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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index O > Category: Organism

Organism Quotes (220 quotes)

Lehre von den Ursachen der organischen Gestaltungen.
Developmental mechanics... is the doctrine of the causes of organic forms.
Archiv fur Entwickelungsmechanik der Organismen (1895), 1.
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[Defining Organism] That in which every part is at once means and end.
Kritik der Urtheilskraft in Werke, IV, 260). In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 229.
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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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A DNA sequence for the genome of bacteriophage ΦX174 of approximately 5,375 nucleotides has been determined using the rapid and simple “plus and minus” method. The sequence identifies many of the features responsible for the production of the proteins of the nine known genes of the organism, including initiation and termination sites for the proteins and RNAs. Two pairs of genes are coded by the same region of DNA using different reading frames.
[Paper co-author]
Frederick Sanger, et al., 'Nucleotide Sequence of Bacteriophage ΦX174 DNA', Nature (1977), 265, 687.
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A living organism must be studied from two distinct aspects. One of these is the causal-analytic aspect which is so fruitfully applicable to ontogeny. The other is the historical descriptive aspect which is unravelling lines of phylogeny with ever-increasing precision. Each of these aspects may make suggestions concerning the possible significance of events seen under the other, but does not explain or translate them into simpler terms.
'Embryology and Evolution', in G. R. de Beer (ed.), Evolution: Essays on Aspects of Evolutionary Biology presented to Professor E. S. Goodrich on his Seventieth Birthday (1938), 76-7.
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A mouse can fall down a mine shaft a third of a mile deep without injury. A rat falling the same distance would break his bones; a man would simply splash ... Elephants have their legs thickened to an extent that seems disproportionate to us, but this is necessary if their unwieldly bulk is to be moved at all ... A 60-ft. man would weigh 1000 times as much as a normal man, but his thigh bone would have its area increased by only 100 times ... Consequently such an unfortunate monster would break his legs the moment he tried to move.
Expressing, in picturesque terms, the strength of an organism relative to its bulk.
Address at the annual congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Quoted in 'On the Itchen', Time Magazine (Mon. 14 Sep 1925).
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A plain, reasonable working man supposes, in the old way which is also the common-sense way, that if there are people who spend their lives in study, whom he feeds and keeps while they think for him—then no doubt these men are engaged in studying things men need to know; and he expects of science that it will solve for him the questions on which his welfare, and that of all men, depends. He expects science to tell him how he ought to live: how to treat his family, his neighbours and the men of other tribes, how to restrain his passions, what to believe in and what not to believe in, and much else. And what does our science say to him on these matters?
It triumphantly tells him: how many million miles it is from the earth to the sun; at what rate light travels through space; how many million vibrations of ether per second are caused by light, and how many vibrations of air by sound; it tells of the chemical components of the Milky Way, of a new element—helium—of micro-organisms and their excrements, of the points on the hand at which electricity collects, of X rays, and similar things.
“But I don't want any of those things,” says a plain and reasonable man—“I want to know how to live.”
In 'Modern Science', Essays and Letters (1903), 221-222.
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A sound Physics of the Earth should include all the primary considerations of the earth's atmosphere, of the characteristics and continual changes of the earth's external crust, and finally of the origin and development of living organisms. These considerations naturally divide the physics of the earth into three essential parts, the first being a theory of the atmosphere, or Meteorology, the second, a theory of the earth's external crust, or Hydrogeology, and the third, a theory of living organisms, or Biology.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 18.
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A vital phenomenon can only be regarded as explained if it has been proven that it appears as the result of the material components of living organisms interacting according to the laws which those same components follow in their interactions outside of living systems.
Gesammelte Schriften (1904), Vol. 3, 767. Trans. Paul F. Cranefield, 'The Organic Physics of 1847 and the Biophysics of Today', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 1957, 12, 410.
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According to my derivative hypothesis, a change takes place first in the structure of the animal, and this, when sufficiently advanced, may lead to modifications of habits… . “Derivation” holds that every species changes, in time, by virtue of inherent tendencies thereto. “Natural Selection” holds that no such change can take place without the influence of altered external circumstances educing or selecting such change… . The hypothesis of “natural selection” totters on the extension of a conjectural condition, explanatory of extinction to the majority of organisms, and not known or observed to apply to the origin of any species.
In On the Anatomy of Vertebrates (1868), Vol. 3, 808.
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All infections, of whatever type, with no exceptions, are products of parasitic beings; that is, by living organisms that enter in other living organisms, in which they find nourishment, that is, food that suits them, here they hatch, grow and reproduce themselves.
Quoted in English in Paolo Mazzarello, The Hidden Structure: A Scientific Biography of Camillo Golgi (1999), trans. and ed. Henry A. Buchtel and Aldo Hadiani, 19.
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All known living bodies are sharply divided into two special kingdoms, based upon the essential differences which distinguish animals from plants, and in spite of what has been said, I am convinced that these two kingdoms do not really merge into one another at any point.
Attributed.
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All living organisms are but leaves on the same tree of life. The various functions of plants and animals and their specialized organs are manifestations of the same living matter. This adapts itself to different jobs and circumstances, but operates on the same basic principles. Muscle contraction is only one of these adaptations. In principle it would not matter whether we studied nerve, kidney or muscle to understand the basic principles of life. In practice, however, it matters a great deal.
'Muscle Research', Scientific American, 1949, 180 (6), 22.
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All progress is based upon a universal innate desire of every organism to live beyond its means.
…...
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Among natural bodies some have, and some have not, life; and by life we mean the faculties of self-nourishment, self-growth and self-decay. Thus every natural body partaking of life may be regarded as an essential existence; … but then it is an existence only in combination. … And since the organism is such a combination, being possessed of life, it cannot be the Vital Principle. Therefore it follows that the Vital Principle most be an essence, as being the form of a natural body, holding life in potentiality; but essence is a reality (entetechie). The Vital Principle is the original reality of a natural body endowed with potential life; this, however, is to be understood only of a body which may be organized. Thus the parts even of plants are organs, but they are organs that are altogether simple; as the leaf which is the covering of the pericarp, the pericarp of the fruit. If, then, there be any general formula for every kind of Vital Principle, it is—tthe primary reality of an organism.
Aristotle
In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 231.
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An attempt to study the evolution of living organisms without reference to cytology would be as futile as an account of stellar evolution which ignored spectroscopy.
'Foreword', in C.D. Darlington, Recent Advances in Cytology (1937), v.
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An organism is involved with the environment to which it is not only adapted but which is adapted to it as well.
In A.V. Lapo, 'Problemy biogeokhimii' (“Problems of Biogeochemistry”), Works of the Biogeochemical Laboratory (1980), 16, 123.
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An organized product of nature is that in which all the parts are mutually ends and means.
Critik der Urtheilskraft (1799), 296. In William Whewell, History of Scientific Ideas (1858), Vol. 2, 239.
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Ants are more like the parts of an animal than entities on their own. They are mobile cells, circulating through a dense connective tissue of other ants in a matrix of twigs. The circuits are so intimately interwoven that the anthill meets all the essential criteria of an organism.
In 'Antaeus in Manhattan', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 63.
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Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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As language-using organisms, we participate in the evolution of the Universe most fruitfully through interpretation. We understand the world by drawing pictures, telling stories, conversing. These are our special contributions to existence. It is our immense good fortune and grave responsibility to sing the songs of the Cosmos.
Epigraph, without citation, in Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2008), 103.
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As long as museums and universities send out expeditions to bring to light new forms of living and extinct animals and new data illustrating the interrelations of organisms and their environments, as long as anatomists desire a broad comparative basis human for anatomy, as long as even a few students feel a strong curiosity to learn about the course of evolution and relationships of animals, the old problems of taxonomy, phylogeny and evolution will gradually reassert themselves even in competition with brilliant and highly fruitful laboratory studies in cytology, genetics and physiological chemistry.
'Genetics Versus Paleontology', The American Naturalist, 1917, 51, 623.
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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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As the human fetus develops, its changing form seems to retrace the whole of human evolution from the time we were cosmic dust to the time we were single-celled organisms in the primordial sea to the time we were four-legged, land-dwelling reptiles and beyond, to our current status as large­brained, bipedal mammals. Thus, humans seem to be the sum total of experience since the beginning of the cosmos.
From interview with James Reston, Jr., in Pamela Weintraub (ed.), The Omni Interviews (1984), 99. Previously published in magazine, Omni (May 1982).
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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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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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Bacteria represent the world’s greatest success story. They are today and have always been the modal organisms on earth; they cannot be nuked to oblivion and will outlive us all. This time is their time, not the ‘age of mammals’ as our textbooks chauvinistically proclaim. But their price for such success is permanent relegation to a microworld, and they cannot know the joy and pain of consciousness. We live in a universe of trade-offs; complexity and persistence do not work well as partners.
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Behavioral avoidance, not physiological adaptations, is an organism’s primary response to an environmental challenge. This point is elementary, but it is by no means trivial.
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 18.
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Biologists have long attempted by chemical means to induce in higher organisms predictable and specific changes which thereafter could be transmitted in series as hereditary characters. Among microorganisms the most striking example of inheritable and specific alterations in cell structure and function that can be experimentally induced and are reproducible under well defined and adequately controlled conditions is the transformation of specific types of Pneumococcus.
Oswald T. Avery (1877-1955), Colin Macleod (1909-72) and Maclyn McCarty (1911-2005), 'Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types', Journal of Experimental Medicine 1944, 79, 137.
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Biology as a discipline would benefit enormously if we could bring together the scientists working at the opposite ends of the biological spectrum. Students of organisms who know natural history have abundant questions to offer the students of molecules and cells. And molecular and cellular biologists with their armory of techniques and special insights have much to offer students of organisms and ecology.
In 'The role of natural history in contemporary biology', BioScience (1986), 36, 328-329.
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Biology is a science of three dimensions. The first is the study of each species across all levels of biological organization, molecule to cell to organism to population to ecosystem. The second dimension is the diversity of all species in the biosphere. The third dimension is the history of each species in turn, comprising both its genetic evolution and the environmental change that drove the evolution. Biology, by growing in all three dimensions, is progressing toward unification and will continue to do so.
In 'Systematics and the Future of Biology', Systematics and the Origin of Species: on Ernst Mayr's 100th anniversary, Volume 102, Issues 22-26 (2005), 1.
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Biophilia, if it exists, and I believe it exists, is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.
'Biophilia and the Conservation Ethic', essay in The Biophilia Hypothesis, editted by Stephen R. Kellert (1997), 31.
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But when it has been shown by the researches of Pasteur that the septic property of the atmosphere depended not on the oxygen, or any gaseous constituent, but on minute organisms suspended in it, which owed their energy to their vitality, it occurred to me that decomposition in the injured part might be avoided without excluding the air, by applying as a dressing some material capable of destroying the life of the floating particles. Upon this principle I have based a practice.
'On the Antiseptic Principle in the Practice of Surgery', The British Medical Journal (1867), ii, 246.
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But, you might say, “none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.” You are quite right, except in marginal cases—and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition “2 and 2 are 4” is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. “Well, at any rate there are four animals,” you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. “Well, then living organisms,” you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: “Two entities and two entities are four entities.” When you have told me what you mean by “entity,” we will resume the argument.
In Basic Writings, 1903-1959 (1961), 108.
