The Screwfly Solution is a short story by Raccoona Sheldon, in which men all over the world start killing women because they feel a religious voice is telling them it is the right thing to do.

Somewhere in the story, the main character finds a note from a friend reading

Man’s religion and metaphysics are the voices of his glands (Schönweiser, 1878)

This has always intrigued me and I wonder if this is a fictional quote or not. I have never been able to find anything about a scientist named Schönweiser. Has he really existed and is this a true quote from a scientific piece of work?

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    I believe it to be fictional unless it's truly obscure. There's no other reference to that quote (in English or in German) other than from that story, nor are there any references to a philosopher of that name, other than from that story.
    – Valorum
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:56
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    What is the translation of Schönweiser? Beautifully wise? Mar 2, 2017 at 18:04
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    Just in case you didn't know (though I guess you do), Raccoona Sheldon's actual name was Alice Sheldon, who also went by the more widely known pen-name of James Tiptree Jr., possibly one of the best Sci-Fi writers of the "New Wave" era.
    – Andres F.
    Mar 2, 2017 at 23:39
  • BTW, you forgot to mention that the religious voice is actually the consequence of a physical effect.
    – dirkt
    Mar 3, 2017 at 6:52
  • If we spell it "Schoenwieser' ( And ANALOG has been known to misspell such ), there was a Mennonite by that name, involved with the pro-German movement in America before the Second World War ( in here - mennonitehistorian.ca/19.3.MHSep93.pdf ). The dates don't quite match so it's not the same person. Nevertheless, a German name and a quote on metaphysics from that time are likely, so maybe we need to look in philosophy rather than science. Mar 23, 2017 at 1:37

1 Answer 1


As hard as it is to prove a negative, this individual and their quote appear to have been invented for the story.

The Quote

There's no other reference to that quote in English or in German other than from that story.

A search for any part of "Man’s religion and metaphysics are the voices of his glands" yields only Tipree's story and works that are referencing or reviewing it.

A similar search for "Religion und Metaphysik des Menschen sind die Stimmen seiner Drüsen" yields only German translations of Tiptree's story.

The Author

There are no references to an author of that name publishing in 1878, other than backtracking to Tiptree's story. The author name just means "nice and wise" (or possibly "A bearer of gifts" in colloquial Austrian) which seems suspicious in itself.

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    Schönweiser has a specific meaning, at least in German as spoken in Austria. A rough translation would be "bearer of useful gifts." It is used to refer to guests at a wedding who give the couple practical things that they will need or can use. If the author knew that meaning, then it could be a sort of bilingual pun - Schönweiser in the story seems to be delivering a (useful) clue to help things along. Outside of that, I found several people with published works by the name of Schönweiser.
    – JRE
    Sep 19, 2021 at 11:50
  • The author may have just picked the name to sound fancy, though.
    – JRE
    Sep 19, 2021 at 11:51

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