17 May 2021

Lewis on "Science"

I do not think that Lewis disliked Science. He refers clearly to "The physical sciences, good and innocent in themselves". But I think there are strong grounds for suspecting that he was uneasy about the word

When Ransom, after killing Weston in the caves of Venus, decides to engrave a memorial inscription to the great physicist, what he carves is "He studied the properties of bodies". When he describes the space travel which Weston has contrived, he does not use any term remotely like 'Science'; Weston, we are told, did it by "enginry and Natural Philosophy". We need not suppose that Lewis had been excessively influenced by the faded Victorian lettering over the doors in the Bodleian quadrangle ("Schola Naturalis Philosophiae and the like); "Natural Philosophy" is an older term for what Modern Man calls "Science".

I wonder what lies behind this: in Hideous Strength, I think Lewis often writes 'science' and 'chemistry' with lower case first letters ... but Sociology with upper case initial letters.

When Lewis's 'baddie' characters do use the term 'science', it becomes immediately clear that he dislikes it. It represents for him the wicked intellectual monstrosities of the 1930s. 

The N.I.C.E. marks the beginning of a new era -- the really scientific era. Up to now, everything has been haphazard. This is going to put science itself on a scientific basis. There are to be forty interlocking committees sitting every day ...

The real thing is that this time we're going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past. One hopes, of course, that it'll find out more than the old free-lance science did; but what's certain is that it can do more ...

... simple and obvious things at first -- sterilization of the unfit, liquidation of backward races (we don't want any dead weights), selective breeding. Then real education, including pre-natal education. By real education I mean one that has no 'take-it-or-leave-it' nonsense. A real education makes the patient what it wants infallibly: whatever he or his parents try to do about it. Of course, it'll have to be mainly psychological at first. But we'll get on to biochemical conditioning in the end and direct manipulation of the brain ...

 ... But this is stupendous, Feverstone.

Lewis's account of N.I.C.E. does contain one genuine scientist; but Hingest, a chemist, is on the point of walking out. "I came here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it's something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I'm too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn't be my choice."

"You mean that the element of social planning doesn't appeal to you? I can understand that it doesn't fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but --"

"There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn't wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I'd let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again."

Unsurprisingly, 'the scientists' needed to kill "the proud old unbeliever".


Anita Moore said...

I have the exact same passage (Hengist) bookmarked in my copy of That Hideous Strength.

Stephen Barber said...

It looks as if Lewis had read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Unknown said...

I note that several professorships in Natural Philosophy endure around the UK, associated specifically with Physics as a discipline, and especially (but not solely) in Scotland at the ancient universities.

As an undergraduate at St Andrews in the 1970s, it was not only the title for the Chair in the physics department, it was also the name of the subject at examinations, and shows thus on my transcript. There is a Chair in Natural Philosophy at Cambridge (the Jacksonian professorship) which did once include chemists, but has been held by physicists for a considerable period. The Sedleian chair would appear to be the Oxford equivalent.