Scientific Knowledge- When is it too much?

In this blog post, I would like to ask your opinions on scientific knowledge and what your views are on this complicated subject. Firstly, Roger Shattuck, the author of the article “Forbidden Knowledge” addresses the issues of atomic bombing and genetic research on DNA. The atomic bomb was constructed because of the fear of an “unprecedented attack on civilization” (173). In order to make an atomic bomb, scientists had to go explore further into science and technology to understand how to make something so difficult. By under coving this knowledge on how to make something so dangerous brings out both pros and cons. Some pros are advancements in technologies and safety mechanisms for warfare. However, the most important negative effects for exploring this scientific knowledge is the fact that finding out the knowledge to make these dangerous weapons allow other people to make them as well. It also raises the question of what is moral when fighting in warfare? Do you think atomic bombs are appropriate weapons in war? Are the health risks associated with them worth it?

Another complicated topic that Roger Shattuck discusses is genetic research on DNA. Scientists now have been able to crack the code of life by learning how to analyze DNA to test for genetic disorders. A few examples used to do this are to test individuals for one carry of a gene for a disease that requires two copies of a gene. Scientist also uses genetic research on DNA to test prenatal diagnostics. Shattuck states that, “as increasing numbers of fetuses are diagnosed with serious disorders, abortion has become a widely practiced therapeutic procedure” (177). Is this necessary right? Is it fair and right for expecting parents to test for diseases before the newborn is born? Is it right to get an abortion in order for the child to not suffer knowing it will when it is born into the world? This scientific discovery is extremely sacred because it influences the lives of other people. Also, being able to test for genes for certain diseases that require both genes from the parent can help two people decide to not conceive and have children if their baby will have the disease. Is this right? Is it our responsibility to mess around with creating life? Should we have science influence who should be born and who shouldn’t?

These two topics are current controversies in the world that connect to a lot of the texts we have read in class. We have discussed consequences of knowing too much but more specifically what are the limits of scientific knowledge? In the world we live in today we strive to keep learning and growing and gaining more knowledge but at what point do our morals take over? Should we be making atomic bombs that protect us but also put ourselves in danger and should we be playing God and messing with human lives? One major point that Roger Shattuck argues in his article is that science is basically just the “habit of simple truth to experience [which] has been the mover of civilization” (224). Is this the right way to look at it? Is science just simply the truth that is there for us to explore? Science is there no matter what which is why it is so tempting to keep researching it because essentially as a scientist “you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest power possible to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values”.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Looks Can be Deceiving

Ever since the time we are little we are told that first impressions are everything and it’s crucial to make a good impression on the people we are meeting.  Likewise, we often times judge people – even if it’s inadvertently – on our first impression of them and in the process form conclusions and opinions about them regardless of whether they are factual or not.  However often times there is more to a person than meets the eye.  In the case of Dr. Jekyll what we see on the surface reveals very little about what’s inside.

When Mr. Utterson first describes his impression of Dr. Jekyll he states “He is not easy to describe.  There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable.  I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why.” (Pg. 53).  So often we judge people on their appearance, or are quick to get a bad feeling about someone.  But many times there are people that we dislike, or form opinions about subconsciously yet we never really know why.  For Dr. Jekyll while the Mr. Hyde that he becomes draws immediate images of a monstrous murderer, there is more to Mr. Hyde then meets the eye.  Mr. Hyde for Dr. Jekyll represents freedom.  He represents freedom from the constraints of Victorian society, freedom from anything holding him back from the lifestyle he wants to live, and most importantly it represents freedom from the parts of himself we wants to forget about.

Ultimately looks can be deceiving, what we think of others and the impression we have others only often tells half the story.  Many times people hide their real selves from others because they fear the reactions and judgment that will be passed upon them.  In the end whether we choose to look past our first impressions and find out the full story or we choose to let our own uniformed opinions define what we think of others, we can never ignore the question who are we?  Are we the people others think we are or we the person that we see ourselves as?

Human Nature in Jekyll and Hyde

In the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the duality of human nature is one of the major themes. The question if people are born good or evil isn’t answered in the text but we are able to see how it could go both ways, and the views of the author on this subject. Stevenson is able to show his readers that humans aren’t born inherently bad or good, but somewhere in the middle. By separating the good, Dr. Jekyll, and the bad, Mr. Hyde, we are able to see that humans have both and one without the other can sometimes be overpowering.

