The Wonder Of The World
( Originally Published 1909 )
The Sense of wonder. Perhaps even the most "profane person" has some secret shrine where he allows himself at least to wonder. What may not the object of this wonder be the grandeur of the star-strewn sky, the mystery of the mountains, the sea eternally new, the way of the eagle in the air, the meanest flower that blows, the look in a child's eyes ? Somewhere, sometime, some-how, every one confesses, "This is too wonderful for me."
The sense of wonder varies in expression ac-cording to race and temperament, according to health and habits, according to its degree of culture and freedom. Caliban's is different from Ariel's, and Prospero's from both. But whatever be its particular expression, the sense of wonder is one of the saving graces of life, and he who is without it might as well be dead. It lies at the roots of both science and philosophy, and it has been in all ages one of the footstools of religion. When it dies one of the lights of life goes out. Keeping to the outer world of nature, let us illustrate what may be called the mainsprings of rational wonder.
Abundance of Power. In ancient days when mastery of the forces of nature was not even dreamed of, men were almost overwhelmed by their sense of the abundance of power in the world. Unable to see much order in this power, unable to utilize it, they took what came and wondered. Often personifying the various forces, they brought thank-offerings when these were benign and sacrifices when they were hostile. Short-sighted and timorous, they paid heavy premiums to experience, and yet were slow to learn. It may be, however, that they excelled us, in whom familiarity has bred commonplaceness, in their keener sense of the abundance of power in the world. It seems some-times as if we needed an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, a tornado, a comet, to reawaken us to a sense of the world suvapis, to the powers that make our whole solar system travel in space toward an unknown goal, that keep our earth together and awhirling round the sun, that sway the tides and rule the winds, that mould the dew-drop and build the crystal, that clothe the lily and give us energy for every movement and every thought —in short that keep the whole system of things agoing.
"Trees in their blooming,
And one note in that song is Power, which we can-not think of as beginning or as ending, which never seems to alter in quantity though it is always changing its quality, which is not a whit less wonderful though we say that it is "all electricity," and certainly not less wonderful if we are able to say
"God on His throne
A Modern Instance. Let us take a now familiar instance of this Power. Besides theoretical and possibly practical results, there has been some emotional gain in the recent startling discoveries which centre around the word radio-activity. From a ton of pitch-blende, the investigators extract less than a grain of radium, which, apart from living matter, is the most wonderful kind of matter in the world. Incessantly and without appreciable loss it pours forth heat and light; its rays penetrate thick plates of metal, excite phosphorescence in other bodies, discharge electroscopes from a distance, and have strange effects on living creatures. We are told that radium gives off not only rectilinear darting rays, but also a gaseous emanation which is radio-active, which precipitates itself as a "something" on various kinds of bodies and makes them also radio-active. It decays and becomes, in part at least, something else namely, that rare stuff called Helium, which Sir Norman Lockyer found many years ago in the Sun, which also occurs in warm springs and rare minerals. One kind of radium ray is said to consist of streams of little bodies, which travel at the rate of 20,000 miles a second, 40,000 times faster than a rifle bullet; another kind is said to consist of streams of little bodies, darting forth at the prodigious rate of 100,000 miles a second; another kind is said to consist of pulses in the ether, which can penetrate a foot of solid iron. In spite of all the energy it gives off, radium is but slowly used up. It is possibly being continually formed afresh in the earth, perhaps from Uranium. A small quantity diffused in the earth will suffice to compensate for all the loss of heat by radiation; a fraction of one per cent. in the sun would compensate for all its immense loss of heat. Is this not "too wonderful for us?"
Power of Life.—We do not perhaps think much about it, but the abundance of power in living creatures is truly wonderful, just as wonderful as radium. Call them engines animate systems which transform matter and energy they are more perfect than our best engines, the perfection being measured by the relation between the energy which enters them and the work they do. "Joule pointed out that not only does an animal much more nearly resemble in its function an electromagnetic engine than it resembles a steam-engine, but also that it is a much more efficient engine; that is to say, an animal, for the same amount of potential energy of food or fuel supplied to it call it fuel, to compare it with other engines gives you a larger amount converted into work than any engine which we can construct physically." Lang-ley pointed out that a fire-fly is a much more economical light-producer than any human luminiferous device. As a physicist looking at life and puzzling over its dynamic mystery, Professor Joly advanced the following interesting and important proposition: "While the transfer of energy into any inanimate material system is attended by effects retardative to the transfer and conducive to dissipation, the transfer of energy into any animate material system is attended by effects conducive to the transfer and retardative of dissipation." From a dynamic point of view it is wonderful to watch, let us say, a few water-mites imprisoned in a vessel where the supply of food is of the smallest. Day after day, week after week, we see them darting about with extreme rapidity, we hardly ever catch them napping. They cannot evade the law of the conservation of energy, but it certainly seems as if they did.
Or take another entirely different case the destructive power of microbes. It seems certain that some microbes in certain phases can pass through the most carefully constructed water-filter and are invisible to the best microscope. We know that they pass through by the results; we can get cultures of them out of the water. Yet these in-visibly minute creatures have so much constructive power that from one, in a few hours, a million may result, and so much destructive power that a small dose of them soon kills an ox.
Abundance of Life. We need only allude to the actual abundance of life. The roll-call of animals includes so many tens of thousands of species that, so far as our power of realizing the total is concerned, it is hardly affected when we note that more than half of them are insects. More than two thousand years ago Aristotle recorded a total of about 500 animals, but there may be more new species in a single volume of the Challenger Re-ports. We speak of the number of stars, yet more than one family of insects is credited with including as many different species as there are stars to count with the unaided eye on a clear night. And besides the number of different kinds, think of the uncountable numbers of individuals.
