Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

Very few see science as the high adventure it really is, the wildest of all explorations ever undertaken by human beings, the chance to catch close views of things never seen before, the shrewdest maneuver for discovering how the world works. Instead, they become baffled early on, and they are misled into thinking that bafflement is simply the result of not having learned all the facts. They are not told, as they should be told, that everyone else–from the professor in his endowed chair down to the platoons of postdoctoral students in the laboratory all night–is baffled as well. Every important scientific advance that has come in looking like an answer has turned, sooner or later–usually sooner–into a question. And the game is just beginning.

“Humanities and Science”

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

It is the very strangeness of nature that makes science engrossing. That ought to be at the center of science teaching. …

…Science, especially twentieth-century science, has provided us with a glimpse of something we never really knew before, the revelation of human ignorance. We have been used to the belief, down one century after another, that we more or less comprehend everything bar one or two mysteries like the mental processes of our gods.

“Humanities and Science”

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

And now, I think, we have a new kind of worry. There is no place for functionless, untidy, inexplicable notions, no dark comfortable parts of the mind to hide away the things we’d like to keep but at the same time forget. The attic is still there, but with the trapdoor always open and the stepladder in place we are always in and out of it, flashing lights around, naming everything, unmystified.

“The Attic of the Brain”

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

I wish the psychiatrists and social scientists were further along in their fields than they seem to be. We need, in a hurry, some professionals who can tell us what has gone wrong in the minds of statesmen in this generation. How is it possible for so many people with the outward appearance of steadiness and authority, intelligent and convincing enough to have reached the highest positions in the governments of the world, to have lost so completely their sense of responsibility for the human beings to whom they are accountable?

“On Medicine and the Bomb”