Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 15

The Last Men

1. Introduction to the Last Human Species

IF one of the First Men could enter the world of the Last Men, he would find many things familiar and much that would seem strangely distorted and perverse. But nearly everything that is most distinctive of the last human species would escape him. Unless he were to be told that behind all the obvious and imposing features of civilization, behind all the social organization and personal intercourse of a great community, lay a whole other world of spiritual culture, round about him, yet beyond his ken, he would no more suspect its existence than a cat in London suspects the existence of finance or literature.

Among the familiar things that he would encounter would be creatures recognizably human yet in his view grotesque. While he himself laboured under the weight of his own body, these giants would be easily striding. He would consider them very sturdy, often thick-set, folk, but he would be compelled to allow them grace of movement and even beauty of proportion. The longer he stayed with them the more beauty he would see in them, and the less complacently would he regard his own type. Some of these fantastic men and women he would find covered with fur, hirsute, or mole-velvet, revealing the underlying muscles. Others would display brown, yellow or ruddy skin, and yet others a translucent ash-green, warmed by the under-flowing blood, As a species, though we are all human, we are extremely variable in body and mind, so variable that superficially we seem to be not one species but many. Some characters, of course, are common to all of us, The traveller might perhaps be surprised by the large yet sensitive hands which are universal, both in men and women. In all of us the outermost finger bears at its tip three minute organs of manipulation, rather similar to those which were first devised for the Fifth Men, These excrescences would doubtless revolt our visitor. The pair of occipital eyes, too, would shock him; so would the upward-looking astronomical eye on the crown, which is peculiar to the Last Men, This organ was so cunningly designed that, when fully extended, about a hand-breadth from its bony case, it reveals the heavens in as much detail as your smaller astronomical telescopes. Apart from such special features as these, there is nothing definitely novel about us; though every limb, every contour, shows unmistakably that much has happened since the days of the First Men. We are both more human and more animal. The primitive explorer might be more readily impressed by our animality than our humanity, so much of our humanity would lie beyond his grasp. He would perhaps at first regard us as a degraded type. He would call us faun-like, and in particular cases, ape-like, bear-like, ox-like, marsupial, or elephantine. Yet our general proportions are definitely human in the ancient manner. Where gravity is not insurmountable, the erect biped form is bound to be most serviceable to intelligent land animals; and so, after long wanderings, man has returned to his old shape. Moreover, if our observer were himself at all sensitive to facial expression, he would come to recognize in every one of our innumerable physiognomic types an indescribable but distinctively human look, the visible sign of that inward and spiritual grace which is not wholly absent from his own species. He would perhaps say, “These men that are beasts are surely gods also.” He would be reminded of those old Egyptian deities with animal heads. But in us the animal and the human interpenetrate in every feature, in every curve of the body, and with infinite variety. He would observe us, together with hints of the long-extinct Mongol, Negro, Nordic, and Semetic, many outlandish features and expressions, deriving from the sub-human period on Neptune, or from Venus. He would see in every limb unfamiliar contours of muscle, sinew or bone, which were acquired long after the First Men had vanished, Besides the familiar eye-colours, he would discover orbs of topaz, emerald, amethyst and ruby, and a thousand varieties of these, But in all of us he would see also, if he had discernment, a facial expression and bodily gesture peculiar to our own species, a certain luminous, yet pungent and ironical significance, which we miss almost wholly in the earlier human faces.

The traveller would recognize among us unmistakable sexual features, both of general proportions and special organs. But it would take him long to discover that some of the most striking bodily and facial differences were due to differentiation of the two ancient sexes into many sub-sexes. Full sexual experience involves for us a complicated relationship between individuals of all these types. Of the extremely important sexual groups I shall speak again.

Our visitor would notice, by the way, that though all persons on Neptune go habitually nude, save for a pouch or rucksack, clothing, often brightly coloured, and made of diverse lustrous or homely tissues unknown before our time, is worn for special purposes.

He would notice also, scattered about the green countryside, many buildings, mostly of one story; for there is plenty of room on Neptune even for the million million of the Last Men. Here and there, however, we have great architectural pylons, cruciform or star-shaped in section, cloudpiercing, dignifying the invariable planes of Neptune. These mightiest of all buildings, which are constructed in adamantine materials formed of artificial atoms, would seem to our visitor geometrical mountains, far taller than any natural mountain could be, even on the smallest planet. In many cases the whole fabric is translucent or transparent, so that at night, with internal illumination, it appears as an edifice of light. Springing from a base twenty or more miles across, the star-seeking towers attain a height where even Neptune’s atmosphere is somewhat attenuated. In their summits work the hosts of our astronomers, the essential eyes through which our community, on her little raft, peers across the ocean. Thither also all men and women repair at one time or another to contemplate this galaxy of ours and the unnumbered remoter universes, There they perform together those supreme symbolic acts for which I find no adjective in your speech but the debased word “religious.” There also they seek the refreshment of mountain air in a world where natural mountains are unknown. And on the pinnacles and precipices of these loftiest horns many of us gratify that primeval lust of climbing which was ingrained in man before ever he was man, These buildings thus combine the functions of observatory, temple, sanatorium and gymnasium. Some of them are almost as old as the species, some are not yet completed. They embody, therefore, many styles. The traveller would find modes which he would be tempted to call Gothic, Classical, Egyptian, Peruvian, Chinese, or American, besides a thousand architectural ideas unfamiliar to him. Each of these buildings was the work of the race as a whole at some stage in its career. None of them is a mere local product. Every successive culture has expressed itself in one or more of these supreme monuments. Once in forty thousand years or so some new architectural glory would be conceived and executed, And such is the continuity of our cultures that there has scarcely ever been need to remove the handiwork of the past.

