'Scanners Live in Vain' as realistic SF

Discussion of Cordwainer Smith SF story, arguing that the pain-of-space is based on forgotten psychological issues in air travel, and concerns about worse ones in space travel, which were partially vindicated by the existence of interesting psychological changes in astronauts.
sociology, criticism, SF, cats
2013-06-282019-06-05 finished certainty: possible importance: 3

Cord­wainer Smith’s clas­sic SF short story “Scan­ners Live in Vain” is remem­bered in part for its use of the space-mad­ness trope, “the Great Pain of Space”, usu­ally inter­preted symbolically/psychologically by crit­ics. I dis­cuss the state of aero­space med­i­cine in 1945 and sub­se­quent research on “the break­away effect”, “the overview effect”, and other unusual psy­cho­log­i­cal states induced by air & space trav­el, and sug­gest Smith’s “the pain of space” is more founded on SF-style spec­u­la­tion & extrap­o­la­tion of con­tem­po­rary science/technology and anx­i­eties than is appre­ci­ated due to the obscu­rity of the effects and the rel­a­tive benig­nity of the sub­se­quent best doc­u­mented effects.

One of the clas­sic sto­ries of SF author was his inven­tive 19451 short story “” (full­text; TvTropes), set in Smith’s “Instru­men­tal­ity of Mankind” fic­tion uni­verse. The story depicts a mem­ber of a guild of men sur­gi­cally mod­i­fied to sever their brains from their senses and who con­trol their body mechan­i­cal­ly, through obser­va­tion; the pur­pose of their guild is to enable inter­stel­lar travel as oth­er­wise outer space dri­ves humans insane & sui­ci­dal (the “Great Pain of Space”); and how the mem­ber deals with a tech­no­log­i­cal break­through which defeats the pain of space and ren­ders obso­lete the guild & all its sac­ri­fices.

I have noticed that SF authors seem to receive too lit­tle credit for the “sci­ence” part of SF and that crit­ics tend to down­play or ignore how con­cepts or themes are rooted in sci­ence & tech­nol­o­gy; a SF author does­n’t have to pro­vide detailed proofs and equa­tions, like does for his tril­o­gy, or detailed bib­li­ogra­phies of spe­cific sources, like , for this to be the case, as even “soft” SF authors, like (as I give sev­eral exam­ples of in ), draw more on con­tem­po­rary thought than is typ­i­cally appre­ci­at­ed, espe­cially as time passes and the ideas (often wrong because spec­u­la­tive or pseu­do­science) fall into obscu­ri­ty.

The “pain of space” is inter­preted psy­cho­log­i­cally by all lit­er­ary crit­ics, but I am not con­vinced. Look­ing back on the early Space Age, it may be another exam­ple of a SF idea becom­ing sym­bol­ized by igno­rance.

“Scanners Live in Vain”

The Great Pain of Space was dis­cov­ered by early space explor­ers going out into deep space, and never return­ing, hav­ing been dri­ven mad and sui­ci­dal by the void inflict­ing agony on the human body, requir­ing total depri­va­tion:

“. . . and when the first men to go Up and Out went to the Moon, what did they find?”

“Noth­ing”, responded the silent cho­rus of lips.

“There­fore they went fur­ther, to Mars and to Venus. The ships went out year by year, but they did not come back until the Year One of Space. Then did a ship come back with the First Effect. Scan­ners, I ask you, what is the First Effect?”

“No one knows. No one knows.”

“No one will ever know. Too many are the vari­ables. By what do we know the First Effect?”

“By the Great Pain of Space”, came the cho­rus.

“And by what fur­ther sign?”

“By the need, oh the need for death.”

Vomact again: “And who stopped the need for death?”

“Henry Haber­man con­quered the first effect, in the Year 3 of Space.”

“And, Scan­ners, I ask you, what did he do?”

“He made the haber­mans.”

“How, O Scan­ners, are haber­mans made?”

“They are made with the cuts. The brain is cut from the heart, the lungs. The brain is cut from the ears, the nose. The brain is cut from the mouth, the bel­ly. The brain is cut from desire, and pain. The brain is cut from the world. Save for the eyes. Save for the con­trol of the liv­ing flesh…They live in the Great Pain while ordi­nary men sleep in the cold cold sleep of the tran­sit…They make men live in the place where men need des­per­ately to die.”

…What could any Other know of the Up-and-Out? What Other could look at the bit­ing acid beauty of the stars in open Space? What could they tell of the Great Pain, which started qui­etly in the mar­row, like an ache, and pro­ceeded by the fatigue and nau­sea of each sep­a­rate nerve cell, brain cell, touch­point in the body, until life itself became a ter­ri­ble aching hunger for silence and for death?

…“Is it true that you have con­quered the Great Pain?”

Stone hes­i­tat­ed, seek­ing words for an answer.

“Quick, can you tell me how you have done it, so that I may believe you?”

“I have loaded ships with life.”


“Life. I don’t know what the Great Pain is, but I did find that in the exper­i­ments, when I sent out masses of ani­mals or plants, the life in the cen­ter of the mass lived longest. I built ship­s—s­mall ones, of course—and sent them out with rab­bits, with mon­keys—”

“Those are Beasts?”

“Yes. With small Beasts. And the Beasts came back unhurt. They came back because the walls of the ships were filled with life. I tried many kinds, and finally found a sort of life which lives in the waters. Oys­ters. Oys­terbeds. The out­er­most oys­ters died in the great pain. The inner ones lived. The pas­sen­gers were unhurt.”

“But they were Beasts?”

“Not only Beasts. Myself.”


“I came through Space alone. Through what you call the Up-and-Out, alone. Awake and sleep­ing. I am unhurt.”

It is an exam­ple of the gothic & sur­real fan­tas­ti­cal ele­ments with an almost visual inten­sity that ren­der Smith’s SF unique, and earned descrip­tions like “sheer orig­i­nal­ity of con­cept” for the pain of space and the guild founded to deal with it (and lat­er, spec­u­la­tion that Smith was also “” & derived story ele­ments from hal­lu­ci­na­tions of future lives).

The pain of space is gen­er­ally inter­preted as reify­ing a metaphor­i­cal or philo­soph­i­cal reac­tion to space or Smith’s own life at the time (a theme that would appear in other works as well, see TvTropes’s “Space Mad­ness”), due to the over­all theme that the other mem­bers of the guild had them­selves become insane (in a moral sense) due to hav­ing been sev­ered from their senses in a clas­sic ‘mind vs body/heart’ con­flict. The SF Ency­clo­pe­dia describes the surgery as “with an effect on their behav­iour that resem­bles severe autism”, and D’Am­mas­sa’s Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion (pg324) com­ments “Smith exam­ines a vari­ety of themes in the sto­ry: the con­flict between duty to a small group as opposed to soci­ety at large, the unfor­tu­nate con­se­quences of divorc­ing emo­tion from rea­son and com­pas­sion from action.” Hellek­son (The Sci­ence Fic­tion of Cord­wainer Smith, pg87):

The Great Pain of Space and Martel’s per­sonal feel­ings of panic and despair are more mature expres­sions of the young Paul Linebarg­er’s [Cord­wainer Smith] ter­ror, when Smith’s self­-un­der­stand­ing and matu­rity allowed him to write of the thing that as an ado­les­cent he sim­ply feared. Most crit­ics have read the Great Pain of Space as a metaphor­i­cal work­ing of the author’s psy­cho­log­i­cal despair, though I would also link it to the ter­ror of death that Paul Linebarger expressed six­teen years before he wrote “Scan­ners”. Per­haps Smith’s fun­da­men­tal fear of the com­pre­hen­sion of death drove this psy­cho­log­i­cal despair, which was likely exac­er­bated by his endemic health prob­lems. Elms, in his entry on Cord­wainer Smith in New Ency­clo­pe­dia of sci­ence Fic­tion (1988), notes that “Scan­ners” is a “story remark­able for its depic­tion of the des­per­ate steps nec­es­sary to con­trol the psy­cho­log­i­cal pain induced by long-dis­tance space travel” (422), although I would note that in “Scan­ners”, the pain unpro­tected space­far­ers expe­ri­ence is real and phys­i­cal; this real pain is read as psy­cho­log­i­cal. Gary K. Wolfe, in his analy­sis of “2, notes that “the ‘pain-of-space’ itself…and human vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the drag­ons are fur­ther evi­dences of man’s phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­ity and alien­ation in space” (“Mythic Struc­tures”, 148).3

These seem like rea­son­able inter­pre­ta­tions. After all, every­one is well aware that humans can go to space with­out prob­lem & spend years in orbit: while there are like weak­ened bones or car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tems (re­duced blood), and occa­sional acute issues like under high accel­er­a­tion or motion sick­ness, or psy­cho­log­i­cal issues related to stress & con­fine­ment & lack of nature, and well-un­der­stood issues of ordi­nary radi­a­tion from cos­mic rays or the sun, there is cer­tainly no “Great Pain of Space”. It is a fan­tasy ele­ment, a roman­tic SF metaphor intended to be reflec­tive of prim­i­tive fears of the unknown & per­sonal iso­la­tion. Or is it?

Leprechaun hunting and historical context

There may be a for­got­ten his­tor­i­cal con­text here—this would not be the first time I have run into claims about the past which turn out to be rea­son­able in their orig­i­nal con­text, exag­ger­at­ed, or false, which have been called “lep­rechauns” or “aca­d­e­mic urban leg­ends” for how, when scouted to the source, they dis­ap­pear or the appar­ent gold of a remark­able fact turns out to be fool’s gold. (Not to be con­fused with -style issues, where claims dis­ap­pear all the time, but because they were based on mis­lead­ing data/analyses or delib­er­ate fraud; with lep­rechauns and urban leg­ends, it’s more the cumu­la­tive effect of care­less­ness and ‘game of tele­phone’ effects, pos­si­bly with some bias as the seed of a dubi­ous out­lier claim which is .) A list of exam­ples of pop­u­lar claims which, on closer inves­ti­ga­tion, turned out to evap­o­rate with the dawn:

  • is cited as an exam­ple of the Ante­bel­lum South’s med­ical­iza­tion of slaves the bet­ter to oppress them, ignor­ing the fact that it was sup­ported by only its inven­tor, was mocked, had no prac­ti­cal con­se­quences, and was of less impor­tance to its time than is to our own.

  • The British sci­ence writer sup­pos­edly scoffed at the idea of fast trains, claim­ing “Rail travel at high speed is not pos­si­ble because pas­sen­gers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia”; but there is no good source that he ever said that, and it seems to have been made up in 1980 by some­one who could­n’t spell his first name right.

