Kant's ContributionFebruary 1, 2022
The first breach in this petrified outlook on nature was made by Kant, a philosopher, not a natural scientist.
Kant’s General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens appeared in 1755.
The question of the first impulse was abolished.
The earth and the whole solar system appeared as something that had come into being in the course of time.
Most natural scientists had had a little less of the repugnance to thinking that Newton expressed in the warning: “Physics, beware of metaphysics!”
They would have been compelled from this single brilliant discovery of Kant’s to draw conclusions that would have spared them endless deviations and immeasurable amounts of time and labour wasted in false directions.
Kant’s discovery contained the starting point all further progress.
If the earth were something that had come into being, then its present geological, geographical, and climatic state, and its plants and animals likewise, must be something that had come into being.
It must have had a history of:
- co-existence in space
- succession in time.
Kant’s work remained without immediate results, until many years later when Laplace and Herschel expounded its contents and gave them a deeper foundation.
- This led to the “nebular hypothesis”.
The most important of these were:
- the proper motion of the fixed stars
- the demonstration of a resistant medium in universal space
- the proof furnished by spectral analysis of the chemical identity of the matter of the universe and the existence of such glowing nebular masses as Kant had postulated.
Most of the natural scientists might not have been conscious of the contradiction of a changing earth that bore immutable organisms.
- It was the new idea that nature itself comes into being and passes away.
Geology arose and pointed out that:
- the terrestrial strata formed one after another and deposited one upon another
- the shells and skeletons of extinct animals and the trunks, leaves, and fruits of no longer existing plants contained in these strata.
It meant that only the earth and the plants and animals living on it had a history in time.
Cuvier’s theory of the revolutions of the earth was revolutionary in phrase and reactionary in substance.
In place of a single divine creation, he put a whole series of repeated acts of creation, making the miracle an essential natural agent.
Lyell first brought sense into geology by substituting for the sudden revolutions due to the moods of the creator the gradual effects of a slow transformation of the earth. 2
Lyell’s theory was even more incompatible than any of its predecessors with the assumption of constant organic species.
Gradual transformation of the earth’s surface and of all conditions of life led directly to gradual transformation of the organisms and their adaptation to the changing environment, to the mutability of species.
But tradition is a power both in the Catholic Church and in natural science. For years, Lyell did not see the contradiction.
This is because of the division of labour that had become dominant in natural science. It restricted each person to his special sphere.
Meanwhile, physics made mighty advances in 1842 through 3 persons:
- Mayer in Heilbronn
- Joule in Manchester demonstrated the transformation of heat into mechanical energy and of mechanical energy into heat.
- Grove, an English lawyer, proved that all physical energy, mechanical energy, heat, light, electricity magnetism, indeed even so-called chemical energy, become transformed into one another under definite conditions without any loss of energy occurring
This proved Descartes’ principle that the quantity of motion present in the world is constant.
With that the special physical energies, the as it were immutable “species” of physics, were resolved into variously differentiated forms of the motion of matter, convertible into one another according to definite laws.
The many numbers of physical energies were abolished from science by the proof of their interconnections and transitions.
Physics, like astronomy before it, had arrived at a result that necessarily pointed to the eternal cycle of matter in motion as the ultimate reality.
The rapid development of chemistry, since Lavoisier, and especially since Dalton, also attacked the old ideas of nature.
The creation of inorganic compounds that hitherto had been produced only in the living organisms proved that the laws of chemistry have the same validity for organic and inorganic bodies. It bridged the gulf between inorganic and organic nature, a gulf that even Kant regarded as forever impassable.
Finally, in the sphere of biological research, also the scientific journeys and expeditions that had been systematically organised since the middle of the previous century, the more thorough exploration of the European colonies in all parts of the world by specialists living there, and further the progress of paleontology, anatomy, and physiology in general, particularly since the systematic use of the microscope and the discovery of the cell, had accumulated so much material that the application of the comparative method became possible and at the same time indispensable.
On one hand, the conditions of life of the various floras and faunas were determined by means of comparative physical geography
On the other hand, the various organisms were compared with one another according to their homologous organs
The more deeply and exactly this research was carried on, the more did the rigid system of an Amphioxus (Sheepshead Lamprey)immutable, fixed organic nature crumble away at its touch.
The separate species of plants and animals became more and more inextricably intermingled.
Animals turned up, such as Amphioxus and Lepidosiren, that made a mockery of all previous classification. Organisms were encountered of which were impossible to classify as plant or animal.
More and more the gaps in the Lepidosiren (South American Lungfish)paleontological record were filled up, compelling even the most reluctant to acknowledge the striking parallelism between the evolutionary history of the organic world as a whole and that of the individual organism, the Ariadne’s thread that was to lead the way out of the labyrinth in which botany and zoology appeared to have become more and more deeply lost.
