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Bernal’s Syn Thesis

Posted: Fri, April 12, 2013 | By: Miscellaneous

by Franco Cortese

In this fifth and penultimate part of his fantastic futurist text - the one that Arthur C. Clarke called “one of the most brilliant attempts at scientific prediction ever made” - J.D Bernal considers some farther future possibilities, and a new direction in the evolution of Man.

V. Synthesis

Having followed our main lines of change separately, it now remains for us to consider the interaction between the physical, physiological and psychological elements of future human evolution. It is very easy to see the relations of the first two: the colonization of space and the mechanization of the body are obviously complementary. The dissimilarity between the conditions of life in space and on the earth would in itself be sufficient to cause perfectly normal, unassisted, evolutionary changes in human beings, but obviously spatial conditions would be more favorable to mechanized than to organic man. If he could get rid of the major part of his body and his necessity for a relatively large intake of oxygen and water-saturated food, the cellular nature of the celestial globes would cease to be necessary. This would give mechanized man an advantage similar to that which the relatively flexible and naked animal cell has over the rigidly demarcated plant. Besides, it is only in space that the potentialities of the more highly developed forms of complex minds would have an adequate field of functioning, particularly in their extended time relations.

It may be that we are approaching or will ultimately reach a conception of time that will make transit in time as easy as transit in space. But all our present knowledge, apart from our desires, suggests that it is improbable. Even if time and space were made equivalent, to gain a second of the future would be equivalent to travelling 180,000 miles. But even without a fundamental change in the conception of time the time faculties of mechanized man would still be very different from ours. Extension will be its chief character: already in the monkey stage the actual present of an animal embraces a short part of the past and future. Anticipation of movement, through muscular innervation and memory, by its retention of nerve impulse images, extend the present to the limit of a second or so. Every time we play tennis we are prophets without knowing of the future position of the ball which is conceived of as present. In the human stage we have extended mostly backwards as memory, our immediate prevision being limited by lack of scientific knowledge. It is now rapidly increasing, but is not usually accepted as prevision because it is conscious and intellectual. However, prevision plainly tends to become more and more deductive, and, to the mechanized man, the immediately apprehended may include years or centuries of past and future.

One may picture then, these beings, nuclearly resident, so to speak, in a relatively small set of mental units, each utilizing the bare minimum of energy, connected together by a complex of ethereal intercommunication, and spreading themselves over immense areas and periods of time by means of inert sense organs which, like the field of their active operations, would be, in general, at a great distance from themselves. As the scene of life would be more the cold emptiness of space than the warm, dense atmosphere of planets, the advantage of containing no organic material at all, so as to be independent of both these conditions, would be increasingly felt.

It is when we turn to the interaction on the psychological plane that the difficulties again occur. The physical and the psychological have a mutual influence which it is very difficult at the present moment to estimate. Undoubtedly, if modern tendencies have any elements of permanency in them, a great deal of the activity of the future will be devoted to the end of a greater understanding of the universe. Humanity, or its descendants, may well be much more occupied with purely scientific research and much less with the necessity of satisfying primarily physiological and psychological needs than it is at present. This character may stamp the whole of future development, so that machinery will be organized not for production but for discovery. Indeed, the great necessity for production either of food or other articles of consumption will disappear rapidly with the progress of dehumanization. But such changes are small compared with those which would necessarily be involved by the physiological alterations which I have suggested.


The human mind evolved always in the company of the human body, and of the animal body before it was human. The intricate connections of mind and body must exceed our imagination, as from our point of view we are peculiarly prevented from observing them. Altering in any perfectly sound physiological or surgical way the functionings of the body will certainly have secondary but far-reaching effects on the mind, and these secondary effects will be still unpredictable at the time when the physiological changes take place. But it is thoroughly in accord with both human and natural evolution that secondary changes should not be taken into account when reacting to the primary desire or stimulus: in other words, the physiological steps will probably be taken without consideration of the psychological consequences, which may, of course, wreck the whole organism, or, on the other hand, lead to an unpredictable large increase in mental grasp and efficiency. It is on account of this delicate balance between physiological and psychological factors that the future, as well as the present, will be full of dangerous turning-points and pitfalls. We shall have very sane reactionaries at all periods warning us to remain in the natural and primitive state of humanity, which is usually the last stage but one in their cultural history. But the secondary consequences of what men have already done - the reactionaries as much as any - will carry them away then as now. Obviously certain considerable psychological displacements or perversions must occur to balance the physiological perversions. The sexual instincts in particular, which still find considerable direct gratification, would be unrecognizably changed. One may assume that there is some kind of principle of psychological conservation which will prevent them, as it has prevented them up to the present, being suppressed altogether. But what will they be changed into? The solution may be an extension of sublimation, a process which is at present outside conscious control but which may not always remain so. A part of sexuality may go to research, and a much larger part must lead to ├Žsthetic creation. The art of the future will, because of the very opportunities and materials it will have at its command, need an infinitely stronger formative impulse than it does now. The cardinal tendency of progress is the replacement of an indifferent chance environment by a deliberately created one. As time goes on, the acceptance, the appreciation, even the understanding of nature, will be less and less needed. In its place will come the need to determine the desirable form of the humanly-controlled universe which is nothing more nor less than art.

The psychology of a complex mind must differ almost as much from that of a simple, mechanized mind as its psychology would from ours; because something that must underlie and perhaps be even greater than sex is involved. By the intimate intercommunication of minds, the very existence of the ego would be impaired for the first time. Some kind of equilibrium will have to be found between each partial and corporate personality. This we can vaguely adumbrate when we think of the conflicts involved between ego and sexual impulses, the latter attempting always to break the isolation of the former and reach out to another individual or a group. If it is once possible to achieve this reaching out of feeling, the results are bound to be enormous and perhaps overwhelming. Will the corporate personalities form greater and greater complexes until there is only one intelligence, or will there be a multiplication of separate and differently-evolving complexes with resulting conflicts? Spatial considerations seem on the whole to favor the latter view, but we must allow for enormous increases in communications and in the capacity for rational conduct.


Another even deeper psychological consideration arises at this point. What is to be the future of feeling? Is it to be perverted or superseded altogether? In other words, are the mechanical or corporate men of the future to be emotional or rational? Here we have very little to guide us; we are not certain whether the comparative coldness of modern intellectualism is the effect of considerable development or of dangerous perversion. Even if we did know the answer to this it would hardly help us, since our new beings would have a different physiological balance. This balance will not be, as in us, at the mercy of the uncontrolled interactions of individual and environment. Feeling, or at any rate, feeling-tones, will almost certainly be under conscious control: a feeling-tone will be induced in order to favor the performance of a particular kind of operation. Of course, it would be excessively dangerous for human beings in their present state to have this control of their feelings. A great majority would probably be content to remain in a state of more or less ecstatic happiness, but the man of the future will probably have discovered that happiness is not an end of life. This is as far as we may go even in guessing. The psychology of the completely mechanized organism must remain a mystery.

Viewed from the standpoint of the present the carrying out of such a program of human development must seem a very pointless occupation; but it is doubtful whether the present civilization would appear to an educated Athenian as something worthy to mark the culmination of his efforts. We must not assume a static psychology and a further static knowledge. The immediate future which is our own desire, we seek; in achieving it we become different; becoming different we desire something new, so there is no staleness except when development itself has stopped. Moreover, development, even in the most refined stages, will always be a very critical process; the dangers to the whole structure of humanity and its successors will not decrease as their wisdom increases, because, knowing more and wanting more they will dare more, and in daring will risk their own destruction. But this daring, this experimentation, is really the essential quality of life.


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