“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
Long considered one of the best lectures from a series of broadcasts that began in 1961 to provide a podium–as CBC has said–for writers, thinkers, and scholars who explore important ideas and issues of contemporary interest, the lectures are generally produced as published books after the broadcasts. Except Wald’s. He was working on the typescript when he died in 1997 and subsequently the manuscript was lost for years.
I heard a tape recording of Wald’s lecture just after it was given. It profoundly impacted my life and my view of the cosmos. Wald’s ideas, presented in nearly poetic words, in terms non-scientists could easily understand, placed the workings of the universe before my eyes. His words haunted me since then, and it would be forty-seven years before I found them again in 2017, when they were finally published and just as relevant then (and now) as they were in the aftermath of the turbulent 1960s.
From the Publisher
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.
I hope thousands of people will find this book and, for a mere $9.99 on Kindle, see the “big picture” and their part in it.