  • was claimed by an ency­clo­pe­dia and a few other fem­i­nist books to be a dis­or­der pushed by the Eng­lish med­ical estab­lish­ment to dis­cour­age women from bicy­cling & keep them under con­trol; but the scanty pri­mary sources barely sup­ported its exis­tence as an obscure con­cept known from a few news­pa­per columns, and cer­tainly not the misog­y­nist tool of oppres­sion it was depicted as. (There appear to be sim­i­lar prob­lems with Rachel Maines’s claims about Vic­to­rian doc­tors’ use of vibra­tors, in that the sources sim­ply do not sup­port her claims: “A Fail­ure of Aca­d­e­mic Qual­ity Con­trol: The Tech­nol­ogy of Orgasm”, Lieber­man & Schatzberg 2018.)

  • A fem­i­nist wrote that ‘This was a time before women had the right to vote. If they did attend col­lege at all, it was at the risk of con­tract­ing “neu­ral­gia, uter­ine dis­ease, hys­te­ria, and other derange­ments of the ner­vous sys­tem” (ac­cord­ing to Har­vard gyne­col­o­gist Edward H. Clarke)’; this was a grossly out­-of-con­text quote which libeled a man with noble & pro­gres­sive beliefs, as I pointed out in my com­ment.

  • There are many attri­bu­tions to the great physi­cist of a line which runs “X-rays are prob­a­bly a hoax” or “X-rays are frauds” or some­such; a closer inves­ti­ga­tion shows that there are no pri­mary quo­ta­tions, and that the real con­text seems to have been his reac­tion to sen­sa­tion­al­ized news­pa­per arti­cles on the dis­cov­ery of X-rays and that in any case, he accepted X-rays as soon as he read the sci­en­tific paper describ­ing their dis­cov­ery.

  • We all know spinach has lots of iron—or does it not, or does it not not have lots of iron?. Let’s go deep­er:

    reveals that the wide­ly-held belief that Pop­eye eats spinach because it con­tains lots of iron is a myth, and spinach has nor­mal iron amounts; a myth ulti­mately caused by sloppy Ger­man chemists typo­ing a dec­i­mal point and uncrit­i­cally repeated since then, as an exam­ple of leprechauns/urban legends/errors in sci­ence…

    Which Sut­ton 2010 traces the ver­sions of, ulti­mately find­ing the spinach myth to be a myth and no dec­i­mal point involved at all at any point, and the myth com­ing to Ham­blin, as Ham­blin agrees, via Read­er’s Digest

    Except Rek­dal 2014 points out that the story was indeed pub­lished in Read­er’s Digest - but 8 years after­ward…

    And Joachim Dagg in 2015 finds a dec­i­mal point error else­where for the iron con­tent of beans, which was debunked by a Ben­der, and the debunk­ing passed onto Ham­lin with a con­fu­sion into spinach…

    But Sut­ton, in 2018, accuses Dagg and another of being obses­sive cyber­stalk­ers out to dis­credit Sut­ton’s work - propos­ing that Dar­win pla­gia­rized evo­lu­tion, a rev­e­la­tion cov­ered up by “Dar­win cultists” - and that Dag­g’s inter­est in the spinach myth-myth is merely part of an epic mul­ti­-year harass­ment cam­paign:

    Mean­while, in 2018, Dagg, who like Derry cyber­stalks me obses­sively around the Inter­net e.g. post­ing obses­sive juve­nile com­ments on the Ama­zon book reviews that I write etc (e.g. here), writes in the Lin­nean Soci­ety paper in which he jeal­ously pla­gia­rises what he proves in his own words he prior knew (e.g. in 2014 and later here) to be my orig­i­nal Big Data IDD “Selby cited Matthew” dis­cov­ery, thanks the mali­cious and jeal­ous intim­i­dat­ing cyber­stalker Derry and his friend Mike Weale. Notably, Weale cited my orig­i­nal (Sut­ton 2014) (Selby and six other nat­u­ral­ists cited Matthew pre-1858) pri­or-pub­lished peer reviewed jour­nal bomb­shell dis­cov­ery in his 2015 Lin­nean Soci­ety paper and openly thanks me for assist­ing him with that paper. He also thanks Dagg in the same paper. As fur­ther proof of his absolute weird obses­sion with me, Dagg (here) also jeal­ously retraces all my pri­or-pub­lished steps in my orig­i­nal and now world-fa­mous spinach, dec­i­mal point error supermyth bust. I think he was try­ing - but once gain fail­ing (here obsess­ing most des­per­ately about me and my research once again) - to dis­credit me any­way he could, which is the usual behav­iour of obsessed stalk­ing cultists, unable to deal with the ver­i­fi­able new cult-bust­ing facts they despise, so going des­per­ately after the rep­u­ta­tion of their dis­cov­erer instead. His Lin­nean Soci­ety Jour­nal friend Derry is totally obsessed with me for the very same rea­son. He too, for appar­ently the very same rea­son, tries but also fails to dis­credit the spinach supermyth­bust on his des­per­ate pseudo-schol­arly obses­sive stalker site (here). What a pair of jeal­ous and obses­sive sad clowns they are.

    So, can we really trust Dagg or Sut­ton…?

  • pla­gia­rist claims that pro­hi­bi­tion­ist sur­veyed 30 sci­en­tific experts about the safety of mar­i­juana and ignored the 29 telling him it was safe and based his anti-mar­i­juana cam­paign on that 1 sci­en­tist; each point there is false.

    In actu­al­ity after check­ing Har­i’s sources, Anslinger did not sur­vey them but they had been debat­ing the ban pro­posal inter­nally & the AMA pro­vided Anslinger excerpts of their opin­ions, they were gen­er­ally not emi­nent sci­en­tists but phar­ma­cists & drug indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the hold­out did not say it was dan­ger­ous but merely described a doc­tor of his acquain­tance who had been severely addicted to mar­i­juana & noted that “This may be an excep­tional case”, and Anslinger did­n’t base his cam­paign on it—or even men­tion it pub­licly—although he did save the excep­tion to the Bureau files on mar­i­juana (which is where Hari found it).

  • In his book , David Grae­ber claims Nazi ral­lies were “inspired by” Har­vard pep ral­lies, but with­out any sources; I inves­ti­gated this in more depth and con­cluded that the con­nec­tion was real but far more ten­u­ous than Grae­ber’s sum­mary. (Grae­ber’s books make a num­ber of incor­rect claim­s.)

  • The Wikipedia arti­cle on sham­poo cited pop­u­lar sci­ence writer Mary Roach as sum­ma­riz­ing NASA & Soviet research as indi­cat­ing sham­poo is nec­es­sary, while the rel­e­vant pas­sage seems to say the oppo­site.

  • CS the­o­reti­cian is known for a quote that “Com­puter Sci­ence is no more about com­put­ers than astron­omy is about tele­scopes”, but it’s unclear he ever said it and it may have actu­ally been said by either or one of 3 obscure writ­ers.

  • The “” is the claim that a large vol­ume of out­put pre­dicts a lower prob­a­bil­ity of ter­mi­nat­ing soon & more future out­put eg writ­ing nov­els, as hap­pens under cer­tain sta­tis­ti­cal dis­tri­b­u­tions, which was cred­ited as orig­i­nat­ing in a 1964 The New Repub­lic mag­a­zine arti­cle by Albert Gold­man; obtain­ing a copy, how­ev­er, I learn that Gold­man’s actual obser­va­tion of “Lindy’s Law” was that come­di­ans appeared to have fixed amounts of mate­ri­al, and so the more out­put from a come­di­an, the more likely his TV career is about to ter­mi­nate—that is, the oppo­site of the “Lindy effect” as defined by Nicholas Taleb.

  • AI researchers like to tell the cau­tion­ary story of a neural net­work learn­ing not to rec­og­nize tanks but time of day which hap­pened to cor­re­late with tank type in that set of pho­tographs; unsur­pris­ing­ly, this

  • A more con­tem­po­rary exam­ple comes cour­tesy of : every­one ‘knew’ it was started to be an exchange for trad­ing Mag­ic: the Gath­er­ing cards, until I observed that my thor­ough online research turned up no hard evi­dence of it but rather end­less Chi­nese whis­pers; the truth, turned out to be rather stranger.

  • research­ing , I learned that Netscape founder infa­mous boast that web browsers would destroy the Microsoft Win­dows OS monop­oly by reduc­ing Win­dows to a “poorly debugged set of device dri­vers” is ascribed by Andreessen to

  • More minor­ly, I’ve cor­rected a New York Times movie review & an ars tech­nica com­puter crime arti­cle.

  • “Lit­tle­wood’s Law of Mir­a­cles” appears to have not been by Lit­tle­wood but Free­man Dyson

  • Final­ly, I might men­tion that most dis­cus­sions of are erro­neous and show the speaker has not actu­ally read An Essay.

Citogenesis: How often do researchers not read the papers they cite?

One fer­tile source of lep­rechauns seems to be the obser­va­tion that researchers do not read many of the papers that they cite in their own papers. The fre­quency of this can be inferred from pre-dig­i­tal papers, based on bib­li­o­graphic errors: if a cita­tion has mis­takes in it, such that one could not have actu­ally looked up the paper in a library or data­base, and those mis­takes were copied from another paper, then the authors almost cer­tainly did not read the paper (other­wise they would have fixed the mis­takes when they found them out the hard way) and sim­ply copied the cita­tion. The empir­i­cal­ly-mea­sured spread of bib­li­o­graphic errors sug­gest that researchers fre­quently do not read the papers they cite. The fre­quency can be fur­ther con­firmed by exam­in­ing cita­tions to see when the citers mis­de­scribe the orig­i­nal paper, “quo­ta­tion errors”, show­ing that the errors involved are sub­stan­tial and not merely bib­li­o­graph­ic.

In read­ing papers and check­ing cita­tions (often while hunt­ing lep­rechauns or trac­ing epigraph­s), one quickly real­izes that not every author is dili­gent about pro­vid­ing cor­rect cita­tion data, or even read­ing the things they cite; not too infre­quent­ly, a cita­tion is far less impres­sive than it sounds when described, or even, once you read the orig­i­nal, actu­ally shows the oppo­site of what it is cited for. This process will be extremely famil­iar to any­one factcheck­ing stuff on social media. This helps myths prop­a­gate and makes claims seem far bet­ter sup­ported than they really are. Since errors tend to be in the direc­tion of impres­sive or cool or coun­ter­in­tu­itive claims, this process and other sys­temic biases pref­er­en­tially select for wrong claims (par­tic­u­larly polit­i­cally con­ve­nient ones or extreme ones). As always, there is no sub­sti­tute for demand­ing & full­text and read­ing the orig­i­nal source for a claim rather than deriv­a­tive ones.

