thumbnail of What a piece of work is a man; Human potentialities, part 1
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The radio network presents all this Huxley with the seventh lecture in a series and titled What a piece of work is a man. This lecture a consideration of human potentialities was tape recorded at Presby auditorium MIT for broadcast at this time. As introduced by Professor Roy Lamson of the department of humanities at MIT. Ladies and gentleman even from the first lecture no introduction to Aldous Huxley was necessary. This one too would be superfluous except as an opportunity. To thank him for being here and MIT these last two months. I know I bring the sincere thanks of the Institute and the MIT community to him. And I also bring the thanks of the seniors and the staff of course 21. Will have the opportunity of discussing with him the lectures that you've all heard and I think I bring the thanks of those who have sat in quiet without chairs and in a very nice polo. Have listened without seeing.
While I'm on this business of thanks. I'd like to thank. Do. You know me. MIT's comic magazine for those who don't know which has immortalized the MIT freshman. Having him carry all this Huxley banner as a sign of the beginning of his intellectual life right along with our Thanks we also welcome all the talk's Lee back here to MIT during the centennial next April. On occasion it is characteristic of all of us Huxley to begin a lecture with a few quotations from authors east and west near and far past and present and introducing him in the final lecture of this year as Carnegie visiting Centennial professor of humanities. I should like to quote one author. His name is Bishop Joseph Hall an English churchmen satirist and moralist Bishop Paul. Three hundred years ago. Published a book
called character's virtues and vices. And in those essays he characterized man the wise man the honest man the valiant man and so forth. And from his writing I quote a prophetic although partial description of the speaker tonight. Bishop Paul wrote in his good seventeenth century prose there is nothing that he desires not to know. He loves to be gassed that not know and to see the world unseen he loves rather to give than to take. His free discourse runs back to the past. And recovers events out of memory and then cometh before time and flying forward to future things. Then comparing one with the other. You can give a very well near prophetical. Wherein his conjecture is better than another's judgments. He walks ever in all. And dares not one subject every work and action throughout high
and just censure the title of the lecture tonight his human potentialities. Thank you. Thank you. It really. Really out of reserve my thanks to the end and I think I can start. Directly with this. Large and complicated subject of human potentialities. Let us begin by asking a question what would have happened. What would have happened to a child of a hundred seventy IQ born into a family at the time of the beatings of Lascaux great obviously. Even if he was as intelligent as a professor we know he could hardly develop cybernetics if he could have been. Except
that there was no other opportunity for him to be anything else. And now the interesting fact is of course that biologists assure us that. Physiological atomically we are very much the same as we where 20000 years ago and we are using fundamentally the same equipment to produce incredibly different results that we have in the course of these twenty thousand years. Actually an immense number of things which at that time and for many many centuries thereafter where potential and latent in man. And this I think gives us reason for tempered optimism in regard to the future I think many potentialities of a desirable of course also going under. But I think there are still
great potentialities for rationality for affection and for creativity still and it may be since everything has speeded up so enormously in recent years that we've missed for going almost beyond the point where we have reached out. We may find methods for going beyond it within a few hundred years. To go beyond it as far as we have succeeded in going beyond recognition ancestors in twenty thousand years I think this is not only a fantastic release of neurologists assured us that no human being has ever made use of more than perhaps as much as 10 percent of all the neurons in his brain. Perhaps if we set about it in the right way we'd be able to produce
extraordinary things out of this strange piece of work that I mean he's of course geneticists who talk about the possibilities of eugenics and clearly it would be possible to breed a more efficient type. But I think this is so far out of any question of practical politics at the moment that it's not worth discussing and that also we can present we really don't know what to breed for we the most that we can say is that there are certain undesirable things which we would like to breed against. But when it comes to the positive side we don't I think know enough. Don't be practical. So I won't talk about that at all but consider what can be done with the kind of human beings that we are at present now. I would think that one of the most important things we have to think about
in relation to human beings and to the possibility of actually seeing out of a potentiality is one of the important points which we should stress a few more than we do. It is the fact of human differences. Now human differences are just as important as human similarities human beings are unique species than any other species. Every type of human being. Every individual can be categorized as a continuous system of continuous variables within the system. Every individual has a right to a place in the system and a right to develop according to his own Constitution and temperament. I think that this we will find increasingly it is a matter of
