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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > George Wald Quotes

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George Wald
(18 Nov 1906 - 12 Apr 1997)

American biochemist who shared the 1967 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work on the chemistry of vision.


Science Quotes by George Wald (29 quotes)

>> Click for George Wald Quotes on | Death | Earth | Knowledge | Life | Planet | Solar System | Universe |

[Attributing the origin of life to spontaneous generation.] However improbable we regard this event, it will almost certainly happen at least once…. The time… is of the order of two billion years.… Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One only has to wait: time itself performs the miracles.
— George Wald
In 'The Origin of Life', Scientific American (Aug 1964), 191, 46. Note that the quoted time of 2 billion years is rejected as impossibly short by such authors as H. J. Morowitz, in Energy Flow in Biology (1968), 317.
Science quotes on:  |  Billion (52)  |  Certainty (97)  |  Event (97)  |  Happening (32)  |  Impossibility (50)  |  Improbable (9)  |  Miracle (55)  |  Once (4)  |  Order (167)  |  Origin Of Life (32)  |  Possibility (96)  |  Probability (83)  |  Spontaneous Generation (4)  |  Time (439)  |  Virtual (5)  |  Wait (38)  |  Years (5)

A lecture is much more of a dialogue than many of you probably realize.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Dialogue (7)  |  Lecture (54)  |  Realization (33)

A peacetime draft is the most un-American thing I know.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Draft (5)  |  Peacetime (2)  |  Unamerican (2)

A scientist is in a sense a learned small boy. There is something of the scientist in every small boy. Others must outgrow it. Scientists can stay that way all their lives.
— George Wald
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
Science quotes on:  |  Boy (33)  |  Learning (174)  |  Life (917)  |  Outgrow (4)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Sense (240)  |  Small (97)  |  Stay (15)

A scientist lives with all reality. There is nothing better. To know reality is to accept it, and eventually to love it.
— George Wald
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
Science quotes on:  |  Accepting (4)  |  Better (131)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Life (917)  |  Love (164)  |  Nothing (267)  |  Reality (140)  |  Scientist (447)

A scientist should be the happiest of men. Not that science isn't serious; but as everyone knows, being serious is one way of being happy, just as being gay is one way of being unhappy.
— George Wald
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
Science quotes on:  |  Happiness (82)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Seriousness (9)  |  Unhappiness (6)

About two million years ago, man appeared. He has become the dominant species on the earth. All other living things, animal and plant, live by his sufferance. He is the custodian of life on earth, and in the solar system. It’s a big responsibility.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (309)  |  Custodian (3)  |  Dominance (5)  |  Earth (487)  |  Life (917)  |  Life On Earth (5)  |  Mankind (196)  |  Plant (173)  |  Responsibility (47)  |  Solar System (48)  |  Species (181)  |  Sufferance (2)

Death seems to have been a rather late invention in evolution. One can go a long way in evolution before encountering an authentic corpse.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Evolution began with one-celled organisms reproducing indefinitely by cell division.
Science quotes on:  |  Authentic (3)  |  Corpse (5)  |  Death (270)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Lateness (4)

Every creature alive on the earth today represents an unbroken line of life that stretches back to the first primitive organism to appear on this planet; and that is about three billion years.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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Evolution advances, not by a priori design, but by the selection of what works best out of whatever choices offer. We are the products of editing, rather than of authorship.
— George Wald
In 'The Origin of Optical Activity', Annals of the New York Academy of Science (1957), 69, 367.
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Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
— George Wald
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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Four elements, Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, also provide an example of the astonishing togetherness of our universe. They make up the “organic” molecules that constitute living organisms on a planet, and the nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. Then the organisms on the planet come to depend wholly on that starlight, as they must if life is to persist. So it is that all life on the Earth runs on sunlight. [Referring to photosynthesis]
— George Wald
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
Science quotes on:  |  Carbon (48)  |  Dependence (32)  |  Element (129)  |  Fusion (9)  |  Hydrogen (37)  |  Interaction (28)  |  Life (917)  |  Molecule (125)  |  Nitrogen (18)  |  Nucleus (30)  |  Organic (48)  |  Organism (126)  |  Oxygen (49)  |  Photosynthesis (15)  |  Planet (199)  |  Star (251)  |  Starlight (3)  |  Sun (211)  |  Sunlight (14)  |  Universe (563)

