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“Biological Possibilities for the Human Species in the Next Ten Thousand Years”

J. B. S. Haldane

A speech given in 1963, reprinted in Man and His Future edited by Gordon Wolstenholme, with 8 illustrations. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1963.

Since no statement about the future can be made with certainty—which is why it is always foolish, and often wicked, to make a promise—the best I can do is to suggest some alternative possibilities.  There is however one generalization which can be made with fair confidence.  Important historical events usually surprise those to whom they happen.  However the study of history has at least this advantage, that to those who have learned its lessons the events of their own time may bring joy, sorrow, and surprise, but not amazement, despair or complete confidence.

My political anticipations have usually been wrong, though I backed one winner.  In 1932 I stated that the educational system of the Soviet Union was being developed in such a way that it was likely to overtake other states in science, and consequently in other fields also.

My second preliminary point is that I shall not draw a sharp line between physiology and psychology.  Much that is classified as psychology would in my opinion better be classified as physiology of the senses, of muscular co-ordination, and of the brain.

My third is to draw your attention as forcibly as I can to the sea lion (Otaria californica) and to the late Alfred Kinsey. The sea lion has a fantastic capacity for balancing objects on its nose, and appears to enjoy doing so. Whether this species ever employs this capacity in nature I do not know. Of course, very fine co-ordination of the neck muscles is clearly useful, but the actual balancing capacity must be a by-product. The great advances in evolution have often been the use of a structure developed to serve one function for a different one, for example a gill arch for grasping food, a gill slit for hearing, a walking leg for manipulation or flight, and a vestigial wing as a gyrostat. We have to ask whether we can hope for such changes of function in man. I suggest that two important elements of human culture, namely music and religion, are comparable to the sea-lion's capacity for balancing billiard balls. Rhythmical sound has a social function in co-ordinating muscular activities. It is not clear to me that the production or perception of melody or harmony has such a function. I happen to be tone-deaf. Similarly people can get on quite well without religion, and in nominally religious communities many people do so. Religion, like music, appeals strongly to a minority only, and leads to results of great cultural value in a few of them. On the other hand, the religious and musical minorities can sometimes be intolerant of the remainder.

Kinsey and his colleagues brought to light the immense range of variation of sexual activity not only within a single culture, but a small subsection of it (such as moderately well-to-do practising protestant Americans of European descent with university education). It might have been expected that this activity, so necessary for the survival of a species, would have been standardized by evolutionary processes, at least to the extent that eating and breathing have been apart from the further efforts of human moralists. But matrimonial fertility seems to be found both among persons whose sexual activity is restricted to once weekly or less, and those for whom Catullus' request to Ipsithilla for “Novem continuas futuliones” would be a counsel of moderation. We may expect to find comparable variation in other fields on the borderline of physiology and psychology, and must beware of accepting current criteria of normality.

After these prolegomena, we must consider some alternative possibilities.(1)Man has no future.(2)A nuclear war will do mankind grave biological damage, and civilization will also have to be rebuilt from barbarism.(3)A nuclear war, with such damage, will lead to a highly authoritarian world state.(4)Rational animals of the human type cannot achieve the wisdom needed to use nuclear energy unless they live for several centuries. The ageing [sic] effect of high energy events renders this impossible at present. Hence the only hope for mankind is the massacre of the vast majority of us; the few survivors, and most of their descendants, being resistant to high energy quanta and particles, and thus capable of long life, if they escape preventable diseases.(5)A nuclear war will not occur, but some kind of world organization will gradually develop, probably after a genera l disarmament.

I might add that mankind could very probably be destroyed by processes still more lethal than nuclear reactions.

I do not think that the greatest danger from nuclear weapons is the outbreak of an international war of the type usually expected. Armies, in the present century at least, have, I think, been more often used in civil than international wars, thought the latter have killed more people. I think it quite likely that a croup of fanatical devotees of Mary, Marx, Muhammad, or Mammon, may get hold of enough fissile material to force their own government into submission and thus precipitate an international war, as the American and French revolutions did. Were I the head of most States, I should be more frightened of the armed forces of my own country than those of others. This is one reason why disarmament is so urgent a necessity.

Personally I do not think a nuclear war would lead to the extinction of mankind. There may well be enough plutonium to kill us all, just as there are enough rifle bullets to kill us all several hundred time, and enough lethal genes to kill us about twice. But the last desperate surviving rocketeers of a defeated state would hardly use their weapons to massacre neutrals. The survivors all over the world would be short-lived, and for many centuries there would be an incidence of congenital disease leading to suffering and mortality comparable with that due to infectious disease until quite recently.

Translocations and deletions of genes would be fairly quickly eliminated, and there is no reason to suspect that the mutations of other types would differ qualitatively from those already produced by radioactivity and cosmic particles. There would merely be a lot more of them. Imaginative writers with a superficial knowledge of biology, such as Aldous Huxley and John Wyndham, who have written of mutations of new types, have done a considerable disservice to clear thinking.

If the main contending powers are fairly completely eliminated, and other countries violently disorganized, we shall have another dark age, with recovery in a few thousand years, and perhaps a repetition of the disaster. Meanwhile the brown and black sections of mankind will have learned enough biology to believe that the survivors of the white and yellow races are genetically contaminated. They may massacre or castrate them, or at best subject the to rigorous apartheid in the arctic or some other inclement region.

The third alternative, that of the tyrant world state, is equally sinister. Suppose that one of the contending groups in a nuclear war is victorious in the sense that half its population and an organized government survive, this government would inevitably attempt to conquer the rest of the world to prevent future nuclear wars, and might well succeed. A few centuries of Stalinism or technocracy might be a cheap price to pay for the unification of mankind. Such a government would perhaps take extreme precautions against the outbreak of war, revolution, or any other organized quarrels. It might be thought necessary to destroy all records of such events; and the successors of Lenin or Washington, as the case might be, would not be permitted to learn of the deeds of these great men. Most of literature, art, and religion would be scrapped. Huxley's Brave New World adumbrates such a society. Owing to the large number of harmful recessive genes carried by most people, eugenics, largely directed to preventing their coming together, would be an important branch of applied science.

I do not consider the fourth alternative probable. But I think that as biologists we should envisage the possibility that Shaw, in Back to Methuselah, was correct as to the social value of longevity. So I mention it on the general principle that “There is some soul of goodness in things evil.”

I naturally prefer to hope that the fifth alternative will be true, and shall write what follows on that assumption. I am no unduly impressed by the prophecies of famine due to overpopulation. Thirty years ago responsible statisticians were writing about “The twilight of parenthood”, “Les berceaux vides”, and so on; and I was fool enough to believe them. It now seems that fairly satisfactory oral contraceptives are available, though they are very costly. In twenty years they should be available all over the world, and the article which an eminent Glasgow professor described as “ a cuirass against pleasure, a cobweb against infection” should be a museum piece. So, I hope, will the instruments of surgical abortion now widely used in Japan and France. There is no organized religious opposition to birth control in India except from the Catholic church. If this body continues its opposition it may be necessary to forbid emigration from catholic states whose population continues to expand, until these states support religious celibacy on such a scale as to check itself to chemical contraception as it has adapted itself to usury, which in Dante's mind was a sin comparable with sodomy, though slightly worse.

India could probably support twice its present population, on a much better diet than today's, with improved agricultural methods, irrigation, and flood control. However the remarkable discoveries of S. K. Roy, which would probably raise our rice yields by 20 per cent, have attracted no more notice than did those of Shull and east on maize fifty years ago. If the world population reaches ten thousand millions we shall have to make a lot of synthetic food, besides utilizing leaf proteins directly. Why not?

If we can assume that our descendants will by free from atomic war and famine, we may ask five main questions which we should try to answer separately:(1)What performances, given suitable environments, are within the capacities of most people being born at the present time?(2)What performances, considered possibly desirable, are within the capacity of a small minority only?(3)What evolutionary trends may be expected for humanity in the absence of conscious control?(4)What evolutionary trends may be expected if evolution is  consciously controlled?(5)How far must the answers to (3) and (4) be modified for human beings living on other planets, satellites, asteroids, or artificial vehicles?

Clearly the answer to (4) depends on that to (2). It may be that our remote descendants will be immortal, sessile, or born talking perfect English.  All these have been suggested. But these things, whether desirable or not, are outside the human range at present; and as I have limited myself to 10,000 years I shall not consider them. On the other hand we know that men such as Newton, Beethoven, and Gandhi are possible, and I at least hold that on the one hand, most people, however well trained, are incapable of such achievements, and, on the other, that it is desirable that the  fraction of persons with such capacity should be increased.

On few subjects is more nonsense talked and written than on the first question. Some successful people believe that everyone could do as well as themselves if they tried, others that rare innate gifts are needed. On what are probably quite inadequate grounds I consider that the truth is between these extremes. I think that one of the most important tasks before mankind is a complete revision of educational methods, whether we are dealing with learning long multiplication or rope climbing. Different children differ in the times at which capacities mature, and almost as surely in the best methods for developing them. Teaching methods appear usually to aim at developing children of a capacity a little below the median, and very great harm is done by wrong timing and wrong methods. We may have to wait for human clonal reproduction before scientific methods can be applied here.