great importance in getting the best out of human beings. That is to say recognizing the fact of the intrinsic difference. Trying in each case to work out the means by which every individual can be helped to actually use his potentialities in his particular place in the general scheme of human beings. Now. Of course this tech has been recognised from time immemorial the one ideal for all human beings after all within the Christian tradition we have two ideals of the way of master either with action in the way of contemplation. And within the Oriental DreamWorks we have I think a rather more realistic division of human beings. There are three main
ideas in the bag about Krishna says that there are three ways of coming to salvation the way back to the way of devotion is the way the way of selfless acts. That is the way of the way of contemplation and serene polar extremes. Correspondingly closely I think to some of the most recent ideas about the categorizing of human beings correspond to the French idea which was popular earlier half of the 19th century the types what is called the digestive types the muscular types the cerebral correspond closely to the idea of the three possible viable human ability which filled in as the more MS or more for an ectomorph
end. I think you will find that probably because it will be found there your book don't develop types of differential education for children certainly for those at the extreme limits. These distinctions have seen the value of differential education in regard to the to the intellectually gifted intellectually under gifted. But I think we should find it valuable to have a differential education not nearly so to say on the vertical level but also on the horizontal level. It will be useful to take children according to the. Nature of their temperament and give them slightly different kinds of training. One of the things I think would be so to say tempted to wind to the shorn lamb but
not to plan is the extreme introverted into the midst of extroverted which causes a great deal of suffering on the part of the child and there are of course I mean we live. Freud asserted that extroversion is the way of health for everybody but this is obviously simply not true. It happened to be true for Freud who was of an extremely dry kind of extrovert. But it is not true for very many people. And in fact we see throughout civilization the various histories of civilization that extremely ingenious devices have been protecting the introvert from to and from also for means for providing safety valves and
clips for the violent people. The people without doing too much harm to other people. After all the monastic system was in a sense device for saving the valuable introverted people from too much contact with the classes and devices like the Teutonic Knights and the Templars. These tremendous aggressive energies of these types of people in ways which though they might be harmful for him were not harmful for their own societies. These were very ingenious devices which I think we can certainly profitably imitate Now before I go on to the problems of peace. I would like to talk about some ways of
developing actualizing desirable potentialities which may have nothing to do with the education of gore but these are the ways with which essentially chemical and pharmacological are two or three years ago it was announced the Russian Academy of Sciences was engaged in a five year plan to try to improve intellectual efficiency by pharmacological means. Now this sounds a little secret. I have talked to pharmacologists about this matter and a number of them say this is probably quite possible but it may be possible to by pharmacological means which will do to increase the span of attention and to increase the powers of concentration. Perhaps to cut down on the necessity for sleep. Various other things which are which may lead to a very considerable
increase in general really seeing the extraordinary rate at which pharmacology is advancing at the present time I would not be at all surprised if within the next ten or twenty years something of this kind did become possible and that it may be conceivable that people will be mentally more efficient pharmacological means. But then there is another possibility which is that somebody may discover a really good euphoric something which will make people feel happy without damaging physical organism psychologically. We know what the best conditions for effective. Accomplishment the most favorable condition is crisis people in crisis will do the most extraordinary things. But you can't keep up.
You know this is a crisis the last time for too long then it becomes excessive strain and people break down under it. But the other the other condition under which people function at a very high level in general is a condition of happiness. People who are contented I think very frequently happens I think at least in this mood of happiness so to say is the barrier between the conscious and the pre-conscious between the ego and the creative person to do better than he would have not been here also. There are other points here and I think that we may find that if we are good and completely harmless euphoric but actually people may be more moral. Bertrand Russell has pointed out frequently that
the contented and happy people are generally much more virtuous and kindly than people. And here again we may see in an indirect way this pharmacological advances contributing to the realisation of the actualisation desire of the potentialities that it's come to the problem. Of course I mean the thing which of course is burning question here and of course and many other places is the problem of scientific special and what is to be done about it. We cannot quite obviously we cannot escape from specialization and the problem to be mitigated However the undesirable effects of extreme specialization to be avoided.
