The Crazy Ape: Written by a Biologist for the Young

The Crazy Ape: Written by a Biologist for the Young

by Albert Szent-Györgyi

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Overview

A Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Szent-Györgyi concerns himself with the underlying forces and conditions that have prevented the realization of the higher possibilities of the American Dream, and, by extension, of all mankind. He addresses himself especially to the youth of the world in his attempt to show how man, the more he progresses technologically, seems the more to regress psychologically and socially, until he resembles his primate ancestors in a state of high schizophrenia.
 
The fundamental question asked by this book is: why is it that most of the scientific research that is done to elevate human life serves in the end to destroy it? That this phenomenon exists is unarguable. How to alter it is the problem the author tackles. He finds the possibility, indeed the instrument of our survival, in our youth. Dr. Szent-Györgyi calls upon the youth the world over to organize and exercise their power to create a new world. He implores them not to waste their energies in petulance and frustration—the world is ripe for the radical changes needed for man’s survival, and for youth to fritter away their opportunity would be to compound the tragedy and seal the fate of mankind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497675902
Publisher: Philosophical Library/Open Road
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
File size: 849 KB

About the Author

Born in the fourth generation of a noted family of scientists in Hungary, Albert Szent-Györgyi decided at an early age to devote his life to biological research. As a medical student he received international recognition for his studies in microscopic anatomy. The First World War, which he spent in the service of the Austro-Hungarian army, caused a break in his career. After the war he left his devastated country to work for ten years in various countries, notably Germany, Holland, England and the United States. He then returned to his native Hungary to help rebuild science there. In 1937 he won the Nobel Prize for his studies on metabolism and for the discovery of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). He soon found himself in conflict with the growing movement of Nazism, was arrested, escaped, and was hunted for years by the secret service of Hitler. After World War II, disappointed by Soviet colonialism and the terrorist methods of Stalin, he left Hungary and found refuge at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 
A Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Szent-Györgyi concerns himself with the underlying forces and conditions that have prevented the realization of the higher possibilities of the American Dream, and, by extension, of all mankind. He addresses himself especially to the youth of the world in his attempt to show how man, the more he progresses technologically, seems the more to regress psychologically and socially, until he resembles his primate ancestors in a state of high schizophrenia.
 
The fundamental question asked by this book is: why is it that most of the scientific research that is done to elevate human life serves in the end to destroy it? That this phenomenon exists is unarguable. How to alter it is the problem the author tackles. He finds the possibility, indeed the instrument of our survival, in our youth. Dr. Szent-Györgyi calls upon the youth the world over to organize and exercise their power to create a new world. He implores them not to waste their energies in petulance and frustration—the world is ripe for the radical changes needed for man’s survival, and for youth to fritter away their opportunity would be to compound the tragedy and seal the fate of mankind.

Born in the fourth generation of a noted family of scientists in Hungary, Albert Szent-Györgyi decided at an early age to devote his life to biological research. As a medical student he received international recognition for his studies in microscopic anatomy. The First World War, which he spent in the service of the Austro-Hungarian army, caused a break in his career. After the war he left his devastated country to work for ten years in various countries, notably Germany, Holland, England and the United States. He then returned to his native Hungary to help rebuild science there. In 1937 he won the Nobel Prize for his studies on metabolism and for the discovery of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). He soon found himself in conflict with the growing movement of Nazism, was arrested, escaped, and was hunted for years by the secret service of Hitler. After World War II, disappointed by Soviet colonialism and the terrorist methods of Stalin, he left Hungary and found refuge at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 

Read an Excerpt

The Crazy Ape


By Albert Szent-Györgyi, Nobel Laureate

Philosophical Library

Copyright © 1970 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7590-2



CHAPTER 1

THE PROBLEM IS STATED


Why does man behave like a perfect idiot? This is the problem I wish to deal with. Today is the first time in man's history that he is able to truly enjoy life, free of cold, hunger and disease. It is the first time he is able to satisfy all his basic needs. Conversely, it is also the first time in his history that man has the capability of exterminating himself in one blow or making his tragically shrinking, lovely little globe uninhabitable by pollution or overpopulation.

