Adaptation of life to environment.
J. A. MUNK, M.D., LOS ANGELES, CAL.
Man was made for the earth and not the earth for man. The greater must include the lesser and the process can not be successfully reversed. The earth was made long before man appeared, who was then created to fit his environment upon the earth.
The earth is only an atom in space, which is the most stupendous and staggering fact in nature. Space is something so vast that it is incomprehensible to the finite mind, and, like eternity, is without beginning or end.
As potent and versatile a force as we know electricity to be, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that it is existent and active throughout the universe and is the one agent that furnishes the heat, light and power of the revolving worlds in space. Gravity is also a form of electric energy (electro-magnetism), which attracts all objects within a given radius toward a common center, and balances the stars and keeps them in place.
The earth makes one complete revolution on its axis every twenty-four hours, which would make it seem as if we stood upon our feet one-half of the time and on our heads the other half; but we are not conscious of any change, because of the influence of gravity, which holds us in our proper relation to the earth. There is really no up or down upon the earth, as it is not flat, but round, and is changing its position continually, so that the perpendicular affects only the individual object in relation to its immediate surroundings. If we were consciously affected by the change of position, we would actually have the sensation of a man standing on his head, that would cause serious disturbance of the vital functions and soon produce death. Nature, however, has wisely provided for this action, not to have it produce any unpleasant or injurious effects; and has harmoniously adapted every living thing to its own environment and for a useful existence. Whenever nature's plans are interrupted and a cataclysm does occur, it is merely an incident in the cosmic scheme. Nature quickly heals the breach and continues on in her regular course, as if nothing had happened.
The endless variety of life that is found upon the earth is startling and something wonderful to contemplate. All life is of the same essence, but is manifested in a great variety of different forms. Of the principle of life, per se, we know absolutely nothing. During all the ages of the past it has eluded discovery and, judging the future by the past, it never will be found out. Life is the deep secret of nature that is not for man to know, and both its coming in and going out is equally obscure and mysterious.
Every day we meet in the open many kinds of life, but seeing them often makes them familiar and common, and they fail to impress us. Only the unusual and rare things of life attract our attention and we are forever hunting something new and curious. We might find the common things in nature just as wonderful as are the rare, if we would only stop and think. The smallest form of infinitesimal life is just as perfect in its organism and action as is man, the highest type of terrestrial life.
The reason of our not understanding animals any better than we do is because of our ignorance, and we might think more kindly of them if we knew them better. The inferior animals, as we are pleased to call them, are just as wonderful as man and are even his superiors in some respects, since they know and can do things that he does not know and can not do. It would at least be nothing more than fair to give to animals such credits as they deserve, instead of denying them everything, as is generally being done. There are manifold intelligences just as there are many forms of life, and each kind is sufficient unto itself. All animals live in a little world of their own, which they know and understand best. They have a language, or at least some means of communication with each other, even though man does not understand them. Man often assumes wisdom that he does not possess and says by his actions, if not in words, that what he does not know is not worth knowing. There are many things in life about which we may believe much and yet can know very little; and because of our lack of knowledge we often err grievously in judgment. If we only knew what the other creatures thought of us, we might not feel nattered by their opinion. Such an estimate would be turning the table upon ourselves, by putting the hunter in place of the hunted, which is something quite different. We want some kind of an excuse to hide our ignorance and grudgingly give to animals credit for possessing instinct, but deny that they have any intelligence or reason. They have our five senses and many of the mental faculties are alike common to man and beast—such as love, hate, fear, joy, anger, jealousy, imitation, memory—yes and sometimes, even reason. An animal can be taught like a child in many things and shows by its actions what it thinks of the treatment it receives. In recent years there has been a closer study of animal nature and a change for the better, showing a growing sentiment in their favor.
