Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 24

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Blyakher L. History of embryology in Russia from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century (istoryia embriologii v Rossii s serediny XVIII do serediny XIX veka) (1955) Academy of Sciences USSR. Institute of the History of Science and Technology. Translation Smithsonian Institution (1982).

Historic Russian Embryology TOC: 1. Beginning of Embryological Investigations Lomonosov's Epoch | 2. Preformation or New Formation? | 3. Kaspar Friedrich Wolff - Theory of Epigenesis | 4. Wolff: "Theory Of Generation" | 5. Wolff: "Formation of the Intestine" | 6. Wolff's Teratological Works | 7. Wolff: "On the Special Essential Tower" | 8. Ideology of Wolff | Chapter 9. Theory of Epigenesis End of 18th Century | 10. Embryology in the Struggle of Russian Empirical Science Against Naturphilosophie | 11. Louis Tredern - Forgotten Embryologist Beginning of 19th Century | 12. Embryonic Membranes of Mammals - Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus | 13. Embryonic Layers - Kh. I. Pander | 14. Karl Maksimovich Baer | 15. Baer's - De Ovi Mammalium Et Hominis Genesi | 16. Baer's Ober Entw I Cklungsgesch I Chte Der Thiere | 17. Baer Part 1 - Chicken Development | 18. Baer Part 2 - History of Chicken Development | 19. Baer Vol 2 | 20. Third Part of the Bird Egg and Embryo Development | 21. Third Part - Development of Reptiles, Mammals, and Animals Deprived of Amnion and Yolk Sac | 22. Fourth Part - Development of Man | 23. Baer's Teratological Works and Embryological Reports in Petersburg | Chapter 24. Baer's Theoretical Views | 25. Invertebrate Embryology - A. Grube, A. D. Nordmann, N. A. Warnek, and A. Krohn
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This historic textbook by Bliakher translated from Russian, describes historic embryology in Russia between 1750 - 1850.



Publishing House of the Academy of Science USSR

Moscow 1955

Translated from Russian

Translated and Edited by:

Dr. Hosni Ibrahim Youssef # Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Cairo University

Dr. Boulos Abdel Malek

Head of Veterinary Research Division

NAMRU-3, Cairo

Arab Republic of Egypt

Published for

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C, by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations 1982


Published for

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations (1982)


Also available online Internet Archive


Historic Embryology Textbooks

Historic Disclaimer - information about historic embryology pages 
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Pages where the terms "Historic Textbook" and "Historic Embryology" appear on this site, and sections within pages where this disclaimer appears, indicate that the content and scientific understanding are specific to the time of publication. This means that while some scientific descriptions are still accurate, the terminology and interpretation of the developmental mechanisms reflect the understanding at the time of original publication and those of the preceding periods, these terms and interpretations may not reflect our current scientific understanding.     (More? Embryology History | Historic Embryology Papers)

Chapter 24. On the Question of Baer's Theoretical Views

For the exhaustive characteristics of Baer's views, it is necessary to consider all his papers and correspondence with regard to published and archival materials. This task is a matter for the future. Until now, discussions of Baer's theoretical views as a rule have been limited to evaluation of his scientific work. Therefore, all opinions up to the present about Baer's philosophical views have made a common mistake, for which the authors cannot always be blamed. Their errors could result in part from the fact that Baer was sometimes undoubtedly forced to present his thoughts in a form adapted to the censors' requirements of his time. As for articles published in the Russian language, the possibility must also be considered that the translation from the German original, as it was written by Baer, was misrepresented.

But regardless of these circumstances, the well-founded discussion about Baer's methodical views is difficult to dispute. The spiritual personality of the great naturalist was too complicated and multifaceted to determine the essence of his views easily and at the same time to state the changes which were made during his long years of scientific activity.

Baer did not avoid stating his opinions concerning general questions, beginning with the earliest work, such as the article "Two Words on the Recent Condition of Natural History,"! and ending with the general philosophical conclusions of SPEECHES AND ARTICLES (1864-1876). In striving for a description of Baer's theoretical views, one must turn to his own discussions on the general questions of philosophy


1. K, E. v. Baer, "Zwei Worte uber den jetzigen Zustand der Naturgeschichte," Vortage bei Gelegenheit der Errichtung eines zoologischen Museums in Konigsberg (1821) , 48 pp.


489


and natural sciences. But they should not be considered satisfactory, and hence they may represent falsification (123), The latter is correct, in particular, in relation to R. Stolzle, professor of philosophy at Wurzburg, who wrote a vast work in 1897 under the title KARL -ERNST VON BAER AND HIS WORLD-VIEW. 2 From the beginning Stolzle stated that in his book he would judge Baer from a theistic-Christian standpoint; he lamented that this point of view, especially in the natural-scientific and philosophical circles of his day, was generally ridiculed as being absolutely unscientific, and either regarded as an anachronism or simply disregarded. 3 Stolzle praised Baer for his world-view and unconditionally set him up against evolution, teleology and idealism. However, at the same time he remarks, apparently indignantly, upon the "errors" of the great scientist concerning Baer's sharp opinions against creationism. Stolzle wrote, for example, of the "barely respectable polemics of Baer against the idea of a creator" and cited his ironical discussion of the origin of new classes of animals on the earth: "I do not want to trouble Our Lord with this 'creation of new classes,' for if he wishes to throw down from the sky a new class of animals on earth, then they must, due to the quick motion of the earth— four miles per second! and this is not a joke — shatter into dust. Our Lord, therefore, must come down to the earth and arrest its velocity; only then can he create new living creatures. "4

