Tuesday 31 October 2023

the humanization of warfare Remarks from CALLINICUS by JBS Haldane

Because I just couldn't stay away from J.B.S. Haldane, because many of his shorter books are available for free here; https://jbshaldane.org/ as PDF's and because I have never read a defence of Chemical warfare, at all, and specifically not by someone who was themselves the victim of chemical warfare. 

This is also a fascinating dive into Haldanes inter-war world-view which includes some "problematic" content as usual (in addition to the central argument). 


Atomic Power; 

"We know very little about the structure of the atom and almost nothing about how to modify it. And the prospect of constructing such an apparatus seems to me to be so remote that, when some successor of mine is lecturing to a party spending a holiday on the moon, it will still be an unsolved (though not, I think, an ultimately insoluble) problem." 

In fact we would break the atom within a few decades of this statement, go to the moon within 40 years, after the atom was cracked. 


Blinding Gas; 

"Lachrymatory gas was only once used under ideal conditions—by the Germans in the Argonne in 1915. They captured a fairly extensive French trench system and about 2,400 prisoners, almost all unwounded, but temporarily blind." 

The Germans opened chemical warfare with blinding gas in 1915. I did not know this. New weapons seem staggeringly effective at first use. The enemy hasn't even imagined any defence. After that, as we shall see, the prizes tend to go to whomever can adapt fastest, not necessarily to the first user. 


Gassing the uneducated; 

"Gases of the first group were used in clouds discharged from cylinders, some- times on a front of several miles. 

They probably caused at least 20,000 casualties among unprotected or inadequately protected British troops. At least a quarter of these died, and that very painfully, in many cases after a struggle for breath lasting several days. 

On the other hand, of those who did not die almost all recovered completely, and the symptoms of the few who became permanent invalids were mainly nervous. 

Apart, however, from the extreme terror and agitation produced by the gassing of uneducated people, I regard the type of wound produced by the average shells as, on the whole, more distressing than the pneumonia caused by chlorine or phosgene." 

Just don't gas the 'uneducated' bro. This brings us into Haldane being something of a 'special' kind of person. He was raised experimenting on both animals and himself and had a detached, and definitely non-sacralised view of the human body. 


German antisemitism; 

"On the other hand, the German respirators were bad to begin with; and later on were not so good as the British. This was, apparently, because the most competent physiologist in Germany with any knowledge of breathing was a Jew. This fact was quite well known in German physiological circles, but apparently his race prevented the military authorities from employing him. 

The result was that they were unable to follow up their gas-attacks at all closely, but had to wait till the cloud had passed off, by which time resistance was again possible. That was how the Germans paid for anti-Semitism. It is very probable that it lost them the war, as never again, not even in March, 1918, had they as complete a gap in the Franco-British Western front as during the first gas-attack in April, 1915." 

I doubt it 'lost them the war' and I believe Haber was a Jew so clearly they weren't that anti-semitic yet but I have not heard of this particular story before. 


On Mustard Gas; 

"Someone placed a drop of the liquid on the chair of the director of the British chemical warfare department. He ate his meals off the mantelpiece for a month." 


"Thus in April, 1918, Armentieres, the original Northern limit of the German attack in Flanders, was so heavily shelled with “mustard” that the gutters in the streets were reported to be running with it." 


On fools holding back progress; 

the Bayardists have nobbled a curious assortment of allies in their so far successful attempt to prevent the humanization of warfare. 

"Mustard gas kills one man for every forty it puts out of action; shells kill one for every three; but their god who compromised with high explosives has not yet found time to adapt himself to chemical warfare." 


On the possibilities of 'Immune Infantry'; 

"On the other hand, some people are naturally immune. The American Army authorities made a systematic examination of the susceptibility of large numbers of recruits. They found that there was a very resistant class, comprising 20% of the white men tried, but no less than 80% of the negroes. This is intelligible, as the symptoms of mustard gas, blistering, and sun-burn are very similar, and negroes are pretty well immune to sunburn." 


