Remarks on Dr. Bastian's recent work on the Beginnings of Life,
2. “Remarks on Dr. Bastian's recent work on the Beginnings of Life,” by T. Heale.
After giving an historical notice of the subject, the paper epitomized, at some length, the views maintained by Dr. Bastian as to the identity of vital force and ordinary physical force, and the impossibility of maintaining any sharp line of distinction between organic and inorganic matter; described the nature of colloids, and the behaviour of crystallizable substances in viscid fluids, as investigated by Mr. Rainey and Mr. Lewes, which showed how very similar some of the products of undoubted crystallizing forces may be to some of these formations from organic matter which are considered to be living organisms. The writer observed that it would be presumption to set up independent opinions here on such a subject; that we must wait till the “masters have spoken”; but, as a provisional hypothesis, the view forcibly struck him that since there must be a point in the chain of creatures above which life is only produced by germs or ova, this distinction must establish so sharp a line of division that it may be open to doubt whether the lower one should be considered as living at all. He noticed a great apparent want of continuity
in Dr. Bastian's experiments and reasoning: he had shown that Bacteria, occasionally forming films, were produced in his solutions boiled in vacuum tubes; and he then went on to show, with admirable clearness, the progress of development of higher organisms from Bacterian and Leptothrix films when placed in ordinary conditions. But he does not, as far as the writer can see, anywhere maintain that the films formed by him as described, in vacuo, will produce penecilium, euglenæ or paramecia, and ciliated infusoria, if only exposed to air which has been effectually deprived of germs; whence it might be inferred that Dr. Bastian admits the necessity of germs for these.
The paper quoted at length Professor Wyville Thomson's remarks upon the very lowest form of life, Bathybius, spread in an almost unbroken sheet under the whole area of the ocean, and suggested that this vast development of protoplasm everywhere—in every stagnant ditch, or under 15,000 feet of ocean—may be but the first link between organized creatures and inorganic matter, necessary to the existence and development of life, and consisting of very compound and, therefore, mobile molecules, built up by physical forces, and, though subject to very great and rapid changes, being in a constant condition of variation and molecular motion, yet not itself alive.
The paper went on to notice the great apparent difficulty, suggested by Dr. Bastian, in conceiving that these lower forms of life should have descended, from a line of ancestry far more remote than any of the higher animals, and should still be as simple and rudimentary as at first; facts which he considers quite opposed to the principles of the Uniformitarian and Evolutionary Philosophy. It was maintained that, while the conditions remained such as could only maintain the most rudimentary forms of life, development must remain an impossibility; that when the conditions admitted of a higher form of life being maintained, there development had probably taken place.
The paper wound up with a few short observations on the importance of this subject, not for scientific purposes only, but as largely influencing the issues of health and disease, and a hope that the colonists of New Zealand would never so alienate themselves from the rest of the human family as to consider so vast a human interest foreign to them.
An interesting discussion ensued, in which many members took part.