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Evolution - Filling Gaps With Hypotheses

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In Dr. Harald Hoffding's History of Modern Philosophy, Vol. II., page 506, is found this biographical notice of Dr. Ernst Haeckel, Professor of Zoology at Jena, Germany :

"Haeckel was one of the first German scientists to give in his adherence to Darwin. He was an ardent supporter of the Darwinian hypothesis and attributed to it a certainty and a wideness of range in which its critical and careful originator could not always acquiesce. He was never tired of constructing the pedigrees of existing species, and he saw no difficulty in believing in a continuous evolution of organic matter. He had not the power of perceiving the limits of an hypothesis, nor did he grasp the necessity for verification; otherwise, he could never, as he did, have placed Darwin's hypothesis, just as it stood, side by side with that of Newton. Moreover, he reproached Darwin with taking the objections raised against his theory too seriously. The great discoverer shook his head over the young disciple's zeal: `Your boldness sometimes makes me tremble.' he wrote (Nov. 19, 1868)."

Ample proofs of the correctness of the judgment of Dr. Hoffding are furnished in Professor Haeckel's works. A few examples may well be quoted showing that Professor Haeckel "Had not the power of perceiving the limits of an hypothesis, nor did he grasp the necessity for verification." From page 299, The Riddle of the Universe:

"The presentations which fill up the gaps in our knowledge, or take its place, may be called, in a broad sense, `faith.' That is what happens continually in daily life. When we are not sure about a thing we say, I believe it. The explanation of a great number of connected phenomena by the assumption of a common cause is called a theory. Both in theory and hypothesis `faith' (in the scientific sense) is indispensable ; for here again it is the imagination that fills up the gaps left by the intelligence in our knowledge of the connection of things. A theory, there-fore, must always be regarded only as an approximation to the truth : it must be understood that it may be replaced in time by another and better-grounded theory."

In criticism of the above, it seems reasonable to consider that "faith" in "the imagination that fills the gaps" should be controlled by the knowledge that the results achieved by the imagination are not equivalent to demonstrated facts. Also, the proper use of theories sometimes results in demonstrated facts which either overthrow or establish that which was but theory before. Theories may be legitimately used by Scientists, but theories are not parts of Science.

Professor Haeckel does not keep in mind his statement, quoted above, that "A theory must always be regarded only as an approximation to the truth." Notice the following quotation from page 168, The Riddle of the Universe

"Consequently, the historical, gradual evolution of the human soul from a long chain of higher and lower mammal souls must, by application of the theory of descent, be regarded as a fact which has been scientifically proved.''

The "application of a theory" constitutes "a fact scientifically proved" ! Is this Science?

Professor Haeckel has found no difficulty in bridging the gap between physiology and psychology, but in spite of his assurance, the gap still exists to the majority of his scientific contemporaries, so there may be something lacking in Professor Haeckel's triumphant assertion. The following quotation is taken from page 131:

"The human will has no more freedom than that of the higher animals, from which it differs only in degree, not in kind. In the last century the dogma of liberty was fought with general philosophic and cosmological arguments. The nineteenth century has given us very different weapons for its definite destruction葉he powerful weapons we find in the arsenal of comparative physiology and evolution."

It is understood that Professor Haeckel considers psychology as a department of physiology, but even if that is granted, it is another department to the extent of recognizing and including additional facts. And the doctrine of "the freedom of the will" is so fortified in the minds of those who hold it, that it is a psychological verity whose "definite destruction" may resist weapons taken from the arsenal of physiology. However this conflict may finally result, Professor Haeckel's hypothesis that the doctrine will soon be destroyed lias limits very much inside his own boundaries. In other words, Dr. Harald Hoffding, Professor of Philosophy in Copenhagen University, has given an account of the doctrine which proves that Professor Haeckel does not "perceive the limits" of his hypothesis, that it will soon be destroyed. Those who hold it, have sufficient "freedom of will" to continue holding it, in spite of the assaults.

It must be granted, however, that such different definitions have been given regarding the meaning of "Free Will" that it cannot be intelligently discussed without explation of exactly what is meant. Neverthless, practically, there is considerable "Filling Gaps Will" that it cannot be intelligently discussed without explanation of exactly what is meant. Nevertheless, practically, there is considerable "Free Will" in Professor Haeckel and all other intelligent men. The mere fact that intelligent men continue the argument proves that much. If "the human' will has no more freedom than that of the higher animals" why are the latter in subjection to the former ? If it is only a difference "in degree," the degree is wonderful. It puts man into another class and comparisons of intelligent, moral will are nearly impossible. The contrasts overshadow the comparisons.

