MAN,

THE

UNKNOWN

by ALEXIS CARREL

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER

Containing A New Introduction

 

To My Friends
Frederic R. Coudert
Cornelius Clifford
and
Boris A. Bakhmeteff
this book is dedicated

 

Copyright 1935, 1939 by HARPER & BROTHERS

All rights reserved

 

 

Contents

 

  Introduction

I  

The Need of a Better Knowledge of Man 

II  

The Science of Man

III  

Body and Physiological Activities

 IV  

Mental Activities

V  

Inward Time

VI  

Adaptive Functions

VII  

The Individual

VIII  

The Remaking of Man

 

 

INTRODUCTION

THIS BOOK is having the paradoxical destiny of becoming more timely while it grows older. Since its publication, its significance has increased continually. For the value of ideas, as of all things, is relative. It augments or decreases according to our state of mind. Under the pressure of the events that agitate Europe, Asia, and America, our mental attitude has progressively changed. We are beginning to understand the meaning of the crisis. We know that it does not consist simply in the cyclic recurrence of economic disorders. That neither prosperity nor war will solve the problems of modern society. Like sheep at the approach of a storm, civilized humanity vaguely feels the presence of danger. And we are driven by anxiety toward the ideas that deal with the mystery of our ills.

   This book originated from the observation of a simple fact--the high development of the sciences of inanimate matter, and our ignorance of life. Mechanics, chemistry, and physics have progressed much more rapidly than physiology, psychology, and sociology. Man has gained the mastery of the material world before knowing himself. Thus, modern society has been built at random, according to the chance of scientific discoveries and to the fancy of ideologies, without regard for the laws of our body and soul. We have been the victims of a disastrous illusion--the illusion of our ability to emancipate ourselves from natural laws. We have forgotten that nature never forgives.

   In order to endure, society, as well as individuals, should conform to the laws of life. We cannot erect a house without a knowledge of the law of gravity. "In order to be commanded, nature must be obeyed," said Bacon. The essential needs of the human being, the characteristics of his mind and organs, his relations with his environment, are easily subjected to scientific observation. The jurisdiction of science extends to all observable phenomena--the spiritual as well as the intellectual and the physiological. Man in his entirety can be apprehended by the scientific method. But the science of man differs from all other sciences. It must be synthetic as well as analytic, since man is simultaneously unity and multiplicity. This science alone is capable of giving birth to a technique for the construction of society. In the future organization of the individual and collective life of humanity, philosophical and social doctrines must give precedence to the positive knowledge of ourselves. Science, for the first time in the history of the world, brings to a tottering civilization the power to renovate itself and to continue its ascension.

* * *

   The necessity for this renovation is becoming more evident each year. Newspapers, magazines, cinema, and radio ceaselessly spread news illustrating the growing contrast between material progress and social disorder. The triumphs of science in some fields mask its impotence in others. For the marvels of technology, such as featured, for example, in the New York World's Fair, create comfort, simplify our existence, increase the rapidity of communications, put at our disposal quantities of new materials, synthesize chemical products that cure dangerous diseases as if by magic. But they fail to bring us economic security, happiness, moral sense, and peace. These royal gifts of science have burst like a thunderstorm upon us while we are still too ignorant to use them wisely. And they may become highly destructive. Will they not make war an unprecedented catastrophe? For they will be responsible for the death of millions of men who are the flower of civilization, for the destruction of priceless treasures accumulated by centuries of culture on the soil of Europe, and for the ultimate weakening of the white race. Modern life has brought another danger, more subtle but still more formidable than war: the extinction of the best elements of the race. The birth rate is falling in all nations, except in Germany and Russia. France is becoming depopulated already. England and Scandinavia will soon be in the same condition. In the United States, the upper third of the population reproduces much less rapidly than the lower third. Europe and the United States are thus undergoing a qualitative as well as quantitative deterioration. On the contrary, the Asiatics and Africans, such as the Russians, the Arabs, the Hindus, are increasing with marked rapidity. Never have the European races been in such great peril as today. Even if a suicidal war is avoided, we will be faced with degeneration because of the sterility of the strongest and most intelligent stock.

   No conquests deserve so much admiration as those made by physiology and medicine. The civilized nations are now protected from the great epidemics, such as plague, cholera, typhus, and other infectious diseases. Owing to hygiene and to a growing knowledge of nutrition, the inhabitants of the over-populated cities are clean, well-nourished, in better health, and the average duration of life has increased considerably. Nevertheless, hygiene and medicine, even with the aid of the schools, have not succeeded in improving the intellectual and moral quality of the population. Modern men and women manifest nervous weakness, mental instability, lack of moral sense. About 15 per cent remain at the psychologic age of twelve years. There are hosts of feeble-minded and insane. The number of misfits reaches perhaps thirty or forty million. Furthermore, criminality increases. The recent statistics of J. Edgar Hoover show that this country actually contains nearly five million criminals. The tone of our civilization cannot help being influenced by the prevalence of mental weakness, dishonesty, and criminality. It is significant that panic spread through the population when a radio cast enacted an invasion of the earth by the inhabitants of Mars. Also, that a former president of the Stock Exchange of New York was convicted of theft, and an eminent Federal judge of selling his verdicts. At the same time, normal individuals are being crushed under the weight of those who are incapable of adapting themselves to life. The majority of the people lives on the work of the minority. Despite the enormous sums spent by the government, the economic crisis continues. In the richest country of the world, millions are in want. It is evident that human intelligence has not increased simultaneously with the complexity of the problems to be solved. Today, as much as in the past, civilized humanity shows itself incapable of directing either its individual or its collective existence.

