Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz

“Every man gets a narrower and narrower field of knowledge in which he must be an expert in order to compete with other people. The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing.”

“Truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one.”

The above quotations reflect the intellectual thinking of the great Austrian zoologist, animal psychologist, and ornithologist, Konrad Zacharias Lorenz. His exceptional work on animal behavior earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, which he shared with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. Lorenz examined animals in their natural environments and concluded that instinct plays a key role in animal behavior. This observation challenged behavioral animal psychology, which defined all behavior as learned. He is the author of several books, some of which, such as King Solomon’s Ring and On Aggression became very popular during his time.


Life, Career and Achievements:

Konrad Zacharias Lorenz was brought up in Vienna and at the family’s summer estate in Altenberg, a village on the Danube River. He was the younger son of Adolf Lorenz, a successful and wealthy orthopedic surgeon, and Emma Lecher Lorenz, a physician who assisted her husband. From a very early age Konrad was fond of keeping and observing animals.

Lorenz completed his schooling from one of Vienna’s best secondary schools. He graduated from the University of Vienna as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1928 and was appointed an assistant professor at the Institute of Anatomy until 1935. He also began studying zoology, in which he was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1933 by the same university.

From 1935 to 1938, he made studies of geese and jackdaws (many of his significant scientific papers are based on this work). From his observations Lorenz established the concept of imprinting, the process by which an animal follows an object, normally its biological mother. He found that for a short time after hatching, chicks are genetically inclined to identify their mother’s sound and appearance and thereby form a permanent bond with her.

Lorenz also put forward an innate releasing mechanism theory. He alleged that an animal’s innate behavior pattern (“innate releasing mechanism”) will remain dormant until a stimulating event (“releaser”) prompts it.

In 1940 he was appointed as the professor of psychology at the University of Königsberg. World War II (1939-1945) soon interrupted his academic career. He served as a doctor in the German army until his capture by the Russians in 1944. Four years after his release, he returned to Altenberg (his family home) and wrote the popular account of his work, translated as King Solomon’s Ring (1949), which was followed by Man Meets Dog (1950). The Max Planck Society established the Lorenz Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Buldern, Germany, during 1950. In 1958, Lorenz transferred to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen.

In 1969, he became the first person to receive the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. In 1973 he became a Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine “for discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns” with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch.

Lorenz left the Max Planck Institute in 1973 but continued his research and writing in Altenberg and Grünau im Almtal in Austria.

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