Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Reverse Phylogeny" by Amelia Reynolds Long, part 1

As promised, the Johnny Pez blog now presents "Reverse Phylogency", the second and last in Amelia Reynolds Long's "Professor O'Flannigan" series. The stories, narrated by a young man named Eric Dale, tell of the comic misadventures of Dale's schoolchum, the brilliant biochemist Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan. The first story, "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth", appeared in the August 1936 issue of Astounding Stories magazine, and this follow-up appeared in the June 1937 issue, both as by "A. R. Long". Like its predecessor, "Reverse Phylogeny" was eventually reprinted in an anthology, in this case Science Fiction Adventures in Dimension (1953), edited by Groff Conklin. The Johnny Pez blog is proud to present this classic story in a blog-friendly multi-part format. And now, without further ado, here is

Reverse Phylogeny
by Amelia Reynolds Long

Once more I have before me the task of explaining to the public another of the escapades of my friend, Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan. Not that Aloysius has asked me to do so; he is far too proud for that. But when -- because of a minor incident that had no place in his original plan, and for which he can in no way be held responsible -- remarks are made that the whole experiment concerning the lost continent of Atlantis had a decidedly fishy flavor, and when certain malicious-tongued individuals begin to accuse an inoffensive, peace-loving man like Aloysius of deliberately attempting to drown Mr. Theophilus Black on dry land, it seems to me that in mere fairness something ought to be done about it.

It all began with a series of articles of a well-known science magazine, or which Aloysius is an ardent reader. Dropping into his library one day, I found him sitting cross-legged upon the floor, with several copies of the magazine strewn around him. As I entered, he glanced up, made a dive for one of the magazines, and thrust it at me.

"Eric, I want you to read this!" he exclaimed, his eyes gleaming behind his thick-lensed spectacles. "Then tell me what you think of it."

He had turned the magazine open at an article entitled: "Atlantis; Proof of Its Existence," written by a Mr. Theophilus black. It was a well-constructed article, exhibiting excellent imaginative qualities and, to my mind at least, quite a bit of erudition on the part of its author. As I finished it and was about to comment, Aloysius pushed a second magazine into my hand.

"Read this before you say anything," he directed. "Then give me your reaction to both of them."

The article in the second magazine was called, "Atlantis Debunked"; and it lived up to its title. I read it as Aloysius directed; and, whereas Mr. Black had had me ready to swallow the whole continent of Atlantis, Mr. Kenneth McScribe, the author of the second article, now had me gagging on the first pebble. I looked helplessly at Aloysius, feeling a trifle groggy.

"There are several other articles here, but you needn't go into them," he said understandingly. "But what do you think of the Atlantis theory as a whole?"

"I hardly know," I answered, trying to sort out my jumbled reactions. "There seem to be equally good arguments on both sides."

"That's what I felt, too." He nodded. "Mr. Black's logic is excellent; but he builds it upon a rather porous situation, upon which Mr. McScribe has very cleverly turned a microscope. But, in his enthusiasm, Mr. McScribe has used too powerful a lens, and blurred matters a little. For example" -- he picked up one of the magazines and selected a particular paragraph -- "Mr. McScribe would throw out the evidence of the air-cooled volcanic rocks found in the Atlantic Ocean because Mr. Black cannot quote their geological age. I fail to see where their age has a great deal to do with it. After all, the question is not when Atlantis might have existed, but whether it existed at any time."

"True," I agreed hopefully. "And the very existence of those rocks is a strong indication --"

"Not so fast!" he broke in. "The existence of those rocks need indicate nothing more than a now-submerged island; and it's going a little strong to construct a whole continent out of that -- a little like making a mountain out of a molehill, on an exalted scale."

"You have the darndest way of switching from one side of a question to another!" I complained. "A fellow can't tell whether you actually turn the corners, or just wander in a circle."

"I'm afraid you haven't got the scientific mind, Eric." He sighed. "What I'm trying to do is sift the evidence."

"And what have you found so far?" I inquired with a touch of sarcasm.

"Not much, I'm afraid," he admitted. "You see, both Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe have made the same error of arguing over material evidence; such things as similarity of place names on both sides of the Atlantic, prehistoric remains, social development, and the like. They should look for psychological indications; racial characteristics or instincts in man himself that would either prove or disprove his descent from inhabitants of a continent --"

* * *

He broke off in mid-sentence, and a rapt expression came over his face. "Divil an' all!" he exclaimed, slapping his right fist into the palm of his left hand. "I believe it could be done; I'm going to try it!"

"Now what?" I asked a little fearfully, knowing from past experience that when Aloysius used that tone anything might be expected to happen.

"I'm going to awaken racial memory," he replied. "After all, our so-called instincts are nothing more than inherited race memory, as any psychologist will tell you. If those dormant memories can be aroused, brought up from the unconscious into the conscious mind and --"

"But how can it be done?" I wanted to know.

"Through hypnotism, of course," he answered. "I could turn the mind of a subject back through the deep strata of instinct bequeathed to him by his ancestors, inducing him to relive them as if they were a part of his own experience, until we had discovered whether there was or was not an Atlantean layer. Why, we might even settle the mooted question of whether mental traits can be inherited!"

There are times, I reflected, when nothing else in the English language is so expressive as the single word, "Nuts." But I said nothing, hoping that he would work off his enthusiasm by writing a letter to the magazine. I should have known better.