Actually, in the concluding chapter of his book, Stolzle "absolved" Baer for all his "inconsistencies" and for all his "errors," assuming that Baer "at the end turned to faith in the ever-living God; probably this may confirm


2. R. Stolzle, KARL ERNST VON BAER UND SEINE WELTANSCHAUUNG (Regensburg, 1897), xi + 687 pp.

3. Ibid. , p. 5. Haake, in his work on Baer (W. Haake, KARL ERNST VON BAER (Klassiker der Naturwissenschaften) (Leipzig, 1905), 175 pp.), also extolled Baer for his supposedly high evaluation of the religious need of man.

4. stolzle, KARL ERNST VON BAER, p. 167.


490


also (his) faith in Christ. "^ Stolzle took this confidence from journal articles, based on information from a Pastor Engelhardt. The later asserted that on his deathbed Baer regretted his unbelief. The foolishness of this idea was documented not long ago by B. E. Raikov. 6

Also, contentious and groundless discussions of Baer's philosophical ideas were given by Stolzle. Their source was explained by him as Schelling's natural philosophy, which at the beginning of the nineteenth century had received very wide distribution among naturalists. About the wreck of natural philosophy, Stolzle correctly wrote. Instead of the fantastic opinions which fear experiments, come sober ideas which are based on experiments instead of intuition, on the firm and slow work of induction in place of metaphysics — either the rejection of all that is transcendent, as in the ideas of Francis Bacon, as also in the ideas of Kant and Comte, or materialism. 7 Talking of Baer's earlier interest in Naturphilosophie and even mentioning his ironic references to the lecture of Wagner, Stolzle nevertheless remarked that


5. Ibid . , p. 644.

6. B. E. Raikov, "Poslednie dni Baera" (Baer's last days) , TRUDY INSTITUTA ISTORII ESTESTVOZNANIYA AN SSSR,

2 (1948) , pp. 575-583.

If it could not be doubted that church orthodoxy was alien to Baer throughout his life, then it would be difficult to state with confidence his relation to deistic thought. In his writings, especially in his popular scientific discussions, one finds theories of creation as first origin of all beings. See, for example, the series of articles under the common title "Man's Place in Nature," published in NATURALIST, Vol. II (1865), Nos. 2, 3, 4, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24; Vol. Ill (1866), Nos. 9, 18, 22, 23, and 24; Vol. IV (1867), Nos. 1, 2, and 3. These articles, according to B. E. Raikov, were strongly misrepresented by the censor.

In these articles, and also in his German- language article "On the Doctrine of Darwin" ("Uber Darwin's Lehre," REDEN . . . UND KLEINERE AUFSATZE, II, pp. 235-480). Baer argued against Darwin and his followers (mainly against T. Huxley) on the question of the origin of man, decisively

(Footnotes continued on next page)

491


Baer "did not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and while discussing the false path into which Naturphilosophie had been enticed, he recognized it as a source for a deeper understanding of nature. "8

For the proof of this statement, Stolzle referred to the following view by Baer which he stated in his earliest theoretical writing, "Zwei Worte uber den jetzigen Zustand der Naturgeschichte": "In spite of the giddiness experienced by the nature-philosophers, the world nevertheless must move with inevitability in itself, because this takes place in reality. With this, frequently and not very seriously, they made merry, exclaiming: 'We shall only hold on to the earth more strongly, then our heads will not whirl.* It seems to us, on the contrary, that all the significant progress in science is inevitably accompanied by fever, and during fever there are frequently dreams and apparitions. The experienced doctor is sometimes satisfied with the course of fever in his patient if he notices in it the preparation for a crisis, "9


6... rejecting the possibility of his development from any of the other living species of monkeys. In addition to strictly scientific reasons from the field of comparative anatomy and comparative psychology, there are also appeals to common sense, hindering, in Baer's opinion, recognition of an animal origin for man. In discussions concerning the evolution of the organic world and especially the origin of man, Baer undoubtedly did not overcome the religious faction, and was even inclined to renounce his partial recognition of the idea of evolution, which he had stated many years before this.

