Study Guide

Brave New World Science

By Aldous Huxley

Science

Chapter 1
Henry Foster

"Reducing the number of revolutions per minute," Mr. Foster explained. "The surrogate goes round slower; therefore passes through the lung at longer intervals; therefore gives the embryo less oxygen. Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par." Again he rubbed his hands.

[…]

"The lower the caste," said Mr. Foster, "the shorter the oxygen." The first organ affected was the brain. After that the skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy eyeless monsters. (1.70-4)

Science is being abused here for purposes of harm; notice that this new world hasn't made smarter men to fill the role of Alphas; it has simply degraded everyone else.

The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning

"I shall begin at the beginning," said the D.H.C. and the more zealous students recorded his intention in their notebooks: Begin at the beginning. "These," he waved his hand, "are the incubators." And opening an insulated door he showed them racks upon racks of numbered test-tubes. "The week's supply of ova. Kept," he explained, "at blood heat; whereas the male gametes," and here he opened another door, "they have to be kept at thirty-five instead of thirty-seven. Full blood heat sterilizes." Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs. (1.9)

Here begins a key feature of the way science is presented in Brave New World: horrifying precision. A mere two degrees of temperature separates male gametes from female ones, yet this difference is exact and crucial.

In the Bottling Room all was harmonious bustle and ordered activity. Flaps of fresh sow's peritoneum ready cut to the proper size came shooting up in little lifts from the Organ Store in the sub-basement. Whizz and then, click! the lift-hatches hew open; the bottle-liner had only to reach out a hand, take the flap, insert, smooth-down, and before the lined bottle had had time to travel out of reach along the endless band, whizz, click! another flap of peritoneum had shot up from the depths, ready to be slipped into yet another bottle, the next of that slow interminable procession on the band. (1.32)

The mechanized process of the bottles at this stage of the novel parallels what we see later to be the mechanized actions of fully adult humans.

The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables. (1.2)

Science has sterilized what would otherwise be natural human life. Even light, a product of the natural world, has been deadened by this controlled environment.

Chapter 2

Roses and electric shocks, the khaki of Deltas and a whiff of asafœtida—wedded indissolubly before the child can speak. But wordless conditioning is crude and wholesale; cannot bring home the finer distinctions, cannot inculcate the more complex courses of behaviour. For that there must be words, but words without reason. In brief, hypnopædia. (2.80)

Huxley presents the notion of "hypnopædia" in the most chilling of ways. The reader, of course, instinctively rebels against the thought of being brainwashed, but the Director's casual admittance that the sleep-taught lessons are "irrational" and "without reason" sickens us further.

The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning

"These early experimenters," the D.H.C. was saying, "were on the wrong track. They thought that hypnopædia could be made an instrument of intellectual education…"

[…]

"The - Nile - is - the - longest - river - in - Africa - and - the - second - in - length - of - all - the - rivers - of - the - globe…" The words come rushing out. "Although - falling - short - of…"

"Well now, which is the longest river in Africa?"

The eyes are blank. "I don't know."

[…]

"Whereas, if they'd only started on moral education," said the Director, leading the way towards the door. The students followed him, desperately scribbling as they walked and all the way up in the lift. "Moral education, which ought never, in any circumstances, to be rational." (2.54-60)

Science has its limits. It is interesting that science—an entirely rational subject—can be employed to indoctrinate irrational inclinations.

"They'll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an 'instinctive' hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They'll be safe from books and botany all their lives." The Director turned to his nurses. "Take them away again." (2.26)

"Nature" has no meaning in this new world; Mustapha Mond will later explicitly make the point that there is no such thing as "instinct," or if there is, it is no different from what citizens are programmed to believe.

Chapter 3

Outside, in the garden, it was playtime. Naked in the warm June sunshine, six or seven hundred little boys and girls were running with shrill yells over the lawns, or playing ball games, or squatting silently in twos and threes among the flowering shrubs. The roses were in bloom, two nightingales soliloquized in the boskage, a cuckoo was just going out of tune among the lime trees. The air was drowsy with the murmur of bees and helicopters. (3.1)

Science is contrasted with nature here. The children are naked, but they play games with somewhat futuristic contraptions, explained in the next paragraph as Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. The air is filled with bees, but also helicopters.

