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The radio network presents all this Huxley with the second lecture in the series and titled What a piece of work is a man. This lecture a consideration of the contemporary picture was recorded at Kresge auditorium for broadcast at this time. Ladies and gentlemen I want this evening to pass from the ancient home of the Old Testament and the Indians to view. Naturally I can't discuss them all which I know about human beings about this piece of work which is a man. Well the interesting thing is that remains very much what it was in Homer's day it is this conscious rational creature which is analytic which pursues its own self interest it is the person in the
words of Robert Louis Stevenson the person with a conscience and there you have a bank balance. But around this around this person with a variable bank balance. There are a whole number of not to a great extent crew manipulated by this series of not. These are classified under such names as the fuel mass and car the midriff the heart of this power in the chest in the Testament we have such phrases as the again the heart the remains the bowels on top of disease and psycho entities. There where in all of the ancient
conceptions of the supernatural. Creatures which meet in Russia which are affected the life of the eagle. There were actual possessions by name and by name. Also we get in the Old Testament to get Samson being possessed by the Spirit of God and being able to perform these prodigies of strings in the battle. And we also have these kind of impersonal forces which are yet directed by supernatural powers from the outside which which calls in regard to the Negative Forces which lead us to disaster. Positive forces which enable us to perform actions which normally in our normal state would be almost impossible for us well to do. We of
course of. We still have the body with us which we classify and talk about in a rather different way in which I actually speak about towards the end of the lecture. But in regard to the to the men US and the art and the supernatural positions we observe the same phenomena. But of course we speak about them in a different way. We speak about them in terms of an active dynamic unconscious. It's remarkable how recent this idea is we now take it completely for granted. But actually it is an idea. Which William James DTT exactly did William James attributed the beginning of the new psychology with it stressed upon the dynamic unconscious of the publication of a paper in 1886. But if W. H Myers says it was a profound and I
regard him as one of the best students and describers of the was the unconscious mind. Actually he has been his fame has been completely eclipsed by that of Freud who in a sense I think was less complete as we can generalize and say that whereas mine was chiefly concerned with the positive side of the unconscious with the unconscious as getting as many ups these acts sessions of strength and power and insight from Lloyd who was a physician dealing with sick people was mainly preoccupied with the negatives as he was concerned with men else and Freud was concerned with a pro-ID series of his own theory of the unconscious This is his words. We have taken our theory is the unconscious theory of repression.
His idea was we were this is I needn't go into any detail because it's perfectly familiar in the discreditable desires and drives. Push out of consciousness because we don't want to confront the fact that we have such drives and desires which are variance with the cultural pattern of our times. And they are pushed Darren but they remain alive and cause a great deal of trouble underneath the surface expressed themselves in these symbolic and roundabout ways and altogether behave very much as the resisting diamonds of Homeric trains. It's interesting in this context to find that our colloquial language still preserves many of the ideas which we inherited from America days. For example when we do something particularly stupid or delinquent we say
I don't know what possessed me. What can have come over me. We say He can't have been himself when he did that. All these are very interesting is showing how strong this ancient idea of being possessed by somebody else and how strongly it persists. And of course objectively the activities of see the negative unconscious definitely like a position. Then of course along with the discreditable drives which we repress we also repress painful memories traumatic experiences are also pushed out of sight and also create a great deal of trouble in the basement of the mind. Freud so to speak is talking all the time about the basement downstairs with the rats and the bad black beetles.
