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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index M > Ernst Mayr Quotes

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Ernst Mayr
(5 Jul 1904 - 3 Feb 2005)

German-American biologist who merged genetics with evolution to explain how new species evolve.


Science Quotes by Ernst Mayr (17 quotes)


A new species develops if a population which has become geographically isolated from its parental species acquires during this period of isolation characters which promote or guarantee reproductive isolation when the external barriers break down.
— Ernst Mayr
Systematics and the Origin of Species: From the Viewpoint of a Zoologist (1942), 155.
Science quotes on:  |  Barrier (19)  |  Characteristic (66)  |  Development (228)  |  Evolution (482)  |  External (45)  |  Geography (25)  |  Guarantee (16)  |  Isolation (26)  |  Parent (39)  |  Population (71)  |  Promote (14)  |  Reproduction (57)  |  Species (181)

A species consists of a group of populations which replace each other geographically or ecologically and of which the neighboring ones integrate or hybridise wherever they are in contact or which are potentially capable of doing so (with one or more of the populations) in those cases where contact is prevented by geographical or ecological barriers.
— Ernst Mayr
'Speciation Phenomena in Birds', The American Naturalist (1940), 74, 256.
Science quotes on:  |  Barrier (19)  |  Ecology (55)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Geography (25)  |  Population (71)  |  Species (181)

A species is a reproductive community of populations (reproductively isolated from others) that occupies a specific niche in nature.
— Ernst Mayr
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 273.
Science quotes on:  |  Community (65)  |  Isolation (26)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Niche (6)  |  Nomenclature (129)  |  Occupy (18)  |  Population (71)  |  Reproduction (57)  |  Species (181)

All interpretations made by a scientist are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are tentative. They must forever be tested and they must be revised if found to be unsatisfactory. Hence, a change of mind in a scientist, and particularly in a great scientist, is not only not a sign of weakness but rather evidence for continuing attention to the respective problem and an ability to test the hypothesis again and again.
— Ernst Mayr
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 831.
Science quotes on:  |  Ability (75)  |  Attention (76)  |  Change (291)  |  Evidence (157)  |  Forever (42)  |  Hypothesis (227)  |  Interpretation (61)  |  Mind (544)  |  Problem (362)  |  Repetition (21)  |  Revise (4)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Sign (36)  |  Tentative (7)  |  Test (96)  |  Thinking (222)  |  Unsatisfactory (3)  |  Weakness (31)

Biology can be divided into the study of proximate causes, the study of the physiological sciences (broadly conceived), and into the study of ultimate (evolutionary) causes, the subject of natural history.
— Ernst Mayr
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 67.
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (150)  |  Cause (231)  |  Natural History (44)  |  Physiology (66)  |  Proximity (3)  |  Study (331)

Isolating mechanisms are biological properties of individuals that prevent the interbreeding of populations that are actually or potentially sympatric.
— Ernst Mayr
Animal Species and Evolution (1963), 91.
Science quotes on:  |  Breeding (11)  |  Characteristic (66)  |  Individual (177)  |  Isolation (26)  |  Population (71)  |  Property (96)  |  Sympatric (2)

It is curious how often erroneous theories have had a beneficial effect for particular branches of science.
— Ernst Mayr
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 847.
Science quotes on:  |  Beneficial (10)  |  Curiosity (89)  |  Effect (133)  |  Error (230)  |  Science (1699)  |  Theory (582)

Mathematics is as little a science as grammar is a language.
— Ernst Mayr
…...
Science quotes on:  |  Grammar (10)  |  Language (155)  |  Little (126)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Science (1699)

Most classifications, whether of inanimate objects or of organisms, are hierarchical. There are “higher” and “lower” categories, there are higher and lower ranks. What is usually overlooked is that the use of the term “hierarchy” is ambiguous, and that two fundamentally different kinds of arrangements have been designated as hierarchical. A hierarchy can be either exclusive or inclusive. Military ranks from private, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, up to general are a typical example of an exclusive hierarchy. A lower rank is not a subdivision of a higher rank; thus, lieutenants are not a subdivision of captains. The scala naturae, which so strongly dominated thinking from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, is another good illustration of an exclusive hierarchy. Each level of perfection was considered an advance (or degradation) from the next lower (or higher) level in the hierarchy, but did not include it.
— Ernst Mayr
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 205-6.
Science quotes on:  |  Advance (123)  |  Ambiguity (9)  |  Arrangement (45)  |  Classification (79)  |  Degradation (12)  |  Different (110)  |  Exclusive (9)  |  Fundamental (122)  |  Hierarchy (11)  |  Inanimate (14)  |  Level (51)  |  Military (24)  |  Object (110)  |  Organism (126)  |  Perfection (71)  |  Rank (19)  |  Thinking (222)