If our visitor happened to be near enough to one of these great pylons, he would see it surrounded by a swarm of midges, which would turn out to be human fliers, wingless, but with outspread arms, The stranger might wonder how a large organism could rise from the ground in Neptune’s powerful field of gravity. Yet flight is our ordinary means of locomotion. A man has but to put on a suit of overalls fitted at various points with radiation-generators. Ordinary flight thus becomes a kind of aerial swimming. Only when very high speed is desired do we make use of closed-in air-boats and liners.

At the feet of the great buildings the flat or undulating country is green, brown, golden, and strewn with houses, Our traveller would recognize that much land was under cultivation, and would see many persons at work upon it with tools or machinery. Most of our food, indeed, is produced by artificial photosynthesis on the broiling planet Jupiter, where even now that the sun is becoming normal again, no life can exist without powerful refrigeration. As far as mere nutrition is concerned, we could do without vegetation; but agriculture and its products have played so great a part in human history that today agricultural operations and vegetable foods are very beneficial to the race psychologically. And so it comes about that vegetable matter is in great demand, not only as raw material for innumerable manufactures, but also for table delicacies. Green vegetables, fruit, and various alcoholic fruit drinks have come to have the same kind of ritual significance for us as wine has for you. Meat also, though not a part of ordinary diet, is eaten on very rare and sacred occasions, The cherished wild fauna of the planet contributes its toll to periodic symbolical banquets. And whenever a human being has chosen to die, his body is ceremoniously eaten by his friends.

Communication with the food factories of Jupiter and the agricultural polar regions of the less torrid Uranus, as also with the automatic mining stations on the glacial outer planets, is maintained by ether ships, which, travelling much faster than the planets themselves, make the passage to the neighbour worlds in a small fraction of the Neptunian year. These vessels, of which the smallest are about a mile in length, may be seen descending on our oceans like ducks, Before they touch the water they cause a prodigious tumult with the downward pressure of their radiation; but once upon the surface, they pass quietly into harbour.

The ether ship is in a manner symbolic of our whole community, so highly organized is it, and so minute in relation to the void which engulfs it. The ethereal navigators, because they spend so much of their time in the empty regions, beyond the range of “telepathic” communication and sometimes even of mechanical radio, form mentally a unique class among us. They are a hardy, simple, and modest folk, And though they embody man’s proud mastery of the ether, they are never tired of reminding landlubbers, with dour jocularity, that the most daring voyages are confined within one drop of the boundless ocean of space.

Recently an exploration ship returned from a voyage into the outer tracts. Half her crew had died. The survivors were emaciated, diseased, and mentally unbalanced. To a race that thought itself so well established in sanity that nothing could disturb it, the spectacle of these unfortunates was instructive. Throughout the voyage, which was the longest ever attempted, they had encountered nothing whatever but two comets, and an occasional meteor. Some of the nearer constellations were seen with altered forms. One or two stars increased slightly in brightness; and the sun was reduced to being the most brilliant of stars. The aloof and changeless presence of the constellations seems to have crazed the voyagers. When at last the ship returned and berthed, there was a scene such as is seldom witnessed in our modern world. The crew flung open the ports and staggered blubbering into the arms of the crowd. It would never have been believed that members of our species could be so far reduced from the self-possession that is normal to us. Subsequently these poor human wrecks have shown an irrational phobia of the stars, and of all that is not human. They dare not go out at night. They live in an extravagant passion for the presence of others. And since all others are astronomically minded, they cannot find real companionship. They insanely refuse to participate in the mental life of the race upon the plane where all things are seen in their just proportions. They cling piteously to the sweets of individual life; and so they are led to curse the immensities. They fill their minds with human conceits, and their houses with toys. By night they draw the curtains and drown the quiet voice of the stars in revelry. But it is a joyless and a haunted revelry, desired less for itself than as a defence against reality.

2. Childhood and Maturity

I said that we were all astronomically minded; but we are not without “human” interests. Our visitor from the earth would soon discover that the low buildings, sprinkled on all sides, were the homes of individuals, families, sexual groups, and bands of companions. Most of these buildings are so constructed that the roof and walls can be removed, completely or partially, for sun-bathing and for the night. Round each house is a wilderness, or a garden, or an orchard of our sturdy fruit trees. Here and there men and women may be seen at work with hoe or spade or secateurs. The buildings themselves affect many styles; and within doors our visitor would find great variety from house to house. Even within a single house he might come on rooms seemingly of different epochs. And while some rooms are crowded with articles, many of which would be incomprehensible to the stranger, others are bare, save for a table, chairs, a cupboard, and perhaps some single object of pure art. We have an immense variety of manufactured goods. But the visitor from a world obsessed with material wealth would probably remark the simplicity, even austerity, which characterizes most private houses.

He would doubtless be surprised to see no books. In every room, however, there is a cupboard filled with minute rolls of tape, microscopically figured. Each of these rolls contains matter which could not be cramped into a score of your volumes. They are used in connexion with a pocket-instrument, the size and shape of the ancient cigarette case. When the roll is inserted, it reels itself off at any desired speed, and interferes systematically with ethereal vibrations produced by the instrument. Thus is generated a very complex flow of “telepathic” language which permeates the brain of the reader. So delicate and direct is this medium of expression that there is scarcely any possibility of misunderstanding the author’s intention. The rolls themselves, it should be said, are produced by another special instrument, which is sensitive to vibrations generated in the author’s brain. Not that it produces a mere replica of his stream of consciousness; it records only those images and ideas with which he deliberately “inscribes” it. I may mention also that, since we can at any moment communicate by direct “telepathy” with any person on the planet, these “books” of ours are not used for the publication of merely ephemeral thought. Each one of them preserves only the threshed and chosen grains of some mind’s harvest.

Other instruments may be observed in our houses, which I cannot pause to describe, instruments whose office is either to carry out domestic drudgery, or to minister directly in one way or another to cultured life. Near the outer door would be hanging a number of flying-suits, and in a garage attached to the house would be the private air-boats, gaily coloured torpedo-shaped objects of various sizes.