Meanwhile we can say that it has already been possible to produce an environment in which most people can go through life without any serious infectious disease except some virus diseases such as common colds which we cannot yet control, and others such as measles which we do not trouble to control. By the end of the century infectious diseases and deficiency diseases should be rare, even if there is a critical period, beginning perhaps about 1980, when healthy states put pressure on the remainder to conform. I shall not, I expect, be there to give my advice as to whether a few lice should be preserved alive, along with much less dangerous animals such as lions and cobras. I would vote against keeping even one Plasmodium. About the same time we may hope for methods of prevention many or most forms of malignant and cardiovascular diseases. These may involve considerable coercion, for example the prohibition of tobacco and certain foodstuffs, and compulsory exercise for adults.

It may well be that it will prove practicable to render human beings completely aseptic, the useful functions of their intestinal flora being taken over by vitamin dosage. The stimulus to such an achievement may be the desire to colonize Mars or some other skyey [sic] body without introducing terrestrial bacteria and viruses.  It may, of course, well be that aseptic people will lack defences against sporadic infections, or suffer some other severe handicap. They might equally well avoid cancer and some aspects of senility, as Metchnikoff taught. To an aseptic person, producing, among other things, inodorous faeces, the rest of humanity will appear as “stinkers”, and there will be grave emotional tensions, including a sexual barrier. This will at least be a change from quarrels based on religion, race, political affiliation, and economic status. If asepsis is either generally advantageous, or permits the development of certain faculties, it will, I hope, prevail.

The next stage in the struggle for health will be against congenital disease and those  of middle and late life. I do not doubt that theses are largely congenital in the sense that a baby of one genotype is likely to die of cerebral haemorrhage due to renal failure at the age of seventy, another of chronic bronchitis at the same age, while a third, of still another genotype, survives both of them but is crippled by arthritis. Perhaps fortunately we cannot yet predict which organs of a child will break down in old age.

One possible consequence of a rational geriatry may be as follows. A congenitally weak organ may fail through chronic environmental stress. One reason why I have gone to India is to avoid chronic “rheumatic” joint pains. I do not mind the heat, since I dress almost rationally, wearing as few clothes as decency permits. Infections such as amoebic dysentery, which are still hard to avoid, are no more trying that English respiratory infections. But I suspect many aged Indians  would be happier in the bracing climates of Europe and Siberia. Perhaps retirement may come to mean retirement to a congenial climate, as it already does to some extent in the United States.

Far more important is to discover the capacities of young people, and guide them into suitable occupations. This is often thought to be the prerogative of psychologists. I suspect that the variations of human physiological make-up have been neglected, partly because we cannot even give them names. I am fully convinced that the recipe for happiness is doing a job which is difficult, but just not too difficult. I have suffered from the pangs of despised love, ischio-rectal abscess, the insolence of office, which is the worst of the three, and other ills. Provided I could work they were quite tolerable. Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) gives the formulation best know in this culture: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might”, though before him Sri Krishna had said it more poetically in India, and Aristotle more accurately in Greece. Whatever their other defects, societies such as that of the Soviet Union where men and women are regarded primarily as producers are likely to give greater opportunities for happiness than those in which they are primarily regarded as consumers, and vast effort is devoted to increasing their demands for various commodities. The success or failure of a work-oriented society may however depend on the choice of men for the jobs and jobs for the men.

The recognition of human physiological diversity may have enormous consequences. As soon as its genetical basis is understood large-scale negative eugenics will become possible. There may be no need to forbid marriage; few people will wish to marry a spouse with whom they share a recessive gene for microcephaly, congenital deafness, or cystic disease of the pancreas, so that a quarter of their children are expected to develop this condition. I cannot predict the later steps which will make positive eugenics possible, since we know the genetic basis of few desirable characters. I make some suggestions later.

The second question, as to rare capacities, is more interesting, if less important. I shall begin by giving an example of one. My late father was an examiner for certificates for would-be colliery managers. Among other things they had to detect and estimate small amounts of methane. When the wick of an oil safety lamp is turned down leaving a blue flame, the methane can be seen burning above it as a faint “cap”, and its concentration, within a range below the explosive, can be estimated from the size of this cap. Most people can only see the cap in darkness after a few minutes' adaptation. One day a candidate appeared who could do the estimation correctly by daylight. This capacity is certainly rare, but no one knows whether its frequency is one per thousand or one per million. It may have some  drawbacks such as defective colour vision or a high demand for vitamin A. It is probably at least in part genetically determined.

Supernormal vision of any kind is certainly rare. Supernormal hearing is less so, but is only just beginning to be investigated. Supernormal smelling may be quite common. Supernormal muscular skill is highly prized when it is applied to certain sports, but no serious attempt has yet been made to measure it, or to determine how far it is genetically determined. Aptitude tests may eliminate the worst half or even three-quarters, but they do not pick out the one person per lakh (105) who might become a really superb dentist or lens maker.

One reason for this is that our consciousness is not closely connected with manual skill or muscular sense. Some would prefer to say that our language mechanisms are not closely geared to those concerned with muscular guidance and proprioception. Nevertheless there are great individual differences. Some people say they have no kinaesthetic memory. I have. I can remember, that is to say imagine, what it feels like to ride a bicycle, to swim in various styles, to carry out several kinds of chemical analysis, and so on, and this although I am a clumsy person with little muscular skill. We have no evidence as to whether this depends on an inborn difference between myself and those who say they have no such memory or imagination.

The afferent nerve supply from organs other than skin, special sense organs, muscles, and joints, is not very rich, but it exists. So far from attending to its data, we seem to spend our infancy in learning not to do so unless they rise to a threshold described as painful. This may be the only way to avoid frequent defaecation, unacceptable sexual activity, and so on. Physiologists, by attention during experiments on themselves, can bring some of this information to consciousness. So do some neurotics and psychotics. I claim that I used to be able to detect the opening of my pylorus, and the passage of waste materials along my sigmoid flexure; between them localization was poor, but there was a good deal of sensation. A biologically uneducated person suddenly feeling what I felt might have reported that his or her belly was full of snakes, or contained a radio set controlled by communists or jesuits [sic]. For me at least sexual pleasure is much more like there visceral sensations that it is like the special senses or those of the skin or muscles.

Where do we go from here? I want to suggest three possibilities. The most obvious is the verbalization of kinaesthesia. For a million years or so our ancestors had manual skill; but there is no evidence that they used symbols. Sculpture and painting appeared suddenly in the upper palaeolithic, perhaps under 40,000 years ago, and Pumphrey and I have suggested that descriptive language started at about the same time. Writing began less than 6,000 years ago, and algebra less than 2,000.

I believe that much of our unhappiness, frustration, and conflict, arises from the divorce between muscular skill and symbolic expression. Once a craftsman can explain in words or other symbols how he uses his hands, a singer how she uses her larynx, a new era in physiology will open. Future cultures will, I believe, respect craftsmanship more than we do, and almost everyone will devote some time to it. It is striking how much more we know about our sense organs than our muscles. There may be common defects of muscular co-ordination as clear-cut as myopia, and as easily corrected.

Such heightened consciousness may be developed in many ways. Yehudi Menuhin, besides a capacity for sound analysis which may be no better than that of some musical critics, possesses a very high bimanual skill, that is to say capacity for co-ordinating the movements of his two hands. This may be commoner than is thought. Here is a way in which it might be employed.

Two-dimensional graphs have given us enormous insight into functions of a real variable. I can hardly think of a sine, a logarithm, or a Bessel function without thinking of its graph. Once one has seen a few graphs, Rolle's theorem, that an algebraic polynomial has at least one turning point between each pair of zeros, is intuitively obvious, and many more sophisticated theorems are at least plausible. But for similar intuition about a complex variable one would need a four-dimensional graph.

Supposing however that we train a child known by still non-existent tests to have the capacity for bimanual skill, to trace out lines, on the (x, y) plane with his or her left hand, and simultaneously the corresponding curves in the (u, v) plane with his right hand where u + iv = f (x + iy), f being some simple function, what may we expect? To take an example, if u + iv = exp(x + iy), then horizontal straight lines x = a in the (x, y) plane correspond to straight lines v = u tan b through the origin in the (u, v) plane. Would a child trained to trace out such sets of lines simultaneously be able to transform other simple curves? Would it realize that a sudden turn through any angle in one of these planes was represented by a turn through the same angle in the other (or in mathematical language, that mapping was conformal)? If so it would have the same sorts of intuition about functions of a complex variable has about those of a real variable. The truth or possibly the falsehood of a Riemann's hypothesis about the Zeta function, which is the missing key to prime number theory, might be intuitively obvious, even if its formal proof were still difficult.

And man would effectively have broken through into the fourth dimension. As the least unintelligible account of the fundamental properties of ordinary matter is in terms of functions of complex variables, and three-dimensional intuition is a poor guide to these properties on the subatomic scale, such a break-through would be of great practical value. If, say, it were found that one person in a thousand possessed this capacity, they would have, like chess players and musicians, to develop their own vocabulary. This would probably revolutionize not only physical but biological theory.

