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  • Life in the Year 6000 by Santiago Ramón y Cajal:A Translation of an Unpublished "Vacation Story"

In 2006, Laura Otis provided the first English translation of five short stories written by the Spanish artist, neuroscientist, and histologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. These stories, originally published in 1905 by Cajal under the pseudonym "Dr. Bacteria," are called "Cuentos de vacaciones: narraciones seudocientíficas" or "Vacation Stories: Pseudoscientific Tales." In 1973, a version of Cajal's manuscript "La vida en el año 6000" (Life in the year 6000) was revealed. It had remained in manuscript form since the mid-1880s and appears to be a draft of one of Cajal's unpublished "Cuentos de vacaciones." The present work is a translation of this manuscript, which is archived in the Cajal Institute in Madrid. It details the protagonist's observations, especially regarding advances in science and medicine, when he suddenly awakes in the year 6000 AD.


Ramón y Cajal, Vacation stories, science fiction, Spanish literature, medicine and future

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934) was a Spanish artist, neuroscientist, and histologist. His discovery of growth cones in neuronal development was groundbreaking, while his theory of the "neuron doctrine," for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1906, provides the definitive foundation of our current understanding of the nervous system. He founded what is now known as the Cajal Institute, which is the largest neuroscience research center in Spain. His contributions in science are invaluable; his literary works are intriguing.

In 2006, Laura Otis provided the first English translation of five short stories written by Cajal. These stories, originally published in 1905 by Cajal under the pseudonym "Dr. Bacteria," are called "Cuentos de vacaciones: narraciones seudocientíficas" or, in Otis's translation, Vacation Stories: Pseudoscientific Tales. They are entertaining short stories about scientists, lab work, the scientific method, and how some scientists fail to live up to their ideals. The stories convey a strong social and political commentary, and touch on topics that bring forward many ethical and practical concerns regarding science. According to the preface to his "cuentos," Cajal wrote twelve such short stories. He published the first five, stating that he would thereafter publish a second set if the first was favorably received. While we do not have his later feelings on the matter, we do know that the next seven were never published, and so one reasonable assumption would be that he did not perceive the first installation to have been favorably received.1 In 1973, Nana Ramón y Cajal, the granddaughter of Santiago, and her husband [End Page 203] sent their friends a New Year's greeting which included a version of Cajal's manuscript "La vida en el año 6000" (Life in the year 6000). The document had remained in manuscript form since the mid-1880s and appears to be a draft of one of Cajal's "Cuentos de vacaciones." The present work is a translation of a transcript of this manuscript, which is archived in the Cajal Institute in Madrid. Various explanations could be offered as to why this particular cuento was never published. It is obviously unfinished, and was written in a shorthand that Cajal used. However, the overall story seems more developed and fleshed out than a typical rough or initial draft. Regardless, Cajal's reasons are unknown on this issue; we have only this uncompleted manuscript to examine and enjoy.

Cajal proposes answers to some significant questions in the short future history translated here as "Life in the Year 6000" (La vida en el año 6000): What pushes humanity forward? What spurs its development and evolution? What is it that prompts paradigm shifts in thinking and science, and quantum leaps forward in the very nature of the human race? While he describes many aspects of his future society—marriage and social relationships, education, lack of religion and philosophy, and so forth—advances in medicine and human evolution stand out as particularly significant and influential and serve to paint a sometimes attractive and often bizarre picture of life in that advanced society.

Throughout the course of his story, our time traveler (who, true to the tradition of H. G. Wells, remains unnamed throughout the narrative) learns of the advances in nutrition, diagnostic care, surgical techniques, medical professions and many other areas that have collectively catapulted medicine far ahead of the relatively primitive practices of the late nineteenth century from which he hails. Vaccines manufactured from bacteria and viruses have served to eradicate almost every disease known to man. Indeed, as our traveler's host Dr. Micrococcus explains, the medical profession still exists, simply not the word. "Today there is only one type of medical career, mechanical biology, or biological engineering."2 Cajal recognizes that the duties of doctors will drastically change as overall health improves. Indeed, this change has in part been realized today as diseases like polio and smallpox have been eradicated—even by the end of Cajal's life, the first clearing of an infection through the administration of penicillin had been recorded and surgical techniques were being improved upon every year to make them more efficient and less invasive. The realization of these advances, as shown in our modern society and [End Page 204] in accordance with Cajal's prediction, demonstrates the significant impact of medicine on the history of the world. In Cajal's story, a society could not efficiently progress unless it no longer had to worry about such distractions as having to eat every day or wasting precious energy on digesting food or even worrying about more serious conditions such as deafness or blindness. Cajal attributes the human apotheosis seen in the story to the medical eradication of a form of insanity, that "cerebral deformity … that linked us to the simian races and caused us to persist in the ridiculous passion of explaining unexplainable things with even more inexplicable causes" (209). Thus it is medicine that provides thinking men (with Cajal, it is always "men") with the resources of time and logic needed to conceive the marvelous things that lead to the Olympian heights attained in Cajal's speculative future. And upon this foundation is achieved the almost post-human state that he asserts humans will one day reach.

The predicted changes in medicine have mainly societal effects: men live longer, allowing more to be accomplished, greater deeds achieved, superior quality of life attained, all in a single lifetime. However, it is through genetic manipulation, a sort of human pruning (to use one of Dr. Micrococcus's analogies), that our author predicts the great changes to the nature of humans will occur. He paints a picture of entire races of "philosophers with cartilaginous elbows … boxers with colossal fists, blacksmiths with vice grips for hands" (218). He talks of women that are, essentially, sentient uteri, "perfectly fitted for procreation" (216). Occupations are turned into races, and professions not only into lifestyles, but literal styles of life. If mere insanity was a key link to the simian races, then this type of manipulation must result in something far removed from humanity, which is the primary simian race. In a world where "it is rare to see brains with religious, philosophical, vitalist, etc. deformities," a twenty-first-century human being would be hard-pressed to find anyone with whom to identify intellectually (209).

In this projected future, Cajal predicts the path of development of mankind. He shows us a human population that has undergone many changes analogous to those of the medical profession, as mentioned previously; the human race still exists, simply not the word. Dr. Micrococcus is so specialized that he calls himself a "tricuspid engineer" (209). Arguably he can also say that the blacksmith down the street is so specialized that he no longer calls himself a man (with vice grips for hands), but a blacksmith. Even intellectual capacity has exponentially increased, as evinced by the "notable case" where there [End Page 205] was "a man who could not calculate the simplest equation with twenty variables" (218). These extreme changes in humans are reminiscent of E. M. Forster's short story "The Machine Stops," published in 1909, wherein a future society is almost completely automated. In the story, humanity has retreated underground into the bowels of a machine that provides for their every need. They become so completely dependent on the machine that their bodies atrophy and, although mankind has never been so "advanced," their physical organism wastes away as their minds eventually become subservient to the machine that controls every aspect of their lives. While this does not illustrate the same intellectual development as Cajal's projected future, it does show how technology can serve as a sort of prosthesis, which replaces mankind's natural endowments: with Forster, the machine is the prosthesis; with Cajal, it is the concept of genetic pruning.

