Friday, January 22, 2016

Lewis Thomas - thoughts on aging from "The Fragile Species"

One of my favorite essayists is Lewis Thomas.  He wrote a long series of essays about the human condition many of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Subsequently, they were collected in three wonderful volumes:  The Fragile Species, The Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail.  Over the next several days, I’ll be sharing some of his thinking about aging.  Educated at Princeton and Harvard Medical School, Thomas held many prestigious professorships in pediatrics, medicine, pathology, and biology:
“It is abundantly clear that the problem of aging is a proper field for scientific study and one of the broadest of all fields in human biology.  The array of specific questions to be asked is long and impressive, and each question is a hard one requiring close and attentive scrutiny by the best practitioners of basic science and clinical medicine.  And, as the answers come in, there is no doubt that medicine will be able to devise new technologies for coping with the things that go wrong in the process of aging.  This is an optimistic appraisal but not overly so, provided we are careful with that phrase “things that go wrong.”  There is indeed an extensive pathology of aging, one thing after another goes wrong, failure after failure, and the cumulative impact of these failures is what most people have in mind and fear as the image of aging.  But behind these ailments, often obscured by individual pathologies, is a quite different phenomenon: normal aging, which is not a disease at all, but a stage of living that cannot be averted or bypassed except in one totally unsatisfactory way.  Nonetheless, we regard aging these days as a sort of slow death with everything going wrong.”  Ed. note – more to follow later

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