However a more generalized conscious apprehension and control of our bodies would  be of still greater importance. If one observes a yogi, one finds that he has developed the same kind of power over his trunk muscles as a skilled craftsman or sportsman has over his limb muscles. Thus he can contract his right and left rectus abdominis independently, as a pianist can move his fingers independently. This control extends to a less extent to the heart and smooth muscles. Thus yogis can slow their hearts down, though it is doubtful whether they can stop them. They describe qualitatively new bodily sensations, such as that of kundalini. Their verbal accounts of these activities often appear to be nonsense; but no form of words which leads to concerted human activity is nonsense. It may be a pity that musicians use the word coloratura and algebraists the word “spur” with esoteric meanings. The yogis are perhaps a bit worse, but not much. In particular, I suspect that they have been grossly mistranslated. The human nervous system is said to include six chakra's. This word, which is cognate with cycle and circle, is commonly translated as “lotus”, and numbers of “petals” are given. It seems to me quite possible that intense introspection revealed various cyclical processes, including the alpha rhythm, and that the texts were misunderstood by later readers. The word chakra was frequently used for cyclical processes, such as those said to cause rebirth. Naturally enough they were represented by wheels. Other mystics report sensations located in their own bodies. Many Indian mystics say that the perception of God includes a feeling like sexual pleasure felt throughout the body. St. Teresa described the sensation as pain, but welcomed it.

I suggest that these people are in touch with reality, though not perhaps the reality which they think, as the  alchemists undoubtedly were, and that the future of human biology includes a voluntary control  over various bodily functions and a consciousness of them which will be related to yoga much as chemistry is related to alchemy. Yogis claim to be healthier than other people, and I think they are probably correct in their claims. I have little doubt that the autophysiologists of the future will be unusually healthy. We are quite ignorant of the extent of human congenital variation in respect of the capacity either for obtaining information about events inside our bodies, or of controlling unstriped muscles and glands. I suggest that one of the urgent tasks before physiologists is the investigation of these obscure sensations by implanted electrodes, supersonic focusing, and similar methods. I think such artificial stimulation, which would inevitably arouse emotions among other things, could be of great social value. Literature is socially valuable largely because it enables us to share the emotions of murderers like Orestes and Macbeth, suicides like Romeo and Juliet, tyrants like Xerxes and Tamerlane. Hence we are better able to control such emotions when we encounter them in ourselves, and to take avoiding reaction when we meet them in others.

The third question, as to present evolutionary trends, is very hard to answer. When we know how a character is determined genetically we do not know what selective forces are acting on it. For example the selective value of ABO blood group membership begins long before birth, and continues into middle life, where it is manifested by different frequencies of gastric and duodenal ulcers and other diseases. It is reasonably sure that the forces of selection acting on human beings have changed drastically in one or two generations, and will go on doing so. For the last ten thousand years or so, in fact since man ceased to be a rare animal, I think selection has been mainly for immunity for infectious diseases. No doubt this has kept the level of non-specific defences, such as the capacity for making gamma globulins, from deteriorating, but most of it has been futile or harmful. Various abnormal conditions, including several abnormal haemoglobins, thalassaemia, and glucose phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, confer resistance to malaria at the price of ill-health or even death. The hundreds of millions of deaths by which the European stocks secured resistance to tuberculosis were not merely futile, for tuberculosis is now a rare and curable disease. They were almost certainly harmful. As Penrose first pointed out, selection for resistance to specific diseases is probably selection for genes which were initially rare because they lowered fitness in the absence of the disease in question. With the abolition of the infectious diseases our descendants will gradually regain fitness.

However, insofar as medical science enables people with congenital abnormalities who would formerly have died young to reproduce themselves, it is dysgenic, as has often been pointed out. The remedy for this is education. Once a man with rectal polyposis and a woman heterozygous for haemophilia realize that it would be wrong to have children, there is good reason why they should marry, using contraceptives, or after one or both have been sterilized.

We do not know how selection is acting in economically advanced countries. Most people marry, and the main selective agency is now fertility is genetically determined. Parents of large families have a somewhat lower mean intelligence rating than the general population. But intelligence quotients or other similar measures are only partly determined  genetically. It may be that the genetical factors making for intelligence do not lower fertility, while the social ones do so. I think it is probably that the level of innate factors making for intelligence is slowly declining; but this is far from certain. As Penrose has suggested, genetical homoeostasis based on the higher fertility of heterozygotes may make it very difficult for selection to alter this mean level. What is more, we may expect changes in the direction of this selection in the near future.

The fourth question is almost equally hard to answer. As I have already said, we may expect a drastic reduction in the frequency of undesired abnormalities with simple genetical determination by the end of this century. But we have little notion of how to produce more superior people. Our descendants could of course use men judged superior as stud bulls. However, even if women were agreeable, many men would require a good deal of conditioning before they acted as such, or even as sperm donors. Voluntary Amphitryons would perhaps be rare than Brewer and Muller have thought. The employment of a surrogate was apparently normal in ancient India. Pandu's biological father was a mortal chosen for holiness and appointed because the legal father was not functional. Nor was Pandu himself. His five sons, the heroes of our great epic, the Mahabharata, were begotten on his wives by immortals. His junior wife Madri had the intelligence to invoke the Asvini (twin deities corresponding to Castor and Pollux) and produced twins herself.

My friend G. C. Dash informs me that until recently the Jats, in northern India, along with ordinary fraternal polyandry, practiced eugenics as follows. A young man judged of outstanding merit for physique, courage, and other good qualities, was allowed access to all married women of a village. He was given a pair of gilded shoes which he left outside the door when performing his eugenic duties, to warn off any ordinary husband. After fifteen years or so, when his daughters became nubile, he was killed to avoid inbreeding. But he might, and often did, leave the village with a chosen partner. Haring fought in the same brigade as the 6th Jats, I can testify to their courage and efficiency as soldiers. In view of such traditions, the choice of a father other than a woman's legal husband may arouse less opposition in some parts of India than in other countries, whether artificial insemination or the normal process is employed.

Perhaps India may return to this practice. It is in fact permitted under existing Hindu law. There is, however, another possibility which I at least take seriously. We have known how to grow mammalian cells in culture for over fifty years. Human cells, not only from embryos, children, and cancers, but from a sixty-year-old man, have been grown for years on end. We do not know how to induce them to organize themselves. But we may find out at any moment, as we have already found out in the case of some plant cells. It is extremely hopeful that some human cell lines can be frown on a medium of precisely known chemical composition. Perhaps the first step will be  the production of a human clone from a single fertilized egg, as in Brave New World. But this would be of little social value. The production of a clone from cells of persons of attested ability would be a very different matter, and might raise the possibilities of human achievement dramatically. For exceptional people commonly have unhappy childhoods, as their parents, teachers, and contemporaries try to force them to conform to ordinary standards. Many are permanently deformed by the traumatic experiences of their childhoods. Probably a great mathematician, poet, or painter could most usefully spend his life from 55 years on in education his or her own clonal offspring so that they avoided at least some of the frustrations of their original.

On the general principle that men will make all possible mistakes before choosing the right path, we shall no doubt clone the wrong people. However everyone selected for this purpose will presumably exceed the median considerably in some respect, if only as a humbug. And the greatest humbugs, like Hitler, would hardly relish the thought of producing a dozen possible successors with their own abilities, and youth to boot. Possibly a movie star at the age of forty might have similar feelings.

Assuming that cloning is possible, I expect that most clones would be made from people aged at least fifty, except for athletes or dancers, who would be cloned younger. They would be made from people who were held to have excelled in a socially acceptable accomplishment. Sometimes this would be found to be due to accident. The clonal progeny of Arthur Rimbaud, if given favourable conditions, might have shown no propensity for poetry, and become second-rate empire builders. Presumably such a clone would not be further grown. Other clones would be the asexual progeny of people with very rare capacities, whose value was problematic, for example permanent dark adaptation, lack of the pain sense, and special capacities for visceral perception and control. Centenarians, if reasonably healthy, would generally cloned, if this is possible; not that longevity is necessarily desirable, but that data on its desirability are needed. Centenarians who could continue to learn systematically up to the age of thirty would almost certainly be useful, and probably happy members of society.

There are several other possibilities of altering human genetical make-up besides selection. One is the deliberate provocation of mutations, probably by chemical agents, which seem more specific than X-rays and the like. This will first be attempted in tissue cultures. And if tissue culture becomes a frequent stage in the human life cycle, it may be practicable to do it on a large scale. It may also be possible to synthesize new genes and introduce them into human chromosomes. It will be still easier to duplicate existing genes, thus in some cases perpetuating the advantage of heterozygosity. There is still another possibility. No doubt, in our evolutionary past, we lost capacities which we should value, for example olfactory capacities, and the capacity for healing with little scarring which is associated with a loose skin. Hybridization with animals possessing theses capacities is probably impossible, certainly undesirable by present human standards. But Muller and Pontecorvo were able to introduce small fragments of the genome of one species of fly into another with which it gives sterile hybrids, and the same has since been done with bacteria. Such intranuclear grafting might enable our descendants to incorporate many valuable capacities of other species without losing those which are specifically human. Perhaps even 10,000 years hence this will be a wild project, but techniques progress very rapidly.