One would expect that any idiot could make a wise choice between these two alternatives. It is basically a choice between pleasure and pain. Yet man seems to be bent on choosing the latter, on bringing about the "Kingdom of Cockroaches." Cockroaches are very insensitive to high energy radiation and will find plenty to feed on in a world made barren of the resources needed to sustain human life. In the most affluent country of the world, five per cent of the people are starving. Fifty per cent are starving in the rest of the world—children do not get enough food to build healthy minds and bodies, and go to bed hungry. While this is going on the United States alone has spent since the Second World War a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) on "defense," on instruments of mass killing. The Soviets, of course, are not lagging far behind. These are sums too great to be visualized even by the keenest imaginations. They could long ago have lifted mankind to much higher levels of existence. This is a truly criminal story, yet it is not merely criminal. It is utterly stupid too, for what we have bought with all this paranoiac spending are insecurity, jitters, and a ticket for self-extinction, having placed our fate in hands that we have absolutely no reason to trust.

If mankind is really this idiotic, then how did it remain alive through its first million years? There are two possible answers to this question. One is that man is not really that senseless; rather, his circumstances have changed in such a way that he no more fits into his environment, which makes his actions senseless. But one could also conclude that man has always been like he is today, that he has always been self-destructive; he merely lacked the technological means to exterminate himself. Throughout his history there has always been an enormous amount of senseless killing and destruction; if man did not exterminate himself it was only because of the primitive nature and inefficiency of his instruments of killing, which ensured that in any violent conflict many would survive. Modern science has changed this situation, and today we all have to go together.

Whichever of the two theories is correct, if we are to have any hope of surviving it is most urgent that we find out what keeps us in this fateful groove and whether there is a chance and a way of getting out of it.

CHAPTER 2

MAN vs. NATURE


Nature is big, man is small; the quality and level of human life has always depended on man's relation to nature, on the measure in which he is able to understand nature and use its forces for his advantage.

The survival of any species depends on its ability to adapt to its surroundings. Man is like any other species in that he has had to adapt himself to the world in which he was born. This world of, say, a hundred thousand years ago, was exceedingly simple, and so were its problems. The main problem was how to get through the day alive—find food, shelter, a sexual partner, whatever simple requirements were needed. So man developed senses which enabled him to distinguish between a bear or a wolf, rocks and trees, all the basic units of his world. His life improved at the rate with which he learned to shape and use things. The discovery of the needle, the wheel, the arrow, fire, metals, the hardening of clay, etc., marked the single stations on his upward road from primitiveness.

These discoveries were based on the everyday experience of man. It was not until that singular upsurge of the human intellect, characterized by ancient Egypt and the Greco-Roman world, that here and there men began to try to understand nature. These efforts can be summed up as the "science of antiquity." What was characteristic, on the whole, of the science of this period was a faith in the supreme power of the mind, which, it was thought, could solve all problems. This may be illustrated by the story of the two stones. Aristotle, whose ideas were the last word for many centuries to come, claimed that a big stone falls faster than a small one. What was remarkable about this statement is not that it was wrong, but that it never occurred to Aristotle to test it. He probably would have taken such a suggestion as an insult. Why resort to crude action when the mind could answer all questions? The freedom of human thought is very limited. We all live in a very narrow cage, the "spirit of our times," in which we have very little freedom of motion. If, in different ages, people thought differently, this was not because the cage got wider, but because the cage moved. The spirit of his time made it impossible for Aristotle to pick up two stones to see which one fell faster.

In the 16th Century a great change must have taken place in the human mind for, one day, a querulous young man went up the Leaning Tower of Pisa carrying two stones, a big and a small one, to drop them simultaneously, having asked his companions to observe which of the two hit the pavement first. This man, Galileo Galilei by name, distrusted not only the perfection of his mind but also that of his senses, which he improved by building telescopes. By so doing he discovered the satellites of Jupiter, never seen by man before, proving that the universe could not have been built solely for man's pleasure or temptation. This rebirth of the human mind is what is summed up now as the "renaissance." Galileo was one of the first visionaries, followed soon by Kepler, Leeuwenhoek, and many others who measured, observed and calculated, building a classical science that reached its peak in Newton, Darwin and Pasteur.

This classical science dealt with the world as man knew it, in which man was born, to which he tried to adapt, in which he lived. Accordingly, this science brought no qualitatively new factors into man's life; it only cleared the inner relations of the surrounding world. This science had an enormous influence on human thought, replacing divine whim by law and order, giving man for the first time an idea of where he was and what he was.