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By teaching us how to cultivate each ferment in its purity—in other words, by teaching us how to rear the individual organism apart from all others,—Pasteur has enabled us to avoid all these errors. And where this isolation of a particular organism has been duly effected it grows and multiplies indefinitely, but no change of it into another organism is ever observed. In Pasteur’s researches the Bacterium remained a Bacterium, the Vibrio a Vibrio, the Penicillium a Penicillium, and the Torula a Torula. Sow any of these in a state of purity in an appropriate liquid; you get it, and it alone, in the subsequent crop. In like manner, sow smallpox in the human body, your crop is smallpox. Sow there scarlatina, and your crop is scarlatina. Sow typhoid virus, your crop is typhoid—cholera, your crop is cholera. The disease bears as constant a relation to its contagium as the microscopic organisms just enumerated do to their germs, or indeed as a thistle does to its seed.
In 'Fermentation, and its Bearings on Surgery and Medicine', Essays on the Floating­Matter of the Air in Relation to Putrefaction and Infection (1881), 264.
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Chemical biodynamics, involving as it does, the fusion of many scientific disciplines, … [played a role] in the elucidation of the carbon cycle. It can be expected to take an increasingly important place in the understanding of the dynamics of living organisms on a molecular level.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1961), 'The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis', Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964).
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Complex organisms cannot be construed as the sum of their genes, nor do genes alone build particular items of anatomy or behavior by them selves. Most genes influence several aspects of anatomy and behavior–as they operate through complex interactions with other genes and their products, and with environmental factors both within and outside the developing organism. We fall into a deep error, not just a harmful oversimplification, when we speak of genes ‘for’ particular items of anatomy or behavior.
…...
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Constant, or free, life is the third form of life; it belongs to the most highly organized animals. In it, life is not suspended in any circumstance, it unrolls along a constant course, apparently indifferent to the variations in the cosmic environment, or to the changes in the material conditions that surround the animal. Organs, apparatus, and tissues function in an apparently uniform manner, without their activity undergoing those considerable variations exhibited by animals with an oscillating life. This because in reality the internal environment that envelops the organs, the tissues, and the elements of the tissues does not change; the variations in the atmosphere stop there, so that it is true to say that physical conditions of the environment are constant in the higher animals; it is enveloped in an invariable medium, which acts as an atmosphere of its own in the constantly changing cosmic environment. It is an organism that has placed itself in a hot-house. Thus the perpetual changes in the cosmic environment do not touch it; it is not chained to them, it is free and independent.
Lectures on the Phenomena of Life Common to Animals and Plants (1878), trans. Hebbel E. Hoff, Roger Guillemin and Lucienne Guillemin (1974), 83.
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Darwinian fitness is compounded of a mutual relationship between the organism and the environment. Of this, fitness of environment is quite as essential a component as the fitness which arises in the process of organic evolution; and in fundamental characteristics the actual environment is the fittest possible abode of life.
His thesis for the book stated at the beginning of The Fitness of the Environment (1913), Preface, v.
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Despite the high long-term probability of extinction, every organism alive today, including every person reading this paper, is a link in an unbroken chain of parent-offspring relationships that extends back unbroken to the beginning of life on earth. Every living organism is a part of an enormously long success story—each of its direct ancestors has been sufficiently well adapted to its physical and biological environments to allow it to mature and reproduce successfully. Viewed thus, adaptation is not a trivial facet of natural history, but a biological attribute so central as to be inseparable from life itself.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 330.
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Different kinds of animals and plants live together in different places: camels in deserts, whales in the seas, gorillas in tropical forests. The totality of this diversity from the genetic level, through organisms to ecosystems and landscapes is termed collectively biological diversity.
From Reith Lecture, 'Biodiversity', on BBC Radio 4 (19 Apr 2000). Transcript and audio on BBC website.
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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Ere long intelligence—transmitted without wires—will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism. The wonder is that, with the present state of knowledge and the experiences gained, no attempt is being made to disturb the electrostatic or magnetic condition of the earth, and transmit, if nothing else, intelligence.
Electrical Engineer (24 Jun 1892), 11, 609.
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Every component of the organism is as much of an organism as every other part.
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 200.
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Every creature alive on the earth today represents an unbroken line of life that stretches back to the first primitive organism to appear on this planet; and that is about three billion years.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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Every species of plant and animal is determined by a pool of germ plasm that has been most carefully selected over a period of hundreds of millions of years. We can understand now why it is that mutations in these carefully selected organisms almost invariably are detrimental.The situation can be suggested by a statement by Dr. J.B.S. Haldane: “My clock is not keeping perfect time. It is conceivable that it will run better if I shoot a bullet through it; but it is much more probable that it will stop altogether.” Professor George Beadle, in this connection, has asked: “What is the chance that a typographical error would improve Hamlet?”
In No More War! (1958), Chap. 4, 53.
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Evolution is a hard, inescapable mistress. There is just no room for compassion or good sportsmanship. Too many organisms are born, so, quite simply, a lot of them are going to have to die because there isn't enough food and space to go around. You can be beautiful, fast and strong, but it might not matter. The only thing that does matter is, whether you leave more children carrying your genes than the next person leaves. It’s true whether you’re a prince, a frog, or an American elm.
From The Center of Life: A Natural History of the Cell (1977, 1978), 37.
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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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Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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For nearly twelve years I travelled and lived mostly among uncivilised or completely savage races, and I became convinced that they all possessed good qualities, some of them in a very remarkable degree, and that in all the great characteristics of humanity they are wonderfully like ourselves. Some, indeed, among the brown Polynesians especially, are declared by numerous independent and unprejudiced observers, to be physically, mentally, and intellectually our equals, if not our superiors; and it has always seemed to me one of the disgraces of our civilisation that these fine people have not in a single case been protected from contamination by the vices and follies of our more degraded classes, and allowed to develope their own social and political organislll under the advice of some of our best and wisest men and the protection of our world-wide power. That would have been indeed a worthy trophy of our civilisation. What we have actually done, and left undone, resulting in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people, is one of the most pathetic of its tragedies.
In 'The Native Problem in South Africa and Elsewhere', Independent Review (1906), 11, 182.
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For the philosopher, order is the entirety of repetitions manifested, in the form of types or of laws, by perceived objects. Order is an intelligible relation. For the biologist, order is a sequence in space and time. However, according to Plato, all things arise out of their opposites. Order was born of the original disorder, and the long evolution responsible for the present biological order necessarily had to engender disorder.
An organism is a molecular society, and biological order is a kind of social order. Social order is opposed to revolution, which is an abrupt change of order, and to anarchy, which is the absence of order.
I am presenting here today both revolution and anarchy, for which I am fortunately not the only one responsible. However, anarchy cannot survive and prosper except in an ordered society, and revolution becomes sooner or later the new order. Viruses have not failed to follow the general law. They are strict parasites which, born of disorder, have created a very remarkable new order to ensure their own perpetuation.
'Interaction Among Virus, Cell, and Organism', Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1965). In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1963-1970 (1972), 174.
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Four elements, Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, also provide an example of the astonishing togetherness of our universe. They make up the “organic” molecules that constitute living organisms on a planet, and the nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. Then the organisms on the planet come to depend wholly on that starlight, as they must if life is to persist. So it is that all life on the Earth runs on sunlight. [Referring to photosynthesis]
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
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From all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics. And that not on the ground that there is any “new force” or what not, directing the behavior of the single atoms within a living organism, but because the construction is different from anything we have yet tested in the physical laboratory.
What is Life? (1956), 74.
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Furthermore, it’s equally evident that what goes on is actually one degree better than self-reproduction, for organisms appear to have gotten more elaborate in the course of time. Today's organisms are phylogenetically descended from others which were vastly simpler than they are, so much simpler, in fact, that it’s inconceivable, how any kind of description of the latter, complex organism could have existed in the earlier one. It’s not easy to imagine in what sense a gene, which is probably a low order affair, can contain a description of the human being which will come from it. But in this case you can say that since the gene has its effect only within another human organism, it probably need not contain a complete description of what is to happen, but only a few cues for a few alternatives. However, this is not so in phylogenetic evolution. That starts from simple entities, surrounded by an unliving amorphous milieu, and produce, something more complicated. Evidently, these organisms have the ability to produce something more complicated than themselves.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Genetics has enticed a great many explorers during the past two decades. They have labored with fruit-flies and guinea-pigs, with sweet peas and corn, with thousands of animals and plants in fact, and they have made heredity no longer a mystery but an exact science to be ranked close behind physics and chemistry in definiteness of conception. One is inclined to believe, however, that the unique magnetic attraction of genetics lies in the vision of potential good which it holds for mankind rather than a circumscribed interest in the hereditary mechanisms of the lowly species used as laboratory material. If man had been found to be sharply demarcated from the rest of the occupants of the world, so that his heritage of physical form, of physiological function, and of mental attributes came about in a superior manner setting him apart as lord of creation, interest in the genetics of the humbler organisms—if one admits the truth—would have flagged severely. Biologists would have turned their attention largely to the ways of human heredity, in spite of the fact that the difficulties encountered would have rendered progress slow and uncertain. Since this was not the case, since the laws ruling the inheritance of the denizens of the garden and the inmates of the stable were found to be applicable to prince and potentate as well, one could shut himself up in his laboratory and labor to his heart's content, feeling certain that any truth which it fell to his lot to discover had a real human interest, after all.
Mankind at the Crossroads (1923), v-vi.
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Harvard Law: Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity, and other variables, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.
Anonymous
The Coevolution Quarterly, Nos. 8-12 (1975), 138.
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Homo sapiens is a compulsive communicator. Look at the number of people you see walking around talking on mobile phones. We seem to have an infinite capacity for communicating and being communicated with. I’m not sure how admirable it is, but it certainly demonstrates that we are social organisms.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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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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How would we express in terms of the statistical theory the marvellous faculty of a living organism, by which it delays the decay into thermodynamical equilibrium (death)? … It feeds upon negative entropy … Thus the device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness (= fairly low level of entropy) really consists in continually sucking orderliness from its environment.
In 'Organization Maintained by Extracting “Order” from the Environment', What is Life? : The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (1944), 74.
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However, on many occasions, I examined normal blood and normal tissues and there was no possibility of overlooking bacteria or confusing them with granular masses of equal size. I never found organisms. Thus, I conclude that bacteria do not occur in healthy human or animal tissues.
'Investigations of the Etiology of Wound Infections' (1878), Essays of Robert Koch (1987), trans. K. Codell Carter, 27.
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I am much occupied with the investigation of the physical causes [of motions in the Solar System]. My aim in this is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to a clockwork … insofar as nearly all the manifold movements are carried out by means of a single, quite simple magnetic force. This physical conception is to be presented through calculation and geometry.
Letter to Ilerwart von Hohenburg (10 Feb 1605) Quoted in Holton, Johannes Kepler's Universe: Its Physics and Metaphysics, 342, as cited by Hylarie Kochiras, Force, Matter, and Metaphysics in Newton's Natural Philosophy (2008), 57.
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I assume that each organism which the Creator educed was stamped with an indelible specific character, which made it what it was, and distinguished it from everything else, however near or like. I assume that such character has been, and is, indelible and immutable; that the characters which distinguish species now, were as definite at the first instant of their creation as now and are as distinct now as they were then. If any choose to maintain... that species were gradually bought to their present maturity from humbler forms... he is welcome to his hypothesis, but I have nothing to do with it.
