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LIFE

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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 603 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LIFE, the popular name for the activity peculiar to protoplasm (q.v.). This conception has been extended by analogy to phenomena different in kind, such as the activities of masses of water or of air, or of machinery, or by another analogy, to the duration of a composite structure, and by imagination to real or supposed phenomena such as the manifestations of incorporeal entities. From the point of view of exact science life is associated with matter, is displayed only by living bodies, by all living bodies, and is what distinguishes living bodies from bodies that are not alive. Herbert Spencer's formula that life is " the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations " was the result of a profound and subtle analysis, but omits the fundamental consideration that we know life only as a quality of and in association with living matter. In developing our conception we must discard from consideration the complexities that arise from the organization of the higher living bodies, the differences between one living animal and another, or between plant and animal. Such differentiations and integrations of living bodies are the subject-matter of discussions on evolution; some will see in the play of circumambient media, natural or supernatural, on the simplest forms of living matter, sufficient explanation of the development of such matter into the highest forms of living organisms; others will regard the potency of such living matter so to develop as a mysterious and peculiar quality that must be added to the conception of life. Choice amongst these alternatives need not complicate investigation of the nature of life. The explanation that serves for the evolution of living matter, the vehicle of life, will serve for the evolution of life. What we have to deal with here is life in its simplest form. The definition of life must really be a description of the essential characters of life, and we must set out with an investigation of the characters of living substance with the special object of detecting the differences between organisms and unorganized matter, and the differences between dead and living organized matter. Living substance (see PROTOPLASM), as it now exists in all animals and plants, is particulate, consisting of elementary organisms living independently, or grouped in communities, the communities forming the bodies of the higher animals and plants. These small particles or larger communities are subject to accidents, internal or external, which destroy them, immediately or slowly, and thus life ceases; or they may wear out, or become clogged by the products of their own activity. There is no reason to regard the mortality of protoplasm and the consequent limited duration of life as more than the necessary consequence of particulate character of living matter (see LONGEVITY). Protoplasm, the living material, contains only a few elements, all of which are extremely common and none of which is peculiar to it. These elements, however, form compounds characteristic of living substance and for the most part peculiar to it. Proteid, which consists of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur, is present in all protoplasm, is the most complex of all organic bodies, and, so far, is known only from organic bodies. A multitude of minor and simpler organic compounds, of which carbohydrates and fats are the best known, occur in different protoplasm in varying forms and proportions, and are much less isolated from the inorganic world. They may be stages in the elaboration or disintegration of protoplasm, and although they were at one time believed to occur only as products of Ivingmatter, are gradually being conquered by the synthetic chemist. Finally, protoplasm contains various inorganic substances, such as salts and water, the latter giving it its varying degrees of liquid consistency. We attain, therefore, our first generalized description of life as the property or peculiar quality of a substance composed of none but the more common elements, but of these elements grouped in various ways to form compounds ranging from proteid, the most complex of known substances to the simplest salts. The living substance, moreover, has its mixture of elaborate and simple compounds associated in a fashion that is peculiar. The older writers have spoken of protoplasm or the cell as being in a sense " manufactured articles "; in the more modern view such a conception is replaced by the statement that protoplasm and the cell have behind them a long historical architecture. Both ideas, or both modes of expressing what is fundamentally the same idea, have this in common, that life is not a sum of the qualities of the chemical elements contained in protoplasm, but a function first of the peculiar architecture of the mixture, and then of the high complexity of the compounds contained in the mixture. The qualities of water are no sum of the qualities of oxygen and hydrogen, and still less can we expect to explain the qualities of life without regard to the immense complexity of the living substance. We must now examine in more detail the differences which exist or have been alleged to exist between living organisms and inorganic bodies. There is no essential difference in structure. Confusion has arisen in regard to this point from attempts to compare organized bodies with crystals, the comparison having been. suggested by the view that as crystals present the highest type of inorganic structure, it was reasonable to compare them with organic matter. Differences between crystals and organized bodies have no bearing