“All men, everywhere, have asked the same questions: Whence we come, what kind of thing we are, and at least some intimation of what may become of us . . .”
So begins Nobel Prize–winning scientist George Wald’s 1970 Massey Lectures, now in print for the first time ever. Where did we come from, who are we, and what is to become of us — these questions have never been more urgent. Then, as now, the world is facing major political and social upheaval, from overpopulation to nuclear warfare to environmental degradation and the uses and abuses of technology. Using scientific fact as metaphor, Wald meditates on our place, and role, on Earth and in the universe. He urges us to therefore choose life — to invest in our capabilities as human beings, to heed the warnings of our own self-destruction, and above all to honour our humanity.
GEORGE WALD was born in New York City in 1906, the son of Jewish immigrant parents. An award-winning biologist, he taught at Harvard University for forty-three years and was known as an outstanding teacher. In 1966, TIME magazine listed him in a cover story as “one of the ten best teachers in the country.” Wald’s long career of research on vision culminated in his discovery of how Vitamin A works in the retina, leading to the understanding of the chemical basis of vision, for which he shared the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1950, to the American Philosophical Society in 1958, and in 1963–64 he was a Guggenheim Fellow, spending the year at Cambridge University. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Berne, Yale University, Wesleyan University, New York University, McGill University, Clark University, and Amherst College. Wald spoke out on many political and social issues, and his fame as a Nobel laureate brought national and international attention to his views. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. In 1997, Wald died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of ninety.
“In addition to being a superb scientist, Wald was a marvellous teacher, lecturer, and writer. TIME magazine’s 300 Biographical Memoirs named him ‘one of the ten best teachers in the country’ in a cover story published in 1966. He wrote and lectured on a wide variety of topics from the ‘Origin of Life’ and ‘Life and Mind in the Universe’ to political issues. The Vietnam War horrified him and, beginning in the mid-1960s until shortly before his death, he was deeply involved in anti-war and anti-nuclear activities. He considered his political actions as part of being a biologist: one who is concerned with life.” — John Dowling, Biologist, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and Author of Creating Mind: How the Brain Works