Continuing the examples of Professor Haeckel's "inability to perceive the limits of an hypothesis and the necessity for its verification" :

From pages 148 and 149, The Riddle of the Universe:

"The theory of descent, combined with anthropological research, has convinced us of the descent of the human organism from a long series of animal ancestors by a slow and gradual transformation occupying many millions of years. . . . We must admit that we are here, as we are in every branch of phylogenetic research, driven to the construction of a number of hypotheses in order to fill up the considerable lacune of empirical phylogeny."

Why "convinced" by hypotheses ? There are natural and logical limitations to hypotheses. The Standard Dictionary defines these limitations thus : "If the hypothesis explains all the facts, it is regarded as verified ; till then it is regarded as a working hypothesis, i. e., one that may answer for present practical purposes. A hypothesis may be termed a comprehensive guess."

Professor Haeckel considers that the vast and intricate problem of the origin and nature of man is solved in Darwin's Theory of Descent. It seems hardly possible that any thinker could so lightly toss off such a conclusion as is found on page 78, The Riddle of the Universe.

"Darwin's theory of the natural origin of species at once gave us the solution of the mystic `problem of creation,' the great `question of all questions'葉he problem of the true character and origin of man himself."

Can a "theory" be said to be "the solution" of a problem ?

From page 46, The Last Link. One would not expect to find any such admissions as the following in a book of this title

"No doubt these pre-Cambrian Vermalia, and the common root of all Metazoa, the Gastraeades, were connected during the Laurentian period by a long chain of inter-mediate forms, and probably among these were some older forms of Rotatoria and Turbellaria ; but at the present time it is not possible to fill this wide gap with hypotheses that are satisfactory, and we have to admit that here indeed are many missing links in the older history of the Invertebrata. Still, every zoologist who is convinced of the truth of transformism, and is accustomed to phylogenetic speculations, knows very well that these results are most unequal, often incomplete."

It is granted that it is comparatively unimportant that records of more "links" of species existing in past ages are not found in the rocks and in fossil remains. It is also granted that it is altogether probable that there were many intermediate varieties and species of which no record will ever be found.

Let it be understood that the object in making these quotations is chiefly to show that the Darwinian "theory of descent" is, in truth, a theory : that it is dependent upon a series of hypotheses; and that there are gaps in the main "theory" which it is not possible to fill even with hypotheses that are satisfactory to the most learned and the most zealous of the advocates of "Darwinism." These three points should be noted by the student and he will find them substantiated in all the voluminous literature on the subject. Physical Functions and Psychic Capacities

The author is in entire agreement with the statement of Professor Haeckel that :

"Our scientific experience has never yet taught us the existence of forces that can dispense with a material substratum, or of a spiritual world over and above the realm of nature." 猶age 91, The Riddle of the Universe.

As already stated, the subject matter of this book recognizes the superhuman, the superphysical and the super-material; but not the supernatural. It is also agreed that "The soul is a natural phenomenon"; but, nevertheless, serious objections are herein made to the conclusions there-after drawn by Professor Haeckel on pages 89 and 91 as follows :

"What we call the soul is, in my opinion, a natural phenomenon ; I therefore consider psychology to be a branch of natural science預 section of physiology.

"Like all other natural phenomena, the psychic processes are subject to the supreme, all-ruling law of substance ; not even in this province is there a single exception to this highest cosmological law. The phenomena of the lowly psychic life of the unicellular protist and the plant, and of the lowest animal forms葉heir irritability, their reflex movements, their sensitiveness and instinct of self-preservation are directly determined by physiological action in the protoplasm of their cells葉hat is, by physical and chemical changes which are partly due to heredity and partly to adaptation. And we must say just the same of the higher psychic activity of the higher animals and man, of the formation of ideas and concepts, of the marvelous phenomena of reason and consciousness; for the latter have been phylogenetically evolved from the former, and it is merely a higher degree of integration or centralization, of association or combination of functions which were formerly isolated, that has elevated them in this manner."

