Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quotes from Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" (novel)

While the book has enough differences in detail from movie to be a worthy subject of an article, including several scenes whose variants will appear only in the movie's sequels, I have not been able to finish the article. So I thought may be I could just do the easier job of collecting quotes from the book!

Quotes below are the ones that caught my attention when reading the story, & are generally (but not always) in the same sequence as they appear in the book. Use information contained in wise-sounding ones with caution: several of these are likely to considered debatable by many, even when they sound authoritative. Emphasis is nearly always mine.

  1. On modern genetic engineering research, part 1: "much of the research is thoughtless or frivolous. Efforts to engineer paler trout for better visibility in the stream, square trees for easier lumbering, and injectable scent cells so you'll always smell of your favorite perfume may seem like a joke, but they are not."
  2. On modern genetic engineering research, part 2: "Their long-standing antagonism kept university scientists free of contaminating industry ties, and whenever debate arose about technological matters, disinterested scientists were available to discuss the issues at the highest levels.

    But that is no longer true. There are very few molecular biologists and very few research institutions without commercial affiliations. The old days are gone. Genetic research continues, at a more furious pace than ever. But it is done in secret, and in haste, and for profit."

    "nearly every scientist in genetics research is also engaged in the commerce of biotechnology. There are no detached observers. Everybody has a stake."
  3. Definition of a "cold blooded" animal: "Snakes are cold blooded. They're reptiles. They can't control their body temperature. It's ninety degrees on that sand. If a snake came out, it'd be cooked."

    "reptiles, cold blooded creatures drawing the heat they needed for life from the environment. A mammal could metabolize food to produce bodily warmth, but a reptile could not."
  4. "Studies of predator/prey populations in the game parks of Africa and India suggested that, roughly speaking, there was one predatory carnivore for every four hundred herbivores."
  5. "Carnivores could eat as much as 25 percent of their body weight in a single meal, and it made them sleepy afterward."
  6. "when a new male took over a lion pride, the first thing he did was kill all the cubs. The reason was apparently genetic: the male had evolved to disseminate his genes as widely as possible, and by killing the cubs he brought all the females into heat, so that he could impregnate them. It also prevented the females from wasting their time nurturing the offspring of another male."
  7. "Who ever got a major computer system up and running on schedule? Nobody I know."
  8. "In the 1980s, a few genetic engineering companies began to ask, 'What is the biological equivalent of a Sony Walkman?' These companies weren't interested in pharmaceuticals or health; they were interested in entertain­ment, sports, leisure activities, cosmetics, and pets. The perceived demand for 'consumer biologicals' in the 1990s was high."
  9. "If InGen can make full-size dinosaurs, they can also make pygmy dinosaurs as household pets. What child won't want a little dinosaur as a pet? A little patented animal for their very own. InGen will sell millions of them. And InGen will engineer them so that these pet dinosaurs can only eat InGen pet food."
  10. "Bioengineered DNA was, weight for weight, the most valuable material in the world. A single microscopic bacterium, too small to see with the naked eye, but containing the genes for a heart attack enzyme, streptokinase, or for 'ice-minus,' which prevented frost damage to crops, might be worth five billion dollars to the right buyer."
  11. "posture: lizards and reptiles were bent-legged sprawlers, hugging the ground for warmth. Lizards didn't have the energy to stand on their hind legs for more than a few seconds. But the dinosaurs stood on straight legs, and many walked erect on their hind legs. Among living animals, erect posture occurred only in warm blooded mammals and birds. Thus dinosaur posture suggested warm bloodedness."
  12. "People were so naive about plants... They just chose plants for appearance, as they would choose a picture for the wall. It never occurred to them that plants were actually living things, busily performing all the living functions of respiration, ingestion, excretion, reproduction and defense."

    "People who imagined that life on earth consisted of animals moving against a green background seriously misunderstood what they were seeing. That green background was busily alive. Plants grew, moved, twisted, and turned, fighting for the sun; & they interacted continuously with animals - discouraging some with bark and thorns; poisoning others, and feeding still others to advance their own reproduction, to spread their pollen and seeds."
  13. "once the computer has analyzed the DNA, how do you know what animal it encodes?"

    "The first is phylogenetic mapping. DNA evolves over time, like everything else in an organism - hands or feet or any other physical attribute. So we can take an unknown piece of DNA and determine roughly, by computer, where it fits in the evolutionary sequence. It's time-consuming, but it can be done."

    "And the other way?"

