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

Descent Quotes (14 quotes)

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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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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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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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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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 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 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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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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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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