The assumptions of population thinking are diametrically opposed to those of the typologist. The populationist stresses the uniqueness of everything in the organic world. What is true for the human species,–that no two individuals are alike, is equally true for all other species of animals and plants ... All organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of organic entities, form populations of which we can determine the arithmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions, only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality. The ultimate conclusions of the population thinker and of the typologist are precisely the opposite. For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real and the variation. an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.
— Ernst Mayr
Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology (1959), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Abstraction (29)  |  Animal (309)  |  Assumption (49)  |  Characteristic (66)  |  Description (72)  |  Difference (208)  |  Human Species (6)  |  Illusion (38)  |  Individual (177)  |  Likeness (7)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Opposition (29)  |  Organism (126)  |  Plant (173)  |  Population (71)  |  Reality (140)  |  Species (181)  |  Thinking (222)  |  Type (34)  |  Unique (24)  |  Variation (50)

The concepts and methods on which the classification of hominid taxa is based do not differ in principle from those used for other zoological taxa. Indeed, the classification of living human populations or of samples of fossil hominids is a branch of animal taxonomy.
— Ernst Mayr
Opening sentence of 'The Taxonomic Evaluation of Fossil Hominids' (1963). Collected in Sherwood L. Washburn, Classification and Human Evolution (1964), 332.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (309)  |  Branch (61)  |  Classification (79)  |  Concept (102)  |  Fossil (107)  |  Hominid (4)  |  Human Being (54)  |  Method (154)  |  Population (71)  |  Principle (228)  |  Sample (8)  |  Taxonomy (16)  |  Zoological (5)

The most consequential change in man's view of the world, of living nature and of himself came with the introduction, over a period of some 100 years beginning only in the 18th century, of the idea of change itself, of change over periods of time: in a word, of evolution.
— Ernst Mayr
'Evolution', Scientific American (Jul 1978), 239:1, 47.
Science quotes on:  |  18th Century (17)  |  Change (291)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Idea (440)  |  Introduction (31)  |  Man (345)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Period (49)  |  Time (439)  |  View (115)  |  World (667)

The reduced variability of small populations is not always due to accidental gene loss, but sometimes to the fact that the entire population was started by a single pair or by a single fertilized female. These “founders” of the population carried with them only a very small proportion of the variability of the parent population. This “founder” principle sometimes explains even the uniformity of rather large populations, particularly if they are well isolated and near the borders of the range of the species.
— Ernst Mayr
Systematics and the Origin of Species: From the Viewpoint of a Zoologist (1942), 237.
Science quotes on:  |  Accident (54)  |  Female (20)  |  Fertilization (15)  |  Founder (12)  |  Gene (68)  |  Isolation (26)  |  Parent (39)  |  Population (71)  |  Principle (228)  |  Range (38)  |  Uniform (14)  |  Variation (50)

There is more to biology than rats, Drosophila, Caenorhabditis, and E. coli.
— Ernst Mayr
Concluding remarks in Foreword written by Mayr for Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (2003), xiv.
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (150)  |  Drosphilia (3)  |  Rat (19)

To complete a PhD[,] I took courses in the history of philosophy. … As a result of my studies, I concluded that the traditional philosophy of science had little if anything to do with biology. … I had no use for a philosophy based on such an occult force as the vis vitalis. … But I was equally disappointed by the traditional philosophy of science, which was all based on logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences, and had adopted Descartes’ conclusion that an organism was nothing but a machine. This Cartesianism left me completely dissatisfied.
— Ernst Mayr
In 'Introduction', What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline (2007), 2.

To complete a PhD[,] I took courses in the history of philosophy. … As a result of my studies, I concluded that the traditional philosophy of science had little if anything to do with biology. … I had no use for a philosophy based on such an occult force as the vis vitalis. … But I was equally disappointed by the traditional philosophy of science, which was all based on logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences, and had adopted Descartes’ conclusion that an organism was nothing but a machine. This Cartesianism left me completely dissatisfied.
— Ernst Mayr
In 'Introduction', What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline (2007), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (150)  |  Conclude (9)  |  Renι Descartes (43)  |  Disappointed (3)  |  Logic (187)  |  Machine (133)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Occult (4)  |  Organism (126)  |  Philosophy (213)  |  Physical Science (54)  |  Science (1699)  |  Study (331)  |  Traditional (9)

Two forms or species are sympatric, if they occur together, that is if their areas of distribution overlap or coincide. Two forms (or species) are allapatric, if they do not occur together, that is if they exclude each other geographically. The term allopatric is primarily useful in denoting geographic representatives.
— Ernst Mayr
Systematics and the Origin of Species: From the Viewpoint of a Zoologist (1942), 148-9.
Science quotes on:  |  Distribution (21)  |  Geography (25)  |  Species (181)  |  Sympatric (2)


See also:

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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