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Man and the multitude this University of Illinois Centennial symposium presented by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences studies contemporary man poised between past and future and between isolation and the community of the world. Guest speakers and panel members comment on the conflicting forces which push men apart from others. And into communion with others. Lectures in this series will be followed by discussions involving speakers visiting professors and University of Illinois faculty members as well as interested students. On our last program George wold professor of biochemistry at Harvard University discussed the evolution of our universe planet and species. He described the essential elements of our life and the interdependence of the stars and living organisms. Mr. Wilde explained the significance of the molecule that structure which changed an indeterminant world to one with shape and size living
organisms could then exist with varying traits as individuals. Mr Wald will answer questions posed by Ross Ashby and Hunt's phone firster both professors of bio physics and of electrical engineering at the University of Illinois. David pines professor of physics and of Electrical Engineering University of Illinois will serve as chairman of this discussion now been sabs professor of psychiatry University of Illinois at the Medical Center. Well now make the first comments on Mr. Rhodes lecture. I was very much impressed by the talk in regard to its profound optimism. And if you will Faith I thought it was a profoundly religious thought. Professor Wald as you noted rejected the original title of constraints as reflected in physical environment and mass communication he rejected that title and started out his comments by talking about his being affected by the euphoria of positive developments and of
optimism and he chose the title the human enterprise I think to reflect what could be done rather than what constraints existed on our achieving the human enterprise. I share his faith very much as a matter of fact. And I am optimistic. One issue that again came up in the first series of comments related to science technology split and perhaps squeeze a bit that mostly to see if it provokes. But Professor Walt as you recall essentially said that all science is good and science seeks to know reality. But it's in the application where problems develop. This is a rather sharp separation which I'm not so sure is can be maintained on scientific grounds on other grounds I think there are some weaknesses especially in my opinion that it's very hard to
separate science from the social context of science. I at least have a great deal of difficulty separating that and secondly that science is not simply the individual scientist doing his thinking and attempting to understand nature but science is also a collective effort which involves an establishment or as prices set in the state. And it's very difficult to a step to just separate individual scientists from the collective. The impact of science Professor Ross said it's really not possible to be alienated with science. And this is a distortion since Science seeks to know man and this should make man more at home in the universe in a very poetic way he commented here I quote him. The only quote one can have with science is that it hasn't done its work well enough. And he also said I don't know if this is his direct statement but I really love that quote.
He said there's nothing wrong with science. That ignorance can cure. Is that your own statement. It's a lovely one reading. The question though is can one only focus on the individual experimenter. What about the larger context and much of the question of alienation from the collective point of view. One last point David and I think I'll stop. It was again a lovely phrase that I wanted to call your attention to. I'm not sure if I have it immediately available but it was Professor walls discussion about Hamlet in which he well actually was talking about Shakespeare and Newton and saying that these men represent unusual aggregation of molecules and he said he used that language not to disparage these people but to exalt the molecules.
Again a lovely poetic statement. What does it mean. Is this a is it a reductionistic statement. I wasn't sure if this is a very subtle way of expressing that I felt there was a bit of reductionism minute. Again it implied some mysterious leap if you will from the aggregate of molecules to Shakespeare or Newton. And as I happen to be in the business of that a part of that mysteriously I'm interested in how he would explain that. I think that crisis action is opened now things to talk about to occupy us this afternoon. The point I was trying to make really was that I thought. One universe. One great development and out of this
it can happen given enough time. Life appears. And life then begins its evolution under these forces and natural selection. And again given enough time one is going to get to a creature that is contemplative and that has a technology and in those ways resembles man. I believe that because I think the game of evolution involves two great principles. One to be possible the other to be successful and with a demonstration that this kind of thing is possible and as for its being successful we're so successful. As nothing things that when we not only dominate the life of this planet but coming quickly into position to perhaps destroy it. So I I I I what I'm
trying to say is that. That is one universe now that one physical universe everything observable everything that's real all reality belongs. And the thing that I am trying to object to. Is this arbitrary cutting out of certain things. The example before us. You see there's a man he's just eaten We've just the we're digesting fine now you can digest within Ximenes That's all right that's biochemistry. I move my muscles are going through contractions I will let biochemistry take care of that that's all right I bring me that's all right. Just observe to write a sonnet all no no more biochemistry and I suddenly I'm turned into a kind