In the beginning the earth was entirely covered with water and enshrouded in darkness by thick clouds of vapor that hung in the sky. After long ages and many changes, during which time the earth cooled sufficiently to admit of life, life appeared, first in the water and afterwards upon the dry land. It took countless ages to fit the earth for the habitation of living things, but just as soon as the conditions were right, life sprang into being. All life has its origin in water and is, therefore, water born. Oxygen is necessary to animal existence and is obtained either from air or water. Man is no exception to the rule and though he has reached a high state of development, even yet he clearly shows his origin by living exclusively in water during nine months of fetal life.
Not all animals are suited to the same environment, but often live under diverse or opposite conditions. In the case of fish, some live wholly in salt water, while others live in fresh water, and to change from one to the other means death to either. However, there are exceptions, when salt water fish make brief excursions into fresh water without harm, as is true of the salmon during the spawning season. Life can only live and nourish in the environment to which it is naturally adapted.
Amphibious animals, like the frog, live both in the water and on land. While the frog remains a tadpole it functionates as a fish, but soon changes into a land-going animal. It loses its tail by absorption and develops legs instead of fins; and is able to creep and hop. The gills which extracted oxygen from the water, are replaced by real lungs that breathe and take oxygen from the air. Many marvelous changes occur in nature that seem like miracles, because they are new and we do not understand them.
Deep sea dredging has brought to light much new and curious life. The abysmal depth of the sea is pitch dark and almost cold enough to freeze ice, which is due to the flow of cold water from the Arctic Ocean to the Equator. It was thought, for a long time, that in this dark and cold underworld no life could exist, but investigation has found it teeming with interesting life. Many kinds of fish, of strange forms and bright colors move about through the water in perfect comfort. The weight of ocean water at a depth of 2,500 fathoms is two and a half tons to the square inch and increases with depth. An ordinary fish would be crushed by this heavy weight, but the absymal fish is so organized that it receives no injury. The tissues are soft and porous and freely permeated by water, so that the animal is practically a part of the water which surrounds it. However, when one of these fish rises out of its natural zone, it loses its self-control and shoots rapidly upwards to its death. The reduced pressure liberates a gas that fills the tissues and causes the fish to swell up and explode. They are mostly without eyes and blind, but have a fine touch and feel their way automatically. Some of them, also, are endowed with an auto-lighting apparatus of specialized organs, that produces a luminescence, which serves the purpose of eyes and enables them to find their way and take their prey.
It appears to be just as dangerous for shore fish to descend into great depths as it is for a deep water fish to rise to the surface. Each variety of fish is adapted to its own sphere of activity and can not change its habitat with impunity; which is likewise true of all animals. When a whale fills its lungs with air and "sounds," its body is subjected to a considerable increase of pressure that is borne mostly by the ribs, but becomes dangerous only when the animal dives deep enough. Several such broken and repaired bones have been found in skeletal remains, which show that denizens of the briny deep, like land animals, are sometimes the victims of serious accidents.
The atmosphere is much lighter than water and exerts a pressure of fifteen pounds to the square inch at sea level and diminishes with altitude. An adult man supports between twelve and fourteen tons of air as he moves about upon the earth, but without feeling any sense of inconvenience. The atmosphere is his natural element and necessary to his existence. Atmospheric pressure exerts an important influence on life, as it helps to regulate the vital functions. Its effect upon the human body is similar to the action of the governor on the steam engine, or the pendulum on the clock; and when such control is lost the machinery runs wild and rapidly wears out, or suddenly goes to smash. Under reduced atmospheric pressure the action of all the vital organs is increased; the heart becomes excited, pulse rapid, and the respirations more frequent. Atmospheric pressure is an important factor in climatology and can be used with benefit, either as a stimulant or sedative. At sea level it is a sedative, but altitude makes it a stimulant. As a rule, any patient who is afflicted with organic disease should stay near sea level and not venture into a high altitude, as death might be the result. Formerly it was inferred that the rapid breathing caused by mountain climbing was due to an insufficiency of oxygen in the air, but later it was discovered that the lack of oxygen was not in a deficiency of oxygen in the air, as it is proven that the same proportion of oxygen is present everywhere; but under the diminished pressure of a high altitude the lungs fail to absorb the required amount of oxygen to supply the physiological need. After some time has elapsed and the lungs have become accustomed to the change, they are again able to take up the normal quantity of oxygen, and even more, with the result of an increased amount of hemoglobin and red corpuscles in the blood. Observation and experience both teach that when any decided change is made in altitude or environment, it should be gradual, in order to avoid any serious disturbance of the vital functions. A real advantage may be gained by a change in climate or environment, if made judiciously, but it has its limits and must not be carried to extreme.