Decoration in our houses, save in those which belong to children, is everywhere simple, even severe. None the less we prize it greatly, and spend much consideration upon it. Children, indeed, often adorn their houses with splendour, which adults themselves can also enjoy through children’s eyes, even as they can enter into the frolics of infants with unaffected glee.

The number of children in our world is small in relation to our immense population. Yet, seeing that every one of us is potentially immortal, it may be wondered how we can permit ourselves to have any children at all. The explanation is two-fold. In the first place, our policy is to produce new individuals of higher type than ourselves, for we are very far from biologically perfect. Consequently we need a continuous supply of children. And as these successively reach maturity, they take over the functions of adults whose nature is less perfect; and these, when they are aware that they are no longer of service, elect to retire from life.

But even though every individual, sooner or later, ceases to exist, the average length of life is not much less than a quarter of a million terrestrial years. No wonder, then, that we cannot accommodate many children. But we have more than might be expected, for with us infancy and adolescence are very lengthy. The foetus is carried for twenty years. Ectogenesis was practised by our predecessors, but was abandoned by our own species, because, with greatly improved motherhood, there is no need for it. Our mothers, indeed, are both physically and mentally most vigorous during the all too rare period of pregnancy. After birth, true infancy lasts for about a century. During this period, in which the foundations of body and mind are being laid, very slowly, but so securely that they will never fail, the individual is cared for by his mother. Then follow some centuries of childhood, and a thousand years of adolescence.

Our children, of course, are very different beings from the children of the First Men. Though physically they are in many respects still childlike, they are independent persons in the community. Each has either a house of his own, or rooms in a larger building held in common by himself and his friends. Thousands of these are to be found in the neighbourhood of every educational centre. There are some children who prefer to live with their parents, or with one or other of their parents; but this is rare. Though there is often much friendly intercourse between parents and children, the generations usually fare better under separate roofs. This is inevitable in our species. For the adult’s overwhelmingly greater experience reveals the world to him in very different proportions from those which alone are possible even to the most brilliant of children; while on the other hand with us the mind of every child is, in some potentiality or other, definitely superior to every adult mind. Consequently, while the child can never appreciate what is best in his elders, the adult, in spite of his power of direct insight into all minds not superior to himself, is doomed to incomprehension of all that is novel in his own offspring.

Six or seven hundred years after birth a child is in some respects physically equivalent to a ten-year-old of the First Men. But since his brain is destined for much higher development, it is already far more complex than any adult brain of that species. And though temperamentally he is in many ways still a child, intellectually he has already in some respects passed beyond the culture of the best adult minds of the ancient races. The traveller, encountering one of our bright boys, might sometimes be reminded of the wise simplicity of the legendary Child Christ. But also he might equally well discover a vast exuberance, boisterousness, impishness, and a complete inability to stand outside the child’s own eager life and regard it dispassionately. In general our children develop intellectually beyond the level of the First Men long before they begin to develop the dispassionate will which is characteristic of our adults. When there is conflict between a child’s personal needs and the needs of society, he will as a rule force himself to the social course; but he does so with resentment and dramatic self-pity, thereby rendering himself in the adult view exquisitely ridiculous.

When our children attain physical adolescence, nearly a thousand years after birth, they leave the safe paths of childhood to spend another thousand years in one of the antarctic continents, known as the Land of the Young. Somewhat reminiscent of the Wild Continent of the Fifth Men, this territory is preserved as virgin bush and prairie. Sub-human grazers and carnivora abound. Volcanic eruption, hurricanes and glacial seasons afford further attractions to the adventurous young. There is consequently a high death-rate. In this land our young people live the half primitive, half sophisticated life to which their nature is fitted. They hunt, fish, tend cattle and till the ground. They cultivate all the simple beauties of human individuality. They love and hate. They sing, paint, and carve. They devise heroic myths, and delight in fantasies of direct intercourse with a cosmic person. They organize themselves as tribes and nations. Sometimes they even indulge in warfare of a primitive but bloody type. Formerly when this happened, the adult world interfered; but we have since learned to let the fever run its course. The loss of life is regrettable; but it is a small price to pay for the insight afforded even by this restricted and juvenile warfare, into those primitive agonies and passions which, when they are experienced by the adult mind, are so transformed by philosophy that their import is wholly changed. In the Land of the Young our boys and girls experience all that is precious and all that is abject in the primitive. They live through in their own persons, century by century, all its toilsomeness and cramped meanness, all its blind cruelty and precariousness; but also they taste its glamour, its vernal and lyrical glory. They make in little all the mistakes of thought and action that men have ever made; but at last they emerge ready for the larger and more difficult world of maturity.

It was expected that some day, when we should have perfected the species, there would be no need to build up successive generations, no need of children, no need of all this schooling. It was expected that the community would then consist of adults only; and that they would be immortal not merely potentially but in fact, yet also, of course, perennially in the flower of young maturity. Thus, death should never cut the string of individuality and scatter the hard-won pearls, necessitating new strings, and laborious re-gatherings. The many and very delectable beauties of childhood could still be amply enjoyed in exploration of the past.

We know now that this goal is not to be attained, since man’s end is imminent.

3. A Racial Awakening

It is easy to speak of children; but how can I tell you anything significant of our adult experience, in relation to which not only the world of the First Men but the worlds of the most developed earlier species seem so naïve?

The source of the immense difference between ourselves and all other human races lies in the sexual group, which is in fact much more than a sexual group.

The designers of our species set out to produce a being that might be capable of an order of mentality higher than their own. The only possibility of doing so lay in planning a great increase of brain organization. But they knew that the brain of an individual human being could not safely be allowed to exceed a certain weight. They therefore sought to produce the new order of mentality in a system of distinct and specialized brains held in “telepathic” unity by means of ethereal radiation. Material brains were to be capable of becoming on some occasions mere nodes in a system of radiation which itself should then constitute the physical basis of a single mind. Hitherto there had been “telepathic” communication between many individuals, but no super-individual, or group-mind. It was known that such a unity of individual minds had never been attained before, save on Mars; and it was known how lamentably the racial mind of Mars had failed to transcend the minds of the Martians. By a combination of shrewdness and good luck the designers hit upon a policy which escaped the Martian failure. They planned as the basis of the super-individual a small multi-sexual group.