How often do authors not read their cites? One way to check is to look at sus­pi­ciously high cita­tion rates of diffi­cult-to-ac­cess things; if a the­sis or book is not avail­able online or is not avail­able in many libraries, but it has racked up hun­dreds or thou­sands of cita­tions, is it more likely that so many time-pressed lazy aca­d­e­mics took the time to inter­li­brary loan it from one of the only hold­ing libraries rather than sim­ply car­go-cult­ing a cita­tion? For exam­ple, , one of the most cited psy­chol­o­gists of the 20th cen­tury & critic of stan­dard­ized test­ing such as IQ, self­-pub­lished through his con­sult­ing com­pany a num­ber of books4, which he cites in high­ly-pop­u­lar arti­cles of his (eg //); sev­eral of these books have since racked up hun­dreds of cita­tions, and yet, have never been repub­lished, can­not be found any­where online in Ama­zon / Google Books / Lib­gen / used book sell­ers, and do not even appear in (!) which sug­gests that no libraries have copies of them—one rather won­ders how all of these citers man­aged to obtain copies to read… But indi­vid­ual anec­dotes, how­ever strik­ing, don’t pro­vide an over­all answer; per­haps “Achieve­ment Moti­va­tion The­ory” fans are sloppy (// notes that if you actu­ally read the books, McClel­land’s meth­ods clearly don’t work), but that does­n’t mean all researchers are slop­py.

This might seem near-im­pos­si­ble to answer, but bib­li­o­graphic analy­sis offers a cute trick. In olden times, cita­tions and bib­li­ogra­phies had to be com­piled by hand; this is an error-prone process, but one may make a differ­ent error from another author cit­ing the same paper, and one might cor­rect any error on read­ing the orig­i­nal. On the other hand, if you cite a paper because you blindly copied the cita­tion from another paper and never get around to read­ing it, you may intro­duce addi­tional errors but you defi­nitely won’t fix any error in what you copied. So one can get an idea of how fre­quent non-reads are by trac­ing lin­eages of bib­li­o­graphic errors: the more peo­ple copy around the same wrong ver­sion of a cita­tion (out of the total set of cita­tions for that cite), the fewer of them must be actu­ally read­ing it.

Such copied errors turn out to be quite com­mon and rep­re­sent a large frac­tion of cita­tions, and thus sug­gests that many paper are being cited with­out being read. (This would explain not only why retracted stud­ies keep get­ting cited by new authors, but also the preva­lence of misquotation/misrepresentation of research, and why lep­rechauns per­sist so long.) Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury ven­ture a guess that as many as 80% of authors cit­ing a paper have not actu­ally read the orig­i­nal (which I feel is too high but I also can’t strongly argue with given how often I see quote errors or omis­sions when I check cites). From “Cita­tion Analy­sis”, Nico­laisen 2007:

Garfield (1990, p. 40) reviewed a num­ber of stud­ies deal­ing with bib­li­o­graphic errors and con­clud­ed, that “to err bib­li­o­graph­i­cally is human.” For instance, in a study of the inci­dence and vari­ety of bib­li­o­graphic errors in six med­ical jour­nals, De Lacey, Record, and Wade (1985) found that almost a quar­ter of the ref­er­ences con­tained at least one mis­take and 8 per­cent of these were judged seri­ous enough to pre­vent retrieval of the arti­cle. Moed and Vriens (1989) exam­ined dis­crep­an­cies between 4,500 papers from five sci­en­tific jour­nals and approx­i­mately 25,000 arti­cles that cited these papers, find­ing that almost 10 per­cent of the cita­tions in the cited ref­er­ence dataset showed a dis­crep­ancy in either the title, the author name, or the page num­ber. They con­cluded that one cause for the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of errors seemed to be authors’ copy­ing of erro­neous ref­er­ences from other arti­cles. Broadus (1983) came to the same con­clu­sion in a study of a 1975 text­book on socio­bi­ol­ogy that included among its ref­er­ences an erro­neous ref­er­ence to a 1964 arti­cle (one word was incor­rectly sub­sti­tuted in the title). By exam­in­ing 148 sub­se­quent papers that cited both the book and the arti­cle, Broadus could see how many authors repeated the book’s mis­taken ref­er­ence. He found that 23 per­cent of the cit­ing authors also listed the faulty title. A sim­i­lar study by Simkin and Roy­chowd­hury (2003) reported an almost 80-per­cent rep­e­ti­tion of mis­prints.

One might hope that with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy like search engines and Lib­gen, this prob­lem would be less­ened since it is so much eas­ier to access full­text and bib­li­o­graphic errors are so much less impor­tant when no one is actu­ally look­ing up papers by page num­bers in a row of bound vol­umes, but I sus­pect that if this was redone, the error rate would go down regard­less of any improve­ments in read­ing rates, sim­ply because researchers now can use tools like Zotero or Cross­ref to auto­mat­i­cally retrieve bib­li­o­graphic data, so the true non-read­ing rate sim­ply becomes masked. And while full­text is eas­ier to read now, aca­d­e­mic pres­sures are even stronger now, and vol­umes of pub­li­ca­tions have only accel­er­ated since the cita­tion data in all of these stud­ies, mak­ing it even more diffi­cult for a researcher to read every­thing they know they should. So while these fig­ures may be out­dat­ed, they may not be obso­lete as all that.

(And myself? Well, I can hon­estly say that I do not link any paper on Gwern.net with­out hav­ing read it; how­ev­er, I have read most but not all papers I host, and I have not read most of the books I host or some­times cite—it just takes too much time to read entire book­s.)

Indi­vid­ual papers:

“An inves­ti­ga­tion of the valid­ity of bib­li­o­graphic cita­tions”, Broadus 1983:

Edward O. Wilson, in his famous work, Socio­bi­ol­o­gy, The New Syn­the­sis [9], makes ref­er­ence to a pair of arti­cles by W. D. Hamil­ton, but mis­quotes the arti­cles’ title. No less than 148 later papers make ref­er­ence to both Wilson’s book and Hamil­ton’s arti­cles, by title. Thus, there is pro­vided an oppor­tu­nity to test the charge, made by some crit­ics, that writ­ers fre­quently lift their bib­li­o­graphic ref­er­ences from other pub­li­ca­tions with­out con­sult­ing the orig­i­nal sources. Although 23% of these cit­ing papers made the same error as did Wilson, a fur­ther perusal of the evi­dence raises con­sid­er­able doubt as to whether fraud­u­lent use was intend­ed.

(By ‘fraud­u­lent use’, Broadus seems to mean that authors did not seem to broadly copy ref­er­ences indis­crim­i­nately in “whole­sale bor­row­ing” to pad out their bib­li­og­ra­phy, eg authors who copied the erro­neous cita­tion could have, but gen­er­ally did­n’t, copy cita­tions to a bunch of other Hamil­ton arti­cles. He does­n’t try to argue that they all read the orig­i­nal Hamil­ton paper despite their copy­ing of the error.)

“Pos­si­ble inac­cu­ra­cies occur­ring in cita­tion analy­sis”, Moed & Vriens 1989:

Cita­tion analy­sis of sci­en­tific arti­cles con­sti­tutes an impor­tant tool in quan­ti­ta­tive stud­ies of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. More­over, cita­tion indexes are used fre­quently in searches for rel­e­vant sci­en­tific doc­u­ments. In this arti­cle we focus on the issue of reli­a­bil­ity of cita­tion analy­sis. How accu­rate are cita­tion counts to indi­vid­ual sci­en­tific arti­cles? What pit­falls might occur in the process of data col­lec­tion? To what extent do ‘ran­dom’ or ‘sys­tem­atic’ errors affect the results of the cita­tion analy­sis? We present a detailed analy­sis of dis­crep­an­cies between tar­get arti­cles and cited ref­er­ences with respect to author names, pub­li­ca­tion year, vol­ume num­ber, and start­ing page num­ber. Our data con­sist of some 4500 tar­get arti­cles pub­lished in five sci­en­tific jour­nals, and 25000 cita­tions to these arti­cles. Both tar­get and cita­tion data were obtained from the Sci­ence Cita­tion Index, pro­duced by the Insti­tute for Sci­en­tific Infor­ma­tion. It appears that in many cases a spe­cific error in a cita­tion to a par­tic­u­lar tar­get arti­cle occurs in more than one cit­ing pub­li­ca­tion. We present evi­dence that authors in com­pil­ing ref­er­ence lists, may copy ref­er­ences from ref­er­ence lists in other arti­cles, and that this may be one of the mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing this phe­nom­e­non of mul­ti­ple’ variations/errors.

, Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury 2002 (fur­ther dis­cus­sion: Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury 2006):

We report a method of esti­mat­ing what per­cent­age of peo­ple who cited a paper had actu­ally read it. The method is based on a sto­chas­tic mod­el­ing of the cita­tion process that explains empir­i­cal stud­ies of mis­print dis­tri­b­u­tions in cita­tions (which we show fol­lows a Zipf law). Our esti­mate is only about 20% of citers read the orig­i­nal…In prin­ci­ple, one can argue that an author might copy a cita­tion from an unre­li­able ref­er­ence list, but still read the paper. A mod­est reflec­tion would con­vince one that this is rel­a­tively rare, and can­not apply to the major­i­ty. Sure­ly, in the pre-in­ter­net era it took almost equal effort to copy a ref­er­ence as to type in one’s own based on the orig­i­nal, thus pro­vid­ing lit­tle incen­tive to copy if some­one has indeed read, or at the very least has pro­cured access to the orig­i­nal. More­over, if some­one accesses the orig­i­nal by trac­ing it from the ref­er­ence list of a paper with a mis­print, then with a high like­li­hood, the mis­print has been iden­ti­fied and will not be prop­a­gat­ed. In the past decade with the advent of the Inter­net, the ease with which would-be non-read­ers can copy from unre­li­able sources, as well as would-be read­ers can access the orig­i­nal has become equally con­ve­nient, but there is no increased incen­tive for those who read the orig­i­nal to also make ver­ba­tim copies, espe­cially from unre­li­able resources2.

, Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury 2004:

We present empir­i­cal data on fre­quency and pat­tern of mis­prints in cita­tions to twelve high­-pro­file papers. We find that the dis­tri­b­u­tion of mis­prints, ranked by fre­quency of their rep­e­ti­tion, fol­lows Zipf’s law. We pro­pose a sto­chas­tic model of cita­tion process, which explains these find­ings, and leads to the con­clu­sion that 70-90% of sci­en­tific cita­tions are copied from the lists of ref­er­ences used in other papers.

