The Quotes that Got Away

One of the problems of writing a book is that it eventually gets done, and almost immediately after it’s done, you start to discover a bunch of facts, stories, and quotes that would have been just perfect for the book, but it’s too late to stick them back in the text.  Here are a few of Anibal’s and my favorite quotes that, upon reflection, we would have loved to have included in Observation and Ecology:


In a fabulous chapter in a volume called Steinbeck and the Environment: Interdisciplinary Approaches (University of Alambams Press 1997), James C. Kelley cites this fun quote from Francis Bacon:


“Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas.  The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance.  But the bee takes the middle course, it gathers its matter from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms it and digests it by a power of its own.”

I don’t know what else to say about that quote, except no wonder this guy was Knighted.

Steinbeck and Ricketts included an earlier Bacon (Roger) along with the distinguished company of St. Augustine and Jesus and Darwin and Einstein, when they wrote in Sea of Cortez (in another quote I would have like to have included in our book): “Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again,”

Another great piece of wisdom comes from John Steinbeck himself in his Foreword to Ed Ricketts’ Between Pacific Tides:

“There is no possible way of evaluating this situation a priori, each separate occasion being unique due to the multitudinous and interrelated factors involved, and the situation properly ought to be examined as a whole, as indeed must inevitably done by the field man”

Steinbeck is talking here about understanding the relationships among tidepool organisms and their environment—the radically ecological worldview of Between Pacific Tides—but of course he’s also talking about a method of understanding all complex systems. I wish that every NSF panel that had rejected my proposals (and there have been many!) would have read that quote before concluding that my proposed work was “just a fishing expedition” or “lacked a theoretical framework”.

Finally, Anibal is particularly fond of this quote from Kuhn:

“The historian of science may be tempted to claim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. even more important, during revolutions, scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before. It is rather as if the professional community had been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well.”

I think this quote is fabulous because it both identifies some of the source of wide-eyed wonder that Anibal and I felt when writing Observation and Ecology but it also urges us to examine that wonder and recognize that many many people have had similar ideas to ours well before we thought of them.  Sometimes a “revolution” or “evolution” is just a concentration in time of ideas that had been generated before but hadn’t quite reached that tipping point.

The truth is, almost every day I come across some idea or observation or piece of wisdom that I wish we had included in the book, but we couldn’t include everything, so we’ll just keep adding to this forum as an addendum to what’s already set in type.

About Rafe

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. In both his science and policy work, Sagarin connects basic observations of nature to issues of broad societal interest, including conservation biology, protecting public trust resources, and making responses to terrorism and other security threats more adaptable. Dr. Sagarin is a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and has recently published two books, Learning from the Octopus (Basic Books, March 2012) and Observation and Ecology (Island Press, July 2012), which show how nature observation--when extended across large scales and enhanced with both new technologies and greater deference to traditional knowledge sources—is revealing profound new insights about our dynamic social and ecological world. He was a Geological Society of America Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative (and later U.S. Secretary of Labor) Hilda Solis. He has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Arizona. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Conservation Biology, Ecological Monographs, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security Affairs and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the editor, with Terence Taylor of the volume Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (2008, University of California Press).
This entry was posted in Ecology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s