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 Quotables

 

2016

"In our haste to argue that animals are not people, we have forgotten that people are animals, too.." (Frans de Waal, New York Times, April 10, 2016, arguing that human cognition is as much an evolutionary otucome as any human metabolic trait and thus human like behavior is found in all animal species.)

2015

"The problem with the synthesis of a living system is not one of material, but [...] one of organization. You can have all the components of a living cell available, but packaging it so that it behaves as a living entity is where the difficulty lies." (Addy Pross, What is Life. How Chemistry Becomes Biology. p.180')

"As the American geneticist Lynn Caporale has said, 'chance favors the prepared genome.' The preparedness is of course evolutionary" (Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb on non-random mutations in 'Evolution in Four Dimensions', 2005, p.101')

"I have chosen to emphasize hydrophobic forces […] because they lead to structures that are not rigid and are thus uniquely suited for the first critical steps in the organization of living matter, where deformability is not only a virtue, but very likely a necessity. " (Charles Tanford, 1973, in The Hydrophobic Effect')

"Depending on the direction in which one reads the next sentence, intelligence is a fractal property or/and an emergent property: ...Intelligent ecologies contain intelligent populations,which contain intelligent organisms, which contain intelligent cells, which contain intelligent compartments, which contain...and so forth." (Cell Intelligence; Guenter Albrecht-Buehler)

2014

"Practitioners of artificial intelligence tend to think that if you can build a machine that behaves intelligently, then it really is intelligent. The Turing Test is an explicit statement of this mistake." "Conscious humans and animals have intrinsic information but there is not intrinsic information in maps, computers, books, or DNA, not to mention mountains, molecules, and tree stumps." (John R. Searle, in 'What your Computer Can't Know', The New York Review of Books, Oct 9, 2014)

"Mathematics, for all its unchallengeable power in framing theory, is tautological ... and it cannot inform us of the very special world in which we live." (Edward O. Wilson in "Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge.", p.68, Vintage, 1998')

"I had experienced the Ionian Enchantment. That recently coined expression I borrow from the physicist and historian Gerald Holton. It means a belief in the unity of the sciences - a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws." (Edward O. Wilson in "Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge.", Vintage, 1998')

"One argument is nearly always shunted aside, shelved under the heading of religion. I'd put it this way. Every species that has ever existed on this planet is or was a successful experiment in living. Existence is the only measure of succcess, not pervasiveness or ubiquity or intelligence. Unsuccess would be nothingness. No species is more valuable or meaningful than another, except in the minds of humans, where the balls and strikes are called." (Verlyn Klinkenborg, in the NewYork Review of Books, discussing Elizabeth Kolbert's 'The Sixth Extinction')

'Add to the equation the list of powerful players who stand to gain from pushing massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other so-called innovations: polititcians who can campaign on their record of proposing "forward looking" solutions like MOOCs that make increased public funding unnecessary: college administrators who can build resumes demonstrating their leaderhisp in cuttin-edge innovation; and as usual, entrepreneurs who can make money selling a variety of services and goods needed to offer MOOCs.' (Susan Meisenhelder (Prof Emeritus) on the MOOC Mania; in Thought&Action, Fall 2013, The NEA Hidger Eduction Journal)

2013

'That the disparity between men and women’s representation in science and math arises from culture rather than genetics seems beyond dispute.' (Why are there so few women in Science? by Eileen Pollack, New York Times Magazine, Oct 3, 2013)

'We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incomensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small.' (Steven Pinker, New Republic, in Science is not your enemy.)

'To assume that we evolved until we reached a particular point and now are unlikely to change for the rest of history, or to view ourselves as relics hampered by a self-inflicted mismatch between our environment and our genes, is to miss out on some of the most exciting new developments in evolutionary biology.' (Marlene Zuk, in 'Paleofantasy', p13.)

'Early on, when I came into the field, I thought we could directly translate everything I learned from electrical engineering and computer programming into biology," he says a bit wistfully. "Many people, including myself, now realize that biology, although it can be inspired by engineering, is not exactly the same.' (Tim Lu, MIT, quoted by The Chronical of Higher Education, March 2013)

'The verb "to design" has been monumentally unproductive in our quest to understand design in nature for three main reasons. First, it led to the common view that the things humans design are artificial, in contrast to the natural designs that surround us. This is wrong, because we are part of nature and our designs are governed by the same principle as everything else, the constructal law. Second, it has led some of us to search for "the designer" - God, or an individual, who must be behind every design. Science is not and never was the search for "the designer." The name for that much older search is religion. Finally, it has led other, more scientifically minded people to reject the idea of design in nature as part of a broader repudiation of the traditional idea of designer.' (Adrian Bejan, Design in Nature, p56, Random House, 2012)

'Fundamental theory in biology is concerned principally with viewing living organisms as the only part of the natural world whose members contain internal descriptions of themselves. That is why I could once tell a Buddhist priest that mountains are not alive.' (Sidney Brenner, Science Magazine, 14 December 2012)

2012

'It is imperfection - not perfection - that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain.' (Rita Levi-Montalcini, 1909-2012, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1986)

'In spite of an understandable narcissism regarding our own genomes, the reality for most of us is that our genomes are incredibly boring. Given our current understanding of how to interpret - much less apply - genomic information, the average person 's genome yields precious little knowledge that will lead to better health.' (James P Evans, The Value of Your Genome, The Scientist)

'The Human Genome 2012: 18,451 RNA genes, 11,224 pseudogenes, 20,687 protein coding genes, an average of 6.3 splice variants per gene, gene sequences cover 2.94% of the genome, exon sequences cover 1.22% of the genome' (ENCODE, Nature.com)

‘... the student as customer metaphor [in higher education] is problematic. It nearly always leads to a discussion of whether students are customers? Or Products? Then the discussion devolves into absurdity, because, of course, they are neither.' (Chad Hanson, Casper College, Wyoming in Thought & Action, 2012, Vol 28, Fall, National Education Association NEA)

‘Recently, the geneticist J. Craig Venter showed that the entire genetic material of an organism can be synthesized by a machine and then put into what he called 'an artificial cell.' This was actually a bit of press-release hyperbole: Mr. Venter started with a fully functional cell, then swapped out its DNA. In doing so, he unwittingly demonstrated that the female component of sexual reproduction, the egg cell, cannot be manufactured, but the male can.' (Greg Hampikian, New York Times, August 25, 2012)

‘There would have been no philosophy of science if the issue of how we can acquire knowledge of the physical world had been unproblematic.' (David Deutsch, in 'The Beginning of Infinity' p.120)

‘From experience in practical computing one knows that it is very difficult to foresee what even a simple program will do… that is exactly why bugs in programs are so common (A New Kind of Science, p.46)’

'I know molecules and reactions are not alive. But I also know that collections of reacting molecules are alive. How does this happen? We have no clue'. (George Whitesides, Harvard, cited by Science Magazine, on mesoscale science.)


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