on the problem of life, for organic substance must be compared with a liquid rather than with a crystal, and differs in structure no more from inorganic liquids than these do amongst themselves, and less than they differ from crystals. Living matter is a mixture of substances chiefly dissolved in water; the comparison with the crystals has led to a supposed distinction in the mode of growth, crystals growing by the superficial apposition of new particles and living substance by intussusception. But inorganic liquids also grow in the latter mode, as when a soluble substance is added to them. The phenomena of movement do not supply any absolute distinction. Although these are the most obvious characters of life, they cannot be detected in quiescent seeds, which we know to be alive, and they are displayed in a fashion very like life by inorganic foams brought in contact with liquids of different composition. Irritability, again, although a notable quality of living substance, is not peculiar to it, for many in-organic substances respond to external stimulation by definite changes. Instability, again, which lies at the root of Spencer's definition " continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations " is displayed by living matter in very varying degrees from the apparent absolute quiescence of frozen seeds to the activity of the central nervous system, whilst there is a similar range amongst inorganic substances. The phenomena of reproduction present no fundamental distinction. Most living bodies, it is true, are capable of reproduction, but there are many without this capacity, whilst, on the other hand, it would be difficult to draw an effective distinction between that reproduction of simple organisms which consists of a sub-division of their substance with consequent resumption of symmetry by the separate pieces, and the breaking up of a drop of mercury into a number of droplets. Consideration of the mode of origin reveals a more real if not an absolute distinction. All living substance so far as is known at present (see BIOGENESIS) arises only from already existing living substance. It is to be noticed, however, that green plants have the power of building up living substance from inorganic material, and there is a certain analogy between the building up of new living material only in association with pre-existing living material, and the greater readiness with which certain inorganic reactions take place if there already be present some trace of the result of the reaction. The real distinction between living matter and inorganic matter is chemical. Living substance always contains proteid, and although we know that proteid contains only common inorganic elements, we know neither how these are combined to form proteid, nor any way in which proteid can be brought into existence except in the presence of previously existing proteid. The central position of the problem of life lies in the chemistry of proteid, and until that has been fully explored, we are unable to say that there is any problem of life behind the problem of proteid. Comparison of living and lifeless organic matter presents the initial difficulty that we cannot draw an exact line between a living and a dead organism. The higher " warm-blooded " creatures appear to present the simplest case and in their life-history there seems to be a point at which we can say " that which was alive is now dead." We judge from some major arrest of activity, as when the heart ceases to beat. Long after this, however, various tissues remain alive and active, and the event to which we give the name of death is no more than a superficially visible stage in a series of changes. In less highly integrated organisms, such as " cold-blooded " vertebrates, the point of death is less conspicuous, and when we carry our observations further down the scale of animal life, there ceases to be any salient phase in the slow transition from life to death. The distinction between life and death is made more difficult by a consideration of cases of so-called " arrested vitality." If credit can be given to the stories of Indian fakirs, it appears that human beings can pass voluntarily into a state of suspended animation that may last for weeks. The state of involuntary trance, sometimes mistaken for death, is a similar occurrence. A. Leeuwenhoek, in 1719, made the remarkable discovery, since abundantly confirmed, that many animalculae, notably tardigrades and rotifers, may be completely desiccated and remain in that condition for long periods without losing the power of awaking to active life when moistened with water. W. Preyer has more recently investigated the matter and has given it the name " anabiosis." Later observers have found similar occurrences in the cases of small nematodes, rotifers and bacteria. The capacity of plant seeds to remain dry and inactive for very long periods is still better known. It has been supposed that in the case of the plant seeds and still more in that of the animals, the condition of anabiosis was merely one in which the metabolism was too faint to be perceptible by ordinary methods of observation, but the elaborate experiments of W. Kochs would seem to show that a complete arrest of vital activity is compatible with viability. The categories, " alive " and " dead," are not sufficiently distinct for us to add to our conception of life by comparing them. A living organism usually displays active metabolism of proteid, but the metabolism may slow down, actually cease and yet reawaken; a dead organism is one in which the metabolism has ceased and does not reawaken. Origin of Life.