Classics of Biology

By August Pi Suñer; Charles M. Stern | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
MATTER AND ENERGY IN LIFE

AGENT AND ACTION

PRIMITIVE man dissociates his idea of motive agent or impelling instrument from that of the body set in motion. Direct observation in fact teaches us that for a body to start moving some force must be applied to it. This idea was first scientifically stated by Aristotle and upon it was founded the rational mechanics of Galileo and Newton. Man does not intuitively perceive that movement may be but one of many properties of matter, inherent in the manner in which such matter exists.

Animate beings are indeed distinguished through their very capacity for motion. An animal moves and gives off heat or even light in some form; every living body is capable of growth. Not so very long ago, in 1907, Strecker in his Der Kausalitätsprinzip in der Biologie (Cause and Effect in Biology) was still able to say: "Every organic body is a form of activity, whilst a purely chemical or physical object can do nothing more than be set in motion." Since it is impossible for a thing to become animated by itself alone, some motive principle special to living matter must be in existence.

Throughout the ages Biology has been vitalistic. Looking back through the history of physiological knowledge we see the continuous passing-on of the idea of a breath, spirit, ether or animating principle acting upon pure matter, that is, upon a passive immovable substance possessed of weight but incapable of action by itself alone. In the course of time these ideas have taken many different forms, though all are essentially similar.

Whence springs the activity present in live organisms? One of the most important steps in the progress of Biology was signalized by proof that the physical laws governing living matter are the same as those applying to the inorganic world.


COMBUSTION

It is essential to take an objective view of matter and of the Universe in general. Certain bodies burn up. The Greek philosophers, Aristotle

-1-

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