It was characteristic that, almost simultaneously with Kant’s attack on the eternity of the solar system, C. F. Wolff in 1759 launched the first attack on the fixity of species and proclaimed the theory of descent.
But what in his case was still only a brilliant anticipation took firm shape in the hands of Oken, Lamarck, Baer, and was victoriously carried through by Darwin in 1859, exactly a hundred years later.
Almost simultaneously it was established that protoplasm and the cell, which had already been shown to be the ultimate morphological constituents of all organisms, occurred independently as the lowest forms of organic life.
This not only reduced the gulf between inorganic and organic nature to a minimum but removed one of the most essential difficulties that had previously stood in the way of the theory of descent of organisms. The new conception of nature was complete in its main features; all rigidity was dissolved, all fixity dissipated, all particularity that had been regarded as eternal became transient, the whole of nature shown as moving in eternal flux and cyclical course.
Thus we have once again returned to the point of view of
The great founders of Greek philosophy saw the view of the whole of nature:
- from the smallest element to the greatest
- from grains of sand to suns
- from protista to men
These exist in the eternal coming into being and passing away:
- in ceaseless flux
- in un-resting motion and change
Its only essential difference is the Greeks’ base was a brilliant intuition. Our base is strict scientific research in accordance with experience. This gives us a much more definite and clear form.
The empirical proof of this motion is not wholly free from gaps.
- But these are insignificant in comparison with what has already been firmly established
- Each year, they become more and more filled up.*
*Superphysics note: Human experiences are limited and therefore the scientific system will have perpetual gaps
The most essential branches of science —trans-planetary astronomy, chemistry, geology— have a scientific existence of barely a hundred years. The comparative method in physiology is barely 50 years old. The discovery of the cell is less than 40 years old.
The innumerable suns and solar systems of our island universe, bounded by the outermost stellar rings of the Milky Way, developed from swirling, glowing masses of vapour, the laws of motion of which will perhaps be disclosed after the observations of some centuries have given us an insight into the proper motion of the stars.
Obviously, this development did not proceed everywhere at the same rate. Recognition of. the existence of dark bodies, not merely planetary in nature, hence extinct suns in our stellar system, more and more forces itself on astronomy (Mädler); on the other hand (according to Secchi) a part of the vaporous nebular patches belong to our stellar system as suns not yet fully formed, whereby it is not excluded that other nebulae, as Mädler maintains, are distant independent island universes, the relative stage of development of which must be determined by the spectroscope.
How a solar system develops from an individual nebular mass has been shown in detail by Laplace in a manner still unsurpassed; subsequent science has more and more confirmed him.
On the separate bodies so formed – suns as well as planets and satellites – the form of motion of matter at first prevailing is that which we call heat. There can be no question of chemical compounds of the elements even at a temperature like that still possessed by the sun; the extent to which heat is transformed into electricity or magnetism under such conditions, continued solar observations will show; it is already as good as proved that the mechanical motion taking place in the sun arises solely from the conflict of heat with gravity.
The smaller the individual bodies, the quicker they cool down, the satellites, asteroids, and meteors first of all, just as our moon has long been extinct. The planets cool more slowly, the central body slowest of all.
With progressive cooling the interplay of the physical forms of motion which become transformed into one another comes more and more to the forefront until finally a point is reached from when on chemical affinity begins to make itself felt, the previously chemically indifferent elements become differentiated chemically one after another, obtain chemical properties, and enter into combination with one another.
These compounds change continually with the decreasing temperature, which affects differently not only each element but also each separate compound of the elements, changing also with the consequent passage of part of the gaseous matter first to the liquid and then the solid state, and with the new conditions thus created.
The period when the planet has a firm shell and accumulations of water on its surface coincides with that when its intrinsic heat diminishes more and more in comparison to the heat emitted to it from the central body. Its atmosphere becomes the arena of meteorological phenomena in the sense in which we now understand the word; its surface becomes the arena of geological changes in which the deposits resulting from atmospheric precipitation become of ever greater importance in comparison to the slowly decreasing external effects of the hot fluid interior.
If, finally, the temperature becomes so far equalised that over a considerable portion of the surface at least it does not exceed the limits within which protein is capable of life, then, if other chemical conditions are favourable, living protoplasm is formed. What these conditions are, we do not yet know, which is not to be wondered at since so far not even the chemical formula of protein has been established – we do not even know how many chemically different protein bodies there are – and since it is only about ten years ago that the fact became known that completely structureless protein exercises all the essential functions of life, digestion, excretion, movement, contraction, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.
Thousands of years may have passed before the conditions arose in which the next advance could take place and this formless protein produce the first cell by formation of nucleus and cell membrane. Rut this first cell also provided the foundation for the morphological development of the whole organic world; the first to develop, as it is permissible to assume from the whole analogy of the palæontological record, were innumerable species of non-cellular and cellular protista, of which Eozoon canadense alone has come down to us, and of which some were gradually differentiated into the first plants and others into the first animals.