Future War by Haldane; 

"One sees, then, the possibility of warfare on somewhat the following lines:— 

Heavy concentrations of artillery would keep an area say thirty miles in length and ten in depth continuously sprayed with mustard gas.


Suddenly, behind the usual barrage of high explosive shells appears a line of tanks supported by negroes in gas-masks.


In this way the side possessing a big superiority of mustard gas should be in a position to advance two or three miles a day.


It seems, then, that mustard gas would enable an army to gain ground with far less killed on either side than the methods used in the late war, and would tend to establish a war of movement leading to a fairly rapid' decision, as in the campaigns of the past. 

It would not much upset the present balance of power, Germany's chemical industry being counterpoised by French negro troops. Indians may be expected to be nearly as immune as negroes." 


The Morality of Chemical Warfare; 

"I claim, then, that the use of mustard gas in war on the largest possible scale would render it less expensive of life and property, shorter, and more dependent on brains rather than numbers. We are often told the exact opposite, 

In one or two air-raids on other towns it seems probable that the Germans were not far from out-stripping the capacities of the fire- brigades and producing very large conflagrations." 

His aside into the ability of aerial bombing to produce 'fire-storms', where the fire becomes so hot and vast it sucks in air like a tornado and becomes highly self-sustaining, is a disturbing prefigurement of the next war. 


Animal-Loving Soldiers; 

"We have got to get over our distaste for scientific thought and scientific method. To take an example from the war, the physiologists at the experimental ground at Porton, in Hampshire, had considerable difficulty in working with a good many soldiers because the latter objected so strongly to experiments on animals, and did not conceal their contempt for people who performed them. And yet these soldiers would have had no hesitation in shelling the horses of hostile gun-teams, and the vast majority of them were in the habit of shooting animals for sport. " 

The British being a race of animal-lovers who often have no problem shooting animals is a neverending source of incoherent rage for Haldane. 


Objections to Reason; 

"One of the grounds given for objection to science is that science is responsible for such horrors as those of the late war. “You scientific men (we are told) never think of the possible application of your discoveries. You do not mind whether they are used to kill or to cure. Your method of thinking, doubtless satisfactory when dealing with molecules and atoms, renders you insensible to the difference between right and wrong. And so you devise the means of universal destruction,"    

"..and I note that the people who make these remarks do not refuse to travel by railway or motor-car, to use electric light, or to read mechanically printed newspapers. Nor do they install a well in their back-gardens to enjoy drinking the richer water of a pre-scientific age, with its interesting and variegated fauna." 


The Deadliness of scale vs the deadliness of weapons; 

"Moreover, the Great War was the first since the Second Punic War of the 3rd century B. C. between two great civilized nations, each fighting with all its might. This fact accounts for its ferocity. Modern transport and hygiene made its scale possible; the weapons used merely served to prolong it." 


Fear of the Unknown; 

"Now, terror of the unknown is thoroughly right and rational so long as we believe that the prince of this world is a malignant being. But it is not justifiable if we believe that the world is the expression of a power friendly to our aspirations, or if we are atheists and hold that it is neutral and indifferent to human ideals." 



"The views which I have expressed do not coexist in the mind of any party leader or newspaper proprietor, and must therefore be those of a crank. But until some stronger argument can be waged against them than that they are unusual and unpleasant, there remains the possibility that they are true." 


Haldanes vision of Future War, what would have actually happened? 

Can we imagine a world where J.B.S. Haldane is given enough power and support to make his vision of warfare a reality? What would happen? 

We begin with the mass development of Mustard Gas, sealed tanks and uniforms, the training of vast numbers of 'Immune Troops', (presumably black Africans with white officers), and we would assume, development of a wide range of other chemical weapons and delivery systems. 

So, day one of combat; mass firing of chemical shells begins, ideally blocking off large areas of the battlefield. Then the 'Immune Troops' advance with sealed armour support, easily taking lines and targets, presumably making use of lesser or alternative chem weapons as and when they would be useful.