In addition to Forster, there are many parallels between Cajal's work and other contemporary authors of the genre. This conquering or utilization of nature by man is a theme often seen in the works of Jules Verne, who was greatly admired by Cajal. As in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Around the World in 80 Days, Verne took the primitive concepts of his day and extended and elaborated on them in ways that allowed his characters to achieve what had before been impossible. For example, submarines had been explored for centuries before Verne. They had even been built with limited capabilities, with the first military submarine being produced in the late 1700s. However, in 1869, Verne took what had already been done and expanded it, imagining an advanced technology that gave man powerful dominion over the sea. A similar use of science and technology is seen in Cajal's vision of the future: Darwinism was no new concept in Cajal's day, but he took it to its extreme and examined its full potential to intentionally shape not just finches but the human organism. Parallels to Cajal's work can also be seen in that of H. G. Wells, who is perhaps best known for his depiction of time travel and the future. "Life in the Year 6000" parallels and predates not only Wells's The Time Machine (1895), but even his first known foray into time travel fiction, "The Chronic Argonauts," published in 1888. Spaniard Enrique Gaspar also published a time travel novel, El Anacronópete (1887), in which he uses a time machine. However, these similarities are limited, as Cajal's story represents an earlier type of time travel narrative, "the sleeper awakes" (like that of Rip van Winkle).

While it is difficult to assess the viability of a future so far removed from our present day, it is safe to say that we can already [End Page 206] see many of these predicted advances realized today: while caffeine is not directly injected, caffeine pills and energy drinks are ubiquitous; the medical profession continues to fragment into increasingly specific specialties and subspecialties; online education courses do the very things that Cajal depicted in his university lecture halls, and so on. In the end, Cajal paints a vivid portrait of the future of humanity: to be outmoded and superseded by an artificially pruned and perfected man, replete in his genetically and technologically acquired prosthetic divinity.3 Darwin's finches, once the same species, became, through their specialization, distinct birds, though still closely related. Wells, who foresaw many of the technological advances of his future, envisioned a humanity divided in two, specialized to a much greater degree than beak shape, forming two races: the Morlocks and the Eloi. In light of these predictions and observations, the question presents itself: is our history a chronicle of the progress of the human race, or is it a record of the genesis of another species entirely?


The work of translating is both enjoyable and challenging. It isn't like the code-breaking books that I read as a young boy, where the letter H=B, M=I, A=K, and Q=E, thus "hmaq" actually means "bike" and that's all there is to it. There are connotations and feelings and contexts and colloquialisms and so much more that change a work of translation into something more akin to a rewrite. These challenges are especially apparent with Cajal: he writes in long, flowing sentences that, at times, form their own lengthy paragraphs; his Spanish is archaic and erudite and is not commonly used today. Additionally, this story is not a polished work and Cajal left many of the sentences disjointed and unclear. While I have tried to capture the humor and wit that Cajal exhibits in his story, I know I have not completely succeeded. As the Italian idiom expresses, "Traduttore traditore": the translator is a traitor. Another might translate this work and present what he or she perceives to be the thrust of Cajal's writing as something completely different, as a bleak and dreary future without character or originality, confined within a small, colorless box. They would be welcome to do so, but the present translation represents my dedicated effort to convey what I felt Cajal intended to communicate had he actually published the story. Its value lies in the tantalizing glimpse it affords of Cajal's musings about the future of society, science, and medicine. [End Page 207]

Life in the Year 60004

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

I had just finished reading the celebrated Claude Bernard's picturesque description of the resurrection of rotifers and tardigrades, animals that, once desiccated, revive as soon as a drop of water moistens them, which permits them to dilute and stretch their life in a powerful way, distributing it over various installments.5 I wondered if human science might one day achieve, with more superior beings, this latent life which would afford us a type of immortality; although the duration of that existence would be limited, if man were able to live one day in every century, his desire to know and progress would be satisfied, and his life would creep forward without the least bit of boredom. The idea didn't seem completely impossible: the microbe succumbs to desiccation, many dry tissues recover their physical and structural properties, and it didn't seem absurd to think that maybe stealing all the fluid from an organism could, as with the seed, allow it to be resuscitated whenever it was placed in appropriate conditions. The idea enraptured me. I thought of how generations of corpses, popular politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc., could be conserved, just as if they were going abroad to study and could thus travel to the coming century or even further ahead, and we could preserve these men, the best of their century, who have actually lived three or four centuries ahead of their peers; frankly, this idea gave me unspeakable pleasure.

These ideas were still flowing through my spirit when I fell asleep. It seemed as though I was being slowly dried out, my limbs wrinkled up, my skin became leathery, my blood thickened without clotting and, finally, I turned into a sort of human jerky. It seemed to me that in this spore-like state, abandoned like a mummy in a forgotten sepulchre, years and centuries passed and, finally, the year 6000 arrived. I dreamed that, the earth being disturbed by an earthquake, I came to the surface and a merciful rain hydrated my limbs and, with that water, I slowly regained movement and life. In a wretched state I arrived at a nearby city, causing everyone who saw me to laugh, until I encountered a man with an affable and kind demeanor who understood, no doubt, my situation and asked me about my past. My first answers filled him with wonder, and even more when he saw my clothes which, moth-eaten, revealed an inhabitant of the nineteenth century, my still unperfected race, and, essentially, the rough, semi-savage state in which we lived. He believed without hesitation everything that I told him and took me, very content, to his house, [End Page 208] sure that he had made a good acquisition, for, as it happened, the lucky individual with whom I had become acquainted was an excellent doctor and was at that point writing a paper about the simian characteristics of human skulls from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus his joy knew no bounds as he saw me, for he could now present irrefutable evidences of his assertions, as well as undeniable linguistic documents.

They served me nineteenth-century-style food and invited me to drink coffee that was prepared in the same manner. Shortly thereafter, a conversation began, the transcript of which was the basis for the present article.

Once served coffee, full of curiosity, I told them, "You already know who I am and how I have come here. Would you do me the kindness of telling me your name if you have one and your profession?"

"That is fair," he responded. "I am Dr. Micrococcus, a tricuspid engineer, or as you would say in your time, a tricuspid valve specialist."6

"How has the medical profession fragmented to such a degree that your entire professional world is limited to the matters of one valve?"

"Well it is obvious, and even in the calamitous times in which you lived, this kind of specialization had already begun. Today there is only one type of medical career, mechanical biology, or biological engineers, which is no more than the application of a mechanical rationale and advanced calculations to the phenomena of life, healthy or otherwise."

"What? Have all of the vital functions been reduced to physicochemical conditions?"

"All or most of them. The only problems that remain to be solved are related to the construction of the nucleolus and the mechanism of inheritance, but that is already being studied and will soon be resolved.7 For the most part, your famous 'vital principle,' which consisted of searching for miraculous or immaterial causes for the most simple phenomena, is today only seen by cerebral pathology as a particular variety of insanity, or as intellectual immaturity or ataxia.8 This cerebral deformity has now disappeared and, with it, one of the traits that linked us to the simian races and caused us to persist in the ridiculous passion of explaining unexplainable things with even more inexplicable causes.

