Back to Methuselah eBook

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and industry on which men of science pride themselves, he cut off the grandchildren’s tails too, and waited, full of hope, for the birth of curtailed great-grandchildren.  But their tails were quite up to the mark, as any fool could have told him beforehand.  Weismann then gravely drew the inference that acquired habits cannot be transmitted.  And yet Weismann was not a born imbecile.  He was an exceptionally clever and studious man, not without roots of imagination and philosophy in him which Darwinism killed as weeds.

How was it that he did not see that he was not experimenting with habits or characteristics at all?  How had he overlooked the glaring fact that his experiment had been tried for many generations in China on the feet of Chinese women without producing the smallest tendency on their part to be born with abnormally small feet?  He must have known about the bound feet even if he knew nothing of the mutilations, the clipped ears and docked tails, practised by dog fanciers and horse breeders on many generations of the unfortunate animals they deal in.  Such amazing blindness and stupidity on the part of a man who was naturally neither blind nor stupid is a telling illustration of what Darwin unintentionally did to the minds of his disciples by turning their attention so exclusively towards the part played in Evolution by accident and violence operating with entire callousness to suffering and sentiment.

A vital conception of Evolution would have taught Weismann that biological problems are not to be solved by assaults on mice.  The scientific form of his experiment would have been something like this.  First, he should have procured a colony of mice highly susceptible to hypnotic suggestion.  He should then have hypnotized them into an urgent conviction that the fate of the musque world depended on the disappearance of its tail, just as some ancient and forgotten experimenter seems to have convinced the cats of the Isle of Man.  Having thus made the mice desire to lose their tails with a life-or-death intensity, he would very soon have seen a few mice born with little or no tail.  These would be recognized by the other mice as superior beings, and privileged in the division of food and in sexual selection.  Ultimately the tailed mice would be put to death as monsters by their fellows, and the miracle of the tailless mouse completely achieved.

The objection to this experiment is not that it seems too funny to be taken seriously, and is not cruel enough to overawe the mob, but simply that it is impossible because the human experimenter cannot get at the mouse’s mind.  And that is what is wrong with all the barren cruelties of the laboratories.  Darwin’s followers did not think of this.  Their only idea of investigation was to imitate ‘Nature’ by perpetrating violent and senseless cruelties, and watch the effect of them with a paralyzing fatalism which forbade the smallest effort to use their minds instead of their knives and eyes, and established

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