From her dim crimson cellar Lenina Crowne shot up seventeen stories, turned to the right as she stepped out of the lift, walked down a long corridor and, opening the door marked GIRLS' DRESSING-ROOM, plunged into a deafening chaos of arms and bosoms and underclothing. Torrents of hot water were splashing into or gurgling out of a hundred baths. Rumbling and hissing, eighty vibro-vacuum massage machines were simultaneously kneading and sucking the firm and sunburnt flesh of eighty superb female specimens. Every one was talking at the top of her voice. A Synthetic Music machine was warbling out a super-cornet solo. (3.56)

Science isn't totally bad in Brave New World. But it's these kinds of perks (massages, music, perfume) that shield the horrors of new technology. Even John later admits that he's a fan of some of this stuff.

"Phosgene, chloropicrin, ethyl iodoacetate, diphenylcyanarsine, trichlormethyl, chloroformate, dichlorethyl sulphide. Not to mention hydrocyanic acid."

[…]

Ch3C6H2(NO2)3+Hg(CNO)2=well, what? An enormous hole in the ground, a pile of masonry, some bits of flesh and mucus, a foot, with the boot still on it, flying through the air and landing, flop, in the middle of the geraniums—the scarlet ones; such a splendid show that summer! (3.156-60)

While it is science that the Controllers use to control their citizens, it is also science that brought about the need for totalitarian control in the first place. Hearing this, is it really so hard to believe Mustapha's later claim that science, though it has its benefits, is essentially dangerous?

"Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?" enquired the Assistant Predestinator. "I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There's a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it's marvellous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactual effects." (3.42)

Sexual propriety has obviously gone by the wayside—a moral collapse seemingly hastened by technology such as "the feelies."

"I know, dear. But some people are better if they begin earlier. Dr. Wells told me that brunettes with wide pelvises, like me, ought to have their first Pregnancy Substitute at seventeen. So I'm really two years late, not two years early." She opened the door of her locker and pointed to the row of boxes and labelled phials on the upper shelf. (3.70)

As much as this society can condition its citizens' minds, their bodies are still at the mercy of natural processes.

"It only remained to conquer old age."

[…]

"All the physiological stigmata of old age have been abolished. And along with them, of course…"

[…]

"Along with them all the old man's mental peculiarities. Characters remain constant throughout a whole lifetime." (3.228-235)

Old age is dangerous for a number of reasons in Brave New World. Mustapha argues that man thinks more in his old age. Of course, this means that thought itself—like scienceis inherently dangerous. Physical deterioration remained a problem, but the fact that old age is defined as a problem at all reflects the State's stance that individuals exist only to serve the community.

Mustapha Mond

"In the end," said Mustapha Mond, "the Controllers realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods of ectogenesis, neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopædia…" (3.184)

Rock smashes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, and science beats force. The question is, is there a difference between control by "force" and control by "science?" Can "science" be seen as just another—if more sophisticated—form of violence?

Chapter 4: Part 1
Henry Foster

Henry Foster had had his machine wheeled out of its lock-up and, when Lenina arrived, was already seated in the cockpit, waiting.

"Four minutes late," was all his comment, as she climbed in beside him.

[…]

"There's the Red Rocket," said Henry, "just come in from New York." Looking at his watch. "Seven minutes behind time," he added, and shook his head. (4.1.29-32)

Henry's character reflects an obsession with exactitude in the new world.

Chapter 4: Part 2

The various Bureaux of Propaganda and the College of Emotional Engineering were housed in a single sixty-story building in Fleet Street. In the basement and on the low floors were the presses and offices of the three great London newspapers—The Hourly Radio, an upper-caste sheet, the pale green Gamma Gazette, and, on khaki paper and in words exclusively of one syllable, The Delta Mirror. Then came the Bureaux of Propaganda by Television, by Feeling Picture, and by Synthetic Voice and Music respectively—twenty-two floors of them. Above were the search laboratories and the padded rooms in which Sound-Track Writers and Synthetic Composers did the delicate work. The top eighteen floors were occupied the College of Emotional Engineering. (4.2.6)

Everything is automated in the new world. Huxley's exact descriptions and precise names reflect the values of this world.