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857), 111.
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I do not think that, practically or morally, we can defend a policy of saving every distinctive local population of organisms. I can cite a good rationale for the preservation of species, for each species is a unique and separate natural object that, once lost, can never be reconstituted. But subspecies are distinctive local populations of species with broader geographic range. Subspecies are dynamic, interbreedable, and constantly changing: what then are we saving by declaring them all inviolate?
…...
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I have attempted to form a judgment as to the conditions for evolution based on the statistical consequences of Mendelian heredity. The most general conclusion is that evolution depends on a certain balance among its factors. There must be a gene mutation, but an excessive rate gives an array of freaks, not evolution; there must be selection, but too severe a process destroys the field of variability, and thus the basis for further advance; prevalence of local inbreeding within a species has extremely important evolutionary consequences, but too close inbreeding leads merely to extinction. A certain amount of crossbreeding is favorable but not too much. In this dependence on balance the species is like a living organism. At all levels of organization life depends on the maintenance of a certain balance among its factors.
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics: Ithaca, New York, 1932 (1932) Vol. 1, 365.
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I have repeatedly had cause to refer to certain resemblances between the phenomena of irritability in the vegetable kingdom and those of the animal body, thus touching a province of investigation which has hitherto been far too little cultivated. In the last instance, indeed, I might say animal and vegetable life must of necessity agree in all essential points, including the phenomena of irritability also, since it is established that the animal organism is constructed entirely and simply from the properties of these substances that all vital movements both of plants and animals are to be explained.
Lectures on the Physiology of Plants (1887), 600.
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I have shown first in the course of this investigation that the infective matter is independently animate, and further that one could think of the independently animate matter as either animal and plant organisms or elementary parts of animals, which have achieved a relative individuality.
'On Miasmata and Contagia', trans. G. Rosen, Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine (1938), 6, 957.
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I see the whole of humankind becoming a single, integrated organism. … I look upon each of us as I would an individual cell in the organism, each of us playing his or her respective role.
From interview with James Reston, Jr., in Pamela Weintraub (ed.), The Omni Interviews (1984), 109. Previously published in magazine, Omni (May 1982).
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I should like to compare this rearrangement which the proteins undergo in the animal or vegetable organism to the making up of a railroad train. In their passage through the body parts of the whole may be left behind, and here and there new parts added on. In order to understand fully the change we must remember that the proteins are composed of Bausteine united in very different ways. Some of them contain Bausteine of many kinds. The multiplicity of the proteins is determined by many causes, first through the differences in the nature of the constituent Bausteine; and secondly, through differences in the arrangement of them. The number of Bausteine which may take part in the formation of the proteins is about as large as the number of letters in the alphabet. When we consider that through the combination of letters an infinitely large number of thoughts may be expressed, we can understand how vast a number of the properties of the organism may be recorded in the small space which is occupied by the protein molecules. It enables us to understand how it is possible for the proteins of the sex-cells to contain, to a certain extent, a complete description of the species and even of the individual. We may also comprehend how great and important the task is to determine the structure of the proteins, and why the biochemist has devoted himself with so much industry to their analysis.
'The Chemical Composition of the Cell', The Harvey Lectures (1911), 7, 45.
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If diphtheria is a disease caused by a microorganism, it is essential that three postulates be fulfilled. The fulfilment of these postulates is necessary in order to demonstrate strictly the parasitic nature of a disease:
1) The organism must be shown to be constantly present in characteristic form and arrangement in the diseased tissue.
2) The organism which, from its behaviour appears to be responsible for the disease, must be isolated and grown in pure culture.
3) The pure culture must be shown to induce the disease experimentally.
An early statement of Koch's postulates.
Mittheilungen aus den Kaiserliche Gesundheitsamt (1884) Vol. 2. Trans. T. D. Brock, Robert Koch: A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology (1988), 180.
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If it is a terrifying thought that life is at the mercy of the multiplication of these minute bodies [microbes], it is a consoling hope that Science will not always remain powerless before such enemies...
Paper read to the French Academy of Sciences (29 Apr 1878), published in Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences, 86, 1037-43, as translated by H.C.Ernst. Collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.) The Harvard Classics, Vol. 38; Scientific Papers: Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Geology (1910), 366.
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In a purely technical sense, each species of higher organism—beetle, moss, and so forth, is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, Mozart symphony, or any other great work of art. Consider the typical case of the house mouse, Mus musculus. Each of its cells contains four strings of DNA, each of which comprises about a billion nucleotide pairs organized into a hundred thousand structural nucleotide pairs, organized into a hundred thousand structural genes. … The full information therein, if translated into ordinary-sized printed letters, would just about fill all 15 editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica published since 1768.
'The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2:1, 22. Reprinted in Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006 (2006), 622.
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In every living being there exists a capacity for endless diversity of form; each possesses the power of adapting its organization to the variations of the external world, and it is this power, called into activity by cosmic changes, which has enabled the simple zoophytes of the primitive world to climb to higher and higher stages of organization, and has brought endless variety into nature.
From Gottfried Reinold Treviranus, Biologie, oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur [Biology, or Philosophy of Animate Nature], quoted in Lecture 1, August Weismann (1904, 2nd German ed.) as translated in August Weismann, Margaret R. Thomson (trans.), The Evolution Theory, Vol 1., 18-19.
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In its essence, the theory of natural selection is primarily an attempt to give an account of the probable mechanism of the origin of the adaptations of the organisms to their environment, and only secondarily an attempt to explain evolution at large. Some modern biologists seem to believe that the word 'adaptation' has teleological connotations, and should therefore be expunged from the scientific lexicon. With this we must emphatically disagree. That adaptations exist is so evident as to be almost a truism, although this need not mean that ours is the best of all possible worlds. A biologist has no right to close his eyes to the fact that the precarious balance between a living being and its environment must be preserved by some mechanism or mechanisms if life is to endure.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 150.
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In our preoccupations with sex, our submission to gods and leaders, our sometimes suicidal commitment to ideas, religions, and trivial details of cultural style, we become the unconscious creators of the social organism’s exploits.
In 'The Clint Eastwood Conundrum', The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (1997), 8.
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Investigating the conditions under which mutations occur … requires studies of mutation frequency under various methods of handling the organisms. As yet, extremely little has been done along this line. That is because, in the past, a mutation was considered a windfall, and the expression “mutation frequency” would have seemed a contradiction in terms. To attempt to study it would have seemed as absurd as to study the conditions affecting the distribution of dollar bills on the sidewalk. You were simply fortunate if you found one. … Of late, however, we may say that certain very exceptional banking houses have been found, in front of which the dollars fall more frequently—in other words, specially mutable genes have been discovered, that are beginning to yield abundant data at the hands of Nilsson-Ehle, Zeleny, Emerson, Anderson and others.
In 'Variation Due to Change in the Individual Gene', The American Naturalist (Jan-Feb 1922), 56, No. 642, 44.
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Is man a peculiar organism? Does he originate in a wholly different way from a dog, bird, frog, or fish? and does he thereby justify those who assert that he has no place in nature, and no real relationship with the lower world of animal life? Or does he develop from a similar embryo, and undergo the same slow and gradual progressive modifications? The answer is not for an instant doubtful, and has not been doubtful for the last thirty years. The mode of man’s origin and the earlier stages of his development are undoubtedly identical with those of the animals standing directly below him in the scale; without the slightest doubt, he stands in this respect nearer the ape than the ape does to the dog. (1863)
As quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 12, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 364.
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It has been shown to be possible, by deliberately planned and chemotherapeutic approach, to discover curative agents which act specifically and aetiologically against diseases due to protozoal infections, and especially against the spirilloses, and amongst these against syphilis in the first place. Further evidence for the specificity of the action of dihydroxydiaminoarsenobenzene [Salvarsan ‘606’] is the disappearance of the Wasserman reaction, which reaction must … be regarded as indicative of a reaction of the organism to the constituents of the spirochaetes.
P. Ehrlich and S. Hata, 'Closing Notes to the Experimental Chemotherapy of Spirilloses', 1910. Reprinted in F. Himmelweit (ed.), The Collected Papers of Paul Ehrlich (1957), Vol. 3, 302.
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It has occurred to me that possibly the white corpuscles may have the office of picking up and digesting bacterial organisms when by any means they find their way into the blood. The propensity exhibited by the leukocytes for picking up inorganic granules is well known, and that they may be able not only to pick up but to assimilate, and so dispose of, the bacteria which come in their way does not seem to me very improbable in view of the fact that amoebae, which resemble them so closely, feed upon bacteria and similar organisms.
'A Contribution to the Study of the Bacterial Organisms Commonly Found Upon Exposed Mucous Surfaces and in the Alimentary Canal of Healthy Individuals', Studies from the Biological Laboratory (1883), 2, 175.
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It is an error to imagine that evolution signifies a constant tendency to increased perfection. That process undoubtedly involves a constant remodeling of the organism in adaptation to new conditions; but it depends on the nature of those conditions whether the direction of the modifications effected shall be upward or downward.
'The Struggle for Existence in Human Society' (1888). In Collected Essays (1894), Vol. 9, 199.
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It is certainly true in the United States that there is an uneasiness about certain aspects of science, particularly evolution, because it conflicts, in some people’s minds, with their sense of how we all came to be. But you know, if you are a believer in God, it’s hard to imagine that God would somehow put this incontrovertible evidence in front of us about our relationship to other living organisms and expect us to disbelieve it. I mean, that doesn't make sense at all.
From video of interview with Huffington post reporter at the 2014 Davos Annual Meeting, World Economic Forum (25 Jan 2014). On web page 'Dr. Francis Collins: “There Is An Uneasiness” About Evolution'
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It is difficult to see anything but infatuation in the destructive temperament which leads to the action … that each of us is to rejoice that our several units are to be distinguished at death into countless millions of organisms; for such, it seems, is the latest revelation delivered from the fragile tripod of a modern Delphi.
In 'Dawn and the Creation of Worship', The Nineteenth Century, 1885, 18, 706.
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It is easy to make out three areas where scientists will be concentrating their efforts in the coming decades. One is in physics, where leading theorists are striving, with the help of experimentalists, to devise a single mathematical theory that embraces all the basic phenomena of matter and energy. The other two are in biology. Biologists—and the rest of us too—would like to know how the brain works and how a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, develops into an entire organism
Article 'The View From Mars', in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Research Facilities of the Future (1994), 735, 37.
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It is important to realize that life on this planet has spent about three-quarters of its existence in single-celled form, and even today the majority of organisms still exist as single cells. The evolutionary pressure to become complex is evidently not very great.
and Robert Shapiro
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It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could have ever been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.
Letter; as quoted in The Origin of Life by J.D. Bernal (1967) publ.Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London
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It is one of the laws of life that each acquisition has its cost. No organism can exercise power without yielding up part of its substance. The physiological law of Transfer of Energy is the basis of human success and happiness. There is no action without expenditure of energy and if energy be not expended the power to generate it is lost. This law shows itself in a thousand ways in the life of man. The arm which is not used becomes palsied. The wealth which comes by chance weakens and destroys. The good which is unused turns to evil. The charity which asks no effort cannot relieve the misery she creates.
In The Strength of Being Clean: A Study of the Quest for Unearned Happiness (1900), 6.
