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The end of the radio network presents all this Huxley with the first lecture in a series entitled What a piece of work is America. This lecture a consideration of ancient views of human nature was recorded at Kresge auditorium for broadcast at this time. Here now is Dean Johnny Burchett of the school of humanities and social studies to introduce Mr. Huxley. Ladies and gentlemen of this intimate gathering. It is nearly 40 years now since chrome yellow revealed itself to the admiring eyes of English reading people including undergraduates of which company I was then one in the 40 years since my lecturer has steadily produced new and important books covering a wide range of ideas using many different literary treatments and generally attaining a distinction of such an order that is ludicrous for me to try to explain it.
I suppose we all know that he was born in England but he studied in the bay and was in penance to California and I have refrained from comments on the planets. We have a very good convention in the Western speaking world when it comes to introducing presidents and queens. This is a convention that prevents you from delivering a long biography. The name same convention should apply to introductions of great artists. You all know or you would not be here at this point I could properly meeting over to him except for the fact that if a. Simile is like a fire horse who fancies he has heard an alarm bell. And so I will perhaps tell you why Mr. Huxley is here he is here as a visiting
professor in the humanities. He'll be here most of the semester and a small part of next semester in the spring. At the time of our centennial conclave. How does talks like represents a large section of the service is of contact between the sciences and the humanities. He's the right kind of man to have on his campus. And so I'm honored to present him to you to deliver the first of the seven lectures entitled as a whole with his usual reference to Shakespeare. What a piece of work. You'll begin tonight with a discussion of ancient view of human nature Mr. Huxley Peru. Let people begin by thinking the previous speaker and also
parody the title of the series and say Want a piece of impertinence it is an encyclopedic really ignorant man to come talk to extremely learned people. But there is a certain justification for this. Which is this that really genuinely people are inhibited by the vast amount of special knowledge from straying beyond the boundaries of their own particular province. The rush in where angels fear to trade. I think part of the function perhaps of the ignorant but naively interested a man crawling about on the woodwork between the pigeon holes looking here looking there and to try to make some kind of coherent picture of the whole elaborate
system of compartments which has grown up in our academic words in this series I propose to talk. Very imperfectly and partially about what is most profound and searching and difficult problem and the problem of human nature. What a piece of work is a man as Shakespeare said. And of course he illustrated this remark. Corpus of his plays he showed us what a piece of work a man was and from stuff to cast in from the huts. From Jago to call DDA he showed us the entire range of
what this extraordinary multiple amphibian can do would be to follow tonight. What is to follow. I propose to talk about sort of a piece of work. This strange creature is before we come to the contemporary view on the problem. I think it's worthwhile to devote an hour to what furthers thought about sin about human nature. After all they were no stupider than we are. They're different difference between us and them is that we know more than they do perhaps by knowing more in some respects. We don't know as much about certain things as they pay attention to certain things which we don't pay attention to so that in some
ways it may be that they made up for the general turn to ignorance by certain insights which perhaps we have shot ourselves or when I should begin by talking first about the view of man which we find Homer the father of Western trick. We find Homer of course is not a philosopher and not a psychologist but he was an extremely shrewd observer. He evidently represented the general point of view of his times and I will begin by quoting a very interesting passage from the 19th book of The Iliad which describes the reconciliation of Agamemnon and Achilles Memnon if you remember enraged Achilles by taking away his captive. And finally when it became necessary
for Achilles to come back into the battle. Agamemnon made a handsome apology in public and explained what he had done what he had done. And he was not to blame. When my bad luck and the fury that works in the darkness that blinded my judgment day when I confiscated Achilles's. That blinds us of the means corrupting them bringing another right even blinded by what's he to stand above all men and all God's.
Explanation without any thought seems to him completely rational men can be blinded by father's use. When the Greek tragedies the stands for disaster. But in whom the word stands for the state of mind. Which brings on disaster the state of the state of infatuation the state of mind which leads us to do all kinds of absurd things against our own interest. Things which make no sense to us whatever. And yet we still do them and personified this strange state of mind as an alien supernatural force into man.
