The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behaviour control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.

— Lewis Thomas

The most perspective Lewis Thomas quotes that are glad to read

It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we all take our looks;

we still share genes around, and the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is in fact a family resemblance.

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The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA.

Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.

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There's really no such thing as the agony of dying.

I'm quite sure that pain is shut off at the moment of death. You see, something happens when the body knows it's about to go. Peptide hormones are released by cells in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Endorphins. They attach themselves to the cells responsible for feeling pain.

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Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment.

They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves... They do everything but watch television.

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We are, perhaps, uniquely among the earth's creatures, the worrying animal.

We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.

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We pass the word around; we ponder how the case is put by different people, we read the poetry; we meditate over the literature; we play the music; we change our minds; we reach an understanding. Society evolves this way, not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.

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If we had better hearing, and could discern the descants of sea birds, the rhythmic tympani of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of midges hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.

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...the life of the planet began the long, slow process of modulating and regulating the physical conditions of the planet. The oxygen in today's atmosphere is almost entirely the result of photosynthetic living, which had its start with the appearance of blue-green algae among the microorganisms.

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Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.

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As a people, we have become obsessed with Health.

There is something fundamentally, radically unhealthy about all this. We do not seem to be seeking more exuberance in living as much as staving off failure, putting off dying. We have lost all confidence in the human body.

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As evolutionary time is measured, we have only just turned up and have hardly had time to catch breath, still marveling at our thumbs, still learning to use the brand-new gift of language. Being so young, we can be excused all sorts of folly and can permit ourselves the hope that someday, as a species, we will begin to grow up.

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In real life, every field of science is incomplete, and most of them - whatever the record of accomplishment during the last 200 years - are still in their very earliest stages.

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About Lewis Thomas

Quotes 138 sayings
Nationality American
Profession Scientist
Birthday October 16

We owe our lives to the sun... How is it, then, that we feel no gratitude?

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It is in our genes to understand the universe if we can, to keep trying even if we cannot, and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way.

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We live in a dancing matrix of viruses;

they dart, rather like bees, from organism to organism, from plant to insect to mammal to me and back again, and into the sea, tugging along pieces of this genome, strings of genes from that, transplanting grafts of DNA, passing around heredity as though at a great party.

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I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach into outer space on the Voyager spacecraft. But that would be boasting.

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Cats are a standing rebuke to behavioral scientists wanting to know how the minds of animals work. The mind of a cat is an unscrutable mystery.

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Animals have genes for altruism, and those genes have been selected in the evolution of many creatures because of the advantage they confer for the continuing survival of the species.

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I cannot think of a single field in biology or medicine in which we can claim genuine understanding, and it seems to me the more we learn about living creatures, especially ourselves, the stranger life becomes.

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We are a spectacular, splendid manifestation of life.

We have language. . . . We have affection. We have genes for usefulness, and usefulness is about as close to a 'common goal' of nature as I can guess at.

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The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth, open to everything, sending out messages to everything. To be sure, it is hidden away in bone and conducts internal affairs in secrecy, but virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.

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Good applied science in medicine, as in physics, requires a high degree of certainty about the basic facts at hand, and especially about their meaning, and we have not yet reached this point for most of medicine.

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The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature... It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect.

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Altruism has always been one of biology's deep mysteries.

Why should any animal, off on its own, specified and labeled by all sorts of signals as its individual self, choose to give up its life in aid of someone else?

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I won't compare ants and people, but ants give us a useful model of how single members of a community can become so organized that they end up resembling, in effect, one big collective brain. Our own exploding population and communication technology are leading us that way.

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Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work.

We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.

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A multitude of bees can tell the time of day, calculate the geometry of the sun's position, argue about the best location for the next swarm. Bees do a lot of close observing of other bees; maybe they know what follows stinging and do it anyway.

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If an idea cannot move on its own, pushing it doesn't help; best to let it lie there.

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It would seem to me... an offense against nature, for us to come on the same scene endowed as we are with the curiosity, filled to overbrimming as we are with questions, and naturally talented as we are for the asking of clear questions, and then for us to do nothing about, or worse, to try to suppress the questions.

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All of today's DNA, strung through all the cells of the earth, is simply an extension and elaboration of [the] first molecule.

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The gift of language is the single human trait that marks us all genetically, setting us apart from the rest of life.

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It hurts the spirit, somehow, to read the word environments, when the plural means that there are so many alternatives there to be sorted through, as in a market, and voted on.

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I do not understand modern physics at all, but my colleagues who know a lot about the physics of very small things, like the particles in atoms, or very large things, like the universe, seem to be running into one queerness after another, from puzzle to puzzle.

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The earliest sensation at the onset of illness, often preceding the recognition of identifiable symptoms, is apprehension. Something has gone wrong, and a glimpse of mortality shifts somewhere deep in the mind. It is the most ancient of our fears.

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The body of science is not, as it is sometimes thought, a huge coherent mass of facts, neatly arranged in sequence, each one attached to the next by a logical string. In truth, whenever we discover a new fact it involves the elimination of old ones. We are always, as it turns out, fundamentally in error.

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If you want to use a cliche you must take full responsibility for it yourself and not try to fob it off on anon., or on society.

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The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.

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We can take some gratification at having come a certain distance in just a few thousand years of our existence as language users, but it should be a deeper satisfaction, even an exhilaration, to recognize that we have such a distance still to go.

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On any Tuesday morning, if asked, a good working scientist will tell you with some self-satisfaction that the affairs of his field are nicely in order, that things are finally looking clear and making sense, and all is well. But come back again on another Tuesday, and the roof may have just fallen in on his life's work.

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The overwhelming astonishment, the queerest structure we know about so far in the whole universe, the greatest of all cosmological scientific puzzles, confounding all our efforts to comprehend it, is the earth.

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Doctors, dressed up in one professional costume or another, have been in busy practice since the earliest records of every culture on earth. It is hard to think of a more dependable or enduring occupation, harder still to imagine any future events leading to its extinction.

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The uniformity of the earth's life, more astonishing than its diversity, is accountable by the high probability that we derived, originally, from some single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the earth cooled.

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The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.

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Science is founded on uncertainty. Each time we learn something new and surprising, the astonishment comes with the realization that we were wrong before.

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Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrasment.

..They do everything but watch television.

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For total greed, rapacity, heartlessness, and irresponsibility there is nothing to match a nation.

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Our behavior toward each other is the strangest, most unpredictable, and most unaccountable of all the phenomena with which we are obliged to live. In all of nature, there is nothing so threatening to humanity as humanity itself.

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The central task of science is to arrive, stage by stage, at a clearer comprehension of nature, but this does not at all mean, as it is sometimes claimed to mean, a search for mastery over nature.

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I can say, if I like, that social insects behave like the working parts of an immense central nervous system: the termite colony is an enormous brain on millions of legs; the individual termite is a mobile neurone.

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