Poetic Science Writing

                                      Vaulted and Walled Termite Chambers – shown in cross-section

— J.X. Mason’s Blog Post of 12-6-2021.
    — J.X. Mason is the author of  ContinuingCreation.org

Throughout the Book of Continuing Creation, we advance the idea that spirituality can be solidly and richly based on Nature, Reason, & Science.

Spiritual things are often artistic – stained glass windows in cathedrals, elaborate carved patterns in Islamic Mosques, Tibetan sand-painted mandalas, Gregorian chants. The King James Bible is renowned for the grandeur of its language, as is the elegant Arabic of the Quran.  The gothic cathedrals of Europe are marvels of architectural grandeur.  

Is there any beauty in today’s science writing?  Yes!  The written works of astronomer Carl Sagan and biologist E.O. Wilson come to mind.  But my favorite science writing is the lyrical prose of Lewis Thomas, a physician and  former President of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  

Below are three passages from Dr. Thomas’ marvelous, yet compact and easy to read book, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher:*

“A solitary ant… can’t be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion [a nerve-ending] on legs.  Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look like an idea.”

“[But ants in colonies] are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves. The families of weaver ants engage in child labor, holding their larvae like shuttles to spin out the thread that sews the leaves together for their fungus gardens.  They exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch televisions.”

“Termites are even more extraordinary in the way they seem to accumulate intelligence as they gather together. Two or three termites in a chamber will begin to pick up pellets and move them from place to place, but nothing comes of it;’ nothing is built.  As more join in, they seen to reach a critical mass, a quorum, and the thinking begins.  They place pellets atop pellets, then throw up columns and beautiful curving, symmetrical arches and the crystalline architecture of vaulted chambers is created.”*

These are wonderful examples of the scientific concept of Emergence, which we discuss more fully in our two Essays,  Complexity and Continuing Creation, and The Processes of Evolution and Their Meaning, which are free to read on my (J.X. Mason’s) website, ContinuingCreation.org.


*Note:  Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher.  Dr. Thomas’ “Notes” first appeared as serialized columns in The New England Journal of Medicine between 1971-1973.  The collected Notes were published in book form by Bantam, Viking Press, 1974. The above passages are found on pages 12-13.

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