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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Sewall Wright Quotes

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Sewall Wright
(21 Dec 1889 - 3 Mar 1988)

American population geneticist and evolutionary theorist who applied statistical analysis to the study of population genetics to trace evolution, and proposed a “shifting-balance” theory to account for the spread of certain gene combinations within a population.

Science Quotes by Sewall Wright (6 quotes)

Finally in a large population, divided and subdivided into partially isolated local races of small size, there is a continually shifting differentiation among the latter (intensified by local differences in selection but occurring under uniform and static conditions) which inevitably brings about an indefinitely continuing, irreversible, adaptive, and much more rapid evolution of the species. Complete isolation in this case, and more slowly in the preceding, originates new species differing for the most part in nonadaptive parallel orthogenetic lines, in accordance with the conditions. It is suggested, in conclusion, that the differing statistical situations to be expected among natural species are adequate to account for the different sorts of evolutionary processes which have been described, and that, in particular, conditions in nature are often such as to bring about the state of poise among opposing tendencies on which an indefinitely continuing evolutionary process depends.
— Sewall Wright
In 'Evolution In Mendelian Populations', Genetics, (1931), 16, 158.
Science quotes on:  |  Adaptation (40)  |  Condition (119)  |  Difference (208)  |  Differentiation (17)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Isolation (26)  |  New (340)  |  Population (71)  |  Race (76)  |  Species (181)  |  Statistics (125)

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.
— Sewall Wright
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics: Ithaca, New York, 1932 (1932) Vol. 1, 365.
Science quotes on:  |  Advance (123)  |  Balance (43)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Extinction (55)  |  Factor (34)  |  Freak (3)  |  Gene (68)  |  Judgment (72)  |  Gregor Mendel (20)  |  Mutation (25)  |  Process (201)  |  Selection (27)  |  Severity (5)  |  Variability (2)

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.
— Sewall Wright
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
Science quotes on:  |  Amoeba (20)  |  Ant (19)  |  Cell (125)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Gene (68)  |  Hierarchy (11)  |  Hydrogen (37)  |  Interpretation (61)  |  Ion (8)  |  Lion (15)  |  Liver (12)  |  Observation (418)  |  Organism (126)  |  Statistics (125)  |  Task (68)

It need scarcely be pointed out that with such a mechanism complete isolation of portion of a species should result relatively rapidly in specific differentiation, and one that is not necessarily adaptive. The effective inter­group competition leading to adaptive advance may be between species rather than races. Such isolation is doubtless usually geographic in character at the outset but may be clinched by the development of hybrid sterility. The usual difference of the chromosome complements of related species puts the importance of chromosome aberration as an evolutionary process beyond question, but, as I see it, this importance is not in the character differences which they bring (slight in balanced types), but rather in leading to the sterility of hybrids and thus making permanent the isolation of two groups.
How far do the observations of actual species and their subdivisions conform to this picture? This is naturally too large a subject for more than a few suggestions.
That evolution involves non-adaptive differentiation to a large extent at the subspecies and even the species level is indicated by the kinds of differences by which such groups are actually distinguished by systematics. It is only at the subfamily and family levels that clear-cut adaptive differences become the rule. The principal evolutionary mechanism in the origin of species must thus be an essentially nonadaptive one.
— Sewall Wright
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics: Ithaca, New York, 1932 (1932) Vol. 1, 363-364.
Science quotes on:  |  Adaptation (40)  |  Differentiation (17)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Geography (25)  |  Hybrid (10)  |  Isolation (26)  |  Race (76)  |  Species (181)  |  Sterility (3)

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.
— Sewall Wright
In 'Genetics of Abnormal Growth in the Guinea Pig', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology (1934), 2, 142.
Science quotes on:  |  Activation (5)  |  Asymmetry (4)  |  Channel (17)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Enzyme (14)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Gene (68)  |  Gradient (2)  |  Growth (111)  |  Membrane (11)  |  Metabolism (11)  |  Morphological (2)  |  Mutation (25)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Organism (126)  |  Pattern (56)  |  Physiology (66)  |  Polarization (2)  |  Protoplasm (12)  |  Qualitative (12)  |  Quantitative (15)  |  Reaction (59)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Stimulus (18)  |  Trivial (30)

The Darwinian process of continued interplay of a random and a selective process is not intermediate between pure chance and pure determinism, but qualitatively utterly different from either in its consequences.
— Sewall Wright
In 'Comments on the Preliminary Working Papers of Eden and Waddington'. In P. Moorhead and M. Kaplan (eds.), Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (1967), 117.
Science quotes on:  |  Chance (122)  |  Consequence (76)  |  Charles Darwin (284)  |  Determinism (7)  |  Difference (208)  |  Intermediate (16)  |  Interplay (5)  |  Process (201)  |  Pure (62)  |  Qualitative (12)  |  Random (21)  |  Selective (5)  |  Utterly (13)

Quotes by others about Sewall Wright (2)

The foundations of population genetics were laid chiefly by mathematical deduction from basic premises contained in the works of Mendel and Morgan and their followers. Haldane, Wright, and Fisher are the pioneers of population genetics whose main research equipment was paper and ink rather than microscopes, experimental fields, Drosophila bottles, or mouse cages. Theirs is theoretical biology at its best, and it has provided a guiding light for rigorous quantitative experimentation and observation.
'A Review of Some Fundamental Concepts and Problems of Population Genetics', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 1955, 20, 13-14.
Science quotes on:  |  Drosphilia (3)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Fischer_Ronald (2)  |  Genetics (98)  |  J.B.S. Haldane (45)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Gregor Mendel (20)  |  Microscope (68)  |  Thomas Hunt Morgan (14)  |  Observation (418)

Genetics is the first biological science which got in the position in which physics has been in for many years. One can justifiably speak about such a thing as theoretical mathematical genetics, and experimental genetics, just as in physics. There are some mathematical geniuses who work out what to an ordinary person seems a fantastic kind of theory. This fantastic kind of theory nevertheless leads to experimentally verifiable prediction, which an experimental physicist then has to test the validity of. Since the times of Wright, Haldane, and Fisher, evolutionary genetics has been in a similar position.
Oral history memoir. Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, New York, 1962. Quoted in William B. Provine, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (1989), 277.
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (150)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Experimental Physicist (8)  |  Fischer_Ronald (2)  |  Genetics (98)  |  J.B.S. Haldane (45)  |  Mathematician (177)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Physics (301)  |  Prediction (67)

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