(Simkin & Roy­chowd­hury have some other papers which don’t seem to do fur­ther empir­i­cal work on the non-read­ing ques­tion: , 2003; , , 2007; “The­ory of Cit­ing”, 2011.)

, Šigut et al 2017:

The Shan­non–Wiener index is a pop­u­lar non­para­met­ric met­ric widely used in eco­log­i­cal research as a mea­sure of species diver­si­ty. We used the Web of Sci­ence data­base to exam­ine cases where papers pub­lished from 1990 to 2015 mis­la­beled this index. We pro­vide detailed insights into causes poten­tially affect­ing use of the wrong name ‘Weaver’ instead of the cor­rect ‘Wiener’. Basic sci­ence serves as a fun­da­men­tal infor­ma­tion source for applied research, so we empha­size the effect of the type of research (ap­plied or basic) on the inci­dence of the error. Bio­log­i­cal research, espe­cially applied stud­ies, increas­ingly uses indices, even though some researchers have strongly crit­i­cized their use. Applied research papers had a higher fre­quency of the wrong index name than did basic research papers. The mis­la­bel­ing fre­quency decreased in both cat­e­gories over the 25-year peri­od, although the decrease lagged in applied research. More­over, the index use and mis­take pro­por­tion differed by region and authors’ coun­tries of ori­gin. Our study also pro­vides insight into cita­tion cul­ture, and results sug­gest that almost 50% of authors have not actu­ally read their cited sources. Applied research sci­en­tists in par­tic­u­lar should be more cau­tious dur­ing man­u­script prepa­ra­tion, care­fully select sources from basic research, and read the­o­ret­i­cal back­ground arti­cles before they apply the the­o­ries to their research. More­over, the­o­ret­i­cal ecol­o­gists should liaise with applied researchers and present their research for the broader sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ty. Researchers should point out known, often-re­peated errors and phe­nom­ena not only in spe­cial­ized books and jour­nals but also in widely used and fun­da­men­tal lit­er­a­ture.

A few papers I found on the way, which touch on the ques­tion of how often a cita­tion is cor­rectly described/interpreted:

  • , de Lacey et al 1985

    The accu­racy of quo­ta­tions and ref­er­ences in six med­ical jour­nals pub­lished dur­ing Jan­u­ary 1984 was assessed. The orig­i­nal author was mis­quoted in 15% of all ref­er­ences, and most of the errors would have mis­led read­ers. Errors in cita­tion of ref­er­ences occurred in 24%, of which 8% were major errors—that is, they pre­vented imme­di­ate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the source of the ref­er­ence. Inac­cu­rate quo­ta­tions and cita­tions are dis­pleas­ing for the orig­i­nal author, mis­lead­ing for the read­er, and mean that untruths become “accepted fact.” …

  • “Do Authors Check Their Ref­er­ences? A Sur­vey of Accu­racy of Ref­er­ences in Three Pub­lic Health Jour­nals”, Eichorn & Yankauer 1987:

    We ver­i­fied a ran­dom sam­ple of 50 ref­er­ences in the May 1986 issue of each of three pub­lic health jour­nals. Thir­ty-one per­cent of the 150 ref­er­ences had cita­tion errors, one out of 10 being a major error (ref­er­ence not locat­able). Thirty per­cent of the ref­er­ences differed from authors’ use of them with half being a major error (cited paper not related to author’s con­tention).

  • “Accu­racy of ref­er­ences in psy­chi­atric lit­er­a­ture: a sur­vey of three jour­nals”, Law­son & Fos­ker 1999:

    Aims and method: The preva­lence of errors in ref­er­ence cita­tions and use in the psy­chi­atric lit­er­a­ture has not been reported as it has in other sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture. Fifty ref­er­ences ran­domly selected from each of three psy­chi­atric jour­nals were exam­ined for accu­racy and appro­pri­ate­ness of use by val­i­dat­ing them against the orig­i­nal sources.

    Results: A high preva­lence of errors was found, the most com­mon being minor errors in the accu­racy of cita­tions. Major cita­tion errors, delayed access to two orig­i­nal arti­cles and three could not be traced. Eight of the ref­er­ences had major errors with the appro­pri­ate­ness of use of their quo­ta­tions.

    Clin­i­cal impli­ca­tions: Errors in accu­racy of ref­er­ences impair the processes of research and evi­dence-based med­i­cine, quo­ta­tion errors could mis­lead clin­i­cians into mak­ing wrong treat­ment deci­sions.

  • “Sec­ondary and Ter­tiary Cit­ing: A Study of Ref­er­enc­ing Behav­ior in the Lit­er­a­ture of Cita­tion Analy­sis Deriv­ing from the Ortega Hypoth­e­sis of Cole and Cole”, Hoer­man & Now­icke 1995:

    This study exam­ines a com­plex net­work of doc­u­ments and cita­tions relat­ing to the lit­er­a­ture of the Ortega Hypoth­e­sis (as defined by Jonathan R. Cole and Stephen Cole), demon­strat­ing the tenac­ity of errors in details of and mean­ing attrib­uted to indi­vid­ual cita­tions. These errors pro­vide evi­dence that sec­ondary and ter­tiary cit­ing occurs in the lit­er­a­ture that assesses indi­vid­ual influ­ence through the use of cita­tions. Sec­ondary and ter­tiary cit­ing is defined as the inclu­sion of a cita­tion in a ref­er­ence list with­out exam­in­ing the doc­u­ment being cit­ed. The authors sug­gest that, in the absence of error, it is diffi­cult to deter­mine the amount of sec­ondary and ter­tiary cit­ing con­sid­ered nor­ma­tive. There­fore, to increase under­stand­ing of the rela­tion­ship between cita­tions and pat­terns of influ­ence, it is rec­om­mended that large-s­cale stud­ies exam­ine addi­tional instances of cita­tion error.

  • , Mak­ing Sense of Her­i­tabil­ity (pg135):

    …In my opin­ion, this kind of delib­er­ate mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion in attacks on hered­i­tar­i­an­ism is less fre­quent than sheer igno­rance. But why is it that a num­ber of peo­ple who pub­licly attack “Jensenism” are so poorly informed about Jensen’s real views? Given the mag­ni­tude of their dis­tor­tions and the ease with which these mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions spread, one is alerted to the pos­si­bil­ity that at least some of these anti-hered­i­tar­i­ans did not get their infor­ma­tion about hered­i­tar­i­an­ism first hand, from pri­mary sources, but only indi­rect­ly, from the texts of unsym­pa­thetic and some­times quite biased crit­ics.8 In this con­nec­tion, it is inter­est­ing to note that sev­eral authors who strongly dis­agree with Jensen (Longino 1990; Bowler 1989; Allen 1990; Billings et al. 1992; McIn­er­ney 1996; Beck­with 1993; Kas­sim 2002) refer to his clas­sic paper from 1969 by cit­ing the vol­ume of the Har­vard Edu­ca­tional Review incor­rectly as “33” (in­stead of “39”). What makes this mis­-c­i­ta­tion note­wor­thy is that the very same mis­take is to be found in Gould’s Mis­mea­sure of Man (in both edi­tion­s). Now the fact that Gould’s idio­syn­cratic lap­sus calami gets repeated in the later sources is either an extremely unlikely coin­ci­dence or else it reveals that these authors’ ref­er­ences to Jensen’s paper actu­ally orig­i­nate from their con­tact with Gould’s text, not Jensen’s.

  • , Green­berg 2009:

    …A com­plete cita­tion net­work was con­structed from all PubMed indexed Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture papers address­ing the belief that β amy­loid, a pro­tein accu­mu­lated in the brain in Alzheimer’s dis­ease, is pro­duced by and injures skele­tal mus­cle of patients with inclu­sion body myosi­tis… The net­work con­tained 242 papers and 675 cita­tions address­ing the belief, with 220 553 cita­tion paths sup­port­ing it. Unfounded author­ity was estab­lished by cita­tion bias against papers that refuted or weak­ened the belief; ampli­fi­ca­tion, the marked expan­sion of the belief sys­tem by papers pre­sent­ing no data address­ing it; and forms of inven­tion such as the con­ver­sion of hypoth­e­sis into fact through cita­tion alone. Exten­sion of this net­work into text within grants funded by the National Insti­tutes of Health and obtained through the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act showed the same phe­nom­ena present and some­times used to jus­tify requests for fund­ing.

Psychology of Space Travel, circa 1945

“This is Major Tom to Ground Con­trol,
I’m step­ping through the door
And I’m float­ing in a most pecu­liar way
And the stars look very differ­ent today,
For here
Am I sit­ting in a tin can
Far above the world.
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s noth­ing I can do.”

, “” (1969)

In 1945, knowl­edge of outer space was scant. No one had gone to outer space and returned alive, nei­ther man nor ape nor dog. The US and Russ­ian pro­grams were only just start­ing up and com­pet­ing for the prod­ucts of the Nazi rock­etry pro­gram. Pic­tures taken from space would not be avail­able until a year later in 1946 using a V-2 (and ver­i­fy­ing that at least some machin­ery would work in space), and any life form would not be launched until fruit flies sur­vived a trip up on a in 1947, 2 years lat­er; would not be launched for 3 years. (The roll call of US ani­mal exper­i­ments is instruc­tive: Albert I in June 1948, who died of suffo­ca­tion; II died of para­chute fail­ure, III died in an explo­sion, IV & V after more para­chute fail­ure, VI 2 hours after land­ing as did 2 of the accom­pa­ny­ing mice likely from heat, Gordo another para­chute fail­ure, Able of botched surgery—leav­ing Able’s com­pan­ion the first mon­key to travel to space in 1959, 11 years after Albert I, and live out a nor­mal lifes­pan.) And phe­nom­ena related to , “ring cur­rents”, had been hypoth­e­sized for decades (Stern 1989) but the belt would not be mea­sured for another 13 years.

And there was prece­dent for unpre­dictable, chaotic, psy­cho­log­i­cal effects.

