Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. VII.

Chap. VII.

But from these I pass to the second general, the consideration of bodies, our own and others. For our own, though we see, and feel, and continually converse with them; yet their constitution, and inward frame is an america, a yet undiscovered region. And the saying of the kingly prophet, I am wonderfully made, may well be understood of that admiration, which is the daughter of ignorance. Three things I'll subjoin concerning this sensible matter, the other part of our composition.

. 1. That our bodies are made according to the most curious artifice, and orderly contrivance, cannot be denied even by them, who are least beholden to nature. The elegance of this composure, Saved Galen from atheism. And I cannot think that the branded Epicurus, Lucretius, and their fellows were in earnest, when they resolved this composition into a fortuitous range of atoms. To suppose a watch, or any other the most curious automaton by the blind hits of chance, to perform diversity of orderly motions, to show the hour, day of the month, tides, age of the moon, and the like, with an unparalleled exactness, and all without the regulation of art; this were the more pardonable absurdity. And that this admirable engine of our bodies, whose functions are carried on by such a multitude of parts, and motions, which neither interfere, nor impede one another in their operarations; but by an harmonious sympathy promote the perfection and good of the whole: that this should be an undesigned effect, is an assertion, that is more than Melancholies Hyperbole. I say therefore, that if we do but consider this fabric with free and unpossessed minds; we shall easily grant, that it was some skilful archeus who delineated those comely proportions, and hath expressed such exactly geometrical elegancies in its compositions. But what this hidden architect should be, and by what instruments and art this frame is erected; is as unknown to us, as the thoughts of our cradles. The plastic faculty is a fine word, and will do well in the mouth of a puzled empiric: but what it is, how it works, and whose it is, we cannot learn; no, not by a return into the womb; neither will the Platonic principles unriddle the doubt: for though the soul be supposed to be the body's maker, and the builder of its own house; yet by what kind of knowledge, method, or means, is unknown: and that we should have a knowledge which we know not of, is an assertion which hath no commission from our faculties. The great Descartes will allow it to be no better, than a downright absurdity. But yet should we suppose it, it would be evidence enough of what we aim at.

. 2. Nor is the composition of our own bodies the only wonder: we are as much nonplussed by the most contemptible worm, and plant, we tread on. How is a drop of dew organized into an insect? Or, a lump of clay into a more perfect animal? how are the glories of the field spun, and by what pencil are they limned in their unaffected bravery? By whose direction is the nutriment so regularly distributed unto the respective parts, and how are they kept to their specific uniformities? If we attempt mechanical solutions, we shall never give an account, why the woodcock doth not sometimes borrow colours of the magpie; why the lily doth not exchange with the daysie; or why it is not sometime painted with a blush of the rose? Can unguided matter keep itself to such exact conformities, as not in the least spot to vary from the species? That divers limners at a distance without either copy or design should draw the same picture to an undistinguishable exactness, both in form, colour, and features; is more conceivable, than that matter, which is so diversified both in quantity, quality, motion, site, and infinite other circumstances, should frame itself so unerringly according to the idea of its kind. And though the fury of that Apelles, who threw his pencil in rage upon the picture he had essayed to draw, once casually effected those lively representations, which his art could not describe; yet 'tis not likely, that one of a thousand such precipitancies should be crowned with so an unexpected an issue. For though blind matter might reach some elegancies in individual effects; yet specific conformities can be no unadvised productions, but in greatest likelihood, are regulated by the immediate efficiency of some knowing agent: which whether it be seminal forms, according to the Platonical principles, or whatever else we please to suppose; the manner of its working is to us unknown: or if these effects are merely mechanical; yet to learn the method of such operations may, and hath indeed been, ingeniously attempted; but I think cannot be performed to the satisfaction of severer examination.

That all bodies both animal, vegetable and inanimate, are formed out of such particles of matter, which by reason of their figures, will not cohere or lie together, but in such an order as is necessary to such a specifical formation, and that therein they naturally of themselves concur, and reside, is a pretty conceit, and there are experiments that credit it. If after a decoction of herbs in a winter night, we expose the liquor to the frigid air; we may observe in the morning under a crust of ice, the perfect appearance both in figure, and colour, of the plants that were taken from it. But if we break the aqueous crystal, those pretty images disappear and are presently dissolved.

Now these airy vegetables are presumed to have been made, by the reliques of these plantal emissions whose avolation was prevented by the condensed inclosure. And therefore playing up and down for a while within their liquid prison, they at last settle together in their natural order, and the atom of each part finding out their proper place, at length rest in their methodical situation; till by breaking the ice they are disturbed, and those counterfeit compositions are scattered into their first indivisibles.

