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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index B > Category: Biochemistry

Biochemistry Quotes (46 quotes)
Biochemical Quotes

A cell of a higher organism contains a thousand different substances, arranged in a complex system. This great organized system was not discovered by chemical or physical methods; they are inadequate to its refinement and delicacy and complexity.
'The Cell in Relation to its Environment', Journal of the Maryland Academy of Sciences (1931), 2, 25.
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All the more recent work on alkaptonuria has... strengthened the belief that the homogentisic acid excreted is derived from tyrosin, but why alkaptonuric individuals pass the benzene ring of their tyrosin unbroken and how and where the peculiar chemical change from tyrosin to homogentisic acid is brought about, remain unsolved problems.
'The Incidence of Alkaptonuria: A Study in Chemical Individuality', The Lancet, 1902, 2, 1616.

As a progressive discipline [biochemistry] belongs to the present century. From the experimental physiologists of the last century it obtained a charter, and, from a few pioneers of its own, a promise of success; but for the furtherance of its essential aim that century left it but a small inheritance of facts and methods. By its essential or ultimate aim I myself mean an adequate and acceptable description of molecular dynamics in living cells and tissues.
'Some Chemical Aspects of Life', Address (Sep 1933) in Report on the 103rd Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1933), 3.
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As soon as we touch the complex processes that go on in a living thing, be it plant or animal, we are at once forced to use the methods of this science [chemistry]. No longer will the microscope, the kymograph, the scalpel avail for the complete solution of the problem. For the further analysis of these phenomena which are in flux and flow, the investigator must associate himself with those who have labored in fields where molecules and atoms, rather than multicellular tissues or even unicellular organisms, are the units of study.
'Experimental and Chemical Studies of the Blood with an Appeal for More Extended Chemical Training for the Biological and Medical Investigator', Science (6 Aug 1915), 42, 176.
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At lunch Francis [Crick] winged into the Eagle to tell everyone within hearing distance that we had found the secret of life.
Purported remark made at The Eagle pub (28 Feb 1953), near the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, to celebrate the fact that they, Crick and Watson, had unravelled the structure of DNA. Stated by James Watson in The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (1968, 1998), 197. However Francis Crick, in What Mad Pursuit (1990), 77, writes that was “according to Jim,” but “of that I have no recollection.” Nevertheless, some quote collections report this incident with a direct quote as “We have discovered the secret of life!”
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Beadle believed that genetics were inseparable from chemistry—more precisely, biochemistry. They were, he said, “two doors leading to the same room.”
In Warren Weaver, Science and Imagination (1967), xii. Quoted in Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 276.
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Biology today is moving in the direction of chemistry. Much of what is understood in the field is based on the structure of molecules and the properties of molecules in relation to their structure. If you have that basis, then biology isn’t just a collection of disconnected facts.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 737.
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The Startling Discovery of Prof. Loeb.
Lower Animals Produced by Chemical Means.
Process May Apply to the Human Species.
Immaculate Conception is Explained.
Wonderful Experiments Conducted at Woods Hole.
The Boston Herald (26 Nov 1899), 17.
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Developmental Biology, in capitals, is the wave of the future. The creeping reductionism of biochemistry and molecular biology has taken over the cell and heredity, and looks covetously toward the heights of development and evolution. Recent literature is last year. Ancient literature is a decade ago. The rest is history, doubtfully alive. There is no time and often no opportunity to find and study the work of experimental biologists of 50 or 100 years ago, yet that was a time when the world was fresh.
Developmental biology was a lowercase phrase that graduated about 1950 and had previously lived under the cloak of Experimental Zoology
In obituary by Charles R. Scriver, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1999), 45, 33.
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Few scientists acquainted with the chemistry of biological systems at the molecular level can avoid being inspired. Evolution has produced chemical compounds exquisitely organized to accomplish the most complicated and delicate of tasks. Many organic chemists viewing crystal structures of enzyme systems or nucleic acids and knowing the marvels of specificity of the immune systems must dream of designing and synthesizing simpler organic compounds that imitate working features of these naturally occurring compounds.
In 'The Design of Molecular Hosts, Guests, and Their Complexes', Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1987. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1981-1990 (1992), 419.