The Breakaway Effect

I was fas­ci­nated to read in the chap­ter “Star Crazy” of Roach’s 2010 Pack­ing for Mars (review) a lengthy dis­cus­sion of how even up the ’60s there were seri­ous con­cern­s—­like in Smith’s sto­ry—about whether astro­nauts could remain sane in space rather than sui­ci­dal, and this was not fringe spec­u­la­tion but main­stream & rea­son­able extrap­o­la­tion from dis­turb­ing dat­a­points in avi­a­tion about the break-off phe­nom­e­non in air­plane pilots at high alti­tude:

There was a great deal of con­jec­ture at the time—both at the Soviet space agency and at NASA—about the unique psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences of breach­ing the cos­mos. Would hurtling into “the black”, as pilots used to call it, blow the astro­naut’s mind? Hear the omi­nous words of psy­chi­a­trist Eugene Brody, speak­ing at the 1959 Sym­po­sium on Space Psy­chi­a­try: “Sep­a­ra­tion from the earth with all of its uncon­scious sym­bolic sig­nifi­cance for man,…might in the­ory at least be expect­ed…to pro­duce—even in a well-s­e­lected and trained pilot—­some­thing akin to the panic of schiz­o­phre­nia.”

There was worry that might come unhinged and sab­o­tage the his­to­ry-mak­ing mis­sion. It was enough of a worry that the pow­er­s-that-be locked the man­ual con­trols of the Vos­tok cap­sule before liftoff. What if some­thing went awry and com­mu­ni­ca­tions went dead and Pilot-Cos­mo­naut #1 needed to take con­trol of the cap­sule? His supe­ri­ors had thought about that too, and seem­ingly turned to game show hosts for advice. Gagarin was given a sealed enve­lope con­tain­ing the secret com­bi­na­tion to unlock the con­trols.

The con­cerns were not alto­gether fatu­ous. In a study pub­lished in the April 1957 issue of Avi­a­tion Med­i­cine, 35% of 137 pilots inter­viewed reported hav­ing expe­ri­enced a strange feel­ing of detach­ment from Earth while fly­ing at high alti­tudes, almost always dur­ing a solo flight. “I feel like I have bro­ken the bonds from the ter­res­trial sphere”, said one pilot.

The phe­nom­e­non was per­va­sive enough for psy­chol­o­gists to give it a name: the “break­away effect”. For a major­ity of these pilots, the feel­ing was­n’t one of pan­ic, but of eupho­ria. Only 18 of the 137 char­ac­ter­ized their feel­ings as fear or anx­i­ety. “It seems so peace­ful, it seems like you are in another world.” “I feel like a giant.” “A king”, said anoth­er. Three com­mented that they felt nearer to God. A pilot named Mal Ross, who set a series of alti­tude records in exper­i­men­tal air­craft in the late 1950s, twice reported an eerie “feel­ing of exul­ta­tion, of want­ing to fly on and on.”

The year the Avi­a­tion Med­i­cine arti­cle ran, Colonel in an upright, phone-booth-sized sealed cap­sule sus­pended beneath a helium bal­loon. With his oxy­gen dan­ger­ously low, Kit­tinger was ordered by his supe­ri­or, David Simons, to begin his descent. “COME AND GET ME”, replied Kit­tinger, let­ter by let­ter in Morse code. Kit­tinger says it was a joke, but Simons did­n’t take it that way. (Morse code has always been a tough medium for humor.) In his mem­oir Man High, Simons recalls think­ing that “the weird and lit­tle under­stood break­away phe­nom­e­non could be tak­ing hold of Kit­tinger’s mind,…that he…was gripped in this strange reverie and was hell­bent on fly­ing on and on with­out regard for the con­se­quences.”

Simons com­pared the break­away phe­nom­e­non to “the deadly rap­tures of the deep.” “Rap­ture of the deep” is a med­ical con­di­tion—a feel­ing of calm and invul­ner­a­bil­ity that can steal over a diver, usu­ally at depths below 100 feet. It is more pro­saically known as , or as the Mar­tini Effect (one drink for every 33 feet below 65 feet). Simons spec­u­lated that one day soon aero­space physi­cians would be talk­ing about a con­di­tion “known as the deadly rap­ture of space.”

These break­away effects do not include all the other psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of air trav­el, such as , , hal­lu­ci­nated s (re­ported by many pilots, such as on his transat­lantic flight5, who also reported hal­lu­ci­nat­ing entire land­masses6), sen­sory depri­va­tion, UFOs, or out­comes of the crash (eg is often con­nected to his post-crash hal­lu­ci­na­tions in the Sahara recounted in ).

Space Euphoria & Overview Effect

Roach 2010, con­tin­ued, on the :

He was right, though NASA pre­ferred the less flow­ery term “space eupho­ria.” “Some NASA shrinks”, wrote astro­naut in his mem­oir, “had warned that when I looked down and saw the Earth speed­ing past so far below, I might be swamped by space eupho­ria.” [see also the “overview effect”] Cer­nan would soon be under­tak­ing a space­walk—his­to­ry’s third—­dur­ing . The psy­chol­o­gists were ner­vous because the first two space­walk­ers had expressed not only an odd eupho­ria but a wor­ri­some dis­in­cli­na­tion to go back inside the cap­sule. “I felt excel­lent and in a cheer­ful mood and reluc­tant to leave free space”, wrote , the first human to, in 1965, float freely in the vac­uum of space, attached to his by an air hose. “As for the so-called psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier that was sup­posed to be insur­mount­able by man prepar­ing to con­front the cos­mic abyss alone, I not only did not sense any bar­ri­er, but even for­got that there could be one.”

Four min­utes into NASA’s first space­walk, astro­naut gushed that he felt “like a mil­lion dol­lars.” He strug­gled to find the words for it. “I’ve…it’s just tremen­dous.” There are moments when the mis­sion tran­script reads like the tran­script of a 1970s encounter group. Here are White and his com­man­der, James McDi­vitt, a cou­ple of Air Force guys, after it’s over:

WHITE: That was the most nat­ural feel­ing, Jim.
McDIVITT: …You looked like you were in your moth­er’s womb.

NASA’s con­cern was not that their astro­naut was euphoric, but that eupho­ria might have over­taken good sense. Dur­ing White’s twenty min­utes of bliss, Mis­sion Con­trol repeat­edly tries to break in. Finally the cap­sule com­mu­ni­ca­tor, , gets through to McDi­vitt.

GRISSOM: Gem­ini 4, get back in!
McDIVITT: They want you to come back in now.
WHITE: Back in?
McDIVITT: Back in.
GRISSOM: Roger, we’ve been try­ing to talk to you for awhile here.
WHITE: Aw, Cape, let me just [take] a few pic­tures.
McDIVITT: No, back in. Come on.
WHITE: …Lis­ten, you could almost not drag me in, but I’m com­ing.

But he was­n’t. Two more min­utes passed. McDi­vitt starts to plead.

McDIVITT: Just come on in…
WHITE: Actu­al­ly, I’m try­ing to get a bet­ter pic­ture.
McDIVITT: No, come on in.
WHITE: I’m try­ing to get a pic­ture of the space­craft now.
McDIVITT: Ed, come on in here!

Another minute passes before White makes a move toward the hatch, say­ing, “This is the sad­dest moment of my life.” Rather than wor­ry­ing about astro­nauts not want­ing to come back in, the space agen­cies should have been wor­ry­ing about them not being able to. It took White twen­ty-five min­utes to get back through the hatch and safely in.

…After Ed White’s space­walk, reports of space eupho­ria were rare, and soon the psy­chol­o­gists stopped wor­ry­ing. They had some­thing new to worry on: “ height ver­ti­go.” (EVA is short for “extrave­hic­u­lar activ­ity”, mean­ing space­walk­ing.) The image of Earth rush­ing by some 200 miles below can cause par­a­lyz­ing fear. astro­naut wrote in his mem­oir about the “dread­ful and per­sis­tent” feel­ing that he was “plum­met­ing earth­ward…at ten times or a hun­dred times faster” than he’d expe­ri­enced dur­ing para­chute free falls. Which he was. (The differ­ence, of course, is that the astro­naut is falling in a huge cir­cle around Earth and does­n’t hit the ground.)

“White-knuck­led, I gripped the handrail…”, wrote Linenger of his ago­nized moments on the end of Mir’s 50-foot tele­scop­ing arm, “forc­ing myself to keep my eyes open and not scream.” I once lis­tened to a suit engi­neer tell the story of an unnamed space­walker exit­ing the hatch and then turn­ing to wrap both space­suited arms around a col­league’s legs.

…Aero­space biol­o­gists had estab­lished that humans can func­tion for a few sec­onds with­out grav­i­ty. But what about an hour, a day, a week? “Peo­ple ask, Why?” says Britz of the era of the space­far­ing chimp. “Mary, we just did­n’t know.” What were the longer-term effects of space trav­el—not only of weight­less­ness, but of ? (High­-en­ergy atomic par­ti­cles have been zing­ing through space at fero­cious speeds since the Big Bang. Earth’s mag­netic field pro­tects us by deflect­ing cos­mic rays, but in space, these invis­i­ble bul­lets smash unim­peded through cells, caus­ing muta­tions. It’s seri­ous enough that astro­nauts are clas­si­fied as radi­a­tion work­er­s.)

Every mode of travel has its sig­na­ture men­tal aber­ra­tion. Eskimo hunters trav­el­ing alone on still, glassy waters are some­times stricken by “kayak angst”—delu­sions that their boat is flood­ing or that the front end is either sink­ing or ris­ing up out of the water. Of related inter­est: [see also Amer­ing & Katschnig 1990] includes a dis­cus­sion of Eskimo sui­cide motives and notes that 4 out of the 50 sui­cides inves­ti­gated were elderly Eski­mos who “took their lives as a direct result of use­less­ness due to old age.” No men­tion was made of whether they cast them­selves adrift on ice floes, as you some­times hear, and whether travel by ice floe has its own unique anx­i­ety syn­drome.