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It is only at the beginning of the age of the dinosaurs that the deep sea, hitherto bare of organisms, was finally invaded by life.
(1965). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 136.
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It is possible to read books on Natural History with intelligence and profit, and even to make good observations, without a scientific groundwork of biological instruction; and it is possible to arrive at empirical facts of hygiene and medical treatment without any physiological instruction. But in all three cases the absence of a scientific basis will render the knowledge fragmentary and incomplete; and this ought to deter every one from offering an opinion on debatable questions which pass beyond the limit of subjective observations. The psychologist who has not prepared himself by a study of the organism has no more right to be heard on the genesis of the psychical states, or of the relations between body and mind, than one of the laity has a right to be heard on a question of medical treatment.
The Physical Basis of Mind (1877), 4.
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It is possible to state as a general principle that the mesodermic phagocytes, which originally (as in the sponges of our days) acted as digestive cells, retained their role to absorb the dead or weakened parts of the organism as much as different foreign intruders.
'Uber die Pathologische Bedeutung der Intracellularen Verduung', Fortschritte der Medizin (1884), 17, 558-569. Trans. Alfred I. Tauber and Leon Chernyak, Metchnikoff and the Origins of Immunology (1991), 141.
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It is possible with … carbon … to form very large molecules that are stable. This results from the stability of the carbon-to-carbon bond. You must have complexity in order to achieve the versatility characteristic of living organisms. You can achieve this complexity with carbon forming the molecular backbone.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 739.
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It is probable that all organisms now alive are descended from one ancestor, for the following reason. Most of our structural molecules are asymmetrical, as shown by the fact that they rotate the plane of polarized light, and often form asymmetrical crystals. But of the two possible types of any such molecule, related to one another like a right and left boot, only one is found throughout living nature. The apparent exceptions to this rule are all small molecules which are not used in the building of the large structures which display the phenomena of life.
In 'The Origin of Life', The Inequality of Man: And Other Essays (1932), 157.
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It is probable that the scheme of physics will be enlarged so as to embrace the behaviour of living organisms under the influence of life and mind. Biology and psychology are not alien sciences; their operations are not solely mechanical, nor can they be formulated by physics as it is today; but they belong to a physical universe, and their mode of action ought to be capable of being formulated in terms of an enlarged physics in the future, in which the ether will take a predominant place. On the other hand it may be thought that those entities cannot be brought to book so easily, and that they will always elude our ken. If so, there will be a dualism in the universe, which posterity will find staggering, but that will not alter the facts.
In Past Years: an Autobiography (1932), 350. Quoted in book review, Waldehar Kaempfert, 'Sir Oliver Lodge Stands by the Old Physics', New York Times (21 Feb 1932), BR5.
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It is tautological to say that an organism is adapted to its environment. It is even tautological to say that an organism is physiologically adapted to its environment. However, just as in the case of many morphological characters, it is unwarranted to conclude that all aspects of the physiology of an organism have evolved in reference to a specific milieu. It is equally gratuitous to assume that an organism will inevitably show physiological specializations in its adaptation to a particular set of conditions. All that can be concluded is that the functional capacities of an organism are sufficient to have allowed persistence within its environment. On one hand, the history of an evolutionary line may place serious constraints upon the types of further physiological changes that are readily feasible. Some changes might require excessive restructuring of the genome or might involve maladaptive changes in related functions. On the other hand, a taxon which is successful in occupying a variety of environments may be less impressive in individual physiological capacities than one with a far more limited distribution.
In W.R. Dawson, G.A. Bartholomew, and A.F. Bennett, 'A Reappraisal of the Aquatic Specializations of the Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)', Evolution (1977), 31, 891.
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It is the intact and functioning organism on which natural selection operates. Organisms are therefore the central element of concern to the biologist who aspires to a broad and integrated understanding of biology.
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 15.
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It is the relationship between the physical environment and the environed organism, between physiography and ontography (to coin a term), that constitutes the essential principles of geography today.
'Systematic Geography', read 3 April 1902. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge, 1902, 41, 240.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It may very properly be asked whether the attempt to define distinct species, of a more or less permanent nature, such as we are accustomed to deal with amongst the higher plants and animals, is not altogether illusory amongst such lowly organised forms of life as the bacteria. No biologist nowadays believes in the absolute fixity of species … but there are two circumstances which here render the problem of specificity even more difficult of solution. The bacteriologist is deprived of the test of mutual fertility or sterility, so valuable in determining specific limits amongst organisms in which sexual reproduction prevails. Further, the extreme rapidity with which generation succeeds generation amongst bacteria offers to the forces of variation and natural selection a field for their operation wholly unparalleled amongst higher forms of life.
'The Evolution of the Streptococci', The Lancet, 1906, 2, 1415-6.
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It must never be forgotten that education is not a process of packing articles in a trunk. Such a simile is entirely inapplicable. It is, of course, a process completely of its own peculiar genus. Its nearest analogue is the assimilation of food by a living organism: and we all know how necessary to health is palatable food under suitable conditions.
In 'The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 42.
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It seems to me that the view toward which we are tending is that the specificity in gene action is always a chemical specificity, probably the production of enzymes which guide metabolic processes along particular channels. A given array of genes thus determines the production of a particular kind of protoplasm with particular properties—such, for example, as that of responding to surface forces by the formation of a special sort of semipermeable membrane, and that of responding to trivial asymmetries in the play of external stimuli by polarization, with consequent orderly quantitative gradients in all physiologic processes. Different genes may now be called into play at different points in this simple pattern, either through the local formation of their specific substrates for action, or by activation of a mutational nature. In either case the pattern becomes more complex and qualitatively differentiated. Successive interactions of differentiated regions and the calling into play of additional genes may lead to any degree of complexity of pattern in the organism as a largely self-contained system. The array of genes, assembled in the course of evolution, must of course be one which determines a highly self­regulatory system of reactions. On this view the genes are highly specific chemically, and thus called into play only under very specific conditions; but their morphological effects, if any, rest on quantitative influences of immediate or remote products on growth gradients, which are resultants of all that has gone on before in the organism.
In 'Genetics of Abnormal Growth in the Guinea Pig', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology (1934), 2, 142.
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It will be noticed that the fundamental theorem proved above bears some remarkable resemblances to the second law of thermodynamics. Both are properties of populations, or aggregates, true irrespective of the nature of the units which compose them; both are statistical laws; each requires the constant increase of a measurable quantity, in the one case the entropy of a physical system and in the other the fitness, measured by m, of a biological population. As in the physical world we can conceive the theoretical systems in which dissipative forces are wholly absent, and in which the entropy consequently remains constant, so we can conceive, though we need not expect to find, biological populations in which the genetic variance is absolutely zero, and in which fitness does not increase. Professor Eddington has recently remarked that “The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of nature.” It is not a little instructive that so similar a law should hold the supreme position among the biological sciences. While it is possible that both may ultimately be absorbed by some more general principle, for the present we should note that the laws as they stand present profound differences—-(1) The systems considered in thermodynamics are permanent; species on the contrary are liable to extinction, although biological improvement must be expected to occur up to the end of their existence. (2) Fitness, although measured by a uniform method, is qualitatively different for every different organism, whereas entropy, like temperature, is taken to have the same meaning for all physical systems. (3) Fitness may be increased or decreased by changes in the environment, without reacting quantitatively upon that environment. (4) Entropy changes are exceptional in the physical world in being irreversible, while irreversible evolutionary changes form no exception among biological phenomena. Finally, (5) entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world, at least from the human standpoint of the utilization of energy, while evolutionary changes are generally recognized as producing progressively higher organization in the organic world.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 36.
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Its [science’s] goal is to find out how the world works, to seek what regularities there may be, to penetrate to the connections of things—from subatomic particles, which may be the constituents of all matter, to living organisms, the human social community, and thence to the cosmos as a whole.
Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1986), 15.
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Just as a tree constitutes a mass arranged in a definite manner, in which, in every single part, in the leaves as in the root, in the trunk as in the blossom, cells are discovered to be the ultimate elements, so is it also with the forms of animal life. Every animal presents itself as a sum of vital unities, every one of which manifests all the characteristics of life. The characteristics and unity of life cannot be limited to anyone particular spot in a highly developed organism (for example, to the brain of man), but are to be found only in the definite, constantly recurring structure, which every individual element displays. Hence it follows that the structural composition of a body of considerable size, a so-called individual, always represents a kind of social arrangement of parts, an arrangement of a social kind, in which a number of individual existences are mutually dependent, but in such a way, that every element has its own special action, and, even though it derive its stimulus to activity from other parts, yet alone effects the actual performance of its duties.
In Lecture I, 'Cells and the Cellular Theory' (1858), Rudolf Virchow and Frank Chance (trans.) ,Cellular Pathology (1860), 13-14.
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Language is simply alive, like an organism. We all tell each other this, in fact, when we speak of living languages, and I think we mean something more than an abstract metaphor. We mean alive. Words are the cells of language, moving the great body, on legs. Language grows and evolves, leaving fossils behind. The individual words are like different species of animals. Mutations occur. Words fuse, and then mate. Hybrid words and wild varieties or compound words are the progeny. Some mixed words are dominated by one parent while the other is recessive. The way a word is used this year is its phenotype, but it has deeply immutable meanings, often hidden, which is its genotype.... The separate languages of the Indo-European family were at one time, perhaps five thousand years ago, maybe much longer, a single language. The separation of the speakers by migrations had effects on language comparable to the speciation observed by Darwin on various islands of the Galapagos. Languages became different species, retaining enough resemblance to an original ancestor so that the family resemblance can still be seen.
in 'Living Language,' The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974, 1984), 106.
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Leaving aside genetic surgery applied humans, I foresee that the coming century will place in our hands two other forms of biological technology which are less dangerous but still revolutionary enough to transform the conditions of our existence. I count these new technologies as powerful allies in the attack on Bernal's three enemies. I give them the names “biological engineering” and “self-reproducing machinery.” Biological engineering means the artificial synthesis of living organisms designed to fulfil human purposes. Self-reproducing machinery means the imitation of the function and reproduction of a living organism with non-living materials, a computer-program imitating the function of DNA and a miniature factory imitating the functions of protein molecules. After we have attained a complete understanding of the principles of organization and development of a simple multicellular organism, both of these avenues of technological exploitation should be open to us.
From 3rd J.D. Bernal Lecture, Birkbeck College London (16 May 1972), The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1972), 6. Collected in The Scientist as Rebel (2006), 292. (The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul is the title of a book by J. D Bernal, a scientist who pioneered X-ray crystallography.)
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Life arose as a living molecule or protogene, the progression from this stage to that of the ameba is at least as great as from ameba to man. All the essential problems of living organisms are already solved in the one-celled (or, as many now prefer to say, noncellular) protozoan and these are only elaborated in man or the other multicellular animals. The step from nonlife to life may not have been so complex, after all, and that from cell to multicellular organism is readily comprehensible. The change from protogene to protozoan was probably the most complex that has occurred in evolution, and it may well have taken as long as the change from protozoan to man.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 16
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Life is inseparable from water. For all terrestrial animals, including birds, the inescapable need for maintaining an adequate state of hydration in a hostile, desiccating environment is a central persistent constraint which exerts a sustained selective pressure on every aspect of the life cycle. It has been said, with some justification, that the struggle for existence is a struggle for free energy for doing physiological work. It can be said with equal justification for terrestrial organisms that the struggle for existence is a struggle to maintain an aqueous internal environment in which energy transformations for doing work can take place.
