Extracts from the Messenger Lectures

(Part 4 of 4 in our series marking the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling’s delivery of the Messenger Lectures.)

For our final post on Linus Pauling’s 1959 Messenger Lecture series, we have compiled a number of quotations from the talks themselves and from his own personal preparatory notes.  These excerpts highlight the most significant elements of Pauling’s Messenger talks.

Linus Pauling on…


…the last great step in evolution was the mutational process that doubled the size of the brain, 700,000 years ago – that this mutation represented the origin of man…this mutation permitted the inheritance of acquired characteristics of a certain sort – of learning, through communication from one human being to another; so that abilities that have not yet been incorporated into the germ plasm are not lost until their rediscovery, but are handed on from person to person, from generation to generation.  It is this result of man’s great powers of thinking and remembering and communicating that have been responsible for the evolution of civilization.

…The Human Race

…a man or woman is not truly an organism, in the sense that a rabbit is, or a lion, or a whale; but that he is a part of a greater organism – the whole of mankind, into which he is bound by the means of communication – speech, writing, airplanes – in the way that the cells of a rabbit are interconnected by nerve fibers and hormonal molecular messengers.

From the standpoint of the great human organism as a single entity, its survival or non-survival might be independent of the degree of suffering of some of its constituent units; but the consciousness that exists in the world is that of the units, and the organism is hardly more than the sum of these units, despite their interconnection and interdependence.


…we must now achieve the mutation that will bring sanity to this great organism, the organism that is mankind.

As man makes further progress in a world of peace and reason, in which the problem of the struggle for existence has been largely solved, he will have more and more opportunity to devote himself to the activities that give him the greatest satisfaction and happiness.  I believe that without doubt thinking will be the most important of these activities for those people who are endowed by heredity with excellent encephalonic activity.

Now morality must win out in the world.  Now survival means survival of the whole human organism – it depends on whether or not we can work for the common good.  The old evolutionary method, the ‘survival of the fittest,’ is now not significant unless we consider Earth vs. other planets with intelligent life.  In our negotiations we may need a new Golden Rule:  ‘Do unto others 20% better than you would have them do unto you – to make up for subjective error, personal bias.’

…Thinking and Philosophy

The world is now going through an interesting period of its development when thinking is becoming an important activity for many people.  There are now many people in the world who find much pleasure in thinking, and who also have thinking as their profession.

People who are not scientists and who do not have enough of an understanding of science to appreciate the significance of new discoveries are restricted in their opportunities for finding happiness through thinking.  The world of activities of man, in his social, political, and economic relationships with his kind, is much more limited and in a sense much more artificial than the world of nature.

Click here for all of our posts on the Messenger Lectures.  For more information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Pauling Online Portal or the OSU Special Collections Homepage.


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