In Her Words

“Glories of the Human Mind” by Gerty Cori

In this essay, Dr. Gerty T. Cori reflects on the role of art and science on the human mind. This essay formed Cori’s contribution to Edward R. Murrow’s radio series, “This I Believe.” The series, broadcast in the early 1950s, presented the personal philosophies of thoughtful people in all walks of life.

Gerty Cori, ca. 1951
Gerty Cori, ca. 1951

I have been very fortunate in having been allowed to work freely in the field of science, biochemistry, in which I have been intensely interested ever since I got a first glimpse of it as a medical student in 1914. I came to this country in 1922 and owe it the greatest debt of gratitude for having treated me and my husband with fine generosity, giving us wonderful opportunities for research work, security and a happy life.

I believe that the benefits of two civilizations, a European education followed by the freedom and opportunities of this country, have been essential to whatever contributions I have been able to make to science.

I believe that in art and science are the glories of the human mind. I see no conflict between them. In the past they have flourished together during the great and happy periods of history and those men seem to me shortsighted who think that by suppressing science they will release other creative qualities. It may be, however, that the present period is more favorable to the development of science than of art.

Contemplation of the great human achievements through the ages is helpful to me in moments of despair and doubt. Human meanness and folly then seem less important. Humanity has but a short history of civilized life and the hope for greater wisdom must resign itself to a fairly distant future. Gone are the somewhat utopian hopes of my youth, the belief in rapid continuous progress. Hope remains, but the time scale has widened.

Cruelty and malice have decreased as the well-being of people in the Western community has increased. An immense advance in this direction has taken place in the last 100 years, even if I consider the setbacks caused by the two terrible wars of this century. Modern medicine, aided by chemistry, has decreased human suffering.

The greatest achievements in art and science, I believe, have been made by men, who had faith, or compassion for their fellow men and I like to think in this connection of the moving outcry in Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio: There is a justice, es gibt eine Gerechtigkeit!

I believe that cynicism and despair and the straitjacket into which totalitarian systems try to force the human mind are inimical to first rate achievements in art and science.

I believe that the excessive will to power of some men has been, and is still, the cause of great suffering of humanity. Science has given these ruthless men tools of great effectiveness and has vastly increased the domination they can exercise over their fellow men. This has created in some men’s mind the misconception that science itself is evil.

My beliefs have undergone little change during my life, though I like to think they have developed into a somewhat higher plane. Honesty, which stands mostly for intellectual integrity, courage and kindness are still the virtues I admire, though with advancing years the emphasis has been slightly shifted and kindness now seems more important to me than in my youth. The love for and dedication to my work seems to me to be the basis for happiness. As a research worker, the unforgotten moments of my life are those rare ones which come after years of plodding work, when the veil over nature’s secret seems suddenly to lift and when what was dark and chaotic appears in a clear and beautiful light and pattern.