The Ultimate Revolution by Aldous Huxley (sample), posted with vodpod
Full Lecture Text
Our guest is Mr Aldous Huxley, a renowned essayist and a novelist who during the spring semester is residing at the university in his capacity as a Ford Research Professor. Mr Huxley has recently returned from a conference at the Institute for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara where discussion focused on the development of new techniques by which to control and direct Human Behavior.
Traditionally it has been possible to suppress individual freedom through the application of physical coercion, through the appeal of idealologies, through the manipulation of man’s physical and social environment and more recently through the techniques, the cruder techniques of psychological conditioning.
The Ultimate Revolution about which Mr Huxley will speak today concerns itself with the development of new behavioral controls which operate directly upon the psycho-physiological organisms of man. That is, the capacity to replace external constraint by internal compulsions. As those of us who are familiar with Mr Huxley’s works well know, this is a subject of which he has been concerned for quite a period of time. Mr Huxley with make a presentation of approximately half an hour followed by some brief discussions and questions by the two panelists sitting to my left Miss Lillian Rivilan and Mr John Post. Mr Huxley….
First of all, the, I would like to say, the conference in Santa Barbara was not directly concerned with the control of the mind. That was a conference – there have been two of them now at the University of California Medical Centre in San Fran Cisco, one this year where I didn’t attend and one two years ago where there was a considerable discussion on this subject – at Santa Barbara we were talking about technology in general and the affects it’s likely to have on society and the problems related to technological – transplanting of technology into underdeveloped countries.
Well now in regard to this problem of the Ultimate Revolution, this has been very well summed up by the moderator. In the past we can say that all revolutions have essentially aimed at changing the environment in order to change the individual. There’s been the political revolution, the economic revolution, in the time of the reformation, the religious revolution. All these aimed, as I say, not directly at the human being but at his surroundings so that modifying the surroundings, so that you did achieve, at one remove, an effect upon the human being. Today we are faced I think with the approach of what may be called the Ultimate Revolution, the final revolution, where man can act directly on the mind-body of his fellows. Well needless to say, some kind of direct action on human mind-bodies has been since the beginning of time. But this has generally been of a violent nature. The techniques of terrorism have been known from time in memorial, people have employed them with more or less ingenuity, sometimes with the utmost crudity and sometimes with a good deal of skill acquired by process of trial and error, finding out what the best ways of using torture, imprisonment, constraints of various kinds. But as, I think it was the ‘metanic’ said many years ago, ‘you can do everything with bare nits except sit on them’, that if you are going to control any population for any length of time, you must have some measure of consent, it’s exceedingly difficult to see how pure terrorism could function indefinitely. It can function for a fairly long time, but I think sooner or later you have to bring in an element of persuasion, an element of getting people to consent to what is happening to them.
Well it seems to me, that the nature of the Ultimate Revolution with which we are now faced, is precisely this, that we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy, who have always existed and presumably always will exist, to get people actually to love their servitude. This seems to me the ultimate in malevolent revolution, shall we say. This is a problem which has interested me for many years, and about which I wrote thirty years ago, a fable, A Brave New World, which is essentially the account of a society making use of all the devices at that time available, and some of the devices which I’ve imagined to be possible, making use of them in order to, first of all, in order to standardize the population, to iron out inconvenient human differences. To create, so to say, mass produced models of human beings, arranged in some kind of a scientific cast system.
Since then I have continued to be extremely interested in this problem and I have noticed, with increasing dismay that a number of the predictions which were purely fantastic when I made them thirty years ago, have come true or seem in process of coming true. A number of techniques about which I talked seem to be here already, and that there seems to be a general movement in the direction of this kind of Ultimate Revolution. This method of control by which people can be made to enjoy a state of affairs by which, by any decent standard, they ought not to enjoy. The enjoyment of servitude.
This process as I say, has gone on over the years, and I’ve become more and more interested in what is happening, and here I would like briefly to compare the parable of Brave New World with another parable which was put forth more recently in George Orwell’s book 1984.
