Huxley’s critique of science, art, and religion in Brave New World
What would you like today, sir: a nice gramme of soma or a destructive dose of truth? Science, art, and religion seem to be three independent systems of thought, all presenting a form of truth.
However, “science without religion is lame [and] religion without science is blind” (Einstein). Science is the attempt to understand phenomena through rational thought in observation and experimentation. However, science requires a religious-like faith that phenomena are perceivable in a rational fashion. Religion is the attempt to establish and improve upon super-personal values and goals. However, science provides the means to attain these values and goals and gives a foundation of facts and exploration upon which religion builds.
Both science and religion present ways to seek truth and understanding of the world through active discoveries by a community and/or an individual. Art, assisted by science and religion, communicates an assertion or expression that reveals truth and aids in understanding. Science, religion and art are symbiotic systems that can be manipulated to propagandize and socially condition a society, such as in Brave New World. Through his satiric and ominous novel, Aldous Huxley suggests that an individual human, in order to conduct a stable life, must use science, art and religion in a balanced manner. Religion seems to be just a human mechanism designed in the form of personal guidelines to achieve super-personal goals.
For example, Buddhists seek purification of the mind, body, and speech through three steps which allow for the possibility of cessation, or nirvana: the first stage to reduce attachment to life, the second stage to eliminate desire and attachment to the current samsara, and the last stage to eliminate self-admiration (Dalai Lama 8). Yet Buddhism not only expounds upon self-purification, but also on how Buddhists can contribute to society to allow for both global peace and individual happiness (Dalai Lama 13). To achieve such global peace, science is necessary for transportation, communication, medical aid, and nutrition which Buddhists use to help countries in famine and other global problems. Buddhists also express their impressions of tranquility and other Buddhist feelings through art such as speaking, poetry, painting, sculptures, or music. Through the interdependent relationship between science, art and religion, Buddhists are able to lead a stable life, unlike that of John the Savage in Brave New World. John, an individual taught from his Penitente religion and Shakespeare’s works, whips himself as an act of opposition toward the overly scientific and technological society that advocates self-gratification, not truth as John strictly believes in.
“Science? The Savage frowned. He knew the word. But what it exactly signified he could not say. Shakespeare…never mentioned science” (Huxley 225). Since John doesn’t understand what science is, he is unable to grasp how it too could lead to discovery of the truth he enthuses over. So with this inability to comprehend science and therefore imbalance of religion, science and art, he becomes overwhelmed and commits suicide.
Art, supported by science and religion, communicates truth through assertion or expression. For example, Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” reveals multiple truths through assertion. With his title and portrayal of melting pocket watches, Dali suggests that even though time withers away, the memories gained from a time are retained. Also, the time period which the painting was created reveals that the revolutionary ideas of Sigmund Freud influenced the piece. The background of the image displays a very distinct, bright, real mountain scene, while the foreground displays a dark, surreal and dreamlike scene.
This suggests that Freud’s ideas of psychoanalysis in dreams inspired Dali to convey the truth that while one dreams, time is skewed. Dali’s later work was also influenced by revolutionary scientific advancements such as nuclear physics and the atomic bomb. He liked to call his work Nuclear Mysticism, not only because of his interest in science, but also because of his developing devotion to classical artwork and Catholicism (Philadelphia Museum of Art). In the words of Mustapha Mond, Dali had “inevitably [turned] to God…for this religious sentiment…[made] up to [him] for all [his] other losses” (Huxley 233). In his work, Dali incorporated divine values with scientific characteristics, giving his assertions and expressions of science and religion. With this balanced combination, he led a fairly stable life.
Despite the harmony between science, religion, and art, Huxley’s Brave New World society focuses on scientific (economic, technological and medical) development through propagandized science, art, and religion. Huxley’s society uses art, like the Feely John and Lenina saw together, to support hierarchal genetic engineering, consumerism, and infantile self-pleasure (Huxley 168-169). It also uses Henry Ford, inventor of the assembly line, as a religious figure the society should honor for his technological contributions. However, it’s arguable that the citizens of this society are not individual humans. One characteristic that composes a human is self-growth, or to determine and reflect upon one’s progress (Fremuth).
One of the very few people who display this trait in the society is Hermann von Helmholtz, who at first feels he had potential to write something great, but he didn’t know what that could be. He later says, after hearing Shakespeare’s works from John, “I feel as though I were just beginning to have something to write about…Something seems to be coming to me” (Huxley 182). Therefore, Huxley’s satire of the scientific society suggests that individuals should lead a balanced life of science, art, and religion. Huxley proves that these three interrelated systems should not be disconnected nor should one be more valued than another. Science, art, and religion need to work hand in hand in order for humans to properly thrive and progress in each aspect.
Works Cited Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama: His Essential Wisdom. New York: Fall River Press, 2007. Print. Einstein, Albert.
“Albert Einstein Solves the Equation.” Lapham’s Quarterly. Lapham’s Quarterly, 1939. Web. 10 Nov.
2011. <http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/voices-in-time/albert-einstein-solves-the-equation.php?page=all>. Fremuth, Charles.
“What composes a human.” DCDS. Oct. 2011. Lecture.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1932. Print. Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Salvador Dali: Biography.
” Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2011.