Darwin, C. R. n.d. 'Effects of Life in the abstract is matter united by certain laws'. CUL-DAR91.34-38. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

NOTE: Prepared by John van Wyhe. RN1

Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.



Effects of Life in the abstract is matter united by certain laws different from those, that govern in the inorganic World; life itself being the capability of such matter obeying a certain & peculiar system of movements.—

See Lamarck for this definition given in full.—

? Has any vegetable or animal matter been formed by the union of simple non-organic matter without action of vital laws.

According to the individual forms of living beings, matter is united in different modification, peculiarities of external form impressed, & different laws of movements.

Hence there are two great world systems of laws in the world the organic & inorganic— The inorganic are probably one principle for connect of electricity chemical attraction, heat & gravity is probable.— And the Organic laws probably have some unknown relation to them.—

In the simplest forms of living beings namely one individual vegetables, the vital laws act definitely (as chemical laws) as long as certain contingencies are present, (contingencies as heat light &c)

During growth tissue unites matter into certain form; invariable, as long as not modified by external accidents, & in such cases modifications bear fixed relation to such accidents.

But such tissue bears relation to whole, that is enough must be present to be able to exist as individual.—

This is true as long as movement of sensitive plant can be shewn to be direct physical effect of touch & not irritability, which at least shows a local will, though perhaps not conscious sensation.



In animal growth of body precisely same as in plants, but as animals bear relation to less simple bodies, and to more extended space, such powers of relation required to be extended.

Hence a sensorium, which receives communication from without, & gives wondrous power of willing. These willings are common to every animal instinctive and unavoidable.

These willings have relation to external contingencies, as much as growth of tissue and are subject to accident; the sexual willing comes on period of year as much as inflorescence.— (can the word willing be used without consciousness, for it is not evident, what animals have consciousness)

I here omit the case (if such there are) of animals enjoying only movements such as sensitive plants. (But I include irritability for that requires will in part. ?Why more so than movement of sap or sunflower to sun? -I should think there were direct physical effects of more or less turgid vessels; effect of head, light or shade.)

Joining two difficulties into one common one always satisfactory, though not adding to positive knowledge. lessening amount of ignorance

The radicle of plants absorb by physical laws of endosmic & exosmic juices. arm of polypus, show either local or general will, & stomach likewise does.

It is easy to conceive such movements & choice, & obedience to certain stimulants without conscience in the lower animals, as in stomach, intestines & heart of man.

How near in structure is the ganglionic system of lower animals & sympathetic of man.

?How does consciousness commence; where other senses come into play, when relation is kept up with distant object, when many such objects are present, & when will directs other parts of body to do such.—

?Can insects live with no more consciousness than our intestines have?

All this can take place & man not conscious as in sleep; or in sleep is man momentarily conscious, but is memory gone?—

Where pain & pleasure is felt where must be consciousness???



Kirby thinks that there is one instinct to all animals modified according to species. This I suppose he deduces from the ends in each case being the same, & the means very similar. It does not appear more than saying that the thinking principle is the same in all animals.

Eyton told me that his retriever Sailor he has seen push a hare through the bar of a gate before him, & then jump over the gate & bring it.

Kirby extends instincts to plants,but surely instincts imply willing, therefore word misplaced.

Agrees with one animal

The meanings of words must be made out




not used by Kirby/

Definite instincts begin acquired is most important argument, to show that they result from organization of brain; (:analogy:— as races are formed or modification of external form, so modifications of brain) As in animal no prejudices about souls, we have particular trains of thoughts as far as man; crows fear of gun.— pointers method of standing.— method of attacking peccari— retriever— produced as soon as brain developed, and as I have said, no soul superadded, so

in Coralline are not two kinds of life vegetable and animal strictly united?


I think Pincher shows surprise, walking home one day met him, with Mark riding instantly followed, me and for five minutes every now and then howled.— Now I don't think this only pleasure: for it was different way of showing it, nor was there any cause, & if surprise was felt. analyse feelings.

But habits acquired even by children plants!

Mr. Wynnesays, that beyond doubt courage is hereditary in fowls & not effect of feeling of individual force in any individual.— His Malay breed of fowl totally different habits from Europaean. begin to prowl about in the evening seldom leave their perch till evening crow different.— Hereditary effect of former tropical climate ((analogous to inflorescence of Tropical plants when imported & plants sleeping)) ((good show aquirement or obliteration of instincts))


thought, however unintelligible it may be seems as much function of organ, as bile of liver.— ? is the attraction of carbon, hydrogen in certain definite proportions (different from what takes place out of bodies) really less wonderful than thoughts.— One organic body likes one kind more than another— What is matter? The whole a mystery.—

This materialism does not tend to Atheism. inability of so high a mind without further end, just same argument. without indeed we are step towards some final end. production of higher animals— perhaps say attribute of such higher animals may be looking back, ∴ therefore consciousness, therefore reward in good life

Instinct appear like hereditary memory; but first memory in many cases cannot be acquired by experience for child sucking.— And is it more wonderful that memory should be transmitted from generation: than from hour to hour in man individual.

Perhaps even the most complicated instinct might be analysed into steps, as species change.— Must be so if Lamarck's theory true

Acquired instincts analogous & replace to experience gained by man in lifetime

Hereditary memory not so wonderful as at first appears, & no too great advantage: for superiority of memory does not depend on its length: Many animals (as horses) very long & good memories— but on its multiplicity & the comparison of ideas.—

As man has so very few (in adult life) instincts.— this loss is compensated by vast power of memory, reason, &c, and many general instincts, as love of virtue, of association, parental affection— The very existence of mankind requires these instincts, though very weak so as to be overcome easily by reason.— Conscience is one of these instinctive feelings.

As sexual instinct comes on late in life, man almost alone in this case can perceive instinct. boy takes delight in mammae before any reason had told him this distinctive mark. it is downright instinct, leading to touch a particular organ.—



As definite instincts modified by hereditary succession so perhaps general ones.— Parental feelings weakened in Otahiti: fear of death in Hindoo population.— Slightly modified in many countries, hence national character, love of country, of association &c stronger in some than others— Hence superiority of Christian over Heathen race.—

But as no great modification in brain would probably take place without corresponding change in external man; and as all men nearly same species, so general instincts nearly same; which argument probably applies to particular instincts of animals, even in wild state; certainly to the domesticated.—

NB. Two dogs having very different instinct always obtain peculiarities of external configuration.


General— Instincts certainly appear a sort of acquired memory. a permanent secretion of thought. (or under contingencies of stimulants of certain kinds such secretion)

or an association of pleasures with certain actions performed by your parents, conscience

This memory especially the general kind taking pleasure in virtue because acquired in past ages, seems to indicate that when we turn into angels, this imperfect memory may become perfect & we may look back to definite action or to our conscious selves.— ((Such memory may go back to animals which were changed into man ∴ they meet their reward!))

The difference between hereditary memory & individual secretion of thought, may be no more different than sexual intercourse in plants is involuntary, in man voluntary: ?False.— secretion in both involuntary, application ejection only has will: there must be case of secretion being some time governed by will in some animals, involuntary in others.

Perhaps should hardly be called memory; you cannot call the frame of mind which makes music pleasant, a memory; yet that frame is enhanced by memory of what has been heard; so love of virtue enhanced by this hereditary kind of memory.—

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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