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For it is not cell nuclei, not even individual chromosomes, but certain parts of certain chromosomes from certain cells that must be isolated and collected in enormous quantities for analysis; that would be the precondition for placing the chemist in such a position as would allow him to analyse [the hereditary material] more minutely than [can] the morphologists ... For the morphology of the nucleus has reference at the very least to the gearing of the clock, but at best the chemistry of the nucleus refers only to the metal from which the gears are formed.
Ergebnisse über die Konstitution der chromatischen Substam des Zellkems (1904), 123. Translated in Robert Olby, The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA (1994), xx.
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I decided to study science and, on arrival at Cambridge, became extremely excited and interested in biochemistry when I first heard about it…. It seemed to me that here was a way to really understand living matter and to develop a more scientific basis to many medical problems.
From biographical sketch in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.) Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1980, (1981).
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I have never been disappointed upon asking microorganisms for whatever I wanted.
Quoted in Armin Fietchter, History of Modern Biology (2000), 43.

I would not have it inferred ... that I am, as yet, an advocate for the hypothesis of chemical life. The doctrine of the vitality of the blood, stands in no need of aid from that speculative source. If it did, I would certainly abandon it. For, notwithstanding the fashionableness of the hypothesis in Europe, and the ascendancy it has gained over some minds in this country [USA], it will require stubborn facts to convince me that man with all his corporeal and intellectual attributes is nothing but hydro-phosphorated oxyde of azote ... When the chemist declares, that the same laws which direct the crystallization of spars, nitre and Glauber's salts, direct also the crystallization of man, he must pardon me if I neither understand him, nor believe him.
Medical Theses (1805), 391-2, footnote.
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If it be urged that the action of the potato is chemical and mechanical only, and that it is due to the chemical and mechanical effects of light and heat, the answer would seem to lie in an enquiry whether every sensation is not chemical and mechanical in its operation? Whether those things which we deem most purely spiritual are anything but disturbances of equilibrium in an infinite series of levers, beginning with those that are too small for microscopic detection, and going up to the human arm and the appliances which it makes use of? Whether there be not a molecular action of thought, whence a dynamical theory of the passions shall be deducible?
In Erewhon, Or, Over the Range (1872), 192.
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If the juices of the body were more chymically examined, especially by a naturalist, that knows the ways of making fixed bodies volatile, and volatile fixed, and knows the power of the open air in promoting the former of those operations; it is not improbable, that both many things relating to the nature of the humours, and to the ways of sweetening, actuating, and otherwise altering them, may be detected, and the importance of such discoveries may be discerned.
Quoted In Barbara Kaplan (ed.) Divulging of Useful Truths in Physick: The Medical Agenda of Robert Boyle (1993), 92.
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If we sink to the biochemical level, then the human being has lost a great many synthetic abilities possessed by other species and, in particular, by plants and microorganisms. Our loss of ability to manufacture a variety of vitamins makes us dependent on our diet and, therefore, on the greater synthetic versatility of other creatures. This is as much a “degenerative” change as the tapeworm’s abandonment of a stomach it no longer needs, but since we are prejudiced in our own favor, we don’t mention it.
In 'The Modern Demonology' (Jan 1962). Collected in Asimov on Physics (1976), 150.
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In order to pursue chemotherapy successfully we must look for substances which possess a high affinity and high lethal potency in relation to the parasites, but have a low toxicity in relation to the body, so that it becomes possible to kill the parasites without damaging the body to any great extent. We want to hit the parasites as selectively as possible. In other words, we must learn to aim and to aim in a chemical sense. The way to do this is to synthesize by chemical means as many derivatives as possible of relevant substances.
'Ueber den jetzigen Stand der Chemotherapie'. Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschagt, 1909, 42, 17-47. Translated in B. Holmstedt and G. Liljestrand (eds.), Readings in Pharmacology (1963), 286.
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In trying to evaluate Hopkins' unique contribution to biochemistry it may perhaps be said that he alone amongst his contemporaries succeeded in formulating the subject. Among others whose several achievements in their own fields may have surpassed his, no one has ever attempted to unify and correlate biochemical knowledge so as to form a comprehensible picture of the cell and its relation to life, reproduction and function.
