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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > Primo Levi Quotes

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Primo Levi
(31 Jul 1919 - 11 Apr 1987)

Italian chemist and writer who is Jewish and has written of his experience as an Auschwitz survivor, the WW II Nazi death camp.


Science Quotes by Primo Levi (4 quotes)

After the planet becomes theirs, many millions of years will have to pass before a beetle particularly loved by God, at the end of its calculations will find written on a sheet of paper in letters of fire that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The new kings of the world will live tranquilly for a long time, confining themselves to devouring each other and being parasites among each other on a cottage industry scale.
— Primo Levi
'Beetles' Other People’s Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
Science quotes on:  |  Beetle (8)  |  Insect (53)  |  Parasite (26)  |  Planet (138)

It is the destiny of wine to be drunk, and it is the destiny of glucose to be oxidized. But it was not oxidized immediately: its drinker kept it in his liver for more than a week, well curled up and tranquil, as a reserve aliment for a sudden effort; an effort that he was forced to make the following Sunday, pursuing a bolting horse. Farewell to the hexagonal structure: in the space of a few instants the skein was unwound and became glucose again, and this was dragged by the bloodstream all the way to a minute muscle fiber in the thigh, and here brutally split into two molecules of lactic acid, the grim harbinger of fatigue: only later, some minutes after, the panting of the lungs was able to supply the oxygen necessary to quietly oxidize the latter. So a new molecule of carbon dioxide returned to the atmosphere, and a parcel of the energy that the sun had handed to the vine-shoot passed from the state of chemical energy to that of mechanical energy, and thereafter settled down in the slothful condition of heat, warming up imperceptibly the air moved by the running and the blood of the runner. 'Such is life,' although rarely is it described in this manner: an inserting itself, a drawing off to its advantage, a parasitizing of the downward course of energy, from its noble solar form to the degraded one of low-temperature heat. In this downward course, which leads to equilibrium and thus death, life draws a bend and nests in it.
— Primo Levi
The Periodic Table (1975), trans. Raymond Rosenthal (1984), 192-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (127)  |  Alcohol (13)  |  Atmosphere (52)  |  Blood (81)  |  Carbon Dioxide (17)  |  Chemical Energy (2)  |  Conservation Of Energy (22)  |  Death (237)  |  Energy (154)  |  Fatigue (3)  |  Heat (80)  |  Lactic Acid (2)  |  Liver (12)  |  Lung (16)  |  Molecule (104)  |  Muscle (31)  |  Oxidation (6)  |  Oxygen (44)  |  Plant (141)  |  Sun (168)  |  Wine (21)

Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
— Primo Levi
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
Science quotes on:  |  Activation (5)  |  Adherence (2)  |  Atmosphere (52)  |  Atom (213)  |  Carbon (36)  |  Catch (14)  |  Chain (33)  |  Collision (9)  |  Combination (58)  |  Complicated (30)  |  Decisive (5)  |  Flash (18)  |  Form (135)  |  Gratis (2)  |  Happening (30)  |  Hunger (8)  |  Hydrogen (34)  |  Innumerable (14)  |  Insect (53)  |  Insertion (2)  |  Instant (7)  |  Large (44)  |  Leaf (36)  |  Learning (173)  |  Life (698)  |  Light (200)  |  Likewise (2)  |  Long (37)  |  Message (18)  |  Molecule (104)  |  Nitrogen (17)  |  Oxygen (44)  |  Packet (2)  |  Phosphorus (15)  |  Photon (8)  |  Photosynthesis (14)  |  Pressure (24)  |  Problem (272)  |  Receive (25)  |  Separation (29)  |  Short (12)  |  Simultaneity (3)  |  Sky (51)  |  Solar (5)  |  Solution (143)  |  Spider (7)  |  Sun (168)  |  Swiftness (3)  |  Temperature (38)  |  Uselessness (21)  |  World (466)

The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and the infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium. What a very few are acquiring in knowledge of the physical world will perhaps cause this period not to be judged as a pure return to barbarism.
— Primo Levi
In 'News from the Sky', Other People’s Trades (1989), 23-24.
Science quotes on:  |  Barbarism (3)  |  Belief (273)  |  Country (81)  |  Discover (72)  |  Future (169)  |  Humanity (76)  |  Infinite (70)  |  Knowledge (982)  |  Large (44)  |  Life (698)  |  Period (43)  |  Physical (63)  |  Prosperity (10)  |  Quality (49)  |  Return (24)  |  Small (60)  |  Uncertain (8)  |  World (466)


See also:
  • 31 Jul - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Levi's birth.
  • The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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