As Far as Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920/§ iii
MARTELLUS. Friends: it is unfortunate that Pygmalion is constitutionally incapable of exhibiting anything without first giving a lecture about it to explain it; but I promise you that if you will be patient he will shew you the two most wonderful works of art in the world, and that they will contain some of my own very best workmanship. Let me add that they will inspire a loathing that will cure you of the lunacy of art for ever. [He sits down next the Newly Born, who pouts and turns a very cold right shoulder to him, a demonstration utterly lost on him].
- Pygmalion, with the smile of a simpleton, and the eager confidence of a fanatical scientist, climbs awkwardly on to the altar. They prepare for the worst.
PYGMALION. My friends: I will omit the algebra—
ACIS. Thank God!
PYGMALION [continuing]—because Martellus has made me promise to do so. To come to the point, I have succeeded in making artificial human beings. Real live ones, I mean.
INCREDULOUS VOICES. Oh, come! Tell us another. Really, Pyg! Get out. You havnt. What a lie!
PYGMALION. I tell you I have. I will shew them to you. It has been done before. One of the very oldest documents we possess mentions a tradition of a biologist who extracted certain unspecified minerals from the earth and, as it quaintly expresses it, 'breathed into their nostrils the breath of life.' This is the only tradition from the primitive ages which we can regard as really scientific. There are later documents which specify the minerals with great precision, even to their atomic weights; but they are utterly unscientific, because they overlook the element of life which makes all the difference between a mere mixture of salts and gases and a living organism. These mixtures were made over and over again in the crude laboratories of the Silly-Clever Ages; but nothing came of them until the ingredient which the old chronicler called the breath of life was added by this very remarkable early experimenter. In my view he was the founder of biological science.
ARJILLAX. Is that all we know about him? It doesnt amount to very much, does it?
PYGMALION. There are some fragments of pictures and documents which represent him as walking in a garden and advising people to cultivate their gardens. His name has come down to us in several forms. One of them is Jove. Another is Voltaire.
ECRASIA. You are boring us to distraction with your Voltaire. What about your human beings?
ARJILLAX. Aye: come to them.
PYGMALION. I assure you that these details are intensely interesting.
- [Cries of "No! They are not! Come to the human beings! Conspuez Voltaire! Cut it short, Pyg!" interrupt him from all sides.]
You will see their bearing presently. I promise you I will not detain you long. We know, we children of science, that the universe is full of forces and powers and energies of one kind and another. The sap rising in a tree, the stone holding together in a definite crystalline structure, the thought of a philosopher holding his brain in form and operation with an inconceivably powerful grip, the urge of evolution: all these forces can be used by us. For instance, I use the force of gravitation when I put a stone on my tunic to prevent it being blown away when I am bathing. By substituting appropriate machines for the stone we have made not only gravitation our slave, but also electricity and magnetism, atomic attraction, repulsion, polarization, and so forth. But hitherto the vital force has eluded us; so it has had to create machinery for itself. It has created and developed bony structures of the requisite strength, and clothed them with cellular tissue of such amazing sensitiveness that the organs it forms will adapt their action to all the normal variations in the air they breathe, the food they digest, and the circumstances about which they have to think. Yet, as these live bodies, as we call them, are only machines after all, it must be possible to construct them mechanically.
ARJILLAX. Everything is possible. Have you done it? that is the question.
PYGMALION. Yes. But that is a mere fact. What is interesting is the explanation of the fact. Forgive my saying so; but it is such a pity that you artists have no intellect.
ECRASIA [sententiously] I do not admit that. The artist divines by inspiration all the truths that the so-called scientist grubs up in his laboratory slowly and stupidly long afterwards.
ARJILLAX [to Ecrasia, quarrelsomely] What do you know about it? You are not an artist.
ACIS. Shut your heads, both of you. Let us have the artificial men. Trot them out, Pygmalion.
PYGMALION. It is a man and a woman. But I really must explain first.
PYGMALION. Yes: I—
ACIS. We want results, not explanations.
PYGMALION [hurt] I see I am boring you. Not one of you takes the least interest in science. Goodbye. [He descends from the altar and makes for the temple].
SEVERAL YOUTHS AND MAIDENS [rising and rushing to him] No, no. Dont go. Dont be offended. We want to see the artificial pair. We will listen. We are tremendously interested. Tell us all about it.