Orwell wrote his book between, I think between ’45 and ’48, at the time when the Stalinist terror regime was still in full swing and just after the collapse of the Hitlerian terror regime, and his book which I admire greatly, it’s a book of very great talent and extraordinary ingenuity, shows, it’s so to say, a projection into the future of the immediate past, what for him was the immediate past and the immediate present. It was a projection into the future of a society where control was exercised wholly by terrorism and violent attacks upon the mind-body of the individuals. Where as my own book which was written in 1932, when there was only a mild dictatorship in the form of Mussolini in existence, was not overshadowed by the idea of terrorism and I was therefore free in a way which Orwell was not free, to think about these other methods of control, these non-violent methods. And I’m inclined to think that the scientific dictatorships of the future, and I think there are going to be scientific dictatorships in many parts of the world, will be probably, a good deal nearer to the Brave New World pattern than to the 1984 pattern. They’ll be a good deal nearer, not because of any humanitarian qualms in the scientific dictators, but simply because the Brave New World pattern is probably a good deal more efficient than the other. If you can get people to consent to the state of affairs in which they are living, the state of servitude, the state of having their differences ironed out and being made amenable to mass-production methods of the social level, if you can do this then you have, you are likely to have a much more stable, a much more lasting society, a much more easily controllable society than you would if you were relying wholly of clubs and firing squads and concentration camps. So that my own feeling is, that the 1984 picture was tinged of course, by the immediate past and the present in which Orwell was living, but the past and present of those years, does not represent, I feel, the likely trend of what is going to happen. Needless to say, we will never get rid of terrorism, this will always find its way to the surface, but I think in so far as dictators become more and more scientific, more and more concerned with the technically perfect, perfectly running society, they will be more and more interested in the kind of techniques which I imagined and described from existing realities, in Brave New World. It seems to me then that this Ultimate Revolution is really not very far away, already a number of the techniques for bringing about this kind of control are here. It remains to be seen, when and where and by whom they will first be applied in any large scale.
First let me talk a little bit about the improvement even in the techniques of terrorism. I think there have been improvements. Pavlov after all, made some extremely profound observations both on animals and on human beings, and he found, among other things, that conditioning techniques applied to animals or to humans in the state of psychological or physical stress (unsychronised life energy) sank in to say, very deeply into the mind-body of the creature and were extremely difficult to get rid of, they seem to be embedded more deeply than other forms of conditioning. This of course, this fact, was discovered empirically in the past, people did make use of many of these techniques. But the difference between the old empirical intuitive methods and our own methods, is the difference between a sort of hit and miss craftsman’s point of view and the genuinely scientific point of view. I think there is a real difference between ourselves and say the inquisitors of the sixteenth century. We know much more precisely what we are doing than they knew, and we can extend because of our theoretical knowledge, we can extend what we are doing over a wider area with a greater assurance of producing something which really works.
In this context, I would like to mention the extremely interesting chapters in Dr William Sergeant’s, ‘Battle for the Mind’, where he points out how intuitively some of the great religious teachers, leaders of the past hit on the Pavlovian method, he speaks specifically of Wesley’s method of producing conversions, which were essentially based on the technique of heightening psychological stress to the limit by talking about hellfire and so making people extremely vulnerable to suggestion, and then suddenly releasing this stress by hopes of heaven. This is a very interesting chapter, showing how completely on purely intuitive and empirical grounds, a skilled natural psychologist which Wesley was, could discover these Pavlovian methods. Well as I say, we now know the reason why these techniques worked and there is no doubt at all that we can if we want to, carry them much further than was possible in the past. And of course in the recent history of brain-washing, both as applied to prisoners of war and to the lower personnel within the communist party in China, we see that the Pavlovian methods have been applied systematically and evidently with extraordinary efficacy. I think there can be no doubt, by the application of these methods, a very large army of totally devoted people, has been created. The conditioning has been driven in so to say, by kind of psychological ontophoresis into the very depths of people’s being and has got so deep that it’s very difficult for it ever to be rooted out. These methods I think are a real refinement on the older methods of terror, because they combine methods of terror with methods of acceptance. The person is subjected to a form of terroristic stress, but for the purpose of inducing a kind of voluntary acceptance of the state, the psychological state into which he has been driven and the state of affairs in within which he finds himself. So that, as I say, there has been, I think, a definite improvement, shall we say even in the techniques of terrorism.
