Art. XV.—Upon a Common Vital Force.
Section IV.—Of The Higher Physical and Social Laws.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 14th July, 1897.]
Of the higher vital laws which govern humanity as well as this earth's fauna and flora, proving the existence of some guiding force common to all living things, I wish to refer to the following. These laws, upon investigation, will be found widely ruling, permanent, almost absolute, and far beyond any law we may place upon any of our statute-books. Indeed, I know of no human law so certain as any one of them. We all admit their essentiality, so that we rarely enact anything concerning them. They are, as it were, the common law of nature. Supposing we lost all our human laws, society would still be admirably held together under these higher vital laws. I supply members with those I have already searched into, but I propose to add others from time to time. My object in submitting these papers is simply to place the facts I have collected before members, and I trust, as a searcher after truth, independent of all previous authority, that I shall be allowed to submit these facts for subsequent deduction or induction and analysis.
(1) The pairing of animals and birds, including matrimony; (2) the existence of measurement; (3) the law of heredity, modified by (4), that no two living things are exactly alike; (5) the law of beauty; (6) evening sunsets, furnishing daily models of art; (7) the law of harmony; (8) the warning signals of pain; (9) the law of natural selection; (10) the various powers of light (photography, &c.); (11) the prolific reproduction of species; (12) the law that females slightly exceed males in number; (13) progressive development and adaptation of species one to the other and to the condition of the planet; (14) the law of vibration; (15) the law of internal change and variation; (16) chemical action in all its wondrous phases.
B.—Mental or Social Laws.
(1) The reality of virtue; (2) the certainty of morality; (3) the necessity for worship of some kind; (4) the law of temperance—whether mental or physical (the passionate man and the drunkard being inferior); (5) the utility of misfortune as a
teacher of wisdom to the individual and the nation; (6) the beauty of moderation; (7) the great utility of experience; (8) the law of memory; (9) the absolute reality of goodness; (10) the absolute reality of love; (11) the blind affection of the mother for her young; (12) the absolute reality of courage, truth, friendship, pleasure, ambition, industry, honour, fame, reverence, sympathy, unselfishness, justice, mercy, and abstemiousness, &c., together with the existence of envy, sorrow, hate, revenge, superstition, cunning, bigotry, anger, cowardice, selfishness, despotism, injustice, &c.; (13) the innate knowledge that a luxurious life is harmful; (14) the repugnance to an idle life; (15) the great laws of independence and dependence; (16) the utility of mirth, fun, and laughter; (17) the doctrine of sudden inspiration; (18) the utility of contentment and discontent; (19) the mental birth of moral consciousness and responsibility; (20) the law that poverty is oftentimes a blessing; (21) the pleasure we feel in bestowing happiness upon others; (22) the sorrow we feel in having done wrong; (23) the law that surfeit always attends upon excess; (24) the great doctrine of our free will and free agency absolutely negativing the human law of fate; (25) the law that the arrogance of the rich or powerful is always checked by the revolution or insolence of the poor; (26) the law of modesty—that a truly great man is usually governed by this law; (27) the law of genius.
Little need be said by me in explanation of this section of my subject. I shall be told that many of these laws are mere instincts and emotions. I have purposely written this section in order to give them a far higher place in nature's working. I have referred to law No. 2A in Art. lxxii., vol. xxvi., of our Transactions, p. 604, “Accuracy of Measurement in Spiders' Webs”); also in Art. xlv., vol. xxviii., of our Transactions, “On the Accuracy of Measurement in the Comb of the Hive Bee.” I might now draw attention to the wonderful accuracy of measurement in crystallization; also in the seed-capsules of plants, notably that of the common sunflower; and the gradation of measurement in the seeds themselves contained in a capsule, say, 1 ft. in diameter.
As to law 5A: The sea-vapour ascending from the Caribbean Sea falls upon Mont Blanc in the most beautiful form of snow. There is apparently but little necessity for so much beauty of form in such a high region, but the great law rules inexorably; there cannot be order without beauty. So with the beauty of trees, plants, flowers, men, women, children, animals, birds, and insects. We all admit its rule wherever we see it. The beauty, too, of the young is often their greatest protection. Thus, the beauty and playfulness of the young lamb, kitten, or puppy appeals at once for protection from the
fiercer animals, even from the vilest specimen of the human race.
As to law SA: We often have to thank the rule of pain for its danger-signals, in order to preserve our physical welldoing.
With regard to law 9A: I consider that far too much has been made of the law of natural selection, and I regard it only as one of the minor laws governing vital action.
