Living Things Quotes (8 quotes)
[A friend at Cambridge] told me that Helmholtz had been a medical doctor before he became a physicist. It thereupon occurred to me that Helmholtz had eaten the meal of life in the wrong order, and that I would like to spend the first half of my life under the strict discipline of physics, and afterwards to apply that training to researches on living things.
Darwinian evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. But if we accept Darwin’s mechanism for changes in living things, we must postulate another prebiotic form of evolution, which may be described as chemical evolution.
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).
It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship; endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.
Our sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of billions of galaxies populating the universe. It would be the height of presumption to think that we are the only living things in that enormous immensity.
The explosions [of dying stars] scattered the heavy elements as a fine dust through space. By the time it made the Sun, the primordial gas of the Milky Way was sufficiently enriched with heavier elements for rocky planets like the Earth to form. And from the rocks atoms escaped for eventual incorporation in living things: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur for all living tissue; calcium for bones and teeth; sodium and potassium for the workings of nerves and brains; the iron colouring blood red… and so on. No other conclusion of modern research testifies more clearly to mankind’s intimate connections with the universe at large and with the cosmic forces at work among the stars.
To ask what qualities distinguish good from routine scientific research is to address a question that should be of central concern to every scientist. We can make the question more tractable by rephrasing it, “What attributes are shared by the scientific works which have contributed importantly to our understanding of the physical world—in this case the world of living things?” Two of the most widely accepted characteristics of good scientific work are generality of application and originality of conception. . These qualities are easy to point out in the works of others and, of course extremely difficult to achieve in one’s own research. At first hearing novelty and generality appear to be mutually exclusive, but they really are not. They just have different frames of reference. Novelty has a human frame of reference; generality has a biological frame of reference. Consider, for example, Darwinian Natural Selection. It offers a mechanism so widely applicable as to be almost coexistent with reproduction, so universal as to be almost axiomatic, and so innovative that it shook, and continues to shake, man’s perception of causality.
We debase the richness of both nature and our own minds if we view the great pageant of our intellectual history as a compendium of new in formation leading from primal superstition to final exactitude. We know that the sun is hub of our little corner of the universe, and that ties of genealogy connect all living things on our planet, because these theories assemble and explain so much otherwise disparate and unrelated information–not because Galileo trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter or because Darwin took a ride on a Galápagos tortoise.