"Luckily, this all ended forever. Today it is rare to see brains with religious, philosophical, vitalist, etc. deformities. Every once in a while, through atavism, we find individuals that reproduce these legacies of so many inferior races and embryonic generations, and from [End Page 209] these individuals we can understand the history of human thought, for if the summit of knowledge has been scaled it has only happened after tremendous setbacks and foolishness.9 Apart from that, it has taken a lot of work to extirpate these generations of idealists, poets, dreamers, mystics, philosophers, and romantics that distorted science and wasted their limited intellectual calories, that, with the application of industry, could have been so useful as motivating forces. It is sad to think of the brain waves lost in the philosophical disputes of the middle centuries. So much wasted carbon that, as a cerebral match, was burned in the fleeting flames of false science!"

"I see, according to what you have said, that modern science is eminently positive and that chemistry and physics have been fully rationalized by your studies."

"So much so that today the remaining sicknesses are diagnosed mechanically, thanks to the perfection of exploratory procedures. Given that there is nothing more than matter and movement in the organization [of Nature], you only have to weigh the former and precisely measure the latter, its duration, intensity, direction, etc., to find the numbers or data for the equation that diagnoses the ailment. To that end, we have cardiographs that tell us ventricular pressure, etc.; hematodynamometers that determine blood pressure; interstitial microphones that pick up noises and waves; neurometers or neural current regulators; cytogenometers that reveal deviations of cellular genesis; hydrocytographs that give us all the variations of cellular osmotic phenomena—and all of these with such perfection that one simply has to obtain the graphs, record the maximums and minimums, enter the data into the diagnostic machine, and note the illness and treatments that appear in a small drawer of the device.10 Thus the role of a doctor is to simply take the data or diagnostic elements, because everything else is taken care of by tables of therapeutic logarithms."11

What he told me seemed impossible, so I expressed my desire to see a diagnostic machine. Just then I noticed that the doctor approached the wall and took a printout that had a few curves on it—I was later told that it contained graphs of a valvular endocarditis—which he telephonically sent to his assistant, who had just obtained the data from a patient.12 The doctor then took the significant data from the graphs and entered them in the diagnostic machine. He turned a dial as many times as each thermal figure indicated, and immediately "= endocarditis with mitral valve lesion = cardicolin via pericardial injections" appeared on a screen. [End Page 210]

I asked him about the medication and he told me that it was an alkaloid that decalcifies heart valves, obtained from a pathogenic bacterium.

I was amazed by everything that he had told me but, wanting to know more, and bumping into a strange instrument next to me, I asked him about it. "It is," he told me, "a perfected piano and, at the same time, an excellent record player. It is so highly attuned that it picks up the lightest vibrations in the air, and we can even use it to put the multiplication tables to music. We can record patient histories on it and use it to play back information on the recording cylinders that our assistants send us."

"And today's music, has it progressed?"

"Considerably. You will remember that in your time there were naturalist tendencies; today music has been consolidated in the 'photography' of noises and natural sounds, thanks to the powerful genius of a music idol, the famous Cicada.13 Today music is a branch of natural science that is successfully cultivated in all the schools. With phonographic music and the popularity of barrel organs, it isn't even necessary anymore to compose the music; thus composers and musicians have disappeared and we have been reduced to simple organists. Besides that, in reproducing natural sounds and the phonetic harmonies of living bodies, we have progressed considerably. In your time, Laennec knew only the sounds of the heart and lungs: today we distinguish thousands.14 Because of this, every auscultation is a concert to our ears. Furthermore, we haven't contented ourselves with simply recognizing the sounds, but we are able to reproduce them as well, and they are very useful in clinical instruction."

"That is to say, you have put illnesses to music."

"Exactly, and if you like I can play you a piece that will not displease you." Immediately thereafter, he invited his wife to play something on the pianograph, which she did exquisitely; from the first notes, I could tell that the music brought to mind certain pathological sounds, and I mentioned this to the doctor. "You are not wrong. Specifically, she is playing the Endocarditis Waltz and, if it displeases you, she could play a pasodoble titled 'Fibrinous Pneumonia,' divided in two divisions of seven movements."15

"That's fine with me." With the same gratification, she played, or rather began the prelude to "Pneumonia," but before she even got to the second part I begged her to play something else, for I feared I would catch a cold. Next, she began a Cough with noisy fifths.16

"Don't worry, it is 'Whooping Cough,' an opera in two thirds."17 [End Page 211]

"Please," I said, "don't go further than the first third for I fear I'll catch a cold."

When the music concluded, they invited me to drink some coffee. Once the table was set (it was a special table) I realized that instead of plates they revealed an apparatus whose use I could not divine.

"The procedure that we have for taking our meals will undoubtedly surprise you, but you will soon see how convenient it is. In your time, you consumed with your coffee, not always a good thing, a certain amount of useless materials, water, fats, dregs, toast, which was essentially a waste of digestive effort, and you vainly waited for the effects of the coffee. Fortunately, that no longer happens. Coffee is chemically pure caffeine that we inject into special catheters in the external jugular so that it gets to the brain easily, doesn't cause indigestion, and doesn't require you to drink or digest useless foreign substances."18 That said, he applied the apparatus to his neck and the injection was administered, as far as I could tell, automatically.

Frankly, I was not excited at the prospect of having to prick a vein just to drink coffee, and I was reluctant to participate. He noted my hesitation. "You fear, no doubt, that with the injection I have also injected some atmospheric microbe. But your fears are unfounded. You should know that this entire house has been carefully sterilized, along with all of the furniture that we use. There is no air flow except through windows made from raw cotton and sterilized asbestos, and we produce our light from electric lamps.19 What's more, the prick shouldn't trouble you because the needle is no greater than one millimeter in diameter and it is almost definite that, in its path, it hasn't struck nerves or any anatomic element. As for blood, the relatively large size of the blood cells prevents it from leaving."20

With all of these reassurances, I resigned myself to the procedure, during which I felt nothing, although afterwards I acquired an extraordinary exhilaration and clarity and it seemed as though a new vitality coursed through my veins.

"And have you also applied these antiseptic procedures to your diet?"

"Of course, but with an important modification. In your time you filled the belly with forage, chickpeas, potatoes, fats, cellulose, proteins, the soluble and the insoluble, the digestible and the indigestible, all in one crude amalgam. Thus you exhausted your digestive energy and spent all of your time eating, in such a way that with the constant pursuit of consuming that strange mountain of foreign substances, there was barely any time left for scientific pursuits. Today [End Page 212] we do things differently, measuring and weighing nutrients, only using purely soluble and beneficial substances, essentially chemically dosing the amount necessary to sustain life. There are many benefits: First, it saves time. Second, the stomach is weakened where the mostly-digested food arrives, and this avoids an accumulation of sicknesses. Third, it prevents the entry of microbes in the body, which is extremely likely to occur in your crude system of nourishment.21 This suppresses pediatric cholera and decreases the body's excretions. Fourth, it liberates all of the abdominal circulation that was previously diverted from the brain and muscular system and transformed all of your gluttons into swine with four flagellae or flanges, upon which you could hardly say they walked, but rather lumbered.22 This intestinal atrophy has produced an eminently cerebral race; almost all digestive sicknesses have disappeared and, consequently, those who are pregnant, because they have more space in the abdominal cavity, give birth to stronger and more developed fetuses.

