On “Daedalus, or, Science and the Future”

JBS Haldane’s “Daedalus, or, Science and the Future” expresses in the form of a polemic essay what Aldous Huxley expresses in the form of his fictional dystopian novel, Brave New World. Daedalus, surprised me in its directness, thoroughness and foresight, and absolutely passionately yet well articulated description of a possible future. The personal voice conveyed in Haldane’s succinct format allows for a straightforward prophecy of a possible future remarkably accurate given our contemporary situation. For those of you who did not read this article, perhaps my own interest and enthusiasm will prompt you to give it a try.

First of all, the predictions made in this essay are remarkably accurate. To begin, Haldane meditates on the continuity of scientific discovery, doubting the possibility of the cessation of invention. He claims the future speed of transportation and communication is only limited by the velocity of light. He also explores possible supplies of mechanical power that our now being realized, including water-power, the harnessing of wind and sunlight, and other alternatives to coal and oil. If these ideas have not yet been manifested, we are certainly on the road to their realization with the use of solar power and hydro electricity in the field of energy, and the invention of cell phones and the internet in the field of communication.

Although Haldane’s Daedalus was written approximately 10 years before Huxley’s Brave New World in 1923, the two texts are startlingly similar in their predictions. Both emphasize the possibility of a new world order being established after a series of world wars, for just as Haldane explores the possibility of “human organization on a planetary scale” made possible by another world war, so Huxley constructs his fictional society after a series of wars post A.F.141 (2049), which eventually result in “World Control” (Haldane 20). Furthermore, just as Huxley emphasizes the prevalent use of perfumes and scents in mating rituals, so Haldane predicts that a greater understanding of human physiology could lead to changes in sense of smells, colors and scents. Brave New World also examines Haldane’s specific assertion that the use of drugs may stimulate increased mental and physical productivity. Huxley’s soma, the peace inducing drug administered by gram in Brave New World, reflects Haldane’s example of acid sodium phosphate.

But what I really admired about Hadlane’s text is his emphasize on long term changes over time. Haldane looks to understand societal change as it has occurred for centuries, and will likely evolve in centuries to come as a cyclic process in which universally accepted paradigms are overthrown by monumental advancements in science, uprooting common beliefs and upsetting the social order, until society once again reaches equilibrium, only for the cycle to surge once more with another scientific breakthrough. He writes, “We may expect, moreover, as time goes on, that a series of shocks of the type of Darwinism will be given to established opinions on all sorts of subjects. One cannot suggest in detail what these shocks will be, but since the opinions on which they will impinge are deep-seated and irrational, they will come upon us and our descendants with the same air of presumption and indecency with which the view that we are descended from monkeys came to our grandfathers.” (13) He also claims, “The biological invention that tends to begin as a perversion and end as a ritual supported by unquestioned beliefs and prejudices.” (12) Perhaps then, what seems “unnatural” to us now, only seems so because of unfamiliarity. But as we become desensitized to change, the absurd will become “natural” once more.

I also would like to touch briefly on the subject of immortality. The idea of achieving immortality through literature was introduced to me most specifically in Kundera’s novel logically named, Immortality. The idea is beautiful: when a text is published, the ideas of the author outlive their time on earth, and so they are immortalized through writing. Haldane refers to immortality as a scientific motivator. Scientists are driven to invent and research through a desire for fame that could outlive them. A truthful observation, and a fascinating idea, as it seems, scientists in this sense are interested in a sort of afterlife.

I would like to prompt some discussion on the other additional texts/films suggested for the essay topics. Anyone who read one of these texts, please enter a blog on it, as I feel I may be missing some vital points that could enhance my class experience or understanding of other the texts we are currently reading: The Island of Dr. Moreau and The H-NHP article.


Elizabeth Frankenfield


~ by lizfrank on February 21, 2008.

One Response to “On “Daedalus, or, Science and the Future””

  1. I’m so happy you liked Haldane’s provocative piece. He was way ahead of his time.

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