Of course the mental unity of the sexual group is not the direct outcome of the sexual intercourse of its members. Such intercourse does occur. Groups differ from one another very greatly in this respect; but in most groups all the members of the male sexes have intercourse with all the members of the female sexes. Thus sex is with us essentially social. It is impossible for me to give any idea of the great range and intensity of experience afforded by these diverse types of union. Apart from this emotional enrichment of the individuals, the importance of sexual activity in the group lies in its bringing individuals into that extreme intimacy, temperamental harmony and complementariness, without which no emergence into higher experience would be possible.

Individuals are not necessarily confined to the same group for ever. Little by little a group may change every one of its ninety-six members, and yet it will remain the same super-individual mind, though enriched with the memories grafted into it by the new-comers. Very rarely does an individual leave a group before he has been in it for ten thousand years. In some groups the members live together in a common home. In others they live apart. Sometimes an individual will form a sort of monogamous relation with another individual of his group, homing with the chosen one for many thousands of years, or even for a lifetime. Indeed some claim that lifelong monogamy is the ideal state, so deep and delicate is the intimacy which it affords. But of course, even in monogamy, each partner must be periodically refreshed by intercourse with other members of the group, not only for the spiritual health of the two partners themselves, but also that the group-mind may be maintained in full vigour. Whatever the sexual custom of the group, there is always in the mind of each member a very special loyalty toward the whole group, a peculiar sexually toned esprit de corps, unparalleled in any other species.

Occasionally there is a special kind of group intercourse in which, during the actual occurrence of group mentality, all the members of one group will have intercourse with those of another. Casual intercourse outside the group is not common, but not discouraged. When it occurs it comes as a symbolic act crowning a spiritual intimacy.

Unlike the physical sex-relationship, the mental unity of the group involves all the members of the group every time it occurs, and so long as it persists. During times of group experience the individual continues to perform his ordinary routine of work and recreation, save when some particular activity is demanded of him by the group-mind itself. But all that he does as a private individual is carried out in a profound absent-mindedness. In familiar situations he reacts correctly, even to the extent of executing familiar types of intellectual work or entertaining acquaintances with intelligent conversation. Yet all the while he is in fact “far away,” rapt in the process of the group-mind. Nothing short of an urgent and unfamiliar crisis can recall him; and in recalling him it usually puts an end to the group’s experience.

Each member of the group is fundamentally just a highly developed human animal. He enjoys his food. He has a quick eye for sexual attraction, within or without the group. He has his personal idiosyncrasies and foibles, and is pleased to ridicule the foibles of others — and of himself. He may be one of those who abhor children, or one of those who enter into children’s antics with fervour, if they will tolerate him. He may move heaven and earth to procure permission for a holiday in the Land of the Young. And if he fails, as he almost surely does, he may go walking with a friend, or boating and swimming, or playing violent games. Or he may merely potter in his garden, or refresh his mind though not his body by exploring some favourite region of the past. Recreation occupies a large part of his life. For this reason he is always glad to get back to work in due season, whether his function is to maintain some part of the material organization of our world, or to educate, or to perform scientific research, or to co-operate in the endless artistic venture of the race, or, as is more likely, to help in some of those innumerable enterprises whose nature it is impossible for me to describe.

As a human individual, then, he or she is somewhat of the same type as a member of the Fifth species. Here once more is the perfected glandular outfit and instinctive nature. Here too is the highly developed sense perception and intellection. As in the Fifth species, so in the Eighteenth, each individual has his own private needs, which he heartily craves to fulfil; but also, in both species, he subordinates these private cravings to the good of the race absolutely and without struggle. The only kind of conflict which ever occurs between individuals is, not the irreconcilable conflict of wills, but the conflict due to misunderstanding, to imperfect knowledge of the matter under dispute; and this can always be abolished by patient telepathic explication.

In addition to the brain organization necessary to this perfection of Individual human nature, each member of a sexual group has in his own brain a special organ which, useless by itself, can co-operate “telepathically” with the special organs of other members of the group to produce a single electro-magnetic system, the physical basis of the group-mind. In each sub-sex this organ has a peculiar form and function; and only by the simultaneous operation of the whole ninety-six does the group attain unified mental life. These organs do not merely enable each member to share the experience of all; for this is already provided in the sensitivity to radiation which is characteristic of all brain-tissue in our species. By means of the harmonious activity of the special organs a true group-mind emerges, with experience far beyond the range of the individuals in isolation.

This would not be possible did not the temperament and capacity of each sub-sex differ appropriately from those of the others. I can only hint at these differences by analogy. Among the First Men there are many temperamental types whose essential natures the psychologists of that species never fully analysed. I may mention, however, as superficial designations of these types, the meditative, the active, the mystical, the intellectual, the artistic, the theoretical, the concrete, the placid, the highly-strung. Now our sub-sexes differ from one another temperamentally in some such manners as these, but with a far greater range and diversity. These differences of temperament are utilized for the enrichment of a group self, such as could never have been attained by the First Men, even if they had been capable of “telepathic” communication and electro-magnetic unity; for they had not the range of specialized brain form.

For all the daily business of life, then, each of us is mentally a distinct individual, though his ordinary means of communication with others is “telepathic.” But frequently he wakes up to be a group-mind. Apart from this “waking of individuals together,” if I may so call it, the group-mind has no existence; for its being is solely the being of the individuals comprehended together. When this communal awakening occurs, each individual experiences all the bodies of the group as “his own multiple body,” and perceives the world equally from all those bodies. This awakening happens to all the individuals at the same time. But over and above this simple enlargement of the experienced field, is the awakening into new kinds of experience. Of this obviously, I can tell you nothing, save that it differs from the lowlier state more radically than the infant mind differs from the mind of the individual adult, and that it consists of insight into many unsuspected and previously inconceivable features of the familiar world of men and things. Hence, in our group mode, most, but not all, of the perennial philosophical puzzles, especially those connected with the nature of personality, can be so lucidly restated that they cease to be puzzles.