7. Stolzle, KARL ERNST VON BAER, p. 36.

8. Ibid ., p. 39.

9. Baer, "Zwei Worte," p. 4G.


492


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493


From these examples of speeches it is possible to conclude that in his early years Baer was already an opponent of the collection of facts not illustrated by theoretical generalization. Of the importance for science of both empirical and theoretical investigation and of their relation, Baer wrote in the same article: "There are two ways in which natural science can succeed: observation and meditation. The investigator goes into the majority of cases in one of these ways. Some of them are thirsty for facts, others for results and general laws; some of them for information, others for knowledge; the first can be called the careful investigators and the latter the serious ones. Fortunately, the human mind is rarely developed so one-sidedly that he uses only one way of investigation, disregarding the other. Despised abstraction at the time of his observations involuntarily leads to meditation, and his opponent only in the short period of fever can be engaged in speculations in the sphere of natural science, absolutely disregarding the data of the experiment. For the individual personality, as well as for an entire age of science, one tendency may be predominant and the objectives follow it consciously, but the other is not excluded completely. ,?1

These two sides of scientific investigation — experiment and theoretical discussion, observation and meditation — were always taken into consideration by Baer, and he put them in the form of a subtitle sounding like an epigraph to his great work: (JBER ENTWICKLUNGSGESCHICHTE DER THIERE: BEOBACHTUNG UND REFLEXTION. It is not by chance, however, that here, as in other cases, observation is put before meditation. One can reflect only upon what has already been observed; Baer did not recognize any a priori truths. 11

"Investigation of nature," Baer wrote, "in general must start from the observation of individual phenomena, and the latter only in that extent are combined into a universal authenticity, as far as this allows. There also, where it


10. Ibid. , p. 31.

11. In this idea he made an exception only for mathematics


494


1 2 ends, ignorance begins. " x Elsewhere he stated that the

history of science is a long commentary on the situation that the material for one's knowledge of the outer world is collected by detailed observation, and that these are processed by the natural ability of meditation. No discovery is done a priori. "I doubt that man would have, in general, any information about the existence of the world, if he did not make certain of it by his senses. "H

The statement that the endlessly variable world exists independently of our consciousness, and is perceived by means of the organs of sense, was connected in Baer with confidence in the unlimited cognitive power of human intelligence and his creation, the sciences. As to the question of the importance of science, Baer repeatedly clothed his discussion either in a pathetic or a sarcastic form.

"Science," Baer stated, "is eternal in its source, not limited in its activity either by time, or by distance, immeasurable in its size, endless in its tasks, unachievable in its aims. "14 This aphorism, especially its Russian translation published in the journal of the Ministry of Public Education and not re-edited by Baer, needs some explanation. Baer spoke of science "eternal in its source" (EWIG IN IHREM QUELLE) ,15 i. e . having its source in eternal nature, but the translator turned it into science "resulting from eternal beginnings," i.e. as if having its source in relevation. Speaking of the unachievability of aims in science, Baer undoubtedly meant the impossibility of exhausting by scientific knowledge the endless variable phenomena of the world, and not the presence in it of anything beyond the grasp of the mind. That this interpretation of Baer's ideas is correct is confirmed to other places. For example, in the speech, "View on the Development of Science,"


12. Baer, "Uber Zielstrebigkeit in den organischen Korpern

insbesondere," REDEN, II, 2te Aufl. (1886), pp. 170-234.

13 • Akad. ber Vzglyed na razvitie nauk. Zhurn. Min. NarProsv., May 1836, p. 207.

14. Ibid ., p. 245.

15. Baer, "Blicke auf die Entwickelung der Wissenschaft," REDEN, I, 2nd ed., p. 121.

495


Baer wrote: "... The limited minds cherished the hope, or rather expressed the apprehension, that the limits of human knowledge will soon be achieved. The idea is cowardly, unworthy of the endless productivity of the human intelligence."^

The attention of many authors, attempting to interpret Baer's viewpoints either from orthodox theological and idealistic positions, or from materialistic positions, was mainly attracted by by his discussion concerning purpose in nature in general and in particular in the organic world. Baer illustrated these questions in two vast articles published in the second volumes of his REDEN UND KLEINERE AUFSATZE. In order to form a presentation of Baer's real views on the problem of purpose, especially in individual development, it is necessary to turn to the articles mentioned and look at the details of their terminology. Only then will it be possible to attempt to determine what arises from Baer's spontaneous materialism and what amid the health of his ideas must be considered idealistic slag.

The first of these articles is called "On Purpose in the Phenomena of Nature. "1? It begins with the assertion that naturalists are extremely worried about the recognition of purpose in the processes and products of nature. In order to make this account completely clear, Baer considered it necessary to come first to an understanding about the application of the concept. He began with the word "nature," which means all that really exists and arises without the participation of human skill. The last is especially important to bear in mind, because all that exists was placed, was made through formation as it is presently. The solid rock as well as the changing cloud are both the results of a development process. But the correctness of this idea is especially confirmed by organic bodies, which are present in a condition change. The present condition of an organism became possible


16. Baer, "View of the Development of Science," p. 194.

17. Baer, "Uber den Zweck in den Vorgangen der Natur. Erste Abtheilung: Uber Zweckmassigkeit Oder Zielstrebigkeit uberhaupt," REDEN, II, p. 49-105.


496


only in connection with the previous and the future conditions, in connection with the present. The essence of life itself is considered the course of the vital process, i.e. a series of conditions following one after the other. Of the source of this change, Baer spoke with a certainty excluding all doubt.

