A Malthusian law of sensitivity

Fernando Pessoa (1888 - 1935)

Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935)


I declare at first

Malthus’ law of sensitivity

“The stimulants of sensitivity grow by geometric progression; sensitivity itself grows by arithmetic progression.”

From “Ultimatum”, a text by Álvaro de Campos, heteronym of Fernando Pessoa, published in the first and only issue of “Portugal Futurista” (November 1917).

Pessoa observes that sensitivity (which, he explains, is used in the text with “the full amplitude of the term“), evolves by one step with each generation, while the stimulants of sensitivity, such as education, scientific progress and political conditions are subjected to hundreds of modifications within a generation. From this, he concludes, a de-adaptation of sensitivity from the environment is inevitable which, according to Pessoa, is in fact a bankruptcy. “This is what is happening in our times, when the inability of creating new powerful values is a result of exactly this de-adaptation”, he notes. Major de-adaptation events have not been observed in the time period from Rennaisance until the 18th century because “the stimulants of sensitivity were at that time of educational nature, and were in a process of slow evolution concerning only the upper class“. Yet the phenomenon was accelerated after mid-19th century, when “the stimulant, a result of scientific progress, causes intense development, leaves behind the progress of sensitivity and, because of the practical applications of science, touches the whole of society. We arrive thus to the enormous disproportion between today’s conclusion of the geometric progression of the stimulants of sensitivity and the conclusion of the arithmetic progression of sensitivity itself”.


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