In Moon Dust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (review), Smith 2005, Smith was able to inter­view almost all of the sur­viv­ing Apollo astro­nauts and dis­cussed with them the psy­cho­log­i­cal expe­ri­ences & effects of space trav­el, rang­ing from eupho­ria to reli­gious epipha­nies to musi­cal hal­lu­ci­na­tions to divorce:

On the flight from Eng­land, I was lost in a bril­liant col­lec­tion of short sto­ries called . Writ­ten between 1962 and 1988, most of them revolve around the , and in par­tic­u­lar, which is where the space pro­gram­me’s human cargo lived in the run-up to mis­sions. Bal­lard’s thrillingly jaun­diced view of the Space Age is that it con­sti­tuted a crime against evo­lu­tion, a blind, hubris­tic leap into a realm where we do not belong, where all we can do is sow our dis­ease and spread the human stain ever more thinly across the Uni­verse. Accord­ing­ly, in his sto­ries we find the Cape aban­doned, laid waste by microbes from Mars as dead astro­nauts cir­cle the earth in their cap­sule coffins, or serv­ing as a bea­con for falling space debris, roamed only by irra­di­ated scav­engers seek­ing icons in man­gled bits of space­ship or space­man bones. We find space explor­ers going insane mid­flight, haunt­ing a whole world with their “night­mare ram­blings.” In “A Ques­tion of Re-En­try”, Bal­lard’s pro­tag­o­nist hunts for a cap­sule lost in the Ama­zon forest, amid grow­ing anx­i­ety that “the entire space pro­gramme was a symp­tom of some inner uncon­scious malaise afflict­ing mankind, and in par­tic­u­lar the West­ern tech­noc­ra­cies … the miss­ing cap­sule [was] itself a frag­ment of a huge dis­in­te­grat­ing fan­ta­sy.” In “News from the Sun”, I find: “Cer­tain­ly, the unhappy lives of the astro­nauts bore all the signs of a deep­en­ing sense of guilt. The relapse into alco­holism, silence, and pseudo-mys­ti­cism, and the men­tal break­downs, sug­gested pro­found anx­i­eties about the moral and bio­log­i­cal right­ness of space explo­ration.”

…Swad­dled in the cos­mos on the way back from the Moon, had what he describes as an “epiphany”, in which he glimpsed an intel­li­gence in the Uni­verse and felt con­nected to it, like a lamp sud­denly plugged in and switched on after an age hid­den in dark­ness. In that moment, the void seemed to him alive and his descrip­tion of it reminds me of the Eng­lish poet­-artist William Blake’s ecsta­tic vision of a Uni­verse in which “every par­ti­cle of dust breathes forth its joy.” And what he said to him­self was, pre­cise­ly: Wow.

He was fas­ci­nated with it, with this feel­ing of tran­scen­dence, which he intu­itively related to the euphoric states other civ­i­liza­tions have con­jured with rit­u­al, drugs, con­tem­pla­tion—­god­s—and when he got back, he left NASA and founded the (IONS), named for the Greek-derived word mean­ing “of, relat­ing to or based on the intel­lect.” His aim was to rec­on­cile sci­ence with reli­gion—and the point at which they met, or at least the bridge between them, he pos­tu­lat­ed, con­sists in that great­est of all mys­ter­ies, con­scious­ness itself. Thus, the key to the Uni­verse is con­tained in our own minds, and vice ver­sa, the result being that for 32 years now, the Moon­walker Dr. Mitchell, who has two bach­e­lor of sci­ence degrees to add to his doc­tor­ate from MIT, has been search­ing for this key. Peo­ple who pass through his grav­ity field fre­quently char­ac­ter­ize IONS as a kind of New Age cult, with Mitchell the Space Age Colonel Kurtz, the hero who entered into the heart of a dark­ness even Con­rad and Cop­pola could­n’t con­ceive, and never came back.

He did­n’t expe­ri­ence the “come­down” that some of the other Moon­walk­ers did?

“No, I tend to think that what I’ve done in the thirty years since is more impor­tant than going to the Moon. The Moon—okay, that was pow­er­ful, it’s his­to­ry, ground­break­ing stuff of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. But for me per­son­al­ly, I think pio­neer­ing what I’ve done here with noet­ics will in the long run be a more impor­tant advance­ment.”

Strange, I observe: says the same thing about his church work. Edgar Mitchel­l’s eyes light up.

“See, the point is, , Char­lie Duke, myself and oth­ers had the same expe­ri­ence, I think. But you express it in terms of your own belief sys­tem, your own expe­ri­ence and your train­ing. And me being more of a philoso­pher and sci­en­tist, I looked beyond the easy expla­na­tion of reli­gion. —a lovely fel­la—he expressed his in his art­work. And even the ones who haven’t shown out­ward signs of change”—he leans for­ward and jabs a fin­ger at the space just beyond my right elbow—“that does­n’t mean they did­n’t feel it, too.”

Test pilots, he goes on to note with a smirk, “have never been noted for intro­spec­tion or spon­ta­neous elo­quent expres­sion”, but he does believe that “it’s sig­nifi­cant that many of the men pio­neer­ing space flight began to express more openly a more sub­tle side of their per­son­al­i­ties after return­ing home.” Even Shep­ard loos­ened and a LM deputy pro­gramme man­ager is also on record as say­ing that the lunar astro­nauts did change; became less out­go­ing, more pen­sive. Would­n’t their train­ing as test pilots, with its empha­sis on self­-con­trol, have mil­i­tated against being affected by what was hap­pen­ing around them? Mitchell thinks this is a mis­con­cep­tion, say­ing:

“My expe­ri­ence taught me to open up my emo­tions, or at least to become more aware, to become more sen­si­tive to what’s going on in the body. It’s quite true that in that busi­ness you have to learn to man­age your emo­tions. But of course, that’s what the mys­tic dis­ci­plines are about, too. That’s what’s taught by the Tibetan Bud­dhist­s—and I greatly admire their schol­ar­ship … it is about learn­ing to man­age your emo­tions.”

We talk about fam­ily and the huge divorce rate in the Astro­naut Corps. At the begin­ning of the Six­ties, mar­i­tal break­down still came with shame; worse, NASA con­sid­ered it bad for the image of the pro­gramme and it was made clear that divorces would cost flights. Yet even NASA could­n’t resist the social rev­o­lu­tion that was ush­ered in by the con­tra­cep­tive pill. By the end of the 1970s, the divorce rate would be five times what it had been in 1961, with the high­est rates in the nation set­tling on the Cape Kennedy area of Flori­da.

…As with sub­se­quent flights, Apollo 8 bowled along side­ways, like a sil­ver rolling pin, spin­ning slowly to dis­trib­ute the sun’s intense heat. From the craft’s angle of approach the Moon was in dark­ness, so for the first two days the astro­nauts saw only the Earth shrink­ing behind them and a coy black void ahead, bereft of stars and grow­ing, until finally they were drift­ing engine-first around the far side, prepar­ing for the ‘burn’ that would slow them into lunar orbit. Still they saw noth­ing—un­til sud­denly and with­out warn­ing an immense arc of sun-drenched lunar sur­face appeared in their win­dows and the three men got the shocks of their lives, as the ethe­real disc they and the rest of human­ity had known up to then revealed itself as an awe­some globe, cool and remote, with­out sound or motion, mag­is­te­r­ial but issu­ing no invi­ta­tion what­so­ev­er. So shocked were the crew that com­man­der Bor­man was forced to rein in their excite­ment for the sake of the burn, and while the astro­nauts have for­got­ten much about the jour­neys they took, none has any trou­ble recall­ing this dra­matic moment: indeed, those who are tem­pera­men­tally dis­posed to acknowl­edg­ing fear will tell you that it was an eerie and intim­i­dat­ing sight, which the crew of Apollo 8 seemed haunted by. Upon their return, they described a for­bid­ding and inhos­pitable world. It was the Earth that sang to them from afar.

…The best bit—and this is one of my favourite bits of the whole space pro­gram­me—is when Cap-Com , the voice of Mis­sion Con­trol that day, orders back into the craft and the space­walker just can’t bring him­self to go. Broad­cast live to radio at the time, the exchange cap­ti­vated lis­ten­ers. The third per­son involved is Com­man­der Jim McDi­vitt, speak­ing from inside the space­ship. We come in at the end, which goes like this: [tran­script; some EVA footage; Apollo 11: Flight to the Moon, full album; track “A4: Ed White—Walks In Space”, 4m56s-7m30s: ]

  • GRISSOM: “—get back in!”
  • (White pre­tends he has­n’t heard. He’s look­ing at the Earth.)
  • WHITE: “What are we over now, Jim?”
  • MCDIVITT: “I don’t know, we’re com­ing over the west now, and they want you to come back in.”
  • WHITE: “Aw, Cape, let me just find a few pic­tures.”
  • MCDIVITT: “No, back in. Come on.”
  • (Pause.)
  • WHITE: “Com­ing in. Lis­ten, you could almost not drag me in, but I’m com­ing …”
  • (A few more min­utes of stalling by the reluc­tant space­walk­er, who finally relents.)
  • WHITE: “This is the sad­dest moment of my life.”
  • MCDIVITT: “Well, you’re going to find a sad­der one when we have to come down from this whole thing.”
  • WHITE: “I’m com­ing.”
  • (Not com­ing.)
  • MCDIVITT: “Okay … Come on now.”

The sad­dest moment of his life! Who would­n’t feel for him? But he had to go back in, because NASA did­n’t yet know what float­ing in space would do to a human being. That he and Gris­som had the breath snatched from their lungs in only months later gives his words an added poignan­cy. He did­n’t have long to live, but he had this, and that it should become music is not so very sur­pris­ing: , the expe­ri­enced shut­tle astro­naut who trained with the Apollo crews and devel­oped a mys­ti­cal bent after­wards, claims to have heard music up there. “It was a noble, mag­nifi­cent music”, he told a Space.­com reporter in Feb­ru­ary 2000. “I was a lit­tle on the mar­gin … I was walk­ing the edge.”

…One of J. G. Bal­lard’s sto­ries [“News From The Sun”] con­tains the strik­ing line: “The best astro­nauts, Franklin had noticed dur­ing his work for NASA, never dreamed …” But before his flight, Char­lie had a dream that he and were dri­ving the rover across the lunar sur­face, when they found another set of tracks. They asked Hous­ton if they could fol­low them and wound up con­fronted by another rover, in which sat two peo­ple who looked exactly like them, but had been there for thou­sands of years. The dream was so pure and so vivid that Char­lie is apt to call it “one of the most real expe­ri­ences of my life.” In the event, how­ev­er, the real­ity was excit­ing for Duke but not mys­ti­cal or spir­i­tual as it was for some. On the flight before (Apollo 15), Jim Irwin had found the crys­talline “”, a 4.15-bil­lion-year-old relic of pri­mor­dial crust formed in the Moon’s infan­cy—in geo­logic terms, mere moments after the solar sys­tem itself was born. It just sat there on a rocky pul­pit at the edge of a crater, as if it had been wait­ing for him all that time and he said he felt the pres­ence of God then, heard His voice, and upon return­ing, he quit NASA to found the High Flight min­istry. A year lat­er, he embarked on the first of sev­eral expe­di­tions to search for Noah’s Ark on in Turkey, which the nov­el­ist used as a tem­plate for one of the short sto­ries [“Project Ararat”] in his book . He almost died after a bad fall on Ararat’s slopes in 1982, but lived on until 1991, when a sec­ond mas­sive heart attack finally took him. The thing was, every­one had known this was com­ing, because NASA medics dis­cov­ered alarm­ing irreg­u­lar­i­ties in his heart­beat while he was on the lunar sur­face. Despite all the mon­i­tor­ing and all the tests, these had never shown up before. It seemed that the Moon, with her bardic sense of mis­chief, was play­ing the equiv­o­ca­tor again, reveal­ing Irwin’s call­ing while simul­ta­ne­ously fore­telling his death.

