« EelmineJätka »
BY-PATIIS IN THE DOMAIN OF BIOLOGY :
BEING AN ADDRESS DELIVERED TO THE BIOLOGICAL
SECTION OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION, (GLASGOW,
Introductory Remarks--Ox SOME RELATIONS of LIVING Tuisgs TO THEIR
ExvIRONMENT--The Influence of Locality on Colour in Butterflies and Birds-Sense-perception influenced by Colour of the Integuments Relations of Insular Plants and Insects-RISE AND PROGRESS OF Moders VIEWS AS TO TIE ANTIQUITY AND ORIGIX OF JAX-Indications of Man's extreme Antiquity - Antiquity of Intellectual Man-Sculptures on Easter-Island-- North American Barthworks-- The Great Pyramid-Conclusion.
The range of sulijects comprehended within the domain of Biology is so wide, and my own acquaintance with them so imperfect, that it is not in my power to lay before you any general outline of the recent progress of the biological sciences. Neither do I feel competent to give you a summary of the present status of any one of the great divisions of our science, such as Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology, Histology, Classification, or Evolution-- Philology, Ethnology, or Prehistoric Archæology; but there are fortunately several outlying and more or less neglected subjects to which I have for some time had my attention directed, and which I hope will
furnish matter for a few observations, of some interest to biologists and at the same time not unintelligible to the less scientific members of the Association who may honour us with their presence.
The subjects I first propose to consider have no general name, and are not easily grouped under a single descriptive heading; but they may be compared with that recent development of a sister science which has been termed surface-geology or Earth-sculpture. In the older geological works we learnt much about strata, and rocks, and fossils, their superposition, contortions, chemical constitution, and affinities, with some general notions of how they were formed in the remote past; but we often came to the end of the volume no whit the wiser as to how and why the surface of the earth came to be so wonderfully and beautifully diversified; we were not told why some mountains are rounded and others precipitous; why some valleys are wide and open, others narrow and rocky; why rivers so often pierce through mountain-chains; why mountain-lakes are often so enormously deep; whence came the gravel, and drift, and erratic blocks so strangely spread over wide areas while totally absent from other areas equally extensive. So long as these questions were almost ignored, geology could hardly claim to be a complete science, because, while professing to explain how the crust of the earth came to be what it is, it gave no intelligible account of many phenomena presented by its surface. But of late years these surface-phenomena have been assiduously studied; the marvellous effects of denudation and glacial action in giving the final touches to the actual contour of the carth's surface, and their relation to climatic changes and the antiquity of man, have been clearly traced, thus investing geology with a new and popular interest, and at the same time elucidating many of the phenomena presented in the older formations.
Now just as a surface-geology was required to complete that science, so a surface-biology was wanted to make the science of living things more complete and more generally interesting, by applying the results arrived at by special workers to the interpretation of those external and prominent features whose endless variety and beauty constitute the charm which attracts us to the contemplation or to the study of nature. We have the descriptive zoologist, for example, who gives us the external characters of animals; the anatomist studies their internal structure; the histologist makes known the nature of their component tissues ; the embryologist patiently watches the progress of their development; the systematist groups them into classes and orders, families, genera, and species ; while the field-naturalist studies for us their food and habits and general economy. But, till quite recently, none of these earnest students nor all of them combined, could answer satisfactorily, or even attempted to answer, many of the simplest questions concerning the external characters and general relations of animals and plants. Why are flowers so wonderfully varied in form and colour ? what causes the Arctic fox and the ptarmigan to turn wbite in winter ? why are there no clephants in America and no deer in Australia ? why are closely allied species rarely found together? why are male animals so frequently bright-coloured ? Why are extinct animals so often larger than those which are now living? what has led to the production of the
gorgeous train of the peacock and of the two kinds of flower in the primrosc? The solution of these and a hundred other problems of like nature was rarely approached by the old method of study, or if approached was only the subject of vague speculation. It is to the illustrious author of the Origin of Species that we are indebted for teaching us how to study nature as one great, compact, and beautifully-adjusted system. Under the touch of his magic wand the countless isolated facts of internal and external structure of living thingstheir habits, their colours, their development, their distribution, their geological history,—all fell into their approximate places; and although, from the intricacy of the subject and our very imperfect knowledge of the facts themselves, much still remains uncertain, yet we can no longer doubt that even the minutest and most superficial peculiarities of animals and plants either, on the one hand, are or have been useful to them, or, on the other hand, have been developed under the influence of general law's, which we may one day understand to a much greater extent than we do at present. So great is the alteration effected in our comprehension of nature by the study of variation, inheritance, cross-breeding, competition, distribution, protection, and selection showing, as they often do, the meaning of the most obscure phenomena and the mutual dependence of the most widely-separated organisms—that it can only be fitly compared with the analogous alteration produced in our conception of the universe by Newton's grand discovery of the law of gravitation.
I know it will be said (and is said), that Darwin is too highly rated, that some of his theories are wholly
and others partially erroneous, and that he often builds a vast superstructure on a very uncertain basis of doubtfully interpreted facts. Now, even admitting this criticism to be well founded—and I myself believe that to a limited extent it is so—I nevertheless maintain that Darwin is not anul cannot be too highly rated ; for bis greatness does not at all depend upon his being infallible, but on his having developed, with rare patience and judgment, a new system of observation and study, guided by certain general principles which are almost as simple as gravitation and as wide-reaching in their effects. And if other principles should hereafter be discovered, or if it be proved that some of his subsidiary theories are wholly or partially crroneous, this very discovery can only be made by following in Darwin's steps, hy adopting the method of research which he has taught us, and by largely using the rich stores of material which he has collected. The Origin of Species, and the grand series of works which have succeeded it, have revolutionized the study of biology; they have given us new ideas and fertile principles; they have infused life and vigour into our science, and have opened up hitherto unthought-of lines of research on which hundreds of eager students are now labouring. Whatever modifications some of his theories may require, Darwin must none the less be looked up to as the founder of philosophical biology.
As a small contribution to this great subject, I propose now to call your attention to some curious relations of organisms to their environment, which seem to me worthy of more systematic study than has hitherto been given them. The points I shall more especially deal