National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Lewis Thomas, Winner of the 1975 ARTS AND LETTERS AWARD for THE LIVES OF A CELL

For a long time, it has worried me that most people tend to regard science as being of interest solely because of whatever usable, even saleable products the enterprise can produce, and it has seemed to me that the new biology -- the sorts of information now emerging from what we call the biological revolution -- has another aspect quite separate from its potential for technology.

Not to say that the potential for usefulness is not there, or any less important. Surely, it is only by exploiting this field that we can hope to gain. Some day, the items of information about disease mechanisms needed for the ultimate control of human disease; there is no other place to look for better technologies in agriculture, ecology, marine biology, and all the rest. This side of biology is doing well, I am happy to report.

What I have in mind is the growing body of totally new information about the way life works, and particularly the possible meanings that may be contained in this information. It is looking more and more like a strange, unexpected sort of world, the closer we get to it.

I'm not sure you should leave it entirely to the scientists to figure out all the meanings.

Indeed, you will find the biologists themselves mystified and dumbfounded by the complexity of arrangements in nature, and equally amazed by the general good sense to be found in it. One of the great projects for the science lying just ahead will be the study of connectedness in nature, the ways in which all the creatures we know about seem to be strung together, symbiotically, interdependently, all around the earth. The whole organization of nature, to my private way of thinking, is basically good-humored, fundamentally good-natured if you will, but I could be wrong about this.

It is proper business for the world of Arts and Letters, and I am grateful beyond measure that they have allowed my book in.