Saván De Jesus
Professor Jason W. Ellis
20 May 2020
Is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Science Fiction?
Science Fiction is a highly debated literary genre due to the scope of writing that it encompasses. A universal definition of the genre has been difficult for scholars to agree on. This has led to a multitude of definitions and a slew of subgenres of Science Fiction. One of these subgenres is known as Social Science Fiction. Social Science Fiction criticizes the contemporary world through the lens of a future society impacted by the advancements of science and technology. Social Science Fiction examines the sciences and technologies of the present day and imagines how those sciences and technologies may be used by humans and governments and how those uses will change society. Through the analysis of several definitions of Science Fiction, from multiple reputable sources, this paper will render Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World an indisputable, legitimate work of Science Fiction that can be further classified into the Social Science Fiction category.
Farfetched but Plausible
Robert Heinlein, (1907 -1988) sometimes referred to as the “Dean of Science Fiction,” was an American Science Fiction author whose stories were those of future history, a technique that he helped pioneer, in which an author uses the current state of the world to speculate a logical arrival at their postulated future. Heinlein defines Science Fiction as being “different from the here and now;” he goes on to explain that this imagined future and the theory of how it came to be must “be rendered reasonably plausible,” when examining the established facts of the here and now. “It may be far-fetched, but it must not be at variance with observed facts” (Heinlein 17). Some ideas in Science Fiction may sound outlandish; however, if there is a rational reasoning between the present day and the imagined future, these concepts can be considered Science Fiction.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World takes place in the year 2540, or as it is referred to in the book 632 A.F., (After Ford) in a farfetched imagined future society run by the “World State.” In this future society, mankind has advanced their technology far enough to take control of some of the most fundamental parts of the human condition. This future world portrays human beings as no longer born but rather factory-made and conditioned in “hatcheries” through a series of government-controlled scientific processes. Surgically removed ovaries that produce ova, or mature female reproductive cells, are instead fertilized by spermatozoa, or mature male reproductive cells, in laboratory receptacles.
The Hatchery then determines the social class or caste that the fetus will belong to in the World State and bottles the embryos accordingly. The upper caste members are known as Alphas and Betas and the lower caste members are called the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. The embryos are placed in bottles, and sent to travel along a conveyor belt for a gestation period of 267 days. During this time, the fetuses will undergo different treatments depending on the caste that they belong to and the job they are expected to perform once fully grown. Later in life, Alphas and Betas perform the intellectual jobs in society, such as managing the factories or nursing, therefore, they are given the most pristine prenatal treatments. The three lower castes are expected to perform menial work, going through several processes to lower their intelligence and stunt their growth, such as oxygen deprivation and alcohol treatments. Afterwards, fetuses are conditioned according to the labor that they will be providing when grown. Those predestined to work in tropical areas are given heat treatments to accumulate to the weather. Future chemical workers are conditioned to tolerate lead, caustic soda, tar, chlorine, and other chemicals. Rocket-plane engineers’ containers were kept in constant motion in order to condition them to associate abnormal movement patterns with well-being. Every future occupation has a corresponding conditioning program that suits its future workers.
Through this manufactured, assembly line-produced birth, the World State is able to control traits and predetermine the future of their citizens. However, the World State takes conditioning one step further in order to ensure the desired results. After the gestation period, the babies are then decanted from their bottles at which point, they are sent to undergo “Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning.” Here, the World State further conditions the moral beliefs of every citizen in their society.
Babies are not raised by families but rather by State Conditioning Centers. Eight-month-old babies from the lower caste are given books and flowers but upon touching them are scared by the sound of alarm bells and physically shocked by electricity. The process is repeated 200 times ensuring that an instinctive hatred for books and nature is instilled in all of the minds of the lower castes. This ensures that they will never waste society’s time by reading and will prefer cities and factories to country and nature. It ensures that they will happily provide their predestined labors. It serves to make sure that no one ever reads something that may decondition them, causing a possible opposition of the World State. Each caste undergoes a different version of Neo-Pavlovian conditioning specifically selected by the World State.
In addition to Neo-Pavlovian conditioning, citizens of the World State are also conditioned through hypnopedia or sleep-learning. Hypnopedia is used to condition and teach the children of the World State moral consequence while they are sleeping. This occurs by playing a repetitive recording that recites the World State’s desired morals and beliefs at predetermined points in a child’s conditioning. While in conditioning centers, growing children are subject to countless repetitive mantras that will shape their beliefs and behaviors. The process is repeated “Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions and the sum of these suggestions is the child’s mind… the adult’s mind too.” (Huxley 90). Their minds are eternally and completely conditioned to wholeheartedly hold these predetermined beliefs as their own.
