The Truth Between “Truths”

One of the themes we have visited repeatedly in this class over the past six weeks is that while there are frequently two sides to every story, we rarely favor one side over the other. Was Frankenstein or his monster to blame for the tragedies? It turns out they both had a part to play. Who killed Aramis? Not any one person involved in its development. Should we look at the relationship between culture and technology from the standpoint of cultural determinism or technological determinism? By focusing solely on either one, you miss a large part of the story. In every case, every discussion, there are two or more clearly defined sides, but the truth of every story invariably lived somewhere between all of them.

It’s really easy for humans to reduce any problem to an “us vs. them” mentality. Once something has been reduced to that, the solution simply becomes ignoring or destroying “them” and doing what’s best for “us”. Even Connection, which we watched at the beginning of this class, illustrates this. A tree of nature is shown, and the human being leaps off the tree and creates a divide between the tree and humanity. Immediately, humans are defined as “us” and nature as “them”, and nature is named our enemy to be enslaved or destroyed to suit our needs. This is indicative of the problem solving strategies of our race in general. Very rarely do we look to compromise with our enemies, we seek complete and utter victory for “us” and hold little regard for “them”. But what happens when “us” and “them” are a self-imposed dichotomy, like us vs. nature, and we’re really part of the same whole? Environmental devastation, the extinction of species of plants and animals, and pollution on frightening scales. We viewed nature as a force to overcome rather than an ally to work with, and as a result we damaged parts of an ecosystem that we ourselves rely on. Today, we understand this a little more, and have been working to walk in tandem with nature rather than against it. This is one example of many, though, and our “us vs. them” mentality to problem solving is still a very real problem.

The one thing I think I’ve taken from my time in this class over anything else is that I have learned to seek the middle ground in any conflict. Whenever two sides disagree about something, each side has at least part of the truth of the story. Cultural and technological determinism are two conflicting world views, but by studying both instead of subscribing wholly to one theory, we are able to see how culture and technology influence and evolve each other in tandem. On a much smaller scale, when two friends are arguing about something, however inconsequential it may be, neither friend is going to tell you the whole truth about what happened. You would need to consider both sides equally before being fit to begin attempting to piece together the true story. And while it may happen in the end that Friend A had 90% of the real story and Friend B only had 10, that ten percent is still an important fragment of the truth and should be considered. Moving forward in my life, I want to remember to carefully consider all sides of a conflict before I choose a side. Sometimes, if you do this, you’ll forge your own path right through the middle ground.

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Lost in Translation

“You never talk about mechanical uncoupling as a solution”

“No, it doesn’t exist. Its impossible. In any case,  not if speed is a factor. Its not even an option. It just doesn’t come up” (18)

The Aramis vision seems beyond feasibility, hypothetically let alone producing a tangible product. The human brain is capable of what humans hands and the finite earth are not. Imagination, believing the impossible is possible. And that kind of faith – is what, by some chance, might get you there.

In a perfect, non-violent, theoretical world – Aramis can work. However, in a violent, finite, ever-changing physical world – Aramis can be just a concept. How concepts and ideas translate from the theoretical world (i.e – engineering, economics, finance) to an actual real world application is unknown and most times, impossible. The theoretical world humans portray in scholastics is far from the “real” tangible world we live in. For some reason, humans lose site of reality in their imaginations, foregoing taking into account the potential consequences and by products that can be negating the original goal of our endeavors. It is easy to get lost in the imagination of progression, of technology. But is too fast? Are we moving along with out any regard for these physical and metaphysical harmful byproducts? Forgoing patience and attention to reality, is becoming man’s worst nightmare. It is happening right before our eyes, which behind behold and define our imaginations. These byproducts are sometimes tangible the eye can see and some that are intangible, developing where the human eye cannot see. The consequences of the human indulge of technology will become clear at a time where we are so far from the origin; when we cannot remember or behold the nature of our original existence. 

How much more money and resources can be sacrificed for the sake of another innovation? Where really are these innovations taking us? Is our perception of progression truly one of regression? Is heading further into a robo-technicalogical world better for human life? Or is just a over-manifestation of our imaginations on a tangible, yet finite world?