Then we come to consideration of other techniques, of non-terroristic techniques for inducing consent and for inducing people to love their servitude. Here I think we can, I don’t think I can possibly go into all of them because I don’t know all of them, but I mean I can mention a few of the more obvious methods which can now be used and which are based upon recent scientific findings. First of all there are the methods connected with straight suggestion and hypnosis. I think we know much more about this subject that was known in the past. People of course have always known about suggestion, although they didn’t know the word ‘hypnosis’ they certainly practiced it in various ways. But we have, I think, a much greater knowledge of the subject than in the past and we can make use of our knowledge in which I think the past was probably never able to make use of it. For example one of the things we have, that we now know for certain, is that there is an enormous, I mean this has always been known, a very great difference between individuals in regard to their suggestibility. But we now, I think, know pretty clearly the statistical structure of a population in regard to its suggestibility. It’s very interesting when you look at the findings in different field, in the field of hypnosis, in the field of administering placebos for example, in the field of general suggestion in states of drowsiness or light sleep, you will find the same sorts of orders of magnitude continually cropping up. You will find for example, that the experienced hypnotists will tell one that the number of people, the percentage of people who can be hypnotized with the utmost facility, just like that, is about twenty 20%. The corresponding number at the other end of the scale are very very difficult or almost impossible to hypnotize and that in between there lies a large mass of people who can with more or less difficulty be hypnotized. They can gradually be, if you work hard enough at it, be got into the hypnotic state.
And in the same way, the same set of figures crop up again for example in the relation to the administration of placebos. A big experiment was carried out years ago, in the General Hospital in Boston on post-operative cases, where several hundred men and women, suffering comparable kinds of pain after serious operations, were given injections whenever they asked for them, whenever the pain got bad, and the injections fifty percent of the time were of morphine and fifty percent of the time, were of distilled water. And about twenty percent of those who went through the experiment, about twenty percent of them got just as much relief from the distilled water as from the morphine. About twenty percent got no relief from the distilled water, and in between were those who got some relief or got relief occasionally, so yet again we see the same sort of distribution. And similarly, with regard to, what in Brave New World I called ‘hypnopedia’ – the sleep teaching – I was talking not long ago with a man who manufactures records which people can listen to during their light part of sleep. I mean these are records for getting rich, for sexual satisfaction, for confidence in salesmanship and so on. And he said, it’s very interesting, that – these records are sold on a money back basis – and he says that there is regularly between fifteen and twenty percent of people who write indignantly, saying that the records don’t work at all he sends the money back at once. On the other hand, there are over twenty percent who write enthusiastically saying they’re now much richer, their sexual life is much better, et cetera et cetera, and these of course are the dream clients and they buy more of these records. And then in between are those who complain they are not getting much result, and they have to have letters written to them saying, ‘well go persist my dear, go on and you’ll get there.’ And they generally do, the generally do get results in the long run.
Well as I say, on the basis of this I think we see quite clearly that human populations can be categorized according to their suggestibility fairly clearly. I suspect very strongly that this twenty percent is the same in all these cases. And I suspect also that it would not be at all difficult to recognize in very early childhood, who are those who are extremely suggestible, who are those who are extremely unsuggestible and who are those who occupy the intermediate space. Quite clearly, if everybody were extremely unsuggestible, organized society would be quite impossible. And if everybody were extremely suggestible then dictatorship would be absolutely inevitable. I mean it’s very fortunate we have people who are moderately suggestible in the majority and who therefore preserve us from dictatorship, but so permit organized society to be formed. But once given the fact that there are these twenty percent of highly suggestible people, it becomes quite clear that this is a matter of enormous political importance. For example, any demagog who is able to get hold of a large number of these twenty percent of suggestible people and to organize them, is really in a position to overthrow any government, in any country.
I mean I think after all we’ve had the most incredible example in recent years of what can be done by efficient methods of suggestion and persuasion, in the form of Hitler. Anybody who’s read for example Bullock’s ‘Life of Hitler’ comes forth with this sort of horrified admiration for this infernal genius who really understood human weaknesses I think almost better than anybody. And who exploited them with all the resources then available. I mean he knew everything, for example, he knew intuitively this Pavlovian truth that conditioning installed in a state of stress or fatigue, goes much deeper than conditioning installed at other times. This was why all his big speeches were organized at night. He speaks of this quite frankly of course, he said this was done solely because people are tired at night and are therefore much less capable of resisting persuasion than they would be during the day. And we see all the techniques he was using, he had discovered intuitively and by trial and error. A great many of the weaknesses which we now know about in a scientific way, I think much more clearly than he did. But the fact remains that this differential suggestibility, this susceptibility to hypnosis, I do think is something which has to be considered very carefully, in relation to any kind of thought about democratic government. If there are twenty percent of the people who can really be suggested into believing almost anything, as evidently they can be, then we need to take extremely careful steps to prevent the rise of demogogs who will drive them on into extreme positions and then organize them into very very dangerous armies, private armies which may overthrow the government.