In 'The water economy of seed-eating birds that survive without drinking', Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress (1972), 15, 237-238.
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Life is order, death is disorder. A fundamental law of Nature states that spontaneous chemical changes in the universe tend toward chaos. But life has, during milliards of years of evolution, seemingly contradicted this law. With the aid of energy derived from the sun it has built up the most complicated systems to be found in the universe—living organisms. Living matter is characterized by a high degree of chemical organisation on all levels, from the organs of large organisms to the smallest constituents of the cell. The beauty we experience when we enjoy the exquisite form of a flower or a bird is a reflection of a microscopic beauty in the architecture of molecules.
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry: Introductory Address'. Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1981-1990 (1992), 69.
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Life is the dynamical condition of the organism.
In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 230.
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Life is too complicated to permit a complete understanding through the study of whole organisms. Only by simplifying a biological problem—breaking it down into a multitude of individual problems—can you get the answers.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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Man is not a machine, ... although man most certainly processes information, he does not necessarily process it in the way computers do. Computers and men are not species of the same genus. .... No other organism, and certainly no computer, can be made to confront genuine human problems in human terms. ... However much intelligence computers may attain, now or in the future, theirs must always be an intelligence alien to genuine human problems and concerns.
Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, (1976) 203 and 223. Also excerpted in Ronald Chrisley (ed.), Artificial Intelligence: Critical Concepts (2000), Vol. 3, 313 and 321. Note that the second ellipsis spans 8 pages.
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Mathematical science is in my opinion an indivisible whole, an organism whose vitality is conditioned upon the connection of its parts. For with all the variety of mathematical knowledge, we are still clearly conscious of the similarity of the logical devices, the relationship of the ideas in mathematics as a whole and the numerous analogies in its different departments.
In 'Mathematical Problems', Bulletin American Mathematical Society, 8, 478.
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Most classifications, whether of inanimate objects or of organisms, are hierarchical. There are “higher” and “lower” categories, there are higher and lower ranks. What is usually overlooked is that the use of the term “hierarchy” is ambiguous, and that two fundamentally different kinds of arrangements have been designated as hierarchical. A hierarchy can be either exclusive or inclusive. Military ranks from private, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, up to general are a typical example of an exclusive hierarchy. A lower rank is not a subdivision of a higher rank; thus, lieutenants are not a subdivision of captains. The scala naturae, which so strongly dominated thinking from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, is another good illustration of an exclusive hierarchy. Each level of perfection was considered an advance (or degradation) from the next lower (or higher) level in the hierarchy, but did not include it.
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 205-6.
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Mutations and chromosomal changes arise in every sufficiently studied organism with a certain finite frequency, and thus constantly and unremittingly supply the raw materials for evolution. But evolution involves something more than origin of mutations. Mutations and chromosomal changes are only the first stage, or level, of the evolutionary process, governed entirely by the laws of the physiology of individuals. Once produced, mutations are injected in the genetic composition of the population, where their further fate is determined by the dynamic regularities of the physiology of populations. A mutation may be lost or increased in frequency in generations immediately following its origin, and this (in the case of recessive mutations) without regard to the beneficial or deleterious effects of the mutation. The influences of selection, migration, and geographical isolation then mold the genetic structure of populations into new shapes, in conformity with the secular environment and the ecology, especially the breeding habits, of the species. This is the second level of the evolutionary process, on which the impact of the environment produces historical changes in the living population.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 13.
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My interest in Science had many roots. Some came from my mother … while I was in my early teens. She fell in love with science,… [from] classes on the Foundations of Physical Science. … I was infected by [her] professor second hand, through hundreds of hours of conversations at my mother’s knees. It was from my mother that I first learned of Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin. We spent hours together collecting single-celled organisms from a local pond and watching them with a microscope.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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Natural history is not equivalent to biology. Biology is the study of life. Natural history is the study of animals and plants—of organisms. Biology thus includes natural history, and much else besides.
In The Nature of Natural History (1961, 2014), 7.
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Nature has put itself the problem how to catch in flight light streaming to the earth and to store the most elusive of all powers in rigid form. To achieve this aim, it has covered the crust of earth with organisms which in their life processes absorb the light of the sun and use this power to produce a continuously accumulating chemical difference. ... The plants take in one form of power, light; and produce another power, chemical difference.
In pamphlet, The Organic Motion in its Relation to Metabolism (1845), as translated in Eugene Rabinowitch, Govindjee, Photosynthesis (1969), 9.
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No hypothesis concerning the nature of this 'something' shall be advanced thereby or based thereon. Therefore it appears as most simple to use the last syllable 'gen' taken from Darwin's well-known word pangene since it alone is of interest to use, in order thereby to replace the poor, more ambiguous word, 'Anlage'. Thus, we will say for 'das pangene' and 'die pangene' simply 'Das Gen' and 'Die Gene,' The word Gen is fully free from every hypothesis; it expresses only the safely proved fact that in any case many properties of organisms are conditioned by separable and hence independent 'Zustiinde,' 'Grundlagen,' 'Anlagen'—in short what we will call 'just genes'—which occur specifically in the gametes.
Elemente der Exakten Erblichkeitslehre (1909), 124. Trans. G. E. Allen and quoted in G. E. Allen, Thomas Hunt Morgan: The Man and His Science (1978), 209-10 (Footnote 79).
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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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One can ask: “If I crystallize a virus to obtain a crystal consisting of the molecules that make up the virus, are those molecules lifeless or not?” … The properties of living organisms are those of aggregates of molecules. It’s very difficult to draw a line between molecules that are lifeless and molecules that are not lifeless.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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One of the grandest generalizations formulated by modern biological science is that of the continuity of life; the protoplasmic activity within each living body now on earth has continued without cessation from the remote beginnings of life on our planet, and from that period until the present no single organism has ever arisen save in the form of a bit of living protoplasm detached from a pre-existing portion; the eternal flame of life once kindled upon this earth has passed from organism to organism, and is still, going on existing and propagating, incarnated within the myriad animal and plant forms of everyday life.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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Organisms ... are directed and limited by their past. They must remain imperfect in their form and function, and to that extent unpredictable since they are not optimal machines. We cannot know their future with certainty, if only because a myriad of quirky functional shifts lie within the capacity of any feature, however well adapted to a present role.
…...
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Organisms are not billiard balls, propelled by simple and measurable external forces to predictable new positions on life’s pool table. Sufficiently complex systems have greater richness. Organisms have a history that constrains their future in myriad, subtle ways.
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Perhaps bacteria may tentatively be regarded as biochemical experiments; owing to their relatively small size and rapid growth, variations must arise much more frequently than in more differentiated forms of life, and they can in addition afford to occupy more precarious positions in natural economy than larger organisms with more exacting requirements.
Bacterial Metabolism (1930). In 'Obituary Notice: Marjory Stephenson, 1885–1948', Biochemistry Journal (1950), 46:4, 377.
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Physical science enjoys the distinction of being the most fundamental of the experimental sciences, and its laws are obeyed universally, so far as is known, not merely by inanimate things, but also by living organisms, in their minutest parts, as single individuals, and also as whole communities. It results from this that, however complicated a series of phenomena may be and however many other sciences may enter into its complete presentation, the purely physical aspect, or the application of the known laws of matter and energy, can always be legitimately separated from the other aspects.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 9-10.
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Plasticity is a double-edged sword; the more flexible an organism is the greater the variety of maladaptive, as well as adaptive, behaviors it can develop; the more teachable it is the more fully it can profit from the experiences of its ancestors and associates and the more it risks being exploited by its ancestors and associates.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 361.
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Reproduction is so primitive and fundamental a function of vital organisms that the mechanism by which it is assured is highly complex and not yet clearly understood. It is not necessarily connected with sex, nor is sex necessarily connected with reproduction.
Psychology of Sex (1933), 7.
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Scientific practice is above all a story-telling practice. ... Biology is inherently historical, and its form of discourse is inherently narrative. ... Biology as a way of knowing the world is kin to Romantic literature, with its discourse about organic form and function. Biology is the fiction appropriate to objects called organisms; biology fashions the facts “discovered” about organic beings.
Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science(1989), 4-5.
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Since an organism is inseparable from its environment, any person who attempts to understand an organism’s distribution must keep constantly in mind that the item being studied is neither a stuffed skin, a pickled specimen, nor a dot on a map. It is not even the live organism held in the hand, caged in a laboratory, or seen in the field. It is a complex interaction between a self-sustaining physicochemical system and the environment. An obvious corollary is that to know the organism it is necessary to know its environment.
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 83.
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Since many cases are known in which the specificities of antigens and enzymes appear to bear a direct relation to gene specificities, it seems reasonable to suppose that the gene’s primary and possibly sole function is in directing the final configurations of protein molecules.
Assuming that each specific protein of the organism has its unique configuration copied from that of a gene, it follows that every enzyme whose specificity depends on a protein should be subject to modification or inactivation through gene mutation. This would, of course, mean that the reaction normally catalyzed by the enzyme in question would either have its rate or products modified or be blocked entirely.
Such a view does not mean that genes directly “make” proteins. Regardless of precisely how proteins are synthesized, and from what component parts, these parts must themselves be synthesized by reactions which are enzymatically catalyzed and which in turn depend on the functioning of many genes. Thus in the synthesis of a single protein molecule, probably at least several hundred different genes contribute. But the final molecule corresponds to only one of them and this is the gene we visualize as being in primary control.
In 'Genetics and Metabolism in Neurospora', Physiological Reviews, 1945, 25, 660.
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Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
In 'The roles of physiology and behaviour in the maintenance of homeostasis in the desert environment.', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology (1964), 11.
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Society is itself a kind of organism, an enormously powerful one, but unfortunately not a very wise one.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 301.
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Sociobiology is not just any statement that biology, genetics, and evolutionary theory have something to do with human behavior. Sociobiology is a specific theory about the nature of genetic and evolutionary input into human behavior. It rests upon the view that natural selection is a virtually omnipotent architect, constructing organisms part by part as best solutions to problems of life in local environments. It fragments organisms into “traits,” explains their existence as a set of best solutions, and argues that each trait is a product of natural selection operating “for” the form or behavior in question. Applied to humans, it must view specific behaviors (not just general potentials) as adaptations built by natural selection and rooted in genetic determinants, for natural selection is a theory of genetic change. Thus, we are presented with unproved and unprovable speculations about the adaptive and genetic basis of specific human behaviors: why some (or all) people are aggressive, xenophobic, religious, acquisitive, or homosexual.
In Hen's Teeth and Horses Toes (1983, 2010), 242-243.
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Take away these instinctive dispositions with their powerful impulses, and the organism would become incapable of activity of any kind; it would lie inert and motionless like a wonderful clockwork whose mainspring had been removed or a steam-engine whose fires had been withdrawn.
An Introduction to Social Psychology (1928), 38.
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Taxonomy (the science of classification) is often undervalued as a glorified form of filing—with each species in its folder, like a stamp in its prescribed place in an album; but taxonomy is a fundamental and dynamic science, dedicated to exploring the causes of relationships and similarities among organisms. Classifications are theories about the basis of natural order, not dull catalogues compiled only to avoid chaos.
Wonderful Life (1989), 98.