We cannot leave without discussing the idle argument about the vital power, that matter goes only by necessity, causing all the momentary conditions of organization that follow one after the other .... In order to make this more obvious , we say that in organic life, each separate condition is only a momentary expression of formation, or that the settled condition is only a making visible, and that formation is essence and permanence . 18

The latter condition is the consequence of the previous, not only by time, but also in relation to their internal conditions. To illustrate, Baer mentioned the example of the butterfly, whose imaginal condition is anticipated and conditioned by the pupa stage, the condition of the pupa by the caterpillar stage, the condition of the caterpillar by the stage of the ovum appearing in the mother. The source of material for all these transformations is, according to Baer, the plant food used by the caterpillar. The materials taken up as food are processed in the caterpillar into reserve products which are used in the following conditions. The vital process of the developed insect "needs food — we call this demand hunger — thus, it demands enough food to suffice it not only for the intensive growth of the caterpillar, but also for the creation of reserves for future stages. "19

Baer especially underlined the connection of these conditions, processes and preparatory changes with the final condition; in their resulting "from a spherical or ellipsoidal


18. Ibid . , pp. 52-53. The same idea was stated by Baer in the speech "Welche Auf f assung der lebenden Natur ist richtige ' delivered at the opening of the Russian Entomological Society in 1860 (REDEN, I, 1864, p. 268).

19. Ibid ., pp. 53-54.

497


ovum through many intermediate stages the final goal (ZEIL) is reached— the fluttering butterfly. "20 "The more we enter into details, the more completely this special relation (ZWECKBEZIEHUNG) appears. It must be noted that for the work which must be performed in each separate condition, all necessary instruments are not only present at the necessary time, but are formed in the previous condition. "21

"Themaxillae and extremities of the caterpillar, which are adapted to its form of life, are developed in the ovum, so that from the moment of hatching everything necessary for the function of intensive feeding is already prepared. The organs of the butterfly— wings, long legs and spiral proboscis — are developed in the pupa stage, i.e. long before these organs will be used. Within the hard shell of the pupa, internal transformations take place which are completely connected with the future and not with the present. "22

Baer also discussed this question in detail in the second article, considering the continuation of the work "On Purpose in the Phenomena of Nature" and entitled "On the Trend of Processes, Especially in Organic Bodies. "23

Speaking of embryonic development, he noted that already in the earliest stages the material of the ovum is processed for the formation of organs, so that development proceeds "as if there sits in the ovum a judicious and understanding builder. "24 This metaphor was necessary to underline that from his point of view the vital process in particular' and the development of the individual is characterized by a trend towards a definite end, although the ovum and the developed embryos, of course, do not recognize this end. Here Baer also had mentioned that the trend of development is not absolute, but adapted to surrounding conditions; thus, the eggs of birds require the effect of heat and the free flow of air. The necessity for determined conditions for development is shown also by other animals; their life, i.e.


20. Ibid ., p. 54.

21. Ibid ., p. 55.

22. Ibid., g. 53.

23. Baer, "Uber Zielstrebigkeit. "

24. Ibid ., p. 228.

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continuous internal preformation, can take place only during suitable external conditions. "Life," Baer wrote, "is nothing other than a movement towards a definite final selftransformation, adapted to external conditions." To illustrate, Baer described the early stages of development of the eggs of the hen, of the frog, and of the sea urchin, and also described the behavior connected with reproduction.

From the actual data cited, he concluded the following. The physico-chemical processes in the early stages of development, when their direction appears, have been studied very insufficiently. In the vertebrate embryo, two shafts ascend on the dorsal side which are then united in a tube; the results and the significance of this process is clear: the central nervous system is formed from the internal layer of the tube, and from the external layer the bones, muscles, and skin are formed. "Thus, in relation to this process, the question why is very easy to answer, and the question, by what means does it happen, remains completely open for the naturalist. Naturally, one doubts that this process is conditioned by physical necessity, since the end of any process is reached only on the basis of the laws of nature; without reference to the latter, any phenomenon must be considered magic. "25

"I can then repeat the question," Baer continued, "how is it possible to overemphasize that all these processes are related to future requirements? They are directed to what must originate. Philosophers who wrote in Latin called this relation causa finalis , or final cause (ZIEL) .... And in all other animals the changes following one after another must serve a purpose (ZWECKSINNLICH SEIN)." 26 For the exact understanding of Baer's idea it is necessary to review his terminology. In the German language there are two words — ZWECK and ZIEL — which are both translated into the Russian language as "purpose"; as a matter of fact, in the normal German usage as well, these words can replace each other. However, Baer found in them this shade of meaning; he considered it possible to use them for the designation of different concepts, proceeding from the following considerations


25. Ibid ., £. 192.

26. Baer, "Uber den Zweck," p. 51


499


A large part of psychological terminology is based on the use of spatial, generally sensory perceptions. "We speak about deep or superficial ideas, about difficult and easy problems, about obscure and clear ideas, about strong, weak, hard-hearted and gentle characters, and so on. 2 ^ If in the language a word appears to designate a psychological condition, then, of course, it concerns man. This, in particular, relates to the word ZWECK. 2 ^ For the achievement of purpose by man it is necessary and advisable for him to select his means. There are people who devise excellent aims for themselves, but do not achieve them, because they use inadvisable means. On the contrary, in relation to many phenomena of nature, even if they end with a definite result, it is impossible to claim that they result from an aim determined by an intelligent being. According to Baer, the result of separate processes can be designated by the word ZIEL, which does not assume the involvement of judicious consciousness. ZIEL is the end of motion; its achievement is completely based upon necessity. "Sending the arrow or bullet into the target (ZIEL) I use mechanical powers in the necessary proportions and I orient them in a definite direction. The purpose which I am pursuing in this case I can hold in front of me and, if all is correctly calculated, an arrow must of necessity fly


