Article ID: CBB812197601

Imitating nature: Analogy and experiment in D'Arcy Thompson's Science of Form (2019)


D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's “Science of Form” – the explanation of biological development and morphology through physical forces and mathematical laws – has traditionally been viewed as an idiosyncratic, even heretical, episode in the history of evolutionary biology. Yet recent scholarship has sought to overturn this view by demonstrating that Thompson was active in contemporary scientific networks. This paper argues that a key influence upon Thompson's seminal work, On Growth and Form (1917), may be far more practical, and lie closer to home, than previously realised: experimental demonstrations of basic concepts in physics. Harnessing previously unpublished archival sources, this paper traces Thompson's correspondence with Charles Darling, Arthur Worthington and Cecil Warburton. In these exchanges, Thompson described his own experiments, or requested that experiments be conducted on his behalf. This correspondence, and its subsequent inclusion in the first edition of On Growth and Form, revises our current picture of Thompson from that of an abstract thinker to keen experimentalist. Moreover, his contact with physicists indicates that simple experiments enabled extensive crosstalk between early twentieth century physics and biology.

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Authors & Contributors
Cook, Margaret G.
Allen, Garland E.
Seth, Suman
Bertoloni Meli, Domenico
Wilkin, Rebecca M.
Boschiero, Luciano
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
British Journal for the History of Science
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Journal of Historical Geography
Biological Theory
European Physical Journal H
Manchester University Press
Oxford University Press
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Experiments and experimentation
Correspondence and corresponding
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Boyle, Robert
Thompson, D'arcy Wentworth
Spemann, Hans
Loeb, Jacques
Kuhn, Thomas S.
Descartes, René
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
17th century
20th century
20th century, late
Early modern
Great Britain
Royal Society of London
Accademia del Cimento, Florence
European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

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