Olaf Stapledon

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William Olaf Stapledon (10 May 18866 September 1950) was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction. His best known, and what he considered as his best work, was Star Maker (1937), which included the first known description of a Dyson sphere. The Dyson sphere was later described by Freeman Dyson in the 1959 article "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation" in Science, as one possible method of locating extraterrestrial intelligence.

Quotes[edit]

Last and First Men (1930)[edit]

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As the months of agony advanced, there was bred in the warring peoples a genuine and even passionate will for peace and a united world.
  • Long before the human spirit awoke to clear cognizance of the world and itself, it sometimes stirred in its sleep, opened bewildered eyes, and slept again
  • Socrates woke to the ideal of dispassionate intelligence, Jesus to the ideal of passionate yet self-oblivious worship. Socrates urged intellectual integrity, Jesus integrity of will. Each, of course, though starting with a different emphasis, involved the other. Unfortunately both these ideals demanded of the human brain a degree of vitality and coherence of which the nervous system of the First Men was never really capable.
  • As the months of agony advanced, there was bred in the warring peoples a genuine and even passionate will for peace and a united world. Out of the conflict of the tribes arose, at least for a while, a spirit loftier than tribalism. But this fervour lacked as yet clear guidance, lacked even the courage of conviction.
  • In some minds the defence of the human spirit was sincerely identified with the defence of a particular nation, conceived as the home of all enlightenment.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe
  • They agreed at least in earnest hate of that strange blend of the commercial traveller, the missionary, and the barbarian conqueror, which was the American abroad.
    • Chapter III: America and China
At first it had been youth's ideal of what youth should be, a pattern woven of fanatical loyalty, irresponsible gaiety, comradeship, physical gusto, and not a little pure devilry.
  • At first it had been youth's ideal of what youth should be, a pattern woven of fanatical loyalty, irresponsible gaiety, comradeship, physical gusto, and not a little pure devilry.
    • Chapter V: The Fall of the First Men
  • Individuals of the earlier species had suffered from an almost insurmountable spiritual isolation from one another. Not even lovers, and scarcely even the geniuses with special insight into personality, ever had anything like accurate vision of one another.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men
  • [T]he most precious gift that a lover could bring to the beloved was not virginity but sexual experience. The union, it was felt, was the more pregnant the more each party could contribute from previous sexual and spiritual intimacy with others.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men
  • Myriads of individuals, each one unique, live out their lives in rapt intercourse with one another, contribute their heart's pulses to the universal music, and presently vanish, giving place to others. All this age-long sequence of private living, which is the actual tissue of humanity's flesh, I cannot describe. I can only trace, as it were, the disembodied form of its growth.
    • Chapter XIV: Neptune
  • [T]his is the goal of all living, that the cosmos may be known, and admired, and that it may be crowned with further beauties. Nowhere and at no time, so far as we can tell, at least within our own galaxy, has the adventure reached further than in ourselves. And in us, what has been achieved is but a minute beginning. But it is a real beginning.
  • Yet though time is cyclic, it is not repetitive; there is no other time within which it can repeat itself.
    • Chapter XV: The Last Men

Last Men in London (1932)[edit]

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  • In you, humanity is precarious; and so, in dread and in shame, you kill the animal in you. And its slaughter poisons you.
    • Chapter I: The World of the Last Men
  • I had now to select that mode of the primitive which is distinctive of your own species, a mode characterized by repressed sexuality, excessive self-regard, and an intelligence which is both rudimentary and in bondage to unruly cravings.
  • Grotesque sentiments such as the lust of business success or economic power of any kind, and indeed every purely self-regarding passion, from that of the social climber to that of the salvation-seeking ascetic, are experienced by the explorer with something of that shame which the child, emerging into adolescence, may feel toward the still-clinging fascination of his outgrown toys, or with such disgust as the youth may feel when he wakes from some unworthy sexual infatuation
    • Chapter II: Exploring the Past
  • In time, of course, Paul's day world ceased to be flat, and became a huge ball. At this stage the universe was more like a dumpling than a sandwich. Vaguely Paul still conceived the three levels of existence. The nether night was deep down within the ball of the day world. The starry night was all around it. On the ball were all the countries except Fairyland, which was nowhere.
    • Chapter III: The Child Paul
  • Without Satan, with God only, how poor a universe, how trite a music!
    • Chapter VII: After the War
  • The great world to which I am native has long ago outgrown the myths, the toys, the bogies of your infant world. There, one lives without the fear of death and pain, though there one dies and suffers. There, one knows no lust to triumph over other men, no fear of being enslaved. There one loves without craving to possess, worships without thought of salvation, contemplates without pride of spirit. There one is free as none in your world is free, yet obedient as none of you is obedient.
    • Chapter IX: On Earth and On Neptune.