Upon this higher plane of mentality the sexual groups, and therefore the individuals participating in them, have social intercourse with one another as super-individuals. Thus they form together a community of minded communities. For each group is a person differing from other groups in character and experience somewhat as individuals differ. The groups themselves are not allocated to different works, in such a manner that one group should be wholly engaged in industry, another in astronomy, and so on. Only the individuals are thus allocated. In each group there will be members of many professions. The function of the group itself is purely some special manner of insight and mode of appreciation; in relation to which, of course, the work of the individuals is constantly controlled, not only while they are actually supporting the group self, but also when they have each fallen once more into the limited experience which is ordinary individual selfhood. For though, as individuals, they cannot retain clear insight into the high matters which they so recently experienced, they do remember so much as is not beyond the range of individual mentality; and in particular they remember the bearing of the group experience upon their own conduct as individuals.

Recently another and far more penetrating kind of experience has been attained, partly by good fortune, partly through research directed by the group-minds. For these have specialized themselves for particular functions in the mental life of the race, as previously the individuals were specialized for functions within the mind of a group. Very rarely and precariously has this supreme experience been achieved. In it the individual passes beyond this group experience, and becomes the mind of the race. At all times, of course, he can communicate “telepathically” with other individuals anywhere upon the planet; and frequently the whole race “listens in” while one individual addresses the world. But in the true racial experience the situation is different. The system of radiation which embraces the whole planet, and includes the million million brains of the race, becomes the physical basis of a racial self. The individual discovers himself to be embodied in all the bodies of the race. He savours in a single intuition all bodily contacts, including the mutual embraces of all lovers. Through the myriad feet of all men and women he enfolds his world in a single grasp. He sees with all eyes, and comprehends in a single vision all visual fields. Thus he perceives at once and as a continuous, variegated sphere, the whole surface of the planet. But not only so. He now stands above the group-minds as they above the individuals. He regards them as a man may regard his own vital tissues, with mingled contempt, sympathy, reverence, and dispassion. He watches them as one might study the living cells of his own brain; but also with the aloof interest of one observing an ant hill; and yet again as one enthralled by the strange and diverse ways of his fellow men; and further as one who, from above the battle, watches himself and his comrades agonizing in some desperate venture; yet chiefly as the artist who has no thought but for his vision and its embodiment. In the racial mode a man apprehends all things astronomically. Through all eyes and all observatories, he beholds his voyaging world, and peers outward into space. Thus he merges in one view, as it were, the views of deck-hand, captain, stoker, and the man in the crow’s-nest. Regarding the solar system simultaneously from both limbs of Neptune, he perceives the planets and the sun stereoscopically, as though in binocular vision. Further, his perceived “now” embraces not a moment but a vast age. Thus, observing the galaxy from every point in succession along Neptune’s wide orbit, and watching the nearer stars shift hither and thither, he actually perceives some of the constellations in three dimensions. Nay, with the aid of our most recent instruments the whole galaxy appears stereoscopically. But the great nebulae and remote universes remain mere marks upon the flat sky; and, in contemplation of their remoteness, man, even as the racial self of the mightiest of all human races, realizes his own minuteness and impotence.

But chiefly the racial mind transcends the minds of groups and individuals in philosophical insight into the true nature of space and time, mind and its objects, cosmical striving and cosmical perfection. Some hints of this great elucidation must presently be given; but in the main it cannot be communicated. Indeed such insight is beyond the reach of ourselves as isolated individuals, and even beyond the group-minds. When we have declined from the racial mentality, we cannot clearly remember what it was that we experienced.

In particular we have one very perplexing recollection about our racial experience, one which involves a seeming impossibility. In the racial mind our experience was enlarged not only spatially but temporally in a very strange manner. In respect of temporal perception, of course, minds may differ in two ways, in the length of the span which they can comprehend as “now,” and the minuteness of the successive events which they can discriminate within the “now.” As individuals we can hold within one “now” a duration equal to the old terrestrial day; and within that duration, we can if we will, discriminate rapid pulsations such as commonly we hear together as a high musical tone. As the race-mind we perceived as “now” the whole period since the birth of the oldest living individuals, and the whole past of the species appeared as personal memory, stretching back into the mists of infancy. Yet we could, if we willed, discriminate within the “now” one light-vibration from the next. In this mere increased breadth and precision of temporal perception there is no contradiction. But how, we ask ourselves, could the race-mind experience as “now” a vast period in which it had no existence whatever? Our first experience of racial mentality lasted only as long as Neptune’s moon takes to complete one circuit. Before that period, then, the race-mind was not. Yet during the month of its existence it regarded the whole previous career of the race as “present.”

Indeed, the racial experience has greatly perplexed us as individuals, and we can scarcely be said to remember more of it than that it was of extreme subtlety and extreme beauty. At the same time we often have of it an impression of unspeakable horror. We who, in our familiar individual sphere are able to regard all conceivable tragedy not merely with fortitude but with exultation, are obscurely conscious that as the racial mind we have looked into an abyss of evil such as we cannot now conceive, and could not endure to conceive. Yet even this hell we know to have been acceptable as an organic member in the austere form of the cosmos. We remember obscurely, and yet with a strange conviction, that all the age-long striving of the human spirit, no less than the petty cravings of individuals, was seen as a fair component in something far more admirable than itself; and that man ultimately defeated, no less than man for a while triumphant, contributes to this higher excellence.