The fifth question is highly speculative, but it is time that systematic speculation started on it. The most obvious abnormalities in extra-terrestrial environments are differences in gravitation, temperature, air pressure, air composition, and radiation (including high speed material particles). Clearly a gibbon is better preadapted than a man for life in a low gravitational field, such as that of a space ship, an asteroid, or perhaps even the moon. A platyrhine with a prehensile tail is even more so. Gene grafting may make it possible to incorporate such features into the human stocks. The human legs and much of the pelvis are not wanted. Men who  had lost their legs by accident or mutation would be specially qualified as astronauts. If a drug is discovered with an action like that of thalidomide, but on the leg rudiments only, not the arms, it may be useful to prepare the crew of the first spaceship to the Alpha Centauri system, thus reducing not only their weight, but their food and oxygen requirements. A regressive mutation to the condition of our ancestors in the mid-pliocene, with prehensile feet, no appreciable heels, and an ape-like pelvis, would be still better. There is no immediate prospect of men encountering high gravitational fields, as they will when they reach the solid or liquid surface of Jupiter. Presumably they should be short-legged or quadrupedal. I would back an achondroplasic against a normal man on Jupiter.

Human capacities for temperature adaptation are rather limited, and the invention of clothing renders them unimportant. When allowance is made for water vapour and carbon dioxide, a supply of pure oxygen at a fifth of an atmosphere would not suffice most humans. At air pressures below about a quarter of an atmosphere a pressure suit is needed. I may remark that my late father made and tested the first pressure suit. However an Andean or Tibetan might be able to live at an external pressure of a fifth of an atmosphere. If this is the approximate pressure on Mars, as some astrophysicists believe, it may be desirable to pick colonists with Andean or Tibetan ancestry; for a suit which allows breathing at a pressure a few millimeters above that outside is both safer and more comfortable than if the difference is greater. I see no prospect, in the next ten thousand years, of adapting human beings to breathe air in which the partial pressure of oxygen is less than 1 per cent of a terrestrial atmosphere. On the other hand given an artificial breathing mixture, men can live quite happily, though for how long we do not yet know, at all pressures from ¼ atmosphere to 20 atmospheres, and very likely at higher ones.

The least understood danger is that from radiation and high speed particles. The ultraviolet and X-radiation from the sun could doubtless be kept out. But if Titov had got up into the streams of charged particles predicted Bjerknes and more accurately by Chapman, detected more or less simultaneously by Soviet and American satellites, and now called the van Allen belts, or had run into a storm of particles ejected from the sun, he might have been seriously injured, or even killed. It may be known what thickness of heavy metal is needed to afford protection against these particles. If so, it is a secret. Almost certainly resistance to radiation is a desirable character in astronauts. It may or may not be attainable. It is a heritable character, though rare, in some bacteria. If there is a nuclear war, the survivors will have been heavily selected for radiation resistance, if such selection is possible. If so they will be suited for astronautics. Even if the danger is exaggerated it may be worth selecting resistant types when we know how to do so.

Possibly other dangers will prove even more serious. It is reasonable sure, on the one hand that natural selection in space will hardly change a section of humanity very greatly in ten thousand years, hand that on the other, new human characters will be sought for and perhaps bred for, or, as I have suggested in the case of asepsis, imposed artificially.

What, then, can we hope for, ten thousand years hence, if things go as well as I can imagine them going? Do not take what follows as a probability, but as a fairly optimistic suggestion of possibilities. When I write “will” I mean “may, with what—to my ignorance—seems reasonable luck”.

Man will still be polytypic, but less so than now. He will be much more polymorphic, though I hope that the lowest 50 per cent of present mankind for any achievement will be represented by only 5 per cent in our descendants. I do not think there will be universal racial fusion. For most countries will fairly soon fill up, and will welcome tourists, but hardly immigrants. I do not believe in racial equality, though of course there is plenty of overlap; but I have no idea who surpasses whom in what. To take a simple example, a few communities, for example of Nilotic negroes, have remained at the stage of primitive communism, with no government. One such tribe includes a group of men whose whole function is to stop quarrels, not to administer justice. Perhaps these people behaved, on the whole, so decently that no government was needed. If so they may  be better qualified to rule the British than the British were to rule them. When opportunities are nearly equalized, some races are found to produce far more superior people at some particular than others. Thus in the United States people of both sexes with tropical African ancestry excel in sprinting. The opportunities for intellectual pursuits have not, of course, ever been equalized anywhere. The only tropical African who has yet made a major scientific discovery is Pascal Lissouba, who has discovered a new genetical phenomenon. My guess is that tropical Africans include more potential biologists than potential physicists. However, I think the intellectual elite of the world will be of very mixed racial origins, perhaps with a median colour about that of northern Indians today. This is because in science at any rate racial origins and ancestral traditions impose no appreciable barrier. I get on far better with intelligent Indians or Japanese than with Europeans whose interests differ from my own.

The elite, by which I mean roughly persons like ourselves who are thought sufficiently interesting to be invited from great distances, will be more polymorphic than the general population, partly because they will largely be products of assortative mating. A musician will tend to marry a musician, and so on, but such of their children as are not musically gifted will not remain in the musical caste, as they do in Indian castes. The elite will perhaps include anatomical freaks, say people with cerebral hernia whose  thinking can be watched with the remote descendant of the microscope, astronauts with prehensile feet unsuited for walking, and so on. But the physiological polymorphisms will be far more important. There may be a few people on the planet who can give as good an account of the messages reaching their brains from the carotid sinus as I can now give of my auditory sensations, and better than I can give of my labyrinthine sensations. I think there will more psychological polymorphism, and much more tolerance. Provided they do not harm others who do not want to be harmed, posterity will be allowed to try all sorts of things, including drug addiction and various types of sexual experience, which we condemn, and perhaps rightly, in the present state of our civilization.

Once poverty is a state which no one has experienced, but merely an evil smell from the past, like cannibalism, I think there will be much less interest in acquiring material objects, and more and more interest in our own bodies and minds, and those of others in whom we are interested and whom perhaps we love. So far introspection has been rather barren except in so far as some mystics have had important historical effects, as often causing wars and other organized cruelties like Muhammad and St. Dominic, as making for increased love and tolerance, like Patanjali and George Fox.

What an objective investigation of the inner life, or as I should  prefer to say, the study of life from inside, will reveal, is quite uncertain. It is at least imaginable that, apart from private worlds, described for example by Blake in his prophetic books and by Freud, it will reveal one or more objective realities, the same for all men and perhaps for many or all animals. I am thinking of what some Indian  philosophers call nirguna, That which has no qualities, in full agreement with Maimonides' and St. Thomas Aquinas' account of God (at least in the earlier chapters of the Summa Theologica) and in flat contradiction of the accounts given by most religious teachers. This exploration will be dangerous. Let us suppose that it becomes possible to induce proliferation of the formatio reticularis. If this is possible in an adult it will first be tried by a trained psychologist who volunteers for the job. Perhaps the first two volunteers will report a great extension of consciousness, while the third will go mad or develop an inoperable brain tumour. Or perhaps it may be impossible to induce proliferation in adults, and it will be necessary to do it in babies. To us this may seem horrible. I have often risked other peoples' lives in physiological experiments;  and though none died , at least one was permanently injured. But they were all volunteers, and I was taking the same risks as they. The exploration of the interior of the human brain will be as dangerous as that of the antarctic continent or the depths of the oceans, and far more rewarding. The “officer in command” must be a man of proved personal courage, but not so soft hearted as to leave his post of command because his orders have led to some deaths, mutilations, or psychoses. To judge from the eagerness with which parents nowadays urger their children to risk their life in wars, and say they have “given” their som if he does not return, I suspect that in society with different ideals to our own, many parents would be prepared to risk their baby's life in the hope that it might develop supernormal powers.

A parallel development will be many-dimensional art, expressed by the simultaneous movements of different muscles. Of course we have already the rudiments of this art in the dance, especially as practised in India. But in its fully developed form it would imply a real or imagined following by the audience of the dancer's movements. Such art would also be expressible by symbols like the musical scored of an orchestral composition; and just as, in order fully to appreciate one of Shakespeare's plays, we must see it performed, read it silently, and recite at least some of the leading passages, so many-dimensional art will make analogous demands. It is possible that this art would reveal a set of objective truths, as the arts of counting and drawing revealed the truths which we call arithmetic and geometry.

One of the senses which seems to be much better developed in some other animals, notably migrating birds, than in ourselves, is that of time. We rely so much on the sun, and now on our watches, that we have largely lost this sense, and those who perhaps possessed it in an abnormal degree, like Bergson and Proust, seem to me to have written a good deal of nonsense. The negative aspect of time, of which death is the most striking feature, might cease to oppress us if we could realize human life as a finite pattern in time, capable of all degrees of perfection. No doubt the drugs which alter our perception of time would help in this research, though I must confess that I find Cannabis preparations very disappointing, perhaps because I cannot express my experience in words or other symbols.