    Wu shrugged. "Just grow it and find out what it is. ... That's what we usually do."
  14. On why the animals released in the park are all female rather than all male: "From a bioengineering standpoint, females are easier to breed. You probably know that all vertebrate embryos are inherently female. We all start life as females. It takes some kind of added effect - such as a hormone at the right moment during development - to transform the growing embryo into a male. But, left to its own devices, the embryo will naturally become female."
  15. "Every zoo expert knew that certain animals were especially likely to get free of their cages. Some, like monkeys and elephants, could undo cage doors. Others, like wild pigs, were unusually intelligent and could lift gate fasteners with their snouts. But who would suspect that the giant armadillo was a notorious cage breaker? Or the moose? Yet a moose was almost as skillful with its snout as an elephant with its trunk. Moose were always getting free; they had a talent for it."
  16. On animal odor that humans think as foul: "Most herbivores did not have a strong smell. Nor did their droppings. It was reserved for the meat eaters to develop a real stink."
  17. "A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there. . . . And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day."
  18. "we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is."
  19. "Real life isn't a series of interconnected events occurring one after another - like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way."
  20. "Most people didn't know it was possible to blow an entire system through a modem - the lightning pulse climbed back into the computer through the telephone line, and - bang! - no more motherboard. No more RAM. No more file server. No more computer."
  21. "If you were going to start a bioengineering company, Henry, what would you do? Would you make products to help mankind, to fight illness and disease? Dear me, no. That's a terrible idea. A very poor use of new technology...

    Yet, you'll remember ... the original genetic engineering companies, like Genentech and Cetus, were all started to make pharmaceuticals. New drugs for mankind. Noble, noble purpose. Unfortunately, drugs face all kinds of barriers. FDA testing alone takes five to eight years - if you're lucky. Even worse, there are forces at work in the marketplace. Suppose you make a miracle drug for cancer or heart disease - as Genentech did. Suppose you now want to charge a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars a dose. You might imagine that is your privilege. After all, you invented the drug, you paid to develop and test it; you should be able to charge whatever you wish. But do you really think that the government will let you do that? No, Henry, they will not. Sick people aren't going to pay a thousand dollars a dose for needed medication - they won't be grateful, they'll be outraged. Blue Cross isn't going to pay it. They'll scream highway robbery. So something will happen. Your patent application will be denied. Your permits will be delayed. Something will force you to see reason - and to sell your drug at a lower cost. From a business standpoint, that makes helping mankind a very risky business. Personally, I would never help mankind.
    Now think how different it is when you're making entertainment, Nobody needs entertainment. That's not a matter for government intervention. If I charge five thousand dollars a day for my park, who is going to stop me? After all, nobody needs to come here. And, far from being highway robbery, a costly price tag actually increases the appeal of the park. A visit becomes a status symbol
    original purpose behind pointing my company in this direction in the first place was to have freedom from government intervention".
  22. Explanation of why frog DNA ended up in some engineered dinosaurs that were now breeding in the wild: "DNA was an incredibly ancient substance. Human beings, walking around in the streets of the modern world, bouncing their pink new babies, hardly stopped to think that the substance at the center of it all - the substance that began the dance of life - was a chemical almost as old as the earth itself. The DNA molecule was so old that its evolution had essentially finished more than two billion years ago. There had been little new since that time. Just a few recent combinations of the old genes - and not much of that.

    When you compared the DNA of man and the DNA of a lowly bacterium, you found that only about 10 percent of the strands were different. This innate conservatism of DNA emboldened Wu to use whatever DNA he wished."
  23. "Whether it was Disney or the Navy, management guys always behaved the same... they thought that screaming was the way to make things happen."
  24. "Inexperienced people imagined horrific proofs of an animal attack - torn limbs left behind in the tent, trails of dripping blood leading away into the bush, bloodstained clothing not far from the campsite. But the truth was, there was usually nothing at all, particularly if the victim was small, an infant or a young child. The person just seemed to disappear, as if he had walked out into the bush and never come back. A predator could kill a child just by shaking it, snapping the neck. Usually there wasn't any blood.

    And most of the time you never found any other remains of the victims. Sometimes a button from a shirt, or a sliver of rubber from a shoe. But most of the time, nothing.

    Predators took children - they preferred children - and they left nothing behind."
  25. "Most of the big carnivores don't have strong jaws. The real power is in the neck musculature. The jaws just hold on, while they use the neck to twist and rip."
  26. "Body temperature changes constantly... It changes cyclically over twenty-four hours, lowest in the morning, highest in the afternoon. It changes with mood, with disease, with exercise, with outside temperature, with food. It continuously fluctuates up and down. Tiny jiggles on a graph. Because, at any moment, some forces are pushing temperature up, and other forces are pulling it down. It is inherently unstable. And every other aspect of living systems is like that, too...

    what he saw as defects were actually necessities. Look: when I was working on missiles, we dealt with something called 'resonant yaw.' Resonant yaw meant that, even though a missile was only slightly unstable off the pad, it was hopeless. It was inevitably going to go out of control, and it couldn't be brought back. That's a feature of mechanical systems. A little wobble can get worse until the whole system collapses. But those same little wobbles are essential to a living system. They mean the system is healthy and responsive."
  27. "Studies of frogs had shown that amphibians only saw moving things, like insects. If something didn't move, they literally didn't see it."
  28. "you cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape."
  29. "Particle accelerators sear the land, and leave radioactive byproducts. Astronauts leave trash on the moon. There is always some proof that scientists were there, making their discoveries. Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always.

