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Scientific Discovery: Curse or Blessing?

By jk9008 Dec 15, 2013 1369 Words
Over the course of human civilization, there have been many prominent advances in the field of science. However, as explored by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, is there ever a point or line when new discoveries made by science are not a blessing anymore, but a curse? Frankenstein is a novel about a brilliant young scientist named Frankenstein who discovers the ultimate secret: how to infuse life into a dead body. But his attempt at thwarting nature causes massive destruction as the monster he creates kills humans as an act of revenge towards Frankenstein. This raises a huge question. What are the obligations a scientist has towards mankind while endeavouring towards an unknown land? Although science can cause great and powerful advances for human society, it can also cause widespread destruction. On the other hand, science must not be limited to what is already in our grasp. Thus, as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein elucidates, scientific discovery must be made with the moral obligation to society in mind, but cannot be limited by the moral obligation towards society. Although this seems to create a paradox, the creation of many modern objects such as computers were created through a process which intertwined both venturing into unknown territory and taking into account possible risks and consequences.

From vaccines to robots, scientists have been a huge part in shaping the culture of humanity. Yet as shown in Frankenstein, sometimes this scientific discovery proves to be disastrous. Mary Shelley cleverly alludes to this with a reference to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” on page 5, “I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the ‘Ancient Mariner’”. The poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” tells the tale of a mariner that does something no one has done before: a journey to Antarctica. However, he and his crew becomes lost and is saved from death by an albatross. But the mariner decides to shoot the albatross, thus damning him to eternal suffering. The fact that the mariner commits an act without any forethought, thus causing his own suffering is the point that Mary Shelley stresses in Frankenstein. Scientific discovery must be made carefully and cautiously or else the consequences will be too great. Victor Frankenstein’s intense euphoria, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success... I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.” (40) shows how eager he is to put his newfound powers to the test. But the results are not as he expects and thus, “I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created... I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.” (44). Clearly, his “creation” is not what he intended, and thus, because he did not contemplate the possible effects or results of his actions, Victor creates a monster that even he, as the creator, cannot stand and runs away from it. Later, due to Victor’s lack of control over the creature, it wreaks havoc on Victor’s life, from the killing of William to the final murder of Elizabeth. All these events cause Victor’s life to break down, all because of Victor’s reckless attempt at creating life. Although one may argue that the catastrophe that resulted from Victor’s works were from spurning the creature rather than his temerarious actions, the reason why Victor was horrified by the creature’s countenance was because he did not think about what it would look like after being given the spark of life. Thus, the tragedy that befell Victor was caused by his own foolhardy and brash actions.

But despite the dangers of scientific exploration, it is necessary for humankind. The creation of the polio vaccine virtually eradicated polio with fewer than 1,300 cases worldwide annually (Wise 46). The injection of a dead virus was a tremendous risk and could have caused massive destruction, yet was successful. Similarly, Frankenstein, a very talented student, could have created something ground-breaking to human society. As he states, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.”(40). The implications of a new species not unlike humans were astounding. Though the consequences may have been great, they if the result had been what was expected, the discovery would have revolutionized society as a whole. Yet this is not the only situation in which Frankenstein could have made great advances in science. Frankenstein states that “As I applied so closely, it may be easily conceived that my progress was rapid....and I, who continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was solely wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two years I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the university.” (36-37). There are many fields of science that do not require risks as large as creating life, and as shown by Frankenstein’s immense progress in science as a whole, the discoveries he could have made without endangering the lives of humans were infinite, such as “the improvement of some chemical instruments”. Therefore, because great discovery cannot exist without risk, sometimes those risks must be taken for the betterment of humans.

The paths of both moral obligation to society and scientific discovery are riddled with each of its own risks and detriments. But the moderate use of both can create the most beneficial way of scientific discovery: one that foresees consequences but still creates great advances in uncharted territory. Frankenstein’s creation could have been great, if not for Frankenstein’s close-mindedness. “I intended to reason. This passion is detrimental to me, for you do not reflect that YOU are the cause of its excess. If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them a hundred and a hundredfold; for that one creature's sake I would make peace with the whole kind! But I now indulge in dreams of bliss that cannot be realized.” (127) stated the creature. The reason why the monster became one of wretchedness was because Frankenstein had not foreseen the consequences, and thus, when he saw the ugliness of the creature, he fled. If only Frankenstein had realized that the monster’s appearance was not an accurate representation of its personality and thought as Rousseau in his Theory of Natural Human, "Hence although men had become less forbearing, and although natural pity had already undergone some alteration, this period of the development of human faculties, maintaining a middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch.” (Rousseau 2: 65), this creation of life might have been the next great advancement in human life. But because Frankenstein’s moral obligation as a scientist to society was not taken into account, this discovery became a great failure.

Therefore, because the paths of both scientific discovery and moral obligation are both necessary for humankind, yet each have unique detriments, the unification of both concepts result in a process that benefits society the most. As Albert Einstein once stated “The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder”. But as shown by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, scientific discovery cannot come without great cost, and the only way of minimizing those costs are to keep in mind the moral obligation a scientist has to the community.

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