As to law 17B: In section II. of this paper (Art. lxxii. of vol. xxvi., p. 609, “Discovery v. Invention,”) I have given some instances of the dominance of this law. Science alway names its discoveries as such, and not by the word “invention”. Thus, the Davy lamp has always been called a discovery, as Sir H. Davy knew nothing whatever about mining. Pliny attributes the discovery of glass to a mere accident. The precision of modern astronomy dates from Galileo and the lamp; the law of gravitation from Newton and the accidental fall of the apple. The discovery of the royal purple dye had its origin in a shepherd's dog eating a snail. The reflecting apparatus used in our lighthouses, printers' rollers, chloroform, Gillott's steel pens, Professor Röntgen's x-rays, quicksilver, vulcanised indiarubber, Montgolfier's balloon, Kuffelar's scarlet colour, durable Staffordshire pottery-glaze, were each and all wholly or partly accidental discoveries. I think it only right to collect and record these instances, to show how much we discover, and what humble instruments nature uses to reveal to us the secrets she imparts for our good. M. Noebel has just left by his will a very large sum of money to reward what he specially names as the most important “discoveries” in certain branches of physical science. So, too, M. Hilaire de Chardennet ascribes his late most important discovery of the process of making silk from wood as a “sudden inspiration,” and his glass worms are only imitations of the living silkworms. The webs of spiders must be from cellulose too. In the South Sea Islands I have noticed the natives whipping the huge webs, stretching from tree to tree, on to a small triangle of wood, the addition of web upon web eventually making a cap of wonderful strength and lightness. All these accidental discoveries and “sudden inspirations” point unerringly to the existence of a sea of laws, which we name “natural laws,” and to which it would be folly to close our eyes in blind devotion to any one of the laws that I have named.
With regard to law 10A, the properties of light: I would ask permission to submit to members, in order to place the matter on record, the natural picture-markings of a rabbit chased by a small dog, found upon the inside of an ordinary black wild rabbit's pelt, lent me for submission by Mr. W. H.
Franks, of Carterton, Wairarapa. It is evidently a “mother marking”—a natural photograph, yet being a part process, as it were, of Professor Röntgen's x-rays. The same thing appears, I think, in the colour-markings of all young animals. Thus young calves are marked in numerous instances with their mothers' marks, owing to the rays of light being microscopically conveyed and imprinted upon the embryo or fœtus. I submit this matter as another simple explanation of the existence of a common vital force, seeing that there is hardly any difference in this picture and that of any ordinary camerawork. No doubt the doe rabbit, the mother of this little one, must have received a sudden fright, and, by an instantaneous photograph (the eyes acting as the lens of a camera), imprinted the scene upon the tender young skin. Can any person doubt that some vibratory path must exist within the animal's body by means of which such an admirable picture could be reduced and printed. The rays of light must travel by this path as through the lens of the camera. The force must be common to the rabbit and the camera. An inspection of the fur side of the pelt will show exactly the same picture on the fur, but of a slightly darker colour to the rest of the pelt. It is remarkable how true the picture has kept pace with the growth of the skin. The picture represents life and movement. This skin is to be deposited in the local museum at Carterton. I think a photograph might be taken of this natural photograph or a sketch made for our next volume.
In the case of young calves the markings are made more by the rays of light penetrating the whole body of the cow by means of the vibratory path I have mentioned, and then being reduced and conveyed upon the young calf. I own a Dutch-Friesian black-and-white cow, one of the breed I had the honour of introducing into the North Island of this colony about the year 1888. Her calves generally bear her own markings, so closely in one instance that it is difficult for a passer-by to distinguish the mother from the heifer. The white markings being under the mother's belly and on the hips, her own eyes could not possibly have acted as the lens of a camera; so that the markings must be carried through the body almost line for line, by means of what we now call the x-rays of light. The same colours are also used in the markings—namely, white and black. Another instance of this is a flash of lightning, or, rather, the electric fluid, killing a person, and imprinting upon the body a picture of the tree under which the victim took shelter, or a portion of, say, a steel chain which the victim wore.
To return to my rabbit-skin picture, I need hardly remind members of the first-recorded instance we possess of these
natural markings—namely, the early biblical one of the peeled hazel and poplar rods placed in the watering-troughs, to produce ring-straked, speckled, and spotted lambs. But I must say that in the scores of thousands of rabbit-skins which have passed through my hands I have never seen anything like the present skin.