This hypothesis may yet seem to receive further confirmation, from the artificial resurrection of plants from their ashes, which chemists are so well acquainted with: and besides, that salt disolved upon fixation, returns to its affected cubes, the regular figures of minerals, as the hexagonal of crystal, the hemi-spherical of the fairy-stone, the stellar figure of the stone asteria, and such like, seem to look with probability upon this way of formation. And I must needs say 'tis handsomly conjectured. But yet what those figures are, that should be thus mechanically adapted, to fall so unerringly into regular compositions, is beyond our faculties to conceive or determine. And now those heterogenous atoms (for such their figures are supposed) should by themselves hit so exactly into their proper residence in the midst of such tumultuary motions, cross thwartings, and arietations of other particles, especially when for one way of hitting right, there are thousands of missing; there's no hypothesis yet extant can resolve us. And yet had heaven afforded that miracle of men, the illustrious Descartes a longer day on Earth, we might have expected the utmost of what ingenuity could perform herein: but his immature fate hath unhappily disappointed us; and prevented the most desirable complement of his not to be equalled philosophy.

. 3.(2) It's no less difficult to give an account, how the parts of matter and bodies are united: for though superficial enquirers may easily satisfy themselves by answering, that it is done by muscles, nerves, and other like strings, and ligaments, which nature hath destined to that office; yet, if we seek for an account how the parts of these do cohere, we shall find ourselves lost in the enquiry. Nothing with any show of success hath yet appeared on the philosophic stage, but the opinion of Descartes; that the parts of matter are united by rest. Neither can I conceive, how anything can be substituted in its room, more congruous to reason; since rest is most opposite to motion, the immediate cause of disunion. But yet I cannot see, how this can account for the almost indissolvible coherence of some bodies, and the fragility and solubility of others: for if the union of the parts consist only in rest; it would seem, that a bag of dust would be of as firm a consistence as that of marble or adamant: a bar of iron will be as easily broken as a tobacco-pipe; and Bajazet's cage had been but a sorry prison. The Egyptian pyramids would have been sooner lost, than the names of them that built them; and as easily blown away, as those inversed ones of smoke. Nor can it be pretended for a difference, that the parts of solid bodies are held together by hooks, and angulous involutions; since the coherence of the parts of these will be of as difficult a conception, as the former: and we must either suppose an infinite of them holding together on one another; or at last come to parts, that are united by a mere juxtaposition: yea, could we suppose the former, yet the coherence of these, would be like the hanging together of an infinite such of dust: which hypothesis would spoil the proverb, and a rope of sand, should be no more a phrase for labour in vain: for unless there be something, upon which all the rest may depend for their cohesion; the hanging of one by another, will signify no more than the mutual dependence of causes and effects in an infinite series, without a first: the admission of which, atheism would applaud. But yet to do the master of mechanics right; somewhat of more validity in the behalf of this hypothesis may be assigned: which is, that the closeness and compactness of the parts resting together, doth much confer to the strength of the union: for every thing continues in the condition, wherein it is, except something more powerful alter it: and therefore the parts, that rest close together, must continue in the same relation to each other, till some other body by motion disjoin them. Now then, the more parts, there are pent together, the more able they will be for resistence; and what hath less compactness, and by consequence fewer parts, according to the laws of motion will not be able to effect any alteration in it. According to what is here presented, what is most dense, and least porous, will be most coherent, and least discerpible. And if this help not, I cannot apprehend what can give an account of the former instances. And yet even this is confuted by experience; since the most porous spangle bodies are oft-times the most tough in consistence. 'Tis easier to break a tube of glass or crystal, than of elm or ash: and yet as the parts of the former are more, so they are more at rest; sin( The liquid juice, which is diffused through the parts of the wood, is in a continual agitation, which in Descartes his philosophy is the cause of fluidity; and a proportioned humidity confers much to union (Sir K. Digby makes it the cement itself); a dry stick will be easily broken, when a green one will maintain a strong resistence: and yet in the moist substance there is less rest, than in what is dryer and more fragile. Much more might be added: but I'll content myself with what's mentioned; and, notwithstanding what hath been said, I judge this account of that miraculous wit to be the most ingenious and rational, that hath or (it may be) can be given. I shall not therefore conclude it false; though I think the emergent difficulties, which are its attendants, unanswerable; proof enough of the weakness of our now reasons, which are driven to such straits and puzzles even in things which are most obvious, and have so much the advantage of our faculties.

4.(3.) The composition of bodies, whether it be of divisibles or indivisibles, is a question which must be ranked with the indissolvibles: for though it hath been attempted by the most illustrious wit of all philosophic ages; yet they have done little else, but shown their own divisions to be almost as infinite, as some suppose those of their subject. And notwithstanding all their shifts, subtleties, newly invented words and modes, sly subterfuges, and studied evasions; yet the product of all their endeavours, is but as the birth of the labouring mountains, wind, and emptiness. Do what they can; actual infinite extension everywhere, equality of all bodies, impossibility of motion, and a world more of the most palpable absurdities will press the assertors of infinite divisibility. Neither can it be avoided, but that all motions would be equal in velocity; the lines drawn from side to side in a pyramid, may have more parts than the basis, all bodies would be swallowed up in a point, and endless more inconsistences, will be as necessarily consequential to the opinion of indivisibles. But intending only to instance in difficulties, which are not so much taken notice of; I shall refer the reader, that would see more of this, to Oviedo, Pontius, Ariaga, Carelton, and other Jesuits: whose management of this subject with equal force on either side, is a strong presumption of what we drive at.

 

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