It was only a week later that he sent for me to come around again. Upon arriving at his house, I found that he already had three other guests; two very scholarly-looking gentlemen and a full-blooded Indian, feathers and all.

"Eric," he said, "I want you to meet Mr. Black, Mr. McScribe, and Chief Rain-in-the-Face. Gentlemen, my friend and sometimes colleague, Mr. Dale."

Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe acknowledged the introduction with the usual polite phrases.

Chief Rain-in-the-Face (ah! the appropriateness of that name!) confined himself to a noncommittal, "Ugh."

As for me, I'm afraid I let my jaw fall open rather foolishly.

"I wrote to Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe about my planned experiment to settle the Atlantis question," Aloysius went on, "and they very graciously consented to act as subjects. The fact that they are on opposite sides in that debate will give added significance to our findings."

"I see," I managed a trifle weakly. "And where does -- er -- Chief Rain-in-the-Face come in?"

"In order to prove or disprove Mr. Black's contention that the first settlers on the American continent were from Atlantis, it was necessary that a genuine Indian take part in the experiment," he explained. "Of course, in order to be really scientific, we should have an Egyptian as well; but none was procurable. However, Mr. Black is convinced that his earliest forebears were Atlanteans; so that will have to suffice.

"And now, gentlemen," he continued, "if you are ready, we will begin the first step. Eric, you will act as witness and recording secretary."

He lined his subjects up in chairs facing him, and, after a few minutes, succeeded in placing all three of them in a state of deep hypnosis. He then undertook, by suggestion, to turn their minds backward through the layers of inherited instinct, making them relive their "race memories," as he called them, as actual experiences.

I will say this much for what followed: it was extremely interesting, and would have convinced the Reincarnationists that their day of justification had arrived. During the next two hours, Chief Rain-in-the-Face told us all about what had happened to Henry Hudson after he had sailed on his last voyage up the river that now bears his name; while Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe furnished us with some interesting sidelights in the lives of several prominent personages at the courts of Louis XIV and Henry VIII respectively. All in all, it was a morning well spent.

* * *

Upon being awakened, none of the three men retained any memory of their mental experiences while in the hypnotic state; and they were exceedingly surprised when I read my notes to them. At Aloysius' request, they all promised to return the next day, when the experiment would be continued.

"Of course, today was only the beginning," Aloysius said when we were alone. "A mere scratching of the surface. Tomorrow we will go deeper, and the next day deeper still, until, eventually, we reach the level that will prove conclusively from what source these races have sprung."

"I hope you're not claiming that today's performance had anything to do with instinct," I remarked. "Why, the very latest of our instincts was developed long before the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Moreover, according to your own statement, instinct is race memory. What these men related today were the experiences of single individuals."

"I know that," he admitted unperturbed. "But it only goes to verify another theory of mine. For a long time I have believed that the life experiences of our not-too-distant ancestors are inherited in certain cells of the brain, just as their physical characteristics are duplicated in our bodies. They bear the same relationship to racial memory that family resemblance bears to racial resemblance. For example it --"

"Never mind the example," I cut in. "I'll probably understand better without it. And now, if I may speak figuratively, how long in this experiment of yours before we get though the topsoil and strike bed rock?"

"Oh, about two weeks," he replied. "Incidentally, I like your metaphor. It has such a -- er -- archeological flavor."

I will not go into a detailed account of all the subsequent steps in the experiment, but will only note the highlights. There was, for instance, the time when Chief Rain-in-the-Face went on the warpath, and attempted to translate his mental experience into physical action with the aid of the table lamp and a letter opener. He entirely wrecked the experiment for that day, and had to be brought out of his hypnotic trance by the somewhat crude means of a crack over the head with a volume of the encyclopedia.

Then there was the time when Mr. McScribe thought he was with Joshua before the walls of Jericho, and insisted upon going out and marching around the block until the policeman on the beat picked him up as a suspicious character.

It was this incident, together with the explanation it entailed, that was responsible for bringing the whole affair to the attention of the public. When we went to the police station to collect Mr. McScribe, an overenterprising reporter was present; and that evening the story, embellished with lurid details, appeared in his paper. The result was that the next morning representatives of every newspaper in the city descended upon us.

Now Aloysius is retiring by nature, and at first he refused to have anything to do with them. But it is easier to rid oneself of dandruff than of the gentlemen of the press. By sheer persistence, they wore him down, until at last he consented to their being present at the next experiment.

By this time he had got back to the early Egyptian period, and had actually begun to accomplish things with race memory. The reporters were duly impressed; and when their stories appeared, the reading public got its money's worth. Interest in the subject became so acute that the editor of the paper which carried the first story got the brilliant idea that the remainder of the experiment be put on in a public auditorium, the affair to be sponsored by his newspaper.

Naturally, Aloysius would have refused anything so spectacular, had not both Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe intervened. What weight, they argued, would our findings carry if they could be attested to only by one or two men? For the sake of science, the final steps should be taken before a sufficient number of witnesses, so that the outcome could never be doubted. The argument undeniably had its points; and at last, in spite of his better judgment, Aloysius gave in.

It was arranged for the final stage of the experiment to be conducted in the city's largest auditorium. Free tickets could be had by taking a year's subscription to the sponsoring newspaper; and the public's response would have turned Barnum green with envy. Within three days every seat in the house had been taken; and tickets for standing room were being issued on six months' subscriptions.

(continue to part 2)

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