T.H. Huxley and H.G. Wells

As you read The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau, consider how Huxley's comments in his essay, "On a Piece of Chalk," and his lectures on cosmic and ethical evolution might have influenced Wells' as he composed his scientific romance.  The following overview of Huxley's positions might assist you in exposing links between his philosophy and that of Wells.

"On a Piece of Chalk"

  1. In his essay--which Wells directly references in his short story, "The Star"--T.H. Huxley presents his definition of "nominalism" to promote a particular understanding of the relation of scientific inquiry and personal belief to reality.  For Huxley, theories and ideas are necessary diagrammatic caricatures of "the ineffable" [form without substance] with no reality in themselves and are only to be used as chalk outlines are used by a painter or plans and blueprints by engineers.

  2. Nominalism, then, might apply to the Time Traveller in Wells' story.  The Traveller theorizes about the possible causes of the conditions that he witnesses in the future, but his theorizing is always based on commonly accepted principles and theories of his own time period.  As a result, his theories, his "chalk outlines," are inadequate to define the causes of the future society and he is constantly revising his hypotheses.  Invariably, his theories are inconsequential to the reality of the future, and, at novel's end, neither we nor the Traveller have arrived at a certain explanation of what caused the human race to evolve into the Eloi and Morlocks.

  3. For Huxley and Wells, the scientist exhausts human knowledge by demonstrating its limits.  The Traveller, despite his considerable knowledge, is unable to deal with the scale of  what he sees and experiences.  In other words, human beings, ultimately, are not in control, are insignificant in the cosmic scheme.  According to some critics, Wells uses his scientific romances, his fictional conquering of unconquerable absolutes like time travel and gravity, to distance us from our world so as to better equip us to view our own faults, our limitations.

 

Cosmic and Ethical Evolution

  1. Huxley used "cosmic evolution" to refer to survival of the fittest resulting in physical improvement.  "Cruel nature" selects and forces survival or even physical improvement.  As human cultures progress, the struggle between cosmic and ethical development becomes imbalanced and technology--an aspect of cosmic [physical] evolution disrupts the balance between ethical/moral development and our animal instincts.

  2. Ethical evolution, the development of moral values, is viewed by Huxley as a natural process, and both Wells and Huxley believed that human culture would "naturally" evolve a proper ethical/moral stance without the intervention of technology's rapid development.  However, technology develops at a pace that far outstrips our ethical evolution, disrupting the "natural" process by adding artificial yet inherited traits to human culture.

  3. The struggle between cosmic and ethical development can sometimes be seen in Wells as a war within the individual.  Witness the Traveller's desire to smash the faces of the harmless Eloi when he is robbed of his machine, his exaltation over hard fighting, and his desire to continue killing Morlocks as they flee in terror from the fire.  Of course, the cosmic/ethical development struggle can also be seen on a larger scale through the Traveller's narrated history of civilization and the ultimate future of human culture witnessed in 802,701 A.D.