'Sir F. G. Hopkins' Teaching and Scientific Influence'. In J. Needham and E. Baldwin (eds.), Hopkins and Biochemistry, 1861-1947 (1949), 36.
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Inborn errors of metabolism.
Inborn Errors of Metabolism. The Croonian Lectures delivered before the Royal College of Physicians of London, in June, 1908 (1909).

It is now widely realized that nearly all the “classical” problems of molecular biology have either been solved or will be solved in the next decade. The entry of large numbers of American and other biochemists into the field will ensure that all the chemical details of replication and transcription will be elucidated. Because of this, I have long felt that the future of molecular biology lies in the extension of research to other fields of biology, notably development and the nervous system.
Letter to Max Perua, 5 June 1963. Quoted in William B. Wood (ed.), The Nematode Caenorhabditis Elegans (1988), x-xi.
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It [the Euglena] is a perfect laboratory in itself, and it will act and react upon the water and the matters contained therein; converting them into new compounds resembling its own substance, and at the same time giving up portions of its own substance which have become effete.
From Address (22 Jul 1854) delivered at St. Martin’s Hall, published as a pamphlet (1854), 8, and collected in 'Educational Value of Natural History Sciences', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 75.
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Molecular biology is essentially the practice of biochemistry without a license.
Essays on Nucleic Acids (1963), 176.
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My main thesis will be that in the study of the intermediate processes of metabolism we have to deal not with complex substances which elude ordinary chemical methods, but with the simple substances undergoing comprehensible reactions... I intend also to emphasise the fact that it is not alone with the separation and identification of products from the animal that our present studies deal; but with their reactions in the body; with the dynamic side of biochemical phenomena.
'The Dynamic Side of Biochemistry', Address (11 Sep 1913) in Report on the 83rd Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1914), 653.
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Nor can it be supposed that the diversity of chemical structure and process stops at the boundary of the species, and that within that boundary, which has no real finality, rigid uniformity reigns. Such a conception is at variance with any evolutionary conception of the nature and origin of species. The existence of chemical individuality follows of necessity from that of chemical specificity, but we should expect the differences between individuals to be still more subtle and difficult of detection. Indications of their existence are seen, even in man, in the various tints of skin, hair, and eyes, and in the quantitative differences in those portions of the end-products of metabolism which are endogenous and are not affected by diet, such as recent researches have revealed in increasing numbers. Even those idiosyncrasies with regard to drugs and articles of food which are summed up in the proverbial saying that what is one man's meat is another man's poison presumably have a chemical basis.
Inborn Errors of Metabolism. The Croonian Lectures delivered before the Royal College of Physicians of London, in June, 1908 (1909), 2-3.

Now, a living organism is nothing but a wonderful machine endowed with the most marvellous properties and set going by means of the most complex and delicate mechanism.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 63.
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Of the nucleosides from deoxyribonucleic acids, all that was known with any certainty [in the 1940s] was that they were 2-deoxy-­D-ribosides of the bases adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine and it was assumed that they were structurally analogous to the ribonucleosides. The chemistry of the nucleotides—the phosphates of the nucleosides—was in a correspondingly primitive state. It may well be asked why the chemistry of these groups of compounds was not further advanced, particularly since we recognize today that they occupy a central place in the history of the living cell. True, their full significance was for a long time unrecognized and emerged only slowly as biochemical research got into its stride but I think a more important reason is to be found in the physical properties of compounds of the nucleotide group. As water-soluble polar compounds with no proper melting points they were extremely difficult to handle by the classic techniques of organic chemistry, and were accordingly very discouraging substances to early workers. It is surely no accident that the major advances in the field have coincided with the appearance of new experimental techniques such as paper and ion-exchange chromatography, paper electrophoresis, and countercurrent distribution, peculiarly appropriate to the compounds of this group.
In 'Synthesis in the Study of Nucleotides', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1957. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964), 524.
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One reason which has led the organic chemist to avert his mind from the problems of Biochemistry is the obsession that the really significant happenings in the animal body are concerned in the main with substances of such high molecular weight and consequent vagueness of molecular structure as to make their reactions impossible of study by his available and accurate methods. There remains, I find, pretty widely spread, the feeling—due to earlier biological teaching—that, apart from substances which are obviously excreta, all the simpler products which can be found in cells or tissues are as a class mere objects, already too remote from the fundamental biochemical events to have much significance. So far from this being the case, recent progress points in the clearest way to the fact that the molecules with which a most important and significant part of the chemical dynamics of living tissues is concerned are of a comparatively simple character.