In this field of pure persuasion, I think we do know much more than we did in the past. And obviously we now have mechanisms for multiplying the demogog’s voice and image in a quite hallucinatory way, the television and the radio. Hitler was making enormous use of the radio, he could speak to millions of people simultaneously. This alone of course, provides an enormous gulf between the modern and the ancient demogog. The ancient demogog could only appeal to as many people as his voice could reach by yelling it his utmost, but the modern demogog can touch literally millions at a time. And of course with the multiplication of his image, can produce this kind of hallucinatory effect which is of enormous hypnotic and suggestive importance.
Well then there are the various other methods which one could think of, which have thank heaven, as yet, not been used, but which obviously could be used. There is for example, the pharmacological method, this was one of the things I talked about in Brave New World. I invented a hypothetical drug call solma, which of course, could not exist, as it stood there, because it was simultaneously a stimulant, a narcotic and a hallucinogen, which seems unlikely in one substance. But the point is, if you applied several different substances you could get almost all these results, even now. And the really interesting thing about the new chemical substances, the new mind-changing drugs, is this. If you look back into history it is clear that man has always had a hankering after mind-changing chemicals. He has always desired to take holidays from himself. But, and this is the most extraordinary fact of all, every naturally occurring stimulant, narcotic, sedative or hallucinogen was discovered before the dawn of history. I don’t think there is one single one of these naturally occurring ones which modern science has discovered. Modern science has of course discovered better ways of extracting the active principles from these drugs, and of course has discovered numerous ways of synthesizing new substances of extreme power. But the actual discovery of these naturally occurring things, was made by primitive man, goodness knows how many centuries ago. There is for example, underneath the early Neolithic lake dwellings which have been dug up in Switzerland, we find poppy heads, which looks as though people were already using this most ancient and powerful, most dangerous of narcotics even in the days before the rise of agriculture. So that man was apparently a dopamine addict before he was a farmer. A very very curious comment on human nature. The difference as I say, between the ancient mind-changers, the traditional mind-changers and these new substances, is that they were extremely harmful and the new ones are not. I mean even the permissible mind-changer, alcohol is not entirely harmless as people may have noticed, and the other ones, the non-permissible ones such as opium and cocaine, opium and all it’s derivititives, are very harmful indeed. The rapidly produce addiction and in some cases, lead in an extraordinary rate, to physical degeneration and death. Whereas these new substances, this is really very extraordinary, that a number of these new mind-changing substances can produce enormous revolutions with in the mental side of our being and yet do almost nothing to the physiological side. I mean you can have an enormous revolution for example with lsd 25 or with the newly synthesized drug psilocybin which is the active principle of the Mexican sacred mushroom you can have this enormous mental revolution with no more physiological revolution than you would get from drinking two cocktails. And this is really a most extraordinary effect and it is of course true that pharmacologists are producing a great many wonder drugs, where the cure is almost worse than the disease. Every year, a new addition of medical text books contain a longer and longer chapter on what are called iatrogenic diseases, that is to say diseases caused by doctors. And this is quite true, that many of the wonder drugs are extremely dangerous. I mean they can produce extraordinary effects and in critical conditions they should certainly be used with the utmost caution. But there is evidently a whole class of drugs affecting the central nervous system, which can produce enormous changes in sedation, in euphoria, in energizing the whole mental process without doing any perceptible harm to the body. In this sense, this represents it seems to me, the most extraordinary revolution. In the hands of a dictator, these substances of one kind or another, could be used first of all, with complete harmlessness, and the result would be, I mean you could imagine a euphoric which would make people thoroughly happy even in the most abominable circumstances. These things are possible. I mean this is the extraordinary thing. I mean after all this has even been true of the crude old drugs. Houseman years ago remarked in Milton’s Paradise Lost, he says ‘Beer does more than Milton can, to justify Gods ways to man’. Beer is of course an extremely crude drug compared with these ones. You can certainly say that some of the psychic energizes and new hallucinogens can do incomparably more than Milton and all the theologians combined could possibly do to make the tellifying mystery of our existence seem more tolerable than it does.
Here, I think one has an enormous area in which the Ultimate Revolution could function very well indeed. An area in which a great deal of control could be used, not through terror but through making life seem much more enjoyable than it normally does, enjoyable to the point, as I’ve said before, human beings come to love a state of things which by any reasonable decent human standard, they ought not to love. And this I think is perfectly possible.