…I ask whether thinks that going to the Moon changed him, repeat­ing Alan Bean’s view that all the Moon­walk­ers came back “more like they already were”, and his face lights up. He says he did­n’t know that Bean had said that, but it’s exactly what he, too, has felt for the last thirty years. The only one who went in a direc­tion no one could have imag­ined, he sug­gests, was the Apollo 15 com­man­der, , whose lus­trous career was destroyed by the “stamp scan­dal” which over­took him a few months after his return…

“That’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion, though, because Jim was deeply affect­ed. For instance, before the Moon, he was a good speak­er, but after­wards he was a great one. He really believed. Some­thing real hap­pened to him.”

He then speaks about some­thing which he called his “left seat-right seat” the­o­ry, refer­ring to the fact that the com­man­der stood to the left in the lan­der with the Lunar Mod­ule pilot on his right. He sounds reflec­tive for the first time as he notes:

“The six guys in the left seat went down paths you’d have expect­ed, but the six in the right seats went off in all kinds of unex­pected direc­tions.”

And I sud­denly recall Ed Mitchell say­ing some­thing sim­i­lar. In fact he had a name for it. I’d asked whether he thought some of the Moon­walk­ers had been more open to the expe­ri­ence than oth­ers and he answered:

“Well, one thing to note is that most of the guys who were vocal about the depth of the expe­ri­ence were Lunar Mod­ule pilots. It’s known phe­nom­e­non, from mil­i­tary stud­ies, that the guy in the rear seat of a two-seater air­craft and the guy actu­ally doing the fly­ing have differ­ent expe­ri­ences, because they’re focussed on differ­ent things. It’s the com­mand phe­nom­e­non. The view of the guy who has to be alert and on top of things is differ­ent from the guy who’s just along for the ride. So those of us com­ing back from the Moon who were LM pilots, we weren’t just along for the ride—we had chores—but we did­n’t have major respon­si­bil­i­ties, because the space­craft was func­tion­ing well. We could take it in and con­tem­plate what we were doing more thor­ough­ly.”

He fur­ther added:

“I think that was also true for peo­ple back home on Earth, though obvi­ously in a differ­ent way. Those pic­tures of the Earth from the Moon are the most pub­lished pic­tures in the world. And so one has to ask the ques­tion: Why is that so? What is that? And to me, it’s because they speak to that spirit of quest that humans have. And to the ques­tion ‘Who are we?’”

Yes. Now Scott is talk­ing about Ed and his noetic quest, and with his post­flight break­down … and Alan Bean with his Close Encoun­ters Moon art … and of course Char­lie Duke and Jim Irwin, who were directly or indi­rectly led to their faiths by the Moon. Only Jack Schmitt fol­lowed a straight and nor­mal path, and then only if you con­sider a desire to enter the Sen­ate nor­mal. And for the first time, I fall to reflect­ing on my own encoun­ters with these men; on the LM pilots’ eager­ness to com­mu­ni­cate what they’d felt up there and the way it seemed to still live inside them, as against the by-turns mad­den­ing and amus­ing imper­vi­ous­ness of the sur­viv­ing mis­sion com­man­ders. Arm­strong, Young, Cer­nan, Scott: I can admire them all in differ­ent ways, but would­n’t want them near me if I were a talk-show host or com­poser of son­nets. After­wards, I go to find Scott, because I want to know whether he thinks this post­flight diver­gence is attrib­ut­able to the differ­ent expe­ri­ences of the Moon­walk­er­s—as he seemed to be imply­ing—or whether Deke sim­ply assigned them roles accord­ing to char­ac­ter type, with focus and sin­gu­lar­ity seen as the stuff of lead­er­ship. Disin­gen­u­ous to the last, he pre­tends not to remem­ber me, while being unable to sup­press the spark of recog­ni­tion in his eye. He nev­er­the­less con­firms the first view straight­away.

“No, char­ac­ter does­n’t come into it”, he says. Real­ly? I ask, but he shakes his head firm­ly. “Char­ac­ter was never an issue.” So he agrees with Ed Mitchell that there was some­thing pri­mal in the expe­ri­ence, at least for those who had the time and men­tal space to be affected by it? “I think so. Yes.” He leaves a short gap, as though con­sid­er­ing this for the first time.

“It’s inter­est­ing, isn’t it?”

The Context

So what does this amount to? His­tor­i­cal­ly, air and space travel do have a wide vari­ety of unpre­dictable effects, men­tal and phys­i­cal, good and bad, and to some degree this was known by 1945. We see clearly here a wide­spread and known fear of the effects of outer space, fears about radi­a­tion and sui­ci­dal actions (eg refus­ing to return to the space­craft), and par­al­lels in the known extremes of avi­a­tion. While not all of this data & spec­u­la­tion was avail­able to Smith in 1945 (for exam­ple, the avi­a­tion sur­vey was pub­lished 12 years lat­er), it is rea­son­able to sup­pose that, a well-trav­eled aca­d­e­mic and intel­li­gence oper­a­tive, he could well have had any of this in mind when he devised his pain of space and all of it is straight­for­ward to extrap­o­late for the pur­pose of his sto­ry.

It is also of pos­si­ble inter­est to note that there is long-s­tand­ing spec­u­la­tion that Cord­wainer Smith, like (or per­haps we should men­tion SF and and ?), may well have seen SF as being more than fic­tions and in fact, ‘mem­o­ries’ of his future lives, and was the “” described in psy­cho­an­a­lyst 1954 case study “The Jet-Pro­pelled Couch: Part I: The man who trav­eled through space”/“Part II: Return to Earth” (re­pub­lished in the 1955 The Fifty-Minute Hour), which lends intrigu­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties to his heavy use of pseu­do­nyms and inter­pre­ta­tion of “the pain of space” (not to men­tion Elm­s’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Smith talk­ing to his cats & cats in ). And would I go too far in not­ing that Smith’s ini­tial degree was in medieval Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture and the idea of dream­ing of the future recalls 1912 far-fu­ture _?

So any inter­pre­ta­tion of “Scan­ners Live in Vain” must take this his­tor­i­cal sci­en­tific con­text into con­sid­er­a­tion as a suffi­cient expla­na­tion of the pres­ence of the plot device & its char­ac­ter­is­tics, and not igno­rantly jump to a con­clu­sion that the pain of space must nec­es­sar­ily be entirely metaphor­i­cal or sym­bolic in some way.


See Also

  1. It was writ­ten some­time before July 1945, but was only pub­lished in 1950 after 4 rejec­tions (first from Astound­ing for being “too extreme”) and a 2 year delay by the 5th pub­lish­er.↩︎

  2. In “The Game of Rat and Dragon” (which briefly men­tions Scan­ners, appar­ently post-“Scan­ners Live in Vain” where it refers to nor­mal space pilots/captains), space is not dan­ger­ous (“There was some­thing under­neath space itself which was alive”) but in the dark­ness between solar sys­tems lurk psy­chic mon­sters which turn ships’ pas­sen­gers into “lunatics, dam­aged beyond repair, to be wak­ened, and fed, and cleaned, and put to sleep, wak­ened and fed again until their lives were end­ed.” (The use of cats reminds me of another SF opera, , specifi­cal­ly, episode 20’s Han­myo, who fights with a pair of pet cats as copi­lot­s.) As in “Scan­ners Live in Vain” and another strik­ing Smith sto­ry, “”, the solu­tion is another form of life (oys­ters, cats, and mink respec­tive­ly). Ani­mals and human-an­i­mal hybrids appear repeat­edly through­out Smith’s fic­tion. McGuirk 2011 notes the sim­i­lar dynamic of pain/power in “”, where the “dro­mo­zoans” pro­vide immor­tal­ity simul­ta­ne­ous with such pain that some pris­on­ers vol­un­teer for lobot­o­miz­ing or eye removal (while the pro­tag­o­nist endures it in his attempt to reform Shay­ol). In “Think Blue, Count Two”, pas­sen­gers aboard a gen­er­a­tion ship are woken out of hiber­na­tion to repair it after the pilot mys­te­ri­ously dies, and the “lit­tle boxes” that pre­vented fight­ing are destroyed by a pas­sen­ger cor­rupted by crime and envy in space:

    In whis­pers, in gasps, he told her the story of Old Twen­ty-two. He told her that peo­ple poured out among the stars and that the ancient things inside peo­ple woke up, so that the deeps of their minds were more ter­ri­ble that the black­est depth of space. Space never com­mit­ted crimes. It just killed. Nature could trans­mit death, but only man could carry crime from world to world. With­out the box­es, they looked into the bot­tom­less depths of their own unknown selves… All in a rush she remem­bered what Trece had told her about Old Twen­ty-two, and about what hap­pened to peo­ple when they lost their own out­sides in space and began mak­ing up evil from the peo­ple—in­sides which, after a mil­lion and more years of becom­ing human, still fol­lowed them every­where—even into space itself. This was crime come back to man. She man­aged to say it to Talatashar, “You are going to com­mit crimes? On this ship? With me?”

    Con­tin­u­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal the­me, the other pas­sen­gers are res­cued by a small pro­tec­tive /chemically-fixated (lam­i­nat­ed) mouse brain as guardian, which can destroy humans psy­cho­so­mat­i­cal­ly:

    …“I do not exist”, said he, specifi­cally address­ing him­self to Talatashar, “but if I needed to take out my imag­i­nary pis­tol and to shoot you in the head with it, my con­trol is so strong that your bone would com­ply with my com­mand. The hole would appear in your head and your blood and your brains would pour out, just as much as blood is pour­ing from your hand just now. Look at your hand and believe me, if you wish.”

    Talatashar refused to look. The stranger went on in a very delib­er­ate tone. “No bul­let would come from my pis­tol, no ray, no blast, noth­ing. Noth­ing at all. But your flesh would believe me, even if your thoughts did not. Your bone struc­ture would believe me, whether you thought so or not. I am com­mu­ni­cat­ing to every sep­a­rate sin­gle cell in your body, to every­thing which I feel to be alive. If I think bul­let at you, your bone will pull aside for the imag­i­nary wound. Your skin will part, your blood will pour out, your brains will splash. They will not do it by phys­i­cal force but by com­mu­ni­ca­tion from me. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion direct, you fool. That may not be real vio­lence, but it serves my pur­pose just as well. Now do you under­stand me? Look at your wrist.”