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The absorption of oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide in the lungs take place by diffusion alone. There is no trustworthy evidence of any regulation of this process on the part of the organism.
Krogh summing up his results related to a quote from The Mechanism of gas Exchange (1910), 257, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 502.
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The admirable perfection of the adaptations of organisms and of their parts to the functions they perform has detracted attention from the fact that adaptedness does not consist of perfect fit, but capacity to fit or to adapt in a variety of ways: only in this sense is adaptedness a guarantee of further survival and evolutionary progress, for too perfect a fit is fatal to the species if not to the individual. This, I think, sets phylogeny and ontogeny in the correct perspective. It is the genotype which bears the marks of past experience of the species and defines the range of possible fits. What fit is actually chosen, what phenotype is actually evolved, is determined by the ever renewed individual history.
'The Interplay of Heredity and Environment in the Synthesis of Respiratory Enzymes in Yeast', The Harvey Lectures: Delivered under the auspices of The Harvey Society of New York 1950-1951, 1951, 156, 45-6.
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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The aim of natural science is to obtain connections among phenomena. Theories, however, are like withered leaves, which drop off after having enabled the organism of science to breathe for a time.
As quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 62, which cites Die Geschichte und die Wurzel des Satzes von der Erhaltung der Arbeit (1871) and English translation, History and Root of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy (1911).
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The assumptions of population thinking are diametrically opposed to those of the typologist. The populationist stresses the uniqueness of everything in the organic world. What is true for the human species,–that no two individuals are alike, is equally true for all other species of animals and plants ... All organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of organic entities, form populations of which we can determine the arithmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions, only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality. The ultimate conclusions of the population thinker and of the typologist are precisely the opposite. For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real and the variation. an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.
Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology (1959), 2.
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The cause of nutrition and growth resides not in the organism as a whole but in the separate elementary parts—the cells.
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), 192.
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The cell, this elementary keystone of living nature, is far from being a peculiar chemical giant molecule or even a living protein and as such is not likely to fall prey to the field of an advanced chemistry. The cell is itself an organism, constituted of many small units of life.
Quoted in Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 59.
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The chances for favorable serendipity are increased if one studies an animal that is not one of the common laboratory species. Atypical animals, or preparations, force one to use non-standard approaches and non-standard techniques, and even to think nonstandard ideas. My own preference is to seek out species which show some extreme of adaptation. Such organisms often force one to abandon standard methods and standard points of view. Almost inevitably they lead one to ask new questions, and most importantly in trying to comprehend their special and often unusual adaptations one often serendipitously stumbles upon new insights.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 234.
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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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The conception that antibodies, which should protect against disease, are also responsible for the disease, sounds at first absurd. This has as its basis the fact that we are accustomed to see in disease only the harm done to the organism and to see in the antibodies solely antitoxic [protective] substances. One forgets too easily that the disease represents only a stage in the development of immunity, and that the organism often attains the advantage of immunity only by means of disease. ... Serum sickness represents, so to speak, an unnatural (artificial) form of disease.
C. von Pirquet and B. Schick, Die Serumkrankheit (1906), trans B. Schick, Serum Sickness (1951), 119-20.
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The constant conditions which are maintained in the body might be termed equilibria. That word, however, has come to have fairly exact meaning as applied to relatively simple physico-chemical states, in closed systems, where known forces are balanced. The coordinated physiological processes which maintain most of the steady states in the organism are so complex and so peculiar to living beings—involving, as they may, the brain and nerves, the heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen, all working cooperatively—that I have suggested a special designation for these states, homeostasis. The word does not imply something set and immobile, a stagnation. It means a condition—a condition which may vary, but which is relatively constant.
In The Wisdom of the Body (1932), 24.
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The contributions of physiological knowledge to an understanding of distribution are necessarily inferential. Distribution is a historical phenomenon, and the data ordinarily obtained by students of physiology are essentially instantaneous. However, every organism has a line of ancestors which extends back to the beginning of life on earth and which, during this immensity of time, has invariably been able to avoid, to adapt to, or to compensate for environmental changes.
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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The development of an organism … may be considered as the execution of a 'developmental program' present in the fertilized egg. … A central task of developmental biology is to discover the underlying algorithm from the course of development.
Aristid Lindenmayer and Grzegorz Rozenberg, Automata, Languages, Development (1976), v.
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The elementary parts of all tissues are formed of cells in an analogous, though very diversified manner, so that it may be asserted, that there is one universal principle of development for the elementary parts of organisms, however different, and that this principle is the formation of cells.
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), 165.
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The epoch of intense cold which preceded the present creation has been only a temporary oscillation of the earth’s temperature, more important than the century-long phases of cooling undergone by the Alpine valleys. It was associated with the disappearance of the animals of the diluvial epoch of the geologists, as still demonstrated by the Siberian mammoths; it preceded the uplifting of the Alps and the appearance of the present-day living organisms, as demonstrated by the moraines and the existence of fishes in our lakes. Consequently, there is complete separation between the present creation and the preceding ones, and if living species are sometimes almost identical to those buried inside the earth, we nevertheless cannot assume that the former are direct descendants of the latter or, in other words, that they represent identical species.
From Discours de Neuchâtel (1837), as translated by Albert V. Carozzi in Studies on Glaciers: Preceded by the Discourse of Neuchâtel (1967), lviii.
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The essential character of a species in biology is, that it is a group of living organisms, separated from all other such groups by a set of distinctive characters, having relations to the environment not identical with those of any other group of organisms, and having the power of continuously reproducing its like. Genera are merely assemblages of a number of these species which have a closer resemblance to each other in certain important and often prominent characters than they have to any other species.
In 'The Method of Organic Evolution', Fortnightly Review (1895), 57, 441.
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The extracellular genesis of cells in animals seemed to me, ever since the publication of the cell theory [of Schwann], just as unlikely as the spontaneous generation of organisms. These doubts produced my observations on the multiplication of blood cells by division in bird and mammalian embryos and on the division of muscle bundles in frog larvae. Since then I have continued these observations in frog larvae, where it is possible to follow the history of tissues back to segmentation.
'Ueber extracellulare Eutstehung thierischer Zelleu und üüber Vermehrung derselben durch Theilung', Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und Wissenschaftliche Medicin (1852), 1, 49-50. Quoted in Erwin H. Ackerknecht, Rudolf Virchow: Doctor Statesman Anthropologist (1953), 83-4.
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The fact that, with respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion of the age-old question of “What is life?”
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1946), 'The Isolation and Properties of Crystalline Tobacco Mosaic Virus', collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 140.
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The facts obtained in this study may possibly be sufficient proof of the causal relationship, that only the most sceptical can raise the objection that the discovered microorganism is not the cause but only an accompaniment of the disease... It is necessary to obtain a perfect proof to satisfy oneself that the parasite and the disease are ... actually causally related, and that the parasite is the... direct cause of the disease. This can only be done by completely separating the parasite from the diseased organism [and] introducing the isolated parasite into healthy organisms and induce the disease anew with all its characteristic symptoms and properties.
Berliner Klinische Wochenschrift (1882), 393. Quoted in Edward J. Huth and T. Jock Murray (eds.), Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages (2000), 52.
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The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it.
In Sergius Alexander Wilde, Forest Soils and Forest Growth (1946), 6.
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The Gaia Hypothesis asserts that Earth’s atmosphere is continually interacting with geology (the lithosphere). Earth’s cycling waters (the hydrosphere), and everything that lives (the biosphere). … The image is that the atmosphere is a circulatory system for life’s bio-chemical interplay. If the atmosphere is pan of a larger whole that has some of the qualities of an organism, one of those qualities we must now pray for is resilience.
In Praise of Nature
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The great age of the earth will appear greater to man when he understands the origin of living organisms and the reasons for the gradual development and improvement of their organization. This antiquity will appear even greater when he realizes the length of time and the particular conditions which were necessary to bring all the living species into existence. This is particularly true since man is the latest result and present climax of this development, the ultimate limit of which, if it is ever reached, cannot be known.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 77.
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The greatest possibility of evil in self-medication [with penicillin] is the use of too-small doses, so that, instead of clearing up the infection, the microbes are educated to resist penicillin and a host of penicillin-fast organisms is bred out which can be passed on to other individuals and perhaps from there to others until they reach someone who gets a septicemia or a pneumonia which penicillin cannot save. In such a case the thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.
In 'Penicillin’s Finder Assays Its Future: Sir Alexander Fleming Says Improved Dosage Method is Needed to Extend Use', New York Times (26 Jun 1945), 21.
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The habitat of an organism is the place where it lives, or the place where one would go to find it. The ecological niche, on the other hand, is the position or status of an organism within its community and ecosystem resulting from the organism’s structural adaptations, physiological responses and specific behavior (inherited and/or learned). The ecological niche of an organism depends not only on where it lives, but also on what it does. By analogy, it may be said that the habitat is the organism’s ‘address,’ and the niche is its ‘profession,’ biologically speaking.
Fundamentals of Ecology
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The History of Evolution of Organisms consists of two kindred and closely connected parts: Ontogeny, which is the history of the evolution of individual organisms, and Phylogeny, which is the history of the evolution of organic tribes. Ontogency is a brief and rapid recapitulation of Phylogeny, dependent on the physiological functions of Heredity (reproduction) and Adaptation (nutrition). The individual organism reproduces in the rapid and short course of its own evolution the most important of the changes in form through which its ancestors, according to laws of Heredity and Adaptation, have passed in the slow and long course of their palaeontological evolution.
Translated from his Generelle Morphologie (1866) as an epigraph to Chap. 1, The Evolution of Man, (1886), Vol 1, 1-2.
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The human organism inherits so delicate an adjustment to climate that, in spite of man's boasted ability to live anywhere, the strain of the frozen North eliminates the more nervous and active types of mind.
The Red Man's Continent: A Chronicle of Aboriginal America (1919), 20.
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The human senses (above all, that of hearing) do not possess one set of constant parameters, to be measured independently, one at a time. It is even questionable whether the various 'senses' are to be regarded as separate, independent detectors. The human organism is one integrated whole, stimulated into response by physical signals; it is not to be thought of as a box, carrying various independent pairs of terminals labeled 'ears', 'eyes', 'nose', et cetera.
On Human Communication: A Review, A Survey and a Criticism (1957), 127-8.
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The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of scientific method to the study of human behavior. The free inner man who is held responsible for the behavior of the external biological organism is only a prescientific substitute for the kinds of causes which are discovered in the course of a scientific analysis.
In Science and Human Behavior (1953), 447.
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The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worshiHe sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963, 1990), 100.
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The late Alan Gregg pointed out that human population growth within the ecosystem was closely analogous to the growth of malignant tumor cells within an organism: that man was acting like a cancer on the biosphere. The multiplication of human numbers certainly seems wild and uncontrolled… Four million a month—the equivalent of the population of Chicago… We seem to be doing all right at the moment; but if you could ask cancer cells, I suspect they would think they were doing fine. But when the organism dies, so do they; and for our own, selfish, practical, utilitarian reasons, I think we should be careful about how we influence the rest of the ecosystem.
From Horace M. Albright Conservation Lectureship Berkeley, California (23 Apr 1962), 'The Human Environment', collected in Conservators of Hope: the Horace M. Albright Conservation Lectures (1988), 44.
