Harold J. Morowitz

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Harold Joseph Morowitz (December 4, 1927 – March 22, 2016) was an American biophysicist who studied the application of thermodynamics to living systems.[1][2] Author of numerous books and articles, his work includes technical monographs as well as essays.[3][4] The origin of life has been his primary research interest for more than fifty years.[5] He was the Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy at George Mason University after a long career at Yale.[6]

Life and career[edit]

Morowitz was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. He received a B.S. in physics and philosophy in 1947, an M.S. in physics in 1950, and a Ph.D. in biophysics in 1951, all from Yale University. Morowitz was a professor in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale from 1955 to 1987, also serving as the Master of Pierson College from 1981 to 1986. He spent the rest of his career on the faculty at George Mason University, which he joined in 1988 as Clarence Robinson Professor of biology and natural philosophy. He served as the founding director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason from 1993 to 1998.[2] Morowitz has been closely associated with the Santa Fe Institute since 1987, where he is Chairman Emeritus of the Science Board. He also served as the founding editor of the journal Complexity.[7][8] In the 1990s he contributed a monthly column on science and society to Hospital Practice.[7]

Morowitz was a longtime consultant for NASA, and served on the committees that planned the quarantine procedures for Apollo 11 and the biology experiments the Viking probe carried to the surface of Mars. He was a member of the science advisory committee for Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona, which, at 3.14 acres, is the largest enclosed ecosystem ever built.[9]

Some leading biophysicists have suggested that Morowitz may have discovered a "fourth law of thermodynamics" when, in 1968, he found that, "in steady state systems, the flow of energy through the system from a source to a sink will lead to at least one cycle in the system."[10] Eric D. Schneider, for example, says, "Morowitz's cycling theorem is the best candidate for a fourth law of thermodynamics."[11]

The origin of life[edit]

Morowitz's book Energy Flow in Biology laid out his central thesis that "the energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system,"[12] an insight later quoted on the inside front cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog. He has long been a vigorous proponent of the view that life on earth emerged deterministically from the laws of chemistry and physics,[13] and so believes it highly probable that life exists widely in the universe.[5][14]

In 1983, he testified at "McLean v. Arkansas" (nicknamed "Scopes II") that creationism has no scientific basis and so should not be taught as science in public schools.[15]


  • Proceedings of the First National Biophysics Conference. Yale University Press, 1959, Morowitz, H.J. and Quastler, H., Editors.
  • Life and the Physical Sciences: Introduction to Biophysics. HoltRinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963, Morowitz, H.J.
  • Theoretical and Mathematical Biology. Blaisdell Publishing Co., 1965, Waterman, T. and Morowitz, H., Editors.
  • Energy Flow in Biology. Academic Press, 1968, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Entropy for Biologists. Academic Press, 1970, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Life on the Planet Earth. W. W. Norton & Co., 1974, Morowitz, H.J. and Morowitz, L.S.
  • Ego Niches: An Ecological View of Organizational Behavior. Ox Bow Press, 1977, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Foundations of Bioenergetics. Academic Press, 1978, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • The Wine of Life & Other Essays on Societies, Energy, & Living Things. St. Martin's Press, 1979, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Mayonnaise and The Origin of Life: Thoughts of Minds and Molecules. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Models for Biomedical Research: A New Perspective. National Academy Press, 1985, Committee on Models for Biomedical Research, Harold J. Morowitz, Chairman.
  • Cosmic Joy and Local Pain: Musings of a Mystical Scientist. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • The Thermodynamics of Pizza. Rutgers University Press, 1991, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • The Facts of Life. Oxford University Press, 1992, Morowitz, Harold J. and Trefil, James.
  • Beginnings of Cellular Life: Metabolism Recapitulates Biogenesis. Yale University Press, 1992, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • Entropy and the Magic Flute. Oxford University Press, 1993, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • The Kindly Dr. Guillotine. Counterpoint, 1997, Morowitz, Harold J.
  • The Emergence of Everything. Oxford University Press, 2002, Morowitz, Harold J.


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