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"...a mere squeak for the stating of formulae..."

H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon is a strange book. Strange, but I like it. Most of the book is about scientific discovery (two humans reach the moon, by very unique means) and fast-paced adventure (the humans desperately trying to escape the moon's inhabitants, or "Selenites"), but then Wells adds on a lengthy, anti-climatic epilogue in which the scientist Cavor describes Selenite society. Here is part of Cavor's description of the highly specialized training each inhabitant undergoes.

If, for example, a Selenite is destined to be a mathematician, his teachers and trainers set out at once to that end. They check any incipient disposition to other pursuits, they encourage his mathematical bias with a perfect psychological skill. His brain grows, or at least the mathematical faculties of his brain grow, and the rest of him only so much as is necessary to sustain this essential part of him. At last, save for rest and food, his one delight lies in the exercise and display of his faculty, his one interest in its application, his sole society with other specialists in his own line. His brain grows continually larger, at least so far as the portions engaging in mathematics are concerned; they bulge ever larger and seem to suck all life and vigour from the rest of his frame. His limbs shrivel, his heart and digestive organs diminish, his insect face is hidden under its bulging contours. His voice becomes a mere squeak for the stating of formulae; he seems deaf to all but properly enunciated problems. The faculty of laughter, save for the sudden discovery of some paradox, is lost to him; his deepest emotion is the evolution of a novel computation. And so he attains his end.

There is no mention, by the way, of how one's "destiny" is determined. Presumably, it's not at all the individual's own choice how they turn out, but some higher authority deciding what role that individual will serve. This ostensibly ideal society sounds very autocratic and joyless. Sobering.

August 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink

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