27. Ibid . , p. 74.

28. The Russian translation of the words ZWECK, ZIEL, and their derivatives are connected by known convention. Hereafter, ZWECK, ZWECKMASSIC, and ZWECMASSIGKEITwi.il be designated by the words "purpose," "expedient," and "expediency." For the designation of the concept ZIEL, after many attempts to select a more successful word, we settled on "final end," using in many cases the words "trend," "end," "target" (followed throughout by ZIEL in brackets) ; ZIELSTREBIG is translated as "definitely directed," "going or acting in a definite direction"; ZIELSTREBIGKEIT is translated as "direction," "definite direction."


500


29 into the target (ZIEL), regardless of the purpose (ZWECK)."

Therefore, for natural phenomena, Baer proposed to use the

expressions ZIEL, ZIELSTREBIG, ZIELSTREBIGKEIT instead of

ZWECK, ZWECKMASSIG, ZWECKMASSIGKEIT, as the first

expressions are free of that shade of meaning which expresses

the adoption of a conscious decision.

These considerations Baer illustrated by the following example: "In saying that the new-laid egg has the purpose to be a hen, I can be asked how. Is there in it a creature possessing creative powers and will? If it is also stated that this egg is predetermined to form a chicken, then with this all will agree, because it is known that the egg is formed in a natural way and possesses an ability of necessity to form a chicken, of course given the suitable temperature."-^ The presence of a definite direction of development, predetermined by the structure of the egg, Baer called the final end (ZIEL), and did not mean here conscious purpose, when actually there is no sense in searching for it, neither in the yolk nor in the albumin. The purpose (ZWECK) , in his opinion, must be sought in much earlier stages, in the ability of organic bodies to give rise to new individuals of the same species. Baer designated final goal (ZIEL) not only as the result of activity, the end towards which something moves (in the present case, transformation at the time of development) , but he meant the forced necessity which acts in a definite direction.

In the article "Uber Zieletrebigkeit in den organischen Kdrpern," Baer returned to definite concepts. He wrote: "ZWECK is a consciously determined task, ZIEL is the given direction of the action; ZWECK is the source of freedom, ZIEL is an outlined success which may be achieved by means of necessity. If we apply this understanding to nature, then naturally we cannot attribute to it any purpose (ZWECK) ; however, it is unconditionally impossible to disclaim trend or direction. Each organism in the process of formation is characterized by a direction and a final goal (ZIEL) of this process. "31


29. Baer, "Uber den Zweck," p. 186.

30. Ibid ., £. 83.

31. Baer, "Uber Zielstrebigkeit, " p. 180.


501


Later, Baer asked why the mention of processes which serve purposes is met by naturalists with such distrust, and whether there is any real basis for this distrust. In order to answer this question, Baer turned to the history of natural science. Man first sought to solve the most common problems, and only later did he learn to open up questions and pose them so that he could give concrete answers. Thus, at the beginning, the ancient Greeks proposed many hypotheses about the origin and existence of the world. Only gradually did they begin to observe reality and to meditate upon the processes of nature. They established that in nature there are known powers or regularities acting. The Romans added very little to that which had been known by the Greeks, and gradually showed little inclination to present new methods in the field of science. Meanwhile, as other peoples of Europe emerged from the state of barbarism, a characteristic religion spread which for a long time devoured all spiritual inquiries. When this religion became dominant in Byzantium and Rome, a powerful priesthood worried about whether men in their scientific aspirations followed the course outlined for them by the church. As a result of this, for a long time in the natural sciences there was no noticeable progress. The discovery of America and of previously unknown living beings, the discovery of a sea route to India, the ideological interpretations of the epoch of the Reformation, and, mainly, Copernicus' proof of the earth's rotation around its axis and around the sun, regardless of the evidence of vision — all this aided the powerful increase of scientific interest and provoked the independence of ideas and their critical relation to authority.

However, the scientific struggle kept its medieval character for a long time. Many absolutely groundless statements were put forward; thus, in the structure of the organism it was desirable first of all to see the intention of the Creator. In accordance with the studies of the Christian religion, seeing a spiritual beginning in all activities, they searched for the acting power everywhere. Even in the middle of the seventeenth century, Fabricius ab Aquapendente, in a work illustrating the development of the hen's egg, declared the existence of six forces upon which the formation of the chick depends. However, in his actual observation he committed very flagrant errors . From the beginning of the sixteenth century, the study of anatomy