While the science of antiquity did not change human life, classical science led, in the 19th Century, after a latent period of several hundred years, to the "industrial revolution," which greatly improved the quality of human life. It improved it, but brought no qualitatively new factors into it. The needle was known for thousands of years before; the sewing machine could only sew faster and better. Similarly, the "iron horse," the train, could outrun the real horse, and its invention made travel more comfortable. Death rates went down, production of food and commodities went up and a new social class, that of the industrial worker, was born; but on the whole the world structure remained unchanged.

At the turn of this century four important discoveries were made which marked the beginning of a new period in man's history. X-rays (1895), the electron (1895), radioactivity (1896) and the quantum (1900) were discovered, these discoveries being followed soon by relativity (1905). None of these were, or could be, revealed by our senses. They meant that surrounding man there was a world of which he had no inkling before, about which his senses could give him no information. They not only did not inform him, but specifically existed so as not to inform him. If they had they would have been useless and we would have had to die. If I perceived atoms or quanta instead of trucks, I would be run over; if my ancestors had seen electrons instead of bears, they would most likely have been eaten.

The story of man consists actually of two parts, divided by the appearance of modern science at the turn of this century. In the first period, man lived in a world in which his species was born and to which he and his senses were adapted. In the second, man stepped into a new, cosmic world to which he was a complete stranger. Never before in his history did he have to undergo such an acute transition. I am not so terribly old, but I can still remember the time my uncle, a scientist, told me that a paper was presented at the French Scientific Academy in Paris which proved definitely that flying with heavier-than-air objects was impossible. Everybody felt relieved because the idea of flying had begun to bother people. I can also remember the time the first car visited my father's farm and the farmhands demanded that the hood be opened and the swindle —that is, the hidden horse—be exposed.

After a latency period of no more than half a century, modern science began to transform human life, bringing factors into it about which man could not even dream before. The forces at man's disposal were no longer terrestrial forces, of human dimension, but were cosmic forces, the forces which shaped the universe. The few hundred fahrenheit degrees of our flimsy terrestrial fires were exchanged for the ten millions of degrees of the atomic reactions which heat the sun. The speed of the horse as a factor in human life was replaced by the speed of light or sound; the relatively inefficient force of our weapons was replaced by the forces of the atom, which can dig harbors, move mountains, or annihilate whole societies in seconds.

John Platt summed up the change by showing that in this century we have increased our speed of communication by a factor of 107 (ten million fold), our speed of travel by a factor of 102, our speed of data handling by 106, our energy resources by 103, our power of weapons by 106, our ability to control disease by something like 102, and the rate of population growth to 103 times what it was a few thousand years ago. This is but a beginning, and means endless possibilities in both directions—a building of a human life with undreamt of wealth and dignity, or a sudden end in utmost misery. We live in a new cosmic world which man was not made for. His survival now depends on how well and how fast he can adapt himself to it, rebuilding all his ideas, all his social and economic and political structures. His existence depends on the question of whether he can adapt himself faster than the hostile forces can destroy him. At present, he is clearly losing out.

We are forced to face this situation with our caveman's brain, a brain that has not changed much since it was formed. We face it with our outdated thinking, institutions and methods, with political leaders who have their roots in the old, prescientific world and think the only way to solve these formidable problems is by trickery and double talk, by increasing our atomic arsenal—which is already sufficiently stocked to kill every single living individual three times over—by trying to replace the single warhead by multiple ones, creating new missiles and anti- or anti-antimissiles, by spending untold billions on the instruments of death. We can already wipe out any distant city in one blow; nevertheless we are still placing more and more of these bombs under the ground and under the sea, ready to be fired, as if they were bombs of the old type, the number of which could decide battles.

What makes all this so terribly senseless is that these bombs cannot be used at all. They are too powerful. We cannot fire them without committing suicide and wiping out mankind altogether. The world's biggest military power is at present unable to cope with a small and undeveloped nation, a nation that has none of these bombs and yet drains the vital forces of its opponent. A world in which I can watch in living color my fellow man stepping on to the moon, and even hear him talking, sitting myself in slippers at home, is not the old world in which mankind was born. It is a new world, and it demands new ideas, leaders and methods. That we have not yet come to this realization—that we have conceived no "new" ideas, have developed no "new" leaders, have devised no "new" methods—is made depressingly obvious by the fact that we are still acting like man of thousands of years ago. Through the ages, man's main concern was life after death. Today, for the first time, we find we must ask questions about whether there will be life before death.

