Famous Quotes & Sayings

Lewis Thomas Quotes & Sayings

Enjoy the top 100 famous quotes, sayings and quotations by Lewis Thomas.

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Famous Quotes By Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2002251

We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind, so compulsively and with such speed that the brains of mankind often appear, functionally, to be undergoing fusion. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 997198

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1177022

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1929119

We are educated to be amazed by the infinite variety of life forms in nature. We are, I believe, only at the beginning of being flabbergasted by its unity. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 820349

Altruism, a jargon word for what used to be called love, is worse than weakness, it is sin, a violation of nature. Be seperate. Do not be a social animal. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 961072

The drive to be useful is encoded in our genes. But when we gather in very large numbers, as in the modern nation-state, we seem capable of levels of folly and self-destruction to be found nowhere else in all of nature. But if we keep at it and keep alive, we are in for one surprise after another. We can build structures for human society never seen before, thoughts never heard before, music never heard before. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 789144

Given the opportunity, under the right conditions, two cells from wildly different sources, a yeast cell, say, and a chicken erythrocyte, will touch, fuse, and the two nuclei will then fuse as well, and the new hybrid cell will now divide into monstrous progeny. Naked cells, lacking self-respect, do not seem to have any sense of self. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 487465

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1467633

It is when physicians are bogged down by their incomplete technologies, by the innumerable things they are obliged to do in medicine when they lack a clear understanding of disease mechanisms, that the deficiencies of the health-care system are most conspicuous. If I were a policy-maker, interested in saving money for health care over the long haul, I would regard it as an act of high prudence to give high priority to a lot more basic research in biologic science. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2028056

The greatest achievements in the science of this [twentieth] century are themselves the sources of more puzzlement than human beings have ever experienced. Indeed, it is likely that the twentieth century will be looked back at as the time when science provided the first close glimpse of the profundity of human ignorance. We have not reached solutions; we have only begun to discover how to ask questions. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1610558

Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else's small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn't need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality! — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1366916

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 712340

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 ... — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1737930

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 380713

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 473520

Left to ourselves, mechanistic and autonomic, we hanker for friends. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 128735

Maybe there is a single spot, just one, where living organisms are holed up. Maybe so, but if so this would be the strangest thing of all, absolutely incomprehensible. For we are not familiar with this kind of living. We do not have solitary, isolated creatures. It is beyond our imagination to conceive of a single form of life that exists alone and independent, unattached to other forms — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 821798

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 553499

Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2196795

The literature has become too vast to comprehend ... It is ... difficult to grasp even for workers in closely neighboring fields ... There is much more reliance on word of mouth for the transmission of scientific data ... gossip. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 120184

It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now you observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1319146

It is not a simple life to be a single cell, although I have no right to say so, having been a single cell so long ago myself that I have no memory at all of that stage in my life. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1611305

Having long suspected that there was something alive in there, running the place, separate from everything else, absolutely individual and independent, we've celebrated by giving it a real name. My self. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1552556

I do not agree with this century's fashion of running down the human species as a failed try, a doomed sport. At our worst, we may be going through the early stages of adolescence, and everyone remembers what that is like. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 450887

Medical knowledge and technical savvy are biodegradable. The sort of medicine that was practiced in Boston or New York or Atlanta fifty years ago would be as strange to a medical student or intern today as the ceremonial dance of a !Kung San tribe would seem to a rock festival audience in Hackensack. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 464439

Man is embedded in nature. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 522179

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

Lewis Thomas Quotes 129814

Some of the shrewdest insight into natural processes have been greeted at the outset by the exclamation 'But that's ridiculous'. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1255076

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 93908

Well, biology today as I see it has an amiable look - quite different from the 19th-century view that the whole arrangement of nature is hostile, 'red in tooth and claw.' That came about because people misread Darwin's 'survival of the fittest.' — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 463788

We spend our time sending messages to each other, talking and trying to listen at the same time, exchanging information. This seems to be our most urgent biological function; it is what we do with our lives. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 529822

