Revolution in Ourselves
Out of the Night. By H. J. Muller. (Gollanez. 4s. 6d.) Tins is perhaps the most remarkable scientific prophecy ever made. There have been some, like LeonardO's, com- plicated and ingenious and astonishingly true to the fact, when it came to happen ; but they have always been abOut material things, where if one has the mechanical insight of Leonardo or the bubbling invention of Mr. H. G. Wells, it seems not much more difficult to imagine a submarine in the future than to construct, as Leonardo did, a new siege-engine in the field.
Apart from these concrete prophecies, there have been others, more diffuse and less incommoded by detail, which have tried to depict the future of the human race ; at their best, as in Mr. Olaf Stapledon's books, they evoke a strange and pleasant emotion, and they have the advantage that they can never be proved untrue. Mr. Muller's prophecy is unique in combining the most exciting qualities of his pre- decessors ; like Leonardo's breech-loader and Mr. Wells's tank it could happen the day after it was made ; and, like the mistier imaginings, it concerns the future of the human beings in the world. He has produced a scheme by which the human race could be radically changed in two or three generations ; scientifically, there is scarcely any doubt that it could be done. The book begins by a few general chapters on the scientific future. These are adequate enough, but not very different from many others that have been made recently, such as Mr. J. D.
Bernal's The World, the Flesh and the Devil, published seven years ago. The writing in these chapters, and indeed through-
out the book, is a little heavy and ungraceful ; but, when one gets halfway through, one forgets all that, for suddenly Mr.. Muller's real contribution to prophecy begins.
The idea is simple, startlingly simple. It is this—we now know enough about genetics (Mr. Muller himself is one of the most famous geneticists in the world) to have an approximate idea of how much of an individual's qualities are due to the environment in which he lives, and how much to the innate constitution with which he came into the world. We know something of the laws of inheritance, through the study of the " genes " which an individual inherits equally from each of his parents ; we are beginning to find out the answer to the question which has been asked for long enough— how much is an adult determined (in qualities like height, musical ability, intelligence and so on) by his genetic inherit- ance, how much by his education, in its completest sense? The answer 'is, far more by inheritance than most people have lured to think. Naturally, with the best genetic inherit- ance on earth, with the potentialities of a Newton or a Tolstoi, a man would not reach great mental heights if he were brought up as an Eskimo ; but, what is more important, if he is educated from birth with all the resources of a civilisation more mentally developed than our own, he can do nothing without the genetic inheritance. In the last resort, the intelligence of the human race depends upon the genes which its individuals receive ; there can be no leap in progress until the better genetic in- heritances are more widely spread.
Many people have arrived at similar conclusions by intuition or inspired guessing, or whatever it should be called ; they are proved now as facts. Subtle and more complex qualities, such as those we call " character " or " personality," will be argued about for longer ; it is genuinely more difficult there to separate the acquired from the innate. But there is no doubt that the supreme abilities; which make a man useful in the world, are a property of the genes. When genetics is more universally understood it will not be easy for us all to escape the consequences which that truth brings.
Mr. Muller does not want to escape them ; he wants to make the most of them at once. We have men of exceptional abilities, he says ; the genes which they could transmit are those which would be most valuable to the race ; we have a technique of artificial insemination, which has been tested often already (this is probably, but not quite certainly, true ; the medical evidence is doubted by some ; but almost no one doubts that, whether it has been done or not, it is perfectly practicable. In the fertilisation of animals,. it has` become a commonplace). Mr. Muller's suggestion follows : that we separate love from procreation, for some women at arty rate. They could lead normal married lives except in this : that some or all of their children would be conceived by artificial fertilisation from the seed of someone whose genes the society desires to transmit. " It is easy to show;" Muller writes, "that in the course of a paltry century or two it would be possible for the majority of the population to become of the innate quality of such men as Lenin, Newton, Leonardo, Pasteur, Beethoven, Omar Khayyam, Pushkin, Sun Yat-sen, Marx, or even to possess their varied faculties combined." There is very little doubt about it ; they could.
It is an odd idea ; it is bound to strike different people, or the same person at different times, as comic, shocking, or inspiring. But it may be done ; the scientific difficulties, if they exist at all, are slight—and, as for the obstacles which exist in ourselves, the opponents of this change would not be wise to put too much faith in them. There would be bitter resentment, jealousy and suffering if it came about; but, because of that to talk of the profound conservatism of human nature is to show how shallow one's understanding is. In a way, the substance of human nature is conservative ; the jealousy, the cruelty, the aspirations and desires are parts of ourselves that will still be discernible while man remains man (here, to my mind, Mr. Muller and other writers of his outlook are themselves too unpenetrating and too easily and optimistically deceived) ; but the modes in which that substance shows itself can vary widely has already varied in the history of the race (think, for example, of the kinds of sexual life which have been " normal " in different communities, from T'ang China to eighteenth-century Venice and Moscow at the present day ; the stuff of human nature is the same, but looking at the outside, judging only from behaviour, one would find it hard to believe).
To say, purely on the grounds of human resistance, that Mr. Muller's change could not happen, is sheer self-deception. It could have happened in Russia fifteen years ago ; thousands of women would have been passionately proud to bear Lenin's child. It could happen in Germany today. Civilisation in our Western world is unstable ; this experiment may happen, among others, during some of our lifetimes.
In any case, however long it takes, the prospect is so extraordinary that this book ought to be read by all serious- minded people ; the publishers have performed a social service in finding it a large public through their newly-