The Quotable Morse Peckham
On Literature, Life, and Beyond

Topic

"The Origin [of the Species] implied at least four fundamental orientations: the biological world, and by implication the entire empirical world, is a complexity beyond our comprehension; it is possible to create mental constructs which make sense out of the data; these constructs are most satisfactory if characterized not by straight-line cause-effect thinking but by ecological thinking, that is, by the observation of patterns of relationships within and among fields abstracted from empirical reality; one can hope for increasingly complex and reliable constructs."
["Darwinism and Darwinisticism" (1959), in The Triumph of Romanticism (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1970), 194.]

"It is easy to see today, after the peculiar fate that has overtaken classical physics, that natural law is ultimately antiscientific, although it appears to be scientific on the surface and is, up to a certain point."
["Darwinism and Darwinisticism" (1959), in The Triumph of Romanticism (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1970), 195.]

"It is true that a general semiotic theory has not been completed, but it is consoling to remember that it is in the nature of scientific theories that they are never completed; one must use what one can, hoping that at least one has discovered real problems, the further exploration of which will supersede most of what one has managed to say."
[Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts (Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965), 86.]

"Scientific language tends to be as mythological as primitive myth itself."
[Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970), 198.]

"[Edward Tylor] saw with great clarity that abstract conceptions emerged from mythology by the gradual stripping away of human attributes from divine beings, leaving only their subsumptive explanatory function. Anyone ... can see this happening to the term 'God.' Milton's God is already perilously close to demythologization, and after Newton 'God' gradually was reduced to, 'Whatever it is that makes a unitary explanation of physical phenomena possible.' And in fact, what happened was that even that attenuated conception of God became further attenuated into 'natural law.' ... The next step was 'scientific law,' a further attenuation, since the attributes of 'nature' were now stripped away, leaving only the attributes of 'science,' a human activity.

In the twentieth century this has meant the gradual realization that 'science' is a common human behavior which a man specializes in when he is playing the social role of scientist, and the currently emerging notion, as yet barely perceived, except by a few, that all the sciences are, ultimately, behavioral sciences."
[Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970), 198-99.]

"Myth and scientific theory are alike; both are imaginative constructs of the same data. ... Science is corrected myth. Myth reinforces and stabilizes interpretations of experience. Myth, then, resolves the subject-object tension in favor of the subject. Science exploits the tension by linking verbal to nonverbal behavior."
[Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970), 212.]

"There is no structural difference between myth and scientific theory though there is a semantic difference. Myth, as Tylor plainly saw, uses metaphors; scientific theory uses dead metaphors, called abstractions. The difference is how they are used, myth to stabilize the subject, scientific theory to exploit the tension between subject and object."
[Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970), 215.]

"[B]ecause ... unpredictable consequences are made possible by scientific instruments, the residue of scientific discovery may very well destroy us all or destroy civilization as we know it and reduce men again to a simple food-gathering state."
[Explanation and Power: The Control of Human Behavior (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), 153]