    Talatashar did not avert his eyes from the stranger. In an odd cold voice he said, “I believe you. I guess I am crazy. Are you going to kill me?” “I don’t know”, said the stranger.

  3. Cox 2013 (“From the Horse’s Mouth: Speech and Speciesism in Cord­wainer Smith and Sheri S. Tep­per”) expands on this iso­la­tion theme apro­pos “On The Gem Planet”:

    Genevieve nar­rates the horse’s sto­ry. A dying man paid great sums to guar­an­tee pri­vacy even after death, and built a cabin on Pon­top­p­i­dan to “live alone, except for his non-hu­man friend” (459). This “friend”, an old palomino stal­lion, escapes after the man’s death, seek­ing the com­pany of peo­ple.9…He cracks a hoof and wakes in a human hos­pi­tal…Through their tele­pathic link, the horse states he is “dying”, despite his near-im­mor­tal sta­tus. His state­ment seems para­dox­i­cal, but Susan Keav­eney clar­i­fies his mean­ing: “Horses are herd ani­mals: their pri­mary attach­ment is to the herd, within which they fit into a strict social hier­ar­chy” (445). The horse had been alone with the man for many years, deprived of any herd. While his phys­i­cal body can­not die, he suffers from deep lone­li­ness, a pos­si­ble ref­er­ence to some of Smith’s ear­lier sto­ries as the “’pain-of-space (a zone of total unrea­son)” (McGuirk, “Redis­cov­ery” 182). Char­ac­ters from “Scan­ners Live in Vain”, and “Think Blue, Count Two” share suffer­ing sim­i­lar to the horse of Pon­top­p­i­dan. Smith’s biog­ra­pher, Alan C. Elms, notes these sto­ries address “how…the pro­tag­o­nist [can] best deal with severe psy­cho­log­i­cal pain” (274). Though the pain the pro­tag­o­nist in “Scan­ners” suffers is a side-effect of space trav­el, the symp­toms of pain and lone­li­ness are the same in each sto­ry. Elms notes that “peo­ple are saved from psy­cho­log­i­cal pain…through the inter­ven­tion of other liv­ing beings” (Ibid.). On Pon­top­p­i­dan, humans and non-hu­mans save each other from the psy­cho­log­i­cal pain of iso­la­tion.

  4. Par­tic­u­lar­ly:

    • McClel­land & Dai­ley 1972, Improv­ing offi­cer selec­tion for the For­eign Ser­vice. Boston, MA: Hay/McBer.
    • McClel­land & Dai­ley 1973, Eval­u­at­ing new meth­ods of mea­sur­ing the qual­i­ties needed in supe­rior For­eign Ser­vice Offi­cers. Boston: McBer.
    • McClel­land & Dai­ley 1974, Pro­fes­sional com­pe­ten­cies of human ser­vice work­ers. Boston: McBer and Co.

    Only the first two books appear avail­able in McClel­land’s posthu­mous Har­vard papers.↩︎

  5. (1953), in describ­ing the 22nd hour of the flight after ~55 hours of sleep depri­va­tion:

    …While I’m star­ing at the instru­ments, dur­ing an unearthly age of time, both con­scious and asleep, the fuse­lage behind me becomes filled with ghostly pres­ences—­vaguely out­lined forms, trans­par­ent, mov­ing, rid­ing weight­less with me in the plane. I feel no sur­prise at their com­ing. There’s no sud­den­ness to their appear­ance. With­out turn­ing my head, I see them as clearly as though in my nor­mal field of vision. There’s no limit to my sight—my skull is one great eye, see­ing every­where at once.

    These phan­toms speak with human voic­es—friend­ly, vapor-like shapes, with­out sub­stance, able to van­ish or appear at will, to pass in and out through the walls of the fuse­lage as though no walls were there. Now, many are crowded behind me. Now, only a few remain. First one and then another presses for­ward to my shoul­der to speak above the engine’s noise, and then draws back among the group behind. At times, voices come out of the air itself, clear yet far away, trav­el­ing through dis­tances that can’t be mea­sured by the scale of human miles; famil­iar voic­es, con­vers­ing and advis­ing on my flight, dis­cussing prob­lems of my nav­i­ga­tion, reas­sur­ing me, giv­ing me mes­sages of impor­tance unat­tain­able in ordi­nary life.

    Appre­hen­sion spreads over time and space until their old mean­ings dis­ap­pear. I’m not con­scious of time’s direc­tion. Fig­ures of miles from New York and miles to Paris lose their inter­est. All sense of sub­stance leaves. There’s no longer weight to my body, no longer hard­ness to the stick. The feel­ing of flesh is gone. I become inde­pen­dent of phys­i­cal laws—of food, of shel­ter, of life. I’m almost one with these vapor-like forms behind me, less tan­gi­ble than air, uni­ver­sal as aether. I’m still attached to life; they, not at all; but at any moment some thin band may snap and there’ll be no differ­ence between us. The spir­its have no rigid bod­ies, yet they remain human in out­line for­m—e­m­a­na­tions from the expe­ri­ence of ages, inhab­i­tants of a uni­verse closed to mor­tal men. I’m on the bor­der line of life and a greater realm beyond, as though caught in the field of grav­i­ta­tion between two plan­ets, acted on by forces I can’t con­trol, forces too weak to be mea­sured by any means at my com­mand, yet rep­re­sent­ing pow­ers incom­pa­ra­bly stronger than I’ve ever known.

    I real­ize that val­ues are chang­ing both within and with­out my mind. For twen­ty-five years, it’s been sur­rounded by solid walls of bone, not per­ceiv­ing the lim­it­less expanse, the immor­tal exis­tence that lies out­side. Is this death? Am I cross­ing the bridge which one sees only in last, depart­ing moments? Am I already beyond the point from which I can bring my vision back to earth and men? Death no longer seems the final end it used to be, but rather the entrance to a new and free exis­tence which includes all space, all time. Am I now more man or spir­it? Will I fly my air­plane on to Europe and live in flesh as I have before, feel­ing hunger, pain, and cold, or am I about to join these ghostly forms, become a con­scious­ness in space, all-see­ing, all-know­ing, unham­pered by mate­ri­al­is­tic fet­ters of the world?

    At another time I’d be star­tled by these visions; but on this fan­tas­tic flight, I’m so far sep­a­rated from the earthly life I know that I accept what­ever cir­cum­stance may come. In fact, these emis­saries from a spirit world are quite in keep­ing with the night and day. They’re nei­ther intrud­ers nor strangers. It’s more like a gath­er­ing of fam­ily and friends after years of sep­a­ra­tion, as though I’ve known all of them before in some past incar­na­tion. They’re as differ­ent from men, and yet as sim­i­lar, as the night’s cloud moun­tains were to the Rock­ies of the West. They belong with the tow­er­ing thun­der­heads and moon­lit cor­ri­dors of sky. Did they board my plane, unseen, as I flew between the tem­ple’s pil­lars? Have they rid­den with me through sun­rise, into day? What strange con­nec­tion exists between us? If they’re so con­cerned with my wel­fare, why did­n’t they intro­duce them­selves before?

    I live in the past, the pre­sent, and the future, here and in differ­ent places, all at once. Around me are old asso­ci­a­tions, bygone friend­ships, voices from ances­trally dis­tant times. Vis­tas open up before me as chang­ing as those between the clouds I pass. I’m fly­ing in a plane over the Atlantic Ocean; but I’m also liv­ing in years now far away.

  6. Lind­bergh 1953, the 23rd hour:

    …Sun­light flashes as I emerge from a cloud. My eyes are drawn to the north. My dreams are star­tled away. There, under my left wing, only five or six miles dis­tant, a coast­line par­al­lels my course—pur­ple, haze-cov­ered hills; clumps of trees; rocky cliffs. Small, wooded islands guard the shore. But I’m in mid-At­lantic, nearly a thou­sand miles from land! Half-formed thoughts rush through my mind. Are the com­passes com­pletely wrong? Am I hope­lessly lost? Is it the coast of Labrador or Green­land that I see? Have I been fly­ing north instead of east? It’s like wak­ing from a sound sleep in strange sur­round­ings, in a room where you’ve never spent a night before. The wall­pa­per, the bed, the fur­ni­ture, the light com­ing in the win­dow, noth­ing is as you expected it to be. I shake my head and look again. There can be no doubt, now, that I’m awake. But the shore line is still there. Land in mid-At­lantic! Some­thing has gone wrong! I could­n’t have been fly­ing north, regard­less of the inac­cu­racy of my com­pass­es. The sun and the moon both rose on my left, and stars con­firmed that my gen­eral direc­tion was toward Europe. I know there’s no land out here in mid-o­cean—noth­ing between Green­land and Ice­land to the north, and the Azores to the south. But I look down at the chart for reas­sur­ance; for my mind is no longer cer­tain of its knowl­edge. To find new islands marked on it would hardly be stranger than the flight itself.

    No, they must be mirages, fog islands sprung up along my route; here for an hour only to dis­ap­pear, mush­rooms of the sea. But so appar­ently real, so cru­elly decep­tive! Real clouds cover their higher hills, and pour down into their ravines. How can those bluffs and forests con­sist of noth­ing but fog? No islands of the earth could be more per­fect. Did a wind of hur­ri­cane veloc­ity blow me on toward Europe through the night? Have I been thread­ing a tor­nado’s cor­ri­dors? That may be the coast of Ire­land I’m pass­ing. It would take less than five min­utes to fly over and make sure. It can’t be just fog-the pointed tops of spruce trees rise above the com­mon mass; I can almost see their branches spread­ing out. How can it be all fog, when there are wisps of fog along the coast, when I can tell the differ­ence between the fog and land? If it’s not Ire­land, it must be the shore line of some Atlantis.

    I bank north­ward; then, before the Spirit of St. Louis turns ten degrees, I straighten out again. It’s non­sense, pure non­sense, to be lured off course by fog islands in the mid­dle of an ocean flight. I’ll not allow myself such indul­gence. I’ll waste no time and gaso­line on fan­ci­ful excur­sions which can only end in dis­il­lu­sion­ment and addi­tional fatigue. But if those islands aren’t real land, if they are not of earth’s sub­stance, how can I dis­tin­guish land from air? How will I rec­og­nize Europe when I reach it? I see surf on the beaches and trees in the forests, yet my rea­son tells me that it all is fog!