Harold J. Morowitz

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Harold J. Morowitz (December 4, 1927 – March 22, 2016) was an American biophysicist who studies the application of thermodynamics to living systems. His primary research interest is the origin of life.


  • The purpose of this book is to discuss and present evidence for the general thesis that the flow of energy through a system acts to organize that system.
    • Energy Flow in Biology: Biological Organization as a Problem in Thermal Physics (1968), p. 2.
    • Italics are in the original. Later quoted on the inside front cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog.

The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy (1992)[edit]

The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992. ISBN 0195090462. 
Co-written with James Trefil. All quotes from this trade paperback edition.
Italics as in the book
  • While no one is going to make a decision on abortion purely on scientific grounds, we feel that everyone, at the very least, ought to get the facts straight.
    • Preface (pp. vii-viii)
  • This type of answer is profoundly unsatisfying, but it’s about all you can expect if you ask the wrong question.
    • Chapter 1, “Asking the Right Question” (p. 7)
  • Because of the importance of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America, it is important to understand abortion as dealt with in the Old Testament. The most significant fact is that it is never mentioned.
    • Chapter 1, “Asking the Right Question” (p. 13)
  • All forms of life are related to each other, and the basic mechanisms that drive all of them are the same.
    • Chapter 2, “The Web of Life” (p. 27)
  • The fact that both you and the amoeba use these universal molecules in your energy metabolism is as striking an example of the relatedness of life as can be found.
    • Chapter 2, “The Web of Life” (p. 29)
  • At the chemical level, human beings just aren’t all that different from pumpkins or any other life forms.
    • Chapter 2, “The Web of Life” (p. 39)
  • We recognize that to many people such a statement of cold biological fact misses something essential about the developing fetus. We recognize that there is a strong inclination to assign personhood or a soul to the single cell that results from fertilization on the grounds that it represents “potential life.” Our position is that this inclination, as strongly as it may be favored on religious or social grounds, has no basis in science because, as we point out in Chapter 1, personhood and soul are simply not scientific concepts.
    • Chapter 3, “The Biology of Conception” (p. 44)
  • The end point of this reasoning is that any policy based on assigning a unique status to conception in the emergence of humanness must be seen as coming from subjective evaluations—evaluations that may not be shared by others. Subjectivity does not, of course, does not make these arguments wrong; it simply means that they cannot be given the kind of public universality we assign to arguments grounded in scientific understanding.
    • Chapter 3, “The Biology of Conception” (p. 44)
  • Even with this abbreviated sketch of the process of fertilization, one thing is obvious. When biologists object to statements about life beginning at conception, they are not splitting hairs or being pedantic. There is no time in the sequence we’ve just described where new life is created. In fact, from the point of view of the biologist, at conception, two previously existing living things come together to form another living thing.
    • Chapter 3, “The Biology of Conception” (pp. 46-47)
  • The net result is that slightly fewer than a third of all conceptions lead to a fetus that has a chance of developing. In other words, if you were to choose a zygote at random and follow it through the first week of development, the chances are less than one in three that it would still be there at full term, even though there has been no human intervention. Nature, it seems, performs abortions at a much higher rate than any human society. It is simply not true that most zygotes, if undisturbed, will produce a human being.
    • Chapter 3, “The Biology of Conception” (p. 51)
  • Decisions cannot be made on purely scientific grounds. We can, however, use scientific information to guide our moral and political judgments. No matter which side of the debate we take in any public dispute, we should, at a minimum, get the facts straight and understand the scientific dimensions of the problem.
    • Chapter 8, “Conclusions” (p. 151)
  • It is clearly in the best interests of everyone involved that these decisions be made with a maximum of compassion, a minimum of bureaucratic intervention, and the absence of attorneys.
    • Afterword (p. 164; statement of Harold J. Morowitz)
  • In the end, the abortion controversy comes down to one question: Will this particular pregnancy be terminated or not? There are only two possible choices, neither good. One is to abort the fetus. The other is to demand that the pregnancy be brought to term and, in effect, to compel the birth of an unwanted child. The second choice is repugnant to me. Not only does it entail real and immediate risks for the mother, but it may create a lifetime of misery for the child – misery that will, in all likelihood, persist for generations. Frankly, I can imagine fewer human acts more deeply evil than bringing an unwanted child into the world.
    • Afterword (pp. 165-166; statement of James Trefil)

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