Autobiography and Selected Essays

By Thomas Henry Huxley; Ada L. F. Snell | Go to book overview

ON THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF LIFE

IN order to make the title of this discourse generally intelligible, I have translated the term "Protoplasm," which is the scientific name of the substance of which I am about to speak, by the words "the physical basis of life." I suppose that, to many, the idea that there is such a thing as a physical basis, or matter, of life may be novel -- so widely spread is the conception of life as a something which works through matter, but is independent of it; and even those who are aware that matter and life are inseparably connected, may not be prepared for the conclusion plainly suggested by the phrase, "the physical basis or matter of life," that there is some one kind of matter which is common to all living beings, and that their endless diversities are bound together by a physical, as well as an ideal, unity. In fact, when first apprehended, such a doctrine as this appears almost shocking to common sense.

What, truly, can seem to be more obviously different from one another, in faculty, in form, and in substance, than the various kinds of living beings? What community of faculty can there be between the bright- coloured lichen, which so nearly resembles a mere mineral incrustation of the bare rock on which it grows, and the painter, to whom it is instinct with beauty, or the botanist, whom it feeds with knowledge?

Again, think of the microscopic fungus -- a mere infinitesimal ovoid particle, which finds space and duration enough to multiply into countless millions in the

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Autobiography and Selected Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ii
  • Preface iii
  • Introduction iv
  • Autobiography 1
  • On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge 15
  • A Liberal Education 35
  • On a Piece, of Chalk 44
  • Principal Subjects of Education 73
  • The Method of Scientific Investigation 85
  • On the Physical Basis of Life 95
  • On Coral and Coral Reefs 115
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