Sometimes the gods themselves in the more malicious moments were mean and upset a man's judgment. But this strange kind of fury this daughter of Zeus to carry out upon human beings. No Homo of course makes it quite clear that there are also positive interventions from supernatural in general these positive interventions through the medium of something that he calls us kind of power and strength and vitality which permits us to do the impossible. Even animals are capable of experiencing many horses every now and then. There's a tremendous influx of men under the most extraordinary
things in the air. In general I would have said that any particularly good idea anything above our ordinary level of intelligence remarkable action or great insight given to us from the outside by a God who hands out. His minerals to us. And the gold sometimes has a name we know which God is at work within us but occasionally called a dime on some sort of supernatural being. Generally until much later times in any supernatural being to whom one couldn't give a name Aphrodite or just put a dime on for example
the rich Socrates received were given him by a dime on the name of a supernatural being and it is interesting to note that Socrates is after all the father of Western rationalism the greatest blessings come to us provided or is given what I see as a divine gift. He himself recognized this supernatural influx which constantly influence human beings and gods are not mere fairy tale fantasies. They are principles of scientific explanation to account for the beauty of human psychology the fact that women be constantly doing things which are obviously against their interests
which they know to be stupid and then do things which seem to be far beyond the capacities of action or thought quite rational in the absence of any other hypothesis I mean such an hypothesis we have now out of the dynamic unconscious. It was only rational to suppose that strange events which we are all conscious due to the to the influx of supernatural powers. And it's interesting to realize that this idea of position for good or for ill say supernatural powers only being used as a principle of explanation. Right on almost to the end of the 17th century but contemporary we've got even with Newton we find the
idea of position being used currently as an explanation of many forms of the order. Many of the older forms of human behavior you will find for example in that compendium of 17th century psychology the Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy an extremely good discussion of this problem I mean she points out that in most cases of strange behavior and made of Medicine what we would call a neuroscience most cases have a physical origin but a quite a good proportion of them are probably due to some kind of supernatural position. And it's really interesting to note that even the idea of demonic possession had completely evaporated. Nothing was brought in to take its place. We have a curious kind of interregnum so to
speak in the history of psychology during the 18th and 19th centuries. Stranger aspects of human nature simply varied explanatory principles to account for example of men was examined by the French Academy with the assistance of Benjamin Franklin. The explanation that they could bring up. For all of these strange phenomena which occurred in this neighborhood was imagination such as We Know It clearly doesn't account for the kind of things which were happening in these early days of hypnotic experimentation. And strangely enough it is not until quite late in the nineteenth century that satisfactory substitute for the old idea of position. The.
Good comes of course with the development of the idea of a dynamic unconscious but more because of the unconscious and the pre-conscious or in general the subliminal self and the opening of the new period of psychology by William James. But with the publication of a paper by W. H. You know I think 1880 to the extraordinarily recent that we have a new substitute for ancient Homeric and afterwards a Christian idea of demonic and divine position agents count for the odder aspects of human behavior. Now it is personal for a moment to the
practical side of Greek psychology that the Greeks were good at realistic people and they knew very well that the best picks the most distressing consequences of position could be rewarded or. If some kind of satisfaction either direct or indirect were found for the instinctive drye and the frustrations and miseries of normal life and the two great methods which they both of which they applied the term catharsis. The first of them historically was the method of the darkness. Dai nice is in this context was called Lucy us to liberate and he did liberate these people who lived
an extraordinarily miserable life if they were slaves from a great deal of their sense of prostration and unhappiness but first of all giving them alcohol and in the second place encouraging these congregational dances. At a later period the rights seem to lose their interest and the place was taken by the Corrie been kicked out CS in honor of the great mother. And here there was a specific therapeutic value was set upon the city's dances. For example the people suffering from what we would now call anxiety seen various types of neurosis the way they responded to certain types of music. And in this way one could judge what Diamond or God
was possessing them and suitable dances and religious rites within prescribed for them and they worked in this way for a great deal of the neurotic tension which was upsetting them. At this time the present course in many parts of the world one can find exactly the same procedures being carried out. I was greatly struck for example two years ago when I was in Brazil but maybe not in America. What is called in Rio and what is called in by a candle which are essentially adaptations of West African dances. When you go and see the run see clearly what the Greeks were up to and how effective this kind of therapy was
