Speculative essay format

Ceasing, for example, to regard the successive geological modifications that have taken place in the Earth, as modifications that have gradually fitted it for the habitation of Man, and as therefore constituting geological progress, we must ascertain the character common to these modifications—the law to which they all conform.

And similarly in every other case. Leaving out of sight concomitants and beneficial consequences, let us ask what progress is in itself. In respect to that progress which individual organisms display in the course of their evolution, this question has been answered by the Germans.

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The investigations of Wolff, Goethe, and von Baer, have established the truth that the series of changes gone through during the development of a seed into a tree, or an ovum into an animal, constitute an advance from homogeneity of structure to heterogeneity of structure. In its primary stage, every germ consists of a substance that is uniform throughout, both in texture and chemical composition. The first step Edition: current; Page: [ 10 ] is the appearance of a difference between two parts of this substance; or, as the phenomenon is called in physiological language, a differentiation.

Each of these differentiated divisions presently begins itself to exhibit some contrast of parts: and by and by these secondary differentiations become as definite as the original one. This process is continuously repeated—is simultaneously going on in all parts of the growing embryo; and by endless such differentiations there is finally produced that complex combination of tissues and organs constituting the adult animal or plant. This is the history of all organisms whatever.

It is settled beyond dispute that organic progress consists in a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. Now, we propose in the first place to show, that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through successive differentiations, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous, is that in which progress essentially consists.

With the view of showing that if the Nebular Hypothesis be true, the genesis of the solar system supplies one illustration of this law, let us assume that the matter of which the sun and planets consist was once in a diffused form; and that from the gravitation of its atoms there resulted a gradual concentration. By the hypothesis, the solar system in its nascent state existed as an indefinitely extended and nearly homogeneous medium—a medium almost homogeneous in density, in temperature, and in other physical attributes.

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The first change in the direction of increased aggregation, brought a contrast in density and a contrast in temperature, between the interior and the exterior Edition: current; Page: [ 11 ] of this mass. Simultaneously the drawing in of outer parts caused motions ending in rotation round a centre with various angular velocities.

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These differentiations increased in number and degree until there was evolved the organized group of sun, planets, and satellites, which we now know—a group which presents numerous contrasts of structure and action among its members. There are the immense contrasts between the sun and the planets, in bulk and in weight; as well as the subordinate contrasts between one planet and another, and between the planets and their satellites. There is the similarly-marked contrast between the sun as almost stationary relatively to the other members of the Solar System , and the planets as moving round him with great velocity: while there are the secondary contrasts between the velocities and periods of the several planets, and between their simple revolutions and the double ones of their satellites, which have to move round their primaries while moving round the sun.

There is the yet further strong contrast between the sun and the planets in respect of temperature; and there is good reason to suppose that the planets and satellites differ from each other in their proper heats, as well as in the amounts of heat they receive from the sun. When we bear in mind that, in addition to these various contrasts, the planets and satellites also differ in respect to their distances from each other and their primary; in respect to the inclinations of their orbits, the inclinations of their axes, their times of rotation on their axes, their specific gravities, and their physical constitutions; we see what a high degree of heterogeneity the solar system exhibits, when compared with the almost complete homogeneity of the nebulous mass out of which it is supposed to have originated.

Passing from this hypothetical illustration, which must be taken for what it is worth, without prejudice to the general argument, let us descend to a more certain order of evidence. It is now generally agreed among geologists Edition: current; Page: [ 12 ] and physicists that the Earth was at one time a mass of molten matter. If so, it was at that time relatively homogeneous in consistence, and, in virtue of the circulation which takes place in heated fluids, must have been comparatively homogeneous in temperature; and it must have been surrounded by an atmosphere consisting partly of the elements of air and water, and partly of those various other elements which are among the more ready to assume gaseous forms at high temperatures.

That slow cooling by radiation which is still going on at an inappreciable rate, and which, though originally far more rapid than now, necessarily required an immense time to produce any decided change, must ultimately have resulted in the solidification of the portion most able to part with its heat—namely, the surface. In the thin crust thus formed we have the first marked differentiation. A still further cooling, a consequent thickening of this crust, and an accompanying deposition of all solidifiable elements contained in the atmosphere, must finally have been followed by the condensation of the water previously existing as vapour.

