BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

Elements of electro-biology

by Alfred Smee


(1). Life is a condition difficult to define, because it does not denote one constant state in the body to which it appertains, but refers to a series of changes continually occurring. The illustrious Bichat considers it to be "the sum of the functions by which death is resisted"; but this, to my mind, is not an intelligible definition. If we regard the state of a living animal, we find that it consists of two parts, a solid and a


fluid. Between these two parts changes are continually occurring. Life, therefore, comes under our notice only as an idea which we form of a solid and fluid body in a state of action, and thus may be defined to be—" The idea of the performance of certain specific actions between the parenchyma and blood or fluid of an organised being."

(2). The certain specific actions of life are those of growth, nutrition, and excretion, in certain cases, the generation of a particular temperature; in others, as in the glow-worm, of light; in others, as in the electric eel, of electricity. We observe sound to be produced in many organised beings; as, for instance, in the singing of birds; and, lastly, the power of generating force extends to a greater or less degree over the entire animal creation.

(3). Assimilation, growth, nutrition, excretion, and perhaps, the generation of a certain temperature, are common to all organised bodies, and may be termed the vegetable life; or, speaking more generally, the organic life—phenomena which in this work it is not my purpose to consider in detail.

(4). Besides the phenomena, classed together as the phenomena of organic life, there are yet others, which we find in the higher animals in great perfection, and which, by analogy, we may infer to belong to the lowest creature in the scale of creation. The phenomena to which I allude require for their manifestation, a more complex apparatus than that of the simple fluid and tissue to be found in all plants. We find that animals, to exhibit these phenomena, require a central parenchyma supplied with blood, a peripheral parenchyma supplied with blood, and a connection between the two, consisting of a peculiar tissue, called " Nerve-Fibre."

(5). The central parenchyma constitutes the ganglia of lower animals, the brain of higher. The peripheral parenchyma comprises the organs of sensation and motion. A proper supply of bright arterial blood to both situations is requisite for the manifestation of the phenomena of life. By this apparatus the animal receives impressions from the external world, transmits them to the brain, registers them, combines them, and acts, not only on immediate impressions, but also upon those which it has received at former periods. These functions are termed the functions of animal life; and these alone will occupy our attention in the present volume.

(6). From the facts which I have already stated, we perceive that the vital functions are divided into two classes, those of animal life, and those of organic life; and to the idea of both collectively we assign the general term of vitality. Life, then, is one word used to signify a number of changes. It is no independent reality apart from the matter which exhibits these phenomena. Neither is it an imponderable attached to matter. Nor is it an all-pervading ether, or anima mundi, filling space, as some philosophers would have us suppose; but in its widest signification it is one word used to designate the combined functions of assimilation, growth, nutrition, excretion, the reception of impressions, the registration of impressions, the combination of impressions, together with the production of force, electricity, light, heat, sound, etc. Such is life, an idea necessarily inferring action, and realising the poet's thought,

"She dreads an instant pause, and lives but while she moves."

(7). In organised beings, therefore, the changes occurring in the organisation alone constitute the vital phenomena. Hence all animal beings, and even man himself, is solely constituted of matter, and obedient to physical laws. All phenomena of nutrition, growth, assimilation, excretion, together with the action of the senses, of memory, of thought, of reason, of action by word or deed, are phenomena produced by virtue of organisation, and consequently solely obedient to physical laws.

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