What was Aldous Huxley's background in science, and how is it reflected in the novel Brave New World?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Aldous Huxley's brother, Julian wrote,

The more [science] discovers and the more comprehension it gives us of the mechanism of existence, the more clearly does the mystery of existence itself stand out.

Thus, although Huxley had to abandon science because of his poor eyesight and turn to literature, his outlook remained essentially scientific.  For the theme of his novel is stated by him in the foreword to the novel: 

The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals.

The Bokanovsky's Process,the Podsnap's Technique, decanting, the scientific hypnopoediac conditioning, the feelies, the fertility treatments, the Malthusian drill--these are all scientific "advancements" that destroy and mitigate the humanity of the people of Brave New World.

Rather interestingly, although Huxley's Brave New World, which was published in 1932, contains a radically pessimistic view of human nature in its antiutopia, with its eerie combination of a totalitarian society and "ubiquitous feel-good drugs," and free sex, Huxley made his home in California after the 1940s.  By the 1960s, ironically, Huxley himself had embraced the drug culture promulgated by Timothy O'Leary, experimenting with mescaline and LSD.  With his religious penchant at the time, Huxley felt that LSD and mescaline gave users essentially the same experiences that mystics attained through prayer, meditation, and fasting.  In fact, he wrote two books about the effects of psychedelic drugs, The Doors of Perception (1954), and Heaven and Hell (1956).

And, most ironically, as Huxley was dying from cancer in 1963, he had LSD pumped through his veins--a scene reminiscient of the death of John the Savage's mother, Linda.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Brave New World you can see that Huxley is extremely interested in science and the way that science can be used to affect human behavior.  You see that right away in Chapter 1 as readers are led on a tour of the hatchery where science is used to breed human beings to be as identical as is possible.

Huxley himself came from a very scientific family.  His grandfather, for example, was a very famous scientist named Thomas Henry Huxley.  He had a brother and half brother who were scientists.  Huxley himself had planned to be a scientist until a disease blinded him for a while and then left his eyesight too weak for the job.

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