Star Maker (1937)[edit]

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The universe now appeared to me as a void wherein floated rare flakes of snow, each flake a universe
  • I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of the stars.
    • Ch.I The Earth, 1. The Starting Point p. 11
  • The universe now appeared to me as a void wherein floated rare flakes of snow, each flake a universe.
    • Ch.I The Earth, 2. Earth Among the Stars p. 13
  • The sheer beauty of the planet surprised me. It was a huge pearl, set in spangled ebony. It was nacreous, it was an opal. No, it was far more lovely than any jewel. Its patterned colouring was more subtle, more ethereal. It displayed the delicacy and brilliance, the intricacy and harmony of a live thing. Strange that in my remoteness I seemed to feel, as never before, the vital presence of Earth as of a creature alive but tranced and obscurely yearning to wake.
    • Ch.I The Earth, 2. Earth Among the Stars p. 14
  • No visiting angel could have guessed that this bland orb [Earth] teemed with vermin, with world-mastering, self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.
    • Ch.II Interstellar Travel, p. 15
  • This kind of internal "telepathic" intercourse, which was to serve me in all my wanderings, was at first difficult, innefective, and painful. But in time I came to be able to live through the experiences of my host with vividness and accuracy, while yet preserving my own individuality, my own critical intelligence, my own desires and fears. Only when the other had come to realize my presence within him could he, by a special act of volition, keep particular thoughts secret from me.
    • Ch.III The Other Earth, 1. On the Other Earth p. 25-26
  • I spent on the Other Earth many "other years," wandering from mind to mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history till I encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him from attaining eminence.
    • Ch.III The Other Earth, 1. On the Other Earth p. 26
  • Yes, we had one and all left our native planets in order to discover whether, regarding the cosmos as a whole, the spirit which we all in our hearts obscurely knew and haltingly prized, the spirit which on Earth we sometimes call humane, was Lord of the Universe, or outlaw; almighty, or crucified... For we cannot know whether the highest place for love is on the throne or on the cross. We cannot know what spirit rules, for on the throne sits darkness... Love and all that is humane we cherish in our hearts. Yet also we salute the throne and the darkness upon the throne. Whether it be Love or not Love, our hearts praise it, out-soaring reason.
    • Ch.VI Intimations of the Star Maker
  • The one reasonable goal of social life was affirmed to be the creation of a world of awakened, of sensitive, intelligent, and mutually understanding personalities, banded together for the common purpose of exploring the universe and developing the human spirit's manifold potentialities.
    • Ch.VII More Worlds, 1. A Symbiotic Race
  • It is better to be destroyed than to triumph in slaying the spirit... We die praising the universe in which at least such an achievement as ours can be.
    • Ch.IX The Community of Worlds, 3. A Crisis in Galactic History
  • It seemed to me that I now saw the Star Maker in two aspects: as the spirit's particular creative mood that had given rise to me, the cosmos; and also, most dreadfully, as something incomparably greater than creativity, namely as the eternally achieved perfection of the absolute spirit. Barren, barren and trivial are these words. But not barren the experience.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • The fictitious deities of all races in all worlds once more crowded themselves upon me, symbols of majesty and tenderness, of ruthless power, of blind creativity, and of all-seeing wisdom. And though these images were but the fantasies of created minds, it seemed to me that one and all did indeed embody some true feature of the Star Maker's impact upon the creatures.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • As I contemplated the host of deities that rose to me like a smoke cloud from the many worlds, a new image, a new symbol of the infinite spirit, took shape in my mind. Though born of my own cosmical imagination, it was begotten by a greater than I.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • Discontent goaded the spirit into fresh creation.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • The cosmos exploded, actualizing its potentiality of space and time. The centers of power, like fragments of a bursting bomb, were hurled apart. But each one retained in itself, as a memory and a longing, the single point of the whole; and each mirrored in itself aspects of all the others throughout all the cosmical space and time.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • To say that the cosmos was expanding is equally to say that its members were contracting. The ultimate centers of power, each at first coincident... themselves generated the cosmical space by their disengagement from each other.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • The expansion of the whole cosmos was but the shrinkage of all its physical units and of the wavelengths of light.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • It seemed to me that I, the spirit of so many worlds, the flower of so many ages, was the Church Cosmical, fit at last to be the bride of God. But instead I was blinded and seared and struck down by terrible light.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • It seemed that he gazed down on me from the height of his divinity with the aloof though passionate attention of an artist judging his finished work; calmly rejoicing in his achievement, but recognizing at last the irrevocable flaws in his initial conception, and already lusting for fresh creation.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • The creator, if he should love his creature, would be loving only a part of himself; but the creature, praising the creator, praises an infinity beyond himself.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • It is enough to have been created, to have embodied for a moment the infinite and tumultuously creative spirit. It is infinitely more than enough to have been used, to have been the rough sketch for some perfected creation. Looking into the future, I saw without sorrow, rather with quiet interest, my own decline and fall.
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • In that instant when I had seen... the Star Maker, I had glimpsed, in the very eye of that splendor, strange vistas of being; as though in the depths of the hypercosmical past and the hypercosmical future also, yet coexistent in eternity, lay cosmos beyond cosmos. ...
    • Ch. XIII The Beginning and the End, 3. The Supreme Moment and After
  • The cosmos which he now created was that which contains the readers and the writer of this book. In its making he used, but with more cunning art, many of the principles which had already served him in earlier creations; and he wove them together to form a more subtle and more capricious unity than ever before.
    • Ch. XV The Maker and His Works, 3. Mature Creating
  • To speak thus of the universal spirit is almost childishly anthropomorphic. For the life of such a spirit, if it exists at all, must be utterly different from human mentality, and utterly inconceivable to man. Nevertheless... perhaps it does contain some genuine reflection of the truth, however distorted.
    • Ch. XV The Maker and His Works, 3. Mature Creating
  • He saw that their distinctive value lay in their finitude, their minute particularity, their tortured balance between dullness and lucidity; and that to save them from these would be to annihilate them.
    • Ch. XV The Maker and His Works, 3. Mature Creating
  • He knew that this creature, though imperfect, though... a mere figment of his own creative power, was yet in a manner more real than himself. For beside this concrete splendor what was he but a mere abstract potency of creation? Moreover in another respect the thing that he had made was... his teacher. ...As he discriminated its virtue and its weakness, his own perception and his own skill matured. So at least it seemed to my bewildered, awe-struck mind.
    • Ch. XV The Maker and His Works, 3. Mature Creating
  • Little by little, it came about, as so often before, that the Star Maker outgrew his creature. ...Once more he sank into deep meditation. Once more the creative urge possessed him. Of the many creations which followed... in most respects they lay beyond my mental reach. ...Thus all their most vital novelty escaped me.
    • Ch. XV The Maker and His Works, 3. Mature Creating
  • In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combination of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

