(Author's Note: This was a semi-creative project. We had to address the issues in a persuasive letter rather than a boring ol' report, so please become unconfused as far as the format..) Cal Tech Curriculum Committee: Scientists are all too ready to lock themselves away with their research, unwilling - perhaps even incapable - of seeing the consequences of their actions. It is our duty as their educators to provide them with not only a means to gain knowledge but also insights into the society into which they will ultimately release their findings. Since none here are literary or English majors, it may seem difficult at first to integrate such needed sociological concerns into their current courses of study, so it is our duty to give them easily-reliable examples which parallel with their own course of study, examples that will be memorable. And what better to illustrate and retain attention than a tragedy? I suggest that the Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein be included as a central text in the current Humanities courses required here.
The reason Frankenstein may hold more relevance as part of the program than say, a classical Greek play, is the subject matter alone. Hopefully, the literary connections are more likely to be drawn, if we can appeal to the students’ interests as best as we can. Perhaps then they are more likely to believe that the humanities do “have something to do with them.” The specifics it also raises about ethics and responsibilities of science speak more than enough of the novel’s behalf.
Many scientists in the far-reaching fields today may feel overwhelmed, perhaps even taking on a Gaudi-esque credo to their respective research. That Spanish architect is quoted as saying that he “didn’t have time to wonder,” that he “had to spend all of [his] time working.” While this is a commendible work ethic, such a belief can lead scientists to bring the “curse to mankind” that Einstein warns us against.
While a piece of art may incite violence, certain sciences may uncover information that can physically provide the means of violence. Scientists provide the power, they are the vehicles of the force - but it is rarely they who end up wielding it. Governments, companies, and monetary sponsors are those that are really calling the shots, and since they only bought out that technology without acquiring that knowledge themselves, they may prove irresponsible with that power. They have no responsibilty towards it, so it is up to the scientists themselves to determine if the rest of the world is ready for thier data. A common misconception is that the computer industry is out of control - but what is really growing beyond its rights is the monopolization and marketing of those computers. Unwitting engineers have explained to the executives how operation systems work, and now that simplified knowledge in turned against the users. This issue is addressed well in the Frankenstein novel as well.
Had Victor taken in his monster and walked it into humanity slowly, instead of abandoning it when it needed him, his creation might just have fit in afterall. “Could or should” maybe do not even enter the picture. Science will continue to refine itself and go onward in some form throughout our lives. Someone will reach the next step or the higher level, and more will build off of it.
However, the best precaution to learning and releasing innovative concepts to the society at the right time is giving our future scientists a wide range of possible scenarios to consider. In the novel, Victor understood how to perform his experiments, he had insights into what had been done in reliable fields before. But based on his seclusion and his obsession, his blind devotion to only his ideas, he could never predict the outcome of his experiment. He had no thesis to work towards. Knowing a bit of biology and chemistry does not qualify one to single-handedly delve into potentially dangerous projects. Why did he do it? Passion, obsession, the need for individual worth?
We cannot allow egos to interfere with safety. We also cannot be willing to encourage our students complete withdrawal from society, with the possible loss of their own self to their science. A self-absorbed mind is not as likely to make responable conclusions. We should never sacrifice the individual for the collection of data or the progression of technology, because the progression will never stop.
Thrown into motion such as it is, it will continue forward until we reach either the status of omnipotence or self-destruction. I do now think we should limit our imaginations, nor ever give up the (as of now) unattainable strive for godliness. But we should always keep in mind that we still are human, and incomplete. The search for knowledge is intoxicating in itself.
As most people would believe that it is “natural” or “human nature” to be inquisitive, it might be just as “natural” that Nature provide us not just with minds that can dream, but also brains that can act. Perhaps we were “meant” in interfere with the natural world in the first place. But we should still allow ourselves an escape route if we back ourselves into a corner. The excuse that “science will think of something” doesn’t always prove viable.
Yes, usually science will think of remedy to any given problem - but usually not in time. Once we discover the cause and solution to the depletion of the Ozone Layer, we still can not act on the next-step solution. We know what causes the depletion and have developed reasonable, inexpensive alternative vehicles in response to it. However, these new automobiles are not being allowed into the market since so many jobs are tied up in the current motor industry. So we should not integrate into the society until we understand and agree upon the more long-lasting effects. Victor spent two years of his life obsessed with his experiment, showing that he was a man with ultimate goals as a scientist. His goals were not to create a monster, but to help improve conditions of his times.
Science and its applied technology strive to be on the “cutting edge” - well, we cannot begin to formulate new intelligent questions with such a narrow view of the world. We need to incorporate reasonable correlations with the rest of our American society, and in order to keep the interest level active, we may need to appeal to not simply previously accepted “culture,” but also to the pop cultre, the world in which we as Americans can most relate to. Two colleges have even gone so far to have sociology-based classes with a Star Trek focus. I believe that similar classes here would prove beneficial as well as popular among the student body. We don’t want our future scientists and engineers running away from innovations because they suddenly feel over their head, nor abandoning their own “monsters” in the wild of the American market for the innocent consumer to be attacked, and ultimately controlled. Irresponsibility and inability to own up to the consequences inevitably lead to more tragedy. Words hold true power, and scientists seek the ultimate definitions, working almost on a mystical level, quite like their alchemical predecesors.
But does this make humanity god-like? Unlike alchemy, science is not so much the “art of knowing” as it is a method of learning. But it is not necessarily the best option, and definitely not the only way to explore the world in which we live.
So we agree on a term. Is that true understanding? A student may memorize vocabulary for an exam, but will they retain that knowledge later on without an emotional attachment or philosophical ideal that tags alongside it? Even those students enrolled here, gifted with mathematical and logical intelligences, may not fully appreciate stale, pre-defined text book servings.
Do they ever really understand the real workings of photosynthesis, evolution or mitosis? It is perhaps, that we’ve just broken down the “acts of a god” into easier to swallow pieces. Gaudi has also written that “humans don’t invent; they can only discover.” (Autor's Post-script: Live your life. Draw your gods. Sleep if you have time. Get your papers done - quick.
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