"Later on you will have a chance to see what great consequences this simple change has wrought."

This all appeared so magnificent to me, and I begged him to show me a menu of the physiological banquets of those times, indicating the quantity of every portion.

"Calories, you mean, for now the word 'portion' has completely disappeared, as well the custom of making menus. However, here is a list of your next meal, which will not take place until next week, according to our customs." "What? Do you not eat every day?" "Of course not. Here we allocate one week to charging this combustible machine, and then we don't think anything more of it until the following week, unless special circumstances make it necessary. We don't blindly eat: we calculate. First we find the newtons of force involved in our weekly tasks and, accordingly, our intake is more or less, keeping in mind that we never waste even a milligram of nutrients, which causes us to barely have any waste or excretions."23 That being said, he showed me the nutritious formula of a single "calorie," which was enough for about a week. It consisted of 100 grams of pure syntonin, 100 grams of albumin, 5 grams of casein, 2 grams of meta-albumin, 2 grams of para-albumin, 6 grams of nuclein, 6 grams of plastin, 5 grams of cholesterin, 4 grams of fatty acids, phosphates, etc., etc., trypsin, pepsin, diastase, etc.24 As you can see, the nutrients were mixed with fermented material and some, as I later found out, were already half-digested. [End Page 213]

I sorrowed to see the manner in which that so judiciously utilitarian society ate, and I feared that such a light meal would not satisfy me for even a single day. Dr. Micrococcus no doubt understood my fears, and he put an end to them, saying "this amount of food seems insubstantial to you, when in your time it would fill a hungry teamster, but you undoubtedly do not understand that we, according to our occupation, nourish only one organ: the brain. Long disuse has atrophied our arms and legs, our abdomen has been reduced to a limited size. We don't leave house on foot, but rather by hot air balloon or electric train; we don't carry canes so that we don't uselessly weary our hands; and some, to avoid too much idleness in their organism, antiseptically remove their teeth.

"These procedures surely appear brutal to you, but here they are normal: with them the results of pruning trees are obtained; in cutting one branch, the others grow even more verdantly. We have known this forever. For instance, in your time, priests who, as good Catholics, chose not to worship Venus, boasted stout bellies and thick cheeks.25 These shifts in organization, as Milne Echavarri would say, were the basis of the cultivation of humanity.26 Apart from that, we have also arrived at this result through artificial selection, crossing and conserving among themselves the races whose physical organisms are the best adapted to the office which they fulfill. Thus we have races of lawyers (hypertrophy of the third circumvolution of Broca, with atrophy in the arms and legs, while still retaining functionality in the thumb);27 races of doctors (eyes like microscopes, phthisical ears, the hands of a blind man, etc.);28 races of warriors (mechanical men, who seem to be mere extensions of their weapons and specifically designed to bear them); races of studs or drones, formed exclusively for the conservation of our species, etc."

"You mean to say that Darwinism is correct?"

"Fundamentally, it is. All races come from one another and, applying this principle, we have improved the human race and arrived at such a state of progress that there can be no doubt. Nevertheless, occupational specialization still hasn't been perfected. The most advanced countries are called Melaneland, which means the country of Melanin (it goes without saying that the black race has disappeared), in which procreation is set aside for a group of men and women especially selected for just that purpose, chosen from among the best-suited.29 Thus a part of their nervous activity is diverted to procreation and the remainder of these wise races can dedicate themselves more comfortably to the progress of science." [End Page 214]

It was well-known in my time that learned men, men of scientific disposition, were not the most prolific parents, nor the most suited for marriage, but I never thought that society could so take advantage of that tendency.30 "In this respect," repeated my host, "we haven't advanced as much; nevertheless, for some time, marriages that aren't physiological have been prohibited."

"What do you understand 'physiological marriage' to mean?"

"That which contractually binds two 'two-handers' which are adapted especially well for the object or work to which they are dedicated, who don't have previous pathologies or morbid germs, etc., or those marriages that occur between individuals who wish to select for a new intermediary form. The 'love' which so often caused you to ramble about was suppressed, some time ago now, by a vaccine. It was demonstrated that this 'love' consisted of a pathogenic microbe that, like a virus, only attacked youth and filled the jails with criminals, the asylums with the insane, and the hospitals with the sick, not to mention the time wasted in seductive scheming. This discovery was made by a German doctor, who noticed that if you have suffered 'love' once, you don't get it again, or if it does happen to reappear, it does so in an attenuated form. This made him think that he could become immune by injecting the attenuated coccus that was the origin of so much damage and everything was fixed. Since then, the world has continued on perfectly. No one asks anymore, 'Who is that woman?' for that is inappropriate behavior just as in your time. Neither do we reenact the ridiculous scenes that comprised your theater and literature, nor do we flood the press with erotic nonsense, whose variety of meter and multifarious foolishness were conceived by your poets. Today these things aren't even understood, and nobody realizes that there were once people who entertained themselves by twisting language and deforming thought, imprisoning them within four rhyming lines. They also cannot understand any serious talk of Venus, and other such rhetorical nonsense, when the ideas that were meant to be expressed were missing and everything actually could have been said in four words. They suspect, with reason, that poetry was a mental illness, caused by a micro-germ related to rabies, a cousin to epilepsy and a brother to 'micrococcus eroticus,' because they have seen in laboratory cultures that these appear to be similar.

"But have you really eradicated love? That's impossible!"

"Today we know that the ecstasy of love is purely due to the effects of fluctuation in the seminal fluids, kisses are simple exchanges of bacteria (the ones that live in the lips and mouth), sighs are inspired [End Page 215] air, a loving glance is a contraction of the inferior oblique muscle in the eye and is produced by a reflex originating in the ovaries, and, finally, we know that without ovum or zoosperm there is no love, that pleading tears are water with sodium chloride and, essentially, that all of these things are symptoms caused by a simple microbe.

"How can you believe that marriage shouldn't fulfill ends other than love? No, love is an economic and industrial alliance with the object of reproducing the species. This ultimate end is the genuine one, while the others are mere side effects. So that this end may be met in the best conditions, we have come, through selection, to have women with wide hips and voluminous breasts, that is to say 'sentient uteri,' perfectly suited for procreation. He who wishes to marry simply picks the best fertile plot he finds and, after certification from the doctor, who attests to the physical integrity of the fiancée; the obstetrician, who declares her to possess a first-rate pelvis; and the teacher, who assures that she has attained sufficient physiological and hygienic instruction to not commit any foolish mistakes during the pregnancy and delivery; after having completed all of these requirements, the woman may marry. Even still, no marriage may be carried out without previous recognition from the evolutionary engineer and the Supreme Counselor of Health and Progressive Evolution, who look into the physical and intellectual conditions of the pair and only authorize those marriages that, in accordance with Darwin's law, tend to improve the race or to perpetuate organic conditions that imply positive progress."