How colourless these words! How unworthy of that wholly satisfying beauty of all things, which in our awakened racial mode we see face to face. Every human being, of whatever species, may occasionally glimpse some fragment or aspect of existence transfigured thus with the cold beauty which normally he cannot see. Even the First Men, in their respect for tragic art, had something of this experience. The Second, and still more surely the Fifth, sought it deliberately. The winged Seventh happened upon it while they were in the air. But their minds were cramped; and all that they could appreciate was their own small world and their own tragic story. We, the Last Men, have all their zest in private and in racial life, whether it fares well or ill. We have it at all times, and we have it in respect of matters inconceivable to lesser minds. We have it, moreover, intelligently. Knowing well how strange it is to admire evil along with good, we see clearly the subversiveness of this experience. Even we, as mere individuals, cannot reconcile our loyalty to the striving spirit of man with our own divine aloofness. And so, if we were mere individuals, there would remain conflict in each of us. But in the racial mode each one of us has now experienced the great elucidation of intellect and of feeling. And though, as individuals once more, we can never recapture that far-seeing vision, the obscure memory of it masters us always, and controls all our policies. Among yourselves, the artist, after his phase of creative insight is passed, and he is once more a partisan in the struggle for existence, may carry out in detail the design conceived in his brief period of clarity. He remembers, but no longer sees the vision. He tries to fashion some perceptible embodiment of the vanished splendour. So we, living our individual lives, delighting in the contacts of flesh, the relations of minds, and all the delicate activities of human culture, co-operating and conflicting in a thousand individual undertakings and performing each his office in the material maintenance of our society, see all things as though transfused With light from a source which is itself no longer revealed.

I have tried to tell you something of the most distinctive characteristics of our species. You can imagine that the frequent occasions of group mentality, and even more the rare occasions of race mentality, have a far-reaching effect on every individual mind, and therefore on our whole social order. Ours is in fact a society dominated, as no previous society, by a single racial purpose which is in a sense religious. Not that the individual’s private efflorescence is at all thwarted by the racial purpose. Indeed, far otherwise; for that purpose demands as the first condition of its fulfilment a wealth of individual fulfilment, physical and mental. But in each mind of man or woman the racial purpose presides absolutely; and hence it is the unquestioned motive of all social policy.

I must not stay to describe in detail this society of ours, in which a million million citizens, grouped in over a thousand nations, live in perfect accord without the aid of armies or even a police force. I must not tell of our much prized social organization, which assigns a unique function to each citizen, controls the procreation of new citizens of every type in relation to social need, and yet provides an endless supply of originality. We have no government and no laws, if by law is meant a stereotyped convention supported by force, and not to be altered without the aid of cumbersome machinery. Yet, though our society is in this sense an anarchy, it lives by means of a very intricate system of customs, some of which are so ancient as to have become spontaneous taboos, rather than deliberate conventions. It is the business of those among us who correspond to your lawyers and politicians to study these customs and suggest improvements. Those suggestions are submitted to no representative body, but to the whole world-population in “telepathic” conference. Ours is thus in a sense the most democratic of all societies. Yet in another sense it is extremely bureaucratic, since it is already some millions of terrestrial years since any suggestion put forward by the College of Organizers was rejected or even seriously criticized, so thoroughly do these social engineers study their material. The only serious possibility of conflict lies now between the world population as individuals and the same individuals as group-minds or racial mind. But though in these respects there have formerly occurred serious conflicts, peculiarly distressing to the individuals who experienced them, such conflicts are now extremely rare. For, even as mere individuals, we are learning to trust more and more to the judgment and dictates of our own super-individual experience.

It is time to grapple with the most difficult part of my whole task. Somehow, and very briefly, I must give you an idea of that outlook upon existence which has determined our racial purpose, making it essentially a religious purpose. This outlook has come to us partly through the work of individuals in scientific research and philosophic thought, partly through the influence of our group and racial experiences. You can imagine that it is not easy to describe this modern vision of the nature of things in any manner intelligible to those who have not our advantages. There is much in this vision which will remind you of your mystics; yet between them and us there is far more difference than similarity, in respect both of the matter and the manner of our thought. For while they are confident that the cosmos is perfect, we are sure only that it is very beautiful. While they pass to their conclusion without the aid of intellect, we have used that staff every step of the way. Thus, even when in respect of conclusions we agree with your mystics rather than your plodding intellectuals, in respect of method we applaud most your intellectuals; for they scorned to deceive themselves with comfortable fantasies.

4. Cosmology

We find ourselves living in a vast and boundless, yet finite, order of spatio-temporal events. And each of us, as the racial mind, has learned that there are other such orders, other and incommensurable spheres of events, related to our own neither spatially nor temporally but in another mode of eternal being. Of the contents of those alien spheres we know almost nothing but that they are incomprehensible to us, even in our racial mentality.

Within this spatio-temporal sphere of ours we remark what we call the Beginning and what we call the End. In the Beginning there came into existence, we know not how, that all-pervading and unimaginably tenuous gas which was the parent of all material and spiritual existence within time’s known span. It was in fact a very multitudinous yet precisely numbered host. From the crowding together of this great population into many swarms, arose in time the nebulae, each of which in its turn condenses as a galaxy, a universe of stars. The stars have their beginnings and their ends; and for a few moments somewhere in between their beginnings and their ends a few, very few, may support mind. But in due course will come the universal End, when all the wreckage of the galaxies will have drifted together as a single, barren, and seemingly changeless ash, in the midst of a chaos of unavailing energy.

But the cosmic events which we call the Beginning and the End are final only in relation to our ignorance of the events which lie beyond them. We know, and as the racial mind we have apprehended as a clear necessity, that not only space but time also is boundless, though finite. For in a sense time is cyclic. After the End, events unknowable will continue to happen during a period much longer than that which will have passed since the Beginning; but at length there will recur the identical event which was itself also the Beginning.

Yet though time is cyclic, it is not repetitive; there is no other time within which it can repeat itself. For time is but an abstraction from the successiveness of events that pass; and since all events whatsoever form together a cycle of successiveness, there is nothing constant in relation to which there can be repetition. And so the succession of events is cyclic, yet not repetitive. The birth of the all-pervading gas in the so-called Beginning is not merely similar to another such birth to occur long after us and long after the cosmic End, so-called; the past Beginning is the future Beginning.

