The Modem period in literature was also a time of remarkable achievement in what is similarly known as "modem physics," that is, physics of the early decades of this century. It was during this period that physicists radically altered our view not only of nature but of the method by which we claim to know it. Yet the direct response from the artistic community was negligible. Hence C.P. Snow's contention in 1959 that there were now in effect not one but "two cultures," the humanistic and the scientific. Snow, as a novelist and physicist, believed he was in an almost unique position to observe this partition into two separate communities, he being one of the few who could pass freely across their border. However, Aldous Huxley [1894-1963]—novelist, poet, and essayist—had warned of the dangers of disciplinary ghettoization long before Snow raised the alarm and was one of the few artists who did appear to have some inkling of what was going on in the other "culture" and to incorporate this knowledge into his writing. There is hardly a book in which he fails to make some reference to science, and in many instances he reveals an acquaintance with new results soon after their first appearance in the scientific world, unlike many of his colleagues who hardly afford science a glance. Perhaps this is not altogether surprising, considering his family background. Grandson of T.H. Huxley, the evolutionist, and brother of the biologist Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous also intended to specialize in science and was only prevented from doing so by an attack of keratitis punctata [an inflammation of the cornea] at the age of sixteen. But while it would be unfair to see Huxley simply as a scientist manque, he did retain a strong interest in science and this is a distinctive feature of his literary output. It is clear that he shared his family's interest in the biological sciences; certainly, he is best known for his grasp of bio-chemical developments in Brave New World. But what is less well-known is that Huxley was also interested in physics. Never have his remarks on this subject been examined in any detail, yet I suggest that such an examination is necessary if one is to properly assess Huxley as a thinker and it is as a thinker, as a "novelist of ideas," that he is chiefly valued. My intention here is not to address directly the larger issue of the relations between literature and science, though I have no doubt that Huxley's example is of relevance here. Rather, I intend to survey, highlight, and elaborate on Huxley's interest in one scientific field, that of modem physics, which means in particular his understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics. The aim is to see how far Huxley's understanding goes and what use he makes of this type of information in his writing. While there have been several studies of the use of scientific information in the literature of previous centuries and again in postmodern literature, less research has been done on the immediate impact of this crucial period in the natural sciences on writers in the early part of this century.
"Cultural Trespass? Aldous Huxley’s Forays into Modern Physics,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 21:
3, Article 8.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol21/iss3/8