That said, he remained somewhat thoughtful and silent, and I could not help but admire the progress realized by that society that had managed to eliminate all of the myths of human thought. I was in the middle of these considerations when an electric buzzer sounded and the oval form of the doctor's wife appeared in the doorway; I noticed then her organic characteristics and compared them to those of her husband. There was between the two the same difference that exists between the negative and positive of a photograph: our doctor was excessively blond, his wife: dark, handsome. His nose was indefinitely prolonged; hers was small and flat. The eyes of the one were sunken in his eye sockets, while those of the other were situated in the center of the face and looked as if they were popping out. He had a pointed beard and she, instead, had a dimple in the same place. He was very tall, while she was more short than tall. The architecture of the doctor was bony and looked to be a set of cords and pulleys and when his limbs moved it was not without a certain trepidation. His wife's structure was doughy, smooth, and exuberant with sweet and [End Page 216] measured movements. There was music in her step, as there was in her voice. In contrast the doctor moved with disorder and creaking and his voice sounded harshly in the ear. Finally, he lacked an abdomen and she had a prominent one, although it was formed exclusively by a uterus and the abdominal membrane.

During this examination, the doctor was engaged over the telephone in listening to the questions of one of his clients and telegraphically sending them the necessary formulas. When he finished, I couldn't help but ask if the law of inheritance had also been considered in their marriage, for it appeared to me that his wife was the polar opposite of the doctor.

"Naturally, and we have not been deceived in our calculations, as you will soon see." He touched a spring and a curtain drew back exposing a frame. In it was a portrait that was full of life and colors, whose figures appeared to be of flesh and bone, for they moved and acted with real vigor. Among them and upon a platform was a figure of above average height, gracefully built, which was notable for the regularity of its features and its great cephalic development.

"Who is that?" I asked.

"I have the pleasure of telephotographically presenting to you the diagonal of the parallelogram of forces, our first culture, the average of two extremes, the equator between two poles, in short the result of our converging efforts.31 For Dr. Micrococcus, zoological engineer, director of an artificial hemoglobin factory, all of these are his workers."32

"How has man come to obtain such easy access to albuminoids?"33

"Of course, in your time you obtained urea and synthesized fatty acids, but today we construct albuminoids at a low price along with all the necessary elements for life. Those eggs that you ate this morning for breakfast are artificial and came from blastodermic vesicle incubators and artificial chickens.34 The professions of miller, baker, pastry chef, coffee merchant, are unknown to us. But you would be even more surprised if you knew that in educated Hotentotia in southern Africa they are creating artificial mammals and are making advances towards the fabrication of humans.35 So far they have managed to create ova with a novel structure, such that they have the property of subdividing when they are injected into a woman's uterus and when they are artificially fertilized. There are still some issues to resolve. However, all of the scientific academies are impatiently awaiting the outcome of this research, regarding which every new occurrence is seen and telegraphed via special machines to departments of the Government. This interest is due to the controversy over the role of inheritance in [End Page 217] human progress. There are some who suppose that a mechanical man will be an imbecile because he will not have been able to inherit all of the embryonic dispositions of the brain that have prepared the development that we see today. Those who defend the contrary maintain that the product of this new industry will be a model of the race, a man without original sin, exempt from all of the prejudices that long centuries have precipitated upon the brain, a man without parents and thus without feelings or moral adherences that uselessly divert his neural currents, a man without theological, historical or linguistic ideas. Such a being must be perfect, capable of feeling the truth and cultivating science with an extraordinary success."36

"But how have you achieved such progress?"

"Because man has already studied all aspects of the structure of the ovum; yes, all of our progress is founded upon this knowledge. We know all of the basic elements from which the protoplasm is formed, along with the laws of their distribution; the secret of cellular chemistry, which primarily consists of the elaboration of yeasts and their action upon the assimilated materials, has been uprooted and exposed. Man has come to understand the processes of evolution, its law, the how and the why of the reproduction of organs and phylogenetic forms. Man has also learned to imitate the chemical processes of nature to create these basic elements. He has molded them in fibers and membranes, and then surrounded these with their normal conditions for life and development, and they have lived and developed.37 Many millennia have passed in this work, and to give it precedence we have had to discover new bodies, with the scholars of a thousand nations working tenaciously. The first artificial being obtained was a micrococcus one millionth of a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter.38 After that came others and today there isn't a single bacteriologist that needs to seed his media in order to obtain a rich harvest of microbes.39

"Thus we have come to breed families of thoughtful philosophers with cartilaginous elbows, shoemakers with calloused buttocks, devout races with permanent and hereditary sacs of fluid in their knees, boxers with colossal fists, blacksmiths with vice grips for hands and ballerinas with beautiful calf muscles.

"But these selections eventually disappeared because they were useless, and gave way to more intellectual selections. Today, only once in a while will an imbecile come along, appearing as a rare bird in a large museum. A short time ago a notable case caught my attention: a man who could not calculate the simplest equation with twenty variables, nor even attempt to foresee a checkmate ten moves ahead [End Page 218] in chess. Today, as opposed to those days, the authentic idiot is a rich man who has to pay to be taught. Everything is taken advantage of, even the heat released from the human body during sleep and the steps taken in the home are concentrated for electricity and provide power for a factory. Coal reserves have been completely exhausted. Today, we use the wind and waves of the sea, and even the remains of our ancestors. …

(The page is interrupted, it continues on the next page, which says:)40

"The enthusiasm of a speaker is measured by horsepower. The maid who sings produces a force that turns over a water pump. The voice of a professor is used to move a lever that provides him with a cup of water and caffeine in the moment that he runs out of ideas and is afflicted by fatigue. I have an automatic watch powered by my snoring and the heat of the sheets that also serves as an alarm clock. It sets my teeth on edge to recall those times in which coal offered you such abundant energy which you squandered."

In that time the useless chattering of culture centers had been abolished. I expressed a desire to attend a lecture hall and hear one of the more notable professors.

"We will go," my guide said, "but I warn you that you will be disappointed. Professors have also been eliminated. The Government, in light of the mechanical role that professors play, invariably repeating the same lesson every year, has substituted them with gigantic phonographs, around which the students congregate, listening to summaries of official science. This has its advantages, for the phonograph never strays nor sacrifices the idea simply in favor of a vain example. It explains the planned lesson without error and without wasting a single word, and it never misses a single day of class. You sought in your time an official or systematic teaching program, but never achieved any, despite your efforts; today the recordings for the phonograph present what is planned, central offices of public teaching create the lessons, and teaching is identical in every university. …

(A few paragraphs are missing, and the text continues:)

… don't exist, and professors are not permitted to rant against the religion of the state (pantheism) or to deform the brains of the students with political speeches about communism and socialism, reactionary systems that even today have a few followers in the masses.41 [End Page 219] At the end of every year's course the recording is adjusted to reflect the latest advances of science, and thus the professor neatly explains everything down to the least diagram.

"Class starts at a set time and, so that all of the phonographs are in unison, they are all controlled by a huge steam machine, which starts at the same moment every day in the entire country."

I admired this kind of teaching, but found it inconvenient because it did not allow demonstrations to be done spontaneously on a chalkboard, and so the teaching could be very unproductive.

"You are wrong," he replied immediately. "In my department there is a projector controlled by the same machine, running in unison with the mechanical professor, and draws when the lesson references important figures, whether they be simple diagrams or magnified photos."

