Friday, July 18, 2008

Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Zacharias Lorenz was an Austrian zoologist, animal psychologist, ornithologist and Nobel Prize winner. He is often regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology, developing an approach that began with an earlier generation, including his teacher Oskar Heinroth. Lorenz studied instinctive behavior in animals, especially in greylag geese and jackdaws. Working with geese, he rediscovered the principle of imprinting in the behavior of nidifugous birds.

He wrote numerous books, some of which, such as King Solomon's Ring and On Aggression became popular reading. In later life his interest shifted to the study of man in society.

At the request of his father, Adolf, Lorenz began a premedical curriculum in 1922 at Columbia University, but he returned to Vienna in 1923 to continue his studies at the University of Vienna until 1928. At this university he became an assistant professor from 1928 to 1935. In 1936, at an international scientific symposium on instinct, Lorenz met his great friend and colleague Niko Tinbergen. Together they studied geese - wild, domestic, and hybrid. One result of these studies was that Lorenz "realized that an overpowering increase in the drives of feeding as well as of copulation and a waning of more differentiated social instincts is characteristic of very many domestic animals." Lorenz began to suspect and fear "that analogous processes of deterioration may be at work with civilized humanity."

In 1940 he became a professor of psychology at the University of Königsberg. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1941. He sought to be a motorcycle mechanic, but instead he was assigned as a medic. He was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union from 1942 to 1948. In captivity he continued to work as a medical doctor and "got quite friendly with some Russians, mostly doctors." When he was repatriated, he was allowed to keep the manuscript of a book he had been writing, and his pet starling. He arrived back in Altenberg "with manuscript and bird intact." The manuscript became his book Behind the Mirror. The Max Planck Society established the Lorenz Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Buldern, Germany, in 1950.

In 1958, Lorenz transferred to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns" with two other important early ethologists, Niko Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. In 1969, he became the first recipient of the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

Lorenz retired from the Max Planck Institute in 1973 but continued to research and publish from Altenberg and Grünau im Almtal in Austria.

Konrad Lorenz died on February 27, 1989, in Altenberg.