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

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1274335

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1206638

Montaigne simply turns his mind loose and writes whatever he feels like writing. Mostly, he wants to say that reason is not a special, unique gift of human beings, marking us off from the rest of nature. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1441333

We need science, more and better science, not for its technology, not for leisure, not even for health or longevity, but for the hope of wisdom which our kind of culture must acquire for its survival. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 325319

Once you have become permanently startled, as I am, by the realization that we are a social species, you tend to keep an eye out for the pieces of evidence that this is, by and large, good for us. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1657730

Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack for being wrong, we could never get anything useful done. We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as often as the right ones. We get along in life this way. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1603610

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 166133

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 170219

Any species capable of producing, at this earliest, juvenile stage of its development ... the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, cannot be all bad. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 172526

I suggest that the introductory courses in science, at all levels from grade school through college, be radically revised. Leave the fundamentals, the so-called basics, aside for a while, and concentrate the attention of all students on the things that are not known. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 192645

We have dominated and overruled nature, and from now on the earth is ours, a kitchen garden until we learn to make our own chlorophyll and float it out in the sun inside plastic mebranes. We will build Scarsdale on Mount Everest. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 193737

Things are bound to begin happening if you've got your wits about you. You create the lucky accidents. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 207016

The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn't realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 213099

Chemical waste products are the droppings of science. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 214541

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 221502

Most of the time I've worked in labs if I didn't encounter something in a week entirely unexpected and surprising I'd consider it a lost week. Lots of that is due to mistakes and stupidity, but it could open a new line of inquiry. Something really good turns up once in a hundred times, but it makes the whole day worthwhile. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 265097

The dilemma of modern medicine, and the underlying central flaw in medical education and, most of all, in the training of interns, is the irresistible drive to do something, anything. It is expected by patients and too often agreed to by their doctors, in the face of ignorance. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 306750

We tend to think of our selves as the only wholly unique creations in nature, but it is not so. Uniqueness is so commonplace a property of living things that there is really nothing at all unique about it. A phenomenon can't be unique and universal at the same time. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 320146

Nature abhors a long silence. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 331786

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 373315

It's just plain learning something that you didn't know. There is a real aesthetic experience in being dumbfounded. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 473916

It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 492119

I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is no go. I cannot think of it this way. It is too big, too complex, with too many working parts lacking visible connections. The other night, driving through a hilly, wooded part of southern New England, I wondered about this. If not like an organism, what is it like, what is it most like? Then, satisfactorily for that moment, it came to me: it is most like a single cell — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 497818

My mitochondria comprise a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 523205

Good science is done by being curious in general, by asking questions all around, by acknowledging the likelihood of being wrong and taking this in good humor for granted, by having a deep fondness for nature, and by being made jumpy and nervous by ignorance. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 532267

We are not made up, as we had always supposed, of successively enriched packets of our own parts. We are shared, rented, occupied. At the interior of our cells, driving them, providing the oxidative energy that sends us out for the improvement of each shining day, are the mitochondria, and in a strict sense they are not ours. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 600613

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 645927

My father was a doctor, and I admired him and got along well with him. He took me with him on house calls. We were living in Flushing, which was then a sleepy village of 25,000 - before the subway got there. I've been sure I wanted to be a doctor since I was about 12. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 699656

If we are to be destroyed we will do it ourselves by warfare with thermonuclear weaponry. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 806509

At this early stage in our evolution, now through our infancy and into our childhood and then, with luck, our growing up, what our species needs most of all, right now, is simply a future. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 813539

Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labour, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 831139

I don't think that the permanence of the individual human soul is an indispensable part of religious thought. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 841432

Although I usually think I know what I'm going to be writing about, what I'm going to say, most of the time it doesn't happen that way at all. At some point I get misled down a garden path, I get surprised by an idea that I hadn't anticipated getting, which is a little bit like being in a laboratory. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 862762

