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organic conversations



When a conversation drifts far afield from dinosaurs and keeps
generating messages I usually just shut it down by declaring it
verboten.  I'm going to take a different tack with the "organism"
thread.  First I'd like to point out that (in my reading anyways)
nobody is arguing about concepts; you're only arguing about word
useage.  Personally I think that sort of argument doesn't merit a lot
of attention (it's different from David's objection to Tim's useage of
"homology" because -- as many people tried to point out 20 years ago
-- molecular biologists did the world a disservice by clouding the
concepts that the word "homology" was coined to describe...)  Given
that the converation about "organism" really is just about word
useage, I'd like to shut down that thread by providing you with a
definitive source.  If you'd really like to know whether it makes
sense in terms of historical useage to apply the word "organism" to
single-celled... er... organisms, you should write to Tobias Cheung
(tobias.cheung@staff.hu-berlin.de).  He is the author of:

Cheung, T. (2006).  "From the organism of a body to the body 
     of an organism: occurrence and meaning of the word 'organism'
     from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries", _British
     Journal for the History of Science_, 39(3):319-339.

He doesn't address the specific point there; there are all sorts of
other variations in the useage of the word during the time period in
question, and he doesn't get into microbiology at all except with
reference to development.  However, I think Jason is wrong in thinking
that "organism" derives from the word "organ" because with a couple of
rare exceptions (e.g., the definition provided in the 1878 edition of
the _Dictionnaire de l'Academie francaise_) origins and definitions of
the word are tied to "organization" rather than "organ".  This is from
Cheung's abstract:

   At the end of the eighteenth century the term became a generic name
   for individual living entities.  From around 1830 the word
   'organism' replaced the expressions 'organic' or 'organized body'
   as a recurrent technical term in the emerging biological
   disciplines.

*Individual living entities*.  Not 'a hierarchical level consisting of
a collection of organs'.

-- 
Mickey P. Rowe     (mrowe@lifesci.ucsb.edu)