On On Human NatureReading Wilson is tricky. His prose is neither elusively arduous, nor hazy in any significant way, but instead clear, level-headed, and very convincing. Which is what makes it tricky. I find myself reading for several pages, all but nodding my head, before stopping myself and asking: wait, do I really believe this guy? A quick Google search or Wikipedia scan makes it even harder not to, his list of awards and honors is rivaled only by his list of significant publications, but I can’t quite force his theories down my gullet. The issue I have with his theories, as I am sure do many others, are their implications. Biological determinism, which is a large cornerstone of Wilson’s theory of sociobiology, in the past has lead, more or less, to many instances of ethnic cleansing and mass genocide which were themselves based around ideas or beliefs that sounded quite a bit like this: “Chinese-American children in Chicago nursery schools [(which, by the way, is an extremely small sample size when considering global phenomena, and it doesn’t sound like the researchers were able to control for such variables as, oh, the exclusion of ‘different’ children from social groups by other children)] spent less of their time in approach and interaction with playmates and more time on individual projects than did their European-American counterparts” (pg. 49). Is that study supposed to be normalized by the fact that the children are all from Chicago? (If so, are we supposing that Chicago is immune to racism?) If we are to believe that qualities such as sociability or quiescence are largely genetically controlled, are we also to think that different cultures arose in subservience to these genotypes? I.e. are we to think that Chinese culture has high regard for individualism (which I don’t really think it does, relatively, but these would be the implications of the study Wilson cites) because the individuals within the society are genetically predisposed to seek more time alone? Do not a Chinese-American and a European American, both raised in America, share much, much more cultural similarity than a Chinese individual raised in China and one in America? Is this theory anything more than just speculative science? Where is the empirical evidence? Where are the controls? Most importantly, where are the peer reviews?Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2004
The story of Frankenstein in his monster is heavily familiar in society today. This has a lot to do with interpretations of the book in both film and television. Because of these dramatizations, I have always perceived Victor Frankenstein as being an insane scientist who displays apathy towards the consequences of his actions. However, upon reading the book for the first time, my feelings have changed. Specifically at the end of chapter ten when Frankenstein states “my heart was full, and I did not answer him…I was partly urged by curiosity, and compassion confirmed my resolution…For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness” (Shelley 109). After this passage I started to regard Frankenstein less as the maniacal genius that he is sometime portrayed to be in a colloquial sense and more as the tragic protagonist of the novel. Victor’s actions are for the most part self-serving, but unlike some portrayals of the character on screen, he is not totally unbalanced and without feeling, but rather deeply flawed.With this in mind, I would be interested to know what my classmates’ preconceived notions on the characters in Frankenstein were, and how they differ now that they are actually reading the book. I would also be interested in discussing the role of the tragic figure in literature, and how Frankenstein fits that archetype, and how that archetype fits the genre of horror overall.Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 2009. Print.
I found opposite view points of Frankenstein and that of On Human Nature to be thought-provoking. In Frankenstein the pursuit of more knowledge is something that should only be done in moderation, and that the result of meddling too far could be disastrous. Frankenstein says “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be serpent to sting you, as mine has been… when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course… that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale…” (Shelley, 20). However, On Human Nature views the pursuit of knowledge as something to be desired, not as malicious. In fact Wilson states “It is all too easy to be seduced by the opposing view: …that single –minded devotion to science is dehumanizing.” (Wilson, 10) These views challenge one another on the topic of ethics entirely. Frankenstein does not give an example as to how far is too far and On Human Nature does not give an example as to what would be considered remaining ignorant to our surroundings. How much knowledge should society aim for? When do we stop? With these questions in mind I’d like to return to the assertions of Wilson. It is brought about that “If human behavior can be reduced and determined to any considerable degree by the laws of biology, then mankind might appear to be less than unique and to that extent dehumanized. Few social scientists and scholars in the humanities are prepared to enter such a conspiracy…” (Wilson, 13). I find it peculiar that Wilson doesn’t disprove that other scientists believe his opinions to be unethical, but rather goes on to say that “…scientists cannot afford to ignore [biology’s] rapidly tightening principles.” (Wilson, 13). Wilson ignores the topic of ethics in pursuit for more knowledge. The work and ideas Wilson provides are radical without the use of moral judgment, and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press. 2004Shelley, Marry. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc. 2009.
