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January 13, 1975

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

Author Affiliations

Tulane University School of Medicine New Orleans


by Lewis Thomas, 153 pp, $6.95, New York, Viking Press, 1974.

JAMA. 1975;231(2):199-200. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03240140055036

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


"Do you have colds?" "Did you think yourselves unique?" "Have you anything quicker than light?" "Do you always tell the truth?" According to Dr. Thomas, our radioastronomers might put these questions to any intelligent extraterrestrial being whose signals reach us from another part of remote space. Or, perhaps the astronomers should wait until they are sure they know what they want to learn before they get down to detailed questions. After all, the main question will be the opener: Hello, are you there?

Nature, Thomas writes, abhors long silences. Termites beat their heads against the floors of their nests in regular, rhythmic phrases; bats make sounds almost ceaselessly; and prairie hens and rabbits drum their feet. Whales sing long, insistent, convoluted melodies that different singers repeat with ornamentations of their own. Do the whales tell (through several hundred miles of undersea) about navigation or sources of krill? Do you say