The Corner of the Eye by Lewis Thomas

Intention: The purpose of The Corner of the Eye by Lewis Thomas is to help readers understand the value of observation. He uses three main examples of observation, such as noticing minor things like the stars, or major like computers and artificial intelligence taking over human beings to make them better observers. The title suggests the main point of something hidden or glimpsed at, which applies to the main point of the essay – there are new discoveries in our keen observations.

Arrangement: Thomas supports his conclusion by presenting three examples of observation and analysis. He opens the essay with an example of something that can only be seen out of the corner of the eye- small, faint stars. Then, he provides a physiological explanation for the inability to focus directly on stars, stating “-we have more rods, the cells we use for light perception, at the periphery of our retinas, more cones, for perceiving color, at the center.” The second example is metaphorical, referring to the meaning in music from tones that are only audible in the “corner of the mind”. The third example references each of the earlier examples and summarizes the point of the essay- computers provide artificial intelligence that can make mistakes, but are inhuman because of their ability to correct them. Thomas’ concluding thought on computers is, “Computers will not take over the world, they cannot replace us, because they are not designed, as we are, for ambiguity.” The arrangement examples is effective for his argument because they assert the importance of human observation and how it applies to daily focus.

Quote: “It immensely pleases a human being to see something never seen before, even more to learn something never known before, most of all to think something never thought.” (Thomas 700) This quote opened my eyes to a new view of Thomas’ argument because it identifies this sense of accomplishment and thrill we feel when we see, think or learn something previously unknown. He relates it to scientific accomplishments, such as the rings of Saturn and the solar system, to shows that we enjoy amending the laws of nature. Thomas  argues that we are overwhelmingly astonished by these inexplicable discoveries because its takes all of our sensual and mental efforts to comprehend them. This desire connects to the main argument because, according to Thomas, the only way to see these extraterrestrial enigmas is to look through the corner of the eye.

Audience: Thomas’ addressed audience range from a medical student reaching for a better understanding of the eye, to readers who are or wish to be better observers. He is trying to  establish a formal relationship with his audience to convince them of his argument. The examples cited throughout the essay to support his thesis are familiar to all readers, such as music and the childlike view of the stars. By using the scientific phenomena to support his argument, Thomas is able to connect his thesis to the lives of every human being and how we all need to look further than the face value of our thoughts and observations.

–Chloe Klusman

Tone: the tone is clinical yet philosophical, which fits with the overarching theme of the phenomenon of observing from the “corner of your eye.” His voice is filled with awe and amazement for not only the wonders that humans are able to observe, but then also on the wonders of the universe and even the very earth we live on. The tone and manner in which he speaks is not immediately easy to understand, but neither are the topics that he chooses to discuss.

Ethos: the author, Lewis Thomas, is considered to be a highly respected man. He graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Medical School, and then spent a great deal of his career as a faculty member at Yale’s medical school. Thomas often wrote short essays that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, usually in a similar writing style to that shown in The Corner of the Eye. His essays were commonly praised for his insight and grace, which makes the points in this essay more likely to be listened to and agreed with than they would be with any other author.

The informal nature of Thomas’ writing makes for a very personal and friendly piece to read. He often uses language such as “we,” “familiar to all,” and even “Artificial Intelligence used to scare me half to death.” By using this type of style and voice, Thomas is able to form a direct connection with his audience and therefore make better use out of pointing his observations out to other people. If he were to use a harsh and mechanical voice, his readers would feel detached and turned off by the things that he said, rather than the, most likely, enlightened and contented sentiment that they experience with his actual tone.

–Skyler Houser


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