I think that even as soon as ten thousand years in the future there will be a real prospect of our species dividing into two or more branches, either through specialization for life on different stars or for the development of different human capacities. To me this seems a terrible danger, as such species should fail to understand one another even worse than I fail to understand a human being in the stage of savagery, an orchestral conductor, or an abstract painter. And such misunderstanding can generate quarrels and even war. But this may be a short-sighted view. Our descendants will be in a better position than we to weigh the advantages and drawbacks of speciation.

It may take a thousand years or so before we have a knowledge of human genetics even as full as our present very incomplete knowledge of organic chemistry. Till then we can hardly hope to do much for our evolution. However as our fastest aeroplanes can move about 300 times as fast as a human walker, we may hope that our descendants 10,000 years hence may have evolved as much as our ancestors did in three million years. I think that the fact of genetic homoeostasis will reduce this figure to about half a million, which, however, is thought to be about the time needed for the appearance of a new mammalian species. Even so our descendants would look pretty queer chaps to us, and behave even more queerly. Their activities will be particularly hard to classify. The same activity of a group in contemporary cultures may have analogies with ballet, religion, sport, experimental physiology, mathematics and even magic. Some of this syncretism would be more easily understood in India than in Europe or America today; and perhaps if most of the bricks of the unified science of the future are of European origin, India and China will have provided the mortar which holds them together into a coherent system.

My prediction that our descendants will be more interested in their own biology than we are, and have far more knowledge and control of it, will be criticized. If more visceral sensations will prolong our lives, some will ask, why has not natural selection favoured their increase? As long as the main causes of early death were famine and violence, survival was best secured by attending to the external world. With agriculture and urbanization, infection became an important killer. But again the danger was from outside. Further, without a fair knowledge of anatomy and physiology introspection is rather dangerous unless, as in yoga, it is elaborately controlled. Such introspection can gave very satisfactory by-products. Thus it is possible to cease to find moderated pain unpleasant. On two occasions I have walked for about a week or more with a fractured malleolus and a fractured metatarsus, which were not diagnosed because I kept on walking. I suspect that pain is a word which we apply to all sorts of sensations which we cannot adequately classify. If they become interesting they may cease to be unpleasant. Having undergone really intense thirst experimentally, I feel thirst far less than most Indians in hot weather. I have good evidence that others can achieve this state in the same way, as of course, they can though religious or magical practices. It will be vastly easier when we achieve a nomenclature for our bodily sensations, which we shall only do by provoking them under carefully controlled conditions. Similarly by understanding and intellectualizing their normal pleasures, our successors will, I hope, convert them into servants rather than masters. One of the human goals is emotional homoeostasis. I do not think this will be achieved by the massacre of emotions, as religious ascetics have attempted, but by their integration, as our nervous system integrates the activities of antagonistic muscles.

If the capacity for consciousness and control of physiological processes is prized by posterity, steps will probably be taken to make it commoner, and it may be that ten thousand years hence our descendants will differ from us not only in achievements but in capacities and aspirations, to so great an extent that it is useless to attempt to follow them further. It is doubtless more probable that human interests may be concentrated on some different goal, such as music, economic activity, or religion. I have sketched my own utopia, or as some readers may think, my own private hell. My excuse must be that the description of utopias has influenced the course of history.


(The following dialogue on Haldane's talk was printed in the same volume)

Ethical Considerations


Medawar: In some sense, the last paragraph of Haldane's paper confounds the rest of it. One of the lessons of history is that almost everything one can imagine possible will in fact be done, if it is thought desirable; what we cannot predict is what people are going to think desirable. In his predictions Haldane indulges in a two-fold exercise: saying what he thinks is possible, and at the same time saying what he thinks is desirable. By what conceivable process can we predict what people are going to think desirable even in fifty years time?

Haldane: We can't guess what will happen; St. Thomas More would have been very surprised to find Mr. Kruschev putting some of his ideas into practice.

Lederberg: For the benefit of any writer who is going to take up these ideas (although I don't think he will express them more elegantly than you did, Professor Haldane) I would like to point out a blind spot in most of our Utopian thinking about the modification of man. We seem to prefer to put off the problem by talking in terms of the next ten thousand years, which is the kind of time-scale on which genetic modification could just begin to be plausible. On a very much shorter time-scale, we are going to modify man experimentally through physiological and embryological alterations, and by the sub­stitution of machines for his parts. I wonder to what extent it is really worth thinking about genetic modification until we have made full use of these other methods. If we want a man without legs, we don't have to breed him, we can chop them off; if we want a man with a tail, we will find a way of grafting it on to him.


Ethical Considerations

Young: In the communication sphere especially, the deve­lopment of prostheses of all sorts, from computers onwards, produces possibilities which are quite fantastic. We cannot imagine what sort of answers we may be able to get to problems which now seem utterly insoluble, just as this discussion would be an absurd concept for a monkey population. Prosthesis seems to me the most likely source of change in the foreseeable future.

Huxley: Haldane also raised the very good point, that we need a new terminology before we can begin coping at all adequately with the subject.

Lederberg: I would like to stress that these are not long-term problems, they are upon us now, and we cannot afford to wait indefinitely for the kind of philosophy on which we can base our solutions.

Comfort: We have all been assuming that the exponential progress of science can go on indefinitely. I would have thought from what we said earlier about rates of change in society that our descendants might well benefit from a period of relaxation. They might have a period in which they have a rather less intense social drive, and perhaps become more shallow and superficial in some of their attitudes, by our standards; at the same time they may have less incentive to go on adding to dis­covery at quite our rate. I wonder if the preoccupations we have shown here may not seem as grotesque to our descendants as some of Oliver Cromwell's theological discussions do to us. We may be going to produce a generation, not so much of scientific puritans or of scientific activists, but of beatniks who are going to enjoy, for a while at any rate, the proceeds of what we are now laying down. Though Professor Haldane has not suggested it in quite this form, I feel he hinted at this when he talked about some of the uses which we may make of increased somaesthesia. The ancient Indians cultivated the art of love for both religious and practical reasons, and I think we may find ourselves cultivating similar aesthetic elaborations of pleasure. At least I hope our descendants will do so.

Huxley: I am sure you are right, Comfort, in thinking that the exponential curve of the growth of science will start bending

over in the not very distant future, and become asymptotic to some sort of limit; just as the growth of cities is already curving over and reaching a limit beyond which they cannot function. Similarly if we have too many scientific discoveries in a given time we may not be able to assimilate them.

Crick: One has to distinguish between knowledge reaching a limit and the rate of acquisition of knowledge reaching a limit. It is reasonable that the rate should be self-limiting, but unfor­tunately it is likely to reach saturation at a very high level. Moreover, I think that while there are competing societies this problem will remain. After all, one of the reasons why we get such support for science is because it has economic and political value to individual nations or groups of nations: this is why much of the money is made available.

Perhaps we shall have to have a world in which we are put back artificially into a series of small communities which compete culturally in some way. There are also certain real problems in connexion with world government, and with the limitation of population. How are nations or social groups going to agree to limit their populations when one wants to grow bigger than another, or fears to grow smaller?

The development of biology is going to destroy to some extent our traditional grounds for ethical beliefs, and it is not easy to see what to put in their place.

Price: I would like to draw some further consequences from the exponential growth of science1. One of the reasons why we are getting so much money and support for science is precisely because, in the well-developed countries, we are becoming more and more nervous simply because the curve is bending over. Deceleration is already setting in and we have nearly attained a saturation state. What is very odd is that the later a country "takes off" into that industrial revolution, which is now ending in some older countries, the faster technological progress goes. The old scientific countries of Europe plus America are now very rapidly reaching the point where they will be producing less than fifty per cent of all scientific dis­coveries. Our questions should be posed not in terms of what we are going to do with science, but what they will do. Very rapidly, within the next generation, the present "western scientific world" is going to become a minority, since the under-developed countries grow so very quickly. Add this to the nervousness of an over-developed country with a saturated rate of scientific advance, and the consequence to be expected is, not a moratorium on the growth of science in which we can pay some attention to other aspects of life, but a deep reaction in quite the opposite direction, towards competition and the maintenance of technological supremacy. I regard this as a very dangerous situation.

MacKay: In this context a serious limit may be set by the problem of information retrieval. As Norbert Wiener pointed out some years ago, the more information you produce, the more competent a man must be before he can sort out what is worth reading, and the more of his time he has to consume when he might have been doing productive work. No matter how hard we mechanize, this is liable to lead to some kind of levelling-off of progress to which no answer seems to be in sight.

Crick: The total rate of cumulation of scientific knowledge is liable to be maintained, regardless of whether the process is efficient or not.

Price: But science is not at all happy with a constant rate; science is an exponential animal and it gets terribly unhappy if you deny it the right amount of exponential growth.

Comfort: It isn't science, but the scientists who are unhappy, and I think that if we were like the Samoans we should be less violently motivated to maintain this frantic "progress".

Price: I am not sure that it is a social property of the scientist; it may well be a property of the interconnectivity of the network of knowledge.

Huxley: Surely science may evolve and curve over towards fewer but better-integrated networks of study. This will change the whole problem of publication; there will be fewer little separate bits of science that need to be added up; scientists will be working on large co-operative projects, which will be co­ordinated.