While it is indeed a fact that we know nothing of "the existence of forces that can dispense with a material sub-stratum," and while it is agreed that psychology is a branch of natural science, it is, nevertheless, denied that the higher psychic activity of the higher animals and man, of the formation of ideas and concepts, of the marvelous phenomena of reason and consciousness can be directly determined by physiological action in the protoplasm of their cells葉hat is, by physical and chemical changes which are partly due to heredity and partly to adaptation. The chief objection here made is that the physical and chemical changes and the influence of heredity and adaptation do not account for the phenomena. There are phenomena with which we are all familiar which are not properly classified with the subject-matter of the sciences of chemistry and physiology. Professor Haeckel cannot maintain his position as stated again on page 182, chapter on Consciousness, The Riddle of the Universe:

"The peculiar phenomenon of consciousness is not, as Du Bois-Reymond and the dualistic school would have us believe, a completely `transcendental' problem; it is, as I showed thirty-three years ago, a physiological problem, and, as such, must be reduced to the phenomena of physics and chemistry."

The refutations of Professor Haeckel's statements and the proofs of the correctness of the criticisms here made may be furnished from his own experiences. It is quite evident that Professor Haeckel has not "showed" some of the highest developed members of his own species, his con-temporaries in research, thought and experience, that there is no psychological problem which cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry. The following quotations are taken from pages 92 and 102, chapter on The Nature of the Soul:

"Not only are the views of the most eminent thinkers on these questions widely divergent, but even the same scientific authority has often completely changed his views in the course of his psychological development. Indeed this `psychological metamorphosis' of so many thinkers has contributed not a little to the colossal confusion of ideas which prevails in psychology more than in any other branch of knowledge."

"This entire change of philosophical principles, which we found in Wundt, as we found it in Kant, Virchow, Du Bois-Reymond, Karl Ernst Baer, and others, is very interesting. In their youth these able and talented scientists embrace the whole field of biological research in a broad survey, and make strenuous efforts to find a unifying, natural basis for their knowledge; in their later years they have found that this is not completely attainable, and so they entirely abandon the idea."

In the above we seem to have a statement of a psycho-logical problem which is not a physiological problem and which cannot be reduced to the phenomena of physics and chemistry. Some of these eminent thinkers are of about

Physical Functions and Psychic Capacities 87 the same age as Professor Haeckel and "the colossal confusion of ideas" cannot be said to be a purely physiological problem. But if it could be demonstrated as a physiological problem that Professor Haeckel retained the views of his youth while the others adopted and taught opposite views from those held in their youth, Professor Haeckel becomes the abnormal one among the number mentioned by him. Physics and Chemistry will not account for it. Physics and Chemistry are exact Sciences. Evidently there must be psychic capacities in some men which "transcend" physiological functions.

On page 131, The Riddle of the Universe, we find this statement :

"The human will has no more freedom than that of the higher animals, from which it differs only in degree, not in kind. . . . The character of the inclination was determined long ago by heredity from parents and ancestors; the determination of each particular act is an instance of adaptation to the circumstances of the moment wherein the strongest motive prevails, according to the laws which govern the statics of emotion."

If we only knew "the laws which govern the statics of emotion" we might comprehend the psychological problem presented by the change of base of Professor Haeckel's contemporaries. In the specific examples quoted, namely, Kant, Virchow, Du Bois-Reymond and Karl Baer, it can-not be said that "the character of the inclination was determined long ago by heredity." Professor Haeckel as-signs another reason when he states, "Even the same scientific authority has often changed his views in the course of his psychological development." It is evident that "psychological development" is something different from "physical and chemical changes." It is equally certain that these significant alterations of preconceived opinions were not governed by "adaptation to the circumstances of the moment," for their mental and moral integrity has never been questioned.

It would also seem as though these scientists had discovered some freedom of the will unknown to Professor Haeckel, for while they had adopted similar views to his own, later investigations and deeper study compelled them to alter some of their conclusions. Here are ample evidences of psychic capacities which transcend physical functions and these intelligent men have demonstrated the possession of psychic capacities above the realms of physics and chemistry. In other words, they have "showed" us some truths at variance with the hasty generalizations in The Riddle of the Universe.

It would be interesting to know how these "psychic processes are subject to the supreme, all-ruling law of substance" if that is true and if there is such a law. To say that higher psychical capacities have been "phylogenetically evolved" does not account for them.

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