—It is plain that we cannot discuss adequately the origin of life or the possibility of the artificial construction of living matter (see ABIOGENESIS and BIOGENESIS) until the chemistry of protoplasm and specially of proteid is more advanced. The investigations of O. Butschli have shown how a model of protoplasm can be manufactured. Very finely triturated soluble particles are rubbed into a smooth paste with an oil of the requisite consistency. A fragment of such a paste brought into a liquid in which the solid particles are soluble, slowly expands into a honeycomb like foam, the walls of the minute vesicles being films of oil, and the contents being the soluble particles dissolved in droplets of the circumambient liquid. Such a model, properly constructed, that is to say, with the vesicles of the foam microscopic in size, is a marvellous imitation of the appearance of protoplasm, being distinguishable from itonly by a greater symmetry. The nicely balanced conditions of solution produce a state of unstable equilibrium, with the result that internal streaming movements and changes of shape and changes of position in the model simulate closely the corresponding manifestations in real protoplasm. The model has no power of recuperation ;in a comparatively short time equilibrium is restored and the resemblance with protoplasm disappears. But it suggests a method by which, when the chemistry of protoplasm and proteid is better known, the proper substances which compose protoplasm may be brought tpgether to form a simple kind of protoplasm. It has been suggested from time to time that conditions very unlike those now existing were necessary for the first appearance of life, and must be repeated if living matter is to be constructed artificially. No support for such a view can be derived from observations of the existing conditions of life. The chemical elements involved are abundant; the physical conditions of temperature pressure and so forth at which living matter is most active, and within the limits of which it is confined, are familiar and almost constant in the world around us. On the other hand, it may be that the initial conditions for the synthesis of proteid are different from those under which proteid and living matter display their activities. E. Pfluger has argued that the analogies between living proteid and the compounds of cyanogen are so numerous that they suggest cyanogen as the starting-point of protoplasm. Cyanogen and its compounds, so far as we know, arise only in a state of incandescent heat. Pfluger suggests that such compounds arose when the surface of the earth was incandescent, and that in the long process of cooling, compounds of Cyanogen and hydrocarbons passed into living protoplasm by such processes of transformation and polymerization as are familiar in the chemical groups in question, and by the acquisition of water and oxygen. His theory is in consonance with the interpretation of the structure of protoplasm as having behind it a long historical architecture and leads to the obvious conclusion that if protoplasm be constructed artificially it will be by a series of stages and that the product will be simpler than any of the existing animals or plants. Until greater knowledge of protoplasm and particularly of proteid has been acquired, there is no scientific room for the suggestion that there is a mysterious factor differentiating living matter from other matter and life from other activities. We have to scale the walls, open the windows, and explore the castle before crying out that it is so marvellous that it must contain ghosts. As may be supposed, theories of the origin of life apart from doctrines of special creation or of a primitive and slow spontaneous generation are mere fantastic speculations. The most striking of these suggests an extra-terrestrial origin. H. E. Richter appears to have been the first to propound the idea that life came to this planet as cosmic dust or in meteorites thrown off from stars and planets. Towards the end of the 19th century Lord Kelvin (then Sir W. Thomson) and H. von Helmholtz independently raised and discussed the possibility of such an origin of terrestrial life, laying stress on the presence of hydrocarbons in meteoric stones and on the indications of their presence revealed by the spectra of the tails of comets. W. Preyer has criticized such views, grouping them under the phrase " theory of cosmozoa," and has suggested that living matter preceded inorganic matter. Preyer's view, however, enlarges the conception of life until it can be applied to the phenomena of incandescent gases and has no relation to ideas of life derived from observation of the living matter we know. LIFE-BOAT, and LIFE-SAVING SERVICE. The article on DROWNING AND LIFE-SAVING (q,v.) deals generally with the means of saving life at sea, but under this heading it is convenient to include the appliances connected specially with the life-boat service. The ordinary open boat is unsuited for life-saving in a stormy sea, and numerous contrivances, in regard to which the lead came from England, have been' made for securing the best type of life-boat. The first life-boat was conceived and designed by Lionel Lukin, a London coachbuilder, in 1785. Encouraged by the prince of Wales (George IV.), Lukin fitted up a Norway yawl as a life-boat, took out a patent for it, and wrote a pamphlet descriptive of his " Insubmergible Boat." Buoyancy he obtained by means of a projecting gunwale of cork and air-chambers inside -one of these being at the bow, another at the stern. Stability he secured by a false iron keel. The self-righting and self-emptying principles he seems not to have thought of; at all events he did not compass them. Despite the patronage of the prince, Lukin went to his grave a neglected and disappointed man. But he was not altogether unsuccessful, for, at the request of the Rev Dr Shairp, Lukin fitted up a coble as an " unimmergible " life-boat, which was launched at