Chapter 5: Part 1
Henry Foster

"Phosphorus recovery," explained Henry telegraphically. "On their way up the chimney the gases go through four separate treatments. P2O5 used to go right out of circulation every time they cremated someone. Now they recover over ninety-eight per cent of it. More than a kilo and a half per adult corpse. Which makes the best part of four hundred tons of phosphorus every year from England alone." Henry spoke with a happy pride, rejoicing whole-heartedly in the achievement, as though it had been his own. "Fine to think we can go on being socially useful even after we're dead. Making plants grow." (5.1.5)

Science has dehumanized even death. Henry's admiration of this process reflects how deeply ingrained is the lesson that individuals exist only to serve the community.

Chapter 6: Part 1
Lenina Crowne

"But it's horrible," said Lenina, shrinking back from the window. She was appalled by the rushing emptiness of the night, by the black foam-flecked water heaving beneath them, by the pale face of the moon, so haggard and distracted among the hastening clouds. "Let's turn on the radio. Quick!" She reached for the dialling knob on the dash-board and turned it at random.

"… skies are blue inside of you," sang sixteen tremoloing falsettos, "the weather's always…"

Then a hiccough and silence. Bernard had switched off the current.

[…]

"It makes me feel as though…" he hesitated, searching for words with which to express himself, "as though I were more me, if you see what I mean. More on my own, not so completely a part of something else. Not just a cell in the social body. Doesn't it make you feel like that, Lenina?" (6.1.17-23)

It's no coincidence that the radio is singing about blue skies while Bernard is trying to get Lenina to face the elements. Technology paints over the ugly parts of reality, but the consequence is ignorance and weakness, as we see in Lenina's character.

Chapter 7
Mustapha Mond

"That's because we don't allow them to be like that. We preserve them from diseases. We keep their internal secretions artificially balanced at a youthful equilibrium. We don't permit their magnesium-calcium ratio to fall below what it was at thirty. We give them transfusion of young blood. We keep their metabolism permanently stimulated. So, of course, they don't look like that. Partly," he added, "because most of them die long before they reach this old creature's age. Youth almost unimpaired till sixty, and then, crack! the end." (7.22)

In eliminating the aging process, science has destroyed a very basic element of the human experience. Mustapha comments that old age is dangerous for the community—not because of physical frailty, but because of mental prowess. Sadly, Lenina is too caught up in the former to acknowledge the latter during her visit to Malpais.

Chapter 8

And she would tell him about the lovely music that came out of a box, and all the nice games you could play, and the delicious things to eat and drink, and the light that came when you pressed a little thing in the wall, and the pictures that you could hear and feel and smell, as well as see, and another box for making nice smells, and the pink and green and blue and silver houses as high as mountains, and everybody happy and no one ever sad or angry, and every one belonging to every one else, and the boxes where you could see and hear what was happening at the other side of the world, and babies in lovely clean bottles—everything so clean, and no nasty smells, no dirt at all—and people never lonely, but living together and being so jolly and happy, like the summer dances here in Malpais, but much happier, and the happiness being there every day, every day… He listened by the hour. (8.26)

John is originally enthralled by the very same technology that will horrify him later in the novel.

Chapter 9
Bernard Marx

"I ventured to think," stammered Bernard, "that your fordship might find the matter of sufficient scientific interest…"

"Yes, I do find it of sufficient scientific interest," said the deep voice. "Bring these two individuals back to London with you." (9.9-10)

Bernard uses "science" to cloak his selfish motivations (i.e., preventing his own deportation to an island).

Chapter 11

"Twelve hundred and fifty kilometres an hour," said the Station Master impressively. "What do you think of that, Mr. Savage?"

John thought it very nice. "Still," he said, "Ariel could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes."

"The Savage," wrote Bernard in his report to Mustapha Mond, "shows surprisingly little astonishment at, or awe of, civilized inventions. This is partly due, no doubt, to the fact that he has heard them talked about by the woman Linda." (11.30-2)

Bernard misses the point; John can't distinguish between the fantastic (but very real) science of the civilized world and the fantastic, fictional world of Shakespeare. That is why he "shows surprisingly little astonishment."

The completed mechanisms were inspected by eighteen identical curly auburn girls in Gamma green, packed in crates by thirty-four short-legged, left-handed male Delta-Minuses, and loaded into the waiting trucks and lorries by sixty-three blue-eyed, flaxen and freckled Epsilon Semi-Morons.