"But what an endlesse worke have I on hand
The explorers of the Antarctic seas tell us that from these cold waters it was quite the usual thing to take from ten to thirty thousand specimens of a certain crustacean in a single haul. In short, the naturalist as well as the poet spoke when Goethe celebrated Nature's wealth: "In floods of life, in a storm of activity, she moves and works above and beneath, working and weaving, an endless motion, birth and death, an infinite ocean, a changeful web, a glowing life; she plies at the roaring loom of time and weaves a living garment for God."
Immensities.—The simple and open mind is al-ways impressed by the bigness of Nature. Our ancestors were thrilled by the apparently boundless and unfathomable sea, by the apparently unending plains, by the mountains whose tops were lost in the clouds, by the expanse of the heavens; and our children happily have still something of the same impression of the wide, wide world. It is the impression of immensity of practical infinitude, and it is worth having and keeping. Nowadays, of course, we measure everything, and the wonder tends to fade. Every day we get some fresh instance of the way in which "Science reaches forth her arms to feel from world to world, and charms her secret from the latest moon." We annihilate distance with our deep devices and make the ether carry our signals. We bring the moon so near that our maps of it are better than those of Africa three generations ago. We measure the distance of the stars; we analyze the chemical composition of the sun. It is enough to recall Fraunhofer's fine epitaph, "Approximavit sidera."
Thus size and distance are ceasing to impress us as they impressed our forefathers. We are be-coming accustomed to the immensities. Yet we do well to sit down quietly at times under the starry heavens, and remember that though light travels 186,000 miles a second, we might perchance observe the twinkling of a star that had gone out; that when we look at a Centauri, which lies some ten billions of miles nearer to us than any other known star, we see it, not as it is to-night, but as it was more than four years ago; that, though our sun is 93,000,000 of miles away (and no one of us has any mental picture of what a million is), the farthest star we can see is a million times farther off; that for every one of the few thousands (say 8,000) of stars we can see with our unaided eyes there are thousands unseen (say, a hundred mil-lions); and that our whole solar system is equivalent in size to no more than a corner of the Milky Way. In the heavens the navigator sails in a practically infinite ocean; for leagues and leagues beyond there is always more sea. There is room for wonder.
Manifoldness.—Another primary impression of Nature is that of manifoldness. Star differs from star in glory. Every mountain has its individuality. There are over eighty different kinds of elements. The number of different minerals is legion. "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, an-other of fishes, and another of birds." From one small island (Great Britain) we have a record of over four hundred different kinds of birds, each a very distinctive personality. In the Challenger Report on Radiolarians, Haeckel deals with about five thousand different species, all of fascinating beauty. A single year's volume of the Zoological Record may register more new species than were included in the whole of Linné's "Systema Naturae." Whether we gather shells on the shore or collect snow crystals; whether we study birds or brambles, hydroids or hawkweeds, we get the same impression of an overflowing form-fountain, of prodigal multiplicity, of endless resources.
Intricacy.—An allied impression, unknown to the ancients, is that of intricacy. The telescope reveals a hundred million heavenly bodies; the micro-scope reveals another unseen world of the infinitely small, each member of which is nevertheless intricate. One of President D. S. Jordan's epigrams is unforgetable, "The simplest organism we know is far more complex than the Constitution of the United States." The body of an ant is many times more visibly intricate than a steam engine; its brain, as Darwin said, is perhaps the most marvellous speck of matter in the universe. Our brain is such a labyrinth of nerve paths that it takes years to become even superficially familiar with it. The body of an animal may consist of millions of unit-areas or cells; each shows a complex foam-like or net-like living matter, including a nucleus which is a microcosm in itself. Within each nucleus there are stainable bodies or chromosomes, twenty-four of them in each of our body-cells, and these are built up of smaller microsomes, and each chromosome is split longitudinally when the cell divides. And when we pass beyond the visibly intricate, to the coarse-grainedness which the physicists find it necessary to postulate in matter, the intricacy is multiplied beyond all our powers of picturing. They say that in a tiny organism no larger than a minute-hand on a dainty watch there is a molecular intricacy which might be represented by an Atlantic liner packed with such watches. Some say that the simplest of all atoms an atom of hydrogen must have a constitution as complex as a constellation, with about 800 separate parts. Here again there is room for some rational wonder.
Pervading order. In spite of all this multiplicity and intricacy, there is a pervading order. The world is not a curiosity shop, but a Kosmos. There do not seem to be many big collisions in the crowded heavens, and there is no hint of fortuity. The clockwork goes so steadily that the return of a comet can be predicted to a night. There have been cataclysms in the history of the Earth, but they are not more disorderly than the cracking of the sun-baked clay. There is order in the relations of the atomic weights of the .chemical elements (Mendeleeff's "Periodic Law"), just as there is order in the relations of the planets. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and yet we know, as Tyndall said, that "the Italian wind, gliding over the crest of the Matterhorn, is as firmly ruled as the earth in its orbital revolution round the sun; and the fall of its vapour into clouds is exactly as much a matter of necessity as the return of the seasons."' Our body is a most intricate engine, yet how smoothly it works if we give it a chance. Creatures living naturally may have parasites, but they hardly ever show any disease. That comes when man tampers with them or with their surroundings. Natural death is a most orderly phenomenon. And even the disorders which man brings about, are, as statistics show, appallingly orderly in their occurrence. In short, it is not a multiverse we live in, but a universe. It is not all weather."