From the Beginning to the End is but the span from one spoke to the next on time’s great wheel. There is a vaster span, stretching beyond the End and round to the Beginning. Of the events therein we know nothing, save that there must be such events.

Everywhere within time’s cycle there is endless passage of events. In a continuous flux, they occur and vanish, yielding to their successors. Yet each one of them is eternal. Though passage is of their very nature, and without passage they are nothing, yet they have eternal being. But their passage is no illusion. They have eternal being, yet eternally they exist with passage. In our racial mode we see clearly that this is so; but in our individual mode it remains a mystery. Yet even in our individual mode we must accept both sides of this mysterious antinomy, as a fiction needed for the rationalizing of our experience.

The Beginning precedes the End by some hundred million million terrestrial years, and succeeds it by a period at least nine times longer. In the middle of the smaller span lies the still shorter period within which alone the living worlds can occur. And they are very few. One by one they dawn into mentality and die, successive blooms in life’s short summer. Before that season and after it, even to the Beginning and to the End, and even before the Beginning and after the End, sleep, utter oblivion. Not before there are stars, and not after the stars are chilled, can there be life. And then, rarely.

In our own galaxy there have occurred hitherto some twenty thousand worlds that have conceived life. And of these a few score have attained or surpassed the mentality of the First Men. But of those that have reached this development, man has now outstripped the rest, and today man alone survives.

There are the millions of other galaxies, for instance the Andromedan island. We have some reason to surmise that in that favoured universe mind may have attained to insight and power incomparably greater than our own. But all that we know for certain is that it contains four worlds of high order.

Of the host of other universes that lie within range of our mind-detecting instruments, none have produced anything comparable with man. But there are many universes too remote to be estimated.

You may wonder how we have come to detect these remote lives and intelligences. I can say only that the occurrence of mentality produces certain minute astronomical effects, to which our instruments are sensitive even at great distances. These effects increase slightly with the mere mass of living matter on any astronomical body, but far more with its mental and spiritual development. Long ago it was the spiritual development of the world-community of the Fifth Men that dragged the moon from its orbit. And in our own case, so numerous is our society today, and so greatly developed in mental and spiritual activities, that only by continuous expense of physical energy can we preserve the solar system from confusion.

We have another means of detecting minds remote from us in space. We can, of course, enter into past minds wherever they are, so long as they are intelligible to us; and we have tried to use this power for the discovery of remote minded worlds. But in general the experience of such minds is too different in fibre from our own for us to be able even to detect its existence. And so our knowledge of minds in other worlds is almost wholly derived from their physical effects.

We cannot say that nowhere save on those rare bodies called planets does life ever occur. For we have evidence that in a few of the younger stars there is life, and even intelligence. How it persists in an incandescent environment we know not, nor whether it is perhaps the life of the star as a whole, as a single organism, or the life of many flame-like inhabitants of the star. All that we know is that no star in its prime has life, and therefore that the lives of the younger ones are probably doomed.

Again, we know that mind occurs, though very seldom, on a few extremely old stars, no longer incandescent. What the future of these minds will be, we cannot tell. Perhaps it is with them, and not with man, that the hope of the cosmos lies. But at present they are all primitive.

Today nothing anywhere in this galaxy of ours can compare with man in respect of vision and mental creativeness.

We have, therefore, come to regard our community as of some importance, especially so in the light of our metaphysics; but I can only hint at our metaphysical vision of things by means of metaphors which will convey at best a caricature of that vision.

In the Beginning there was great potency, but little form. And the spirit slept as the multitude of discrete primordial existents. Thenceforth there has been a long and fluctuating adventure toward harmonious complexity of form, and toward the awakening of the spirit into unity, knowledge, delight and self-expression. And this is the goal of all living, that the cosmos may be known, and admired, and that it may be crowned with further beauties. Nowhere and at no time, so far as we can tell, at least within our own galaxy, has the adventure reached further than in ourselves. And in us, what has been achieved is but a minute beginning. But it is a real beginning. Man in our day has gained some depth of insight, some breadth of knowledge, some power of creation, some faculty of worship. We have looked far afield. We have probed not altogether superficially into the nature of existence, and have found it very beautiful, though also terrible. We have created a not inconsiderable community; and we have wakened together to be the unique spirit of that community. We had proposed to ourselves a very long and arduous future, which should culminate, at some time before the End, in the complete achievement of the spirit’s ideal. But now we know that disaster is already near at hand.

When we are in full possession of our faculties, we are not distressed by this fate. For we know that though our fair community must cease, it has also indestructible being. We have at least carved into one region of the eternal real a form which has beauty of no mean order. The great company of diverse and most lovely men and women in all their subtle relationships, striving with a single purpose toward the goal which is mind’s final goal; the community and super-individuality of that great host; the beginnings of further insight and creativeness upon the higher plane — these surely are real achievements — even though, in the larger view, they are minute achievements.

Yet though we are not at all dismayed by our own extinction, we cannot but wonder whether or not in the far future some other spirit will fulfil the cosmic ideal, or whether we ourselves are the modest crown of existence. Unfortunately, though we can explore the past wherever there are intelligible minds, we cannot enter into the future. And so in vain we ask, will ever any spirit awake to gather all spirits into itself, to elicit from the stars their full flower of beauty, to know all things together, and admire all things justly?

If in the far future this end will be achieved, it is really achieved even now; for whenever it occurs, its being is eternal. But on the other hand if it is indeed achieved eternally, this achievement must be the work of spirits or a spirit not wholly unlike ourselves, though infinitely greater. And the physical location of that spirit must lie in the far future.

But if no future spirit will achieve this end before it dies, then, though the cosmos is indeed very beautiful, it is not perfect.