CHAPTER 3

THE BRAIN AND THE MIND


Whatever man does he has to do it first in his mind, and the mechanism underlying the mind is the brain. There can be no action without an underlying mechanism, and a mechanism can only do what its structure allows it to do. A cow could never lay an egg, however hard she tried; nor could a gramophone type letters or a typewriter make music. Man, too, can do only what his brain allows him to do. Thus, when discussing human action we must have a look at the brain and see what sort of organ it is and for what purpose it was shaped by nature.

In their struggle for life some animals grew fangs, others claws or tusks, while still others produced poisons. Man grew a brain, and it is a curious fact that this semisolid blob of matter proved to be a more formidable tool than fangs, claws or poisons, and insured man's supremacy. Man's brain was not developed by nature to search for truth, but to search for food, safety, and the like; to search for advantage, to help man get through the day alive. It is an organ of survival. Human action is motivated by need or desire, and the brain is the instrument of human gratification.

In primitive societies this must have been all there was to it. In more sophisticated societies the brain developed a second function: to find arguments, mostly high-sounding ones, to justify deeds or desires. This our brain does so promptly that we kid ourselves into believing that we are actually motivated in our actions by these arguments.

Talking about arguments, one point must be made clear: they have no real meaning. They consist of words, and words can be put together in many ways. Everybody knows about the favorite pastime of Socrates: "Say something, and I will disprove it; then say the opposite and I will disprove that too." Anything can be justified by words and logic.

Our nation has lately been polarized into two sets of attitudes—those of hawks and doves. The first like war, the second like peace. Both can justify their attitudes and actions equally by words and logic. So these have no real meaning. What has meaning is the blunt fact that there are hawks and there are doves, that hawks think and act like hawks, doves think and act like doves.

Our whole nervous system developed for one sole purpose, to maintain our lives and satisfy our needs. All our reflexes serve this purpose. This makes us utterly egotistic. With rare exceptions people are really interested in one thing only: themselves. Everybody, by necessity, is the center of his own universe.

When the human brain took its final shape, say, 100,000 years ago, problems and solutions must have been exceedingly simple. There were no long-range problems and man had to grab any immediate advantage. The world has changed but we are still willing to sell more distant vital interests for some minor immediate gains. Our military-industrial complex, which endangers the future of mankind, to a great extent owes its stability to the fact that so many people depend on it for their living.

This holds true for all of us, including myself. When I received the Nobel Prize, the only big lump sum of money I have ever seen, I had to do something with it. The easiest way to drop this hot potato was to invest it, to buy shares. I knew World War II was coming and I was afraid that if I had shares which rise in case of war, I would wish for war. So I asked my agent to buy shares which go down in the event of war. This he did. I lost my money and saved my soul.

These traits of the human mind have remarkable consequences for social structures. Man creates institutions to satisfy his social needs in accordance with bis philosophy. Individuals join these institutions and make their personal interests fuse with those of the institutions, on whose wealth and power their own prospects depend. What follows is that very soon these institutions begin to serve their own interests rather than social needs. As time goes by the social needs and philosophy change, but the institutions don't; they remain fighting for their own interests until they are swept away by revolution, often at the price of much suffering, bloodshed and devastation. Man grows by virtue of these upheavals; he becomes, then, like a snake, bursting his skin periodically.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Crazy Ape by Albert Szent-Györgyi, Nobel Laureate. Copyright © 1970 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

FOREWORD,
I. THE PROBLEM IS STATED,
II. MAN vs. NATURE,
III. THE BRAIN AND THE MIND,
IV. REMARKS ON EDUCATION,
V. THE DUALITY OF MORALS,
VI. THE BIOLOGY OF ARMIES,
VII. THE DUAL WORLD STRUCTURE,
VIII. ON GOVERNMENTS,
IX. ON INFORMATION,
X. LIFE vs. DEATH,
XI. ON VIOLENCE,
XII. GERONTOCRACY,
XIII. SEX,
XIV. THE GENERATION GAP,
XV. A PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH,
XVI. SCIENCE AND SOCIETY,
XVII. THE WAY OUT,
XVIII. ADDITIVITY AND THE BIPARTISAN WORLD,
POST SCRIPT,
APPENDIX,
Notes,

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