We cannot deny that there are occurrences which give us pause in our assertion of pervading order but most of these are within the human realm, and many of them are by no means inevitable. Man is extraordinarly callous in the way of taking risks, and perhaps the terrible tragedy of much in human life is needed as a spur to incite us to put an end to it. Most people profess to be shocked at the wastage of life, often very indiscriminate, involved in many microbic diseases or in war, and yet the bulk of us do not really care so very much till the wolves attack our own flocks. If we did care enough, we should soon put a stop to both infectious diseases and war. A great authority has said that "all epidemic disease could be abolished in fifty years." Perhaps this is too sanguine, perhaps the expert underestimated the social cost of the riddance, but in any case the declaration cannot be left out of consideration. It does not take very long to rid a country of rabies. Why not of other forms of madness ?
Network of Interrelations. It is part of this order that the world is a network of interrelations. Part is linked to part by sure, though often subtle, bonds, and nude isolation is as rare in nature as a vacuum. Nature is a vast system of linkages. Every one knows how Darwin, by showing that earthworms have made most of the fertile soil of the world, verified in detail what Gilbert White had foreseen in 1777: "The most insignificant insects and reptiles are of much more consequence and have much more influence in the economy of nature than the incurious are aware of. . . . Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm." What we may call "nutritive chains" connect many forms of life higher animals feeding upon lower through long series, the records of which read like the story of "The House that Jack Built." The flowering plants and the higher insects have grown up throughout long ages together, in alternate influence and mutual perfecting. Every one knows Darwin's "cats and clover" story, and it is but a type. It was Darwin also who removed a ball of mud from the foot of a bird, and found that fourscore seeds germinated from it. Not a bird can fall to the ground without sending a throb through a wide circle. We can follow the circulation of matter from the mud by the pond-side till it becomes part of the physical basis of clear thinking. We can connect the lady's toilet-table with the African slave-trade, or the demand for well-burnished bicycles with the extermination of the walrus. As Shelley wrote:
"Nothing in this world is single;
Only the working naturalist knows the extent to which living creatures are interlinked in nature. There is a solidarity of kinship, but there is also a solidarity of vital relations. We are familiar with the correlation of organs in the living body, but there is also a correlation of organisms in the web of life. The young of the fresh-water mussel must be nurtured for a time as hangers-on to fishes; there is a fresh-water fish (the bitterling, Rhodeus amarus) whose young must be nurtured for a while inside the gills of the mussel. And this is but an instance among thousands. We recall a remarkable passage of Locke's: "This is certain, things, however absolute and entire they seem in themselves, are but retainers to other parts of nature, for that which they are most taken notice of by us. Their observable qualities, actions, and powers are owing to something with-out them; and there is not so complete and perfect a part that we know of nature, which does not owe the being it has and the excellence of it to its neighbors; and we must not confine our thoughts within the surface of any body, but look a great deal farther, to comprehend perfectly those qualities that are in it."
Over a ploughed field in the summer morning we see the spider-webs in thousands, glistening with dew-drops, and this is an emblem of the intricacy of the threads in the web of life to be seen more and more as our eyes grow clear. Or, is not the face of nature like the surface of a gentle stream, where hundreds of dimpling circles touch and influence one another in an intricate complexity of action and reaction beyond the ken of the wisest ?
Universal Flux.—Another aspect of the world, which cannot be clearly thought of without a feeling of wonder, was expressed in the old saying of Heraclitus: rravra pei, all things are in flux. The rain falls; the springs are fed; the streams are filled and flow to the sea; the mist rises from the deep and the clouds are formed, which break again on the mountain-side. The plant captures air, water, and salts, and with the sun's aid, builds them up by vital alchemy into complex substances, incorporating these into itself. The animal eats the plant and a new incarnation begins. All flesh is grass. The animal becomes part of another animal, and the reincarnation continues. The living thing dies and returns to the earth, the bundle of life all broken. The microbes of decay break down the dead, and there is a return to air and water and salts. Nothing is lost, but nothing is permanent. All things flow. As Huxley said: "Natural knowledge tends more and more to the conclusion that 'all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth' are the transitory forms of parcels of cosmic substance wending along the road of evolution, from nebulous potentiality, through endless growths of sun and planet and satellite; through all varieties of matter; through infinite diversities of life and thought; possibly, through modes of being of which we neither have a conception, nor are competent to form any, back to the undefinable latency from which they arose. Thus the most obvious attribute of the cosmos is its impermanence. It assumes the aspect not so much of a permanent entity as of a changeful process, in which nought endures save the flow of energy, and the rational order which pervades it."
It may be permissible to quote, from Dr. J. Theodor Merz, Rückert's beautiful poem, "Chidher," as a fine expression of the cyclic conception of existence:
"Chidher, the ever youthful, spake:
"And when five hundred years were gone
"And when five hundred years were gone
"And when five hundred years were gone
"And when five hundred years were gone
Persistence amid Change.—But in spite of all this ceaseless flux there is steadiness and persistence. The most familiar instance is the living body, which is continually changing in whirlpool-like fashion and yet remains very much the same year in, year out. From one point of view vital activity is in great part a process of combustion often very intense yet not less remarkable than the ceaseless change is the retention of integrity.