Price: Yes, we are changing the whole system of scientific communication; it is now clear that the scientific paper is a dead duck. One just doesn't lay down knowledge in little bricks like this any more. We have relinquished this sort of task to machine-handling and the scientist now does something rather different. He no longer has a personal stake in immor­tality by becoming Mr. Boyle of Boyle's Law: a quite different sociology of knowledge is coming into being.

Brain: It is obvious, I think, that we cannot isolate extra­polation from values. What is going to happen depends on what people will think good, and what we would like to happen depends upon what we now think good in these various contexts.

I want now to ask you whether in fact there is any conclusion to our discussion; whether you think that anything ought to be done about it, and if so what ? It seems clear that part of the difficulty of the situation in which we find ourselves comes from the fact that science operates very largely without foresight. People do good, in fact, that evil may come, though that is not their intention. It is a good thing to abolish malaria, but the net result is that the population increases, which puts a strain on the current food supplies. It was a Nigerian economist writing about this who said: "I know I ought not to say this, but I do hope that before they improve hygiene any more they will do something to improve agriculture." Chisholm made the point that people in under-developed countries are no longer accepting the situation as they used to—a situation in which 50 per cent of the children never grow up, for example, a situation only made tolerable by ideas such as reincarnation, a situation which rather recalls the acceptance by our great-grandparents of the loss of several children in every family, which was taken almost as a matter of course. Contact with European culture is rapidly changing all that.

Then we come to the time factor. As Brock has said, we may now foresee to some extent what ought to be done, but can we catch up with events? Because what is happening now is the product of what was done over the last twenty-five or thirty years. It seems to me that questions about the world's food supply, or the proportion of people who are undernourished, are almost meaningless; because when you actually come to do anything about it, however much you may achieve at the top level, you have ultimately got to come down to some village in Nigeria, which is on a track miles from the main road, which is bound by local cultural traditions, by agricultural techniques, by lack of seed potatoes. It looks as though ultimately whatever we may do at the top we come down to doing good by minute particulars, just as we have to change people's minds, if we can change them at all, individually.

We seem to be agreed that one essential is to educate people more in biological facts as a necessary preliminary to any action. Although we have heard so much about conflicting values, I have not felt that they are really the obstacle they seemed to be to start with; because I think we have seen that we do not deal with an abstract value and particular facts, but with a feedback mechanism in which both get changed. So, when we come to look back at views on population and birth control, we see a reflection of what is actually happening now. In time the force of facts alters the effect of values and action is finally taken.

Then there is the question of the price of progress, and the point that Koprowski raised about the effects of antibiotics in ridding us of infection. It is certainly true that as a result of immunization against poliomyelitis, virus infections are now seen which were not at all common before, leaving the clinical picture very much the same as it was. I am sufficiently opti­mistic to think that many of these problems will in fact be overcome. Part of the price of progress obviously is that people who would have died earlier, live on to provide geriatric problems; though I am sure they would rather live on to get rheumatism or strokes in old age than die at thirty-five of pneumonia.

There are also the iatrogenic diseases, where new drugs produce fresh diseases or monstrosities. Here there is a curious disturbance of the sense of proportion. When we had one or two cases of smallpox introduced into Britain there was some­thing like a panic, with people queueing up to be vaccinated.                                                                                       

At the same time, they tolerate twenty thousand people a year dying of lung cancer, five or six thousand dying in car accidents, a hundred thousand or more injured in road accidents, with apparent equanimity. Perhaps it just depends how many people are killed at a time. A hundred in an air crash gets much more reaction than a hundred people separately on the roads.

I would like to turn to the point that Haldane made about the problem of controlling degenerative diseases which occur in later life, presumably based on genetic changes but not selective because they do not manifest themselves until after the reproductive period. It would obviously be difficult to eliminate those, I imagine; but we may hope to do something in the way of prevention and treatment. But here again there is a problem, because one suspects that the causes of atheroma possibly, cancer possibly, may lie many years back. A biochemist in Ibadan made a speculative suggestion to explain why atheroma is so rare in Nigerians: it may be that deficiency of diet in childhood is the factor which prevents the preliminary changes which, many years afterwards, lead to the development of atheroma. If that is the sort of thing we have to look at, then the problem of preventing these diseases is going to be very long-term indeed, even assuming you could persuade people to do the thing which is going to prevent them from becoming ill years hence: which Haldane suggested might require compul­sion.

However that may be, there is perhaps a philosophical or religious aspect to what Koprowski said; obviously we have to live with imperfection, however effectively we may improve people by scientific methods. We are left with this residue of imperfection to which we have to adapt ourselves and which, of course, has been one of the problems for religions through all the ages.

I suppose we could all agree, whatever our fundamental beliefs, that it is desirable to have some standard of values upon which action can be based, and it is equally desirable to get some sort of satisfactory emotional relationship to the nature of things as a whole, even though it may be very partial and occur at a low level. Here I would like to ask a question: what is the implication of mental adaptation in the evolutionary sense? Men begin with erroneous scientific beliefs and erroneous reli­gious beliefs, but how far are these different universes of dis­course, how far are they different kinds of symbolization ? We use symbols in science for certain purposes, and there are adequate methods of verification. What about the functions of other types of symbolization in life? The most obvious example is art, but are there other fields of discourse, other uses of symbols which do not conflict with science but supplement it, yet nevertheless are so different that we cannot translate the one into the other. If that is true, is there not scope for different sets of symbolic language, which are equally important in our relations with things as a whole? And if that is so, what is the part played by these systems in evolution? Is it a condition of man's survival in the long run that he shall not adopt delusory ideas, either scientific or otherwise, but that he shall have some adequate form of symbolization which adjusts him to things in general and is associated with emotional satisfaction?

Finally, I would like to mention the point which Szent-Gyorgyi raised, namely, that we have reached the stage where we cannot understand the things we discover. I have the im­pression from what he said that it was rather that we cannot picture what we have discovered, but that we have other methods of understanding it. But does that apply elsewhere, does that apply in the sphere of ethics and action ? Have we reached the stage now, at which man has evolved so that he can no longer control the things on which his future destiny depends?'

Bronowski: I resisted the temptation to reply earlier when Colin Clark made what I thought was an excessively provoca­tive statement about values. But since Lord Brain has raised the issue again, and related it so forcibly to our future conduct, I would like to make a statement about values as I think humanists see them, or at any rate as my kind of humanist sees them. I think it will be found that these human values can have a profound influence in shaping the future towards ends which people can regard highly.

We have seen over the past three hundred years a scientific revolution whose effect on public opinion, and on the public tolerance of acknowledged evils—evils acknowledged by Christians and non-Christians alike—has been phenomenal. Slavery, cruelty to animals, public execution, a thousand evils have been abolished by a public opinion which has been moulded by science. These were evils which those who sat on the Inquisition recognized as evils, but did nothing to put right because they were too busy doing what they thought were more spiritual things. It is therefore, in my opinion, quite wrong to say that the accumulation of factual evidence in science has had no ethical effect. The very facts about how Jews are related to non-Jews, and Negroes to non-Negroes, has made civilized men feel differently, and feel ashamed, on these issues. I therefore deny those classical letters to The Times which bishops and re­tired admirals write every so often, that start with the phrase " Science is neutral". Even as an accumulation of facts, science is not neutral, because it invades the conscience of people with a sense of right and wrong applied to Minute Particulars—if I may borrow the phrase which Lord Brain has so eloquently borrowed from William Blake.

This is much, but there is much more. The deeper effect of science over the past three hundred years has been, not in the accumulation of true facts, but in making people aware that the very search for what is factually true is itself an ethical activity. What is true in a factual sense is quite differently regarded today from the way it was regarded three hundred years ago. A man who wants to find out the truth, even about how I am going to vote at the next election, is now more highly regarded than he was three hundred years ago—not to mention the time of the Inquisition.

The great ethical force of science has proved to be the dis­semination of the idea that truth is a thing which will in some way help us all. In this, we don't have to claim that truth is good, or beautiful, or absolute. We simply recognize that men have found that it is easier to run a society made up of indepen­dent individuals if they all acknowledge what is true.

Man is an extraordinary creature, and he has one gift to which we have made no reference at all: he is the only social solitary. He is the only creature who does his best thinking and working alone, but does it only in the setting of a society. This conflict, or this interplay, between what is socially acceptable to his society, and what is personally desirable to him, makes up the whole problem of ethics. We have now learned to acknowledge that to be truthful makes it easier for man to be both solitarily creative and socially sustained than any alternative behaviour. I regard that as the major step that science has made in producing an ethic.

Now as soon as you acknowledge the effective importance of truth, you bring in its train a whole system of values. You have to have justice, you have to have independence, you have to have freedom. Since I said all this in detail in a book, Science and Human Values, I won't elaborate it here2. There I showed that once you organize a set of people like the Royal Society, or the Academy of Sciences, so that they have an overriding allegiance to "what is factually true, then you build up, of necessity, social values between them. If cheating is not allowed, however ex­pedient the occasion, then people like Kammerer prefer to shoot themselves rather than live in shame in the society of scientists.