    The scientists want it that way. They have to stick their instruments in. They have to leave their mark. They can't just watch. They can't just appreciate. They can't just fit into the natural order. They have to make something unnatural happen. That is the scientist's job, and now we have whole societies that try to be scientific."
  30. "The number of hours women devote to housework has not changed since 1930, despite all the advances. All the vacuum cleaners, washer-dryers, trash compactors, garbage disposals, wash-and-wear fabrics . . . Why does it still take as long to clean the house as it did in 1930?
    Because there haven't been any advances... Not really. Thirty thousand years ago, when men were doing cave paintings at Lascaux, they worked twenty hours a week to provide themselves with food and shelter and clothing. The rest of the time, they could play, or sleep, or do whatever they wanted. And they lived in a natural world, with clean air, clean water, beautiful trees and sunsets. Think about it. Twenty hours a week. Thirty thousand years ago."

    "You want to turn back the clock?"

    "No... I want people to wake up. We've had four hundred years of modern science, and we ought to know by now what it's good for, and what it's not good for."
  31. "You create new life forms, about which you know nothing at all. Your Dr Wu does not even know the names of the things he is creating. He cannot be bothered with such details as what the thing is called, let alone what it is. You create many of them in a very short time, you never learn anything about them, yet you expect them to do your bidding, because you made them and you therefore think you own them; you forget that they are alive, they have an intelligence of their own, and they may not do your bidding, and you forget how little you know about them, how incompetent you are to do the things that you so frivolously call simple...

    You know what's wrong with scientific power? It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are. It never fails.
    Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

    Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.

    But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify - it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.

    And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary.
    A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple."
  32. "But now, ... science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world any more. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways - air, and water, and land - because of ungovernable science.
    Science, like other outmoded systems, is destroying itself. As it gains in power, it proves itself incapable of handling the power. Because things are going very fast now. Fifty years ago, everyone was gaga over the atomic bomb. That was power. No one could imagine anything more. Yet, a bare decade after the bomb, we began to have genetic power. And genetic power is far more potent than atomic power. And it will be in everyone's hands. It will be in kits for backyard gardeners. Experiments for schoolchildren. Cheap labs for terrorists and dictators, And that will force everyone to ask the same question - What should I do with my power? Which is the very question science says it cannot answer."
  33. "All major changes are like death... You can't see to the other side until you are there."
  34. "You egomaniacal idiot... You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have... You can't destroy this planet. You can't even come close.
    Our planet is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on this planet for nearly that long. Three point eight billion years. The first bacteria. And, later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land. Then the great sweeping ages of animals - the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away. All this happening against a background of continuous and violent upheaval, mountain ranges thrust up and eroded away, cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving . . . Endless constant and violent change... The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us."

    "If there was a radiation accident"?

    "Suppose there was... Let's say we had a bad one, and all the plants and animals died, and the earth was clicking hot for a hundred thousand years. Life would survive somewhere - under the soil, or perhaps frozen in Arctic ice. And after all those years, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would again spread over the planet. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. And of course it would be very different from what it is now. But the earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we ... think it wouldn't."

    Alfred Bester's short story "Adam and No Eve" is based on this theme.
  35. "oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It's a corrosive gas, like fluorine, which is used to etch glass. And when oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells - say, around three billion years ago - it created a crisis for all other life on our planet. Those plant cells were polluting the environment with a deadly poison. They were exhaling a lethal gas, and building up its concentration. A planet like Venus has less than one percent oxygen. On earth, the concentration of oxygen was going up rapidly - five, ten, eventually twenty one percent! Earth had an atmosphere of pure poison! Incompatible with life!
    My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn't have cars and air planes and computers and vaccines. . . . It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.
    The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't got the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves."
  36. "ability to invent and execute plans was believed to be limited to only three species: chimpanzees, gorillas, and human beings."
  37. "gray parrot has as much symbolic intelligence as a chimpanzee. And chimpanzees can definitely use language. Now researchers are finding that parrots have the emotional development of a three year old child, but their intelligence is unquestioned. Parrots can definitely reason symbolically."
  38. "Paleontologists had been digging up bones for so long that they had forgotten how little information could be gleaned from a skeleton. Bones might tell you something about the gross appearance of an animal, its height and weight. They might tell you something about how the muscles attached, and therefore something about the crude behavior of the animal during life. They might give you clues to the few diseases that affected bone. But a skeleton was a poor thing, really, from which to try and deduce the total behavior of an organism."


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Some good quotes there. Excellent book.

Yorick said...

Thanks for sharing!

Teporingo Mayor said...

Excellent book, exquisite quotes, thank you

Anonymous said...