In poultry so wonderfully are the parent-bird markings carried on through any particular species that the mind marvels at their being included feather by feather on the embryo within the egg. All the markings are there, too, before the chick is hatched out of the shell; at any rate, the greater portion of them. Some path must surely exist through which the rays of light act, the vital force preserving and conveying them microscopically upon the germ. It is, of course, not really beyond the grasp of our intellect when we consider that we have instruments now to investigate down to twenty-six thousand diameters. I think I am justified in saying that there are two distinct forces at work herein—namely, (1) the vibratory path carrying the picture-rays, which we may admit to be the subtle ether; and (2) the force to converge, reduce, and preserve the rays.
In trees, plants, fishes, and insects the same law rules, although I do not for one moment mean to say that sunlight is absolutely required to continue parent markings; but for brilliant or pronounced markings of any kind certainly sunlight or light of some kind is required. The young leaves in a rosebud are pink before the bud opens. That colour comes from, as it were, stored-up spectroscopic lines of a thousand generations of ancestors, and the colour consequently “runs with the plant” until artificially grafted or altered.
Shape, size, form, and measurement follow a somewhat similar law, except where absolutely broken by the use of a different host, or an absolute departure in form. But the return is then to the original parent markings. This subject, however, requires a special section to itself.
The mere reduplication of the parent form and markings, as in the case of the hundreds of acorns from the oak, or the thousands of seeds in the capsule of the poppy or sunflower, or the myriads of ova in the herring, is not one whit more remarkable than the multitude of cells and fibres in the human brain. The power of the vital force to subdivide and yet to vary is best shown by law 4A—that “no two things in nature are alike,” not even two herrings. So that although any two herrings carry on the colour-markings and form of their common parent, yet they are no more exactly like each other or their common parent than are any two human beings alike to each other or to their parent. There is no limit to subdivision, nor do I see any more difficulty in subdivision than
our being able to take a hundred photographs in a second with our revolving cameras. We can also reduce a large-sized animal to a photograph not larger in size than a pin's head. What we can do with our rough instruments surely nature can do a million times better.
As to sex-markings, in the herring-ova there is not much difference in colour-markings for sex; but in game and poultry there is a vast difference, the male bird being generally far more handsome than the female. Law No. 9A, as explained to us, absolutely fails to account for the female wild-duck retaining for thousands of generations its dun colour, as opposed to the more brilliant male markings. I might point out the solution of this matter partly from my rabbit-skin and the existence of the force I have mentioned. The eye of the female is quite capable of acting as a lens, and storing up the male markings on the embryo, nature always continuing the female marking by the action of light itself printing those colours through the body of the female, law No. 1A keeping the colours true. For this reason fowl-fanciers should never allow their prize fowls to see other breeds than themselves, and, if possible, the male and female birds should be closely paired off. In a barn-yard the great diversity in colour arises from the law I am pointing out acting blindly and mixing up the parent markings. Such is a simple explanation of the difference in sex-markings. But if any person will read Alfred R. Wallace's “Tropical Nature,” and his chapter upon “The Colours of Animals and Sexual Selection,” he will be surprised at the weakness of the arguments that writer adduces in order to bring this most difficult subject under law No. 9A—to be solely and entirely governed by that law (natural selection). He points out, too, that Darwin, in his “Descent of Man,” arrived at the conclusion “that diversity of colour in the sexes is due primarily to the transmission of colour variations either to one sex only or to both sexes, the difference depending on some unknown law, and not being due to natural selection.” I have always said that a different conclusion from their theory of natural selection might be drawn from every page of Darwin's writings; but that great writer is usually modest, and readily admits the failure of his theory when it does not fit in. Wallace, on the contrary, utterly condemns Darwin's modest remark on this point, and proceeds to write page after page of the most inconclusive argument and illustration in order to show that the law of natural selection must apply in the transmission of sexual colour. I do not think the law has anything to do with it. It may indeed be that the male ovum has within it a stored-up picture of the male, with every colour complete. Darwin himself admits that it does not apply, but says that it is
ruled rather by some unknown law. I hope that the facts I am laying before members point to that unknown law—viz., the lately-discovered penetrating properties of light, acting in conjunction with the common vital force.