I have lived much of my life among molecules. They are good company. I tell my students to try to know molecules, so well that when they have some question involving molecules, they can ask themselves, What would I do if I were that molecule? I tell them, Try to feel like a molecule; and if you work hard, who knows? Some day you may get to feel like a big molecule!
— George Wald
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
Science quotes on:  |  Ask (99)  |  Big (33)  |  Company (28)  |  Feel (93)  |  Good (228)  |  Hard (70)  |  Involvement (4)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Life (917)  |  Molecule (125)  |  Question (315)  |  Student (131)  |  Try (103)  |  Work (457)

I have often had cause to feel that my hands are cleverer than my head. That is a crude way of characterizing the dialectics of experimentation. When it is going well, it is like a quiet conversation with Nature. One asks a question and gets an answer, then one asks the next question and gets the next answer. An experiment is a device to make Nature speak intelligibly. After that, one only has to listen.
— George Wald
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1967). In Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: (1999), Vol. 4 (1963-197), 292.
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I tell my students, with a feeling of pride that I hope they will share, that the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen that make up ninety-nine per cent of our living substance were cooked in the deep interiors of earlier generations of dying stars. Gathered up from the ends of the universe, over billions of years, eventually they came to form, in part, the substance of our sun, its planets, and ourselves. Three billion years ago, life arose upon the earth. It is the only life in the solar system.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Billion (52)  |  Carbon (48)  |  Cooking (7)  |  Death (270)  |  Earth (487)  |  Feeling (79)  |  Formation (54)  |  Generation (111)  |  Interior (13)  |  Life (917)  |  Nitrogen (18)  |  Oxygen (49)  |  Planet (199)  |  Pride (45)  |  Solar System (48)  |  Star (251)  |  Substance (73)  |  Sun (211)  |  Universe (563)  |  Year (214)

I think I know what is bothering the students. I think that what we are up against is a generation that is by no means sure that it has a future.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Future (229)  |  Generation (111)  |  Student (131)  |  Sure (13)

I think if a physician wrote on a death certificate that old age was the cause of death, he’d be thrown out of the union. There is always some final event, some failure of an organ, some last attack of pneumonia, that finishes off a life. No one dies of old age.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Evolution began with one-celled organisms reproducing indefinitely by cell division.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (231)  |  Certificate (2)  |  Death (270)  |  Failure (118)  |  Final (33)  |  Finish (16)  |  Life (917)  |  Old Age (18)  |  Organ (60)  |  Physician (232)  |  Pneumonia (6)

If the germ plasm wants to swim in the ocean, it makes itself a fish; if the germ plasm wants to fly in the air, it makes itself a bird. If it wants to go to Harvard, it makes itself a man. The strangest thing of all is that the germ plasm that we carry around within us has done all those things. There was a time, hundreds of millions of years ago, when it was making fish. Then … amphibia … reptiles … mammals, and now it’s making men.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Wald gave the context whereby the most one-celled organisms continued to reproduce by cell division.
Science quotes on:  |  Amphibian (5)  |  Bird (96)  |  Carrying (7)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Fish (85)  |  Flight (45)  |  Germ (27)  |  Harvard (6)  |  Mammal (28)  |  Man (345)  |  Ocean (115)  |  Plasm (2)  |  Reptile (23)  |  Swimming (5)

It would be a poor thing to be an atom in a universe without physicists, and physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an atom’s way of knowing about atoms.
— George Wald
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (251)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Made (14)  |  Physicist (130)

