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Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

Memory and Design            57

We say it is a phenomenon of heredity that chickens
should be laid as eggs in the first instance and clergymen
born as babies, but, beyond the fact that we know heredity
extremely well to look at and to do business with, we say
that we know nothing about it. I have for some years main-
tained this to be a mistake and have urged, in company with
Professor Hering, of Prague, and others, that the connection
between memory and heredity is so close that there is no
reason for regarding the two as generically different, though
for convenience sake it may be well to specify them by
different names. If I can persuade you that this is so, I
believe I shall be able to make you understand why it is
that chickens are hatched as eggs and clergymen born as
babies.

When I say I can make you understand why this is so, I
only mean that I can answer the first " why " that anyone is
likely to ask about it, and perhaps a " why " or two behind
this. Then I must stop. This is all that is ever meant by
those who say they can tell us why a thing is so and so. No
one professes to be able to reach back to the last " why "
that any one can ask, and to answer it. Fortunately for
philosophers, people generally become fatigued after they
have heard the answer to two or three " whys " and are
glad enough to let the matter drop. If, however, any one
will insist on pushing question behind question long enough,
he will compel us to admit that we come to the end of our
knowledge which is based ultimately upon ignorance. To
get knowledge out of ignorance seems almost as hopeless a
task as to get something out of any number of nothings, but
this in practice is what we have to do and the less fuss we
make over it the better.

When, therefore, we say that we know " why " a thing is
so and so, we mean that we know its immediate antecedents
and connections, and find them familiar to us. I say that
the immediate antecedent of, and the phenomenon most
closely connected with, heredity is memory. I do not profess
to show why anything can remember at all, I only maintain
that whereas, to borrow an illustration from mathematics,
life was formerly an equation of, say, 100 unknown quantities,
it is now one of 99 only, inasmuch as memory and heredity
have been shown to be one and the same thing.