A second marked differentiation must thus have arisen; and as the condensation must have taken place on the coolest parts of the surface—namely, about the poles—there must thus have resulted the first geographical distinction of parts. To these illustrations of growing heterogeneity, which, though deduced from known physical laws, may be regarded as more or less hypothetical, Geology adds an extensive series that have been inductively established.

Moreover, there has been simultaneously going on a differentiation of climates. As fast as the Earth cooled and its crust solidified, there arose appreciable differences in temperature between those parts of its surface more exposed to the sun and those less exposed. As the cooling progressed, these differences became more pronounced; until there finally resulted those marked contrasts between regions of perpetual ice and snow, regions where winter and summer alternately reign for periods varying according to the latitude, and regions where summer follows summer with scarcely an appreciable variation.

And the general outcome of these changes is, that not only has every extensive region Edition: current; Page: [ 14 ] its own meteorologic conditions, but that every locality in each region differs more or less from others in those conditions; as in its structure, its contour, its soil. Thus, between our existing Earth, the phenomena of whose crust neither geographers, geologists, mineralogists, nor meteorologists have yet enumerated, and the molten globe out of which it was evolved, the contrast in heterogeneity is extreme.

When from the Earth itself we turn to the plants and animals which have lived, or still live, upon its surface, we find ourselves in some difficulty from lack of facts. That every existing organism has been developed out of the simple into the complex, is indeed the first established truth of all; and that every organism which existed in past times was similarly developed, is an inference no physiologist will hesitate to draw. Considering the perishable nature of many of the lower organic forms, the metamorphosis of numerous sedimentary strata, and the great gaps occurring among the rest, we shall see further reason for distrusting our deductions.

On the Edition: current; Page: [ 15 ] one hand, the repeated discovery of vertebrate remains in strata previously supposed to contain none,—of reptiles where only fish were thought to exist,—of mammals where it was believed there were no creatures higher than reptiles,—renders it daily more manifest how small is the value of negative evidence.

On the other hand, the worthlessness of the assumption that we have discovered the earliest, or anything like the earliest, organic remains, is becoming equally clear. That the oldest known sedimentary rocks have been greatly changed by igneous action, and that still older ones have been totally transformed by it, is becoming undeniable.


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And the fact that sedimentary strata earlier than any we know, have been melted up, being admitted, it must also be admitted that we cannot say how far back in time this destruction of sedimentary strata has been going on. On neither side, therefore, is the evidence conclusive. Nevertheless we cannot but think that, scanty as they are, the facts, taken altogether, tend to show both that the more heterogeneous organisms have been evolved in the later geologic periods, and that Life in general has been more heterogeneously manifested as time has advanced.

Let us cite, in illustration, the one case of the Vertebrata. The earliest known vertebrate remains are those of Fishes; and Fishes are the most homogeneous of the vertebrata. Later and more heterogeneous are Reptiles. Later still, and more heterogeneous still, are Birds and Mammals.

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But to avoid any such criticism, let us take the mammalian subdivision Edition: current; Page: [ 16 ] only. The earliest known remains of mammals are those of small marsupials, which are the lowest of the mammalian type; while, conversely, the highest of the mammalian type—Man—is the most recent. The evidence that the vertebrate fauna, as a whole, has become more heterogeneous, is considerably stronger. Nor, again, can any such reply be made to the fact that there are far more numerous orders and genera of mammalian remains in the tertiary formations than in the secondary formations.

Did we wish merely to make out the best case, we might dwell upon the opinion of Dr. But in deference to an authority for whom we have the highest respect, who considers that the Edition: current; Page: [ 17 ] evidence at present obtained does not justify a verdict either way, we are content to leave the question open.

Whether an advance from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is or is not displayed in the biological history of the globe, it is clearly enough displayed in the progress of the latest and most heterogeneous creature—Man.

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It is true alike that, during the period in which the Earth has been peopled, the human organism has grown more heterogeneous among the civilized divisions of the species; and that the species, as a whole, has been growing more heterogeneous in virtue of the multiplication of races and the differentiation of these races from each other. In proof of the first of these positions, we may cite the fact that, in the relative development of the limbs, the civilized man departs more widely from the general type of the placental mammalia than do the lower human races. While often possessing well-developed body and arms, the Australian has very small legs: thus reminding us of the chimpanzee and the gorilla, which present no great contrasts in size between the hind and fore limbs.

