“Mind, intelligence, was somehow embedded in the process”

“Mind, intelligence, was somehow embedded in the process” April 8, 2018


Dr. George Wald, ten years before his death
Professor George Wald in 1987       (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


In 1984, George Wald (1906-1997), then an emeritus professor of biology at Harvard University and a 1967 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, presented an essay titled “Life and Mind in the Universe” to something called the Quantum Biology Symposium.  Here is a paragraph from that essay:


It has occured to me lately — I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities — that both questions [the origin of human consciousness and the emergence of life from inanimate matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence.  This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality — the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff.  It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals.  In them the universe begins to know itself.


Gerald Schroeder comments upon this passage in his 2009 book God According to God: A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along:


This almost mystical analysis of life is from the same George Wald who thirty years earlier in an article in Scientific American declared with no equivocation that life is indebted totally to pure random chance for its existence:  “The important point is that since the origin of life belongs in the category of at-least-once phenomena, time is on its side.  However improbable we regard this event, or any of the steps which it involves, given enough time it will almost certainly happen. . . .  Time is in fact the hero of the plot.”  Interestingly, twenty-five years after its publication, Scientific American retracted that article unequivocally stating:  “Although stimulating, this article probably represents one of the very few times in his professional life when Wald has been wrong.”  The retraction stated “that merely to create a single bacterium would require more time than the universe might ever see if chance combinations of its molecules were the only driving force.”

Macromolecules have been found to possess the amazing ability to “self-assemble.”  This ability is built into the structure of the universe.  Wald’s epiphany occurred when, in conducting the research by which he earned the Nobel Prize, he elucidated a portion of the mind-boggling complexity in the series of reactions at the eye’s retina that allows the picture in the mind to remake itself ten or fifteen times a second.  At the quantum level it appeared that mind, intelligence, was somehow embedded in the process.  (49)



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