NON-DIATHETIC reality is, of course, only another expression
for Matter. It has its use because it helps us to realize that
we cannot understand at all easily what Matter is. We think
we know. But we are only too prone to credit Matter with
all sorts of diathetic attributes which it does not possess.
Non-diathetic reality seems for some to be an even more
difficult concept than non-material reality. This is the third
reason why men cling so tenaciously to materialism.
We have mentioned several diathetic attributes. Among
them are selection, guidance, control. A clearer word is
"discrimination." The word implies a pre-existent description, a thus and not otherwise, a specification. The materialist rarely denies that discrimination is exercised in the organic
world. When we say that the Problem of Repeated Form
proves discrimination in favour of certain organic structures,
he may agree. He will recognize discrimination in the
behaviour of animals and men.
Only, he is so convinced that Matter behaves diathetically
that he never doubts that lifeless substance discriminates too.
If a sparrow selects grains of corn from among the stones
and dust in the gutter, so, he will argue, does a magnet select
iron filings, and guide them towards its poles and control
their movement. We believe that, for many, the effort is
too great which must be made in order to understand that a
magnet has no powers of discrimination, that it no more
selects, guides or controls iron filings than a ditch selects,
guides or controls the stones which roll down its banks.
Other examples reveal even more clearly the difficulty
many experience in realizing that Matter is a non-diathetic
reality. At one time it was thought that Matter selects, by
preference, movement into a place where there is a vacuum.
According to Broad emergent vitalists declare that when
Matter falls it discriminates in favour of the form of an
organism. From a quotation given earlier we find that
J. B. S. Haldane believes that an atom discriminates in favour
of the full number of orbital electrons contained in the text-book description of the atom.
Those who have only begun to master Newton's Laws of
Motion, again, regard mass, we feel sure, as inert, as lacking
in initiative, as discriminating in favour of the status quo. A
large molecule on the other hand, in which Haldane sees the
prototype of Mind, is regarded as a hive of activity in which
its swarms of fast electrons are guided in specified directions
as purposively as the denizens of a beehive.
A further example is provided by the explanation in favour
with biologists at the time of writing of the effect of certain
chemical compounds on the growth of tissues. It has long
been known that a substance called chlorophyll must be present
in the leaves of plants in order that carbon obtained from the
air may be built into the plant's structure.
It has recently been discovered that in animal tissues other
substances, known as intracellular enzymes, are necessary for
the development of certain organs. In lower animals, for
instance, the lens of an eye will grow in unexpected parts of
the body when these enzymes are present. Like chlorophyll,
they are produced by the living organism itself.
These enzymes have been called organizers which is a
strange name to give to a chemical compound, since organization is a diathetic activity. But biologists have gone further
than to choose a rather unfortunate name. They seem really
to believe that these compounds organize. Thus we have
read in Science of August 27th, 1937, on page 189 in an article
by Bergmann and Niemann on this important discovery a
reference to "the organizing ability of the intracellular
Now organizing ability, let the reader be reminded again,
is not possessed by chemical compounds, except in the imagination of biologist-philosophers and, possibly, in Walt
Disney's delightful cartoons. We seem to remember one of
these in which paints still in their pots organize themselves
into the chequered and spotted patterns in which they are
applied. We can imagine a successful Silly Symphony with
the organizing ability of chemical compounds as theme.
These would first be shown in their bottles ranged along the
shelves of a laboratory, and then in the act of organizing the
furniture with which they came into contact into various
lifelike forms. It would be good fooling, but could hardly be
called good science.
Disney often entertains us thus with the assumption that
material things are diathetes and we enjoy the joke because it
caricatures a tendency which is inherent in every one of us
and which even the scientist eradicates with difficulty. No
turn of phrase could illustrate this tendency more neatly than
Bergmann and Niemann's "the organizing ability of the
And no turn of phrase could more surely set future research
workers on the wrong path. If they accept without question
the pronouncement that the assembly of living tissues is due
to the organizing ability of the intracellular enzymes, they
will not look for any other explanation. Until they realize
that chemical substances do not organize, they will not seek
to discover what part the intracellular enzymes do play in
Perhaps biologist-philosophers are themselves almost ready
to reject those glib theories which are based on the assumption
that Matter is diathetic. We have sometimes thought that we
could detect some uneasiness behind their reiterated claims
that science has already proved physics and chemistry to provide
a sufficient explanation of all vital phenomena. Needham, for
instance, writes in support of the theory that growth is due to
chemical "organizers" in Nature of January I4th, 1939. In
this connection he says: "With molecules of the complexity
of proteins, we need surely have no excessive intellectual difficulty in picturing a relation between morphological differences
and chemical differences, even though as yet we have no
detailed knowledge of the manner in which this occurs."