PYGMALION [relenting] I shall not detain you two minutes.
ALL. Half an hour if you like. Please go on, Pygmalion. [They rush him back to the altar, and hoist him on to it]. Up you go.
They return to their former places.
PYGMALION. As I told you, lots of attempts were made to produce protoplasm in the laboratory. Why were these synthetic plasms, as they called them, no use?
ECRASIA. We are waiting for you to tell us.
THE NEWLY BORN [modelling herself on Ecrasia, and trying to outdo her intellectually] Clearly because they were dead.
PYGMALION. Not bad for a baby, my pet. But dead and alive are very loose terms. You are not half as much alive as you will be in another month or so. What was wrong with the synthetic protoplasm was that it could not fix and conduct the Life Force. It was like a wooden magnet or a lightning conductor made of silk: it would not take the current.
ACIS. Nobody but a fool would make a wooden magnet, and expect it to attract anything.
PYGMALION. He might if he were so ignorant as not to be able to distinguish between wood and soft iron. In those days they were very ignorant of the differences between things, because their methods of analysis were crude. They mixed up messes that were so like protoplasm that they could not tell the difference. But the difference was there, though their analysis was too superficial and incomplete to detect it. You must remember that these poor devils were very little better than our idiots: we should never dream of letting one of them survive the day of its birth. Why, the Newly Born there already knows by instinct many things that their greatest physicists could hardly arrive at by forty years of strenuous study. Her simple direct sense of space-time and quantity unconsciously solves problems which cost their most famous mathematicians years of prolonged and laborious calculations requiring such intense mental application that they frequently forgot to breathe when engaged in them, and almost suffocated themselves in consequence.
ECRASIA. Leave these obscure prehistoric abortions; and come back to your synthetic man and woman.
PYGMALION. When I undertook the task of making synthetic men, I did not waste my time on protoplasm. It was evident to me that if it were possible to make protoplasm in the laboratory, it must be equally possible to begin higher up and make fully evolved muscular and nervous tissues, bone, and so forth. Why make the seed when the making of the flower would be no greater miracle? I tried thousands of combinations before I succeeded in producing anything that would fix high-potential Life Force.
ARJILLAX. High what?
PYGMALION. High-potential. The Life Force is not so simple as you think. A high-potential current of it will turn a bit of dead tissue into a philosopher's brain. A low-potential current will reduce the same bit of tissue to a mass of corruption. Will you believe me when I tell you that, even in man himself, the Life Force used to slip suddenly down from its human level to that of a fungus, so that men found their flesh no longer growing as flesh, but proliferating horribly in a lower form which was called cancer, until the lower form of life killed the higher, and both perished together miserably?
MARTELLUS. Keep off the primitive tribes, Pygmalion. They interest you; but they bore these young things.
PYGMALION. I am only trying to make you understand. There was the Life Force raging all round me: there was I, trying to make organs that would capture it as a battery captures electricity, and tissues that would conduct it and operate it. It was easy enough to make eyes more perfect than our own, and ears with a larger range of sound; but they could neither see nor hear, because they were not susceptible to the Life Force. But it was far worse when I discovered how to make them susceptible; for the first thing that happened was that they ceased to be eyes and ears and turned into heaps of maggots.
ECRASIA. Disgusting! Please stop.
ACIS. If you don't want to hear, go away. You go ahead, Pyg.
PYGMALION. I went ahead. You see, the lower potentials of the Life Force could make maggots, but not human eyes or ears. I improved the tissue until it was susceptible to a higher potential.
ARJILLAX [intensely interested] Yes; and then?
PYGMALION. Then the eyes and ears turned into cancers.
ECRASIA. Oh, hideous!
PYGMALION. Not at all. That was a great advance. It encouraged me so much that I put aside the eyes and ears, and made a brain. It wouldn't take the Life Force at all until I had altered its constitution a dozen times; but when it did, it took a much higher potential, and did not dissolve; and neither did the eyes and ears when I connected them up with the brain. I was able to make a sort of monster: a thing without arms or legs; and it really and truly lived for half-an-hour.
THE NEWLY BORN. Half-an-hour! What good was that? Why did it die?
PYGMALION. Its blood went wrong. But I got that right; and then I went ahead with a complete human body: arms and legs and all. He was my first man.