The hypnopedia that the citizens are subjected to as growing children will shape their moral beliefs and ways of living throughout their adult lives. They are conditioned through hypnopedia lessons in hygiene, sociability, and class consciousness. They are conditioned to view other caste members as superior or inferior. They are conditioned to appreciate technological progress and to consume transport and products to support the economy which is kept afloat through mass production and mass consumption. They are conditioned to be happy with their positions in life regardless of what caste they belonged to. Most importantly, they are conditioned not only to do the work that they are predetermined for, but to enjoy the work that they are predestined to provide for the World State. This hypnopedia conditioning ensures that citizens in the World State will happily serve their purpose in society no matter how important or insignificant it may be.
Manipulative ectogenesis, Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning, and Hypnopedia are the technologies that the World State in Brave New World uses to keep their society happy and wholly subservient. However, as an added measure they tighten their grip on the population through the means of chemical persuasion. All members of society are given daily rations of an addictive recreational drug called soma. Soma in small doses causes extreme bliss, in large doses causes hallucinations with a sense of timelessness, and in larger doses can cause one to fall into a pleasant and refreshing sleep. Soma can be used to cure pain, discomfort, embarrassment, sadness, anger, or any negative feelings and at the same time it can be used to enhance joy, arousal, and an overall sense of wellbeing (Huxley 70). Soma provided this future society with a means of escape through the positive effects of the drug, while harboring no physiological or psychological effects on the user. Through hypnopaedic persuasion, the World State citizens are conditioned to consume soma on a daily basis, especially when feeling any type of negative emotion about themselves or the society that they live in.
Kingsley Amis (1922 – 1995) was a novelist and critic who defined Science Fiction as “that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesized on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudoscience or pseudo technology” (Amis 8). Similarly, the legendary Science Fiction writer and editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell (1910 – 1971) said that in order for a piece of work to be Science Fiction “an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation from the known must be made.” He went on to say that “Prophetic extrapolation can derive from a number of sources, and apply in a number of fields” (Campbell 91). Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World satisfies all of these criteria. While the idea of creating subservient humans through the means of ectogenesis, Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning, Hypnopedia and mind-altering drugs may sound farfetched, in 1931 when Huxley was writing his novel, several sciences and technologies made these concepts seem like rational and plausible possibilities to Huxley. The sciences and technologies that influenced Huxley’s extrapolation process will be discussed in further detail below.
In 1913, Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) revolutionized the world with his moving assembly line which led to mass production taking the world by storm. Ford’s assembly line shortened the time that it took to make a Model T car from 12 and a half hours to 1 and a half hours. The efficiency of the assembly line caused the prices of the vehicles to drop drastically which led to mass consumption and mass production. The assembly line method was applied to a vast number of products over the years, leading to a shift in society toward a direction of mass consumption (Nye, 2013). In 1923, an English biologist named John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892 – 1964) first proposed the idea of an egg being fertilized and developed outside of the womb through artificial means, coining the term ectogenesis (Schwartz, 2019). After Sanderson’s first mention of ectogenesis at the Heretics Society of the University of Cambridge, the concept began to gain notoriety and was discussed in certain circles and by biologists of the day.
In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley hypothesizes what would happen to society if a technologically advanced form of ectogenesis were to mesh with a perfection of Ford’s assembly line. He eventually arrived at a vision of a future in which humans are no longer viviparously born, but made in government-controlled factories through scientific and technological means. Huxley used the basis of these two forms of innovative science and technology as an extrapolation point from which to begin his novel. The assembly line is so instrumental to the people of the World State that its creation designated a new era and their calendar was restarted from 0 A.F. (After Ford).
In 1897, a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936) had made great strides in the field of classic conditioning and behaviorism and developed the Pavlovian theory. The theory suggests that it is possible for the stimulus of an object or event to be indefinitely paired with a conditioned response or reflex by repetitive training with repetitive actions (McSweeny, 2014). In 1927, Alois Benjamin Saliger (1880 – 1969) invented the Psycho-Phone for sleep learning. Saliger claimed that it had been “proven that natural sleep is identical with hypnotic sleep and that during natural sleep the unconscious mind is most receptive to suggestions” (Barron, 2017).
Huxley applies the known sciences of physiology and hypnopedia when imagining what would happen if a perfected form of the Pavlovian method were combined with a style of sleep learning that catered to moral learning instead of educational learning. He envisioned a future in which a superior power, the World State, has taken control of these methods, using them to condition citizens through the Pavlovian method and hypnopedia to like or dislike certain aspects of life and society. Although hypnopedia today has been widely discredited and labeled as a pseudoscience, in 1931, it was a new revolutionary science that opened up new possibilities.