We cannot say anything for certain upon the point whether the male ovum has within itself a stored-up picture of the male. Our microscopes tell us there is little appreciable difference between the ovum that fertilises female birds to those which fertilise the females in the other natural kingdoms. Yet, from the same-looking seed is produced a bird or an animal true to parent markings; the male after his kind, the female after hers. Law No. 9A cannot possibly have anything whatever to do with this one stupendous unity of organization—namely, that the fertilisation of bird, reptile, fish, animal, and human being all take their origin from a similar-looking seed egg; so that it follows that natural selection cannot be the origin of species. Everything comes ab ovo. So too in skulls: all skulls are much alike, from the skull of a man to the skull of a pike. Between these two far-reaching unities in organization alone (from spermatozoa to the skull) law No. 9A plays but a minor part.
Laws 11A and 12A amongst humanity appear to be limited to a birth-rate for the whole planet of seventy a minute, and a death-rate of sixty-six, giving a nett increase of 2,200,000 souls each year, the females, to preserve the species, being slightly in excess of the males. In sheep the ewe hoggets are always more hardy than the male hoggets, it being easy to rear three ewes in the open all the winter where two males would only just get along. And to assure the minds of sheep-farmers in lambing and docking time, and their having to count a great number of tails, I might mention that the number of female lambs in a large flock is usually 5 per cent, greater than the number of male lambs during, say, a period of five seasons or more.
I should like now, before concluding this section, to add a few words to the work of the beaver in dam-building (see Art. lxxii., vol. xxvi., p. 607, of our Transactions), and to ask the assistance of any Canadian observer in explaining the matter. A beaver's hut consists of two rooms, one almost above and one quite beneath the water. The upper room has a shelf just above the water-line running round the inside, sufficiently large to contain three or four beds. As these huts are built before the dam is closed, it is clear that the animal, when building the shelf, forms a previous estimate of the height the water will rise on the dam-wall. I doubt, too, whether we have paid sufficient attention to the manner in which these animals fell and cut up trees, and how exactly equal and common is this knowledge to our bushmen and to
the beaver. With its long front chisel teeth the beaver puts in an all-round scarf in the trunk of the tree, just as any bushman with his axe would do. “Then the beaver stops a little and looks at the tree, to find out in which direction it is going to fall. After making up its mind, it goes to the opposite side of the tree, so as to be out of the way, puts in two or three deep bites, and down comes the tree.” Now, as the bushman and the beaver act almost similarly in this matter, I think I am justified in pointing to the common nature of the ruling law.
Generally the laws I have set out in this section have a far wider ruling than in human emotions or human action. Some of them will be found to hold almost exactly equal sway in the hives of bees, colonies of ants, among spiders, wasps, and other insects and animals.
As to law 27B (genius), there is a case in Wellington at the present moment of a child born so weak that it had to be reared on a pillow, and to receive its nourishment partly through its body. It was too feeble to suckle. But at eight years of age that child is one of those marvellous musical geniuses we sometimes hear of, and can play exceedingly difficult music long before its little hands can span the octave. Again, in the Wairarapa I know of babies born with such weak digestions that it is exceedingly difficult to get them to take any food without the use of lime-water and pepsine. And yet the vital laws pull those babies through their infancy, and turn them out strong men and women. In this these laws are far superior to the one law of which so much has been, in my opinion, quite mistakenly made, “let the strongest live and the weakest die,” commonly known as “the survival of the fittest.” Here we see the very weakest infant a marvel of genius. Its weak body is endowed with a brain so closely in touch with the laws of harmony and vibration that unknowingly to itself it produces musical chords and arrangements that surprise us. There is also the case of the young Handel, at the age of four, surprising his parents and friends. And so with the many calculating boys we read of. We call such things mere eccentricities; but to my mind these eccentricities reveal very clearly the existence of the great governing laws I have mentioned. There is the case of one calculating boy who did the most astonishing sums in arithmetic, but who could never explain how he did them; and as he grew older he lost the power of doing them. We ourselves know little yet of the power of the numerals. We can but gaze in wonder, and marvel at the power, say, of the figures 9, 10, or 12. “The survival of the fittest,” from what I have said, is therefore anything but a general governing law. I have not, as yet, included it in my list of laws, as I am doubtful whether it
rules at all in nature's working so widely as is claimed for it, the other laws above mentioned really doing its work. I think, therefore, members will forgive me for trying in this section of my subject to raise scientific research into the domain of the above laws as a whole, and not to fit nature's working into any one minor law. In chemistry we experiment and discover most curious and startling combinations. Surely we ought to admit the rule of pre-existing laws governing those combinations. And if we admit this in chemistry, surely we ought also to admit the ever-present attendance of the other equally important laws above-named governing vital action. Those laws are always with us, governing us in every direction; and in so far as they show themselves equally in entirely different genera and species, so ought we to consider them common vital laws.