The whole trend of civilization is to alter primal conditions and change the natural into the artificial, which is not always an advantage. The tendency of civilization is to create congestion and excitement, by crowding the people into cities, which is an artificial and unwholesome existence that is destructive of the integrity of the human race. Back to nature! Back to the land! is the despairing cry of humanity, that should be heeded and obeyed. Artificiality may seem good on the surface, but has no depth and is deceiving and false. Excessive development in any direction produces hypertrophy, an unnatural and dangerous condition that, under the natural law of reaction, is sure to rebound and end in ruin and death.
Nature is able to do things on her own account and needs no assistance. She works by a plan of evolution that builds upon a sure foundation from the bottom. Man's puny efforts may obstruct, retard or change her course, but can not stop her. He is ever striving to improve on nature, but is only wise in his own conceit, and every attempt that he makes to do the impossible can only result in failure. He may be able to influence her mildly, under favorable circumstances, but not to the extent that is sometimes imagined. With all of his ingenuity and striving, he can not equal or supersede nature. The truest thing in the universe is nature; but if nature is not true, there is no truth.
The colossal egotism of man is astounding. He is full of conceit and puffed up with self-esteem. He seems to think that the world was made exclusively for his own use and benefit, and that his intelligence is the sum total of all knowledge. He imagines vain things and strives continually after the unattainable. Civilized man takes great credit unto himself because of his diversified accomplishments and vaunted progress and forgets nature. But of all his works there is nothing permanent; changes occur continually, as nations rise and fall. Man goes marching up and down the earth, ripping up the ground, felling forests, leveling mountains and filling up the valleys in his conquest of the earth, and destroys everything that he touches. He makes a plaything of life, as if it were a toy, and kills or tortures every living thing that crosses his path. The savagery, brutality and vandalism of the present European war is without a parallel in the history of the world, yet some of the belligerents claim that it is being conducted in the name of civilization, science and culture. Compared to such wanton destruction, primitive life was a paradise and aboriginal man an angel. By the record, man's last estate is worse than the first and what it will yet be, who can tell? Life does not depend upon man's assistance, and indeed nourishes best without his help, or the aid of eugenics and wealth that are being used to make over the world into a Utopia; as life existed before any of these things ever were, and never has been, nor ever will be dependent upon them. In the last analysis, life was from the beginning and by immutable laws works out its own destiny.
True greatness in man is inherent and natural, which fact is not always recognized nor appreciated by the average mortal. All great men have come from humble sources and were self-made. Nature's plan of creation and growth is so profound, complex and mysterious that it is beyond the power of man to know or understand; but in every emergency or crisis of life the right man is always found to take command.
"I passed a stagnant marsh that lay
Beneath a reeking scum of green;
A loathsome puddle by the way,
No sorrier pool was ever seen.
I thought, how lost to all things pure
And white those foul depths be.
Next day from out that pond obscure,
Two queenly lilies laughed at me.
"I passed a hovel round whose door
The signs of penury were strewn.
I saw the grimed and littered floor,
The walls of logs from tree trunks hewn.
I said, "The gates of life are shut
To all within that wretched pen;"
But, lo! from out that lowly hut,
Came one who ruled the world of men."
National Eclectic Medical Association Quarterly, Vol. 7, 1915-16, was edited by William Nelson Mundy, M.D.