Up to the present course the scientific specialisation should be mitigated and courses in the humanities and this is good it is excellent. There should be courses in the humanities that examine the matter a little more closely. We find that after all courses in the humanities courses in the world of symbols of language kept on repeating in these lectures it is an amphibious creature in which he lives. Disparate words which mediate experienced more or less immediate. Now both these words of the scientific word. The humanities are both the worlds of symbols and language
so that they specialize in one type of symbols is being offset by a specialization in another type of symbols so that I think we find here that this is finally not satisfactory that what we need perhaps is some kind of mitigation of all this symbolic specialisation in symbolic subject matter that kind of direct training of the mind body which has to use the symbols and do the living and form concepts and thoughts. This it seems to me is one of the major problems which confronts us how are we to find a method of teaching people so to say the humanities in some way to counteract specialization. The level of symbols both in science and in the conventional
liberal arts courses and incidentally it's interesting to reflect that the liberal arts medieval curriculum were all with the exception of astronomy and music were all verbal. Yes they were all concerned with words and even music was treated as a science rather than as it was a pleasure and an emotional appreciation. Of course astronomy it was was also highly abstract and moralistic so that almost the entire curriculum in medieval times was it was fully developed to the verbal screen to the level of symbols and we still I mean we are I think a good deal better than the medieval people in regard to training the world of symbols but we haven't. It seems to me yet gone far enough in this
direction. And here I would like to quote again something which I quoted before this is a remarkable phrase of Spinoza's where he says. Teach the body to become capable of many things. This way you will perfect the mind permitted to come to the intellectual love of God. But this is the most wonderful acts on this phrase the Lord remarkable it is. And I would say it would be the kind of slogan so to say the kind of first axiomatic statement of what this type of education should be. Well now let's consider the ways in which we could apply a this kind of
humanistic education to human beings. First of all we would start I suppose with with perception which is completely basic to actual life I think. Good thinking feeling good wheeling high energy dependent on good perception and we do remarkably little I think in the way of training perceptions. It was something in the realm of music quite a lot in the music. We don't do very much in regard to the other special senses. We don't talk very much I think in the realm of C which is probably the most important perception of one which we make use of them.
And there is plenty of work which has been done which indicates that proper training in the perceptions of training about seeing can be of great value. It can be used to help the human being in all kinds of ways to meekly the body more capable of many things and and it me I would like us make a short digression was I forgotten the point here which I think is important to me that this this type of special training the humanities the training of the mind body is probably particularly important at this time when advancing technology has made a great many of the skills necessary. If you look at me.
What we used to be called Master of works which were the works masterpiece is a masterpiece. It was a piece of work done by an apprentice to prove that he had learned everything that was to be known about his trade and was fit to become himself a master. The interesting thing about all these these special skills was the extremely primitive and simple to where you used skillful means to produce very complicated results. Today we have excessively complicated tools which can produce even more extraordinary results with the minimum of correlation and often with no hand at all if the if the machine is completely automatic and foolproof and this word foolproof is very important because a fool proof machine or a fool proof organization is not only foolproof it is also spontaneity
proof it is also inspiration proof it is also proof. So that this means I think that we are no more than if you need of this special kind of training the body to have these non-verbal skills because there are so many Yadi years of our life where this is not imposed upon us by the structure of our society and the nature of our technology. We must do consciously what was done to a very large extent unconsciously in the past. But now to get back to this question of training the perceptions quite a lot of work as I see has been done in this field and only a little of it. But I've been very struck for example by the work which is was done. The University of Ohio a professor of.
Training of all the special vision. Another man at the University of Sherman who employed methods in relation to the teaching of art with the greatest success and extremely valuable techniques I can't go into the details of him being fully developed and one of the interesting things seems to be when these techniques apply to elementary school it was found that the children who underwent this kind of training since. Developed to more rapidly seem to be more intelligent. Their scholastic performance was better for the people more interested in what they were doing and therefore they behave better. So that was a great advantage on every level seem to accrue from
this type of training. And as I say there is a lot of work these fields has been done and I think there is a very good case for looking into this and seeing what more can be done. Now of course the training of the perceptions is only a special aspect of the general awareness and I would regard awareness as one of C.. So to say the absolute value of human life I think it is an absolute to increase awareness. This is an act of faith but I think that ranks with intelligence as one of the basic which we should try to realize that of course from time immemorial class of has had been but it is of course very characteristic of our stream civilization that philosophical
precepts are given knowledge but no means where this idea can be implemented for the precept be no means good. For this reason but extremely important that we examine some full precept but extremely short of methods where we can fulfill these ideals and obey the precepts. And this is why recent advances in this field seem to me to be particularly welcome. I have been greatly impressed recently by a book which published 10 years ago about therapy which among other things compendium of means which
can be extended in every direction.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
What a piece of work is a man
Human potentialities, part 1
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-fx73zz58).
Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a lecture by Aldous Huxley entitled "Human Potentialities."
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: Lamson, Roy
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-56-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:36
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “What a piece of work is a man; Human potentialities, part 1,” 1961-11-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 2, 2024,
MLA: “What a piece of work is a man; Human potentialities, part 1.” 1961-11-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 2, 2024. <>.
APA: What a piece of work is a man; Human potentialities, 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