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The living being is stable. It must be so in order not to be destroyed, dissolved, or disintegrated by the colossal forces, often adverse, which surround it. By apparent contradiction it maintains its stability only if it is excitable and capable of modifying itself according to external stimuli and adjusting its response to the stimulation. In a sense it is stable because it is modifiable—the slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.
In Dictionnaire de Physiologie (1900), Vol. 4, 72. English as quoted in Walter Bradford Cannon, The Wisdom of the Body (1932), 21, with French source citation footnoted on 26.
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The main steps of my argument may be summarized thus:
1. Organisms are highly coordinated structures.
2. Only certain avenues of change are compatible with their conditions of coordination.
3. The formative and selective action of these internal conditions is theoretically and empirically different from that of Darwinian selection.
4. Mutations in the mode of coordination of the genetic system lie outside the scope of the classical arguments purporting to show that natural selection is the only directive agency.
5. The coordinative conditions constitute a second directive agency.
In Internal Factors in Evolution (1965), 73.
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The messages that DNA molecules contain are all but eternal when seen against the time scale of individual lifetimes. The lifetimes of DNA messages (give or take a few mutations) are measured in units ranging from millions of years to hundreds of millions of years; or, in other words, ranging from 10,000 individual lifetimes to a trillion individual lifetimes. Each individual organism should be seen as a temporary vehicle, in which DNA messages spend a tiny fraction of their geological lifetimes.
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 126.
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The modern research laboratory can be a large and complicated social organism.
How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science (2004), xii.
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The morphological characteristics of plant and animal species form the chief subject of the descriptive natural sciences and are the criteria for their classification. But not until recently has it been recognized that in living organisms, as in the realm of crystals, chemical differences parallel the variation in structure.
The Specificity of Serological Reactions (1936), 3.
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The most wonderful mystery of life may well be the means by which it created so much diversity from so little physical matter. The biosphere, all organisms combined, makes up only about one part in ten billion of the earth's mass. … Yet life has divided into millions of species, the fundamental units, each playing a unique role in relation to the whole.
In 'The Most Fundamental Unit', The Diversity of Life (1992), 35.
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The nervous system is the most complex and delicate instrument on our planet, by means of which relations, connections are established between the numerous parts of the organism, as well as between the organism, as a highly complex system, and the innumerable, external influences. If the closing and opening of electric current is now regarded as an ordinary technical device, why should there be any objection to the idea that the same principle acts in this wonderful instrument? On this basis the constant connection between the external agent and the response of the organism, which it evokes, can be rightly called an unconditioned reflex, and the temporary connection—a conditioned reflex.
The Conditioned Reflex (1935), 249.
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The nucleic acids, as constituents of living organisms, are comparable In importance to proteins. There is evidence that they are Involved In the processes of cell division and growth, that they participate In the transmission of hereditary characters, and that they are important constituents of viruses. An understanding of the molecular structure of the nucleic acids should be of value In the effort to understand the fundamental phenomena of life.
[Co-author with American chemist, B. Corey (1897-1971)]
'A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1953), 39, 84.
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The organism cannot be regarded as simply the passive object of autonomous internal and external forces; it is also the subject of its own evolution.
Co-author with American biologist Richard Charles Lewontin (1929- )
The Dialectical Biologist (1985), 89.
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The organism possesses certain contrivances by means of which the immunity reaction, so easily produced by all kinds of cells, is prevented from acting against the organism’s own elements and so giving rise to auto toxins … so that one might be justified in speaking of a “horror autotoxicus” of the organism. These contrivances are naturally of the highest importance for the existence of the individual.
P. Ehrlich and J. Morgenroth, 'Studies On Haemolysins: Fifth Communication', Berliner klin. Wochenschrift (1901), No. 10. Reprinted in Collected Studies on Immunity (1906), 82.
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The organism, as we have long been saying, is a little world (microcosm) in the great universe (macrocosm).
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The other line of argument, which leads to the opposite conclusion, arises from looking at artificial automata. Everyone knows that a machine tool is more complicated than the elements which can be made with it, and that, generally speaking, an automaton A, which can make an automaton B, must contain a complete description of B, and also rules on how to behave while effecting the synthesis. So, one gets a very strong impression that complication, or productive potentiality in an organization, is degenerative, that an organization which synthesizes something is necessarily more complicated, of a higher order, than the organization it synthesizes. This conclusion, arrived at by considering artificial automaton, is clearly opposite to our early conclusion, arrived at by considering living organisms.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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The physiological combustion theory takes as its starting point the fundamental principle that the amount of heat that arises from the combustion of a given substance is an invariable quantity–i.e., one independent of the circumstances accompanying the combustion–from which it is more specifically concluded that the chemical effect of the combustible materials undergoes no quantitative change even as a result of the vital process, or that the living organism, with all its mysteries and marvels, is not capable of generating heat out of nothing.
Bemerkungen über das mechanische Aequivalent der Wärme [Remarks on the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat] (1851), 17-9. Trans. Kenneth L. Caneva, Robert Mayer and the Conservation of Energy (1993), 240.
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The plan followed by nature in producing animals clearly comprises a predominant prime cause. This endows animal life with the power to make organization gradually more complex, and to bring increasing complexity and perfection not only to the total organization but also to each individual apparatus when it comes to be established by animal life. This progressive complication of organisms was in effect accomplished by the said principal cause in all existing animals. Occasionally a foreign, accidental, and therefore variable cause has interfered with the execution of the plan, without, however, destroying it. This has created gaps in the series, in the form either of terminal branches that depart from the series in several points and alter its simplicity, or of anomalies observable in specific apparatuses of various organisms.
Histoire Naturelle des Animaux sans Vertèbres (1815-22), Vol. 1, 133. In Pietro Corsi, The Age of Lamarck: Evolutionary Theories in France 1790-1830, trans. J. Mandelbaum (1988), 189.
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The present state of the earth and of the organisms now inhabiting it, is but the last stage of a long and uninterrupted series of changes which it has undergone, and consequently, that to endeavour to explain and account for its present condition without any reference to those changes (as has frequently been done) must lead to very imperfect and erroneous conclusions.
In 'On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species', The Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1855), 16, No. 93, 184.
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The Primal Plant is going be the strangest creature in the world, which Nature herself must envy me. With this model and the key to it, it will be possible to go on for ever inventing plants and know that their existence is logical; that is to say, if they do not actually exist, they could, for they are not the shadowy phantoms of a vain imagination, but possess an inner necessity and truth. The same law will be applicable to all other living organisms.
To Herder, 17 May 1787. Italian Journey (1816-17), trans. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (1970), 310-11.
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The principal result of my investigation is that a uniform developmental principle controls the individual elementary units of all organisms, analogous to the finding that crystals are formed by the same laws in spite of the diversity of their forms.
Mikroskopische Untersuchungen über die Uebereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiue und Pflanzen (1839). Microscopic Researches into the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plants, trans. Henry Smith (1847), 1.
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The specific character of the greater part of the toxins which are known to us (I need only instance such toxins as those of tetanus and diphtheria) would suggest that the substances produced for effecting the correlation of organs within the body, through the intermediation of the blood stream, might also belong to this class, since here also specificity of action must be a distinguishing characteristic. These chemical messengers, however, or 'hormones' (from όρμάω, I excite or arouse), as we might call them, have to be carried from the organ where they are produced to the organ which they affect by means of the blood stream and the continually recurring physiological needs of the organism must determine their repeated production and circulation through the body.
'The Chemical Correlation of the Functions of the Body', The Lancet (1905), ii, 340.
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The steady states of the fluid matrix of the body are commonly preserved by physiological reactions, i.e., by more complicated processes than are involved in simple physico-chemical equilibria. Special designations, therefore, are appropriate:—“homeostasis” to designate stability of the organism; “homeostatic conditions,” to indicate details of the stability; and “homeostatic reactions,” to signify means for maintaining stability.
'Physiological Regulation of Normal States: Some Tentative Postulates Concerning Biological Homeostatics', 1926. Reprinted in L. L. Langley (ed.), Homeostasis: Origins of the Concept (1973), 246.
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The surface of the earth is not simply a stage on which the thousands of present and past inhabitants played their parts in turn. There are much more intimate relations between the earth and the living organisms which populated it, and it may even be demonstrated that the earth was developed because of them.
From Études sur Les Glaciers (1840), as translated by Albert V. Carozzi in Studies on Glaciers: Preceded by the Discourse of Neuchâtel (1967), 175.
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The swelling and towering omnibuses, the huge trucks and wagons and carriages, the impetuous hansoms and the more sobered four-wheelers, the pony-carts, donkey-carts, hand-carts, and bicycles which fearlessly find their way amidst the turmoil, with foot-passengers winding in and out, and covering the sidewalks with their multitude, give the effect of a single monstrous organism, which writhes swiftly along the channel where it had run in the figure of a flood till you were tired of that metaphor. You are now a molecule of that vast organism.
Describing streets in London, from 'London Films', Harper’s Magazine (), 110, No. 655, 72.
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The techniques have galloped ahead of the concepts. We have moved away from studying the complexity of the organism; from processes and organisation to composition.
[Commenting that growing use of new technologies and techniques, from molecular biology to genomics, has proved a mixed blessing.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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The totality of life, known as the biosphere to scientists and creation to theologians, is a membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin it cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered. The membrane is seamless. From Everest's peak to the floor of the Mariana Trench, creatures of one kind or another inhabit virtually every square inch of the planetary surface.
In 'Vanishing Before Our Eyes', Time (26 Apr 2000). Also in The Future of Life (2002), 3.
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The whole organism subsists only by means of the reciprocal action of the single elementary parts.
In Theodor Schwann and Henry Smith (trans.), 'Theory of the Cells', Microscopical Researches Into the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Animals and Plants (1839, 1847), 191.
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The world of organisms, of animals and plants, is built up of individuals. I like to think, then, of natural history as the study of life at the level of the individual—of what plants and animals do, how they react to each other and their environment, how they are organized into larger groupings like populations and communities.
In The Nature of Natural History (1961, 2014), 7.
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There is no waste in functioning natural ecosystems. All organisms, dead or alive, are potential sources of food for other organisms. A caterpillar eats a leaf; a robin eats the caterpillar; a hawk eats the robin. When the plant, caterpillar, robin, and hawk die, they are in turn consumed by decomposers.
From Resource Conservation and Management (1990), 101.
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These microscopic organisms form an entire world composed of species, families and varieties whose history, which has barely begun to be written, is already fertile in prospects and findings of the highest importance. The names of these organisms are very numerous and will have to be defined and in part discarded. The word microbe which has the advantage of being shorter and carrying a more general meaning, and of having been approved by my illustrious friend, M. Littré, the most competent linguist in France, is one we will adopt.
In paper read to the Académie de Medecine (Mar 1878). In Charles-Emile Sedillot, 'Influence de M. Pasteur sur les progres de la chirurgie' [Influence of Pasteur on the progress of surgery].
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They say it doesn’t matter how long one washes one’s hands, because there will still be organisms in the sweat glands and hair follicles, so I rub my hands with Vaseline.
Reginald Pound and Michael Joseph, Harley Street (1967), 31.
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Think of it: zillions and zillions of organisms running around, each under the hypnotic spell of a single truth, all these truths identical, and all logically incompatible with one another.
The Moral Animall: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life (1994), 238.