Darkness and the light (1941/42)[edit]

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  • On the one side was the sluggish reptilian will for ease and sleep and death, rising sometimes to active hate and destructiveness; on the other side the still blindfold and blundering will for the lucid and coherent spirit.
    • Part I Crisis, 2. The Modern Age
  • [S]ervants of darkness had no lasting joy in their service. In all of them the will for darkness was a perversion of the will for the light. In all but a few maniacs the satisfaction of the will for darkness was at all times countered by a revulsion which the unhappy spirit either dared not confess even to itself, or else rejected as cowardly and evil.
    • Part V The Reign of Darkness, 2. A Synthetic War
  • [T]he individual in whom the will for the light is strong and clear finds his heart inextricably bound up with the struggle of the forces of light in his native place and time. Much as he may long for the opportunity of fuller self- expression in a happier world, he knows that for him self-expression is impossible save in the world in which his mind is rooted. The individual in whom the will for the light is weak soon persuades himself that his opportunity lies elsewhere.
    • Part V The Reign of Darkness, 3. Diabolic World Empire.
  • The Tibetan missionaries in their mood of bright confidence disconcerted the imperial governments by laughing the new movement into frustration. For a sham faith cannot stand ridicule.
    • Part VII, 1. Harking Back to the Tibetan Revolution
  • The aim was to provide that in boring occupations hours should be short, and in interesting work long. Exceptionally, some monotonous work involved rather long hours, but in such cases the workers were chosen from the psychological class who thrive best on monotonous occupations in which they can day-dream.
    • Part VIII Precarious Advance, 3. Progress