In Aramis, the research and development team is seeking total reform of public transformation, but is stuck in their imaginations that are unfortunately but ultimately limited by a finite, tangible, earth. The engineer seems to begin to understand on the forefront of his project: “For our informants, PRTs are no longer the invention of an isolated engineer, traceable through projects, contracts, and memoranda; rather, they’re a collective dream. The technologically impossibility of uncoupling is not a decision or opinion of a handful of researchers. It’s self-evident, obvious to everyone. Goes without saying. Doesn’t generate the slightest bit of controversy. It would take a Martian landed in a world of guided transportation to open up that question” (18).

We define in Aramis technological conquest opposite from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Aramis, they are dreaming of what was shot down, what could have been. How their science would have been the precursor for a global evolution of mass transportation with discovery in the name of the French! In Frankenstein, the technology was completed and terrorized the physical natural world! So which one is it, suffer on the side of completion and regret, or suffer on the other side of the fence, never knowing what could have been?

Finally, Are we lost in translation?

Doctor Frankenstein the Dummy

A living being has a pumping heart, flowing blood, and most certainly the ability to emotionally feel a certain way. How did Frankenstein not realize that with the endeavor to bring a creature to life, it would be emotionally connected to others and its surroundings? And, how did he not think that an existence of an eight foot tall, utterly distorted looking being wouldn’t be alarming to the people of the world? With a portion of the novel focused solely on Frankenstein’s accumulation of knowledge through texts and professors, I honestly think that Shelley spent the rest of the novel counteracting the fact.

Every year on Halloween, there will be green-faced children (and adults) prowling the trick-or-treating streets. This is on Halloween—when the entire motivation is for people to choose an identity that they could never possibly be.  So, when Frankenstein had an epiphany to create his form of life, did he strive for something to actually be able to live, or just to be able to breathe? With how difficult and meticulous it must be to create a living form, I presume that Frankenstein put almost zero thought into it. This is especially depicted when he is disposing of his semi-finished companion for the creature. On page 125, he states, “I felt as if I was about the commission of a dreadful crime, and avoided with shuddering anxiety any encounter with my fellow-creatures.” While he considers the monster’s actions as the utmost wrong doing and evil, he is thinking hypocritically. He didn’t even finish the female form of the monster, yet throwing its parts away made him feel lawfully wrong and embarrassed. As opposite he feels the monster being to a human, he feels that the human population would detest his disposing of the creature.

Also, on page 124, Frankenstein states, “The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being.” So, when Victor had decided to create his first living being, did he really think that any breathing creature other than a human would be accepted? When destroying the second creation, he compares it to a human being, but with the first he impulsively brought it to life.

My question is, if Frankenstein is so quick to comparing his semi-finished second creation to a human being, did he not think his first creature would act and feel like one as well? Ultimately, do you think the Frankenstein is as wise as Shelley portrays him in the beginning of the novel, and through Robert’s letters at the end?

Shelley’s Archaic Dichotomy

As noted in several previous blog-posts, one of the many dichotomies consistent throughout “Frankenstein” is that of Nature vs. Science. Shelley makes it clear which to her is superior; she condemns Frankenstein to a miserable fate as punishment for his pursuit of scientific progress, while Clerval stands as a shining beacon of happiness through his appreciation of all things “natural.” Throughout his wretched wanderings, Frankenstein continually ventures to places of magnificent natural beauty — alpine lakes and winding rivers — in search of temporary solace from his all-consuming anguish.

Throughout the reading, this theme becomes clearer and clearer. Throughout the reading, I found myself more and more displeased with her message, and the existence of this dichotomy in the first place. Science is not something unnatural, not some brand of sorcery, but simply the systematic study and application of nature itself. When a monkey uses a stick to catch bugs, or an otter a rock to crack sea urchins, it is not unnatural. Just so, neither are more complex human innovations. In creating life, Frankenstein did not disrupt nature, but instead explored one of its many previously unexplored capabilities.

To defy nature is, in fact, impossible; anything that takes place in the natural world must be inherently natural. The dichotomy presented supports a purely dogmatic worldview — that certain actions are locked within the realm of the “supernatural,” and for a mortal to attempt and succeed at taking part is the ultimate sin, bound to inflict irreparable damage and suffering on the human-race. Using the monster as her mouthpiece, Shelley urges her audience to “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries” (208).

Her lesson is to squelch the desire to overstep the boundaries which contain men and impede greater understanding. Had Frankenstein not pursued such a lofty innovation, he would have spent his days cradled in his family’s warm embrace, instead doomed to perish among strangers in a frozen wasteland.