 Thats your first battle, if it goes well. 

Of course even if it goes well, we know Mustard Gas remains horrible for a long time, so the battle zone will be very difficult for anyone other than Immune Troops to occupy. And if you advance non-immune troops through it on trucks then how will you keep them supplied through the zone, and what if they need to retreat? They will have a chemical barrier to their rear. 

And of course, following Haldanes plan, you are using largely colonial troops to defend yourself, who may not agree completely with you on all points and who may be a bit ambivalent about entering chemical hell for you. 

And presuming this is a WW1/WW2 situation, you are probably doing this in France, and the French may not be chuffed about you melting and poisoning their lovely countryside. 

Thats battle One. How do the enemy respond? 

Presumably the enemy is Germany, and they are quite good at chemistry, even without their Jews. (Though the loss of them will hurt them). 

They are also quite well-organised. Presumably they will be shocked and terrified to begin with, but will adapt fast. This is assuming they didn't have intelligence on your chemical weapons programme already and have their own programme. 

They will start work on, and improve, their own chem weapons and protective wear as quickly as possible. 

This is the 'brains over brawn' warfare that Haldane envisions in which victory goes to whomever has the best tech and adapts most quickly. 

But, speaking from the West, where we certainly _think_ we have the brains and our assumed enemies largely have the brawn, do even we want to disconnect war so totally from the flesh it affects as to turn it into a matter of competing technologies? 

If Haldane is right, less people will die. Less of our own people will die. (_If_ he is right.) But is this most-efficient form of hyper-tech chemical warfare what we want to create? 

(Of course your chem-war is also highly dependant on weather; wind direction, rain, perhaps temperature. And these conditions will be known, so what happens if the enemy attacks with the wind. When the wind is blowing one direction they advance with chem-suit Immune Troops', when the wind turns, you advance.) 

Chem weapons would probably be most useful against civilians who have not already experienced them, and most useful when combined with surprise and some other method of attack. This provides a neat combination with incendiary bombing and the creation of a 'Firestorm'. Combining gas with bombs cripples the ability of a city to respond to spreading fires, making a mass conflagration much easier to attain. 

Is the natural tendency of technology in warfare to separate the flesh of the people from the conduct of the war, up until some certain point when the burning and poisoning of all the people becomes the main material of the war? 

Haldane thinks 'stupid' Chivalric wars are made deadlier primarily by their scale and not by technology. That if WW1 had been fought by spears and shields it would have been just as deadly, because of the number of men involved.



Trying to deal with Haldanes argument 

Is not Conservatism at its most rational and reasonable when considering the development of new weapons and methods of war? 

Are we not all the beneficiaries of the deep and innate conservatism and ritualisation of warfare by the stodgy midwits who make up much of the officer class?" 

Could we say that short lethal but evaporating violence could be more honourable than the soft, suffocating violence of Chemical Warfare. Would you rather be gassed or shot? Would you rather gas others or shoot them? 

War is not an experiment and is not predictable 

There are few 'controlled elements' 

Everyone is in a heightened state and is, essentially, not quite the person they are outside of war 

War evolved, grows, changes and mutates in deepy unpredictable ways. Neither the people, the aims, the methods or the morals of those engaged in war are the same as they were at the beginning 

this being the case, a highly conservative ritualised view of war, while probably deeply inefficient, and essentially getting people killed in the short to medium term, is actually pretty good for humanity as a whole in the long term and the larger scale 

when we are in a war we want to adapt, kill and destroy as quickly and efficiently as possible, for our enemies death is our life 

but looking at any particular arrangement of wars from far outside the time and place of their happening; we really want wars in general to be stodgy, ritualised, uninventive, unimaginative, foolish and slow

The slow stupidity of any particular war is agony and horror for those fighting it, for their enemy is .. well the enemy, but for those looking upon all war, and upon the future of the species and of life itself, the enemy is not the enemy but the enemy is the cunning, inventiveness, hunger and unpredictability of war itself, for it is a kaleidoscope-tiger, always shifting and trying to escape its cage.


