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”

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

All of us, men, women, children, fish, sea grass, sandworms, dolphins, hamsters, and soil bacteria, everything alive on the planet, roll ourselves along through all our generations by replicating DNA and RNA, and although the alignments of nucleotides within these molecules are different in different species, the molecules themselves are fundamentally the same substance. We make our proteins in the same old way, and many of the enzymes most needed for cellular life are everywhere identical.

“Altruism”

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

I maintain, despite the moment’s evidence against the claim, that we are born and grow up with a fondness for each other, and we have genes for that. We can be talked out of it, for the genetic message is like a distant music and some of us are hard-of-hearing. Societies are noisy affairs, drowning out the sound of ourselves and our connection. Hard-of-hearing, we go to war. Stone deaf, we make thermonuclear missiles. Nonetheless, the music is there, waiting for more listeners.

“Altruism”

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

In science in general, one characteristic feature is the awareness of error in the selection and pursuit of a problem. This is the most commonplace of criteria: if a scientist is going to engage in research of any kind, he has to have it on his mind, from the outset, that he may be on to a dud. You can tell a world-class scientist from the run-of-the-mill investigator by the speed with which he recognizes that he is heading into a blind alley.

‘Science and “Science”’

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

…Sooner or later, while this process is going on, the biologist shifting the dish of sugar will find that his bees are out there waiting for him, precisely where the next position had been planned. This is an uncomfortable observation to make, harder still to explain in conventional terms: Why would bees be programmed for such behavior in their evolution? Flowers do not walk away in regular, predictable leaps.

“Things Unflattened by Science”