Life and Matter
Changing Backgrounds in Religion and Ethics. By H.-Wi!don Carr. (Macmillan.- 7s. &J.) THE reasonable man's cOncept'ons of goodness and of God will be determined in part by hiS conception of the universe as a whole. Now the views of all reasonable men about the universe as a whole are in a state of perpetual flux, since scientists, who overwhelm us periodically with fresh consign- ments of facts, leave us no alternative but to enlarge our universes to accommodate them. Our ethical and religious views change as our universes change, and it is, therefore, scarcely a matter for surprise that Professor Wildon Carr, who approaches ethics and religion from the standpoint of the philosophy of creative evolution, should draw few, if any, conclusions which the moralist or theologian of twenty years ago would recognize as either ethical or religious.
Human freedom, for example, he finds in the capacity which we possess in virtue of our intellect to change our environment in accordance with our needs, while morality consists in realiz- ing the nature and purpose of evolution, and right conduct in furthering that purpose by striving for the ideal of a perfected humanity. A little thin this, and not very striking. As a matter of fact the book, in spite of its title, has little to do with Ethics or Religion. What Professor Carr has really set him- self to do is to present to us in outline the picture of the universe which the facts revealed by biology seem to him insistently to demand. It is the everlasting mind-matter problem which chiefly occupies his attention, and leads him to a conception of the universe which for boldness and origin- ality is entitled to a high place in modern metaphysics..
The nineteenth-century attempt to derive life from matter, on the ground that life is merely matter become conscious of itself, has palpably broken down. As Professor Carr points out, it is generally recognized to-day that no amount of infor- mation that we can obtain about matter can tell us anything about life. Life, then, exists as well as matter, and we have by some means or other to find accommodation for both of them in our universe.
Two alternatives suggest themselves. The first, that life was at some given moment of time smuggled into the universe from outside. There was a time when the earth was a mass of molten lava, even of glowing gas ; under such conditions life as we know it would have been impossible. Moreover, many of the chemical compounds found in living organisms, or secreted by them, can now be manufactured in the labora- tory ; we are indeed within measurable distance of making synthetic protoplasm. But nobody contends that the successful manufacture of certain kinds of material is the same . as the creation of life. We may create a material which would be susceptible. to the current of life ; but until life had entered into it, it would be merely a collection of chemicals. The inference is that life enters into matter at a certain stage, but is not necessarily always present in matter.
The other alternative is that life was present in the particles of matter from the first. Plants, we know, possess life of a kind, and the researches of Sir J. Bose show that even metals respond to stimulus and are subject to fatigue. It is pOssible, therefore, that life is present in some degree, even in the lowest material forms, but that our instruments are not sufficiently. delicate to detect it.
These two alternatives go as far as science can take us ; yet both for Professor Carr are attended by an insuperable diffi- culty. They envisage life and matter as. two principles differ- ent in kind, and then proceed to assume that they interact. But how can a spiritual entity, devoid of all material qualities, without shape, size, weight,' or position in space, " get into " matter ? How can it influence it or be influenced by it ? Clearly the philosopher cannot rest content with a dualism of this kind. " Dualism," says Professor Carr, " is essentially irrational ; and all science and all philosophy bear witness to
the instinctive aversion of the human mind to rest satisfied with unreason." Yet, as, he repeatedly points out, matter and mind are essentially and fundamentally different.
This, then, is the problem that the author's metaphysic endeavours to solve. The solution is briefly as follows.
There is one concrete reality which is life.- • Life is like a fonn- tain, continually ascending and expressing itself as it ascends in eVer more complex and 'intricate structures. But the fountain has alici 'a reverse Movement ; the spent drops fall hick, and the reverse movement of life is matter. The material universe is, the physicists tell us, like a" clock that is running down ; the more complicated elemehts are breaking up, energy is lost, and the whole system seems doomed ulti- mately to reach a state of motionless equilibrium. As the body is the waste product of the individual's life, and, when that life is finished, is discarded and merged in the 'world of matter, so we may conceive that the physical world as a whole is the debris of a vaster life activity, which, though it transcends both knowledge and imagination, is nevertheless continuous with our own life.
Thus mind and matter are two aspects or movements of the same stream of life ; mind is the aspiring, matter the downward energy. But they can only be so conceived by us in so far as mind can stand outside the life of which it is an aspect, and reflect upon its own condition ; in so far, that is to say, as it can view the movement of life as a whole from outside. To the drops which compose the ascending stream
of the fountain there appear to be not one stream.but two-; the water that falls back seems, in other words, to belong, not to the same fountain as themselves, but to a separate stream. Hence the appearance which matter indubitably presents to science and to common sense of being radically different from mind.
C. E. M. Joan.