So, on a larger scale, we see in racial evolution the twofold aspect of flux and continuity, of change and persistence, of deviation and inertia, of variation and hereditary resemblance. Alle Gestalten sind ähnlich, und keine gleichet der andern. Huxley put the point with his usual vividness: "Flowers are the primers of the morphologist; those who run may read in them uniformity of type amidst endless diversity, singleness of plan with complex multiplicity of detail. As a musician might say: every natural group of flowering plants is a sort of visible fugue wandering about a central theme which is never forsaken, however it may, momentarily, cease to be apparent." ("Life of Owen," Vol. II, p. 288.) In the relatively small group of Alcyonarian corals, with which we happen to be particularly familiar, the general plan of structure is exceedingly simple polyps give off stolons from which other polyps arise and the colony is supported by some sort of skeleton but the heterogeneity of detail and of beautiful architectural device beggars description.
Even within the same species we can often get the same impression of "a sort of visible fugue wandering about a central theme." Take, for instance, the beautiful series of three dozen or so distinct varieties of the common snail, Helix alternata, say, as they are displayed in the American Museum of Natural History. As Mr. Francis Galton puts it: "The organic world as a whole is a perpetual flux of changing types." And yet there is a not less remarkable stability of types, and the great styles of organic architecture are after all very few.
The Drama of Animal Life.—To the naturalist there is perennial wonder in the drama of animal life. The more he knows of animal behavior, the greater is his wonder. Let us think of this for a moment.
All around us, except in our cities, we see a busy animal life, swayed by the twin impulses of Hunger and Love. There is eager endeavour after individual well-being, there is not less careful effort which secures the welfare of the young. The former varies from a keen and literal struggle for subsistence to a gay pursuit of aesthetic luxuries; the latter rises from physiologically necessary life-losing and instinctive parental industry to remarkable heights of what seem to us like deliberate sacrifice and affectionate devotion. The old question and answer are fundamental, for beast as well as man:
"Warum treibt sich das Volk so und schreit?
On the one hand, we see struggle, struggle between mates, between rival suitors, between nearly related fellows, between foes of entirely diverse nature, between the powers of life and the merciless forces of the inorganic world.
On the other hand, we see the love of mates, family affection, mutual aid among kindred, many quaint partnerships and strange friendships, and intricate interrelations implying at least some measure of mutual yielding.
On the one hand, as in a human society or in the single body, we see a regulated system, the harmonious working of correlated parts, mutual adjustments, and the subordination of the individual to the whole. On the other hand, we see struggle, friction, anarchy, the natural self-assertiveness of the individual or of the individual part rising against the limitations imposed by environing circumstances.
We watch the wondrous industry of birds and bees who work from the dawn until the dusk brings enforced rest to their brains, which we know to suffer fatigue as ours do; on the other hand, we see the parasite's drifting life of ease. Here locust eats locust, and rat eats rat; there, in the combat of stags, lover fights with lover till death conquers both; there, again, a mother animal loses her life in seeking to save her children. At one pole we see simple, brainless creatures pursuing their daily life with what we can hardly call more than dull sentience; at a higher level we marvel at an instinctive skill whose expression is unconscious art; finally, we are face to face with an intelligent behavior which seems at once a caricature and prototype of our own con-duct.
Let us recall, for a moment, just one of the wonders of animal behavior the wonder of migration. There is the migration of those birds that "know no winter in their year," "wild birds that change their season in the night, and wail their way from cloud to cloud down the long wind." What journeys they take the Arctic Tern was found by the "Scotia" explorers in the Far South! How swiftly they fly, how confidently across the pathless sea, at night, at a great altitude. How strange that the young birds usually fly away first in the autumn, without waiting for those who have made the journey before. How striking the fact proved for some birds that they may return from their winter-quarters to the garden where they spent the summer.
Or take as another instance of migration the life-history of the common European eel. It be-gins its life below the 500 fathom line on the floor of the deep sea in that dark, cold, calm, silent, plantless world; it passes to the surface as a flattened, transparent larva and lives an open-sea life for over a year, not eating anything, and growing rather smaller as it grows older; it becomes a young eel or elver which makes for the shore and proceeds up the rivers. In spring or early summer legions of these elvers pass up stream, obedient to their instinct to go right ahead as long as the light lasts. Before reaching such rivers as those which flow into the Eastern Baltic, the young eels have had a journey of some 3,000 miles, for all the North European eels seem to have their cradle in the Atlantic west of the Faroes, the Hebrides, Ireland and Spain, where the continental plateau shelves steeply down into the greater depths. As the elvers pass up the streams there is, according to some, a separation of the sexes; the males lag behind; the females go further inland. Then follows a long period of growth in slow-flowing reaches of the rivers and in ponds. After some years there is a return journey to the sea, and, as far as we know, the individual life ends in giving origin to new lives. There is never any breeding in fresh water, and there seems to be no return from the deep sea.
Adaptations.—One of the most characteristic features of the animate world is the all-pervading fitness. It was Romans who said, "Wherever we tap organic Nature, it seems to flow with purpose." We may differ as to our interpretation, but the fitness of living creatures as regards structure and habits and interrelations is a fact. How well the structure of bone is suited to stand strains, how well the bird's skeletal and muscular systems are adapted for flight, how well the heart is constructed for its ceaseless work, what a fine instrument the eye is, how readily the leaf insects escape detection when they alight on a branch, how effective a contrivance is the Venus Fly-trap! But so one might go on for hours.
