17 MAY 1919, Page 20


(Notice in this cohenn does not necessarity preclude tubsequerd ream.] The New Physiology, and other Addresses. By J. S. Haldane, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S. (Charles Griffin. 8s. fkl. net.)—In these materialistic times it is certainly refreshing to find a distinguished man of science refusing to accept the" mechanistic" view of life, the view that life is merely a function of physics and chemistry, to which the majority of physiologists at the present time pay homage. Dr. Haldane's essays need and will repay careful study, and should they not convince the reader and convert him to the writer's views, they will at least indicate to him the trend of the teaching of a by no means unimportant group of physiologists. But Dr. Haldane, while opposing the "mechan- ist," refuses to associate himself with the "vitalist," with whom at first sight one would expect him to have much in common. We must admit that for long we were puzzled to think wherein the distinction consisted, and yet it is really quite clear :— " It is of no use to suggest to a physiologist that when a fish is lying helpless on the bottom because it has lost the gas in its swim-bladder, the entelechy ' (the vital spirit) decrees that in order to put things right the ordinary chemical processes shall be reversed, and that oxygen shall be liberated from combination instead of entering into or remaining in it. The physiologist will instinctively look for the actual stimulus and its biological interpretation. We neither need, nor will have, any ghosts in physiology."

These words clearly differentiate the "new physiology" from " vitalism," recognizing that life is associated with regular physical and chemical processes, which processes the physiologist must carefully investigate, without allowing them to obscure his view of the living organism, which is ever busy, so co-ordi- nating the processes that form and function are constantly main- tained. It is generally admitted that the laws of heredity prove a great stumbling-block to " mechanistic " interpretations of life, and the writer is not slow to point this out. What Dr. Haldane's views of life are exactly does not emerge from these essays, unless it be that "life is just life."