Saturday 7 October 2023

A Review of 'Possible Worlds' by J.B.S. Haldane

This book is a lucid scrying pool amidst in the dark and murky inter-war years. It is like stumbling through a grey and misty land and discovering a cave within which crouches a wizard who gazes into clear and glittering pool crystal visions of a future time.

We are in that future time right now and it has turned out to be just as dark and murky as the bog around the wizards cave, but we can look upwards, at the point of view of his scrying pool, where presumably he looks down on us from the past, and wave 'Hello' to the Wizard.

We are looking at Haldane looking at us and that is where much of the interest arises.


I read this based on its near-unanimous recommendation by anyone involved in the life sciences and I was surprised, (though perhaps I should not have been), to find another WW1 connection. As well as occupying seemingly every role possible related to genetics and biology in the inter-war years, Haldane was a WW1 veteran, a grenades expert with the Black Watch (for non-military and U.S. readers the Black Watch is generally considered a very high-competence if not elite regiment).

I would love to shove Haldane, the atheist communist, Studdert-Kennedy, the fallen Anglican and Sebastian Junger, the medieval knight and not-quite Fascist, all in a room together and have them talk it out. It would be a hell of a debate.


'Possible Worlds' was originally a series of newspaper articles written for 'the ordinary man' 'in intervals between research work and teaching and largely on railway trains'.

These are about science, biology, the scientific life, the future of humanity and Haldane. Many are short, all are clear. A very blessed clarity considering the dithering and extemperous blathering and 'chummy' simplifications of much science writing both now and then. Haldane writes like a man who does not have much time and earnestly wants to get to the point.

Some are so simple and so clear and highlight or describe a concept so exactly that nearly 100 years later they are still being quoted mentioned and recommended today

'On Scales' regards thinking about reaches or scales of time and distance far beyond our immediate ken. If you have watched the Sagan video, or its modern repetitions then you have seen a visual version of this essay.

'On Being the Right Size' is quoted or mentioned in many discussions of biodynamics I know of;

"You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, so long as the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes."


Haldane had a lot of sketchy ideas, the most provably-awful are probably being a freestyle vivisectionist, a Communist and a Chemical Warfare enthusiast.

Haldane grew up experimenting on animals with his dad, he was quite willing to experiment on himself, to the extent of drinking dilute hydrochloric acid, sealing himself inside sealed atmosphere chambers and slowly removing the oxygen and attempting experimental diving suits at the age of 13, (not all at the same time). If you added some sadism and race-hatred he would probably have done well in various German or Japanese labs during the oncoming war, but Haldane had little hatred in him, and no sadism, he seems to have regarded the animals around him, and his own body, the way a farmer regards a horse or dog; useful, interesting, necessary, valuable, but not sacred. He reported that, (like Junger), he enjoyed killing people quite a bit. He was an explosives expert, wrote a book on the benefits of chemical warfare and thought it was stupid not to use more mustard gas than we did.

He belongs in that very slightly discomforting margin of humanity who will quite happily take living beings, including themselves, apart in laboratories and their fellow man apart in wars, but won't do it freestyle, for pleasure, for no reason or to anyone who asks them not to (except in war).

In 'Some Enemies of Science' Haldane recommends the complete deregulation of vivisection in the interests of science and of popular science.

"... I killed two rats in the course of experimental work intended to advance medical science. One of them, if we can judge from human experience (and we have no more direct means of evaluating the consciousness of animals), died after a period of rather pleasant delirium like that of alcoholic intoxication. The other had convulsions, and may have been in pain for three or four minutes. I should be very thankful if I knew that I should suffer no more than it did before my death. It therefore seems ridiculous that, wheras my wife" [she had poisoned rats] "is encouraged by the Government and the Press, I should be compelled to apply to the President of the Royal Society and other eminent man of science for signature to an application to the already overworked Home Secretary, before I can even kill a mouse in a slightly novel manner."