To our forefathers, who were dominated by a static view of the world, the subtle special fitnesses seen throughout Nature, afforded direct evidence of the immediate action of a Divine artificer. We do not hold that view now, partly because it is rather a crude view, mainly because our view of Nature is no longer static but kinetic. Even when the kinetic view was taken, it seemed to some that Nature was like a troublesome child, always getting into scrapes and tight places so that the author of its being might show His skill in extricating it by beautiful contrivance. But we can give a plausible history of many of these adaptations, we find them in varied stages of perfection. There-fore the argument from design has given place to a deeper recognition of rationality. The Order of Nature is such that an increasing evolution of fitness is possible, there is adaptation in cosmic evolution as a whole it leads up to intelligent, moral persons, adapted to the intellectual and practical conquest of Nature, adapted to mirror the reason without in the reason within. Our fore-fathers were impressed by the tactics of Nature, we are impressed by the strategy.
"There is a wider teleology," Huxley wrote, "which is not touched by the doctrine of evolution, but is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of evolution."
Progress.—The crowning wonder of the world is that the succession of events spells progress. What we more or less dimly discern in the long past is not like the succession of patterns in a kaleidoscope; it is rather like the sequence of stages in the individual development of a plant or an animal, stages whose meaning is disclosed more and more fully as the development goes on. It is not a phantasmagoric procession that the history of nature reveals, it is a drama. The solid earth is more differentiated and integrated than a swarm of meteorites; it is in some sense progress to be-come fit to be a home of life, a home of creatures who can feel and understand, who can sometimes give the earth more significance than it had be-fore. All through the ages we see life slowly creeping upward, with many losses, but with steady gains. Living creatures become nobler, their life becomes fuller and freer, there is an in-creasing expression of the Psyche, and in man the hitherto voiceless Logos implicit in the progressive order becomes at last articulate. As Lotze has said in his "Microcosmus": "The series of cosmic periods must be a chain, each link of which is bound together with every other in the unity of one plan. . . . As we required that each section of the world's history should present a harmony of the elements firmly knit together, so we must now require that the successive order of these sections shall compose the unity of an on-ward advancing melody." The unity of an on-ward advancing melody!
Beauty.—We have not said anything in regard to the beauty of the world, partly because the theme is so difficult, and partly because no small part of the beauty is implied in the order, the intricacy, and the fitness of things. It may be safely said that every finished and normal living thing is beautiful an artistic harmony when in its natural setting. This suggests the truth of the Platonic conception that a living creature is harmonious be-cause it is the realization of a single idea. The only ugly plants are those which have been de-formed or discolored by cultivation. The omnipresence of beauty in finished and normal living things must have some meaning, and even if it only mean that something in us responds pleasurably to what nature mints and fashions, that is a fact of great significance. Beside the remarkable verse in the Book of Wisdom which says: "Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight" we may rank its correlative,
"He has made all things beautiful in their season."
We lift a tiny shell from the shore, and though we know that it is simply an "exoskeleton," a cuticular secretion of part of the mollusc's skin, we find it exquisitely fashioned, "a miracle of design," and we must say the same of every normal finished organic product in every corner of creation.
In regard to the beauty of organic structures, it is perhaps of interest to remember that much of it much of the best of it is quite unseen, except by the scientific searcher. Much is covered up by the living tissue, as in the exquisite flinty skeleton of the Venus' Flower-Basket; much is hidden in the darkness of deep waters; much is microscopic. In many cases we can justify the beauty on utilitarian grounds, thus it may be architecturally effective for resisting strain and stress, or it may be protective by harmonizing with surrounding color; in many other cases it seems to us as if it were sheer decoration without significance, except that it expresses the creature that makes it.
Retrospect.—We have tried to illustrate what may be called the basis of rational wonder. We have spoken of the abundance of power, of the immensities, of the manifoldness and intricacy of things, of the order that pervades the whole, of the subtle interrelations in the web of life, of the changefulness of everything, of the fitness of living creatures, of the progressive trend of things, and of the beauty which is everywhere.
Wonder and Knowledge.—Thinking of these wonders arouses two general reflections. The first of these, we may put in the form of a question. Is any one thing really more wonderful than an-other ? Does it not in great part depend on how much we know about a thing, whether we call it wonderful or not ?
We pick up a pebble from the road and throw it carelessly away. The geologist picks it up, and begins to tell us its history, that it is water-worn, though there is no longer any water near, that it is part of a disguised raised beach through which the road has been cut, that it is a piece of jasper which was fused under great pressure millions of years ago, that it must have travelled far, swept down by an ancient river to a now shrunken sea, and so on. Before he has gone far into his story, we are interested, our horizon becomes more distant, and we soon begin to wonder.
We brush aside the common weeds, which we have seen so often that we have almost ceased to see them at all yellow primroses and nothing more sometimes, in fact, not so much. But we take time to look at them, and how beautiful they become in our eyes, how intricate, how full of individuality. We take time to study them, with their parts so perfectly correlated and so well adapted to their surroundings; we learn something of their relationships and long pedigree, discovering, it may be, that their race is much older than our own; we enter the laboratory of the leaf and study the strange alchemy that goes on there, the raising of dead raw materials to the level of livingness; we find that its substances are breaking down and being built up again a ceaseless combustion, "nec tarnen consumebatur"; we watch the plant grow from the invisible to the visible, from one cell to a million of cells, from apparent simplicity to obvious complexity; we see the bee come to visit it, and the quaint give-and-take that occurs; we see the storing up of treasure for a new generation, and that generation being born; we watch the leaf withering and the flower fading, and we often see the return of all but the seeds to the level of the not-living once more. Without being insincere, without being more than awake to the wonder of the commonplace, may we not say:
"Flower in the crannied wall,
We lift aside the earthworm which lay adying on the foot-path, so contemptible that we say "even a worm will turn." But we pause to think of the part earthworms have played in the history of the earth, and we recognize that they are the most useful animals. By their burrowing they loosen the earth, making way for the plant rootlets and the raindrops; by bruising the soil in their gizzard they reduce the mineral particles to more useful form; by burying the surface with stuff brought up from beneath they were ploughers before the plough, and by burying leaves they have made a great part of the vegetable mould over the whole earth. There may be 50,000 or 500,000 of them in an acre; they often pass ten tons of soil per acre per annum through their bodies; and they cover the surface at the rate of three inches in fifteen years. We begin to respect them.