"But that is essentially eliminating the faculty!"

"No, simply regulating them, and putting official teachings within reach of everyone. Today phonographic texts are so common and cheap that anyone can listen to an entire course on metaphysics or listen to mathematics at their leisure. When they don't understand a passage very well, they can simply turn a dial and repeat it until they learn it all."

These considerations effectively suppressed my curiosity to visit the lecture halls; however, I expressed a desire to see the clinical offices and the tissue and organ recomposition shops (the equivalents of surgical operating rooms).

Upon entering the room, I couldn't help but be surprised by its general aspect, for it appeared more like a mechanical carpentry workshop than an operating room. Man's unsteady hand had been replaced by the most ingenious contraptions. There was only one professor to be seen, along with an assistant, who controlled the machines, whose mechanisms were attentively examined by the students.

The surgeries began and immediately some twenty or thirty patients who were going to receive the operations were brought into the room. For the most part, they were suffering from illnesses. The first had third-degree tuberculosis.42 He was first enclosed in an air chamber, hermetically sealed, where he inspired a toxic gas that rendered him unconscious, suspending all voluntary movement. Immediately afterwards he was moved to a humid, sterile room, in which all germs had been killed by high temperatures and a constant rain of. … 43 An operator entered with him and immediately applied an apparatus to his chest; a knife penetrated his chest, and cut between the ribs, in the direction of the apex of the lungs. Using a turning [End Page 220] motion, the apex was excised and immediately extracted with a pair of forceps. A jet of artificial antiseptic plasma instantly stemmed the hemorrhaging. A fresh section of lung from a sheep was grafted into the man's lung, which adjusted well to the lesion and was attached by an automatic suture and needle, which used a fibrin preparation instead of catgut, to sew the precise elastic fibers.44 The patient's circulation was suspended for a time until the graft held, the wound was closed with sutures of a braided and dried tissue compound, and last of all 200 grams of artificial blood was injected into the incision site. After two hours the patient came to. I noted that he breathed more easily and was tired; 25 days later I learned that he was cured.45 This operation surprised me, but it was nothing compared to what was in store. Soon thereafter I saw a leg amputated without any bleeding and gastrostomies followed by the insertion of gastric prostheses in which the membrane was removed and replaced by another, with the same ease as a cobbler puts a new sole on an old shoe. Another was a work of fine masonry, which consisted of cleaning cardiac valves and removing plaques, terminating with a suture in the heart and, when the bleeding had been suspended, coagulating the blood with a yeast and uncoagulating it again with a reverse diastase, after having precisely sutured the wounds. I saw there senile old women who had their worn-out ovaries replaced with new ones, recently extracted from young women who had died in accidents and whose ovaries had been artificially conserved, thus reiterating the miracle of Rebecca.46 I saw there the reconstruction of gyri that, through long use, had suffered from steatosis and, finally, I saw there an orator who, through the process of pruning, was going to remove a gyrus so that, as a form of compensation, Broca's area would further develop.47 I saw there a deaf man whose hearing was restored by a simple decalcification of the auditory nerve.

This approached the realm of indescribable, and so I could not help but ask, "How do you die? Are any illnesses fatal?"

"My friend, science has advanced considerably, but there is still much that is not known. We have suppressed all infectious diseases; we have eliminated, thereby improving the species, all hereditary maladies. Today, bodily afflictions consist of nothing more than trauma and old age. Once the microbe was discovered that causes it, the common cold was eliminated through vaccines. In cases where there are no known vaccines, we have found medicines to alleviate the symptoms. We have also found a species of inoffensive microbe that kills infectious agents. Your people observed conflicts between certain illnesses; we have [End Page 221] learned that they are the result of the causal microbes being enemies. Thus through vaccines, eradication, antidiastases, and the disappearance of the microbe, there are no longer, at least in our nation, any colds, pneumonias, rheumatisms, cavities …"

(It does not continue. We found a few loose sheets with some paragraphs that we copied down.)

He invited me to walk around and visit the principal museums. We took a pneumatic train and rapidly crossed the city; the houses were large, with two floors and perfectly symmetrical and without decorations on their walls. The majority of the buildings were businesses, on whose doors signs could be read, such as: "Crystallized Cerebrin—perfect for philosophers of either sex";48 "Cadaverous soap with sublimate—to smooth the skin and kill its germs"; "Pure Caffeine"; "Hemoglobin for all ages." But the signs that struck me the most were these: "Guaranteed Artificial Chemical Vaccines—Attenuated Pathogenic Diastases." It struck me so much that I asked about it. He told me it was a drug store. "I don't see any advertisements for medications, just diastases and microbes. Have they become obsolete?"

"Of course, some because their corresponding diseases have been eradicated, others because they turned out to be completely useless. Today only microbes and diastases are used. For example, if you want to produce a slight increase in muscular contractions, you could use a diastase from the rabies microbe; if you want to purge yourself, you could use a cholera diastase or cultures of attenuated virgula; if you have bad digestion because of poor conversion of starch, saccharomycetes are appropriate.49 The microbes that in your time filled you with fear are, today, our most valuable assistants, without which industrial chemistry would be impossible."

"But aren't you scared of causing diseases with them?"

"That is impossible with everyone vaccinated.50 As babies are born, they receive the vaccine to purulent ophthalmia, then to smallpox, afterwards to measles, whooping cough, etc. When their organism is conveniently sterilized, they pass from infancy and are vaccinated for pneumonia, rheumatism, etc., until they can dedicate themselves without fear to the tasks that will indicate their professional specialization. These vaccines are purely chemical, and they don't utilize substances that kill, rather that. … (Text stops)

"Honeymoons have disappeared as immoral, they were a period of concealment. … (Text stops) [End Page 222]

"In Spain today there is still a remnant of Christianity; it was always the most backward country in Europe and also the one with the most faith, because the less that is known, the more faith is needed, as opposed to those who reason well and have no need of it. … (Text stops)

"The church was reduced to an institution of public order, even having its own thugs.

"Literature forgot Echegaray and Victor Hugo.51 The theater is a collection of phonographic conversations with various people making gestures; the novel has been transformed into history; in the natural history of mankind. … (Text stops)

"We discovered the microbe that created nuns and caused convent life; it was seen to nest in the ovaries and, oddly enough, a few sessions of rough massage served to miraculously vaccinate those women suffering from that type of hysteria.

"The production of speakers in parliament ended, those talkative lawyers, whose verbal diarrhea defiled everything around them, from the forum to the stand, those men of arguments shaped for every person … (Text stops) are gone forever. Today your Castelar would be impossible.52 Today we read an enormous paragraph of their academic discourse where the main idea dies, hanged by. …" (Text ends)

Andrew W. Perez

Andrew W. Perez currently attends Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He earned a BS in Neuroscience and a minor in Spanish at Brigham Young University. He first fell in love with the Spanish language while serving a two-year church mission in Florida.


I would like to thank Dale J. Pratt for his mentoring throughout this translation project, and Cecelia Cavanaugh, SSJ, for her aid in obtaining a copy of Cajal's story from the Cajal Institute. I also appreciate all of the help from my professors of music, pulmonology, biochemistry, and gastroenterology at Brigham Young University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who helped advise me on some of the comments in the endnotes.