ARJILLAX. Who modelled him?
PYGMALION. I did.
MARTELLUS. Do you mean to say you tried your own hand before you sent for me?
PYGMALION. Bless you, yes, several times. My first man was the ghastliest creature: a more dreadful mixture of horror and absurdity than you who have not seen him can conceive.
ARJILLAX. If you modelled him, he must indeed have been a spectacle.
PYGMALION. Oh, it was not his shape. You see I did not invent that. I took actual measurements and moulds from my own body. Sculptors do that sometimes, you know; though they pretend they don't.
PYGMALION. He was all right to look at, at first, or nearly so. But he behaved in the most appalling manner; and the subsequent developments were so disgusting that I really cannot describe them to you. He seized all sorts of things and swallowed them. He drank every fluid in the laboratory. I tried to explain to him that he must take nothing that he could not digest and assimilate completely; but of course he could not understand me. He assimilated a little of what he swallowed; but the process left horrible residues which he had no means of getting rid of. His blood turned to poison; and he perished in torments, howling. I then perceived that I had produced a prehistoric man; for there are certain traces in our own bodies of arrangements which enabled the earlier forms of mankind to renew their bodies by swallowing flesh and grains and vegetables and all sorts of unnatural and hideous foods, and getting rid of what they could not digest.
ECRASIA. But what a pity he died! What a glimpse of the past we have lost! He could have told us stories of the Golden Age.
PYGMALION. Not he. He was a most dangerous beast. He was afraid of me, and actually tried to kill me by snatching up things and striking at me with them. I had to give him two or three pretty severe shocks before I convinced him that he was at my mercy.
THE NEWLY BORN. Why did you not make a woman instead of a man? She would have known how to behave herself.
MARTELLUS. Why did you not make a man and a woman? Their children would have been interesting.
PYGMALION. I intended to make a woman; but after my experience with the man it was out of the question.
ECRASIA. Pray why?
PYGMALION. Well, it is difficult to explain if you have not studied prehistoric methods of reproduction. You see the only sort of men and women I could make were men and women just like us as far as their bodies were concerned. That was how I killed the poor beast of a man. I hadnt provided for his horrible prehistoric methods of feeding himself. Suppose the woman had reproduced in some prehistoric way instead of being oviparous as we are? She couldn't have done it with a modern female body. Besides, the experiment might have been painful.
ECRASIA. Then you have nothing to shew us at all?
PYGMALION. Oh yes I have. I am not so easily beaten as that. I set to work again for months to find out how to make a digestive system that would deal with waste products and a reproductive system capable of internal nourishment and incubation.
ECRASIA. Why did you not find out how to make them like us?
STREPHON [crying out in his grief for the first time] Why did you not make a woman whom you could love? That was the secret you needed.
THE NEWLY BORN. Oh yes. How true! How great of you, darling Strephon! [She kisses him impulsively].
STREPHON [passionately] Let me alone.
MARTELLUS. Control your reflexes, child.
THE NEWLY BORN. My what!
MARTELLUS. Your reflexes. The things you do without thinking. Pygmalion is going to shew you a pair of human creatures who are all reflexes and nothing else. Take warning by them.
THE NEWLY BORN. But wont they be alive, like us?
PYGMALION. That is a very difficult question to answer, my dear. I confess I thought at first I had created living creatures; but Martellus declares they are only automata. But then Martellus is a mystic: I am a man of science. He draws a line between an automaton and a living organism. I cannot draw that line to my own satisfaction.
MARTELLUS. Your artificial men have no self-control. They only respond to stimuli from without.
PYGMALION. But they are conscious. I have taught them to talk and read; and now they tell lies. That is so very lifelike.
MARTELLUS. Not at all. If they were alive they would tell the truth. You can provoke them to tell any silly lie; and you can foresee exactly the sort of lie they will tell. Give them a clip below the knee, and they will jerk their foot forward. Give them a clip in their appetites or vanities or any of their lusts and greeds, and they will boast and lie, and affirm and deny, and hate and love without the slightest regard to the facts that are staring them in the face, or to their own obvious limitations. That proves that they are automata.
PYGMALION [unconvinced] I know, dear old chap; but there really is some evidence that we are descended from creatures quite as limited and absurd as these. After all, the baby there is three-quarters an automaton. Look at the way she has been going on!