 The Old Testament and Puritan virtues of justice, tolerance, freedom, independence—these are the virtues that have been spread by what I call "the scientific ethic". However, the scientific ethic is not the whole of ethics. The Old Testament does not contain all the virtues; and if I for one regard the growth of the biological sciences as critical for the future of man, it is because they may make accessible those inner truths, the psychological truths, which so far have not been fostered by science. So far, these personal values—the new Testament vir­tues of love and tenderness, for example—are enshrined in works of art: in Anna Karenina, the Dialogues of Socrates, and the paint­ings of Rembrandt. I do not know how they are communi­cated. Yet the arts do somehow give us the feeling of sharing  with other people a common psychological truth. This is the universal importance of works of art. The virtues of kindness and love and altruism are communicated by them, by the recogni­tion that what is psychologically true for me is in some sense also psychologically true for you.

 I think that the continuing development of science, and particularly of the life sciences, will make a unity of the values of science and of our artistic values. It will do so by disseminat­ing and illuminating the feeling that human beings do share other experiences than those which can be published in scientific papers. I am, therefore, not in the least ashamed to be told by somebody else that my values, because they are grounded in my science, are relative, and his are given by God. My values, in my opinion, come from as objective and definitive a source as any god, namely the nature of the human being. And they differ from those of people who claim that their values come from God in only one respect; that the human being is still developing, and therefore my values are expanding and changing and are not written down on tablets of stone. That makes my values richer, I think; and it makes them no less objective, no less real, than any values that can be read in the Testaments.

MacKay: With all due respect, Bronowski has got the cart before the horse. What he has said shows in fact that it was the concern for truth and the like which begot science, not science which begot the concern for truth. Such ethical values are, of course, essential to the practice of science, and the more people we teach to be scientists the more we should disseminate these values. As a matter of historical fact, however, it was mainly Christian men, inspired by a more biblical attitude to nature than the Aristotelian-scholastic tradition had shown, who founded the Royal Society.

 What science (as such) does for us has something of the double-edged neutrality of a searchlight. Science can spotlight features we would not otherwise have known in the jungle of our existence. This makes us responsible both for choosing where to point its light, and for making judgments of value in the situation it reveals or clarifies.

 Where, however, are we to find a basis for these judgments? Crick's honest admission that science does not provide us with such an ultimate basis accords with my own feeling. If we let go of our anchor in the one dimension which has some hope of answering questions of value—namely the religious dimension, in which the question of the origin and meaning of existence is asked—then we are indeed ethically anchorless. When you look closely into the logic of the arguments people have advanced for throwing away the rope, you find it, I believe, as full of non sequiturs  as any produced by their opponents. The experience of this has helped me, like many others, to a strong conviction that for our generation the way forward will be first to look back again, and to recover what we have irrationally lost in the enthusiasm of opposing people who drew mistaken inferences in the name of the Christian religion.

 To go on to a more technical point, it seems to me that our biggest lack at the moment is in our whole understanding of the nature of the process of valuation. For an acute analysis of this problem I would particularly like to recommend the chapter by Sir Geoffrey Vickers in a forthcoming symposium entitled The Environment of the Metropolis3.

 Our understanding of what it is to arrive at a common judgment of value is as primitive by comparison with what we would like it to be, as pre-scientific thought is by contrast with science today. One of our most pressing needs, I would suggest, is for men of a greater variety of experience than scientists to get together with us and try to understand more about the nature of the characteristically human process by which valuation is performed.

Huxley:  One of man's major properties is that he is always evaluating and creating values. How has this function of valuing developed and how and why have his values evolved in his relatively brief psychosocial existence?

Young: You refer only to man in his evolution as a psycho-social creature, but I think too little has been said about the early stages of biological evolution. We have talked only about the past ten thousand years as a guide to the next ten thousand years, but there is surely something to be learned from the previous five hundred million or so. There seems to be some principle of change inherent in the system which we do not yet understand, and which I feel sure has great lessons for us.

Huxley: I agree that the roots of human valuation are in our animal ancestry, and we have always to relate our thoughts on ethical and other values to the studies of the ethologists, who are doing remarkable pioneer work on behaviour.

Comfort: I would like to take up what Bronowski said. Not only has science given us a completely new valuation of integ­rity, but it seems to me the important difference from past hypotheses is that science makes it to some extent self-validating. If you are going to adopt the attitude that for ideological reasons you will have none of Mendelian genetics, or you will have none of Einsteinian physics, then as a consequence you will not have beef or you will not have radio sets, in proportion to the degree that your opinions are irrational. Surely, the fundamental difference from past attempts to value reality in philosophical or religious terms is that now you are subject to this crude empirical test of performance. It gives me the hope that in future we shall have less irrationality merely on the grounds that irrationality does not in fact work.

Hoagland:  Anatol Rapoport has pointed out that while science has its own myths, as do all systems of thought, science can survive the smashing of its myths repeatedly and indeed gains strength from this very process. Hypotheses are destroyed by experiments and new ones are built up and confirmed or overthrown. Moreover, the people who destroy the myths of science are respected and even given Nobel prizes. They are not persecuted as heretics as they are under authoritarian systems of thought.

Szent-Gybrgyi: I think Lord Brain's remark about planning in science is a most important point, because progress can be harmful if it is not planned. For instance, we have introduced death control without birth control, and even feeding the hungry can turn out to be wrong. I fed the chickadees in my garden last year because they were hungry and now I have ten times as many chickadees as I had last year, and again they are hungry, only there are ten times as many of them.

 Chisholm said that we all act in two qualities, as individuals and as members of a group. I would go further and emphasize that we have two sets of reflexes, and the evaluation reflexes are entirely different in the individual as compared with the group. Let us consider the following list:











These are the most common crimes in decreasing order of gravity. But they are crimes only as long as they are committed individually within the group. When they are committed by our group in its struggle with other groups, they become virtues, the road to glory. The rape of the Sabine women is still one of the golden chapters of Roman history!

Bronowski:    They were only solving a population problem!

Szent-Gyorgyi:  One of the great troubles of our time is that governments represent group morality. I can even feel it within myself when I am going to the polls, and become for a while a small part of the government; then my values become those of the group and not of the individual. In Massachusetts at the last election we elected to high office somebody who was actually in jail for fraud; apparently we trusted him to represent our group morality better than any Harvard egg-head.

Lederberg:  Whatever the value of this ethical discussion, we can hardly take it on ourselves to decide these issues for the rest of the world. I do believe, however, that it is extremely important that the rest of the world should have the opportunity to discuss them; and as Crick has pointed out, public informa­tion on the possibilities of human modification, which is part of what we are talking about here, is not widely available or prevalent, particularly in the seats of high political power.

 The biological competence of governments has been called into question, and perhaps we should spend some time thinking

 what to do about that. This is a practical issue of tremendous importance if this kind of discussion is to reach all the levels where it ought to be noticed. It is the technical judgment of time-scale of these considerations which is most important.

Huxley: What we want is neither a very long-term nor a very short-term plan; but special attention should be paid to better education, which would involve only a one-generation lag.

Comfort: I think it would be a great mistake for us to brief the Cabinet on these lines. I feel sure we could only put ideas into their heads! What we want to do is to brief the public before the Cabinet finds out more about science than it now knows, to enable the public to control the delinquent activities of the government in the future.

Bronowski:  Szent-Gyorgyi implies by his list of private crimes and public virtues that our great need is to stop people who have had a classical education from reaching positions of power—I draw this conclusion because, of course, the group virtues that the list represents are the values taught by a classical education!

Szent-Gyorgyi:  Individual and group behaviour show a complete reversal. As members of our group we not only take  life easily, we even give up  life easily. All our individual reflexes serve to preserve our lives, but most of us are ready to die for our country. As individuals we try to enrich ourselves, but for our group we readily give up our belongings. We have two different, if not completely antagonistic, codes of behaviour. So when discussing evaluation we should always state which code we are using.

Wright: Would you carry this principle right through, so that personal virtues  would become, so to speak, public vices?

Szent-Gyorgyi: Yes, indeed. Refusal to kill, for instance, is one of the gravest offences in war.

Koprowski: I wonder what right we have to assume, as a group, an attitude of superiority over our governments. If we are to be governed by somebody I am not sure that we should choose this group, for instance, as an ideal government for any country.

Comfort: If we were in the government's shoes, we should be just as much of a menace to everybody else, in spite of our superior knowledge. The error lies in allowing any group in society to arrogate to themselves the power which governments arrogate to themselves, and which perhaps Muller appeared to arrogate to scientists in his paper, perhaps through over-confidence. I am not attributing improper motives to govern­ments. I am merely saying that they have an impossible task, and one which we should encourage them to lay down.

Hoagland: I cannot altogether agree with Szent-Gyorgyi on some of these matters. When one compares the views of responsible people in government with those of most intellec­tuals one finds much more in common than is apparent super­ficially. The stereotypes of military people I have found may not be at all characteristic of top-flight people in government and in the military establishment. They are well informed and deeply concerned about these issues. They may be even more frustrated than we are, because tackling these problems at a practical level is a daily issue with them.

