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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index D > Category: Descent

Descent Quotes (27 quotes)

Responding to the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce's question whether he traced his descent from an ape on his mother's or his father's side:
If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessing great means and influence and yet who employs those faculties for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion—I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.
Letter to Dr. Dyster (9 Sep 1860), Huxley Papers, Imperial College of Science and Technology. Quoted in D.J. Foskett, 'Wilberforce and Huxley on Evolution' in a letter to Nature, 1953, 172, 920.
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A strange feeling of complete, almost solemn contentment suddenly overcame me when the descent module landed, rocked, and stilled. The weather was foul, but I smelled Earth, unspeakably sweet and intoxicating. And wind. Now utterly delightful; wind after long days in space.
…...
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A thing is either alive or it isn’t; there is nothing that is almost alive. There is but the remotest possibility of the origin of life by spontaneous generation, and every likelihood that Arrhenius is right when he dares to claim that life is a cosmic phenomenon, something that drifts between the spheres, like light, and like light transiently descends upon those fit to receive it.
In An Almanac for Moderns (1935), 393.
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Astronomy affords the most extensive example of the connection of physical sciences. In it are combined the sciences of number and quantity, or rest and motion. In it we perceive the operation of a force which is mixed up with everything that exists in the heavens or on earth; which pervades every atom, rules the motion of animate and inanimate beings, and is a sensible in the descent of the rain-drop as in the falls of Niagara; in the weight of the air, as in the periods of the moon.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 1.
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Evolution is the conviction that organisms developed their current forms by an extended history of continual transformation, and that ties of genealogy bind all living things into one nexus. Panselectionism is a denial of history, for perfection covers the tracks of time. A perfect wing may have evolved to its current state, but it may have been created just as we find it. We simply cannot tell if perfection be our only evidence. As Darwin himself understood so well, the primary proofs of evolution are oddities and imperfections that must record pathways of historical descent–the panda’s thumb and the flamingo’s smile of my book titles (chosen to illustrate this paramount principle of history).
…...
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First, by what means it is that a Plant, or any Part of it, comes to Grow, a Seed to put forth a Root and Trunk... How the Aliment by which a Plant is fed, is duly prepared in its several Parts ... How not only their Sizes, but also their Shapes are so exceedingly various ... Then to inquire, What should be the reason of their various Motions; that the Root should descend; that its descent should sometimes be perpendicular, sometimes more level: That the Trunk doth ascend, and that the ascent thereof, as to the space of Time wherein it is made, is of different measures... Further, what may be the Causes as of the Seasons of their Growth; so of the Periods of their Lives; some being Annual, others Biennial, others Perennial ... what manner the Seed is prepared, formed and fitted for Propagation.
'An Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants', in The Anatomy of Plants With an Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants and Several Other Lectures Read Before the Royal Society (1682), 3-4.
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From the point of view of the pure morphologist the recapitulation theory is an instrument of research enabling him to reconstruct probable lines of descent; from the standpoint of the student of development and heredity the fact of recapitulation is a difficult problem whose solution would perhaps give the key to a true understanding of the real nature of heredity.
Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology (1916), 312-3.
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How can altruism, which by definition reduces personal fitness, possibly evolve by natural selection? The answer is kinship: if the genes causing the altruism are shared by two organisms because of common descent, and if the altruistic act by one organism increases the joint contribution of these genes to the next generation, the propensity to altruism will spread through the gene pool. This occurs even though the altruist makes less of a solitary contribution to the gene pool as the price of its altruistic act.
In Sociobiology (1975), 3-4.
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Humanity, in the course of time, had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages against its naive self-love. The first was when humanity discovered that our earth was not the center of the universe…. The second occurred when biological research robbed man of his apparent superiority under special creation, and rebuked him with his descent from the animal kingdom, and his ineradicable animal nature.
From a series of 28 lectures for laymen, Part Three, 'General Theory of the Neurons', Lecture 18, 'Traumatic Fixation—the Unconscious' collected in Sigmund Freud and G. Stanley Hall (trans.), A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1920), 246-247.
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I hold every man a debtor to his profession; from the which as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves, by way of amends, to be a help and ornament thereunto. This is performed, in some degree, by the honest and liberal practice of a profession; where men shall carry a respect not to descend into any course that is corrupt and unworthy thereof, and preserve themselves free from the abuses wherewith the same profession is noted to be infected: but much more is this performed, if a man be able to visit and strengthen the roots and foundation of the science itself; thereby not only gracing it in reputation and dignity, but also amplifying it in profession and substance.
Opening sentences of Preface, Maxims of Law (1596), in The Works of Francis Bacon: Law tracts. Maxims of the Law (1803), Vol. 4, 10.