* * *

   As a matter of fact, modern society--that society produced by science and technology--is committing the same mistake as have all the civilizations of antiquity. It has created conditions of life wherein life itself becomes impossible. It justifies the sally of Dean Inge: "Civilization is a disease which is almost invariably fatal." The real significance of the events that are taking place in Europe and in this country is not yet understood by the public. Nevertheless, it is becoming obvious to those few who have the inclination and the time to think. Our civilization is in danger. And this danger menaces simultaneously the race, the nations, and the individuals. Each one of us will be struck by the ruin brought about by a European war. Each one suffers already from the confusion in our life and in our social institutions, from the general weakening of moral sense, from economic insecurity, from the burden imposed upon the community by defectives and criminals. The crisis is due neither to the presence of Mr. Roosevelt in the White House, nor to that of Hitler in Germany nor of Mussolini in Rome. It comes from the very structure of civilization. It is a crisis of man. Man is not able to manage the world derived from the caprice of his intelligence. He has no other alternative than to remake this world according to the laws of life. He must adapt his environment to the nature of his organic and mental activities, and renovate his habits of existence. Otherwise, modern society will join ancient Greece and the Roman Empire in the realm of nothingness. And the basis of this renovation can be found only in the knowledge of our body and soul.

   No lasting civilization will ever be founded upon philosophical and social ideologies. The democratic ideology itself, unless reconstructed upon a scientific basis, has no more chance of surviving than the fascist or marxist ideologies. For none of these systems embraces man in his entire reality. In truth, all political and economic doctrines have so far ignored the science of man. However, the power of the scientific method is obvious. Science has conquered the material world. And science will give man, if his will is indomitable, mastery over life and over himself.

   The domain of science comprises the totality of the observable and of the measurable. That is, all the things that are located in the spatio-temporal continuum--man, as well as the ocean, the clouds, the atoms, the stars. As man is endowed with mental activities, science reaches through him the world of the mind, that world which stretches beyond space and time. Observation and experience are the only means of apprehending reality in a positive manner. For observation and experience give birth to concepts which, although incomplete, remain eternally true. These concepts are operational concepts, as defined by Bridgman. They proceed directly from the measurement or the accurate observation of things. They are applicable to the study of man as well as to that of inanimate objects. For such a study, they must be constructed in as great a number as possible, with the aid of all the techniques that we are capable of developing. In the light of these concepts, man appears as unity and multiplicity--a center of activities simultaneously material and spiritual, and strictly dependent on the physicochemical and psychological environment in which he is immersed. Considered thus in a concrete manner, he differs profoundly from the abstract being dreamed by political and social ideologies. It is upon this concrete man, and not upon abstractions, that society should be erected. There is no other road open to human progress than the optimum development of all the physiological, intellectual, and spiritual potentialities of the individual. Only apprehension of the whole reality can save modern man. We must, therefore, give up philosophical systems, and rely exclusively upon scientific concepts.

* * *

   The natural fate of all civilizations is to rise and to decline--and to vanish into dust. Our civilization may perhaps escape the common fate, because it has at its disposal the unlimited resources of science. But science deals exclusively with the forces of intelligence. And intelligence never urges men to action. Only fear, enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, hatred, and love can infuse with life the products of our mind. The youth of Germany and Italy, for example, are driven by faith to sacrifice themselves for an ideal--even if that ideal is false. Perhaps the democracies will also engender men burning with the passion to create. Perhaps, in Europe and in America, there are such men, still young, poor, and unknown. But enthusiasm and faith, if not united to the knowledge of the whole reality, will remain sterile. The Russian revolutionists had the will and the strength to build up a new civilization. They failed because they relied upon the incomplete vision of Karl Marx, instead of a truly scientific concept of man. The renovation of modern society demands, besides a profound spiritual urge, the knowledge of man in his wholeness.

   But the wholeness of man has many different aspects. These aspects are the object of special sciences, such as physiology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, pedagogy, medicine, and many others. There are specialists for each of them. But none for man as a whole. Special sciences are incapable of solving even the most simple human problems. An architect, a schoolmaster, a physician, for example, are acquainted in an incomplete manner with the problems of habitation, education, and health. For each of these problems concerns all human activities, and transcends the frontiers of any special science. There is, at this moment, imperative need for men possessing, like Aristotle, universal knowledge. But Aristotle himself could not embrace all modern sciences. We must, therefore, have recourse to composite Aristotles. That is, to small groups of men belonging to different specialties, and capable of welding their individual thoughts into a synthetic whole. Such minds can certainly be found--minds endowed with that universalism which spreads its tentacles over all things. The technique of collective thinking requires much intelligence and disinterestedness. Few individuals are apt at this type of research. But collective thinking alone will permit human problems to be solved. Today, mankind should be given an immortal brain, a permanent focus of thoughts to guide its faltering steps. Our institutions for scientific research are not sufficient, because their discoveries are always fragmentary. In order to build a science of man, and a technology of civilization, centers of synthesis must be created where collective thinking and integration of specialized data will forge a new knowledge. In this manner, both individuals and society will be given the immovable foundations of operational concepts, and the power to survive.

* * *

   To sum up, the events of the last few years have rendered more evident the danger menacing the entire civilization of the Occident. However, the public does not yet fully understand the significance of the economic crisis, of the decline in the birth rate, of the moral, nervous, and mental decay of the individual. It does not conceive how immense a catastrophe a European war will be for humanity--how urgent is our renovation. Nevertheless, in democratic countries, the initiative for this renovation must emanate from the people, and not from the leaders. This is the reason for presenting this book again to the public. Although, during the four years of its career, it has spread beyond the frontiers of the English-speaking countries through all civilized nations, the ideas that it contains have reached only a few million persons. To contribute, even in a humble manner, to the construction of the new City, these ideas must invade the population as the sea infiltrates the sands of the shore. Our renovation can come only from the effort of all. "To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage, he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer."

New York, June 15, 1939

 

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