Haldanes arguments for the deregulation of Vivisection are strong, coherent, logical and possibly a little mad. His unrelenting hatred for the 'Anti-Vivisectionists' whose hypocrisy, delusion and hatred of science is stopping him from killing mice in novel ways, is genuine, deeply felt and extremely expressed. He is really outraged about the mouse-chopping.

If Haldanes Lassaiz-Fiare Vivisection policy had been made real, the results would have been interesting, but probably more bad than good. Mouse-chopping should be licensed.

Like most high-I.Q. lefties in the inter-war years, Haldane was a Marxist and a Communist. He was wrong and held on to the idea too long. You can tell how sane an inter-war western intellectual was by the date they stopped believing in Communism. Cordwainer Smith, Rebecca West and Bertrand Russel; quite soon, the French; never.

Haldane went full-Commie in the mid 30's, when the saner types were already leaving. He objected to Lysenkos imaginary genetics in 1949 but didn't leave and finally resigned from the Communist Party in 1956. In 1957 he resigned from being British over the Suez incident and went off to spend his final years in India. His stupid murder-god had failed in front of him, Britian was still masturbating to dreams of Imperialism so he took the third way. I think he was also attracted to India because  it was here that the direct connection with nature, vast range of life and ability to deal with large populations was closest to the experimental world of his early youth. (He grew up as the son of an aristocrat-scientist the late 19th century.) By the mid 20th century the U.K. was even more intensely urbanised and Haldanes dream of widespread 'Citizen Science' based on animal collections, (and vivisection), and interacting with nature was looking less and less possible. But in India, more space, more nature, and a great diversity of people.

In 1925 he also wrote 'Callinicus: A Defence of Chemical Warfare', which I have not read but his defence of Mustard Gas in 'Possible Worlds' is based on the relative bodily destructive power of machine guns and Mustard Gas. His logic is very like that of the pro-Vivisection argument which is "If we are eating animals and hunting animals why can't I chop them up when I like since I have very good reasons for doing so?" "Likewise, if we are machine gunning each other and bombing each other (ask me how), why not gas each other since it will have the same effect & less human bodies will be destroyed in the process?"

Against Haldanes iron logic I can only offer the midwits response of 'I think that might not turn out the way you think it will'.

He was also an atheist, which I don't consider amongst his terrible and questionable ideas but it is slightly boring from a modern-day perspective, listening to him go on about it is a bit dull. Its interesting to hear from his perspective about how cowardly and useless most Christian Padres were in the war, even more interesting that he signals out for rare praise; the Quakers, for their Pacifistic ambulance-driving and more war service.


Haldane has largely (and inadvertently) convinced me that scientists shouldn't get involved in politics. They have no intuitive grasp on what politics is on any level, assuming it to be some kind of social machine to produce 'optimum results'.

They should be consulted closely on their special subjects, should not set policy and generally should be kept in special boxes far from the levers of power.

This applies especially to biologists and other life-science types, especially the more intelligent sort. Their deep understanding of the processes of nature and the human body has been bought at the price of any intuitive grasp of the meaning of nature or the human body and a scientist, if allowed near policy, if asked not to investigate but to decide, will proceed on the basis of optimisation towards a concrete goal, as if they were dealing with a malfunctioning machine.

This is not what society, a nation or humanity is.

Furthermore, there are politicians whom it is necessary to have make decisions and who must be fired afterwards. During Covid most possible choices carried serious moral hazard. Decisions had to be made. Those decisions would by necessity have terrible effects on someone. After the emergency had passed those decisions must be rejected by the very populations that required them and the decision-makers disposed of. This is unpleasant but it is the nature of things. If we had hyper-expert scientists actually making those decisions instead of advising on them, firstly they would proceed on the basis of blind optimisation as stated above, secondly when we inevitably had to turn against them after the emergency was over, we would lose, not a fundamentally-replaceable politician, but a useful expert, and finally because the necessary moral hazard of those choices would ultimately reflect not on one individual or administration but on the scientist and on science itself. Fauci, before he dies, may well drag virology in the U.S. back into the stone age, purely as part of the counter-reaction to his mistakes.