unfortunate. Living in the most frightful conditions of Rio on Saturday nights. Trust sense of frustration and misery. But this night long dancing and interestingly enough all the dancers that I witnessed. There was no question of alcohol involved in the procedure but this tremendous muscular activity through which immense accumulations of rare worked often by the end of the night. Many of the participants of course fall in down in a kind of ecstatic stupor prepared to go on with their miserable life. During the following week it was to me very interesting to see these dances which are exactly described in the Greek literature
about the meaning the tossing of the head for example which occurs again and again in descriptions of mean it is in Greek. Greece was clearly exemplified in the condom play and dances there was a great deal of this tossing which I imagine the physiological reason for which is that it drives a great deal of blood into the head by centrifugal force and probably produces this kind of ecstatic state clearly repeated. Coming back to the position and the interesting thing about it is the subject of play this is a realistic fear because quite clearly these sudden Percy's either for evil or for good. Oh experienced subjectively in policies
after we constantly you know idiomatic use of language we say what came over me. I can't have been myself at the moment to things like this a good idea occurred to me. It would never say I have invented a good idea. It has come to me it has occurred to me that subjective sense that it does come to us from the outside. And in this position the idea it was an extremely. Extremely realistic one. Until one hid a better theory such as we have all we think we have anyhow seem to me seem to be the most sensible explanation of both normal and abnormal behavior.
The idea being that there was a sale which was invaded from the outside by these alien supernatural forces and was made to do things either evil things or exceptionally good things which is the normal self would be quite incapable. Another just briefly consider how did Homer envisage the self that was invaded from the outside. He did not in his personality. There is no word in Homer of for the so the psyche speaks of the psyche something which exists only at the moment of death. It's the thing that leaves the body and it will become the future shade which people can contact if they go down to Hades.
But during life that was not ture during life the kind of symbiosis of a number of psycho physiological effect working together and living to living in a rather uneasy consensus and organization rather unstable and rather uncomfortable all the time. And the factors which which you know Homer describes as being components of the self. First of all that these harsh physiological something which he calls the few marks which is the seat of feeling which lives in the chest and then there is the Frayne which quite literally is the midriff. Which is the organ of passion and of life. Then there is the no US which is the reason of a sense of. Ego more or less. We would
call it I suppose the ego. But anyhow it is the reasonable side of man. Then there is the heart which fulfils more or less the same kind of functions as the heart does in colloquial language today and also the believe which is is quite important so that we see this kind of community which works. Us member of this committee the chairman is there and he may need to see if the other members of the committee. True but never quite certain which which position he will occupy. And one of the things which is striking in the Homeric psychology word for with no
conception of psychology closely resembles the psychology of a completely negligible part. It seems to us very strange to get on with the idea that one can do it. For example I mean take this woman to be the sort of saying we can say well if my. So is my brain. And I know US has certain misgivings but I'm prepared to go along with what the others say. All the more distinct symptoms of position. I mean. This is an answer which could sum up in terms of women perhaps in
some ways it's more realistic than our idea of the wheel doing something approaching in this context an eminent historian of ideas and pluralistic thinking about the nature of this is founded in the nature of thought make it surprising that men should have said before was not a philosopher. Nora a psychologist was it a very good observer and his view of the of the personality built up out of the multiple factors isn't workable. And it's interesting you know it's remarkably close in some ways to the conception which was developed I suppose about three or four
centuries after. Which was developed of course much more systematically by philosophical writers. But there you see the Buddhist conception specifically affirms that man is not time that he has no unitary so and that his personality is a group of loosely con drawing complexes which in course can does and they point out that all the phenomena of human behavior and thought can be explained in terms of the sky as which part you see a logical and partly psychological You can't really separate the two.
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What a piece of work is a man
Ancient views of human nature, part 1
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
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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 "Ancient Views of Human Nature."
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
Speaker: Burchard, John E. (John Ely), 1898-1975
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-56-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:50
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Chicago: “What a piece of work is a man; Ancient views of human nature, part 1,” 1961-08-10, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
MLA: “What a piece of work is a man; Ancient views of human nature, part 1.” 1961-08-10. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 28, 2024. <>.
APA: What a piece of work is a man; Ancient views of human nature, 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