Posted by: Dan | August 27, 2007

On Natural Science

Some eloquent prose for a quiet Monday evening, from Lewis Thomas’ The Lives of a Cell (pgs 101-2), on the practice of ‘Natural Science’:

It sometimes looks like a lonely activity, but it is as much the opposite of lonely as human behavior can be. There is nothing so social, so communal, so interdependent. An active field of science is like an immense intellectual anthill; the individual almost vanishes into the mass of minds tumbling over each other, carrying information from place to place, passing it around at the speed of light.

There are special kinds of information that seem to be chemotactic. As soon as a trace is released, receptors at the back of the neck are caused to tremble, there is a massive convergence of motile minds flying upwind on a gradient of surprise, crowding around the source. It is an infiltration of intellects, an inflammation.

There is nothing to touch the spectacle. In the midst of what seems a collective derangement of minds in total disorder, with bits of information being scattered about, torn to shreds, disintegrated, reconstituted, engulfed, in a kind of activity that seems as random and agitated as that of bees in a disturbed part of the hive, there suddenly emerges, with the purity of a slow phrase of music, a single new piece of truth about nature.

In short, it works. It is the most powerful and productive of the things human beings have learned to do together in many centuries, more effective than farming, or hunting and fishing, or building cathedrals, or making money.

  • Thomas, Lewis (1978) The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher.

Responses

  1. Very well written piece by Thomas, but if you haven’t mentioned about this is a notes of a biology watcher, I probably thought Thomas was written about something else completely.


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