Notions of A Brave New World

     I think it’s obvious to the class that I don’t care for Huxley’s Brave New World. Maybe it’s Huxleys writing style, maybe it’s the entire premise of the book, but whatever is causing my dislike, I’m not going to draw my ideas out with a lengthy, essay-like presentation. Instead, I’m posting some bullet-point criticisms and questions regarding the novel.

In no particular order:

-If our genetic endowment is the product of evolution, and “culture” represents 200k (est) years of us adapting to our genes, why would humankind abandon the progress and technological advancements that could allow us to “transcend” our genes (see: transhumanism)?

-What actual benefit is there to have people conditioned to engage in mutual sex? Why not condition them to buy other kinds of sex products? Would that be too illicit for the orgy-ridden novel?

-Is happiness (or contentment) based on instant gratification as effective as deferred gratification? Why not both?

-Is change non-essential for happiness? Is happiness affected by change? Are we even capable of adapting to a changeless system of the same kinds of reward?

-What happened to adaptive behavior? Oops.

-What about “altruism?”

-Humans have struggled to evolve; can humans evolve out of the struggle?

-In absence of innovation, how would humanity adapt to the eventual scarcity of resources, or an international disaster?

-If the society could not sustain the things people were conditioned to desire, would a simple change in conditioning solve the problem?

-Is the stability of a culture necessary and sufficient for the survival of a culture?

-On what basis does (should) selection occur–the species, the group, the genes, or the individual?

Just some thoughts, and let it be said that I actually do appreciate what Huxley accomplished with writing this novel. But for early science fiction, I happen to prefer other kinds of novels.

-Matt w.


~ by th3flatline on January 25, 2008.

3 Responses to “Notions of A Brave New World”

  1. The possible answer to all of the above questions is the fact that Brave New World is a thought experiment. Thought experiments are like scientific experiments in the way that it is nearly impossible to investigate the cause and effect of a wide variety of phenomena at once; the experimenters must limit themselves to investigating variables one at a time. Perhaps since thought experiments are entirely theoretical, it is possible to investigate more than a single variability, but never every variability. Just as the makers of Gattaca omitted social engineering from their reality, Kazuo Ishiguro focuses on (possible spoiler!) cloning without bothering with genetic engineering or any futuristic technology. As for myself, it’s not a matter or liking or disliking Brave New World, but the principle that it accomplishes what it set out to do. Besides, I like playing devil’s advocate.

  2. Matt, I’ve got some qualms with your qualms.

    1. Your first statement about transhumanism is certainly worth considering. I am well read in the texts of Kurzweil, and often consider, much to the dismay of many of my peers, that the Singularity, or an event of similar magnitude, will in fact occur within our lifetimes. However, it’s very fair to cut Huxley some slack in this regard, as he really had no notion of computers or advanced processors or spiritual machines or the like.
    Additionally, Huxley does maintain a compelling response to this argument of yours. You claim that humankind abandons technological advancement, but one of the key themes in BNW is Huxley’s criticism of society’s over-enthusiastic reception of new technologies, and he feels that the achievements of science and technology are snubbing out the achievements of mankind. So, for Huxley, the cloning IS the Singularity, it IS the abandonment of everything we knew before, which is why John locks himself away because he’s ashamed that we’ve forsaken our roots in favor of an inhuman nature.

    2. On the topic of instant vs. deferred gratification, this question seems irrelevant as the nature of the World State’s contentment stems from a lack of ambition. True, the soma provides instant gratification in a sense, but more similar to the relief a cigarette provides instead of the all-encompassing gratification granted to the public via “contentment through conditioning”.

    3. What about altruism?…What about the Native Americans? Don’t consider the human race capable of its self-endowed, presumably inherent characteristics. History will show that altruism is more often than not an anomaly.

    4. “Humans have struggled to evolve…” – This statement doesn’t make much sense, because you’re asking whether humans can evolve in order to cease from struggling to evolve. That’s like me struggling to juggle, and getting better at it through practice. In a sense, perhaps we can, as we are taking evolution into our own hands. But I’m not sure what you mean, so I have to side with Huxley.

    I would continue, but the main point here has already been stated by the previous comment posted. Huxley’s novel is at once a criticism and a thought experiment. Rarely is it even a warning, and never does it claim to be a prediction. Basically, I just want you to appreciate the novel as much as I do. If I’ve only driven you away futher, I apologize, and it should be noted that I did appreciate reading your critique of BNW very much.

    -Jason Wire

  3. Your comments are appreciated! All I wanted was some discourse, and this has been great. The main point about the book being a thought experiment, I must concede to. But I want to say that when I read the book, I had much higher expectations…I really liked the Island, though probably because it fit more in with my “realist” perspective.

    As for the other points you bring up Jason, I’ll say that culture is a “technology” for behavior. Depending on the methods of control, you could definitely make a world like Huxley’s; I don’t dispute that…But if the purpose of the that culture is perpetual stability, as I previously mentioned, what makes that aspect necessary AND sufficient for the survival of that culture? I don’t buy the world controller’s argument that it is…

    I smoke; A cigarette is NOT like a soma HOLIDAY, even if I smoke a pack of cigarettes. If anything, soma is closer to a harder drug…and who’s to say that “discovering” soma didn’t CAUSE this lack of ambition? Once that discovery was made, the society had a means to defer specific kinds of disconentment with a form of generalized, reinforcing, contentment.

    Altruism is an anomaly? I could find some ethological studies that would give correlations higher than anomalous for altruistic behavior. Do you have some meta-analysis that falsifies an ethological basis for altruism? Oh wait, history will falsify the research…and that’s not presumptuous?

    The whole “struggle” to evolve CAUSED us to be human. I called it a struggle because I hardly consider “survival of the fittest” a nice and cozy process. Will there ever be a point when humans find some thing that CAUSES us to be free of the struggle to evolve? I don’t claim to know, which is why I asked. You may struggle to juggle, but juggling won’t CAUSE you to be anything more than what you are. Juggling is a motor-based action, a skill that can be mastered, but even when you’ve mastered it, will having that expertise make juggling any less of a motor-based action? Certainly not, but you’ll be a damned good juggler. Do you think evolution can be mastered like juggling?

    Sorry if I come off cynical or harsh;
    I think you’re right to press me on these points,
    and I hope I’ve provided a decent reponse…
    At any rate, I’m glad that I’ve got a fellow
    believer who’ll be bowing to the robot overlords! :)


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