This is largely concerned with the floors above the ground floor where the ego lives. He would agree I would think with that with the mystical point of view that the top most floor of these upper levels has no roof to it and is open to the sky. But we will go into that later. Well over and above the negative unconscious due to repression there is of course a large negative unconscious and also positive unconscious conditioning conditioning of course is something which everybody undergoes in the course of childhood and is completely necessary to adapt to a growing social environment but of course it can also be extremely dangerous and produce very bad results. Pavlov in his classical studies of dogs
showed that conditioning is particularly easy when the resistance has been lowered by disease or by fear or indeed any emotion that at these times it's particularly simple to install a behavior pattern which is then very difficult to get rid of. We become in these states of low resistance. We become what the poet describes as whacks to receive and marble to retain the zero. Behavior patterns can be pushed into us at this time with extraordinary falls and incidentally during the Second World War the Pavlovian theory of conditioning under stress and during moments of resistance was used in the treatment of what used to be called shell shock and I was called Battle
Fatigue. It was the they used this as the explanatory principle for these processes which they called narco hypnosis which were very successful in getting rid of these conditionings installed under distressing conditions. Actually when one looks at the what happens when people who have had a behavior pattern. Bed kind installed during a condition of low resistance. They are reacting to the work here and now know they were suffering from some kind of laboring under some kind of post hypnotic suggestion which had been given to them in the past. The conditioning in the moment of traumatic
experience acts as a kind of post hypnotic suggestion which makes them do all kinds of things which are totally irrelevant to the facts of the present moment. I mean this is after all one of the possible definitions of neurosis to. It is behavior which is not relevant to the present but is relevant to one of these post hypnotic suggestions induced by conditioning in the state. Resistance all in response to one of these repressed desires which is still festering in the lower levels of the mind. Now Freud has enormous merits and I think also a very great weakness to see his enormous made it was of course to stress the immense importance
of the unconscious mind to point out that it was a dynamic seeing that it was continually active that is continuously influenced the life of the ego largely in Freud's view for evil because Freud was as I say a physician and concerned with sick people and he paid very little attention to the positive side of the unconscious. This was his greatest made it his weakness to say first of all that he paid very little attention to the positive side of the unconscious and he also paid very little attention to the physical side the bodily side of the personality of these I think are the two main weakness isn't it. I shall discuss the Peabody decide later on and not let us get on to the positive unconscious to the to the men else. The acceptance of power. Which we received from this
man this basement and upper stories of. And now here again let us look at the colloquial creases that we use in regard to the positive unconscious. One of the interesting things is that we are. Curiously humble about good ideas colloquially we very rarely a good idea is being originated by our sales by the way. We say for example a wonderful idea has just occurred to me. It suddenly flashed into my head. The violinist played as though he were inspired. Always this idea that there is something which is not the familiar ego life which provides the good ideas. It may be actually that I never have a good idea.
Good ideas simply come to me from somewhere else and this is certainly a very common experience of things simply emerging from the blue into our consciousness and the source of course is this. This huge area of the of the positive unconscious mind which in many respects is more accomplished than the greater has greater insights in many respects I think than the positive in the ordinary conscious ego. Now the ordinary process I suppose of sought goes something like this. We take in material from the external world and the natural world in the social consciousness. This
material is then stored away in the memory and is worked upon. But this does not in the unconscious mind. And when we have good ideas this seems to be. The transition into the contrails mind of the results of this conference working in the basement or anyhow in some areas in which we are not normally in touch with it. It sort of comes up to us. And we get the good idea and then the function of the of the conscious mind is to verify the idea to check it to see if it is actually a good idea. It is good as it feels and if it seems to be coherent and consonant with what we know already and then after that we can work out
the relationship between the new good idea with the other information and the other ideas which we have. This is seems to be roughly the modus operandi of this of this conscious and unconscious process in relation to the sciences. I suppose the best account of the workings of the unconscious intuition to be found in the writings of only placarded and more recently about who described the method medical. Intuitions these up brushes of knowledge and insight which can. Out of the unconscious I mean generally the process is that the mathematician tries to wrestles with the problem and cannot succeed in solving it leaves it alone and then suddenly in a moment of distraction or reverie the answer will come into his head. Well sometimes the answer is correct and sometimes it's not.
But it is the business of the critical conscious mind to examine this answer. In the cases when it's correct to see what the logical steps are between this conclusion which the conscious mind has arrived at in its subterranean state and the premises from which the whole thing starts. It is interesting to remark that in his recently published book Professor Bruno and his book The process of education devotes a chapter to the possibility of actually training the intuition training children to retain and to sharpen their powers of intuitive thought. He says there probably is still a great deal of research to be done in this field. But he's very strongly of opinion that this should be taught to children the children should not have this power of guessing
sometimes correct and sometimes incorrectly but above that they shouldn't have this repressed by the process of analytical education and that they should be encouraged and trained to do that. Not exactly systematic but because it isn't systematic. But to do it you know as a regular thing to be to be open to this idea of intuition. Now we move from the positive unconscious in the sphere of science to the closely related operations of the positive unconscious in the spheres of art. Here of course the whole idea of poetic inspiration has been around for centuries for millenia. It's interesting for example to find that in several of the Indo-European languages the word for poet and SIA is the same we have been let in we have and we
