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sage in Mind for the current month, and introduce it parenthetically here :—
"I followed the sluggish current of hyaline material issuing from globules of most primitive living substance. Persistently it followed its way into space, conquering, at first, the manifold resistances opposed to it by its watery medium. Gradually, however, its energies became exhausted, till at last, completely overwhelmed, it stopped, an immovable projection stagnated to death-like rigidity. Thus for hours, perhaps, it remained stationary, one of many such rays of some of the many kinds of protoplasmic stars. By degrees, then, or perhaps quite suddenly, help would come to it from foreign but congruous sources. It would seem to combine with outside complemental matter drifted to it at random. Slowly it would regain thereby its vital mobility. Shrinking at first, but gradually completely restored and reincorporated into the onward tide of life, it was ready to take part again in the progressive flow of a new ray."1
To return to the end of the last paragraph but one. If this is so—but I should warn the reader that Professor Hering is not responsible for this suggestion, though it seems to follow so naturally from what he has said that I imagine he intended the inference to be drawn,—if this is so, assimilation is nothing else than the communication of its own rhythms from the assimilating to the assimilated substance, to the effacement of the vibrations or rhythms hereto
1 "The Unity of the Organic Individual," by Edward Montgomery, Mind, Oct. 1880, p. 466. ,
fore existing in this last; and suitability for food will depend upon whether the rhythms- of the substance eaten are such as to flow harmoniously into and chime in with those of the body which has eaten it, or whether they will refuse to act in concert with the new rhythms with which they have become associated, and will persist obstinately in pursuing their own course. In this case they will either be turned out of the body at once, or will disconcert its arrangements, with perhaps fatal consequences. This comes round to the conclusion I arrived at in " Life and Habit," that assimilation was nothing but the imbuing of one thing with the memories of another. (See "Life and Habit," pp. 136, 137, 140, &c.)
It will be noted that, as I resolved the phenomena of heredity into phenomena of personal identity, and left the matter there, so Professor Hering resolves the phenomena of personal identity, into the phenomena of a living mechanism whose equilibrium is disturbed by vibrations of a certain character—and leaves it there. We now want to understand more about the vibrations.
But if, according to Professor Hering, the personal identity of the single life consists in the uninterruptedness of vibrations, so also do the phenomena of heredity. For not only may vibrations of a certain violence or character be persistent unperceived for many years in a living body, and communicate themselves to the matter it has assimilated, but they may, and will, under certain circumstances, extend to the particle which is about to leave the parent body as the germ of its future offspring. In this minute piece of matter there must, if Professor Hering is right, be an infinity of rhythmic undulations incessantly vibrating with more or less activity, and ready to be set in more active agitation at a moment's warning, under due accession of vibration from exterior objects. On the occurrence of such stimulus, that is to say, when a vibration of a suitable rhythm from without concurs with one within the body so as to augment it, the agitation may gather such strength that the touch, as it were, is given to a house of cards, and the whole comes toppling over. This toppling over is what we call action; and when it is the result of the disturbance of certain usual arrangements in certain usual ways, we call it the habitual development and instinctive characteristics of the race. In either case, then, whether we consider the continued identity of the individual in what we call his single life, or those features in his off
spring which we refer to heredity, the same explanation of the phenomena is applicable. It follows from this as a matter of course, that the continuation of life or personal identity in the individual and the race are fundamentally of the same kind, or, in other words, that there is a veritable prolongation of identity or oneness of personality between parents and offspring. Professor Hering reaches his conclusion by physical methods, while I reached mine, as I am told, by metaphysical. I never yet could understand what " metaphysics" and "metaphysical" mean; but I should have said I reached it by the exercise of a little common sense while regarding certain facts which are open to every one. There is, however, so far as I can see, no difference in the conclusion come to.
The view which connects memory with vibrations may tend to throw light upon that difficult question, the manner in which neuter bees acquire structures and instincts, not one of which was possessed by any of their direct ancestors. Those who have read "Life and Habit" may remember, I suggested that the food prepared in the stomachs of the nurse-bees, with which the neuter working bees are fed, might thus acquire a quasi-seminal character, and be made a means of communicating the instincts and structures in question.1 If assimilation be regarded as the receiving by one substance of the rhythms or undulations from another, the explanation just referred to receives an accession of probability.
If it is objected that Professor Hering's theory as to continuity of vibrations being the key to memory and heredity involves the action of more wheels within wheels than our imagination can come near to comprehending, and also that it supposes this complexity of action as going on within a compass which no unaided eye can detect by reason of its littleness, so that we are carried into a fairyland with which sober people should have nothing to do, it may be answered that the case of light affords us an example of our being truly aware of a multitude of minute actions, the hundred million millionth part of which we should have declared to be beyond our ken, could we not incontestably prove that we notice and count them all with a very sufficient and creditable accuracy.
"Who would not," 2 says Sir John Herschel, "ask for demonstration when told that a gnat's wing, in its ordinary flight, beats many hundred
1 Life and Habit, p. 237.
2 Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy. Lardner's Cab. Cyclo., vol. xcix. p. 24.