Sirius (1944)[edit]

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  • She said, "We are bound to hurt one another so much, again and again. We are so terribly different." "Yes," he said, "But the more different, the more lovely the loving."
    • Chapter IV Youth (a conversation between Sirius and Plaxy)
  • Sunsets in pictures are so tiresome, but only boors and half-wits are not stirred by real sunsets.
  • Of course I don't want the old religious dope. But I don't want just the new science dope either. I want the truth.
    • Chapter VI Birth-pangs of a Personality
  • In man, social intercourse has centred mainly on the process of absorbing fluid into the organism, but in the domestic dog and to a lesser extent among all wild canine species, the act charged with most social significance is the excretion of fluid.
    • Chapter VIII Sirius at Cambridge (a passage supposedly written by Sirius)
Even when all the worlds have frozen or exploded, and all the suns gone dead and cold, there'll still be time. Oh, God, what for?
  • Even when all the worlds have frozen or exploded, and all the suns gone dead and cold, there'll still be time. Oh, God, what for?
  • Nothing but man was really cruel, vindictive, except perhaps the loathly cat.
    • Chapter VIII Sirius at Cambridge
  • I paced up and down the little room, a queer thing happened. It was as though my wandering imagination came upon a new quality, different from all that I had ever known; yet one which was also more familiar and intimate than the smell of Plaxy in the mood of love, more piercing sweet than bitches, more hunt-worthy than the trail of a fox.
  • I see, indeed I know, that in some sense God is love, and God is wisdom, and God is creative action, yes and God is beauty; but what God actually is, whether the maker of all things, or the fragrance of all things, or just a dream in our own hearts, I have not the art to know. Neither have you, I believe; nor any man, nor any spirit of our humble stature.
  • [S]o far as music ever had a "meaning" beyond the immediate and exquisite value of the sound-pattern itself, its "meaning" must be simply an emotional attitude. It could never speak directly about the objective world, or "the nature of existence"; but it might create a complex emotional attitude which might be appropriate to some feature of the objective world, or to the universe as a whole.
    • Chapter IX Sirius and Religion
  • I, at any rate, acknowledge only one master, not forty-five million two-legged sheep, or two thousand million, but simply and absolutely the spirit.
    • Chapter XII Farmer Sirius (an answer to Plaxy's rant about democracy)

Other texts[edit]

Dear beautiful one, I praise the stars for the song's end. Farewell!
  • Dear beautiful one, I praise the stars for the song's end. Farewell!
  • These three activities, then, intelligence, love and creative action, which are so closely involved in one another, I cannot but feel to be intrinsically good. In their outstanding expressions they are good in an outstanding degree. Together they form the distinctively human kind of behaviour.
  • Broadly there are two very different spheres of our unconscious nature. The one is primitive and largely sub-human. It consists of all our bodily needs and our so-called instinctive cravings. It is all that we have in common with the beasts together with all that we share with the lowliest of our own human kind. But in addition to this there are seemingly unconscious factors in our nature which, far from being sub--human, constitute the drive of our nature toward experiences and activities of a kind more developed and more lucid than our extant ordinary conscious nature.
  • I loathe the urchin’s cruelty to the cat, but I will not loathe the urchin. I loathe Hitler’s mass-torturing, but not Hitler; and the money-man’s heartlessness, but not the man. I love the swallow’s flight, and I love the swallow; the urchin’s gleam of tenderness, and the urchin.
    • Source: The Core, in: An Olaf Stapledon Reader, Syracuse University Press, New York 1997: pp. 266-272

Quotes about Stapledon[edit]

  • Stapledon's visionary account of the end of a universe and the birth of future universes is one of the high points in all human thought.
    • Brad Steiger & John White, Other Worlds, Other Universes (1986) p. 227
  • His Marxism, which remained his only irrational faith throughout his life, told him that surely the United States could never be a positive influence.
    • Gregory Benford, preface to Last and First Men (Series: SF Masterworks); London: Gollancz Books 1999; pg x.

External links[edit]

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