We live in a new age of Eugenics, though we don't quite realise it yet.

Really, any form of Eugenics that becomes common enough stops being thought of as 'Eugenics'. It’s not a completely sliding scale but it’s pretty slippery. Condoms, I.U.D.s the Pill, sonic scans of developing foetus' and risk-free Abortions are all fruit of the Eugenic tree.

Hasidic Jewish populations are already using genome sequencing to avoid dangerous genetic combinations in their (arguably quite inbred) community.

Genome sequencing is becoming cheaper and cheaper, more and more accurate, and the power of algorithms to predict and control for certain desired qualities in the genome is becoming more and more effective.

(Reading between the lines of various Geneticists, its probably possible to run an algo on a range of IVF foetuses and select for high I.Q. Even though I.Q. is insanely polygenic and we have no idea how it works, the algo doesn't need to understand that and can just find relationships regardless. The reason this hasn't been done publicly isn't because it can't be done but because Geneticists are nuclear-avoidant of talking about it or doing it.

Theoretical - likely someone has already tried selecting IVF foetuses for I.Q. and these children have been born.)

Haldane only writes directly about this once in 'Possible Worlds', though as a Genetor-Prime of the British Empire, he knew as much about it as anyone of his generation, and as the ever-lucid and prescient Haldane, he could predict more than most of his generation.

In 'Eugenics and Social Reform', Haldane is.. mixed. Ultimately he thinks it’s necessary and probably inevitable but we shouldn't do it now as we don't know what we are doing and it’s probably more complex than we think.

On 'feeble-mindedness', the majority of which I take to be Downs Syndrome, Haldane might be surprised that it is not a hereditary problem, that we can't find it in the parents genes but can find it through embryo testing and more commonly, through scans, and that we are largely utterly ruthless in aborting the vast majority of such children. Perhaps he wouldn't be surprised. Perhaps our relationship with Downs Syndrome is more like how our relationship with Eugenics will proceed, not but grand unified programmes but by quiet invisible decisions made by parents in doctors offices, made with ever-increasing data and in invisibly-shifting social consensus, and made silently and not spoken of.

What Haldane seems to be saying is that the rich, intelligent and successful, inevitably put themselves out of genetic buisness by not breeding at a replacement level. They are always outweighed by the poor or common who breed a lot more. This seems to have been true in Haldanes time, looks to have been true for much of European history, and is true now. (Despite going on about this at length and being married twice, and being pretty well-off, Haldane had no children.)

Yet we still have rich, successful and intelligent people. Whether we have as much as we did in Haldanes time it’s hard to tell but it doesn't seem that different. 

Probably we do not really understand how this works at all, especially on a larger scale and across deep reaches of time.

'On Eugenics and Social Reform' is a must-read because of the ideas it deals with, its weaving sometimes-ironic arguments and the pretty explosive mind-bombs, both when considered as cold intellectual arguments which might apply the same from his time to ours, and for the wild and whacky cultural Messines-level mines woven into every part of it as you listen to an aristocratic, Marxist, inter-war atheist high-Anglo scientist drop... comments;

"It was only the emancipation of the negroes which saved the United States from twice its present black population. This event gave them access to alcohol, venereal diseases, and consumption."

I think (if I understand his total argument), that I might agree with Haldane? Eugenics is probably inevitable, but we don't understand it and probably shouldn't do it, especially on a large scale or in a top-down way. Hopefully, like Pratchetts Dwaven Bread, it will remain 'probably inevitable', inevitably.


Probably Haldanes most beautiful idea is in the essay which gives this collection its name; 'Possible Worlds'.

This is basically that Dr Doolittle will create a University of Animal Minds to help unify our theories of physics and philosophy into a Unified theory of Everything.

