Nobel Laureate Lorenz Dies Age 85
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Konrad Lorenz, the world-renowned scientist and author who won a Nobel prize for his pioneering work in the field of human and animal behavior, has died at age 85, the Academy of Sciences said Tuesday.
Lorenz, who died of kidney failure Monday night, was famous both for his research and for the best-selling works on behavior that won him a worldwide reputation as a great humanist.
Among his best-known books is “On Aggression.”
In 1973, Lorenz’ behavioral research won him the Nobel Prize for Medicine along with the scientists Karl von Frisch and Nikolaas Tinbergen.
Chancellor Franz Vranitzky said Tuesday the nation had lost a “pioneering researcher and a humanistic thinker.”
In science, Lorenz was known above all for his discovery of a process known as imprinting, or the rapid and almost irreversible learning process that occurs in early childhood, bonding animals to their biological mothers.
But he showed the process could be changed, demonstrating that mallard ducklings, for example, would happily follow a human who greeted them shortly after birth and imitated quacking.
To millions, Lorenz was famed as the “father of the gray geese,” a man whose detailed studies of geese and other birds and animals led him to some penetrating and often gloomy conclusions about humanity and its future.
His most controversial findings suggested that innate and instinctive behavior in animals, such as aggression, might be instinctive in humans as well.
“He was a man of genius, the founding father of ethology,” said French behavioral scientist Remy Chauvin, who was close to Loren.
“For me, he was a father figure,” said Austrian scientist Bernd Loetsch, a student of Lorenz. “The thrust that this tiny land made in science and environmental thinking owes much to him.”
Born Nov. 7, 1903 in Vienna, the son of a well-known surgeon, Lorenz gained his first doctorate in medicine in his native city at the age of 25.
Five years later, after studies in Vienna and New York, he held a doctorate in zoology and psychology on the basis of a thesis on the flight of birds.
Between 1923 and 1939, Lorenz devoted months to learning the “language” of the many birds he kept in his home.
Chauvin said Lorenz was prompted to work with animals in nature after his studies in the United States, where he noticed that the behavior of caged white rats he studied there differed from that of wild rats he had observed in Austria.
“He slept with geese, lying down beside them, to put their behavior in perspective, but also for observations on man and the child, without prejudices,” Chauvin said.
In 1939, Lorenz was given a professorship in the German town of Koenigsberg, today the Soviet port of Kaliningrad.
While there, he wrote papers considered to reflect Nazi views of science, making him the target of criticism years afterwards.
In 1973, accepting the Nobel prize, Lorenz apologized “most deeply.”
“Many highly decent scientists hoped, as I did, for a short time for good from National Socialism, and many quickly turned away from it with the same horror as I,” he said then.
In 1941, Lorenz was drafted. Captured by the Russians in 1944, he spent four years as a prisoner of war, a time he later described as “midway between being a teacher, a joker, a clown and a soul-soother.”
Returning home in 1948 with a manuscript written on sacks of cement and published years later as “The Back Side of The Mirror,” Lorenz founded a center for behavioral research in Altenberg.
In the 1950s, he worked mostly in West Germany, where he headed the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Bavaria from 1961 to 1973.
Beginning in the 1960s, Lorenz authored a series of best-selling books including “On Aggression,” which was put out in German in 1963 and in English in 1966, “The Eight Deadly Sins of the Civilized World,” “Comparative Behavioral Studies,” “The Decay of the Humane,” and “The Evolution of Thought.”