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Book Chapter

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Forty years is the unit of work in focus here. You have or will have units of forty years of your own, a unit of work like this. I can best respond to your generosity with a look back at the course of this effort of mine and its internal and external connections over time, to illustrate and help us keep in mind the way we mutually influence each other in our thought and lives. Origins and influences can begin with a biology teacher in secondary school, J. C. Catt, for whom I wrote a long paper on a drop of pond water. And I think origins can include the fact my writing was Latinate, never, I thought, fluent (my school was a Latin academy of sorts). I did have a freshman teacher of English in college, Richard Young, who gave me a real sense that I, even I, could see things in words, even perhaps ineffable things. Nonetheless I went into zoology as a major and was drawn into embryology, the field focused on form developing from the formless. I remember C. H. Waddington's humane syntheses of the conceptual problems, I remember reading and returning to D'Arcy Thompson's truly beautiful On Growth and Form, and I remember working with Hans Spemann's "organizers." A continuing influence on me in those years was the embryologist J. P. Trinkaus, in whose laboratory I spent considerable time. The possibility of a life force still hovered in the field. It was something special to biology - a force that was not in chemistry or physics just as the force of law is not. But quite aside from that, the embryology of the time focused me from the start on wholes rather than parts and wholes not reducible to their parts.


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