 In the United States today there are a number of groups that are much concerned with ethical issues; for example, there is a group called the Institute for Religion in an Age of Science. It consists primarily of scientists, philosophers and theologians, who get together to discuss some of these matters. There is also a new Institute on Ethics being developed in New York which plans to send western representatives to India and other countries, to meet scholars and discuss problems of common human concern. It is surprising, when one meets such people, to discover the extensive common ground that is true for all of us. The humanitarian viewpoint, regardless of one's formal religion or its lack, seems to permeate increasingly into such international discussions.

 There is a deep feeling of alarm and frustration, at all levels of society in the United States, in relation to nuclear war. I have had occasion to give a number of talks to lay groups, including some very conservative groups of business men who a few years ago would have been hostile to the views I have expressed about world government under law, disarmament and arms control and the curtailment of national sovereignties, including our own. There is much more receptivity for such views today.

Price:  The point surely, is not that individuals in charge of the group have ethics opposed to those of normal individuals, but that the group as a whole has some sort of homoeostasis that is opposite in sign to that of the individual. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that scientists are very peculiar in their organiza­tion. They are the one group in which the ethics of the whole appear to be the same as those of the individual. I gather that quite a lot of discussion has been directed towards this type of scientific understanding, which might give one a group ethic similar to that of the individual, a point that is not shared by the unscientific political control of the group.

Chisholm:    I want to return for a moment to Szent-Gyorgyi's list.   We have  a system of ethics for individuals  to which, generally speaking, we all subscribe, within our own culture at least; but we don't expect our governments, that is to say our group, to subscribe to the same set of ethics at all.   The group inherits its own definition of its own ethics in relation to its national purpose, which has been inherited all the way back from the old man who made the law by his own whim or will. The nation inherits that same freedom from external control, so that we still do not expect our governments to be civilized, that is to say, we have not set up a law to which our govern­ments are expected to conform.  I think the mark of civilization is essentially a law that is mutually agreed and demands con­formity. We have left our nations out of it because this was the limit of our feeling of integration,  the limit of our area of responsibility up till now.  But the next step in social evolution and indeed moral evolution,  it seems  to me,  is to require governments also to become civilized.   This is what I think Szent-Gyorgyi is saying; we are civilized up to our national boundaries but beyond that we are not.

Trowell:  Speaking for the religious approach, I can find little basis for disagreement with much of Bronowski's humanist point of view. There are, of course, some other things we should like to add for those who voluntarily choose to be associated with us in Christian religious belief, things like worship and the sacraments, which to us are a source of strength and guidance. But when we talk about these basic ethical considerations which concern all humanity, I feel we are essentially in agreement. We may all have misgivings because we don't know enough about the genetical basis for planning; also there are many other aspects, psychological, social and religious, which we have barely considered. Speaking for my own, the Anglican Church, I think we feel that religious ethics must evolve, even progress, although we look to certain great sources for help in this matter, religious sources such as the Scriptures and the tradition of the whole Christian Church.

MacKay:  Dr. Trowell would scarcely have made that remark had this been a group of German biologists of the Nazi variety. Certainly Christianity is itself a humanitarian and humanist view of the world. It does indeed say more than those who are humanists but not Christians, but in so far as it is a humanist view of the world, there is a great area of overlap with others who call themselves humanists. To that extent, of course, one should expect collaboration and co-operation to be possible and vital. But the important thing is to be prepared for genuinely creative clashes in fearless honesty when issues arise on which neither the Christian nor the humanist "hand­books" have a clearly worked-out answer. One such issue was slavery, which Bronowski mentioned. And in view of his remarks it is only fair to point out that it was Wilberforce, one of the enthusiastic Evangelicals of the Clapham sect—Wilber­force the Christian, not the scientist—who was the moving spirit in the abolition of slavery. Here, as it happened, their Christian religion brought them to see a need for humanitarian reform that none of the scientists or theologians of previous generations had urged with any force. But surely it is pointless, as well as irrational, to seek credit for science as if it were in competition with religion in these matters. Whatever the merits of particular religions, they are logically no more rivals of science than a compass is of a map. From a Christian standpoint at any rate, I believe that God expects a man to do equal justice to scientific and to religious knowledge, since He is the giver of both.

Crick:     The considerable degree of agreement which cer­tainly can be reached between "biological humanists"  and people with a Christian background appears to me to be an historical accident.   When one first discards Christian belief, more of the ethics and the patterns of thought remain than one could possibly anticipate until over the years one has thought about a large number of issues like these we have been discussing. I foresee that if we were to remove the Christian ethic completely (or those of any other religious system)   and simply go on roughly, by a rule of thumb, with our biological knowledge, we might well come to a quite different set of ethical values. But I do not see how these can be given a logical  justification. I do not think they will be the same as the present ones for the reason that MacKay gave, namely, that all the time new facts and values are being fed into the system; society can in fact develop in different ways and may thus end up with different stable systems of thought.   It is perfectly true, as Bronowski says, that in order to pursue science you have to have certain values concerning truth and so forth, but they do not necessarily coincide sufficiently with the Christian values for other practical purposes.   Take the suggestion of making a child whose head is twice as big as normal.   There is going to be no agreement between Christians and any humanists who lack their particular prejudice about the sanctity of the individual, and who simply want to try it scientifically.   One must face the fact that there is eventually bound to be a conflict of values.  It is hopeful that at the moment we can get a measure of agreement, but I think that in time the facts of science are going to make us become less Christian.

Haldane:    We have left out what may be the most important ethical fact about applied science, namely, that it magnifies pre-existing evils until they are seen to be intolerable. Two hundred years ago, you and I might have been walking about with swords, but we are not now allowed to walk about with Mills bombs or automatic pistols. I pointed this out forty years ago, and was rather complacent about it. The trouble is that everything is happening too quickly with these atomic bombs. When an evil is sufficiently magnified everyone recog­nizes it as an evil, and that is one of the things that science does.

Wright: To return to the question of what we, as a group, can do about this: I have worked with politicians a great deal and I deprecate the view that they arc a different race. I think government has been defined as the art of the possible, and this in fact is what the politician is trying to do. As a scientific adviser it was my job to point out to the politician what I felt to be desirable, after obtaining as much information as I could on a given scientific point. But it was his job  to see what he could get done. This is less easy, because he has to measure the possibilities of public acceptance of alternative policies. It seems to me that we overlook this aspect of what can be done, and that we should not say "Well, we as scientists would do this, but of course the politicians stop us." This is a negative approach; we and the politicians must together try to discover how we can take the people with us. This is primarily, of course, a matter of education.

Price: I  would like to take up Wright's challenge. There is something we can do directly or very shortly in the future. Part of the business of the transition to a Big Science phase is that scientists are becoming very much more numerous and are becoming immensely more powerful and prestigeous. With-in this generation the scientist will cease to be the man on tap, and become the man on top. The motivation of scientists seems to be changing in an interesting manner, so that the course of direct political action, previously anathema, now seems to be becoming respectable. Scientists are now extruded rather more rapidly and numerously from the research front and they get—in the vernacular—kicked upstairs to positions of political responsibility, so that many scientists actually have                             their hands on the controls of political action. This is happening within the present generation and is one of the most optimistic things about the future of man.

Wright: I  agree, provided it is not simply pure "scientists" to whom you refer, but people who have had a broad scientific training or background.

Medawar:     Groups of this kind usually end up by agreeing on one thing, namely, that more education is what is wanted. I am unable to see how that view can be reconciled with the incredible diversity of opinion which has been expressed here. 1 really do not know, even if we took a census of opinion, what principles we would teach or what beliefs we would try to inculcate.  This is the thing that has impressed me most about this meeting—the sheer diversity of our opinions, not merely between people like Trowell and Crick, but between people in the same narrow profession.    I think this diversity of opinion is both the cause and the justification of our being obliged to do good in minute particulars.   It is the justification of what Karl Popper called "piecemeal social engineering".   One thing we might agree upon is that all heroic solutions of social problems are thoroughly undesirable  and that we should proceed in society as we do in science.   In science we do not leap from hilltop to hilltop, from triumph to triumph, or from discovery to discovery; we proceed by a process of exploration from which we sometimes learn to do better, and this is what we ought to do in social affairs.

Huxley: Much advance, both in biological evolution and in psychosocial evolution, including advance in science, is of course obtained by adding minute particulars, but at intervals something like crystallization from a super-saturated solution occurs, as when science arrives at an entirely new concept, which then unifies an enormous amount of factual data and ideas, as with Newton or Darwin. Major advance occurs in a series of large steps, from one form of organization to another.

In our psychosocial evolution I believe we now are in a position to make a new major advance, for instance in educa­tion. We can now educate people in the evolutionary concept and in the ecological concept, neither of which were in existence a hundred years ago (except in a very rudimentary form) but which are now turning out to be very important ways of organizing our thinking about life and its environment. Indeed there are many important new concepts which we could bring out in a radically reorganized educational system.

Brain:  We might end our symposium with another remark of Blake's: "Without contraries is no progression." All that remains is to thank you all for coming, and to repeat what Bronowski so aptly said, "We met as colleagues and we part as friends."




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