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One of the most intriguing parts in Frankenstein, is when the monster explains his narrative to Victor. As the monster tells his story, it quickly becomes apparent that the monster has learned countless amounts of information from the observation of humans in the cottage. The monster explains, “Every conversation of the cottagers now opened new wonders to me” (Shelley, pg. 131). The monster learns much about human language, relationships, and even history. Without the observation of humans, it may be hard to conceive of another way for the monster to acquire such knowledge.How would the monster learn from humans if the story took place in the present time? This is an intriguing question that I would like to propose. In a time where humans are so reliant on technology, would the monster still be able to learn the same information he learned from the cottagers? I think not. Family life is not as structured as it used to be. People can seem more concerned about their cell phones and laptops than with interacting with each other. The monster’s concept of family would certainly be much different today than in the past.In a world where texting or email is the main means of communication, it would likely be more difficult for the monster to grasp the concepts of human language. He certainly would have to observe the humans at a much closer distance to even begin to understand the functions of cell phones or computers. It would also be highly unlikely for the monster to observe humans participating in telling stories or reading aloud to each other. How would the monster learn about history as he did in the past?Technology has changed our lives so much that it may be difficult for the monster to learn from us by simply observing from afar. He would likely be confused by our daily lives. With such advancements as computers, cars, cameras, TVs, and cellphones, it is likely that the only thing the monster would learn is that these technologies are a central part of our lives. To discover the meaningful information he learned in the past, I believe the monster would have to do more than just observe humans from afar.Shelley, Marry. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publication, Inc. 2009.
When reading Shelley’s Frankenstein, it takes a certain effort to disassociate the numerous film adaptations, spin offs, and parodies that have made Frankenstein into a pop culture phenomena. Perhaps the most significant and lasting image of Frankenstein has little to do with Victor Frankenstein, or much of the plot itself—instead, all attention seems to be focused on the creation. The way the majority of people picture the creation is perhaps best shown in Mel Brook’s movie Young Frankenstein. In this movie, the creation is shown as a large, lumbering man, who possesses a certain vacant expression in his eyes. It also becomes evident that the creation can barely form a coherent string a words, instead preferring low guttural grunts as his chosen form of communication. His inability to produce language is displayed not only in this movie, but in most film adaptations of Shelley’s work. In Frankenstein’s most recent adaptation, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), the creature is portrayed by Robert Di Nero. Mr. Di Nero claimed to have studied the way in which stroke patients speak in order to best imitate the way in which he thought the creature should sound. Thus, when coming across the passage in which Frankenstein and Victor meet at last after the death of Victor’s youngest brother, I was very surprised when Victor and his creation began to have an intellectual conversation. Not only does the creation speak in fully formed sentences, but he is as articulate and has as colorful a vocabulary as the well-educated and highly intelligent Victor. Although the creation remarks that at first he could not read or speak, it is apparent that he no longer has any difficulties when it comes with communicating with others. Victor makes does not say whether the creature does in fact have any speech impediments, thereby construing that the creature has attained both literacy and language at an incredible rate, and with a certain eloquence. My questions pertain to the discrepancies between the creation of the novel and the interpretations of the creation in film and in popular culture. Why is it that nearly all film adaptations of Frankenstein the creature has little to no ability to speak, and apparently lacks all intelligence, while in Shelley’s original work, the creation is in fact, extremely well spoken and highly astute? Why is it that nearly every screenwriter or director has taken time to change this aspect of creation? Is it in recognition that Shelley has erroneously portrayed the creature to be something that contradicts himself; both a lumbering monster that strangles its victims, and an intellectual philosopher who desires nothing more than to be accepted by his creator? Or perhaps, are those who make these changes to his character all missing something vital about his nature and his role in the story?Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mumbai: Wilco Publishing House, 2002. Print.
Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. (131)Mary Shelley through the inner monologue of the monster presents to the duality of human nature. If we are to think that the monster at this time was essentially a developing child, how does Frankenstein not understand this in his own pursuit for knowledge? Throughout the beginning of his education we understand that Frankenstein received different views on the various philosophers/scientists he had studied in his youth. But not once does he seem to have a single class on ethics before his pursuit to create life and conquer death. The thought of whether or not it would be wrong to bring something to life that was made of the pieces of the recently dead never came into his mind. Is Shelley making a comment the lack of a spiritual center to science and how this could lead to damnation of us all? Or is she speaking on a broader sense that all humanity is doomed to destruction? Given that we haven't finished the text, if we assume that the creature riding the sled at the beginning of the novel is the monster, is there any redemption Victor/the monster/humanity?Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mumbai: Wilco Publishing House, 2002. Print.