Monday, June 7, 2010

D.T. Max, The Family That Couldn't Sleep

"If prionlike diseases are infectious, though, they are not so in the traditional way. They are not 'alive' -- infection in their case is purely a mechanical process. The theory of prions threatens to diminish our uniqueness in the universe, which is one reason that -- like Galileo's insistence that the earth moves areound the sun -- it had trouble finding acceptance. It was another example of -- in the words of the German chemist Friedrich Wohler, who discovered in 1828 that he could synthesize the body's chemicals perfectly well in a test tube -- 'the great tragedy of science, the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.' The hypothesis was that life is ineffable, uniquely alive; the reality is that it is just chemical."

- D.T. Max, The Family That Couldn't Sleep

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