Let me speak about briefly, one of the more recent developments in the sphere of neurology. The implantation of electrodes in the brain. This of course has been done in a large scale in animals and in a few cases it’s been done in cases of the hopelessly insane. Anybody who’s watched the behavior of rats with electrodes planted in different centres, must come away from this experience with the most extraordinary doubts about what on Earth is in store for us if ever this is got hold of by a dictator. I saw not long ago, some rats in McGoon’s laboratory at UCLA. There were two sets of them, one with electrodes planted in a pleasure centre and the technique was, they had a bar which they pressed, which turned on a very small current for a short space of time. We had a wire connected with their electrode which stimulated this pleasure centre, which was evidently absolutely ecstatic because these rates were pressing the bar 18,000 times a day. Apparently, if you kept them from pressing the bar for a day, they would press the bar 36,000 times on the following day, ‘til they fell down in complete exhaustion. And they would neither eat nor be interested in the opposite sex and would just go on pressing this bar.
Then the most extraordinary rats were those where the electrode was planted half way between a pleasure and a pain centre and where the result was a kind of mixture of the most wonderful ecstasy and being ‘on the rack’ at the same time. You would see the rat sort of looking at its bar and saying, ‘to be or not to be, that is the question…’ and finally it would approach and (thud – hits the bar) and would go back with this awful, if I can humanize or anthrapamorphize, I mean he was feeling something terribly mixed and he would wait quite a long time before pressing the bar again, but he would press it again. This was the extraordinary thing. I notice in this most recent issue of Scientific American, there’s a very interesting article on electrodes in the brains of chickens, where the technique is very ingenious, you sink into their brains a little socket with a screw on it and the electrode can then be screwed deeper and deeper into the brain stem and you can test at any moment according to the depth which goes in fractions of a millimeter, what you are stimulating. And these creatures are not merely stimulated with wire. They are fitted with a miniaturized radio receiver weighing less than an ounce, which is attached to them, so they can be communicated with at a distance. I mean they can run about in the barnyard and you can press the button, and this particular area of the brain to which the electrode’s being screwed down to, will be stimulated. You will get these fantastic phenomena, a sleepy chicken will suddenly get up and rush about, or an active chicken will suddenly sit down and go to sleep or a hen will suddenly start sitting as though it were hatching out an egg or a rooster will start fighting or suddenly go into a state of extreme depression.
The whole picture of the absolute control of the drives is terrifying and in the few cases in which this has been done with very sick human beings, the effects are evidently very remarkable too. I was talking last summer in England to Grey Walter who is the most eminent exponent of the electroinseflagram techniques, in England, and he was telling me that he has seen hopeless inmates of asylums with these things in their heads. These people were suffering from uncontrollable depression. They had the electrodes inserted into something resembling evidently the pleasure centre of the rat. Anyhow, when they felt too bad, they just pressed a button on the battery in their pocket, and he said the results were fantastic, the mouth that would go down, would suddenly turn up and they evidently feel, I don’t know how long for at a time, very cheerful and happy. So here again, one sees the most extraordinary, revolutionary techniques which are now available to us. Now I think what is obviously perfectly clear is for the present these techniques are not being much used except in a purely experimental way. But I think it is extraordinarily important for us to realize what is happening, to make ourselves acquainted with what has already happened and then to use a certain amount of imagination to extrapolate into the future, the sort of things that might happen. I mean, what might happen if these fantastically powerful techniques were used by unscrupulous people in authority, what on Earth would happen, what sort of society would we get?
I think this is peculiarly important because as one sees in looking back over his history, we have allowed in the past all those advances in technology which have profoundly changed our social and individual life, we have allowed them to take us by surprise. I mean it seems to me that during the late 18th century and early 19th century, when the new machines were making possible the factory system, it was not beyond the wit of man to see and to look at what was happening and to project into the future, and maybe to forestall the really dreadful consequences that plagued England and most of Western Europe and most of this country, for about fifty or sixty years. The horrible abuses of the factory system, I mean if a certain amount of forethought had been devoted to the problem at that time, if people had first of all found out what was happening and then use their imagination to see what might happen and then had gone on to work out means by which the worst applications of the new techniques should not be taking place, well then I think western humanity might have been spared about three generations of utter misery, which was imposed upon the poor at that time. Similarly with the various technological advances now, I mean it’s quite clear we have to start thinking very very hard about the problems of automation. And again I think we have to think still more profoundly about the problems which may arise in relation to these new techniques which may contribute to this Ultimate Revolution. Our business is first of all to be aware of what is happening and then to use our imaginations to see what might happen and how this might be abused. And then if possible to see that the enormous powers that we now possess thanks to these scientific and technological advances, shall be used for the benefit of human beings and not for their ultimate degradation.