2. Cajal, 209. Further page references will be included in the text.

4. The following introduction is attached to the text, which is apparently a typed transcript of the original manuscript of Cajal's story. The drawings mentioned are not included in this version of the manuscript. We do not know the identity of this editor:

The present work, which is nothing more than a draft, is composed of 23 sheets, with writing on both sides, except the 8th, 14th and the 16th, which carry a small drawing.

While the handwriting, which is difficult to read, combined with the disorder of the pages that were poorly numbered and a form of shorthand that he always used, together with the incomplete nature of the pages, makes it impossible to be complete, there is sufficient material here to convey the mental faculty of this man of 30 years, who, at the same time as conducting research, teaching classes, discovering methods to carry out instant photography, learning to carve wood, etc., had time to imagine what life would be in the year 6000. [End Page 223]

Many of the advances that he imagined are now realities, or are on the cusp of being realized, and so we publish them without commentary or judgment, confident in the curiosity that will be awakened by coming to know this fascinating writing from the genius of Cajal.

5. Bernard was a French physiologist who is especially associated with the process of the "internal milieu," or what is commonly known as homeostasis, the state of dynamic stability through which our bodies maintain functionality. Rotifers and tardigrades are microscopic organisms: the former are similar to plankton, and the latter are water-dwelling extremophiles.

6. A micrococcus is a specific genus of bacteria. This could be a reference to "Dr. Bacteria," the pseudonym under which Cajal published his first set of "Vacation Stories." The tricuspid valve separates the right atrium from the right ventricle of the heart. Heart valves are especially prone to "vegetation," where bacteria begin to grow on the surface of the valve. While uncommon (see Miltiadous and Elisaf, "Native Valve Endocarditis," 251), this vegetation could result from a bacterium in the micrococcus genus. This is a possible connection between our Doctor's name and his profession.

7. The nucleolus is a domain within the nuclei of cells that manufactures ribosomal subunits (ribosomes produce proteins).

8. The "vital principle" refers to vitalism, the belief that disease was caused by some imbalance in the soul, similar to the four humors model in Western tradition. Ataxia is the loss of full muscle control or coordination of voluntary movement.

9. "Atavism" means the recurrence of an ancestral trait in an organism.

10. The names of the devices in this sentence come from Cajal's imagination. The hematodynamometer is apparently equivalent to our modern sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff). Interstitial microphones could serve the same purpose as an ultrasound machine, which emits high frequency sound waves into tissue and then analyzes the reflected waves to form an image of the tissue. Cytogenometers and hydrocytographs could fulfill the functions of several different tools that can measure the stages of mitosis and osmotic gradients, and other cellular conditions.

11. We see similar things today in medicine, where many clinical decisions are aided by algorithms and flow charts, wherein if certain criteria are met, a certain clinical action is taken. This has been aided by the internet, which has various medical calculators into which one has only to enter measured values and a diagnosis, risk score, or treatment course is suggested.

12. One wonders if this endocarditis, usually a result of vegetation on the valve, was caused by a micrococcus (after which our good Doctor is named). Could this be a commentary by Cajal on the prevalence of infections that physicians themselves cause through contamination of their patients? While Cajal later mentions sending something telegraphically, this instance of telephonic transmission of information appears to have a distinct method, possibly indicating something more akin to our modern fax or even a text message.

13. In the original text, the musician's name is "Cigarra," which means cicada. These insects are known for their loud and distinctive noise, their "song."

14. René Laennec, the French physician who invented the stethoscope.

15. The pasodoble is a dance modeled after Spanish bullfights. Its name literally means "two-step." Fibrinous pneumonia is a term that is no longer used, although it likely refers to pulmonary fibrosis. This condition restricts breathing and greatly decreases lung capacity. Those suffering from fibrotic lung disease have trouble breathing and often have a cough. Although these symptoms are relatively nonspecific, they could be reminiscent of a pasadoble, with quick, staccato movements, and periods of relative calm followed by bursts of activity. For "seven movements" the original text reads "septenarios," simply something with seven divisions.

16. In music, a fifth refers to a specific pitch interval between two notes. [End Page 224]

17. The manuscript reads "opera en dos trimestres," or "opera in two trimesters." It seems this would be an opera with two acts each composed of three scenes.

18. The external jugular actually directs blood to the heart, not the brain. This is potentially an example of the unfinished nature of Cajal's manuscript. Surely a Nobel laureate in physiology would know the direction of blood flow in the jugular vein. However, it could also be a commentary by Cajal regarding the occasionally misguided state of knowledge in science and physiology, showing that at this future date even some fundamental truths, such as the direction of the blood flow in the jugular veins, have been corrected. This is similar to many paradigm shifts that have occurred throughout history, such as when centuries of scientific thinking were overturned with the realization that the Earth did in fact revolve around the sun, and not vice versa.

19. We now know that asbestos can cause restrictive lung disease, which is also seen in pulmonary fibrosis. If this civilization had not discovered that asbestos causes this condition, which was only acknowledged in the late 1970s despite the use of asbestos as early as the 1800s (National Cancer Institute, "Asbestos Exposure"), the "Fibrinous Pneumonia" pasadoble would have been heard all too often, although not from the pianograph of Mrs. Micrococcus.

20. The needles commonly used today for intravenous access are generally around 1 millimeter in diameter, although needle gauge depends on the specific circumstances of its use. These are indeed large enough to cause bleeding. Red blood cells are in fact relatively small for human cells, at around 6–8 micrometers in diameter.

21. While microbes are very often consumed with the food that we eat, it has been shown that, in addition to occasionally causing sickness, they can also strengthen our immune systems. In a society that sterilized everything and didn't consume any microbes, there would probably be many people with weak immune systems, which would further necessitate the sterilization of food to avoid infection.

22. Flagellae are long, thin, motile extensions of a cell or bacterium that typically spin to propel either forward or backward. This is one of many disparaging comments made by Micrococcus regarding Cajal's day. He seems to view humans of the past as primitive and more beastly than human. This is similar to the way we view our Neanderthal ancestors. Cajal depicts a future where we are viewed not as the pioneers that we suppose we are, but simply as an insignificant evolutionary stepping stone.

23. A large portion of excreted matter (feces) is from the sloughing of intestinal bacteria. Even someone who is being nourished only via total parenteral nutrition, wherein all nutrients are delivered intravenously, will still have significant excretions. As long as we have intestines as we know them, we will have significant stools. However, given that this future is some 4000 years removed from where we now are, and that this humanity has endured for some time without using their gastrointestinal systems, it is plausible that the microbiota of their gastrointestinal tracts would be greatly diminished, if not completely gone. If this happened, these people could feasibly have relatively insignificant gastrointestinal waste production.

24. Current nutritional recommendations are 2,000–2,500 calories per day. This future population consumes significantly less than that, according to Dr. Micrococcus's recipe. This makes sense, since they have allowed their digestive tracts and many other aspects of their bodies to atrophy, and considering their lower levels of physical activity. Most of the listed nutrients are proteins or enzymes. Some are cellular components found in the nucleus or other parts of the cell. Diastases are mentioned several times in this story. As we use the term today, they refer to a group of enzymes that help break down certain sugars.