[…]

But the Savage had suddenly broken away from his companions and was violently retching, behind a clump of laurels, as though the solid earth had been a helicopter in an air pocket. (11.39-42)

John's reaction here is fitting. On a surface level, he is disgusted by the dehumanization in the civilized world, so he throws up. On the other hand, he is purging himselfas he will later do intentionallyof the nastiness of science by which he feels corrupted.

"No, we can't rejuvenate. But I'm very glad," Dr. Shaw had concluded, "to have had this opportunity to see an example of senility in a human being. Thank you so much for calling me in." He shook Bernard warmly by the hand. (11.13)

Notice how casually Dr. Shaw treats Linda's impending death, even to John's face; his interest in "science" trumps any concern for human life.

The scent organ was playing a delightfully refreshing Herbal Capricciorippling arpeggios of thyme and lavender, of rosemary, basil, myrtle, tarragon; a series of daring modulations through the spice keys into ambergris; and a slow return through sandalwood, camphor, cedar and newmown hay (with occasional subtle touches of discorda whiff of kidney pudding, the faintest suspicion of pig's dung) back to the simple aromatics with which the piece began. The final blast of thyme died away; there was a round of applause; the lights went up. In the synthetic music machine the sound-track roll began to unwind. It was a trio for hyper-violin, super-cello and oboe-surrogate that now filled the air with its agreeable languor. Thirty or forty barsand then, against this instrumental background, a much more than human voice began to warble; now throaty, now from the head, now hollow as a flute, now charged with yearning harmonics, it effortlessly passed from Gaspard's Forster's low record on the very frontiers of musical tone to a trilled bat-note high above the highest C to which (in 1770, at the Ducal opera of Parma, and to the astonishment of Mozart) Lucrezia Ajugari, alone of all the singers in history, once piercingly gave utterance. (11.93)

Huxley makes it quite clear: technology is more capable than natural, human ability. The "scent organ" easily passes from the lowest note ever uttered by a human to the highest. On the other hand, the boundaries for high and low are still those that have been set by humans, very similar to the way science itself is bound by human invention.

Chapter 12

"A New Theory of Biology" was the title of the paper which Mustapha Mond had just finished reading. He sat for some time, meditatively frowning, then picked up his pen and wrote across the title-page: "The author's mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel and highly ingenious, but heretical and, so far as the present social order is concerned, dangerous and potentially subversive. Not to be published." He underlined the words. "The author will be kept under supervision. His transference to the Marine Biological Station of St. Helena may become necessary." A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purposewell, you didn't know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castesmake them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere, that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible. He picked up his pen again, and under the words "Not to be published" drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed, "What fun it would be," he thought, "if one didn't have to think about happiness!" (12.39)

It's interesting that Mustapha thinks a discussion of purpose to be heretical. He worries that the idea of purpose will make people think about God, which means that his World State hasn't done a great job of satisfying man's larger questions, his grander curiosities. Thus, science has not been able to substitute religion. In this way, science has failed.

Chapter 13

A V.P.S. treatment indeed! She would have laughed, if she hadn't been on the point of crying. As though she hadn't got enough V.P. of her own! She sighed profoundly as she refilled her syringe. "John," she murmured to herself, "John…" Then "My Ford," she wondered, "have I given this one its sleeping sickness injection, or haven't I?" She simply couldn't remember. In the end, she decided not to run the risk of letting it have a second dose, and moved down the line to the next bottle.

Twenty-two years, eight months, and four days from that moment, a promising young Alpha-Minus administrator at Mwanza-Mwanza was to die of trypanosomiasisthe first case for over half a century. (13.10-1)

This is a brilliant interruption to the rest of the story in Brave New World. We see that human life is utterly at the mercy of science. Of course, you could take a different point-of-vieweven science is subject to the fallacies of human error.

Chapter 14

It was a large room bright with sunshine and yellow paint, and containing twenty beds, all occupied. Linda was dying in companyin company and with all the modern conveniences. The air was continuously alive with gay synthetic melodies. At the foot of every bed, confronting its moribund occupant, was a television box. Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night. Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. "We try," explained the nurse, who had taken charge of the Savage at the door, "we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere heresomething between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning." (14.2)

The need for so many contraptions is a testament to the serious nature of death. Science may dehumanize the process, but it takes a whole lot of technology to do it.