We inquire into their structure their exquisitely sensitive skin, their highly developed musculature arranged like the hoops and staves of a barrel, their food canal an object-lesson in division of labor, their red blood so different from our own, their exquisite kidney-tubes, their tiny brains and their ventral chain of nerve-centres, we go into minutiae and we find that it will take us many months to work out the details of the nerve-cells or of the complex reproductive system. The more we know, the more the wonder grows.
We study their habits their long nocturnal peregrinations prompted by "love" and hunger, their transport of little stones to protect the en-trance to the burrows, their deft way of dealing with leaves difficult to manage. We note that though eyeless they are very sensitive to light and persistently avoid it when in good health; that though carless, they are quickly aware even of the light tread of a hungry blackbird; that though they are without anything like a nose, they have a sense of smell fine instances, in short, of functions be-fore organs. We inquire into their relations with other living creatures, and we find that they have not a few parasites even worms within worms to most of which, as is usual among animals, they have so adjusted themselves that nothing detrimental happens, while to one kind at least the larve of a fly they often succumb. We find that they are persecuted by numerous enemies, such as centipedes, moles, and birds, and we can then better understand their extraordinary power of growing a new tail or even a new head after injury or breakage. We may possibly discover the eerie collection of decapitated earthworms which moles sometimes make as a store of food for winter decapitated, so that they cannot crawl away and yet remain fresh food, unable even to regrow their heads while they are waiting to be eaten, for the regeneration does not occur at a low temperature. We may inquire into their individual development, now so well known that we could almost make a kinematograph of the successive stages, and yet in its essence absolutely beyond our understanding. We may ask about the numerous different kinds, some dwarfs, some giants, about their distribution over the face of the earth, about the few that have gills and thus point to a remote origin of the burrowing race from aquatic forms. We can think of the time very long again when the pioneers left the fresh water and found a new world underground, how for long they probably enjoyed ages of peace, how, first, centipedes and long after-ward moles disturbed their solitudes. In a rather different sense than was originally meant may we not say of the worm, "Thou art my brother" ?
We have given three homely illustrations, but the point is, that everything is an illustration. Every-thing is equally wonderful if we know enough about it. It is true that we suffer from the limitations of our senses and of our sympathies, as well as of our knowledge; he who reads the rocks may never have seen the stars, and the coleopterist whose heart is in the right place as regards the beetle-world may never have heard the throstle sing. This is one of the defects of the quality we are discussing, we become preoccupied with one kind of wonder, but it is infinitely better than not having the quality at all. What we are driving at is, of course, what every nature-poet, from the Hebrew psalmist to George Meredith, has felt, and perhaps Walt Whitman most keenly of all the inextinguishable wonder of the world.
"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
This is high doctrine, and who shall attain unto it? but it is an ideal of rational emotion worth striving after. There's the same idea more briefly put in Meredith's famous lines:
"You, of any well that springs,
It need hardly be said that with the growth of knowledge the precise basis of wonder may change. Our forefathers wondered at the lightning, we wonder at electricity; the child wonders at the sunbeam dancing about the room, we won-der at the Röntgen rays; the simple mind wonders at the snowflakes, we wonder at the results of the Great Ice Age.
But the moral of all this is obvious. The wonder of the world is a stimulus to our scientific intelligence, it incites us to discover the " open Sesame" for hundreds of Aladdin's caves, it makes us bow in reverence. Moreover, it is most obviously something to enjoy, to delight in more and more. We do well to recall that line of Gold-smith's, "His heaven commences ere the world be past." Do we not need some infusion of the simple delight in the earth which was expressed by Matthew Arnold in his "Empedocles on Etna," "Is it so small a thing to have enjoy'd the sun?" ?
The Sense of Wonder and the Scientific Mood.-Our second general reflection is on the relation between science and wonder. Is not wonder the offspring of ignorance ? Is not science the sworn foe of mystery ? Do not all wonders disappear in the light of scientific day ?
There are two separate questions here, first, whether the scientific outlook, which inquires into natural causes, is in itself antagonistic to the sense of wonder; and, secondly, whether the results of scientific analysis have not explained away much that used to be wonderful in human eyes.
The Three Moods : Practical, Emotional, and Scientific.—We must admit, of course, that the scientific mood is quite different from the emotional mood, just as it is quite different from the practical mood. The practical man is concerned with possibilities of action, in obedience to Nature's primary command, "Be up and doing." The man of feeling is not concerned with loaves and fishes; he "hitches his waggon to the stars"; he seeks to "live on even terms with Time,"
"Whilst upper life the slender rill
The herbs and the bees, the birds and the beasts, send tendrils into his heart, claiming and finding kinship. In a hundred different ways he echoes Schiller's words:
"O wunderschön ist Gottes Erde,
The scientific mood, on the other hand, has for its main intention to describe the sequences in nature in the simplest possible formulae, to make a thought-model of the known world. The scientific man has elected primarily to know, not do. He does not seek, like the practical man, to realize the ideal of controlling nature and life, though he makes this more possible; he seeks rather to idealize to conceptualize the real, or at least those aspects of reality which are available in his experience. He would make the world translucent, not that emotion may catch the glimmer of the indefinable light that shines through, but for other reasons because of his inborn inquisitiveness, because of his dislike of obscurities, because of his craving for a system an intellectual system in which phenomena are at least provisionally unified.