From the first animals were developed, essentially by further differentiation, the numerous classes, orders, families, genera, and species of animals; and finally mammals, the form in which the nervous system attains its fullest development; and among these again finally that mammal in which nature attains consciousness of itself – man.
Man too arises by differentiation. Not only individually, by differentiation from a single egg cell to the most complicated organism that nature produces - no, also historically. When after thousands of years of struggle the differentiation of hand from foot, and erect gait, were finally established, man became distinct from the monkey and the basis was laid for the development of articulate speech and the mighty development of the brain that has since made the gulf between man and monkey an unbridgeable one.
The specialisation of the hand – this implies the tool, and the tool implies specific human activity, the transforming reaction of man on nature, production. Animals in the narrower sense also have tools, but only as limbs of their bodies: the ant, the bee, the beaver; animals also produce, but their productive effect on surrounding nature in relation to the latter amounts to nothing at all.
Man alone has succeeded in impressing his stamp on nature, not only by shifting the plant and animal world from one place to another, but also by so altering the aspect and climate of his dwelling place, and even the plants and animals themselves, that the consequences of his activity can disappear only with the general extinction of the terrestrial globe. And he has accomplished this primarily and essentially by means of the hand. Even the steam engine, so far his most powerful tool for the transformation of nature, depends, because it is a tool, in the last resort on the hand.
But step by step with the development of the hand went that of the brain; first of all consciousness of the conditions for separate practically useful actions, and later, among the more favoured peoples and arising from the preceding, insight into the natural laws governing them. And with the rapidly growing knowledge of the laws of nature the means for reacting on nature also grew; the hand alone would never have achieved the steam engine if the brain of man had not attained a correlative development with it, and parallel to it, and partly owing to it.
With men we enter history. Animals also have a history, that of their derivation and gradual evolution to their present position. This history, however, is made for them, and in so far as they themselves take part in it, this occurs without their knowledge or desire.
On the other hand, the more that human beings become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their own history consciously, the less becomes the influence of unforeseen effects and uncontrolled forces of this history, and the more accurately does the historical result correspond to the aim laid down in advance.
If, however, we apply this measure to human history, to that of even the most developed peoples of the present day, we find that there still exists here a colossal disproportion between the proposed aims and the results arrived at, that unforeseen effects predominate, and that the uncontrolled forces are far more powerful than those set into motion according to plan.
This cannot be otherwise as long as the most essential historical activity of men, the one which has raised them from bestiality to humanity and which forms the material foundation of all their other activities, namely the production of their requirements of life, that is to-day social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces and achieves its desired end only by way of exception and, much more frequently, the exact opposite.
In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did. And what is the result? Increasing overwork and increasing misery of the masses, and every ten years a great collapse.
Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.
Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for men in their aspect as species.
Historical evolution makes such an organisation daily more indispensable, but also with every day more possible. From it will date a new epoch of history, in which mankind itself, and with mankind all branches of its activity, and especially natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade.
Nevertheless, “all that comes into being deserves to perish”. Millions of years may elapse, hundreds of thousands of generations be born and die, but inexorably the time will come when the declining warmth of the sun will no longer suffice to melt the ice thrusting itself forward from the poles; when the human race, crowding more and more about the equator, will finally no longer find even there enough heat for life; when gradually even the last trace of organic life will vanish; and the earth, an extinct frozen globe like the moon, will circle in deepest darkness and in an ever narrower orbit about the equally extinct sun, and at last fall into it.
Other planets will have preceded it, others will follow it; instead of the bright, warm solar system with its harmonious arrangement of members, only a cold, dead sphere will still pursue its lonely path through universal space. And what will happen to our solar system will happen sooner or later to all the other systems of our island universe; it will happen to all the other innumerable island universes, even to those the light of which will never reach the earth while there is a living human eye to receive it.
And when such a solar system has completed its life history and succumbs to the fate of all that is finite, death, what then? Will the sun’s corpse roll on for all eternity through infinite space, and all the once infinitely diverse, differentiated natural forces pass for ever into one single form of motion, attraction ? “Or” – as Secchi asks – “do forces exist in nature which can re-convert the dead system into its original state of an incandescent nebula and re-awake it to new life? We do not know”.
At all events we do not know in the sense that we know that
2 × 2 = 4, or that the attraction of matter increases and decreases according to the square of the distance.
In theoretical natural science, however, which as far as possible builds up its view of nature into a harmonious whole, and without which nowadays even the most thoughtless empiricist cannot get anywhere, we have very often to reckon with incompletely known magnitudes; and logical consistency of thought must at all times help to get over defective knowledge. Modern natural science has had to take over from philosophy the principle of the indestructibility of motion; it cannot any longer exist without this principle.
