SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION III - THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE

Chapter XXVIII - NON-DIATHETIC REALITY


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 enzymes".

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 intracellular enzymes". 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 Life's workshop.

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 one.

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: money.

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 own powers.

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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