Now, it is surely best to say that the three dominant moods of man practical, emotional, and scientific which correspond metaphorically to hand, heart, and head, are all equally necessary and worthy, but that they are most worthy when they respect one another as equally justifiable out-looks on nature, and when they are combined, in some measure at least, in a full human life. A thoroughly sane life implies a recognition of the trinity of knowing, feeling, and doing. This spells health, wholeness, holiness, as Edward Carpenter has said.
One-sidedness, whether practical, emotional, or scientific, implies a denial of the trinity of knowing, feeling, and doing, a violence to the unity of life. When any one of the moods becomes so dominant that the validity of the others is denied, the results are likely to be tainted with some vice —some inhumanity, some sentimentalism, some pedantry.
When the practical mood becomes altogether dominant, when things get into the saddle and override ideas and ideals and all good-feeling, when the multiplication of loaves and fishes be-comes the only problem of the world, we know the results to be vicious. The vices of the hyper- trophied practical mood are belittlement, baseness, brutality. To be wholly practical is to grub for edible roots and see no flowers upon the earth, no stars overhead. The monstrous practical man "will have nothing to do with sentiment," though he prides himself in keeping close to what he calls "the facts"; he cannot abide "theory," though he is himself imbued with a quaint Martin Tupper-ism which gives a false simplicity to the problems of life; he will live in what he calls "the real world," and yet he often hugs close to himself the most unreal of ideals.
Similarly, the hypertrophied emotional mood, unruled and uncorrelated, uncurbed by science, unrelated to the practical problems of life, tends to become morbid, mawkish, mad. What we have called rational wonder may degenerate into "a caterwauling about Nature." There may be overfeeling, just as there may be overdoing. The disastrous results of feeling without knowledge, of sympathy without synthesis (in the language of the learned), of effervescence without activity, are familiar enough in our own day.
Similarly (must we not confess ?) the hypertrophied scientific mood has its vices of over-knowing, of ranking science first, and life second (as if science were not, after all, for the evolution of life), of ignoring good-feeling (as if knowledge could not be bought at too high a price), of pedantry (as if science were merely a "preserve" for expert intellectual sportsmen, and not also an education for the citizen), of maniacal muck-raking for items of fact (as if facts alone constituted a science). Yet it is, like the other moods, a natural and necessary expression of the developing human spirit, and affords the foundation without which practice is empirical and soon helpless, without which emotion becomes sickly and superstitious.
We have recalled this doctrine of the three moods because it seems to place in proper perspective the question whether the scientific out-look is not prejudicial to the sense of wonder. The answer, of course, is that while we cannot have too much science, it is for ordinary men and women unwholesome to keep continually looking out at one window, and to keep the shutters on the others. Even for its own sake, science requires to be continually moralized and socialized, oriented, that is to say, in relation to other ideals of human life than its own immediate one of making a thought-model of the cosmos. Our science re-quires to be kept in touch at once with our life and with our dreams; with our doing and with our feeling; with our practice and with our poetry. Synergy and sympathy are needed to complete a practical synthesis.
Thus, we sympathize with the emotional or artistic recoil from science, because it is so often disproportionately analytic. Science, like a child pulling a flower to bits, is apt to dissect more than it reconstructs, and to lose in its analysis the vision of unity and harmony which the artist has ever before his eyes. But if the artist has patience, he will often find that science restores the unity with more meaning in it than before.
Thus, too, we sympathize with the recoil from " a botany which teaches that there is no such thing as a flower," from "a biology which is all necrology." But have patience and you will find that the botanist brings the Dryad back into the tree, and that the necrologist makes the dry bones live.
We know how Wordsworth recoiled from irrelevant irreverent science. He spoke of Philosopherl a fingering slave, One that would peep and botanise Upon his mother's grave."
Yet in the preface to "This Lawn a Carpet all Alive," Wordsworth wrote: "Some are of the opinion that the habit of analysing, decomposing, and anatomising is inevitably unfavourable to the perception of beauty." But "The beauty in form of a plant or an animal is not made less, but more, apparent as a whole by more accurate insight into its constituent properties and powers."
Our point just now, however, is rather different. It is simply that for ordinary men and women one of the conditions of sanity is an alternation of moods. Darwin was no ordinary man, yet he once admitted that it was a rest to lie under the trees and listen to the birds without bothering his head about how they came to be thus or thus. The great embryologist Von Baer once shut himself up in his study when snow was upon the ground, and did not come out again until the rye was in harvest. He was filled, he tells us, with uncontrollable pathos at the sight. "The laws of development may be discovered this year or many years hence by me or by others what matters it ? It is surely folly to sacrifice for this the joy of life which nothing can replace." Life is not for science, but science for life. In short, it comes to this, that there is a time for science, and a time for emotion. It is a part of man's chief end not only to know nature, but to enjoy her forever.
The Sense of Wonder and the Results of Science.
Turning now to the second part of the question, we have to ask whether the results of science do not explain away the wonderful. Take the rainbow, for instance. It made Wordsworth's heart leap up; when he was a child, when he was a man.