of radio set. It's something else. I'm a receiving mechanism that I. Transposing the spirit you know. Into words. I say no. My observation of the digestion and the muscle motions and all that would be stopping to short. If they didn't recognize that I observe also that men pray that they sing that they suffer that they write sonnets. And to me the infinitely exciting thought That's all coming out of that one universe and that one development. And so I have a certain confidence and to me this is stimulating thought. That elsewhere in the universe there are creatures like us men in a sense. I suppose elsewhere in the
universe the same exact things have developed with anti-matter and so there are and diamond too. And there are not only poets in various places in the universe but poets and you know the nice thought is an anti poet like a poet writes Not and die poems but poems. You have to be careful about touching the book and which book because the result would be you know mutual annihilation. But the poem is a poem whether written by a poet or an anti poet. I think that's the thought. No it would be a mistake to say that that that electrons have sonnets in them the molecules have
sanity. No no no. The mistake is a mistake in levels of organization. No the thing I observe is that you have to get to a man. And in fact you have to get a rather particular man if that to be good sound levels of organization are very important here. But one universe. I think it one of your publications you also talked about levels of organization and talked about the laws which apply to each level. A lot of the biologists a lot of the physicist. But there's no law that seemed to explain the behavior of what we consider the highest level of level of organization organization of the human. I'm wondering whether you're optimistic or whether this would even be pessimistic to think of having was to explain these
behaviors. Well I don't know what's in your mind and you know we succeed that the science is. Achieved its greatest success is when it reaches the point of analysis of being able to state a lot more and that lure. When it's really a good one I mean it can be stated in the form of a mathematical equation. And we were no such position to state laws for human behavior. That is however not to say that they are arbitrary that there is nothing in operation biologically sociological AI. If I seem to please forgive my Some times as a matter of simplification in my own mind I I think of science as physics though I'm a biologist and sometimes in the same way I tend to extend
biology over animal and plant societies and human societies but sociology and anthropology and all that or all or all in this situation and I wouldn't for the world think of disparaging them but they have the toughest job in all science and it's far from the point of producing laws but if I may take a moment more on this you know. There is so much in this realm that is left. As though it were completely arbitrary. And I think that even if one attempts to go no further than to try to undercut the arbitrariness to say. No there are genuine forces and genuine outcomes here and I've thought with some pleasure and I don't have to put my down right now
but let me just say it to you as well as I can. If you look at those ten commandments. All right. I've lost my way a little bit. It seems to me that the last four involve particular. Tenets of the Judaic theology and any other theology would state them differently. But the first six. No society that remotely resembles ours could go along could survive could persist without pretty well accepting those first six commandments. And if you want to have a little fun stake them negatively. You know instead of thou shalt not kill kill shall not
commit adultery commit adultery Thou shalt not. I forgot the quotation. Take your neighbor's possessions. On the contrary steal I think of this privately a little bit as the log. It's a sort of reverse deck a log and at the moment you see it. You try writing it in a row. You see that no no society remotely like gods could possibly exist with rules like that. And so you see that the Chinese for example live by the same commandments as regards those six that we do. As indeed every organized human society. Pretty much it does. There is no choice. Why is there no choice. Because these are the circumstances that
make social life possible in this form. So I think there is less arbitrariness in these situations than is usually assumed and that there were no position to state the laws of human behavior that is not to concede that there are not genuine determinisms genuine forces genuine. If I may say so physical relationships let me think of modern day man. We have a scientist we have to think yes we have the intellect we have who are passionately involved but expanding the mind and seeking out truth converging now we have the really intelligent knowledgeable people on the other side. If we take the United States for instance we have the Ku Klux Klan. We have all sorts of. Of phobias anti-communists and offered things like this.
Now it seems to me as though man capital humanity is splitting and beginning the scientists and thinkers on one side and beginning the emotionally emotional the neurotic The Bee the psychotic on the other side and that's what a man it's becoming organic again and growing but separating and Manna separating himself now my question is this if we assume that everyone is responsible and responsible people especially are responsible and scientists are responsible people responsibility of the scientists to stop this which is happening in. Well I think the split is a great oversimplification. In the family a place in which. Splitting into two groups because the split is much wider than that. There are many many groups. And no one of those groups is in any total agreement on a position it's very
hard to find yourself a political party or even a rather small group with which you can agree on more than one or a few things. And I think you'll concede that this scientist this is scientist and otherwise father citizen husband and this that they they are Republicans they're Democrats. Some of them have great prejudices some of them. In religious. Some make Gnostics a fundamentalist. Strangely enough so you have this enormous diversity and I think that. About as far as one can go. I for one would never want to go to. Keep people away. Yeah. Of the great long term issues.