But the motion of matter is not merely crude mechanical motion, mere change of place, it is heat and light, electric and magnetic stress, chemical combination and dissociation, life and, finally, consciousness.
To say that matter during the whole unlimited time of its existence has only once, and for what is an infinitesimally short period in comparison to its eternity, found itself able to differentiate its motion and thereby to unfold the whole wealth of this motion, and that before and after this remains restricted for eternity to mere change of place - this is equivalent to maintaining that matter is mortal and motion transitory.
The indestructibility of motion is both quantitative and qualitative.
Matter whose purely mechanical change of place includes indeed the possibility under favourable conditions of being transformed into heat, electricity, chemical action, or life, but which is not capable of producing these conditions from out of itself, such matter has forfeited motion; motion which has lost the capacity of being transformed into the various forms appropriate to it may indeed still have dynamis but no longer energeia, and so has become partially destroyed. Both, however, are unthinkable.
There was a time when the matter of our island universe had transformed a quantity of motion – of what kind we do not yet know – into heat, such that there could be developed from it the solar systems appertaining to (according to Mädler) at least 20 million stars, the gradual extinction of which is likewise certain.
How did this transformation take place?
We know just as little as Father Secchi knows whether the future caput mortuum of our solar system will once again be converted into the raw material of a new solar system.
But here we must either:
- turn to a Creator, or
- conclude that the incandescent raw material for the solar system was produced in a natural way by transformations of motion which are by nature inherent in moving matter, and the conditions of which therefore also must be reproduced by matter, even if only after millions and millions of years and more or less by chance but with the necessity that is also inherent in chance.
The possibility of such a transformation is more and more being conceded.
The view is being arrived at that the heavenly bodies are ultimately destined to fall into one another, and one even calculates the amount of heat which must be developed on such collisions.
The sudden flaring up of new stars, and the equally sudden increase in brightness of familiar ones, of which we are informed by astronomy, is most easily explained by such collisions.
Our planets move around the sun, and our sun moves around within our island universe. Our whole island universe also moves in space in temporary, relative equilibrium with the other island universes.
Even the relative equilibrium of freely moving bodies can only exist where the motion is reciprocally determined.
Many assume that the temperature in space is not everywhere the same.
Finally, we know that, with the exception of an infinitesimal portion, the heat of the innumerable suns of our island universe vanishes into space and fails to raise the temperature of space even by a millionth of a degree centigrade.
What becomes of all this enormous quantity of heat?
Is it forever dissipated in the attempt to heat universal space, has it ceased to exist practically, and does it only continue to exist theoretically, in the fact that universal space has become warmer by a decimal fraction of a degree beginning with ten or more noughts?
The indestructibility of motion forbids such an assumption, but it allows the possibility that by the successive falling into one another of the bodies of the universe all existing mechanical motion will be converted into heat and the latter radiated into space, so that in spite of all “indestructibility of force” all motion in general would have ceased.
Incidentally it is seen here how inaccurate is the term “indestructibility of force” instead of “indestructibility of motion”.
Hence we conclude that the heat radiated into space can transform into another form of motion, which can once more be stored up and rendered active.
This removes the difficulty of reconverting extinct suns into incandescent vapour.
For the rest, the eternally repeated succession of worlds in infinite time is only the logical complement to the co-existence of innumerable worlds in infinite space – a principle the necessity of which has forced itself even on the anti-theoretical Yankee brain of Draper.3
It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of beings conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation; a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes.
But however often or relentless this cycle is completed in time and space we are sure that:
- matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations
- none of its attributes can ever be lost
- matter can both exterminate and create mind
How tenaciously even in 1861 this view could be held by a man whose scientific achievements had provided highly important material for abolishing it is shown by the following classic words: All the arraignments of our solar system, so far as we are capable of comprehending them, aim st preservation of what exists and at unchanging continuance. Just as since the most ancient times no animal and no plant on the earth has become more perfect or in any way different, just as we find in all organisms only stages alongside of one another and not following one another, just as our own race has always remained the same in corporeal respects – so even the greatest diversity in the co-existing heavenly bodies does not justify us in assuming that these forms are merely different stages of development; it is rather that everything created is equally perfect in itself.” (Mädler, Popular Astronomy Berlin, 1861, 5th edition, p. 316.)
The defect of Lyell’s view – at least in its first form – lay in conceiving the forces at work on the earth as constant, both in quality and quantity. The cooling of the earth does not exist for him; the earth does not develop in a definite direction but merely changes in an inconsequent fortuitous manner.
“The multiplicity of worlds in infinite space leads to the conception of a succession of worlds in infinite time.” J. W. Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, 1864. Vol. 2, p. 325.