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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index M > Category: Morphology

Morphology Quotes (15 quotes)

A famous anecdote concerning Cuvier involves the tale of his visitation from the devil—only it was not the devil but one of his students dressed up with horns on his head and shoes shaped like cloven hooves. This frightening apparition burst into Cuvier's bedroom when he was fast asleep and claimed:
'Wake up thou man of catastrophes. I am the Devil. I have come to devour you!'
Cuvier studied the apparition carefully and critically said,
'I doubt whether you can. You have horns and hooves. You eat only plants.'
Quoted in Glyn Daniel, The Idea of Pre-History (1962), 34.
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All of our experience indicates that life can manifest itself only in a concrete form, and that it is bound to certain substantial loci. These loci are cells and cell formations. But we are far from seeking the last and highest level of understanding in the morphology of these loci of life. Anatomy does not exclude physiology, but physiology certainly presupposes anatomy. The phenomena that the physiologist investigates occur in special organs with quite characteristic anatomical arrangements; the various morphological parts disclosed by the anatomist are the bearers of properties or, if you will, of forces probed by the physiologist; when the physiologist has established a law, whether through physical or chemical investigation, the anatomist can still proudly state: This is the structure in which the law becomes manifest.
In 'Cellular-Pathologie', Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und fur klinische Medizin (1855), 8, 19, as translated in LellandJ. Rather, 'Cellular Pathology', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 84.
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All organs of an animal form a single system, the parts of which hang together, and act and re-act upon one another; and no modifications can appear in one part without bringing about corresponding modifications in all the rest.
Histoire des Progrès des Sciences naturelles depuis (1789), Vol. I, 310. Quoted in E. S. Russell, Form and Function(1916), 35.

At the beginning of its existence as a science, biology was forced to take cognizance of the seemingly boundless variety of living things, for no exact study of life phenomena was possible until the apparent chaos of the distinct kinds of organisms had been reduced to a rational system. Systematics and morphology, two predominantly descriptive and observational disciplines, took precedence among biological sciences during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More recently physiology has come to the foreground, accompanied by the introduction of quantitative methods and by a shift from the observationalism of the past to a predominance of experimentation.
In Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937, 1982), 6.
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At the sight of a single bone, of a single piece of bone, I recognize and reconstruct the portion of the whole from which it would have been taken. The whole being to which this fragment belonged appears in my mind's eye.
Cited by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Comptes-Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences. 1837, 7, 116. Trans. Franck Bourdier, 'Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire versus Cuvier: The Campaign for Paleontological Evolution (1825- 1838)', Cecil J. Schneer (ed.), Toward a History of Geology (1969), 44.
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Bacteria are highly adaptable. They frequently change both morphologically and functionally. Their virulence is also an essentially fluctuating property, that increases or diminishes according to the conditions to which the pathogenic organism is subjected.
In Studies in Immunity (1909), 1.
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Doubtless many can recall certain books which have greatly influenced their lives, and in my own case one stands out especially—a translation of Hofmeister's epoch-making treatise on the comparative morphology of plants. This book, studied while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, was undoubtedly the most important factor in determining the trend of my botanical investigation for many years.
D.H. Campbell, 'The Centenary of Wilhelm Hofmeister', Science (1925), 62, No. 1597, 127-128. Cited in William C. Steere, Obituary, 'Douglas Houghton Campbell', American Bryological and Lichenological Society, The Bryologist (1953), 127. The book to which Cambell refers is W. Hofmeister, On the Germination, Development, and Fructification of the Higher Cryptogamia, and on the Fructification of the Coniferae, trans. by Frederick Currey (1862).
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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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I claim that many patterns of Nature are so irregular and fragmented, that, compared with Euclid—a term used in this work to denote all of standard geometry—Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity … The existence of these patterns challenges us to study these forms that Euclid leaves aside as being “formless,” to investigate the morphology of the “amorphous.”
Cited as from Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension (1977), by J.W. Cannon, in review of The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) in The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1984), 91, No. 9, 594.
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Morphological information has provided the greatest single source of data in the formulation and development of the theory of evolution and that even now, when the preponderance of work is experimental, the basis for interpretation in many areas of study remains the form and relationships of structures.
'Morphology, Paleontology, and Evolution', in Sol Tax (ed.), Evolution After Darwin, Vol. 1, The Evolution of Life (1960), 524.
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Occurrences that other men would have noted only with the most casual interest became for Whitney exciting opportunities to experiment. Once he became disturbed by a scientist's seemingly endless pursuit of irrelevant details in the course of an experiment, and criticized this as being as pointless as grabbing beans out of a pot, recording the numbers, and then analyzing the results. Later that day, after he had gone home, his simile began to intrigue him, and he asked himself whether it would really be pointless to count beans gathered in such a random manner. Another man might well have dismissed this as an idle fancy, but to Whitney an opportunity to conduct an experiment was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, he set a pot of beans beside his bed, and for several days each night before retiring he would take as many beans as he could grasp in one hand and make a note of how many were in the handful. After several days had passed he was intrigued to find that the results were not as unrewarding as he had expected. He found that each handful contained more beans than the one before, indicating that with practice he was learning to grasp more and more beans. “This might be called research in morphology, the science of animal structure,” he mused. “My hand was becoming webbed … so I said to myself: never label a real experiment useless, it may reveal something unthought of but worth knowing.”
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 358-359.
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Since nothing can exist that does not fulfil the conditions which render its existence possible, the different parts each being must be co-ordinated in such a way as to render possible the existence of the being as a whole, not only in itself, but also in its relations with other beings, and the analysis of these conditions often leads to general laws which are as certain as those which are derived from calculation or from experiment.
Le Règne Animal distribué d' Après son Organisation (1817), 6. Translated in E. S. Russell, Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology (1916), 34.

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 chemical differences among various species and genera of animals and plants are certainly as significant for the history of their origins as the differences in form. If we could define clearly the differences in molecular constitution and functions of different kinds of organisms, there would be possible a more illuminating and deeper understanding of question of the evolutionary reactions of organisms than could ever be expected from morphological considerations.
'Uber das Vorkommen von Haemoglobin in den Muskeln der Mollusken und die Verbreitung desselben in den lebenden Organismen', Pflügers Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie des Menschen und der Tiere, 1871, 4, 318-9. Trans. Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 270.
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We set out, therefore, with the supposition that an organised body is not produced by a fundamental power which is guided in its operation by a definite idea, but is developed, according to blind laws of necessity, by powers which, like those of inorganic nature, are established by the very existence of matter. As the elementary materials of organic nature are not different from those of the inorganic kingdom, the source of the organic phenomena can only reside in another combination of these materials, whether it be in a peculiar mode of union of the elementary atoms to form atoms of the second order, or in the arrangement of these conglomerate molecules when forming either the separate morphological elementary parts of organisms, or an entire organism.
Mikroskopische Untersuchungen über die Uebereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen (1839). Microscopic Researches into the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plants, trans. Henry Smith (1847), 190-1.
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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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