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This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,--and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual striving after “the unattained and dim,”—these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls “the mystery of mysteries,” the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, “the delirious yet divine desire to know,” stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,—in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,—thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes. Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,—which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,—and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,—the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.
Asa Gray
'Darwin on the Origin of Species', The Atlantic Monthly (Jul 1860), 112-3. Also in 'Natural Selection Not Inconsistent With Natural Theology', Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism (1876), 94-95.
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Through [the growing organism's] power of assimilation there is a constant encroachment of the organic upon the inorganic, a constant attempt to convert all available material into living substance, and to indefinitely multiply the total number of individual organisms.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 2.
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To choose a rough example, think of a thorn which has stuck in a finger and produces an inflammation and suppuration. Should the thorn be discharged with the pus, then the finger of another individual may be pricked with it, and the disease may be produced a second time. In this case it would not be the disease, not even its product, that would be transmitted by the thorn, but rather the stimulus which engendered it. Now supposing that the thorn is capable of multiplying in the sick body, or that every smallest part may again become a thorn, then one would be able to excite the same disease, inflammation and suppuration, in other individuals by transmitting any of its smallest parts. The disease is not the parasite but the thorn. Diseases resemble one another, because their causes resemble each other. The contagion in our sense is therefore not the germ or seed of the disease, but rather the cause of the disease. For example, the egg of a taenia is not the product of a worm disease even though the worm disease may have been the cause, which first gave rise to the taenia in the intestinal contents—nor of the individual afflicted with the worm disease, but rather of the parasitic body, which, no matter how it may have come into the world at first, now reproduces itself by means of eggs, and produces the symptoms of the worm disease, at least in part. It is not the seed of the disease; the latter multiplies in the sick organism, and is again excreted at the end of the disease.
'On Miasmata and Contagia', trans. G. Rosen, Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine (1938), 6, 924.
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To complete a PhD[,] I took courses in the history of philosophy. … As a result of my studies, I concluded that the traditional philosophy of science had little if anything to do with biology. … I had no use for a philosophy based on such an occult force as the vis vitalis. … But I was equally disappointed by the traditional philosophy of science, which was all based on logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences, and had adopted Descartes’ conclusion that an organism was nothing but a machine. This Cartesianism left me completely dissatisfied.
In 'Introduction', What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline (2007), 2.
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To complete a PhD[,] I took courses in the history of philosophy. … As a result of my studies, I concluded that the traditional philosophy of science had little if anything to do with biology. … I had no use for a philosophy based on such an occult force as the vis vitalis. … But I was equally disappointed by the traditional philosophy of science, which was all based on logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences, and had adopted Descartes’ conclusion that an organism was nothing but a machine. This Cartesianism left me completely dissatisfied.
In 'Introduction', What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline (2007), 2.
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To demonstrate experimentally that a microscopic organism actually is the cause of a disease and the agent of contagion, I know no other way, in the present state of Science, than to subject the microbe (the new and happy term introduced by M. Sédillot) to the method of cultivation out of the body.
Paper read to the French Academy of Sciences (29 Apr 1878), published in Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences, 86, 1037-43, as translated by H.C.Ernst. Collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.) The Harvard Classics, Vol. 38; Scientific Papers: Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Geology (1910), 364.
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To prove that tuberculosis is caused by the invasion of bacilli, and that it is a parasitic disease primarily caused by the growth and multiplication of bacilli, it is necessary to isolate the bacilli from the body, to grow them in pure culture until they are freed from every disease product of the animal organism, and, by introducing isolated bacilli into animals, to reproduce the same morbid condition that is known to follow from inoculation with spontaneously developed tuberculous material.
'The Etiology of Tuberculosis' (1882), Essays of Robert Koch (1987), trans. K. Codell Carter, 87.
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Until that afternoon, my thoughts on planetary atmospheres had been wholly concerned with atmospheric analysis as a method of life detection and nothing more. Now that I knew the composition of the Martian atmosphere was so different from that of our own, my mind filled with wonderings about the nature of the Earth. If the air is burning, what sustains it at a constant composition? I also wondered about the supply of fuel and the removal of the products of combustion. It came to me suddenly, just like a flash of enlightenment, that to persist and keep stable, something must be regulating the atmosphere and so keeping it at its constant composition. Moreover, if most of the gases came from living organisms, then life at the surface must be doing the regulation.
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 253.
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We can learn a lot from living organisms. An organism is a pretty complicated thing, which can tolerate surgery, which can tolerate injury, which can tolerate all kinds of perturbation provided they are not too great and do not come too suddenly. There’s something we call trauma, however. We don’t really understand what it is—but organisations can suffer from it too.
From interview with Graham Chedd, 'The Lady Gets Her Way', New Scientist (5 Jul 1973), 59, No. 853, 16.
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We do not draw conclusions with our eyes, but with our reasoning powers, and if the whole of the rest of living nature proclaims with one accord from all sides the evolution of the world of organisms, we cannot assume that the process stopped short of Man. But it follows also that the factors which brought about the development of Man from his Simian ancestry must be the same as those which have brought about the whole of evolution.
Translation of Weismann's work in German, by John Arthur Thomson and Margaret R. Thomson, The Evolution Theory (1904), Vol. 2, 393.
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We do not inhabit a perfected world where natural selection ruthlessly scrutinizes all organic structures and then molds them for optimal utility. Organisms inherit a body form and a style of embryonic development; these impose constraint s upon future change and adaptation. In many cases, evolutionary pathways reflect inherited patterns more than current environmental demands. These inheritances constrain, but they also provide opportunity. A potentially minor genetic change ... entails a host of complex, nonadaptive consequences ... What ‘play’ would evolution have if each structure were built for a restricted purpose and could be used for nothing else? How could humans learn to write if our brain had not evolved for hunting, social cohesion, or whatever, and could not transcend the adaptive boundaries of its original purpose?
…...
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We may consequently state the fundamental theorem of Natural Selection in the form: The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variance in fitness at that time.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 35.
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We may, I think, draw a yet higher and deeper teaching from the phenomena of degeneration. We seem to learn from it the absolute necessity of labour and effort, of struggle and difficulty, of discomfort and pain, as the condition of all progress, whether physical or mental, and that the lower the organism the more need there is of these ever-present stimuli, not only to effect progress, but to avoid retrogression. And if so, does not this afford us the nearest attainable solution of the great problem of the origin of evil? What we call evil is the essential condition of progress in the lower stages of the development of conscious organisms, and will only cease when the mind has become so thoroughly healthy, so well balanced, and so highly organised, that the happiness derived from mental activity, moral harmony, and the social affections, will itself be a sufficient stimulus to higher progress and to the attainment of a more perfect life.
In 'Two Darwinian Essays', Nature (1880), 22, 142.
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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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We spend long hours discussing the curious situation that the two great bodies of biological knowledge, genetics and embryology, which were obviously intimately interrelated in development, had never been brought together in any revealing way. An obvious difficulty was that the most favorable organisms for genetics, Drosophila as a prime example, were not well suited for embryological study, and the classical objects of embryological study, sea urchins and frogs as examples, were not easily investigated genetically. What might we do about it? There were two obvious approaches: one to learn more about the genetics of an embryologically favourable organism, the other to better understand the development of Drosophila. We resolved to gamble up to a year of our lives on the latter approach, this in Ephrussi’s laboratory in Paris which was admirably equipped for tissue culture, tissue or organ transplantation, and related techniques.
In 'Recollections', Annual Review of Biochemistry, 1974, 43, 6.
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When an hypothesis has come to birth in the mind, or gained footing there, it leads a life so far comparable with the life of an organism, as that it assimilates matter from the outside world only when it is like in kind with it and beneficial; and when contrarily, such matter is not like in kind but hurtful, the hypothesis, equally with the organism, throws it off, or, if forced to take it, gets rid of it again entirely.
In Arthur Schopenhauer and T. Bailey Saunders (ed., trans), The Art of Literature: A Series of Essays (1891), 81.
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When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a long history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, does the study of natural history become!
From the Conclusion of Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (3rd. ed., 1861), 521.
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When... the biologist is confronted with the fact that in the organism the parts are so adapted to each other as to give rise to a harmonious whole; and that the organisms are endowed with structures and instincts calculated to prolong their life and perpetuate their race, doubts as to the adequacy of a purely physiochemical viewpoint in biology may arise. The difficulties besetting the biologist in this problem have been rather increased than diminished by the discovery of Mendelian heredity, according to which each character is transmitted independently of any other character. Since the number of Mendelian characters in each organism is large, the possibility must be faced that the organism is merely a mosaic of independent hereditary characters. If this be the case the question arises: What moulds these independent characters into a harmonious whole? The vitalist settles this question by assuming the existence of a pre-established design for each organism and of a guiding 'force' or 'principle' which directs the working out of this design. Such assumptions remove the problem of accounting for the harmonious character of the organism from the field of physics or chemistry. The theory of natural selection invokes neither design nor purpose, but it is incomplete since it disregards the physiochemical constitution of living matter about which little was known until recently.
The Organism as a Whole: From a Physiochemical Viewpoint (1916), v-vi.
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Where a cell arises, there a cell must have previously existed (omnis cellula e cellula), just as an animal can spring only from an animal, a plant only from a plant. In this manner, although there are still a few spots in the body where absolute demonstration has not yet been afforded, the principle is nevertheless established, that in the whole series of living things, whether they be entire plants or animal organisms, or essential constituents of the same, an eternal law of continuous development prevails.
In Lecture II 'Physiological Tissues' (17 Feb 1858), as translated by Frank Chance in Cellular Pathology: As Based Upon Physiological and Pathological Histology. Twenty Lectures Delivered in the Pathological Institute of Berlin During the Months of February, March and April, 1858 (1860), 27-28.
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While working with staphylococcus variants a number of culture-plates were set aside on the laboratory bench and examined from time to time. In the examinations these plates were necessarily exposed to the air and they became contaminated with various micro-organisms. It was noticed that around a large colony of a contaminating mould the staphylococcus colonies became transparent and were obviously undergoing lysis. Subcultures of this mould were made and experiments conducted with a view to ascertaining something of the properties of the bacteriolytic substance which had evidently been formed in the mould culture and which had diffused into the surrounding medium. It was found that broth in which the mould had been grown at room temperature for one or two weeks had acquired marked inhibitory, bacteriocidal and bacteriolytic properties to many of the more common pathogenic bacteria.
'On the Antibacterial Action of Cultures of a Penicillium, with Special Reference to their Use in the Isolation of B. Influenzae', British Journal of Experimental Pathology, 1929, 10, 226.
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With moth cytochrome C there are 30 differences and 74 identities. With bread yeast and humans, there are about 45 amino acids that are different and about 59 that are identical. Think how close together man and this other organism, bread yeast, are. What is the probability that in 59 positions the same choice out of 20 possibilities would have been made by accident? It is impossibly small. There is, there must be, a developmental explanation of this. The developmental explanation is that bread yeast and man have a common ancestor, perhaps two billion years ago. And so we see that not only are all men brothers, but men and yeast cells, too, are at least close cousins, to say nothing about men and gorillas or rhesus monkeys. It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance of such relationships.
'The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science', The Science Teacher (1933), 33, 15.
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Words change their meanings, just as organism s evolve. We would impose an enormous burden on our economy if we insisted on payment in cattle every time we identified a bonus as a pecunia