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1003670

The oldest, easiest to swallow idea was that the earth was man's personal property, a combination of garden, zoo, bank vault, and energy source, placed at our disposal to be consumed, ornamented, or pulled apart as we wished. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1024113

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1038434

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? — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1057840

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1067584

Survival, in the cool economics of biology, means simply the persistence of one's own genes in the generations to follow. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1105091

Very few recognize science as the high adventure it really is, the wildest of all explorations ever taken by human beings, the chance to glimpse things never seen before, the shrewdest maneuver for discovering how the world works. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1106047

Science will ... produce the data ... , but never the
full meaning. For perceiving real significance, we
shall need ... most of all the brains of poets, [and]
also those of artists, musicians, philosophers,
historians, writers in general. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1170375

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1353558

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1361638

We have yet to learn how to retain our humaneness when assembled in masses. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1366923

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1430178

I will confess that I have no more sense of what goes on in the mind of mankind than I have for the mind of an ant. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1465432

We carry stores of DNA in our nuclei that may have come in, at one time or another, from the fusion of ancestral cells and the linking of ancestral organisms in symbiosis. Our genomes are catalogues of instructions from all kinds of sources in nature, filed for all kinds of contingencies. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1476692

Everything here is alive thanks to the living of everything else. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1497470

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

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1506903

It is the very strangeness of nature that makes science engrossing. That ought to be at the center of science teaching. There are more than seven-times-seven types of ambiguity in science, awaiting analysis. The poetry of Wallace Stevens is crystal-clear alongside the genetic code. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1522935

The greatest of all the accomplishments of 20th century science has been the discovery of human ignorance — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1543690

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1577331

We have come a long way on that old molecule DNA. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1583184

The most solid piece of scientific truth I know of is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1592537

Of all celestial bodies within reach or view, as far as we can see, out to the edge, the most wonderful and marvellous and mysterious is turning out to be our own planet earth. There is nothing to match it anywhere, not yet anyway. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1598050

We still think of human disease as the work of an organized, modernized kind of demonology, in which the bacteria are the most visible and centrally placed of our adversaries. We assume that they must somehow relish what they do. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1774211

A lot of people fear death because they think that so overwhelming an experience has to be painful, but I've seen quite a few deaths, and, with one exception, I've never known anyone to undergo anything like agony. That's amazing when you think about it. I mean, how complicated the mechanism is that's being taken apart. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1865350

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. It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we take our looks; we still share genes around, and the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is a family resemblance. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1871334

Minnows and catfish can recognize each member of their own species by his particular, person-specific odor. It is hard to imagine a solitary, independent, existentialist minnow, recognizable for himself alone; minnows in a school behave like interchangeable, identical parts of an organism. But there it is. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1877049

Given any new technology for transmitting information, we seem bound to use it for great quantities of small talk. We are only saved by music from being overwhelmed by nonsense. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 1979156

I am entitled to say, if I like, that awareness exists in all the individual creatures on the planet-worms, sea urchins, gnats, whales, subhuman primates, superprimate humans, the lot. I can say this because we do not know what we are talking about: consciousness is so much a total mystery for our own species that we cannot begin to guess about its existence in others. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2049858

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2105224

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2129416

The greatest single achievement of nature to date was surely the invention of the molecule DNA. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2157472

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

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2194478

When committees gather, each member is necessarily an actor, uncontrollably acting out the part of himself, reading the lines that identify him, asserting his identity ... We are designed, coded, it seems, to place the highest priority on being individuals, and we must do this first, at whatever cost, even if it means disability for the group. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2226272

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. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2238614

As a species, taking all in all, we are still too young, too juvenile, to be trusted. We have spread across the face of the earth in just a few thousand years, no time at all as evolution clocks time, covering all livable parts of the planet, endangering other forms of life, and now threatening ourselves. — Lewis Thomas

Lewis Thomas Quotes 2242069

Worrying is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions. It is time to acknowledge this, perhaps even to learn to do it better. — Lewis Thomas