Bamborough, saved several lives the first year and afterwards saved many lives and much property. Public apathy in regard to shipwreck was temporally swept away by the wreck of the " Adventure " of Newcastle in 1789. This vessel was stranded only 300 yds. from the shore, and her crew dropped, one by one, into the raging breakers in presence of thousands of spectators, none of whom dared to put off in an ordinary boat to the rescue. An excited meeting among the people of South Shields followed; a committee was formed, and premiums were offered for the best models of a life-boat. This called forth many plans, of which those of William Would-have, a painter, and Henry Greathead, a boatbuilder, of South Shields, were selected. The committee awarded the prize to the latter, and, adopting the good points of both models, gave , by Mr James Peake, one of the committee of inspection, the order for the construction of their boat to Greathead. This I was still further improved as time and experience suggested (see below). The necessity of maintaining a thoroughly efficient life-boat service is now generally recognized by the people not only of Great Britain, but also of those other countries on the European Continent and America which have a sea-board, and of the British colonies, and numerous life-boat services have been founded more or less on the lines of the Royal National Life-boat Institution. The British Institution was again reorganized in 1883; it has since greatly developed both in its life-saving efficiency and financially, and has been spoken of in the highest terms as regards its management by successive governments—a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1897 reporting to the House that the thanks of the whole community were due to the Institution for its energy and good management. On the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 she was succeeded as patron of the Institution by Edward VII., who as prince of Wales had been its president for several years. At the close of 1908 the Institution's fleet consisted of 28o life-boats, and the total number of lives for the saving of which the committee of management had granted rewards since the establishment of the Institution in 1824 was 47,983. At this time there were only seventeen life-boats on the coast of the United Kingdom which did not belong to the Institution. In 18.82 the total amount of money received by the Institution from all sources was £57,797, whereas in 1901 the total amount received had increased to £107,293. In 1908 the receipts were £115,303, the expenditure £90,335. In 1882 the Institution undertook, with the view of diminishing the loss of life among the coast fishermen, to provide the masters and owners of fishing-vessels with trustworthy aneroid barometers, at about a third of the retail price, and in 1883 the privilege was extended to the masters and owners of coasters under too tons burden. At the end of 1901 as many as 4417 of these valuable instruments had been supplied. In 1889 the committee of management secured the passing of the Removal of Wrecks Act 1877 Amendment Act, which provides for the removal of wrecks in non-navigable waters which might prove dangerous to life-boat crews At the date of the institution's second report it had contributed to the saving of three hundred and forty-two lives, either by its own life-saving apparatus or by other means for which it had granted rewards. With fluctuating success, both as regards means and results, the institution continued its good work—saving many lives, and occasionally losing a few brave men in its tremendous battles with the sea. Since the adoption of the self-righting boats, loss of life in the service has been comparatively small and infrequent. Towards the middle of the 19th century the life-boat cause appeared to lose interest with the British public, though the life-saving work was prosecuted with unremitting zeal, but the increasing loss of life by shipwreck, and a few unusually severe disasters to life-boats, brought about the reorganization of the society in 185o. The Prince Consort became vice-patron of the institution in conjunction with the king of the Belgians, and Queen Victoria, who had been its patron since her accession, became an annual contributor to its funds. In 1851 the duke of Northumberland became president, and from that time forward a tide of prosperity set in, unprecedented in the history of benevolent institutions, both in regard to the great work accomplished and the pecuniary aid received. In 185o its committee undertook the immediate superintendence of all the life-boat work on the coasts, with the aid of local committees. Periodical inspections, quarterly exercise of crews, fixed rates of payments to coxswains and men, and quarterly reports. were instituted, at the time when the self-righting self-emptying boat came into being. This boat was the result of a hundred-guinea prize, offered by the president, for the best model of a life-boat, with another hundred to defray the cost of a boat built on the model chosen. In reply to- the offer no fewer than two hundred and eighty models were sent in, not only from all parts of the United Kingdom, but from France, Germany, Holland and the United States of America. The prize was gained by Mr James Beeching of Great Yarmouth, whose model, slightly modified boat was rendered buoyant by nearly 7 cwts. of cork, and had very raking stem and stern-posts, with great curvature of keel. It did good service, and Greathead was well rewarded; nevertheless no other life-boat was launched till 1798, when the duke of Northumberland ordered Greathead to build him a life-boat which he endowed. This boat also did good service, and its owner ordered another in 1800 for Oporto. In the same year Mr Cathcart Dempster ordered one for