Max Delbrück


Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück (September 4, 1906March 9, 1981) was a German-American biophysicist and Nobel laureate.

Max Delbrück, 1940s



  • The curiosity remains... to grasp more clearly how the same matter, which in physics and chemistry displays orderly and reproducible and relatively simple properties, arranges itself in the most astounding fashions as soon as it is drawn into the orbit of the living organism. The closer one looks at these performances of matter in living organisms the more impressive the show becomes. The meanest living cell becomes a magic puzzle box full of elaborate and changing molecules...
    • "Life: The Magic Puzzle Box" (Dec. 1949) Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 38. pp. 173-190.
  • If you're too sloppy, then you never get reproducible results, and then you never can draw any conclusions; but if you are just a little sloppy, then when you see something startling, (...) you nail it down (...). So I called it the "Principle of Limited Sloppiness".
  • The progress of science is tremendously disorderly, and the motivations that lead to this progress are tremendously varied, and the reasons why scientists go into science, the personal motivations, are tremendously varied. I have said … that science is a haven for freaks, that people go into science because they are misfits, and that it is a sheltered place where they can spin their own yarn and have recognition, be tolerated and happy, and have approval for it.
    • Interview with Max Delbruck (1978), p. 87. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives, Pasadena, California.
  • The particular thing about science is to combine that [the dreams of obtaining power] with a retreat from the world. Other people want to obtain power by going out into the world, but the scientist really wants to obtain power by retreating from the world.
    • Interview with Max Delbruck (1978), p. 88. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives, Pasadena, California.
  • The scientist addresses an infinitesimal audience of fellow composers. His message is not devoid of universality but it's universality is disembodied and anonymous. While the artist's communication is linked forever with it's original form, that of the scientist is modified, amplified, fused with the ideas and results of others, and melts into the stream of knowledge and ideas which forms our culture. The scientist has in common with the artist only this: that he can find no better retreat from the world than his work and also no stronger link with his world than his work.

Quotes about Delbrück

  • The problem was well expressed by Max Delbrück, one of Schrödinger's contemporaries, who expressed it in this way... so to encapsulate what Delbrück was saying is that, at the level of atoms it's just known physics, but at the level of the living cell, it's some sort of magic.
    • Paul Davies, "The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies" (Sep 7, 2019) 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World" 2:09.

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