In breaking apart Shelley’s dichotomy, however, I do not wish to establish an inverted one of my own. Just as “disruptive” human innovation is not evil, nor is it intrinsically positive in consequence. Scientific progress itself is neutral, and must be judged based on its application. When Einstein helped invent the atomic bomb, he created an instrument capable of destructive power previously reserved to the gods — and destroy it did. However, most would posit that its use caused less destruction than had it not been created.

By refusing the genesis of a second monster, Frankenstein turned away from building his own atomic bomb — a scientific creation that could have either put an end to impending suffering, or multiplied it tenfold. “I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature” (207), he declares on his death bed. In the end, he is content with his decision to cease playing-god, and Shelley places an exclamation point on her case against “gambling” with nature.

While Frankenstein should have been more comprehensive in his foresight, I think that Shelley goes too far in her condemnation of his actions. Do you think that, as stated in Connected, “growth for growth’s sake is cancer,” or is this a mischaracterization?

Disclaimer — I would  like to admit a personal bias: I am an entrepreneur, always trying to think up better, more innovative ways of doing things. Even if it “ain’t broke,” I still want to fix it. In my circles, “disruption” is a golden word, and, like Frankenstein, I know I’m not the most responsible of innovators, usually preferring to take the “jump-right-in” approach, rather than cautiously testing the waters. Don’t worry though, my “little monsters” aren’t going to be eating you anytime soon…hopefully. I just wanted to better frame the post with regards to it’s author.

Ignorance is Bliss

An infant absorbs all that is around them; particularly in their first few years of life.  This is what I immediately thought of when I read Frankenstine’s monster’s testimony about his travels.  The monster conveys how and what he has learned about human nature and life itself.  I felt sorry for the monster, and his story left me wondering if sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

Victor Frankenstine’s monster was abandoned by his creator, leaving him alone and frightened.  Being a newly formed creation, he was much like an infant child in need of love and affection.  Instead of being loved or cherished, he was thrown out into the world to fend for himself and try to make sense of his situation. Since I grew up in a loving environment, it is difficult to imagine the sense of confusion the monster must have felt after being abandoned.  When Frankenstine abandoned him to die, the monster began to learn essential facts about the physics of the natural world.  His learning proceeded in a very childlike way by trial and error.  This was evident when he first encountered fire, and he said, “One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produces such opposite effects!” (72).  Having no guardian to explain what the fire actually was, he burns himself, learning that fire can cause both comfort and injury.

After learning many of these types of everyday tasks, such as how to find food sources and shelter, the monster begins to learn about human nature and history.  He begins to study a family living in a cottage.  After months of studying their behavior, he learns how humans show affection to one another and that they can communicate.  Due to his envy, he attempts to learn the language, so he can eventually reveal himself to the group.  When an arabian girl arrives and the family begins teaching her their language, the monster sprung into action by listening in on the lessons.  He becomes excited and learns quickly saying, “My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily master the language; and I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian, who understood very little.” (84)  This thirst for knowledge allows the monster to pick up on the human language and mannerisms quickly.  After finding a set of books he begins to understand even more about human nature.  I was interested to see the progression of the monster’s thoughts on the human condition.  He says, “For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased, and I turned away with disgust and loathing.” (84) The monster, being similar to a child, loses his innocence very early in his education.  Instead of seeing the good in man he quickly sees that many parts of human nature can be evil and unjust.  This is also when he comes to the realization that he truly is a monster and will not be accepted by the humans.

I feel pity for Frankenstine’s monster.  Continuing to read deeper into his story, I came to realize that he is only a monster physically, not at heart. The monster is forced to live alone and communicate with no one due to his grotesque figure.  This really made me wonder: Why did Victor Frankenstine not try to make his creation more appealing? In my opinion, I feel Frankenstine was so obsessed with creating that he never considered his creation’s well being and quality of life.  Frankenstine’s monster realizes he will never be accepted by the human species, and he becomes enraged, declaring war against them.  This makes me wonder, would the monster have been better off living in solitude? Did his integration into society single handedly lead to his anger and depression? Is ignorance sometimes truly bliss?

Question for the class:  Do you blame Victor Frankenstine for abandoning his creation, or do you feel that he was overwhelmed with the result and had a right to be frightened?