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In consequence of Darwin's reformed Theory of Descent, we are now in a position to establish scientifically the groundwork of a non-miraculous history of the development of the human race. ... If any person feels the necessity of conceiving the coming into existence of this matter as the work of a supernatural creative power, of the creative force of something outside of matter, we have nothing to say against it. But we must remark, that thereby not even the smallest advantage is gained for a scientific knowledge of nature. Such a conception of an immaterial force, which as the first creates matter, is an article of faith which has nothing whatever to do with human science.
In Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.), The History of Creation (1880), Vol. 1, 6-9.
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In the course of centuries the naïve self-love of men has had to submit to two major blows at the hands of science. The first was when they learnt that our earth was not the centre of the universe but only a tiny fragment of a cosmic system of scarcely imaginable vastness... the second blow fell when biological research destroyed man's supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature… But human megalomania will have suffered its third and most wounding blow from the psychological research of the present time which seeks to prove to the ego that it is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind.
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalyis (1916), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1963), Vol. 16, 284-5.
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It appears, nevertheless, that all such simple solutions of the problem of vertebrate ancestry are without warrant. They arise from a very common tendency of the mind, against which the naturalist has to guard himself,—a tendency which finds expression in the very widespread notion that the existing anthropoid apes, and more especially the gorilla, must be looked upon as the ancestors of mankind, if once the doctrine of the descent of man from ape-like forefathers is admitted. A little reflexion suffices to show that any given living form, such as the gorilla, cannot possibly be the ancestral form from which man was derived, since ex-hypothesi that ancestral form underwent modification and development, and in so doing, ceased to exist.
'Vertebrata', entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition (1899), Vol. 24, 180.
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It is really laughable to see what different ideas are prominent in various naturalists’ minds, when they speak of “species”; in some, resemblance is everything and descent of little weight—in some, resemblance seems to go for nothing, and Creation the reigning idea—in some, descent is the key,—in some, sterility an unfailing test, with others it is not worth a farthing. It all comes, I believe, from trying to define the undefinable.
Letter to J. D. Hooker (24 Dec 1856). In Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1888), 446.
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Quite recently the human descent theory has been stigmatized as the “gorilla theory of human ancestry.” All this despite the fact that Darwin himself, in the days when not a single bit of evidence regarding the fossil ancestors of man was recognized, distinctly stated that none of the known anthropoid apes, much less any of the known monkeys, should be considered in any way as ancestral to the human stock.
In Henry Fairfield Osborn, 'Osborn States the Case For Evolution', New York Times (12 Jul 1925), XX1. Written at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in rebuttal of the anti-evolution position publicized by William Jennings Bryan.
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Scientists wrote beautifully through the 19th century and on into the early 20th. But somewhere after that, coincident with the explosive growth of research, the art of writing science suffered a grave setback, and the stultifying convention descended that the best scientific prose should sound like a non-human author addressing a mechanical reader.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), Preface, xii.
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Such is the tendency of the human mind to speculation, that on the least idea of an analogy between a few phenomena, it leaps forward, as it were, to a cause or law, to the temporary neglect of all the rest; so that, in fact, almost all our principal inductions must be regarded as a series of ascents and descents, and of conclusions from a few cases, verified by trial on many.
In A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), 164-165.
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The ancestors of the higher animals must be regarded as one-celled beings, similar to the Amœbæ which at the present day occur in our rivers, pools, and lakes. The incontrovertible fact that each human individual develops from an egg, which, in common with those of all animals, is a simple cell, most clearly proves that the most remote ancestors of man were primordial animals of this sort, of a form equivalent to a simple cell. When, therefore, the theory of the animal descent of man is condemned as a “horrible, shocking, and immoral” doctrine, tho unalterable fact, which can be proved at any moment under the microscope, that the human egg is a simple cell, which is in no way different to those of other mammals, must equally be pronounced “horrible, shocking, and immoral.”
Translated from his Ueber die Entstehung und den Stammbaum des Menschengeschlechts, (1873), Vol. 2, as an epigraph to Chap. 6, The Evolution of Man, (1879), Vol 1, 120-121.
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The history of aëronautic adventure affords a curious illustration of the same [dip of the horizon] principle. The late Mr. Sadler, the celebrated aeronaut, ascended on one occasion in a balloon from Dublin, and was wafted across the Irish Channel, when, on his approach to the Welsh coast, the balloon descended nearly to the surface of the sea. By this time the sun was set, and the shades of evening began to close in. He threw out nearly all his ballast, and suddenly sprang upwards to a great height, and by so doing brought his horizon to dip below the sun, producing the whole phenomenon of a western sunrise. Subsequently descending in Wales, he of course witnessed a second sunset on the same evening.