25. Refers to clerical celibacy; Venus is the Roman goddess of love.

26. I have been unable to identify the person to whom Cajal is referring here. [End Page 225]

27. The third circumvolution of Broca is the area of the brain responsible for speech production.

28. "Phthisical ears" is a translation of an idiomatic phrase in Spanish: "oido de tísico." Literally, it means "the hearing of someone who suffers from tuberculosis." Its meaning translates more closely to "sensitive hearing." It is not known how this phrase developed, but middle ear infections have been associated with tuberculosis. Potentially the sensitive ears of tuberculosis patients became associated with acute hearing.

29. This sentence was especially difficult to understand in the original manuscript. It is unclear what connection Cajal sees between melanin, the pigment that determines hair and skin color, and procreation. In the following paragraphs, Dr. Micrococcus outlines their practices surrounding procreation, which are eugenic in nature: only those with traits designated as favorable may have children, with the hope that favorable traits will be perpetuated and begin to predominate. If a society that practiced eugenics held any prejudices against certain races (such as was commonly seen against the African races at the beginning of the twentieth century, when this story was written), those races would certainly be targeted for a kind of genetic extermination.

30. Cajal himself was married, with seven children.

31. The diagonal of a parallelogram creates two equal triangles. This may be Cajal's way of showing that the "first culture" of the doctor and his wife is indeed the exact middle between their creative forces and comparatively opposite characteristics, which is being praised as the perfect man. It also brings to mind Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, which uses the symmetrical and geometric specifications of the Roman architect Vitruvius to create the ideally proportioned man.

32. This seems to be a change in topic from the rest of the paragraph. As written, he appears to be referring to the rest of the people in the picture. Micrococcus uses the word "operarios," which connotes manual laborers. Combined with the change in voice from first person to third person (which has a somewhat sinister feel) this seems to hint at some dystopian aspect of what the doctor works hard to paint as an ideal society. This could be the use of humans as an easy source of albuminoids, which is mentioned in the following paragraphs. This would be in line with comments made throughout the narrative about the difficulties of total artificiality in creating humans.

33. Albumin is a protein component of blood that serves as a transporter for many different molecules, while also helping maintain osmotic pressure gradients across blood vessels. Albuminoids is a general term that refers to simple proteins, often similar to or containing albumin. Proteins play a fundamental role in cellular architecture and are, along with their constituent amino acids, considered to be the building blocks of life. If artificial production of humans, organisms, or hemoglobin, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, were to be undertaken on any scale, proteins would be a prime resource.

34. The blastoderm is an early embryological structure that eventually gives rise to the primary germ layers of the developing fetus.

35. Cajal uses "Hottentotia" to mean the land of residence of the Hottentots or Khoikhoi, a group of African natives from South Africa. They were one of the first native populations to come into contact with Dutch settlers there. They were treated poorly and considered inferior and primitive. Given earlier comments regarding race, this may be meant by Dr. Micrococcus to show just how far mankind has progressed, that even this apparently inferior population, or at least the primitive land where they lived, had been able to progress. Given his earlier assertion that the "black race" has disappeared, he may just be referring to the people who live in Hottentotia, instead of the indigenous Khoikhoi themselves.

36. This concept of the value of helping advance science rather than feeling is similar to what is expressed in E. M. Forster's short story "The Machine Stops" [End Page 226] (1909). In it, feelings and emotions are discouraged and most people are instead dedicated to "having new ideas" and cultivating intellectual progress.

37. There are many efforts being made even now to perfect this technology. Artificial scaffolds are made, cells are placed on them and, with the correct growth factors, it is hoped that even entire organs can be grown artificially, and then used for transplants or many other things. There have been some successes, but we are still a long way from this being an efficient and consistent technology.

38. The original says: "una millonésima de milésima de milímetro," or one millionth of a thousandth of a millimeter. This equates to one picometer, or 1×10-12 meters.

39. If microbiologists want to grow something in media (the substance in which cell cultures are grown), they must first seed the medium, or place a small amount of the desired bacteria in it. This will grow and multiply, providing microbes for the scientist. This can be a difficult procedure for certain microorganisms, which have very specific growth requirements. To be able to easily culture any organism would be a significant advancement in microbiology and would make our study of microorganisms much more efficient.

40. The notes in italics and parentheses are translations of notes found on the original transcript from the Cajal Institute.

41. This is another hint at the potentially dystopian nature of this future society, where it appears that free speech is not permitted and academic curricula are controlled by the government.

42. Infection with tuberculosis goes through several stages. The third stage is active infection, and usually involves dissemination throughout the lungs and sometimes the entire body.

43. The manuscript has several ellipses here, and then continues. The ellipses are apparently meant to indicate that some text was missing.

44. Fibrin is a protein involved in clotting and is a component in some types of absorbable suture. Although some sutures used today are still called "catgut," they are actually made of purified connective fibers derived from animal (not necessarily cat) intestines.

45. After infection with tuberculosis, typically through inhalation, the causative bacteria can be ingested by cells in the body that then carry it to other sites, where they can establish secondary infections. It is unlikely that someone with advanced tuberculosis would be cured by an apical lung resection although such a resection could potentially relieve some of the respiratory symptoms that they were experiencing, depending on the location of the bacteria in the lungs.

46. In the Bible, Rebecca was the wife of Isaac. She was promised to be the mother of "thousands of millions" and she conceived in old age. In spite of this prototypical example of fertility, Rebecca's mother-in-law, Sarah, the mother of Isaac and the wife of Abraham, had a more notable conception in her old age. Barren all her life, she miraculously gave birth to Isaac when she was ninety years old. Possibly Cajal meant to refer to Sarah instead of Rebecca, as her impregnation is more commonly held as the great miracle of conception. However, given God's promise to Rebecca, she may be a more appropriate parallel to these women, who had been selected to bear children in this society, and would have done so many times, thus becoming the mothers of many.

47. Steatosis is a condition that involves the breakdown of cells due to abnormal lipid accumulation. Gyri are the bumps on the surface of the brain. Specific gyri and sulci (grooves) can be used to identify certain anatomical and functional areas of the brain.

48. A protein extracted from brain and nervous tissue.

49. A class of fungus that harmlessly colonizes parts of the human body.

50. If someone is vaccinated against a microbe, it means that they have been exposed to a part of that organism in order to develop antibodies that can identify [End Page 227] and defend the body from it. Cajal claims that they can use microbes (for example, bacteria A) against which everyone has been vaccinated to fight off other microbes (bacteria B). This would likely not work because the antibodies formed against bacteria A would quickly mount an immune response against it and eliminate it from the body, which would prevent A from fighting B, as well as from infecting the body. Cajal surely would have understood this principle. Perhaps he included this to make us question both our own society's scientific knowledge and also the confidence that Micrococcus shows in his society's advancements. Often what we understand to be true in science is only a portion of the whole picture.

51. José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, a nineteenth-century Spanish mathematician and playwright.

52. Emilio Castelar y Ripoll, famous nineteenth-century Spanish Republican politician.


Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961.
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