502


became animated. For a very long time students had only repeated what was known to the ancient Greeks. In the study of the structure of organisms, they everywhere collided with the manifestation of purpose, whose existence, as all else, was attributed to the omnipotent Creator. Thus, one teacher stated that he illustrated the effect of the wisdom of God, in that God, in his opinion, directed the flow of the rivers to where the big cities are. In other cases a purely mechanical necessity was attached to this idea. Spiegel, 32 a seventeenth- century anatomist, speaking of the sciatic muscles in man, which develop more in connection with the direct process of walking than in other animals, stated his belief that man possesses such powerful sciatic muscles so that he may sit on soft bedding when he meditates on the greatness of God. "Another anatomist," according to Baer, "posed the question, why does man not have two backs, and answered, because that would be ridiculous. "33 The new method was established by Newton and his contemporaries, showing the application of the fall of bodies and the movement of the planets to simple laws of nature and their effect. Only then did "the powers contrived from a scarcity of knowledge, about which it was impossible to state anydefinite thing . . . disappear as ghosts in the light. "34

"At the end of the eighteenth century," Baer wrote in his article "Uber Zielstrebigkeit," "man did not doubt that all physico-chemical processes are under obligation to natural necessity. "35

Otherwise at that time they were related to vital manifestations, the supposition being that they obeyed special regularities absolutely. In relation to living beings it was considered necessary to take into consideration "a special power which shows its activity on these bodies and all conditions which could not be explained with the help of the already known physical and chemical powers; this power


32. Adriaan van den Spiegel, Dutch anatomist and embryologist

(1578-1625). He wrote DE FORMATU FOETU (Amsterdam, 1645) .

33. Baer, "Uber den Zweck," p. 62.

34. Ibid ., £.64.

35. Baer, "Uber Zielstrebigkeit," p. 186.

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was called the vital power. All different activities must be attributed to it; it must not only expediently build the body, but also must prevent the disturbance of its building by disease or injury; it must select from the substances of the surrounding world those which are necessary for building up the body and supporting life. Thus, nothing such as the activity of the mind was attributed to it, because it must act in accordance with purpose. Later this idea contrasted with another idea widely distributed in the nineteenth century. This latter stated that the vital power is only a result of fantasy, invented to cover ignorance. The vital process is a physicochemical process so complicated that, after a long time, we still cannot break it down into its separate components; as a whole it exists by physico-chemical laws, i.e. it arises by strict necessity. The most diligent supporters of this idea added that about the purpose and trend of vital phenomena there must not be any speech. "36 Concerning the idea of the vital power, Baer absolutely agreed with the assertion that it must be regarded as an attempt to obscure an inability to solve a problem.

A power to which it is impossible to add measures, a power which strives for the final end which is a result of fantasy of a production of ideas .... The organism, undoubtedly, is considered a mechanical apparatus , a machine that builds itself. The vital process takes place by means of continuous physico-chemical processes; as a result of this the organism can be called a chemical laboratory, although at the same time it can also be considered a laboratory technician .... Regardless of the achievements in knowledge of individual processes in the organism, nothing remains directed and predominated on physico-chemical processes in them, namely life itself.

It is absolutely natural that now everything is investigated from the point of view of


36. Ibid., p. 187


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unconditional necessity, and I consider this direction absolutely correct .... The physics and chemistry of our time reap their fruits. With the help of these sciences they sought to interpret the vital phenomena of plants and animals also as a physico-chemical process which arises for each organic form by special means? by these ways many things already can be explained, and it can be hoped ,_ that present problems with time will be solved.

However, Baer considered that success in the knowledge of nature's processes, appearing as a necessary activity, must not lead to denying direction and purpose (ZIELE UND ZWECKE) in nature. Baer did not agree with the opinion of those who considered that teleological opinion in the study of nature is absolutely unsuitable and that in nature there is neither direction nor purpose (WEDER ZIELE NOCH ZWECKE). "Teleology," Baer stated, "is the study of direction (ZIEL), 58 and thus purpose (ZWECK) and the final end (ZIEL) are also present; then teleology is a study of the objective relations in natural phenomena. I can never be sure of the absence of all direction, or consider the question as ridiculous or shameful. "39

Baer discussed Haeckel's opinion from his GENERAL MORPHOLOGY that chance and purpose are absent in nature and only absolute necessity predominates (compulsion). Baer considered it erroneous to contrast necessity and purpose, because in his opinion purpose is reached by means of necessity.

The marble statue, it is known, is built by mechanical means. Absolute necessity consists in that the marble block is beaten by hammer and


37. Baer, "Uber den Zweck," pp. 64-65.

38. In a footnote Baer explained that "the Greek word TeAos (end, outcome, result — L.B.) is in German designated ZIEL

39. Baer, "Uber den Zweck," p. 65. From this extract it will be seen that Baer has confused his differentiations between ZIEL and ZWECK.


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chisel as much as by necessity for it's transformation into a human figure. However, when the production of art is present before us, we must recognize that all the necessities used served only for realizing the idea of the artist, and his purpose (ZWECK) .40

Baer thought that the process of formation must not be credited to the effect of powers, but that the powers must be measured in accordance with the final end (ZIEL) , or they will not build anything and can only destroy.