Recognizing that they will come out with very different positions on them and that the life of man as of all other creatures goes on in the form of an interminable struggle. There are going to be no final solutions ever. There is not going to be some millennium it. Which one will have solved the human problem. And in fact the more one examines and the search possibility the less one wants it. The whole thing is a matter of struggle and time. If I may just say one word more in this regard. There was a period in my life when I was very much interested in Marxism. And. It was one of the one of the tenets of Marx's view as a kind of principle of historical inevitability. You know
and it was a little bit tempting to think well since it's astonishingly inevitable we can all go home and just wait for it you know. But the very mechanism of historical inevitability is precisely that you don't go home you have to fight like hell for this you say. That's the mechanism of the historical inevitability and that's the way all these things are about all you can do is look forward to taking your side in the fight and the fight will go on for you but you have to gain the knowledge for actually good requires action. It seems good. You say we only are obligated to re quire knowledge but I think that requires that we also apply biological knowledge we acquire in perhaps what might be termed authorship instead of editorship because
we feel already that culture is affecting our evolution in the sense that. Who are physiological types who no longer selected against in the way that they were previously or that perhaps even that you appear were lied to press their selected for by culturally conditioned mating behavior. And so perhaps we ought to think about employing a biological means for controlling evolution rather than you're saying well let's get knowledge and then go home. You know I don't say just get knowledge and then go home. You don't have to worry about a technology will be applied. What I'm saying is. Let us very carefully select among those applications those that seem to promote. The goals of a human society. And not feel any embarrassment at rejecting those that seem to
threaten those goals and I think one is going to be faced with multiple choices of that kind. Now you see you've mentioned several things. That that are that are presented in the form of an argument that does what many arguments do. It brushes aside distinctions of degree quantitative distinctions along the same moral question but I'm very worried when I hear story telling. Because I guess in retrospect. Curious to hear how our history has been inevitable. This is not to say that you know we can go home. We must keep fighting but it has in retrospect been inevitable. And I'm very worried that the perennial philosophy or the first six or seven commandments that we've had set up for some sort of means by which to judge may sometime come into
conflict with this hour with the recognition of necessity or historical necessity. What happens if at some point in the future there is not a star or a resource that is able that we can put to a use that can die so that we may live then we're put in a position where our scientists and our thinkers must make the decision not on the basis of any sort of run your philosophy which has existed here for they will have to find some new criteria. And in that sense I question that you know that our basis right now can be this general General religion or that always will be because why. First I ask is there a possibility that sometime the. For six commands may come into conflict with our. Will Like with the artificial kidney or something like that. We were coming to a certain degree of conflict there but it becomes more widespread as we exhaust resources on this earth and
we are not yet able to take the resources of someone somewhere else. That's a that's a very good point. That last one is at least with regard to artificial kidneys. I Society is saying is it not. These people may have a chance to live and these must starve that gets awfully close to violating them and Shalt Not Kill. It's just the old morality cannot apply there. There is there's a well it's similar to extreme situation that will I mean you don't shit something for the old morality because no one can. But if this is explained to us. Planetary where we go that decides you know what. I certainly find myself when we have gathered around this table people who wish to speak very strongly for say the anthropologists because I think
Dr. Wald does raise some questions of profound interest to the apologists in their study of man. And I what I share Dr. Walt haziness on exactly which commandments are the first sex and you know I wonder if I thought our societies throughout which in which the word steal are the word adultery has no meaning whatsoever. May I say a word about that. And to you sir because the morality has always bent and changed and been reinterpreted to meet given situations and the commandment Thou shalt not kill. Clearly from the beginning it was being used to mean now shalt not kill within the tribe within the group. And there was a great honor to killing outside of it and thou shalt not steal the same way a quite right
and there are societies in which. Stealing outside the group never within the group but stealing outside the group is something that's thought of very highly. I think they are going to invade a town with me and. Be it whole heartedly or at least very carefully when you cease to believe and send with him. One has to accept that most of our goals we are mammals vertebrates most of our goals have been built into us in the billion years of evolution and even our human induced instincts. If you take the whole time for instance since we left the primary of the monkey branch you take the whole time or something like this part of it. The DS since the very earliest days of history use of the four bits about a quarter of an inch at the end. Which means that behind us is an enormous
mass of stone age ways of life doing all of which time. About half a million years. Survival of the fittest has been going on and on and on. Weeding out the tribes that couldn't stand up for themselves. Weeding out those that were pushed away all the supporting those that were successful without the slightest regard for how they were successful. So we arrived today. As I see basically if one is going to be a consistent Darwinian one must assume that our goals today are rather built into us they're built into us in the same way that our hearts in our lungs are built into us. We just have to accept it that we must get water at least once a day we must get food at least once a day we have these needs. These are very very obvious ones but we also have the needs that are a little bit more temporary that we can just push away for a short time. Things like we need a tribe to live in we need a group to belong to and we get more and more unhappy like a sheep lost
on the hillside. If we get away we have these these matters it seems to me that most of the discussion about what SHALL our goals be. These are really all sub goals. They're all on the basis of these primary goals that we have as human beings that we are most of these are things that are not even discussed at all because they're just the facts of the taking for granted one doesn't have to talk about them because everybody has them automatically. Just look at this from a little different perspective. I think in the absence of the supreme author the smiling face would be enough. The checks and balances of democracy and I see science as part of that process. I tried to say earlier perhaps not clearly or specific enough I may use examples from medicine Florida zation cigarettes automobiles and rectification of disparity of class treatment that is there is a disparity in the kind of medical attention of various
Man and the multitude
George Wald discussion, part one
Producing Organization
University of Illinois
WILL Illinois Public Media
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, presents a discussion of a George Wald lecture. Speakers include Ross Ashby; Heinz von Foerster; Melvin Sabshin; and David Pines, all of the University of Illinois.
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A lecture series commemorating the centennial of the University of Illinois.
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Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Wald, George, 1906-1997
Speaker: Ashby, W. Ross (William Ross), 1903-1972
Speaker: Von Foerster, Heinz, 1911-2002
Speaker: Sabshin, Melvin, 1925-2011
Speaker: Pines, David, 1924-
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-41-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:47
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Chicago: “Man and the multitude; George Wald discussion, part one,” 1967-10-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 6, 2021,
MLA: “Man and the multitude; George Wald discussion, part one.” 1967-10-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <>.
APA: Man and the multitude; George Wald discussion, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from