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Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences$
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Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226569871

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226570075.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 28 July 2021

D’Arcy Thompson

D’Arcy Thompson

Archetypical Visionary

(p.257) 16 D’Arcy Thompson
Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences

Tim Horder

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes, analyzes and attempts to explain the highly original and visionary approach to the fundamental nature of living organisms presented by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) in his classic, idiosyncratic book, On Growth and Form (1917). In opposition to the then common explanatory concept of vitalism, he argued that the adaptedness and integrity of structure seen in the anatomical shapes of organisms could be explained in terms of physical forces and precisely described in mathematical terms. He can be seen as part of the modernizing of biology. The book has continued to inspire distinguished biologists to this day and has been a significant influence on artists, architects and engineers. It is argued that D'Arcy Thompson's influence owes much to the imposing language and rich pictorial content of his book, but that book represents a uniquely powerful expression of the challenges still facing us in fully explaining the structural complexity of biological forms.

Keywords:   biological forms, On Growth and Form, vitalism, modernizing of biology, D'Arcy Thompson

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