of the function is what gives us pause.
A mechanistic theory is one which means to show us the gradual building-up of the machine under the influence of external circumstances intervening either directly by action on the tissues or indirectly by the selection of better-adapted ones. But, whatever form this theory may take, supposing it avails at all to explain the detail of the parts, it throws no light on their correlation.
Then comes the doctrine of finality, which says that the parts have been brought together on a preconceived plan with a view to a certain end. In this it likens the labor of nature to that of the workman, who also proceeds by the assemblage of parts with a view to the realization of an idea or the imitation of a model. Mechanism, here, reproaches finalism with its anthropomorphic character, and rightly. But it fails to see that itself proceeds according to this method—somewhat mutilated! True, it has got rid of the end pursued or the ideal model. But it also holds that nature has worked like a human being by bringing parts together, while a mere glance at the development of an embryo shows that life goes to work in a very different way. Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by dissociation and division.
We must get beyond both points of view, both mechanism and finalism being, at bottom, only standpoints to which the human mind has been led by considering the work of man. But in what direction can we go beyond them? We have said that in analyzing the structure of an organ, we can go on decomposing for ever, although the function of the whole is a simple thing. This contrast between the infinite complexity of the organ and the extreme simplicity of the function is what should open our eyes.
In general, when the same object appears in one aspect and in another as infinitely complex, the two aspects have by no means the same importance, or rather the same degree of reality. In such cases, the simplicity belongs to the object itself, and the infinite complexity to the views we take in turning around it, to the symbols by which our senses or intellect represent it to us, or, more generally, to elements of a different order, with which we try to imitate it artificially, but with which it remains incommensurable, being of a different nature. An artist of genius has painted a figure on his canvas. We can imitate his picture with many-colored squares of mosaic. And we shall reproduce the curves and shades of the model so much the better as our squares are smaller, more numerous and more varied in tone. But an infinity of elements infinitely small, presenting an infinity of shades, would be necessary to obtain the exact equivalent of the figure that the artist has conceived as a simple thing, which he has wished to transport as a whole to the canvas, and which is the more complete the more it strikes us as the projection of an indivisible intuition. Now, suppose our eyes so made that they cannot help seeing in the work of the master a mosaic effect. Or suppose our intellect so made that it cannot explain the appearance of the figure on the canvas except as a work of mosaic. We should then be able to speak simply of a collection of little squares, and we should be under the mechanistic hypothesis. We might add that, beside the materiality of the collection, there must be a plan on which the artist worked; and then we should be expressing ourselves as finalists. But in neither case should we have got at the real process, for there are no squares brought together. It is the picture, i.e. the simple act, projected on the canvas, which, by the mere fact of entering into our perception, is decomposed before our eyes into thousands and thousands of little squares which present, as recomposed, a wonderful arrangement. So the eye, with its marvelous complexity of structure, may be only the simple act of vision, divided for us into a mosaic of cells, whose order seems marvelous to us because we have conceived the whole as an assemblage.
If I raise my hand from A to B, this movement appears to me under two aspects at once. Felt from within, it is a simple, indivisible act. Perceived from without, it is the course of a certain curve, AB. In this curve I can distinguish as many positions as I please, and the line itself might be defined as a certain mutual coordination of these positions. But the positions, infinite in number, and the order in which they are connected, have sprung automatically from the indivisible act by which my hand has gone from A to B. Mechanism, here, would consist in seeing only the positions. Finalism would take their order into account. But both mechanism and finalism would leave on one side the movement, which is reality itself. In one sense, the movement is more than the positions and than their order; for it is sufficient to make it in its indivisible simplicity to secure that the infinity of the successive positions as also their order be given at once—with something else which is neither order nor position but which is essential, the mobility. But, in another sense, the movement is less than the series of positions and their connecting order; for, to arrange points in a certain order, it is necessary first to conceive the order and then to realize it with points, there must be the work of assemblage and there must be intelligence, whereas the simple movement of the hand contains nothing of either. It is not intelligent, in the human sense of the word, and it is not an assemblage, for it is not made up of elements. Just so with the relation of the eye to vision. There is in vision more than the component cells of the eye and their mutual coordination: in this sense, neither mechanism nor finalism go far enough. But, in another sense, mechanism and finalism both go too far, for they attribute to Nature the most formidable of the labors of Hercules in holding that she has exalted to the simple act of vision an infinity of infinitely complex elements, whereas Nature has had no more trouble in making an eye than I have in lifting my hand. Nature's simple act has divided itself automatically into an infinity of elements which are then found to be coordinated to one idea, just as the movement of my hand has dropped an infinity of points which are then found to satisfy one equation.