have settled I think to use the word in Icelandic always meaning the same thing that the poet is the seer. What we have in home for example is the minstrel sings out of the gods and we have this this whole idea of inspiration running right through into modern times and it's interesting to find what numbers of great poets have said about the subject for example of songs made me not the songs and Lamartine it is not I think it is ideas that think for me and me. But one doesn't work quite listens it is as if some stranger whispering in one's ear and then surely has a curious metaphor uses the mind in creation. It's like a fading code which
some invisible influence like and even when awakens to transitory brilliance. Relation to these remarks it's worth pointing out that the famous summing up of philosophy by Descartes Cogito ergo sum I think that was the main deed by the German Romantic you loss of Cogito ergo soon I thought therefore I am not I think but I thought therefore I am and there is really I think a great deal about those ideas that the ego naturally retains its immense importance as a critical faculty within the total mind body. But a great many of its best ideas come to it from somewhere else and obviously I think one of the major problems of education is
to open this door into the other world where where these ideas come from to help the young person to remain open and aware of these kind of intuitions. Coming from a deeper level. This is all this allows us I think to make a reasonable definition of what is genius genius man of genius I suppose is one. Who has a particularly active positive unconscious and a particularly good one and one which is furnishes him with a great many novel insights and brilliant new ideas at the same time he must have obviously a very good and efficient conscious critical mass which can take the
ideas which come to him in this way by a kind of automatism and examine them and see if they are really good. Work them out and fit them in to build them up into structures either scientific or philosophical or artistic which shall be satisfactory. This I would say is the the definition of a man of genius that it is both inspiration and perspiration I mean there has to be the thing coming in and the tremendous hard work being done also. Of course one thing which we must never forget that some of the upper rushes from the unconscious world in many cases they are not of the first quality they may be extremely poor in quality. In this case we have somebody talking about the arts working. It might be said in the mood to genius but
not with the consequences of genius he is what he does. Feels like being a genius. But objectively it looks like something nonsensical. This unfortunately happens quite frequently. There are tragic tragic cases of this I mean one of the classical tragic cases is a case of poor Benjamin Robert Haden who felt himself to be one of the greatest painting that ever lived but his pictures are in fact a plausible although he was an extremely intelligent man. Oddly enough we get another very curious case of this in a man much more intelligent even than hidden which is Voltaire prided himself on being a writer of tragedies and he wrote one of his tragedies catalog tragedy Alexandra. In one week. And he wrote to a
friend proposed this feat saying nobody who has not experienced inspiration possibly believe this to be true. But I have experienced this inspiration and here is the tragedy. The only trouble is the tragedy is completely unreadable. So that. We see that we can have all the functioning of us without. The results of it in this case the up brushes resemble very much the automatic writing which we find in a number of mediums and here again if you look at the foot of mediums most of it is a kind of inspirational twaddle. Occasionally there are messages which look as if they had some kind of ridiculous quality to them. Still more occasionally the
utterances of very profound kind of mystical wisdom still use yet more occasion. Quite considerable works of art produced in this automatic way that I'm thinking of the very very strange case which has been frequently quoted and analyzed the case of patience worth this. This historical novel which was produced a quite unlettered bleed in the Middle West who wrote in this week English style which never really departing from the spirit in the vocabulary of the century in which he was writing a book which is not a very good book it is quite an interesting book and it remains one of the real puzzles of the work of the positive unconscious where on earth did this thing come from. She of course affirmed that it came from the spirit of some good person who was speaking through hurt.
But this may or may not be true. But anyhow if there was something in her mind capable of spinning extremely good yarn and bringing it out also. I mean still more remarkable of maintaining this kind of historical capital. But over quite consistently over hundreds of pages in relation to the storytelling faculty. Well to quote the case of Robert Louis Stevenson which is one of the most remarkable cases of an excellent author who relied almost entirely on the unconscious mind for his material. He tells us in across the plains that all his stories came to him in dreams or in recovery
from something not himself. He called this part of the Brownies the brownies in my present me with this material and all I have to do is to work it up into literary form. One of the electorate actually gave in relation to. Visionary experience actually have more to say about this video storytelling faculty which seems to be at the back of every magazine but which in certain minds is developed as I say to an extraordinary picture and here again this is I think a most fantastic phenomenon that that this power of invention a fictional invention of grammar. Should most of us are aware of it of course only during dreams or in delirium. But there are certain people to whom this storytelling faculty provides an endless wealth of
material for their amusement or if they happen to be capable writers for the purpose of sort of. Turning out fictional drama. Now before we leave this subject I would like to mention one of the oddest phenomena produced by the unconscious mind the phenomenon of what is called the calculating boy. These are decent children really. I mean entirely inexplicably you get these children who have these amazing capacities for doing arithmetic calculations in the extraordinary rapidity with perfect accuracy. I want to read an anecdotal time they found out about one of these calculating votes it was called Benjamin blight who lived early in the 19th century and this is a story which
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What a piece of work is a man
Contemporary picture, part 1
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a lecture by Aldous Huxley entitled "The Contemporary Picture."
Series Description
Aldous Huxley presents a lecture series in which he asks, "how did our ancestors think of human nature and in what terms ought we to think about it?"
Broadcast Date
Media type
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Speaker: Huxley, Aldous, 1894-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-56-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:53
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Chicago: “What a piece of work is a man; Contemporary picture, part 1,” 1961-10-10, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 6, 2023,
MLA: “What a piece of work is a man; Contemporary picture, part 1.” 1961-10-10. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <>.
APA: What a piece of work is a man; Contemporary picture, part 1. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from