Why have humans evolved over time but not fish?

Why is it that fish are still caught in this day in age? Why haven’t they figured out a way to avoid being captured and eaten by humans? Do they lack some component of the human form that makes them weak? Do they not have eyes? A brain? A form of mobility? I pose these rather obscure questions to show how over hundreds of years, fish still swim and get caught while humans have developed in leaps and bounds. Why have we managed to move out of caves and into sophisticated skyscrapers? The answer lies in this broad concept of knowledge. Over time, humans have found ways to record our knowledge in the form of writings, paintings, recordings, etc. Because we have this ability to access thousands of years of accumulated human knowledge, we continue to evolve as a species instead of each generation relearning what the previous generation has already discovered. Fish on the other hand cannot record their knowledge so they still swim and get caught in the sea.

The monster in this book (at this point) parallels more closely to a fish when he escapes from the lab. He enters the world with no knowledge and no human caretaker to bestow knowledge upon him. The monster recounts one story of his first experience with fire. “One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produces such opposite effects!” (72). While this quote does not take a perspective on “knowledge,” I am more fascinated by the pure innocence of the monster and his true inexperience with the world. This encounter was brand new to him so in order for him to learn, he needed to experiment on his own. If there were someone who took care of him, perhaps he would have been taught that fire is hot and you cannot touch it. The monster is driven in the pursuit of knowledge (much like Victor Frankenstein), however, he works with absolutely no prior knowledge.

Perhaps the monster’s greatest display of his solitude comes when he states: “For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased, and I turned away with disgust and loathing” (84). Once again, this is not a comment on knowledge but rather another display of his innocence and lack of awareness of his surroundings. He simply does not have the capability of even imagining inflicting harm to another human. This feeling is evident when he describes his guilt for stealing food from the cottagers. Because I have read about, heard about, and seen the negative effects of committing crimes, I have the knowledge to not commit one in the first place. The monster, at least initially, does not understand that concept and doesn’t see wrong with taking food. His lack of knowledge causes him pain.

Knowledge is our only means of connection to past generations of humans. The hammer was invented a long time before I got to this planet so I will not spend time reinventing it. The knowledge already exists so in this simplified case, now I have the ability to build something because a previous generation has given me a tool to work with. I believe that this transmission of knowledge is evident in the book just by the large number of narrators and storytellers in the book. If we examine where this story is at currently, the cottagers have communicated with the monster, the monster is now talking to Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein is talking to Walton who is more than likely communicating this story to his sister Margaret. All of these people, who ordinarily would have never been connected, have now been connected though the transmission of knowledge.

But is all this knowledge helping us? Victor Frankenstein has been formally educated but now he seems like a little bit of a mad man. The monster, on the other hand, has explored the world without an understanding of past knowledge. In 2013, has our knowledge gotten to a point where it is actually hurting us? Is perhaps ignorance truly bliss?

Is Frankenstein’s Monster Really a Monster?

As Frankenstein’s monster explains his story, we realize the amount of knowledge he has gained since his creation. He stumbles upon a French family that intrigues him the minute he notices them. After observing the family for a short amount of time, he feels “…sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced,” (75). The monster was feeling emotion for the first time, which leads me to believe that he is not a monster at all.

After this first glimpse into human characteristics exhibited by the monster, we see further evidence as his story is told. The monster becomes infatuated with the De Lacey family upon his first feelings of emotion, and strives to understand their way of life. He desires the knowledge to fit in with his new “friends.” When Felix’s wife first appears, she is unable to speak the language of the rest of the cottagers. As she is taught the language, both how to speak it and read it, the monster takes notes and learns for himself as his thirst for knowledge progresses.

When he is out in the woods one day, the monster stumbles upon a few articles of clothing and, more importantly, a few books. “The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories,” (91) says the monster in reference to his newly found books. I feel that this quote truly embodies the character of the monster and his desire for knowledge. Something as simple as a few books that someone left behind are of such great value to him in his learning process, providing truth to the popular saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Frankenstein uses many pessimistic words to describe his creation including “monster”, “fiend”, and “daemon”, but as its character is developed, I do not see it in a negative way at all. As the creation achieves the knowledge for which it has such a strong desire, it seems to have a human demeanor. This leads me to pose the following question: Is Frankenstein’s monster really a monster?