This describes how a rapidly ascending balloonist can see more of a setting sun, from the top down, as the viewer gradually rises more and thus sees further, beyond the curvature of the earth. The sun gradually appears as if at sunrise. It is the reverse of the view of a ship sailing toward the horizon which disappears from its hull up to the tip of the mast. In Outlines of Astronomy (1849), 20. A similar description appeared earlier, in Astronomy (1833), 36, which also footnoted Herschel's comment that he had this anecdote from Dr. Lardner, who was present at the ascent
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The processes concerned in simple descent are those of Family Variability and Reversion. It is well to define these words clearly. By family variability is meant the departure of the children of the same or similarly descended families from the ideal mean type of all of them. Reversion is the tendency of that ideal mean type to depart from the parent type, 'reverting' towards what may be roughly and perhaps fairly described as the average ancestral type. If family variability had been the only process in simple descent, the dispersion of the race would indefinitely increase with the number of the generations, but reversion checks this increase, and brings it to a standstill.
Typical Laws of Heredity (1877), 513.
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The question now at issue, whether the living species are connected with the extinct by a common bond of descent, will best be cleared up by devoting ourselves to the study of the actual state of the living world, and to those monuments of the past in which the relics of the animate creation of former ages are best preserved and least mutilated by the hand of time.
The Antiquity of Man (1863), 470.
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The rudest numerical scales, such as that by which the mineralogists distinguish different degrees of hardness, are found useful. The mere counting of pistils and stamens sufficed to bring botany out of total chaos into some kind of form. It is not, however, so much from counting as from measuring, not so much from the conception of number as from that of continuous quantity, that the advantage of mathematical treatment comes. Number, after all, only serves to pin us down to a precision in our thoughts which, however beneficial, can seldom lead to lofty conceptions, and frequently descend to pettiness.
On the Doctrine of Chances, with Later Reflections (1878), 61-2.
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The strata of the earth are frequently very much bent, being raised in some places, and depressed in others, and this sometimes with a very quick ascent or descent; but as these ascents and descents, in a great measure, compensate one another, if we take a large extent of country together, we may look upon the whole set of strata, as lying nearly horizontally. What is very remarkable, however, in their situation, is, that from most, if not all, large tracts of high and mountainous countries, the strata lie in a situation more inclined to the horizon, than the country itself, the mountainous countries being generally, if not always, formed out of the lower strata of earth. This situation of the strata may be not unaptly represented in the following manner. Let a number of leaves of paper, of several different sorts or colours, be pasted upon one another; then bending them up together into a ridge in the middle, conceive them to be reduced again to a level surface, by a plane so passing through them, as to cut off all the part that had been raised; let the middle now be again raised a little, and this will be a good general representation of most, if not of all, large tracts of mountainous countries, together with the parts adjacent, throughout the whole world.
'Conjectures Concerning the Cause, and Observations upon the Phenomena of Earthquakes', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1760), 51, 584-5.
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The theory here developed is that mega-evolution normally occurs among small populations that become preadaptive and evolve continuously (without saltation, but at exceptionally rapid rates) to radically different ecological positions. The typical pattern involved is probably this: A large population is fragmented into numerous small isolated lines of descent. Within these, inadaptive differentiation and random fixation of mutations occur. Among many such inadaptive lines one or a few are preadaptive, i.e., some of their characters tend to fit them for available ecological stations quite different from those occupied by their immediate ancestors. Such groups are subjected to strong selection pressure and evolve rapidly in the further direction of adaptation to the new status. The very few lines that successfully achieve this perfected adaptation then become abundant and expand widely, at the same time becoming differentiated and specialized on lower levels within the broad new ecological zone.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 123.
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The [mechanical] bird I have described ought to be able by the help of the wind to rise to a great height, and this will prove to be its safety; since even if… revolutions [of the winds] were to befall it, it would still have time to regain a condition of equilibrium; provided that its various parts have a great power of resistance, so that they can safely withstand the fury and violence of the descent, by the aid of the defenses which I have mentioned; and its joints should be made of strong tanned hide, and sewn with cords of strong raw silk. And let no one encumber himself with iron bands, for these are very soon broken at the joints or else they become worn out, and consequently it is well not to encumber oneself with them.
'Of the Bird’s Movement' from Sul Voio degli Uccelli, 8 [7] r. in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), 153-4.
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Thus, we have three principles for increasing adequacy of data: if you must work with a single object, look for imperfections that record historical descent; if several objects are available, try to render them as stages of a single historical process; if processes can be directly observed, sum up their effects through time. One may discuss these principles directly or recognize the ‘little problems’ that Darwin used to exemplify them: orchids, coral reefs, and worms–the middle book, the first, and the last.
…...
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We see only the simple motion of descent, since that other circular one common to the Earth, the tower, and ourselves remains imperceptible. There remains perceptible to us only that of the stone, which is not shared by us; and, because of this, sense shows it as by a straight line, always parallel to the tower, which is built upright and perpendicular upon the terrestrial surface.
Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632). Revised and Annotated by Giorgio De Santillana (1953), 177.
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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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