Throughout the novel it is hard to imagine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde being the same person because of their differences. It is apparent that Mr. Hyde is full evil, but what isn’t as noticeable is that, Dr. Jekyll, who is suppose to be completely good, has these desires which can’t be fulfilled on his own. He knows that everything he feels isn’t right but inherently there is a desire to learn more, and to be curious about these things he’s been told not to do his whole life. This led to the creation of Mr. Hyde and the release of all things evil inside Dr. Jekyll.

This novel is able to explain why good people do bad things. Even the best people want to know how far they can push their boundaries and what they can get away with. The creation of Mr. Hyde was Jekyll’s way of doing this and releasing his inner demons. There is no such thing as an all-good human; Jekyll says at one point  “man is not truly one, but truly two.” Meaning that he is fully aware that there are two personalities inside of people, and he learns very quickly after successfully completing his experiment that you need the one to balance out the other.

In Dr. Jekyll’s case there is too much good, he feels responsible for all his actions and he knows exactly what is right and what is wrong. He always does the socially acceptable thing and never strays away from that. With Mr. Hyde it is the opposite, he is filled with bad and does everything wrong. He feels great joy when doing the wrong thing. Eventually the bad starts to take over and this is when Jekyll realizes how wrong his experiment was.  He becomes aware that good and bad balance each other out. Being too good isn’t always the best option, without a little bad life gets boring, which is why he wanted to create an alter ego. The same goes for being all bad, there has to be good to balance it out.

Frankenstein

With dull yellow eyes, pearly white teeth, black lips, and a shriveled complexion, the fiend in Frankenstein was a horror to the human eye. Not only did he cause fear in those who faced him, but also in his creator, Victor Frankenstein. As the novel develops, we learn, as well as Frankenstein, that playing the role of God is not a human responsibility. However, because of his eagerness and dream to infuse life into a dead body, Frankenstein works 2 years to accomplish this goal. Then, when the lifeless thing arose from its inanimate state, Frankenstein feels terror. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (pg. 51).

frankenstein

The novel continues to develop, and we then read from the monsters point of view as he explains the troubles of being a wretched creature, who strikes fear in those he comes in contact with. In this, we see how he goes from quietly observing humans, hiding in the shadows, to murdering Frankenstein’s love, friend, and brother.

As we see the transition of the wretch, he gets angrier as the text progresses. He demands that Frankenstein create another monster to be his companion because he is living a terrible, and lonely life. To strengthen his desire, he tells Frankenstein: “If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall eve see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment” (pg. 130). However, Frankenstein does not create a companion for the monster and in anger, the monster then kills Elizabeth and Clerval. So, my questions to the class: Did the monster deserve a companion to roam the earth with? Does he not deserve the chance to be happy too, like humans? Was his promise to leave man alone worth creating another monster?

Themes in Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a Romantic novel about a young scientist with radical ideas and ambitions. He is intrigued with life, specifically the creation of life. He spends years of his life researching and studying, he even spent extended periods of time in tombs observing bodies decay. This novel contains many important themes. Two of which I would like to highlight in this blog post.

The first is that man should not play God. Victor Frankenstein embarks on a quest to create life, which ends in tragedy. Frankenstein’s creature, in visioned to be a beautiful being with larger features then humans turned out to be a grotesque monster. Once it came to life, Victor Frankenstein himself could not even bear the sight of it, his own creation.

His monster fled the the house and never returned. Frankenstein’s monster tries to fit into society with desire of acceptance but receives only hate and fear from the humans, because of this it swears revenge on humans and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. This is where this first theme, that man shouldn’t play God becomes apparent. Wandering through the wood in Geneva the creature stumbles across a young boy. The boy reveals that he is from the Frankenstein family and the creature strangles him to death. The creature doesn’t stop here though, his next victim is Victor’s dear friend Henry Clerval, whose death is a result of Victor not complying to the creature’s request for a companion. The final straw is when the monster kills Elizabeth on Victor’s and her wedding night. After all of these killings Victor devotes his life to destroying his creation, which eventually leads to his own demise. Shelley wants to use Victor as an example of how men can’t play the role of God. The creation of life is beyond man’s control and through the savage killings the monster does, Shelley portrays what happens when man tampers with Gods role of creation.