"So be it when I shall grow old,
But does the modern school-boy's heart leap up? His Physiology lessons have taught him to regard with extreme disfavour any such interference with the normal function of the vagus nerve; and, besides, his Physics lessons have explained away the rainbow. One remembers how Keats in his wrath cursed Newton for his share in robbing mankind of the wonder of the rainbow. What can one say except this, that the beauty of the rainbow is the same to-day as it was in the days of Noah, and that if we follow up the scientific interpretation of the rainbow, we come in sight of even greater wonders. When the half-gods go, the Gods arrive.
We watch the midnight sky flushed with the quivering Northern Lights pale green and rose, crimson and gold pulsating like the pinions of a hovering bird, and we wonder. We are at first saddened by our friend's remark that it is an interesting electromagnetic phenomenon. But when we ask for details, and he tells us that corpuscles projected from the sun and bombarding the earth are affected by terrestrial magnetism, and travel in spiral coils toward the poles, till at a certain distance they exhaust themselves in giving off cathode rays, and so on, we begin to feel that we did not well to be sad. As we follow up the scientific unravelling of the mystery of the Aurora Borealis, we find that the world is even grander than we knew, and we enjoy the Northern Lights better next time.
We ascend the hill among the woods on an autumn afternoon, and we look down on a sea of gold mingled with fire all the glory of the withering leaves. Our botanical friend tells us of the breaking up of the green grains into chlorophyll and xanthophyll, how the latter is affected by the acidity of the cell-sap, how a special death-pigment, anthocyanin, may make its appearance, and so on; all the glory seems at first to fade into chemistry. But if we question the botanist a little we find that he has given us more than we have lost. We see that the hard-worked leaves must die, that it is better for the tree that they should fall, that they first surrender everything that they have that is worth having, till little more than skeleton and waste is left, that they are transfigured in dying, becoming for a brief space almost floral, and that their brilliance is a literal beauty for ashes.
Science is always trying to show us the wheels that go round, the wheels within wheels, and though the movement of the hands of the world-clock is not so mysterious as it used to be in the days of our childhood and in the days of our fathers, it is certainly more, not less, wonderful. Even when we are shown that the clock we know sprang from a simpler clock and that from a simpler still, the wonder deepens. If we ask Science to tell us of the great clock-maker, she will be quite silent, for no man by searching can find out God, but if we ask how it precisely is that the main-springs work, or why it exactly is that the weights go down, Science will answer that she does not know. If we ask Science to tell us why there is a world-clock or a successor of world-clocks, at all, she will again be quite silent, for Science takes no stock in purposes; but if we ask how the first clock, from which all the other clocks are descended, came into being, Science will answer that she does not know.
This, then, is the real reason why the results of science cannot kill wonder, but should always in-crease it. Minor mysteries disappear, but greater mysteries stand confessed. Science never seeks to give ultimate explanations of phenomena, it de-scribes their appearance in space and their sequence in time. The man of scientific mood be-comes aware of certain fractions of reality that interest him; he tries to become intimately aware of these, to make his sensory experience of them as full as possible; he seeks to arrange them in ordered series, to detect their interrelations and likeness of sequence; he tries to reduce them to simpler terms or to find their common denominator; and finally, he endeavours to sum them up in a general formula, often called "a law of nature."
Let us take a concrete case. "The law of gravitation is a brief description of how every particle of matter in the universe is altering its motion with reference to every other particle. It does not tell us why particles thus move; it does not tell us why the earth describes a certain curve round the sun. It simply resumes, in a few brief words, the relationships observed between a vast series of phenomena. It economizes thought by stating in conceptual shorthand that routine of our perceptions which forms for us the universe of gravitating matter."
Conclusion.—We cannot do better than sum up by quoting Kant's famous passage:
"The world around us opens before our view so magnificent a spectacle of order, variety, beauty, and conformity to ends that, whether we pursue our observations into the infinity of space in the one direction, or into its illimitable divisions on the other, whether we regard the world in its greatest or in its least manifestations even after we have attained to the highest summit of knowledge which our weak minds can reach we find that language in presence of wonders so inconceivable has lost its force, and number its power to reckon, nay, even thought fails to conceive adequately, and our conception of the whole dissolves into an astonishment without the power of expression all the more eloquent that it is dumb.
"Everywhere around us we observe a chain of causes and effects, of means and ends, of death and birth; and as nothing has entered of itself into the condition in which we find it, we are constantly referred to some other thing, which itself suggests the same inquiry regarding its cause, and thus the universe must sink into the abyss of nothingness, unless we admit that, besides this infinite chain of contingencies, there exists something that is primal and self-subsistent, something which as the cause of this phenomenal world secures its continuance and preservation."
To speak of the primal and self-subsistent does not come within the strictly scientific universe of discourse, but to disclose the wonder of the world does. And it may be that those who realize this wonder most are those who follow it farthest and most fearlessly as it beckons, assured more and more fully of what is meant by Pascal's words, "In that thou hast sought me, thou hast already found me."
Do you ask why we have delayed so long over what every one admits the wonder of the world ? It is because this wonder is Nature's primary message to us, because the sense of wonder is at the roots of science and philosophy, because it has been and will always be one of the footstools of religion. We do well to mistrust any form of any one of these science, philosophy, or religion which does not deepen and heighten that wonder which is a primary attribute of every one who will be a minister and interpreter of nature. In all simplicity we must begin, though we need not end with the quality alluded to in Emerson's child's-poem—`` Excelsior."
"Over his head were the maple buds,
The Bible of Nature:
The Wonder Of The World
The History Of Things
Organisms And Their Origin
The Evolution Of Organisms
Man's Place In Nature