Why the little word "surely"? Why the suggestion that
it is easier to picture what happens because the proteins are
complex than it would be if they were simple? Why the
word "picture"? The visual imagination seems to us peculiarly
helpless to deal with the relation of chemical and morphological
differences. We should have thought that no one could
form any picture at all of such a relation. Why is difficulty
qualified by the word "intellectual"? Why the rather involved
form of the sentence which leaves some doubt as to what
"this" at the end refers to? Why does Needham speak of the
relation between chemical and morphological differences and
not, more directly, of the relation between chemical compounds and structure? For this is the relation with which the
theory of chemical organizers is concerned. Can it be that
Needham says "surely", because he is not quite sure? Does
he express himself loosely, because he is afraid to think clearly?
Is he, in this passage, whistling to keep his courage up?
Be that as it may, we have great difficulty in picturing the
relation between chemical differences and morphological
differences. We have also great difficulty in picturing what
the relation can be between chemical substances and the
specific behaviour of individual atoms in living tissues. And
we have found that our difficulties are shared by those biologists
who do not aspire to be also philosophers. Plant physiologists
have told us that the part played by chlorophyll in green leaves
is still, for them, an unsolved mystery and we cannot believe
that animal physiologists know any more about the part
played by intracellular enzymes. The Disneyish manner of
thinking of the biologist-philosopher has merely obscured
the nature of the problem.
The appeal of astrology is due to the same tendency in
human nature to attribute diathetic properties to material
things. With the complexity of the constellations the astrologer
can find no excessive intellectual difficulty in picturing a
relation between differences in the map of the heavens and
the history of human beings. The astrologer attributes
organizing ability to the constellations. To many it is hard,
indeed, to believe that these shining and beautiful objects
exercise no guidance, selection or control whatever.
Of all material realities to which diathetic activities are
attributed, force and energy, however, figure most prominently. Even those who can realize that the tangible and
visible things around us do not discriminate, that they exercise
neither selection, guidance nor control, even these have great
faith in the transcendental powers of force and energy. To
solve the mystery of Life, they tell us, we must look for some
new kind of force, some other form of energy hitherto undiscovered by physicists.
The view is indeed common that energy is almost, if not
quite, synonymous with Life and Mind. Blake said "energy
is eternal delight" but he could claim poetic licence and did
not pretend to mean by the word what a physicist means.
Many who claim to write as scientists and not as poets say
things about energy which are just as wrong or meaningless
in physics. The amount of energy in an organism is regarded
as a measure of its vitality. When Life is at a low ebb, the
addition of energy is considered the only thing needed to
raise the vital level. According to Lowson in Science and
Reality, Sir Arthur Keith has said: "When the supply of
energy is withdrawn from living matter its 'soul' departs."
"Vital energy" is a common phrase.
"Mind energy" is equally common. In a quotation given
previously J. B. S. Haldane has compared the system of energy
in a large molecule to the properties of mind. Freak medical
theories exploit such ideas. According to some of them,
forms of energy are graded as to quality. The more superior
forms are said to exist in some particular diet, prunes perhaps,
while meat is declared to contain an altogether inferior and
degraded form. Charlatans who claim to cure all the ills to
which flesh is heir by providing their patients with the right
kind of energy thrive on these current misconceptions.
On page 329 of The Grammar of Science the late Karl Pearson
has pointed out how many writers misunderstand and misrepresent the concept "force". And force is but energy divided
by distance. Karl Pearson might have found equally good
examples in the misuse of the word "energy". Both concepts
are just as much misunderstood and misrepresented to-day.
Those who learn a little science do not seem also to learn its
grammar. So it is evidently necessary that the warning which
Karl Pearson gave should be repeated. And as the misconception is fundamentally due to the difficulty men have in conceiving non-diathetic reality, this is an appropriate occasion.
Energy has been given its peculiar significance in the minds
of philosophers largely because the word itself is so suggestive.
Many terms used by physicists are prosaic, not to say dull.
They convey nothing to the mind of the layman. Not so
the word "energy". It is used in everyday conversation. It
is applied to persons. Those called energetic have more
than the usual capacity for work. When told that by "energy"
the physicist means capacity for doing work, the layman has
no doubt that he understands what is meant. A quite definite
idea is present in his mind. But it is the wrong idea.