I said that we regard the cosmos as very beautiful. Yet it is also very terrible. For ourselves, it is easy to look forward with equanimity to our end, and even to the end of our admired community; for what we prize most is the excellent beauty of the cosmos. But there are the myriads of spirits who have never entered into that vision. They have suffered, and they were not permitted that consolation. There are, first, the incalculable hosts of lowly creatures scattered over all the ages in all the minded worlds. Theirs was only a dream life, and their misery not often poignant; but none the less they are to be pitied for having missed the more poignant experience in which alone spirit can find fulfilment. Then there are the intelligent beings, human and otherwise; the many minded worlds throughout the galaxies, that have struggled into cognizance, striven for they knew not what, tasted brief delights and lived in the shadow of pain and death, until at last their life has been crushed out by careless fate. In our solar system there are the Martians, insanely and miserably obsessed; the native Venerians, imprisoned in their ocean and murdered for man’s sake; and all the hosts of the forerunning human species. A few individuals no doubt in every period, and many in certain favoured races, have lived on the whole happily. And a few have even known something of the supreme beatitude. But for most, until our modern epoch, thwarting has outweighed fulfilment; and if actual grief has not preponderated over joy, it is because, mercifully, the fulfilment that is wholly missed cannot be conceived.

Our predecessors of the Sixteenth species, oppressed by this vast horror, undertook a forlorn and seemingly irrational crusade for the rescue of the tragic past. We see now clearly that their enterprise, though desperate, was not quite fantastic. For, if ever the cosmic ideal should be realized, even though for a moment only, then in that time the awakened Soul of All will embrace within itself all spirits whatever throughout the whole of time’s wide circuit. And so to each one of them, even to the least, it will seem that he has awakened and discovered himself to be the Soul of All, knowing all things and rejoicing in all things. And though afterwards, through the inevitable decay of the stars, this most glorious vision must be lost, suddenly or in the long-drawn-out defeat of life, yet would the awakened Soul of All have eternal being, and in it each martyred spirit would have beatitude eternally, though unknown to itself in its own temporal mode.

It may be that this is the case. If not, then eternally the martyred spirits are martyred only, and not blest.

We cannot tell which of these possibilities is fact. As individuals we earnestly desire that the eternal being of things may include this supreme awakening. This, nothing less than this, has been the remote but everpresent goal of our practical religious life and of our social policy.

In our racial mode also we have greatly desired this end, but differently.

Even as individuals, all our desires are tempered by that relentless admiration of fate which we recognize as the spirit’s highest achievement. Even as individuals, we exult in the issue whether our enterprises succeed or fail. The pioneer defeated, the lover bereaved and overwhelmed, can find in his disaster the supreme experience, the dispassionate ecstasy which salutes the Real as it is and would not change one jot of it. Even as individuals, we can regard the impending extinction of mankind as a thing superb though tragic. Strong in the knowledge that the human spirit has already inscribed the cosmos with indestructible beauty, and that inevitably, whether sooner or later, man’s career must end, we face this too sudden end with laughter in our hearts, and peace.

But there is the one thought by which, in our individual state, we are still dismayed, namely that the cosmos enterprise itself may fail; that the full potentiality of the Real may never find expression; that never, in any stage of time, the multitudinous and conflicting existents should be organized as the universal harmonious living body; that the spirit’s eternal nature, therefore, should be discordant, miserably tranced; that the indestructible beauties of this our sphere of space and time should remain imperfect, and remain, too, not adequately worshipped.

But in the racial mind this ultimate dread has no place. On those few occasions when we have awakened racially, we have come to regard with piety even the possibility of cosmical defeat. For as the racial mind, though in a manner we earnestly desired the fulfilment of the cosmical ideal, yet we were no more enslaved to this desire than, as individuals, we are enslaved to our private desires. For though the racial mind wills this supreme achievement, yet in the same act it holds itself aloof from it, and from all desire, and all emotion, save the ecstasy which admires the Real as it is, and accepts its dark-bright form with joy.

As individuals, therefore, we try to regard the whole cosmic adventure as a symphony now in progress, which may or may not some day achieve its just conclusion. Like music, however, the vast biography of the stars is to be judged not in respect of its final moment merely, but in respect of the perfection of its whole form; and whether its form as a whole is perfect or not, we cannot know. Actual music is a pattern of intertwining themes which evolve and die; and these again are woven of simpler members, which again are spun of chords and unitary tones. But the music of the spheres is of a complexity almost infinitely more subtle, and its themes rank above and below one another in hierarchy beyond hierarchy. None but a God, none but a mind subtle as the music itself, could hear the whole in all its detail, and grasp in one act its close-knit individuality, if such it has. Not for any human mind to say authoritatively, “This is music, wholly,” or to say, “This is mere noise, flecked now and then by shreds of significance.”

The music of the spheres is unlike other music not only in respect of its richness, but also in the nature of its medium. It is a music not merely of sounds but of souls. Each of its minor themes, each of its chords, each single tone of it, each tremor of each tone, is in its own degree more than a mere passive factor in the music; it is a listener, and also a creator. Wherever there is individuality of form, there is also an individual appreciator and originator. And the more complex the form, the more percipient and active the spirit. Thus in every individual factor within the music, the musical environment of that factor is experienced, vaguely or precisely, erroneously, or with greater approximation to truth; and, being experienced, it is admired or loathed, rightly or falsely. And it is influenced. Just as in actual music each theme is in a manner a determination of its forerunners and followers and present accompaniment, so in this vaster music each individual factor is itself a determination of its environment. Also it is a determinant, both of that which precedes and that which follows.

But whether these manifold interdeterminations are after all haphazard, or, as in music, controlled in relation to the beauty of the whole, we know not; nor whether, if this is the case, the beautiful whole of things is the work of some mind; nor yet whether some mind admires it adequately as a whole of beauty.

But this we know: that we ourselves, when the spirit is most awake in us, admire the Real as it is revealed to us, and salute its dark-bright form with joy.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stapledon/olaf/last/chapter15.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30