THE NEWLY BORN [indignantly] What do you mean? How have I been going on?
ECRASIA. If they have no regard for truth, they can have no real vitality.
PYGMALION. Truth is sometimes so artificial: so relative, as we say in the scientific world, that it is very hard to feel quite sure that what is false and even ridiculous to us may not be true to them.
ECRASIA. I ask you again, why did you not make them like us? Would any true artist be content with less than the best?
PYGMALION. I couldnt. I tried. I failed. I am convinced that what I am about to shew you is the very highest living organism that can be produced in the laboratory. The best tissues we can manufacture will not take as high potentials as the natural product: that is where Nature beats us. You dont seem to understand, any of you, what an enormous triumph it was to produce consciousness at all.
ACIS. Cut the cackle; and come to the synthetic couple.
SEVERAL YOUTHS AND MAIDENS. Yes, yes. No more talking. Let us have them. Dry up, Pyg; and fetch them along. Come on: out with them! The synthetic couple.
PYGMALION [waving his hands to appease them] Very well, very well. Will you please whistle for them? They respond to the stimulus of a whistle.
- All who can, whistle like streetboys.
ECRASIA [makes a wry face and puts her fingers in her ears]!
PYGMALION. Sh-sh-sh! Thats enough: thats enough: thats enough.[Silence] Now let us have some music. A dance tune. Not too fast.
- The flutists play a quiet dance.
MARTELLUS. Prepare yourselves for something ghastly.
- Two figures, a man and woman of noble appearance, beautifully modelled and splendidly attired, emerge hand in hand from the temple. Seeing that all eyes are fixed on them, they halt on the steps, smiling with gratified vanity. The woman is on the man's left.
PYGMALION [rubbing his hands with the purring satisfaction of a creator] This way, please.
- The Figures advance condescendingly and pose themselves centrally between the curved seats.
PYGMALION. Now if you will be so good as to oblige us with a little something. You dance so beautifully, you know. [He sits down next Martellus, and whispers to him] It is extraordinary how sensitive they are to the stimulus of flattery.
- The Figures, with a gracious air, dance pompously, but very passably. At the close they bow to one another.
ON ALL HANDS [clapping] Bravo! Thank you. Wonderful! Splendid. Perfect.
- The Figures acknowledge the applause in an obvious condition of swelled head.
THE NEWLY BORN. Can they make love?
PYGMALION. Yes: they can respond to every stimulus. They have all the reflexes. Put your arm round the man's neck, and he will put his arm round your body. He cannot help it.
THE FEMALE FIGURE [frowning] Round mine, you mean.
PYGMALION. Yours, too, of course, if the stimulus comes from you.
ECRASIA. Cannot he do anything original?
PYGMALION. No. But then, you know, I do not admit that any of us can do anything really original, though Martellus thinks we can.
ACIS. Can he answer a question?
PYGMALION. Oh yes. A question is a stimulus, you know. Ask him one.
ACIS [to the Male Figure] What do you think of what you see around you? Of us, for instance, and our ways and doings?
THE MALE FIGURE. I have not seen the newspaper today.
THE FEMALE FIGURE. How can you expect my husband to know what to think of you if you give him his breakfast without his paper?
MARTELLUS. You see. He is a mere automaton.
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think I should like him to put his arm round my neck. I don't like them. [The Male Figure looks offended, and the Female jealous]. Oh, I thought they couldn't understand. Have they feelings?
PYGMALION. Of course they have. I tell you they have all the reflexes.
THE NEWLY BORN. But feelings are not reflexes.
PYGMALION. They are sensations. When the rays of light enter their eyes and make a picture on their retinas, their brains become conscious of the picture and they act accordingly. When the waves of sound started by your speaking enter their ears and record a disparaging remark on their keyboards, their brains become conscious of the disparagement and resent it accordingly. If you did not disparage them they would not resent it. They are merely responding to a stimulus.
THE MALE FIGURE. We are part of a cosmic system. Free will is an illusion. We are the children of Cause and Effect. We are the Unalterable, the Irresistible, the Irresponsible, the Inevitable.
- My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
- Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
- My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
- There is a general stir of curiosity at this.
ACIS. What the dickens does he mean?