But in the European, the greater length and massiveness of the legs have become marked—the fore and hind limbs are more heterogeneous. Again, the greater ratio which the cranial bones bear to the facial bones illustrates the same truth. Now this characteristic, which is stronger in Man than in any other creature, is stronger in the European than in the savage. Moreover, judging from the greater extent and variety of faculty he exhibits, we may infer that the civilized man has also a more complex or heterogeneous nervous system than the uncivilized man: and, indeed, the fact is in part visible in the increased ratio which his cerebrum bears to the subjacent ganglia, as well as in the wider departure from symmetry in its convolutions.

If further elucidation be needed, we may find it in every nursery. Now, as the developmental process by which these traits are turned into those of the adult European, is a continuation of that change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous displayed during the previous evolution of the embryo, which every anatomist will admit; it follows that the parallel developmental process by which the like traits of the barbarous races have been turned into those of the civilized races, has also been a continuation of the change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.

The truth of the second position—that Mankind, as a whole, have become more heterogeneous—is so obvious as scarcely to need illustration. Every work on Ethnology, by its divisions and subdivisions of races, bears testimony to it. Even were we to admit the hypothesis that Mankind originated from several separate stocks, it would still remain true, that as, from each of these stocks, there have sprung many now widely-different tribes, which are proved by philological evidence to have had a common origin, the race as a whole is far less homogeneous than it once was.

Add to which, that we have, in the Anglo-Americans, Edition: current; Page: [ 19 ] an example of a new variety arising within these few generations; and that, if we may trust to the descriptions of observers, we are likely soon to have another such example in Australia. On passing from Humanity under its individual form, to Humanity as socially embodied, we find the general law still more variously exemplified. The change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is displayed in the progress of civilization as a whole, as well as in the progress of every nation; and is still going on with increasing rapidity.

As we see in existing barbarous tribes, society in its first and lowest form is a homogeneous aggregation of individuals having like powers and like functions: the only marked difference of function being that which accompanies difference of sex. Every man is warrior, hunter, fisherman, tool-maker, builder; every woman performs the same drudgeries. Very early, however, in the course of social evolution, there arises an incipient differentiation between the governing and the governed. Some kind of chieftainship seems coeval with the first advance from the state of separate wandering families to that of a nomadic tribe.

The authority of the strongest or the most cunning makes itself felt among a body of savages as in a herd of animals, or a posse of schoolboys. At first, however, it is indefinite, uncertain; is shared by others of scarcely inferior power; and is unaccompanied by any difference in occupation or style of living: the first ruler kills his own game, makes his own weapons, builds his own hut, and, economically considered, does not differ from others of his tribe.

Gradually, as the tribe progresses, the contrast between the governing and the governed grows more decided.

Supreme power becomes hereditary in one family; the head of that family, ceasing to provide for his own wants, is served by others; and he begins to assume the sole office of ruling. At the same time there has been arising a co-ordinate species of Edition: current; Page: [ 20 ] government—that of Religion. As all ancient records and traditions prove, the earliest rulers are regarded as divine personages. The maxims and commands they uttered during their lives are held sacred after their deaths, and are enforced by their divinely-descended successors; who in their turns are promoted to the pantheon of the race, here to be worshipped and propitiated along with their predecessors: the most ancient of whom is the supreme god, and the rest subordinate gods.

For a long time these connate forms of government—civil and religious—remain closely associated. For many generations the king continues to be the chief priest, and the priesthood to be members of the royal race.

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For many ages religious law continues to include more or less of civil regulation, and civil law to possess more or less of religious sanction; and even among the most advanced nations these two controlling agencies are by no means completely separated from each other. Having a common root with these, and gradually diverging from them, we find yet another controlling agency—that of Ceremonial usages.

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All titles of honour are originally the names of the god-king; afterwards of the god and the king; still later of persons of high rank; and finally come, some of them, to be used between man and man. All forms of complimentary address were at first the expressions of submission from prisoners to their conqueror, or from subjects to their ruler, either human or divine—expressions which were afterwards used to propitiate subordinate authorities, and slowly descended into ordinary intercourse.

All modes of salutation were once obeisances made before the monarch and used in worship of him after his death.