Perhaps only Haldane or someone very like him could have come close to having this idea because only Haldane was enough of a batty polymath to allow it. He was deeply enmeshed in the life sciences, genetics, the world of blood and animals, and was intelligent enough to also be deeply interested in and largely up to date in physics, mathematics, logic and for him the natural companion of those; philosophy.

He was thinking always of the Whole Thing, of Reality itself, and all these little strands were just ways of getting there and looking at it.

One of Haldanes predictions that never came as true as he would have wished was that we would 'talk to the animals'. In his future Humanity would gain a deep understanding of animal psychology and communication and in effect, be able to communicate with and understand the world-views of other living beings.

This has not worked out that well but Haldanes synthesis is that the fundamental nature of reality is necessarily opaque to us because the way we are made fundamentally limits us from apprehending it. As enmeshed in both biology and philosophy as he was, he could conceive of something like a Fundamental Human Blind Spot. This wouldn't really be a 'spot' but whole areas and methods of thought that would be not only impossible but, more importantly, inconcievable, to us.

Like there are ways of thinking and perceiving that you literally can't think about and if you try to conceive of them then your mind will just loop around them like an ant walking along a mobius strip, without ever even considering them.

The point here being; how do you try to understand that which you are inherently made not to understand?

In 'Possible Worlds' Haldane tries to begin imagining the philosophy of reality of a Bee, or a hyper-intelligent Barnacle. Since they occupy reality in a fundamentally different way their structure of reality, the pattern of their thought, perceptions and therefore, philosophy, would be utterly different.

Yet if we accept that we are all perceiving the same Reality, the Bee and the Barnacle would both have world-views which ultimately coincide or match up with ours. So if we could learn the 'language' of, or enter in communion with, Bee and Barnacle, we could learn something of their Paradigm and that might help us see the gaps in our own, to ask the questions previously inconceivable to us.

(A slightly boring and lessened version of this which might sound less weird and whacky to a modern reader is like in a Star Trek world where there are a bunch of forehead aliens and we can fly off to this or that alien world and talk to them and learn their weird alien physics and philosophies which are all very strange and different but which still actually work, if we could learn them, we might understand more about reality. Except we don't have aliens but we do have Bees and Barnacles.)


Haldanes last article is a deep-time Science Fiction story in the report of a Venusian historian describing the death of Earth in forty million years time.

This future is one in which humanity has diverged into two species which, curiously, match the dystopian futures imagined by many 20tC authors; the engineered, happy, incurious and unadventurous sybarites similar to the humanity of 'Brave New World', and the Venusian Collective who are a mix of the Borg and the final evolution of the society depicted in 'We'.

This is a reality where rocketry is very very hard, (Haldane had not yet seen the V2s landing on London, let alone the Space Race), and where moving between planets takes multi-thousand-year plans, including engineering specific new versions of Humanity to live on them. Therefore, Humanity barely leaves earth and only a bunch of radicals get to Venus. Terran Man monopolises the tidal gravatic power of the Moon to energise their vast aesthetic schemes of global pleasure, which speeds up the moons descent into the earth. Terran man can't be bothered to stop this and eventually the two crash into each other, though not without a few thousand years of excitingly apocalyptic but still-liveable earth with the moon gigantic in the sky, vast discs and spumes of lunar matter forming a silver river in the air, mountains quaking, seas rolling around the planet, its pretty great stuff.

Haldane absorbed in Deep Time and the meaning, if any, of humanity, exhibits all of his elegance, imagination, mediocrity, didactic authoritarianism and weakness.

"If it is true, as the higher religions teach, that the individual can only achieve a good life by conforming to a plan greater than his own, it is our duty to realize the possible magnitude of such a plan, whether it be God's or man's. Only so can we come to see that most good actions merely serve to stave off the constant inroads of chaos on the human race. They are necessary, but not sufficient. They cannot be regarded as active co-operation in the Plan. The man who creates a new idea, whether expressed in language, art or invention., may at least be co-operating actively. The average man cannot do this, but he must learn that the highest of his duties is to assist those who are creating and the worst of his sins to hinder them."