St Andrews, where, two years later, it saved twelve lives. Thus the value of life-boats began to be recognized, and before the end of 1803 Greathead had built thirty-one boats—eighteen for England, five for Scotland and eight for foreign lands. Nevertheless, public interest in life-boats was not thoroughly aroused till 1823. In that year Sir William Hillary, Bart., stood forth to champion the life-boat cause. Sir William dwelt in the Isle of Man, and had assisted with his own hand in the saving of three hundred and five lives. In conjunction with two members of parliament—Mr Thomas Wilson and Mr George Hibbert—Hillary founded the " Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck." This, perhaps the grandest of England's charitable societies, and now named the " Royal National Life-boat Institution," was founded on the 4th of March 1824. The king patronized it; the archbishop of Canterbury presided at its birth; the most eloquent men in the land—among them Wilberforce—pleaded the cause; nevertheless, the institution began its career with a sum of only £9826. In the first year twelve new life-boats were built and placed at different stations, besides which thirty-nine life-boats had been stationed on the British shores by benevolent individuals and by independent associations over which the institution exercised no control though it often assisted them. In its early years the institution placed the mortar apparatus of Captain Manby at many stations, and provided for the wants of sailors and others saved from shipwreck,—a duty subsequently discharged by the " Ship-wrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Royal Benevolent Society." and others. Under its provisions numerous highly dangerous wrecks have been removed. In 1893 the chairman of the Institution moved a resolution in the House of Commons that, in order to decrease the serious loss of life from shipwreck on the coast, the British Government should provide either telephonic or telegraphic communication between all the coast-guard stations and signal stations on the coast of the United Kingdom; and that where there are no coast-guard stations the post offices nearest to the life-boat stations should be electrically connected, the object being to give the earliest possible information to the life-boat authorities at all times, by day and night, when the life-boats are required for service; and further, that a Royal Commission should be appointed to consider the desirability of electrically connecting the rock lighthouses, light-ships, &c., with the shore. The resolution was agreed to without a division, and its intention has been practically carried out, the results obtained having proved most valuable in the saving of life. On the 1st of January 1898 a pension and gratuity scheme was introduced by the committee of management, under which life-boat coxswains, bowmen and signalmen of long and meritorious service, retiring on account of old age, accident, ill-health or abolition of office, receive special allowances as a reward for their good services. While these payments act as an incentive to the men to discharge their duties satisfactorily, they at the same time assist the committee of management in their effort to obtain the best men for the work. For many years the Institution has given compensation to any who may have received injury while employed in the service, besides granting liberal help to the widows and dependent relatives of any in the service who lose their own lives when endeavouring to rescue others. A very marked advance in improvement in design and suit-ability for service has been made in the life-boat since the re-organization of the Institution in 1883, but principally since 1887, when, as the result of an accident in December 1886 to two self-righting life-boats in Lancashire, twenty-seven out of twenty-nine of the men who manned them were drowned. At this time a permanent technical sub-committee was appointed by the Institution, whose object was, with the assistance of an eminent consulting naval architect—a new post created—and the Institution's official experts, to give its careful attention to the designing of improvements in the life-boat and its equipment, and to the scientific consideration of any inventions or proposals submitted by the public, with a view to adopting them if of practical utility. Whereas in 1881 the self-righting life-boat of that time was looked upon as the Institution's special life-boat, and there were very few life-boats in the Institution's fleet not of that type, at the close of 1901 the life-boats of the Institution included 6o non-self-righting boats of various types, known by the following designations: Steam life-boats 4, Cromer 3, Lamb and White 1, Liverpool 14, Norfolk and Suffolk 19, tubular 1, Watson 18. In 1901 a steam-tug was placed at Padstow for use solely in conjunction with the life-boats on the north coast of Cornwall. The self-righting life-boat of 1901 was a very different boat from that of 1881. The Institution's present policy is to allow the men who man the life-boats, after having seen and tried by deputation. the various types, to select that in which they have the most con= fidence. The present life-boat of the self-righting type (fig. 2) differs materially from its predecessor, the stability being increased and the righting power greatly improved. The test of efficiency in this last quality was formerly considered sufficient if the boat would quickly right herself in smooth water without her crew and gear, but every self-righting life-boat now built bythe Institution will right with her full crew and gear on board, with her sails set and the anchor down. Most of the larger self-righting boats are furnished with " centre-boards " or
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