Lives of a Cell

In 1974, Lewis Thomas wrote a little book entitled, Lives of a Cell:  Notes of a Biology Watcher.  In this book Thomas discoursed about the intricacies of cell development and reproduction and noted how this process had its parallel on the human social level.  He explained how that cells had not evolved membranes they would not have been able to “communicate” with each other and organs and tissues would not have evolved.

He then explained social interaction in terms of boundary-setting and communication.  Without boundaries, there would be no communication and the social body would lack the dynamic quality necessary to thrive.  But just as with the cellular level, these boundaries must be permeable as, again, no communication could take place.

The dance of boundaries is an essential part of the human drama.  When we are born, we quickly discover the basic boundaries that our social body has constructed and which are being proffered us.  In our day, our “social body” is under a lot of flux and so young people…and old people…have more freedom to play with boundaries without drawing the scorn of “The Boundary Setters”, i.e. the local patriarchy.  But there are certainly many, especially die-hard conservatives,  who do not approve of this “flux” and seek to repress it.  They are sure of “the way things are.”




Lewis Thomas (November 25, 1913–December 3, 1993) was a physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher.

Thomas was born in Flushing, New York and attended Princeton University and Harvard Medical School. He became Dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine, and President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. His formative years as an independent medical researcher were at Tulane University School of Medicine.


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