Judging from our experience upon this planet, such a history, that begins with elementary particles, leads perhaps inevitably toward a strange and moving end: a creature that knows, a science-making animal, that turns back upon the process that generated him and attempts to understand it. Without his like, the universe could be, but not be known, and this is a poor thing. Surely this is a great part of our dignity as men, that we can know, and that through us matter can know itself; that beginning with protons and electrons, out of the womb of time and the vastnesses of space, we can begin to understand; that organized as in us, the hydrogen, the carbon, the nitrogen, the oxygen, those 16-21 elements, the water, the sunlight—all having become us, can begin to understand what they are, and how they came to be.
— George Wald
In 'The Origins of Life', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (1964), 52, 609-110.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (309)  |  Beginning (114)  |  Carbon (48)  |  Creature (127)  |  Dignity (18)  |  Electron (66)  |  Element (129)  |  Elementary (30)  |  Experience (268)  |  Generation (111)  |  History (302)  |  Hydrogen (37)  |  Judge (43)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Lead (101)  |  Moving (11)  |  Nitrogen (18)  |  Organized (9)  |  Oxygen (49)  |  Particle (90)  |  Planet (199)  |  Space (154)  |  Strange (61)  |  Sunlight (14)  |  Time (439)  |  Understanding (317)  |  Universe (563)  |  Vastness (9)  |  Water (244)  |  Womb (13)

Not all living creatures die. An amoeba, for example, need never die; it need not even, like certain generals, fade away. It just divides and becomes two new amoebas.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
Science quotes on:  |  Amoeba (20)  |  Creature (127)  |  Death (270)  |  Division (27)  |  General (92)  |  Life (917)

Nuclear weapons offer us nothing but a balance of terror, and a balance of terror is still terror.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Bomb (101)  |  Balance (43)  |  Nothing (267)  |  Nuclear (24)  |  Terror (16)

Our challenge is to give what account we can of what becomes of life in the solar system, this corner of the universe that is our home; and, most of all, what becomes of men—all men, of all nations, colors, and creeds. This has become one world, a world for all men. It is only such a world that can now offer us life, and the chance to go on.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Account (45)  |  Challenge (37)  |  Chance (122)  |  Color (78)  |  Corner (24)  |  Creed (10)  |  Existence (254)  |  Home (58)  |  Life (917)  |  Mankind (196)  |  Nation (111)  |  Solar System (48)  |  Universe (563)  |  World (667)

Science goes from question to question; big questions, and little, tentative answers. The questions as they age grow ever broader, the answers are seen to be more limited.
— George Wald
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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The only use for an atomic bomb is to keep somebody else from using one. It can give us no protection—only the doubtful satisfaction of retaliation.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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The thought that we’re in competition with Russians or with Chinese is all a mistake, and trivial. We are one species, with a world to win. There’s life all over this universe, but the only life in the solar system is on earth, and in the whole universe we are the only men.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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There was a golden period that I look back upon with great regret, in which the cheapest of experimental animals were medical students. Graduate students were even better. In the old days, if you offered a graduate student a thiamine-deficient diet, he gladly went on it, for that was the only way he could eat. Science is getting to be more and more difficult.
— George Wald
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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We are living in a world in which all wars are wars of defense.
— George Wald
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
Science quotes on:  |  Defense (15)  |  Life (917)  |  War (144)  |  World (667)

Years ago I used to worry about the degree to which I specialized. Vision is limited enough, yet I was not really working on vision, for I hardly made contact with visual sensations, except as signals, nor with the nervous pathways, nor the structure of the eye, except the retina. Actually my studies involved only the rods and cones of the retina, and in them only the visual pigments. A sadly limited peripheral business, fit for escapists. But it is as though this were a very narrow window through which at a distance, one can only see a crack of light. As one comes closer the view grows wider and wider, until finally looking through the same narrow window one is looking at the universe. It is like the pupil of the eye, an opening only two to three millimetres across in daylight, but yielding a wide angle of view, and manoeuvrable enough to be turned in all directions. I think this is always the way it goes in science, because science is all one. It hardly matters where one enters, provided one can come closer, and then one does not see less and less, but more and more, because one is not dealing with an opaque object, but with a window.
— George Wald
In Scientific American, 1960s, attributed.
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Quotes by others about George Wald (1)

Nat Sci 5 has turned more scientists into poets, and more poets into scientists, than any course ever taught on this campus.
Magazine
In the Confidential Guide published by The Harvard Crimson, as quoted on his web page by Elijah Wald about the introductory biology course (Nat Sci 5) taught for decades by his father, George Wald.
Science quotes on:  |  Campus (2)  |  Course (57)  |  Poet (59)  |  Scientist (447)  |  Teaching (99)  |  Turn (72)


See also:
  • 18 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Wald's birth.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Florence Nightingale
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