In 'The Dynamic Side of Biochemistry', Address (11 Sep 1913) in Report on the 83rd Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1914), 657-8.
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Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that crawl.
Often seen quoted, though without source, for example, in Vassilis Mougios, Exercise Biochemistry (2006), 1. [Please contact webmaster if you can identify the author and a primary source.]
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Since Pawlow [Pavlov] and his pupils have succeeded in causing the secretion of saliva in the dog by means of optic and acoustic signals, it no longer seems strange to us that what the philosopher terms an 'idea' is a process which can cause chemical changes in the body.
The Mechanistic Conception of Life (1912), 63.
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That all plants immediately and substantially stem from the element water alone I have learnt from the following experiment. I took an earthern vessel in which I placed two hundred pounds of earth dried in an oven, and watered with rain water. I planted in it a willow tree weighing five pounds. Five years later it had developed a tree weighing one hundred and sixty-nine pounds and about three ounces. Nothing but rain (or distilled water) had been added. The large vessel was placed in earth and covered by an iron lid with a tin-surface that was pierced with many holes. I have not weighed the leaves that came off in the four autumn seasons. Finally I dried the earth in the vessel again and found the same two hundred pounds of it diminished by about two ounces. Hence one hundred and sixty-four pounds of wood, bark and roots had come up from water alone. (1648)
A diligent experiment that was quantitatively correct only as far as it goes. He overlooked the essential role of air and photosynthesis in the growth process.
Complex. atque mist. elem. fig., 30, Opp. pp. 104-5; Aufgang, 148. In Walter Pagel, Joan Baptista Van Helmont (2002) , 53.
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The blood corpuscles take up the atmospheric oxygen in the lungs, and the vital chemical process accordingly depends essentially on the combination of oxygen absorbed by blood corpuscles with the combustible constituents of the blood to form carbonic acid and water.
Quoted in Joseph Stewart Fruton Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 240.
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The century of biology upon which we are now well embarked is no matter of trivialities. It is a movement of really heroic dimensions, one of the great episodes in man’s intellectual history. The scientists who are carrying the movement forward talk in terms of nucleo-proteins, of ultracentrifuges, of biochemical genetics, of electrophoresis, of the electron microscope, of molecular morphology, of radioactive isotopes. But do not be misled by these horrendous terms, and above all do not be fooled into thinking this is mere gadgetry. This is the dependable way to seek a solution of the cancer and polio problems, the problems of rheumatism and of the heart. This is the knowledge on which we must base our solution of the population and food problems. This is the understanding of life.
Letter to H. M. H. Carsan (17 Jun 1949). Quoted in Raymond B. Fosdick, The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation (1952), 166.
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The elements of the living body have the chemical peculiarity of forming with each other most numerous combinations and very large molecules, consisting of five, six or even seven different elements.
In discourse (10 Dec 1893) to General Meeting, Nassau Association for Natural Science, Wiesbaden, Germany. Printed in 'The Distribution of the Organic Elements', The Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science (1895), 71, No. 1832, 19.
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The energy liberated when substrates undergo air oxidation is not liberated in one large burst, as was once thought, but is released in stepwise fashion. At least six separate steps seem to be involved. The process is not unlike that of locks in a canal. As each lock is passed in the ascent from a lower to a higher level a certain amount of energy is expended. Similarly, the total energy resulting from the oxidation of foodstuffs is released in small units or parcels, step by step. The amount of free energy released at each step is proportional to the difference in potential of the systems comprising the several steps.
'Oxidative Mechanisms in Animal Tissues', A Symposium on Respiratory Enzymes (1942), 22.
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The first entirely vital action, so termed because it is not effected outside the influence of life, consists in the creation of the glycogenic material in the living hepatic tissue. The second entirely chemical action, which can be effected outside the influence of life, consists in the transformation of the glycogenic material into sugar by means of a ferment.
