THE BRAIN OF THE PLANET (1)
August 15, 2023
Lilith Lorraine’s feminist utopian novelette The Brain of the Planet was published by David Lasser as a chapbook in Hugo Gernsback’s Science Fiction Series in 1929. HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize it here for HILOBROW’s readers.
A Lecture on Telepathy
It all began back in 1935 when the secretary of the Arizona Institute of Applied Psychology submitted his report on some recent experiments in thought transference. The chairman accepted the bulky documents handed him by the spectacled young man and rose from his chair pompously.
“We have here, ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “the net results of our investigations, covering a period of some six months. These experiments have been conducted fairly, painstakingly, scientifically, and with all due allowance for the law of averages. They have been carried out exactly like an experiment in chemistry or mechanics, for every psychologist knows that the human brain is only a machine. We have selected subjects from every walk of life and of all degrees of culture and education. Kings of finance and children of the slums, leaders of the social whirl and outcasts of the underworld; all have been brought as grist to our mill–flattered by our interest in their petty, personal selves and lured by the ancient lust of curiosity. In every age the time-worn platitude holds good that the most fascinating study of mankind is man.
“At last we are prepared to submit a report from the indisputable evidence of thousands of experiments. Each one has been submitted to the most stringent test conditions. Each one has been safeguarded with unwavering vigilance against fraud and that which is even subtler; the tendency of human nature to deceive itself, to believe what it wants to believe. Not only have our methods won the endorsement of the rankest materialists, but our conclusions have been accepted by them; and today we are prepared to state without equivocation that telepathy is a fact. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, communication between mind and mind can be established just as surely as communication by telephone or radio.
“But, my friends, though this is true, we must not permit ourselves to become over-enthusiastic about it. We state conservatively that telepathy is possible and that the laws governing it have been discovered. Nevertheless, the conditions under which it operates are so difficult to create that the possibility of utilizing our discovery with benefit to man is exceedingly remote.
“These conditions, or more correctly speaking, the one paramount condition that must be fulfilled if telepathy is to be established, is the attuning of the communicating minds to each other. But, you will say, there is nothing remarkable about that. No form of communication can occur unless the communicating instruments are in tune with each other. And what is the human brain but an instrument?
“True, indeed, but there is a difference. Man-made instruments of communication are built from the ground up, to serve the pre-conceived purpose of the builder. Human brains come to us second-hand, constructed by the twin forces of heredity and environment to serve some inscrutable purpose of Nature. This purpose, whether we care to admit it or not, may be entirely at variance with our own designs. These second-hand machines have a tendency to revolve in closed circuits, fiercely protective of the individuality of the minds that controls them. They build impregnable ramparts of complexes, prejudices and crystallized ideas which serve as barriers against attunement with other mental instruments save through the faulty and cumbersome channels of the objective senses.”
Here the speaker was interrupted by a question from the spectacled young professor of psychology who served as secretary. “Will you kindly tell me,’ asked this eccentric-looking individual, “by what theory you account for this seemingly senseless struggle on the part of the human instincts to prevent mental communication? It seems that even in fulfilling the inscrutable designs of nature the co-operation and time-saving efficiency of thought-transference would be a coveted gain.”
“It would be, indeed,” said the Chairman indulgently, “but for one thing and that happens to be the law of polarity. Every electron, every atom, every entity in the Universe is either positive or negative in its relation to every other electron, atom, or entity. Likewise every individual brain-entity is positive or negative in relation to every other brain-entity. A positive brain can only transmit in relation to a negative brain and a negative brain can only receive. The negative brain, in turn, however, may become the sender to a brain to which it may become positive. If you will give the matter a moment’s thought, my dear professor,” continued the Chairman with a fatherly air, “you will realize that the positive minds of the planet have already wrought irreparable havoc among men by influencing their actions through the open channels of the senses. Why invite further disaster by giving them access to the plastic substance of the brain?”
The secretary was not yet convinced. “The positive minds have done harm to humanity,” he objected, “only because economic conditions under the competitive system are such that it pays far more to use a positive will to exploit our fellows than it does to use that will for the common good. There is a premium on dishonesty, and virtue is the only reward that virtue gets. Granted a system wherein all possibility of exploitation is removed, granted that the only thing that pays under such a system is service to the state; then, might not the positive minds of the race, aflame with…”
The Chairman’s patience was exhausted. It was evident that this well-fed individual had no sympathy with radicalism.
“Aflame with nonsense!” he interrupted. “Your socialism is all very well; its efficiency is perfect, its logic is incontestable, its ethics are Christ-like; but how are you going to create a demand for it? How are you going to prepare human minds to receive it? If they could all wake up some fine morning and find themselves enjoying the privileges of your Utopia they might decide to perpetuate your theories. But mark my words, young man—” here he waxed poetic — “that which is content to grovel in the mire can know nothing of the glory and beauty of the stars. Man must desire the new, before he is willing to destroy the old. He must desire it with an all consuming ardor that literally burns away his ape-like terror of a change. How can he desire what he has never tasted, what he has never even glimpsed? The masses do not desire culture, beauty, leisure, for the very simple reason that they have never had these things. The only way to create this desire is to force your Socialism on them till it becomes a habit. At first they will rebel as strenuously as a child of the slums rebels against a tooth-brush. But after socialism becomes a habit, try to take it away from them. But where, my friend, are the capitalistic altruists who are going to force socialism down their throats?”
At this the audience gave vent to unrestrained laughter, but the young secretary instead of being chagrined simply dropped into deep reflection. When he left the hall after listening abstractedly to the reading of the endless reports, there was a spring in his step and a dream in his eyes. All the way home he kept muttering to himself as though repeating a magic formula — “Force it down their throats till it becomes a habit, then try to take it from them.”
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master”.