An energetic person engages in many diathetic activities.
He disposes; he arranges things; he orders people about. To
those around him he seems intensely alive. Hence the common
fallacy that the material thing which physicists call energy is
a measure of vitality and that it is capable of all those achievements which are required to produce and maintain living
organisms. No doubt it will be a shock to many to learn
that there is as much energy in a dead animal as in a living
Of course the colloquial and the scientific meaning of the
word "energy" are different. The two meanings are not
even remotely synonymous. They belong to different universes of discourse. And the same applies to the two ways in
which the word "force" is used.
Energy in the scientific sense is a similar part of the Material
Universe to distance, time, volume, weight, temperature,
voltage, magnetic induction. It can be defined, in an indefinite
number of ways. It is, for instance, the square of distance
multiplied by mass and divided by the square of time. It
is also mass multiplied by acceleration multiplied by distance.
It is power multiplied by time. It is action divided by time.
It is ampere-hours multiplied by volts and figures in this
form in our electricity bills. Such various expressions do not
represent different kinds of energy but only different forms of
words for the same thing, just as the words pence, pounds,
rupees, francs are all ways of describing the same thing:
It may be thought that different kinds of energy are distinguished by such expressions as chemical energy, radiant
energy, electrical energy, potential energy, kinetic energy.
But these expressions do not define different kinds of energy.
They only define the circumstances in which the energy is
observable. They make the same sort of distinction as we
make when we speak of money in the bank, money in a
stocking, money in circulation.
Hence it is meaningless to speak of 'some other and higher
form of energy'. There are no other forms. Energy is always
something which can be defined in terms of inches, pounds
and seconds, just as force can. This is what a scientist understands when the energy in a living organism is spoken of (or
in a dead one, for that matter). Were this prosaic fact better
known we should not hear so much about Mind Energy and
Vital Energy. It lacks conviction to speak of a vital mass-multiplied-by-acceleration-multiplied-by-distance. Even the
most mystically minded can hardly hope that scientists will
someday discover a superior kind of mass, a higher form of
acceleration, a more exalted distance. Those who are so
easily convinced that some forms of energy are better than
others would not be persuaded that some foot-pounds are
better than others. They would not believe in a vital bending moment. Yet foot-pounds and bending moments are but
still other ways of describing energy.
We have dwelt at some length on this all too common misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "energy" as used
in physics because we believe that it provides a clue to the
reason why many people will find non-diathetic reality a
difficult concept. We all tend to see something of ourselves
in the outer world. To use the language of psychology we
project a part of our natures on to our surroundings. This
tendency is revealed most clearly in the Eastern mystic who
feels at one with the whole of nature, both living and lifeless.
He credits the pebbles in the river-bed, and the rock on which
he is seated, and the distant hills with, at least, some of his
We all have a little of that mystic in us. We all tend to
confuse our own natures with that of the external world. The
reason is, no doubt, to be found in the complexity of our
mental processes. What Bergson has called intuition is, if we
understand him rightly, largely concerned with diathetic
occurrences, just as intelligence is largely concerned with
material facts. But intuition and intelligence are closely intermingled in our mental make-up. We cannot bring the one
into operation without allowing some activity to the other.
This is why we all find it so difficult to conceive either pure
material reality or pure diathetic reality. We attribute wrongly
some diathetic attributes to Matter and some material attributes to all diathetic influences.
The wrong use of the word "energy" reveals this tendency
particularly clearly. The fact that the same word is used
colloquially to describe a diathetic capacity in our own
natures and scientifically to describe a purely physical concept
is so willingly ignored because of the readiness with which
we all allow our intuition to play upon our intelligence both
in and out of season.
The degree to which we succeed in conceiving either pure
non-material reality or pure non-diathetic reality depends,
no doubt, on our temperament and training. To Plato, non-material reality probably presented no difficulty whatever.
But we doubt whether he could ever have managed to think
away every one of the diathetic attributes with which he invested
all things which came under his notice. And all those whose
training has been humanistic, all those whose cultural background exists in continuity right back to the great days of
ancient Greece, and all those who are primarily concerned with
the complexities of men's natures will be likely to experience
the same difficulty. Engineers and pure scientists, on the
other hand, who have received but little training in abstract
thought will find non-material reality a formidable stumbling-block while their familiarity with Matter will have accustomed
them to avoid the error of projecting their own natures on to
it. In spite of our professional disqualifications we can, however, all of us, with perseverance, become sufficiently clear
on the distinction between the two types of reality to be
saved from the naive crudities of materialism.
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