Sur le Méchanisme de la Fonction du Sucre dans Ie Foie (1857), 583. Translated in Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 340.
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The growth curves of the famous Hopkins' rats are familiar to anyone who has ever opened a textbook of physiology. One recalls the proud ascendant curve of the milk-fed group which suddenly turns downwards as the milk supplement is removed, and the waning curve of the other group taking its sudden milk-assisted upward spring, until it passes its fellow now abruptly on the decline. 'Feeding experiments illustrating the importance of accessory factors in normal dietaries', Jour. Physiol., 1912, xliv, 425, ranks aesthetically beside the best stories of H. G. Wells.
Vitamins and Other Dietary Essentials (1933), 46.
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The Johns Hopkins University certifies that John Wentworth Doe does not know anything but Biochemistry. Please pay no attention to any pronouncements he may make on any other subject, particularly when he joins with others of his kind to save the world from something or other. However, he worked hard for this degree and is potentially a most valuable citizen. Please treat him kindly.
[An imaginary academic diploma reworded to give a more realistic view of the value of the training of scientists.]
'Our Splintered Learning and the Nature of Scientists', Science (15 Apr 1955), 121, 516.
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The mechanist is intimately convinced that a precise knowledge of the chemical constitution, structure, and properties of the various organelles of a cell will solve biological problems. This will come in a few centuries. For the time being, the biologist has to face such concepts as orienting forces or morphogenetic fields. Owing to the scarcity of chemical data and to the complexity of life, and despite the progresses of biochemistry, the biologist is still threatened with vertigo.
Problems of Morphogenesis in Ciliates: The Kinetosomes in Development, Reproduction and Evolution (1950), 92-3.
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The special vital forces that distinguish living things from the nonliving are emergent, holistic properties, not properties of their physiochemical components. Nor can they be explained in mechanistic terms.
Interview in 'Vital Holistic Phenomena and Properties of Living', The World & I (1986), 1, No. 5-6, 265.
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There are living systems; there is no living “matter.” No substance, no single molecule, extracted and isolated from a living being possess, of its own, the aforementioned paradoxical properties. They are present in living systems only; that is to say, nowhere below the level of the cell.
Inaugural lecture on taking the chair of molecular biology, Collège de France (3 Nov 1967). From Biology to Ethics (1969), 5.
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We should first look at the evidence that DNA itself is not the direct template that orders amino acid sequences. Instead, the genetic information of DNA is transferred to another class of molecules which then serve as the protein templates. These intermediate templates are molecules of ribonucleic acid (RNA), large polymeric molecules chemically very similar to DNA. Their relation to DNA and protein is usually summarized by the central dogma, a How scheme for genetic information first proposed some twenty years ago.
In Molecular Biology of the Gene (1965), 281-282.
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When physiologists revealed the existence and functions of hormones they not only gave increased opportunities for the activities of biochemists but in particular gave a new charter to biochemical thought, and with the discovery of vitamins that charter was extended.
'Biological Thought and Chemical Thought: A Plea for Unification', Linacre Lecture, Cambridge (6 May 1938), published in Lancet (1938),2, 1201.
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Will it be possible to solve these problems? It is certain that nobody has thus far observed the transformation of dead into living matter, and for this reason we cannot form a definite plan for the solution of this problem of transformation. But we see that plants and animals during their growth continually transform dead into living matter, and that the chemical processes in living matter do not differ in principle from those in dead matter. There is, therefore, no reason to predict that abiogenesis is impossible, and I believe that it can only help science if the younger investigators realize that experimental abiogenesis is the goal of biology.
The Dynamics of Living Matter (1906), 223.
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Without some idea of oxidation processes, of the chemical structure of food, and of the chemical reactions in digestion, visceral behavior is a blank. And without some understanding of visceral behavior, psychic behavior is up in the air.
From Why We Behave Like Human Beings (1925), xiv.
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[Beyond natural history] Other biological sciences take up the study at other levels of organization: dissecting the individual into organs and tissues and seeing how these work together, as in physiology; reaching down still further to the level of cells, as in cytology; and reaching the final biological level with the study of living molecules and their interactions, as in biochemistry. No one of these levels can be considered as more important than any other.
In The Nature of Natural History (1961, 2014), 7.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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