In another instance, Baer noted that naturalists who dread purpose or direction have a confusion of ideas. The naturalist must put the question to nature: "how?" or "what?" Then, "due to what?" And finally "why, or what for?" For the answer to the questions how and what, he investigates the acting conditions and finds the necessities which he calls laws of nature. If the effect of necessity is not definitely directed (ZIELSTREBEND) , then the vital process cannot be realized. The question why or for what is related to the study of this trend (ZIELSTREBIGKEIT) . This question, in Baer's opinion, is absolutely lawful for the complete understanding of the phenomenon. It produces misgivings because in past centuries, when men believed in the omnipotent nature of God, above natural law, they answered the question why with reference to the direction of the process, and imagined it not as being realized by means of necessity, but as a human purpose, reached by conscious will. The investigation of animal embryology is considered that branch of nature study where the direction of processes stands out especially clearly, because the organic, body is regarded in its formation. The processes of formation are definitely directed (Z IELSTREBIG) , they arise from their result; they, of course, are conditioned by necessity. In Baer's opinion, however, it would have been scientific superstition to consider that one could speak about the necessity of the progressing phenomena without turning attention to their direction


40. Ibid., p. 69.


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(ZIEL). It must only be remembered, Raer stated, that the final end (ZIEL) is achieved not by intelligent will, but by means of necessity.

"In the elucidation of how life in nature is formed from necessities, leading to a definite final end (ZIELSTREBICE NOTWENDIGKEITEN), and from the directed processes conditioned by necessity (NOTWENDIG VERFOLGTEN ZIELEN), it seems to me the true task of the study of nature is concluded. "41

"If the old wisdom," Baer states, "which recognizes expediency and greatness in the activities of nature, must be rejected, after it has been explained that the opinions on which it is based are too intimately connected with human behavior, this does not give one the right to assert that in nature the necessities act alone, devoid of direction (ZIEL). It is absolutely clear that nothing takes place without basis; however, indirected forces of nature cannot build any regulated thing, not even a mathematically defined form and even less a complicated organism; they can only destroy. "42

Mentioning many examples of expediency (corresponding to necessity) of organization of living creatures and indistinctly forming the idea of progressive evolution, whose crown is considered the wise man, Baer cited his statement of thirty-three years earlier, invested in idealistic form: "The earthly body is only a bed, on which the hereditary spiritual resplendence of man develops. The history of nature is only a history of the progressive victory of the spirit over matter. "43 After Baer's statement of theoretical opinions about the phenomenon of individual development, it is permissible to posit a question about the essence of his outlook.

It is decidedly necessary to mark off Baer's opinions from the reactionary idealism of Stolzle, Kelmersen, and others who insisted on the identity of Baer's ideas with


41. Ibid ., p. 73.

42. Ibid ., p. 88.

43. Baer, "Das allgemeinste Gesetz der Natur in aller Entwickelung," REDEN, I, 2nd ed. (1886), pp. 71-72.


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their own opinions. Similar evaluation of Baer's views in many cases depends upon an arbitrary interpretation of his separate discussions, sometimes pulled out of context: in addition to this, this evaluation does not reflect the contradictions within Baer's views, so natural in his era, when religious dogma and philosophical idealism resisted the tendency to interpret natural phenomena by a simplified materialism.

In the remarks on his list of works published in his autobiography, in particular in the remarks to UBER ENTWICKLUNGSGESCHICHTE, Baer wrote:

On the subject of my general opinions situated in both parts of this work, the reproach was made that they were too mechanical . I confess that I take this reproach for praise , because it is better to stand on solid ground than to be up in the clouds . For the naturalistic point of view the rule generally answers of talking only about what I have really seen, and concluding ideas from observations, and not basing observations on preconceived ideas. That is what I took for myself from the rule. ^

Baer's philosophical terms must not be judged by present' day standards. When Baer accepted the statement about his "mechanical" opinions as praise, it must be taken as his recognition of the materialistic character of his thought. Baer wanted to assert that his views were opposite to an idealistic "being up in the clouds." His naturalistic approach, based on observations of actually existing phenomena, free from preconceived ideas, must be regarded as a progressive outlook for a naturalist of the first third of the nineteenth century.

In this remark Baer recalled his studies of the history of embryology, in particular the work of Fabricius ab


44. Baer, NACHRICHTEN UBER LEBEN UND SCHRIFTEN, p. 441.


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Aquapendente. Extremely uncomplimentary about the factual data, 45 Baer stated, "The study of Fabricius was for me an excellent means for recovering from philosophical theories not based on direct observation. 4 ^ Thus, there should be no preconceived explanations, but only accurate observations and conclusions for them."

Baer's "naturalistic" outlook must stand in conflict with the materialistic ideas current in his day, especially in the second half of his career, taking the form of simplified mechanical materialism. His philippics, against naturalists who seek to bring all the vital processes under physico-chemical laws and do not see the qualitative peculiarities of these phenomena, were directed mainly towards the representatives of mechanical materialism. Thus Baer also came out sharply against the other camp — against fideism, coetionism, and anthropomorphism. Here he did not avoid sarcasm and gave a similar kind of opinion to those addressing God, examples of which were mentioned above. What outlook remained? Baer took on the task of creating his own world view. In vain did his biographers promote the idea of a close relation between his study of the direction (Z IELSTREBIGKEIT) of vital phenomena with Aristotle's study of entelechy; in vain they emphasized Baer's sympathy with Spinoza, whose materialistic philosophy they falsely described as pantheism. Baer knew Aristotle well and Spinoza also, but he went his own way as a naturalist, which, of course, could not rise to the heights achieved consequently by materialism.

