Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Norman Cousins

American Medical Doctor, Author, Political Journalist, Professor and World Peace Advocate

"To talk about the need for perfection in man is to talk about the need for another species. The essence of man is imperfection. Imperfection and blazing contradictions - between mixed good and evil, altruism and selfishness, co-operativeness and combativeness, optimism and fatalism, affirmation and negation."

"The yen to become wanderers among the stars involves more than the need to satisfy a cosmic curiosity. Basically, it flows out of an instinctive need to evolve. We belong to an unfinished species. We have limitless capacities for growth; indeed, our uniqueness lies in our ability to steer our own evolution. The destination becomes visible through an enlarged perspective. The greatest adventure within the reach of a sentient species is seeing itself in an expanding relationship."

"The author who penetrates the deepest into the human soul is the one who has the strongest respect for the awakening power of conscience and the stretching power of commitment."

"The best teacher is not necessarily the one who possesses the most knowledge but the one who most effectively enables his students to believe in their ability to learn."

"Death is not the greatest loss in life... The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives - the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the death of the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in yourself."

"Perhaps the quintessential symbol of society’s anomalies is the neutron bomb. The distinctive feature of this weapon is that it will expunge life but spare property. It does, however, have this virtue: it is an open autobiographical statement. It is a confession of values. It identifies the hierarchy of things society believes are worth saving: the inanimate ahead of the animate, property ahead of people."

"Education tends to be diagrammatic and categorical, opening up no sluices in the human imagination of the wonder or beauty of their unique estate in the cosmos. Little wonder that it become so easy for our young to regard human hurt casually or to be uninspired by the magic of sensitivity."

"Death is not the enemy; living in constant fear of it is."

"Attitudes about treatment can have an effect on the immune system. The patient's hopes are the physician's best ally. The physician who works with those hopes and bolsters them helps to create a climate in which the 'little black bag' can be put to optimal use."

"Drugs are not always necessary, but belief in recovery always is."

"Education fails unless the three R's at one end of the school spectrum lead ultimately to the four P's at the other - Preparation for Earning, Preparation for Living, Preparation for Understanding, and Preparation for Participation in the problems involved in the making of a better world."

"Fortunately or otherwise we live at a time when the average individual has to know several times as much in order to keep informed as he did only thirty or forty years ago. Being "educated" today requires not only more than a superficial knowledge of the arts and sciences, but a sense of interrelationship such as is taught in few schools. Finally, being "educated" today, in terms of the larger needs, means preparation for world citizenship; in short, education for survival."

"Free will and determinism, I was told, are like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play your hand represents free will."

"I am told that nothing that we do on earth, and nothing that we make on earth, is in as great abundance as force. We now have 30,000 pounds of destructive force, TNT equivalent, available for every human being on earth. We don't have 30,000 pounds of food or medicine or art or books or any of the things that ennoble life, but we have 30,000 pounds of instant force for every human being on earth."

"It is nonsense to say there is not enough time to be fully informed.. Time given to thought is the greatest time saver of all."

"If we begin to contemplate our own composite wonder, we will lose ourselves in celebration and have time for nothing else."

"Laughter is a powerful way to tap positive emotions."

"Plainly this is not an age of the meditative man. It is a squinting, sprinting, shoving age. Substitutes for repose are million dollar business. Silence, already a nation's most critical shortage, is almost a nasty word. Modern man may or may not be obsolete, but he is certainly wired for sound."

"Laughter is inner jogging."

"The growth of the human mind is still high adventure, in many ways the highest adventure on earth."

"The most costly disease is not cancer or coronaries. The most costly disease is boredom - costly for both individual and society."

"The real wealth, not only of America, but of the world, is in the resources of the ground we stand on, and in the resources of the human mind."

"The way a book is read - which is to say, the qualities a reader brings to a book - can have as much to do with its worth as anything the author puts in it. Anyone who can read, can learn to read deeply and thus live more fully."

"War is an invention of the human mind. The human mind can invent peace with justice."

"The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope. That is why the patient's hopes are the physician's secret weapon. They are the hidden ingredients in any prescription."

"What a man really says when he says that someone else can be persuaded by force, is that he, himself is incapable of more rational means of communication."

"Where man can find no answer, he will find fear."

"We are wide-eyed in contemplating the possibility that life may exist elsewhere in the universe, but we wear blinders when contemplating the possibilities of life on earth."

"A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life."

"History is a vast early warning system."

"If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach toward immortality."

"Life is an adventure in forgiveness."

"The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live."

"A hospital is no place for a person who is seriously ill."

"The tragedy of life is not death but in what dies inside a man while he lives - the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the death of awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in oneself."

"Each patient carries his own doctor inside him."

"We are single cells in a body of three billion cells. The body is humankind."

"Respect for the fragility and importance of an individual life is still the mark of an educated man."

"Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his own conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life."

"The control center of your life is your attitude."

"Inevitably, an individual is measured by his or her largest concerns."

"The individual is capable of both great compassion and great indifference. He has it within his means to nourish the former and outgrow the latter."

"A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fastens his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences."

"In a democracy, the individual enjoys not only the ultimate power but carries the ultimate responsibility."

"The eternal quest of the human being is to shatter his loneliness. "

"The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started."

"Just as there is no loss of basic energy in the universe, so no thought or action is without its effects, present or ultimate, seen or unseen, felt or unfelt."

"The main failure of education is that it has not prepared people to comprehend matters concerning human destiny."

"Cynicism is intellectual treason."

"Unobstructed access to facts can produce unlimited good only if it is matched by the desire and ability to find out what they mean and where they lead."