The second theme that I would like to point out in this story is the healing role of nature. When Victor spent years creating the monster he fell very ill. It wasn’t until he left his house and received fresh air with his friend Henry that he began to feel renewed and healthy once again. Throughout the story Victor seeks sanctuary from illness in nature.

Dr. Faustus: Movement into the Renaissance

Deal with the Devil
Deal with the Devil

Dr. Faustus was written in the Renaissance and therefore represents how to be a good Christian. As a character, Dr. Faustus is not a good Christian. But he teaches readers of the time what they shouldn’t do. Faustus is showing the way not to die; if you live life as a good Christian and avoid the devil and temptation then you will go to heaven.

 

On page 14 we can see a shift away from the divine, and the definition of something more temporal. Faustus says “Had I as many souls as there be stars, /I’d give them all for Mephistophilis. /By him I’ll be great Emperor of the world, /And make a bridge through the moving air, /To pass the ocean with a band of men; /I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore, /And make that [country] continent to spain, /and both contributory to my crown. /The Emperor of shall not live but by my leave, /Nor any potentate of Germany. /Now that I have obtain’d what I desire, /I’ll live in speculation of this art /Till Mephistophilis return again” (p.14, scene 3). In this speech and throughout scene 3, Faustus defines hierarchy as the chain of being. He challenges mans place in the divine hierarchy as he is trying to let his own individual desires control his outcome. He believes that by making a deal with the devil, he can outsmart the devil and prove that there is no heaven or hell.

 

The moral of Dr. Faustus is to be a good Christian. Christopher Marlowe wrote in a time when Christianity and Plato’s idea of the great chain of being were being accepted and shifted towards justifying knowledge with religion and the church. This idea of the great chain of being means that people were born as natural slaves and could become saints if they are good Christians. This shift toward the renaissance and away from medieval synthesis is how Marlowe portrayed the character of Dr. Faustus and the way he wanted to gain more knowledge not given by the church and religion, as the heat of the renaissance was a time when people started to rely on their senses.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overly Ambitious Fool?

Scholarly Origins

Faustus is a scholar who debates between following good and evil but ultimately is won over by greed. Both a good angel and a bad angel influence him. They give him the same amount of advice. However, in heaven Faustus finds nothing of interests. In hell he finds riches and most of all knowledge. I believe that it is Faustus’s thirst for knowledge that truly drives him to seek out the dark arts.

Faustus’s Thirst for Knowledge

Faustus has been brought up as a scholar. He has excelled in his studies and has earned the name of Doctor. Faustus is skilled in many languages and is competent in many subjects such as physics and mathematics. However, he is dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge available to him.  I think that Faustus definitely equates knowledge with power. He wants to become a more powerful man and therefore thirsts for the next thing to boost his worth. The good angel implies that Faustus was once involved in theology. However, even then he scorns divinity and turns to magic to solve his problems. He wants riches, but even more he wants to be able to control spirits.

Link to Genesis

When Faustus is turned towards the dark arts, he appears to be mirroring the events inGenesis that led Adam to taste of the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mephistopheles and the serpent appear to be the same force of temptation. They are both sneaky and cleaver and have the ability to influence others. While both Adam and Faustus learn great knowledge after turning their backs to god, they regret it in the end. Also, they are both punished severely. All of these links between Genesis and Dr. Faustus appear to have been made intentionally by Marlowe.

Faustus’s Tragic Flaw

Faustus shares many qualities with the heroes of Greek tragic. First off, he is grand. He sells his soul to Lucifer which an act that rivals Oedipus gouging his eyes or Heracles killing his family. Also, he has a tragic flaw, which is his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Like Prometheus, he doesn’t think ahead to way the consequences of his actions with the immediate benefit of the act. For example, he sells his soul to Lucifer in order to gain immediate power for twenty-four years and yet he once the term is over he will regret making this grim deal.

