Happy Birthday Dr. Frankenstein

The novel Frankenstein was published 200 years ago this year, on January First.  I don’t think google did a doodle on it, but they should have.  Today (30 August) is the anniversary of the birth of the author, Mary Shelley.

Science magazine devoted a whole special section on the impact Frankenstein has had upon popular culture. [1] There’s more Franken-things than you can shake a stick at!  Each of which denotes something scary that has been created by humankind.

Try it out.  Pick any noun, say, tomato.  Stick a “franken” on it – and voila – you have a:

Franken-tomato.  Sounds like something that was genetically modified.  Could be tasty.  But our first reaction is, ugh.  Get it away from me.

That’s the whole point of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein.

It’s not the monster that is the bad guy.  It’s us.

We create things with our knowledge, our technology, our science.  And then we abuse it, we deny it, we argue that it doesn’t exist.  Yet it does exist.

And in our active ignorance, it ends up causing harm.  In the end we may think we have won because we defeat it, but perhaps we are no better off than we were before.

This theme has been used so many times since she rediscovered it that it’s hard to pick the best examples.  Try Colossus, the Forbin Project.  Or Skynet of Terminator, or Adromeda Strain, or; do I need to continue?

The Ancient Greeks created the first rendition of this story.  They talked of Prometheus, who brought forbidden fires to humans.  Without fire we would still be running from the lions, instead of looking at them in the zoo.

What does this have to do with behavior?  Are you kidding?  What doesn’t it have to do with behavior?  This is exactly the kind of stuff we should be talking about, for every new technology: Nuclear power, DNA editing, CO2 sequestration, and more.

Even more importantly, as students of behavior, we should have a framework that allows us to understand and discuss ANY new technology regardless of what that technology may be or how it impacts us.  How’s THAT for a challenge?

Enough for today.  I wanted to make sure SOMEONE said Happy Birthday to Mary.  After all, she did something many activists have been dreaming of doing for years.  I only wish people would read her book and discuss it, intelligently.

Instead of just going, UGH.

 

[1] Science magazine, 12 January 2018, Volume 359, Issue 6372.

 

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