by Lauren Covello

by Lauren Covello - by Lauren Covello One can almost feel...

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by Lauren Covello One can almost feel the searing penetration of Lewis Thomas’s analytical eye as it descends the narrow barrel of the microscope and explodes onto a scene of vigorous, animated, interactive little cells—cells inescapably engrossed in relaying messages to one another with every bump and bounce; with every brush of the elbow, lick of the stamp, and click of the mouse… Woven throughout Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher is a desire to link scientific phenomena with social behavior—to peruse the symbiotic relationship that we, as humans, are incapable or perhaps unwilling, to contemplate. Thomas’s ridicule of what he has identified as being a sort of human superiority complex is the needle—the mechanism—by which he is able to stitch together these two seemingly divided realms. He has sensed our inherent fear of “touch” and all that it embodies, simultaneously criticizing and enlightening us about our irrational, bizarre attitude towards the natural world. Our repudiation of “the inhuman” and our craving for control, according to Thomas, “[say] something about our century, our attitude toward life, our obsession with disease and death, our human chauvinism” (“Thoughts” 7). Thomas’s self-appointed title of “biology watcher” seems, on the surface, unfitting for a man whose understanding of cellular interaction is so intimate. He is able to confer with nature and develop a profound connection with it; essentially, he is able to “touch” it. But the sense of touch, in Thomas’s mind, is not separate from the faculties of vision, hearing, smelling, or tasting; it encompasses all of them. The “watcher,” or for that matter, the “listener” or “taster,” is capable of becoming wholly immersed in his subject, no restrictions limiting the extent of his observations. It is for this reason that Thomas can expound the workings of an ant colony and delve beyond what is visible to the eye; he is capable of connecting with that colony on a variety of levels, part of a relationship that serves to inform and “edit” conceptions he holds about the workings of the human world. This idea of “editing” resonates throughout Thomas’s works, Thomas indirectly employing the term as a means of expressing how we should view our affiliation with the earth. “When the earth came alive it began constructing its own membrane, for the general purpose of editing the sun,” he suggests in “The World’s Biggest Membrane.” “The earth has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information,
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marvelously skilled in handling the sun” (145). Thomas acknowledges the presence of a sustaining force, a cyclical channel of influence that binds the two orbs. The existence of each body results in the amendment of the other in a kind of synergetic rapport. But does this kind of relationship mirror the connection shared between human beings
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by Lauren Covello - by Lauren Covello One can almost feel...

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