Namely, this last circumstance was the reason that in the struggle against simplified materialism Baer was sometimes obliged to use ammunition from the arsenal of the fideism and anthropomorphous teleology which he had attacked.


45. "The author used many efforts," Baer wrote, "so that even absurd matters are represented as important and essential . During this he described in detail things which it is impossible to see properly in the egg and also incorrectly described what really can be observed" (NACHRICHTEN, p. 449).

46. The speech was about idealistic natural philosophy, at whose altar Baer gave tribute in his early youth.


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Attempting to create his own philosophy of nature, giving it a logical basis and providing it with new terminology, Baer mobilized the differences of shades of meaning which had characterized in German the words ZWECK and ZIEL. Rejecting the understanding of purpose (ZWECK) for the organic world,, in whose phenomena he did not discover the presence of a conscious intelligent activity, he strove for the words ZIEL and ZIELSTREBIGKEIT to designate expediency, i.e. adaptive to the building and function of living beings, and in particular their development either individual or historical. The development of the individual which is steadily (ZIELSTREBIG, ZIELMASSIG) producing in each generation all principal signs of the species, was for Baer an especially conclusive proof that the processes of development cannot be directed by accidental actions of the physico-chemical powers.

Baer's frequently repeated assertions that the final end (ZIEL) of development of an individual is the formation of the organism, that in development a steady movement towards this find end (ZIELSTREBIGKEIT) appears, do not have in Baer that outspokenly idealistic opinion expressed by the analogies of vitalists and antidarwinists at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Even using the expression — which is interesting in the idealistic form — that the development of the individual is directed by the idea of the species, Baer apparently had in mind primarily an idea that the direction of ontogeny in each given generation repeats the ontogeny of the previous generation, i.e. that the development of the individual is determined by specific peculiarities which may appear more distinctly in the adult condition. It can be recognized that in Baer's discussions and mainly in his terminology, the knife's edge of difference between ZIEL and ZWECK is so minute that he continuously risked sliding from the meaning of ZIEL into the meaning of ZWECK; undoubtedly this happened in many of his statements. It can be recognized that Baer was insufficiently constant in his struggle against fideism and that some of his expressions are open to deistic and pantheistic interpretations. However, neither these separate idealistic discussions nor the appearance of inconsistency should interest those who want to make for themselves a correct estimation of the views of the great naturalist.


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Baer's teleological discussions were, as stated, directed against popular materialistic neglect of objectivity which existed expediently (adapt ivity) in the structure and vital activity of organisms. These discussions were, however, inconsequent and sometimes invested in idealistic form because Baer, denying adaptive evolution in the animal and plant world as the result of natural selection, by the. same token passed over the real source of expediency in living nature.

Skepticism toward the idea of evolution, toward Darwinism, led Baer, especially in the last years of his life, to deviate from the materialistic opinions characteristic of the period of scientific activity to which his unfading embryological works are related.

Nevertheless, in relation to Baer, we may cite the man who may correctly be called the greatest thinker of the Russian Academy of Science for a century before Baer — Mikhail Vasilevich Lomonosov: "As to people serving the Republic of Science, I shall not attack them for their ._ errors, but I will try to put into action their good ideas."


47. See "267 Remarks on Physics and Corpuscular Philosophy," 16th Remark, M. V. Lomonosov, SOBR. SOCH., Vol. I (Izd. AN SSR, 1950) .



Historic Russian Embryology TOC: 1. Beginning of Embryological Investigations Lomonosov's Epoch | 2. Preformation or New Formation? | 3. Kaspar Friedrich Wolff - Theory of Epigenesis | 4. Wolff: "Theory Of Generation" | 5. Wolff: "Formation of the Intestine" | 6. Wolff's Teratological Works | 7. Wolff: "On the Special Essential Tower" | 8. Ideology of Wolff | Chapter 9. Theory of Epigenesis End of 18th Century | 10. Embryology in the Struggle of Russian Empirical Science Against Naturphilosophie | 11. Louis Tredern - Forgotten Embryologist Beginning of 19th Century | 12. Embryonic Membranes of Mammals - Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus | 13. Embryonic Layers - Kh. I. Pander | 14. Karl Maksimovich Baer | 15. Baer's - De Ovi Mammalium Et Hominis Genesi | 16. Baer's Ober Entw I Cklungsgesch I Chte Der Thiere | 17. Baer Part 1 - Chicken Development | 18. Baer Part 2 - History of Chicken Development | 19. Baer Vol 2 | 20. Third Part of the Bird Egg and Embryo Development | 21. Third Part - Development of Reptiles, Mammals, and Animals Deprived of Amnion and Yolk Sac | 22. Fourth Part - Development of Man | 23. Baer's Teratological Works and Embryological Reports in Petersburg | Chapter 24. Baer's Theoretical Views | 25. Invertebrate Embryology - A. Grube, A. D. Nordmann, N. A. Warnek, and A. Krohn

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2019, July 18) Embryology Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 24. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Book_-_Russian_Embryology_(1750_-_1850)_24

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