In the early 20th century, society had begun to experiment and become addicted to mind altering drugs such as opium, morphine, cocaine, and heroin. Then, in 1921 the Dangerous Drugs Act was passed giving the government control over the import, export, distribution, and possession of the mind-altering drugs (Woods, 1922). In 1920, David Macht (1882 – 1961) a pharmacologist working out of the famous John Hopkins Hospital coined the term psychopharmacology when he conducted pharmacologic experiments to test the effects that these drugs could have on the brain as well as one’s mood, sensation, thinking, and behavior. (Lehmann, 1993). In 1930, scientists began to study addictive behavior, this was the birth of the science of addiction which attempts to understand the links between our brain and compulsive drug use (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010).
Brave New World takes the recent societally, politically, and scientifically developments regarding the drugs of current society and imagines how culture and communities could be affected if all these developments advanced towards each other. If scientists could improve their understanding of psychopharmacology and addiction, would it be possible for the government to manufacture a drug that could cure all negative emotions and facilitate an excess amount of bliss, while having no physiological or mental cost to the user? If such a drug were created, how difficult would it be to get an already addiction riddled society hooked on this miracle drug? Huxley’s extrapolation from the developments in drugs during the years prior to Brave New World manifests itself into a fictional future where the wonder drug known as soma is not only the people’s drug of choice, it is also a political institution. The World State creates, distributes, and demands that people use the drug daily and society has no objections due to their conditioning.
In 1931, Aldous Huxley’s used the extrapolation points of the revolutionary technologies behind the assembly line, the new scientific discussion regarding ectogenesis, the recent discoveries in physiology, the pseudoscience of hypnopedia, and the science of drugs to arrive at his postulated future in his novel Brave New World. Huxley uses these five innovative scientific, technological, and societal breakthroughs of his time and hypothesizes their advancement and the effects that these advancements would have on the society of the future. Huxley takes the most recent known information of his time, from a number of sources and different sciences, and makes an effort at prophetic extrapolation. Huxley used the current state of the world he was writing in, examined the established facts of his “here and now,” and arrived at a farfetched but reasonably plausible and Science Fictionally sound future.
Social Science Fiction
Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) an extremely talented writer, professor, and polymath defined Science Fiction as “that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings” (Asimov 148). Similarly, Robert Scholes (1929 – 2016) a literary critic and theorist defined Science Fiction as “a fictional exploration of the human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science. Its favorite themes involve the impact of developments or revelations derived from the human or physical sciences upon the people who must live with those revelations or developments” (Scholes 214). Asimov and Scholes believed that Science Fiction did more than just talk about future technology, they believed that it should also discuss how future technology will affect the development of future humans and societies.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 – 1895), Aldous Huxley’s Grandfather, was a scientific humanist who had earned the nickname Darwin’s Bulldog. T. H. Huxley ferociously fought for the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) to be listened to and sought the proof required to change those theories into facts. T. H. Huxley influenced the seminal Science Fiction writer Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) to think about the effects of future technology through the lens of biological evolution. In Well’s debut novel, he writes about a Time Traveler who travels far into the distant future and discovers that science and technology has led to a shift in the biological evolution of mankind leading to two distinct species.
Wells’ novel is one where technology changes the evolutionary road of mankind. Aldous Huxley’s novel is one where technology allows mankind to take control of the evolutionary process. Aldous Huxley was influenced by his grandfather, much like H. G. Wells was, but in a different fashion. Wells imagined how technology and society would alter biological evolution. Aldous Huxley imagined how science and technology would allow mankind to gain control over their own biological evolution. Perhaps Aldous Huxley would agree with one of Wells’ criticizers, Edward Morgan Forster (1879 – 1970), who believed that Wells’ insistence on evolution, and not technology, being the driving force in historical development was misguided. Forster countered that the main force propelling humanity was technology and the effects that it had on human beings.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World examines the consequences that could come about when powerful new technologies are controlled and regulated by the government. Huxley and Wells’ work are part of a subgenre of Science Fiction known as Social Science Fiction. Social Science Fiction uses the present-day sciences, technologies, and societal norms when extrapolating to a more often than not, farfetched, and exaggerated future that allows the author to make speculations about contemporary society. Social Science Fiction often imagines the future governments, social systems, and systems of control that can come about when the government holds authority over new and powerful technologies.
After analyzing the definitions provided by Heinlein, Amis, Campbell, Asimov, and Scholes, it is clearly stated that Science Fiction may be farfetched as long as it is hypothesized on the basis of various recent innovations in society, science and technology and the author makes a reasonably, plausible, honest attempt at a rationally prophetic extrapolation of the future. One must conclude that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World satisfies this criterion and should be labeled as an indisputable and legitimate work of Science Fiction. Since the novel extrapolates from the technological and social sciences of the time it was written, as well as criticizes contemporary society by speculating on how technology can affect the future of government, social systems, and systems of control, it can be further classified into the subgenre known as Social Science Fiction.
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