This I Believe

Gerard, R. W. (Ralph Waldo), 1900-1974

  • Ralph Waldo Gerard describes his belief in the power of truth to free men from disease, prejudice, and other ills.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Ralph Waldo Gerard is an internationally known physiologist. Born in Harvey, Illinois, he is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Rush Medical College. Now he is one of the leading scientists in the Office of Naval Research. In the past, he was a member of medical teaching missions to both Czechoslovakia and Greece, and a visiting professor to the Australian National University. Here is Dr. Gerard.
There is a line sung in the alma mater of my university, praising her "faith that truth shall make men free." When I returned from the first summer vacation as a full-fledged sophomore, I rushed to the campus and embraced the cornerstone of Harper Library, for at home and in formal schooling, I had acquired this same faith. I believe in truth, in its ultimate ability to free men's body from disease and discomfort and to free men's minds from selfish pettiness and blind prejudice. And I believe in experience and reason, tested in cumulative fashion by mankind--a simple word for which is "science"--as the reliable way to truth.
I am a physiologist, the sort of biologist who's concerned with the way living beings function, with how cells in the liver or brain act, singly and in cooperation, to keep themselves and the whole body in healthy adjustment, and with how individuals in the herd or hive or flock also act for personal or group objectives.
Scarcely two centuries ago, all the mysteries of growth and digestion, of reproduction and goal-seeking behavior, indeed the whole domain of the living, were believed to depend on an unknowable vital force or spirit, and so beyond the scope of science. In my own student days, an aura of mysticism surrounded the problem of how glands secrete their juices or of how muscles
shorten. Today, the structure and function of the body, including the human body, have been largely resolved in terms of physical chemistry. The gremlins have all been exorcised, and as a direct consequence, man's average lifespan has risen in these two centuries from 33 years to more than twice as long.
Today, also, the action of the brain, even as seen in the full richness of human behavior, is similarly being resolved into understandable and controllable processes. And the fruits of such biological research will be lush, well before another two centuries have elapsed. Men can live together in communities and healthy harmony, as cells do in bodies. And as we learn more about the mechanisms involved, the more will health and harmony prevail.
It is satisfying that biology can reach, by hard fact and cold analysis, the same warmly glowing conclusion reached intuitively by some great religious leaders. That altruism is good and is increasing; that man's collective observation and reason, which transcends the capacities and corrects the errors of even the greatest individuals; that "science," in other words, will progressively enrich and ennoble human life, including its aesthetic and ethical facets--this I deeply believe.
That was Dr. Ralph Waldo Gerard, a physiologist. He is as much concerned with the harmony of people in the world community as he is with the harmonious behavior of cells within the human body.