Lewis Thomas Essays

Lewis Thomas Essays-15
Montaigne had a hunch about dying, based on his own close call in a riding accident.

Montaigne had a hunch about dying, based on his own close call in a riding accident.

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The strongest impression the casual reader gets, leafing through, is that proper dying has become an extraordinary, even an exotic experience, something only the specially trained get to do.

Also, you could be led to believe that we are the only creatures capable of the awareness of death, that when all the rest of nature is being cycled through dying, one generation after another, it is a different kind of process, done automatically and trivially, more “natural,” as we say.

The main difference, if there is one, would be in the matter of pain.

I do not believe that an elm tree has pain receptors, and even so, the blight seems to me a relatively painless way to go even if there were nerve endings in a tree, which there are not.

Ants are more like the parts of an animal than entities on their own.

They are mobile cells, circulating through a dense connective tissue of other ants in a matrix of twigs.Maybe if you could get in there quickly enough and administer naloxone, a specific morphine antagonist, you could turn off the endorphins and observe the restoration of pain, but this is not something I would care to do or see.I think I will leave it there, as a good guess about the dying of a cat-chewed mouse, perhaps about dying in general.The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important.Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals.A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable.He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once.Any ambiguity, any tendency to wander from the matter at hand, will introduce grave hazards for the cells, and even more for the host in which they live.There is a theory that the process of aging may be due to the cumulative effect of imprecision, a gradual degrading of information. 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.At the instant of being trapped and penetrated by teeth, peptide hormones are released by cells in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland; instantly these substances, called endorphins, are attached to the surfaces of other cells responsible for pain perception; the hormones have the pharmacologic properties of opium; there is no pain.Thus it is that the mouse always seems to dangle so languidly from the jaws, lies there so quietly when dropped, dies of his injuries without a struggle. I do not know if this is true or not, nor do I know how to prove it if it is true.


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