Chapter the Fifth: The Last Days of Marcus Karenin - Section 8
‘These questions are the next questions to which research will bring us answers,’ said Karenin. ‘While we sit here and talk idly and inexactly of what is needed and what may be, there are hundreds of keen-witted men and women who are working these things out, dispassionately and certainly, for the love of knowledge. The next sciences to yield great harvests now will be psychology and neural physiology. These perplexities of the situation between man and woman and the trouble with the obstinacy of egotism, these are temporary troubles, the issue of our own times. Suddenly all these differences that seem so fixed will dissolve, all these incompatibles will run together, and we shall go on to mould our bodies and our bodily feelings and personal reactions as boldly as we begin now to carve mountains and set the seas in their places and change the currents of the wind.’
‘It is the next wave,’ said Fowler, who had come out upon the terrace and seated himself silently behind Karenin’s chair.
‘Of course, in the old days,’ said Edwards, ‘men were tied to their city or their country, tied to the homes they owned or the work they did....’
‘I do not see,’ said Karenin, ‘that there is any final limit to man’s power of self-modification.
‘There is none,’ said Fowler, walking forward and sitting down upon the parapet in front of Karenin so that he could see his face. ‘There is no absolute limit to either knowledge or power.... I hope you do not tire yourself talking.’
‘I am interested,’ said Karenin. ‘I suppose in a little while men will cease to be tired. I suppose in a little time you will give us something that will hurry away the fatigue products and restore our jaded tissues almost at once. This old machine may be made to run without slacking or cessation.’
‘That is possible, Karenin. But there is much to learn.’
‘And all the hours we give to digestion and half living; don’t you think there will be some way of saving these?’
Fowler nodded assent.
‘And then sleep again. When man with his blazing lights made an end to night in his towns and houses—it is only a hundred years or so ago that that was done—then it followed he would presently resent his eight hours of uselessness. Shan’t we presently take a tabloid or lie in some field of force that will enable us to do with an hour or so of slumber and rise refreshed again?’
‘Frobisher and Ameer Ali have done work in that direction.’
‘And then the inconveniences of age and those diseases of the system that come with years; steadily you drive them back and you lengthen and lengthen the years that stretch between the passionate tumults of youth and the contractions of senility. Man who used to weaken and die as his teeth decayed now looks forward to a continually lengthening, continually fuller term of years. And all those parts of him that once gathered evil against him, the vestigial structures and odd, treacherous corners of his body, you know better and better how to deal with. You carve his body about and leave it re-modelled and unscarred. The psychologists are learning how to mould minds, to reduce and remove bad complexes of thought and motive, to relieve pressures and broaden ideas. So that we are becoming more and more capable of transmitting what we have learnt and preserving it for the race. The race, the racial wisdom, science, gather power continually to subdue the individual man to its own end. Is that not so?’
Fowler said that it was, and for a time he was telling Karenin of new work that was in progress in India and Russia. ‘And how is it with heredity?’ asked Karenin.
Fowler told them of the mass of inquiry accumulated and arranged by the genius of Tchen, who was beginning to define clearly the laws of inheritance and how the sex of children and the complexions and many of the parental qualities could be determined.
‘He can actually DO——?’
‘It is still, so to speak, a mere laboratory triumph,’ said Fowler, ‘but to-morrow it will be practicable.’
‘You see,’ cried Karenin, turning a laughing face to Rachel and Edith, ‘while we have been theorising about men and women, here is science getting the power for us to end that old dispute for ever. If woman is too much for us, we’ll reduce her to a minority, and if we do not like any type of men and women, we’ll have no more of it. These old bodies, these old animal limitations, all this earthly inheritance of gross inevitabilities falls from the spirit of man like the shrivelled cocoon from an imago. And for my own part, when I hear of these things I feel like that—like a wet, crawling new moth that still fears to spread its wings. Because where do these things take us?’
‘Beyond humanity,’ said Kahn.
‘No,’ said Karenin. ‘We can still keep our feet upon the earth that made us. But the air no longer imprisons us, this round planet is no longer chained to us like the ball of a galley slave....
‘In a little while men who will know how to bear the strange gravitations, the altered pressures, the attenuated, unfamiliar gases and all the fearful strangenesses of space will be venturing out from this earth. This ball will be no longer enough for us; our spirit will reach out.... Cannot you see how that little argosy will go glittering up into the sky, twinkling and glittering smaller and smaller until the blue swallows it up. They may succeed out there; they may perish, but other men will follow them....
‘It is as if a great window opened,’ said Karenin.