Chapter 16
Mustapha Mond

It's the same with agriculture. We could synthesize every morsel of food, if we wanted to. But we don't. We prefer to keep a third of the population on the land. For their own sakes – because it takes longer to get food out of the land than out of a factory. Besides, we have our stability to think of. We don't want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That's another reason why we're so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy. Yes, even science."

[…]

"Yes," Mustapha Mond was saying, "that's another item in the cost of stability. It isn't only art that's incompatible with happiness; it's also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled." (16.51-3)

The World Controllers clearly recognize the threats to their power and to their ability to control. But to "muzzle" science would seem an impossible task. Or not… what does Brave New World argue? Can science be contained?

It's curious," he went on after a little pause, "to read what people in the time of Our Ford used to write about scientific progress. They seemed to have imagined that it could be allowed to go on indefinitely, regardless of everything else. Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can't. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. Still, in spite of everything, unrestricted scientific research was still permitted. People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods." (16.65)

Why does Mustapha find conflict between "truth and beauty" and "comfort and happiness"? The distinction he draws between them is false, as is the distinction drawn between "dangerous science" and "helpful science." Comfort stems from technology, which stems from invention, which comes from curiosity and probably discontent to begin with. Science for the sake of knowledge leads to science for practical purposes, and the very act of striving for truth and beauty is where happiness resides. This is why men like Bernard, Helmholtz, and John are so unhappy in this world of comfortthey're not striving for truth and beauty.

"Because, finally, I preferred this," the Controller answered. "I was given the choice: to be sent to an island, where I could have got on with my pure science, or to be taken on to the Controllers' Council with the prospect of succeeding in due course to an actual Controllership. I chose this and let the science go." After a little silence, "Sometimes," he added, "I rather regret the science. Happiness is a hard masterparticularly other people's happiness. A much harder master, if one isn't conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, than truth." […] I'm interested in truth, I like science. But truth's a menace, science is a public danger. As dangerous as it's been beneficent. It has given us the stablest equilibrium in history. […] But we can't allow science to undo its own good work. That's why we so carefully limit the scope of its researches […]. We don't allow it to deal with any but the most immediate problems of the moment. All other enquiries are most sedulously discouraged." (16.65)

What is it about Mustapha's character that allows him to make the sacrifices he's made? His choice seems irrationalfor a top-notch physicist to put a collar on science is baffling. Does Huxley adequately justify his behavior?

Science? The Savage frowned. He knew the word. But what it exactly signified he could not say. Shakespeare and the old men of the pueblo had never mentioned science, and from Linda he had only gathered the vaguest hints: science was something you made helicopters with, some thing that caused you to laugh at the Corn Dances, something that prevented you from being wrinkled and losing your teeth. He made a desperate effort to take the Controller's meaning. (16.52)

John's Shakespeare knowledge fails him hereit offers no explanation regarding "science."

Helmholtz Watson

"What?" said Helmholtz, in astonishment. "But we're always saying that science is everything."

[…]

"Yes; but what sort of science?" asked Mustapha Mond sarcastically. "You've had no scientific training, so you can't judge. I was a pretty good physicist in my time. Too goodgood enough to realize that all our science is just a cookery book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody's allowed to question, and a list of recipes that mustn't be added to except by special permission from the head cook." (16.54-7)

Aha! Mustapha draws a very important distinction here between the two types of science we've seen in Brave New World. The first is the sort of technology that enables the World State to control and govern. The second, however, is the kind of pure, motiveless, science-for-the-sake-of-knowledge that has been outlawed for its dangers. It is this second kind of science that needs to be muzzled, in Mustapha's eyes.

Chapter 17

"Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences." (17.59)

With all its capabilities, science still has to cater to basic human nature. The need for V.P.S. is proof that the World State has severely impaired the human experience. To make up for what the Controllers have taken away from man, simulations are needed. Essentially, the body is being tricked into thinking it is still human.

Mustapha Mond

"Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That's why I have to keep these books locked up in the safe." (17.28)

Mustapha says God is incompatible with sciencebut why? He himself is a scientist and says that he believes in God. It's likely that he means man's conception of God, not God himself. According to Mustapha, man can't believe in God and be happy, perhaps because the implications are too weighty. (Implications like divine justice, judgment, morality.)

Chapter 18

Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east.… (18.108)

The ending of Brave New World brings us back to the beginning— we get a harsh picture of the horrifying precision of science.