Evil’s Appeal

Faustus believes that he has nothing to gain from attempting to gain entry into heaven. Although he listens to both the angel of good and the angel of evil he is more persuaded by the evil angel. This is because the evil angel tells him what he wants to hear. He lures him in with stories of knowledge and power. Faustus is not made of strong moral fiber. Others easily persuade him.  Also, Lucifer acts almost comical when he comes to visit Faustus. He puts on a show and definitely appears as an entertainer. His theatrical personality also serves to lure in Faustus.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overambitious Fool

Especially in an academic setting, it is difficult to blame Faustus when his only crime is to want to have more knowledge. He has basically read all the books and is eager to
transcend the boundary of current human knowledge. Understandably, some may view him as a hero for pursuing his passion despite the cost. However, I believe that in the end Faustus is an extremely flawed character. He is unable to feel content with what he has. He has a high position in society, and because of his doctorate he should also be well of financially. Perhaps Faustus serves as a metaphor for something that is overambitious to the point of being greedy and gluttonous.  Depending, on your personal perspective, you may choose to see him as a hero or a fool or something else entirely.

How would you describe Faustus?

Othello: Venetian Hero?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term hero is another way of saying submarine sandwich, but more importantly for this blog post, a hero is “a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities… the chief male character in a book, play or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.” While Othello may not end in the happiest of ways, upon evaluating his life’s work (as Othello does himself in act 5.2), it can be said that Othello was a virtuous man of strong moral conviction, and while it led to his demise, many who were surrounded by Othello over the course of the play admired him.

Othelloiagomovie

Othello states that he had “done the state some service (5.2 line 338),” as we must assume due to his position as a general of the Venetian army from the onset of the play. From Iago’s complaints at the beginning of the play, we can figure that politics are behind all choices regarding the military. Despite the fact that “three great ones in personal suit” tried to convince Othello to pick Iago to become the next first lieutenant, Othello chooses otherwise, much to Iago’s dismay: “But [Othello]—As loving his own pride and purposes—evades [my advocates] with a bombast circumstance, horrible stuffed with epithets of war, and in conclusion non-suits my mediators (1.1 line 7).” All of this, including the fact that the person who beats Iago out for the job has “never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster [meaning: an old woman without children who has never married].” Looking past the anger of Iago’s words, readers can observe that he still makes valid points that attest to the fact that decisions of this nature have more to do with personal connections rather than the level of an individual’s experience. It is then all the more admirable that Othello manages to reach such a high post in the Venetian military in the face of all of the racism he deals with. Seeing how blatantly disrespectful the Venetian people are towards him long after he has achieved this high post, one can only imagine the racism he dealt with before his many promotions. So let’s check a few things from our hero qualifications list: Othello is a man who was almost certainly admired or idealized for his courage and/or outstanding achievements in war, and his noble qualities may be what got him to the position of general in the first place.

But why should we, the readers, be sympathizing with him? Because, similar to another one of our favorite heroes, he unknowingly commits crime and fulfills the low predictions people hold for his existence. It was said outright to Oedipus in Oedipus the King that he would kill his father and marry his mother, compared to the discreet jabs taken by characters at Othello throughout the play: “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe if he can carry’t thus?(1.1, line 66)” And how could we forget about Brabantio’s refusal to believe that Othello managed to court his daughter Desdemona in a sober state of mind? He would rather attribute Othello’s marriage to Desdemona to her being bound “in chains of magic (1.2, line 63).” Getting back to the point, though, after Othello does lose the composure that we come to know him by, he kills Desdemona after being falsely led to believe that she has cheated on him. Not too long after killing her on their marriage bed, Othello discovers that Iago lied to him the entire time. No longer justified by revenge for Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello finds himself guilty of murder. And so Oedipus and Othello’s paths converge, in their harsh self-imposed punishments: Oedipus gouges out his own eyes, and Othello stabs himself fatally. Many in our preceptorial class have sympathized with Oedipus, due to the fact that his crimes were committed unknowingly. It is not so cut and dry in Othello, because he still did kill a woman, regardless of whether or not Desdemona cheated on him. A definition for hero that we pondered with in class was that a hero was somebody capable of showing unique traits or powers. Having the poise to kill oneself on one’s own accord and choice (unlike Oedipus who essentially had no choice) is a trait that not many possess.

Going back to our Oxford definition (the non food related one)… it states that readers are expected to sympathize with the hero in question, but we certainly don’t have to. Regardless, Othello’s legend lives on for what is believed to be over 400 years later. The fact that we as readers can still evaluate and discuss Othello’s life all of these years later is proof enough that he belongs in the same discussion as Oedipus, Prometheus and countless other literary heroes.

What are your thoughts? Is Othello a hero in your mind?

 

Othello the Moor: the “race” for “sex”

Prepare for run-on sentences guys.

Staying true to Shakespearean writing, I find Othello being of no exception, to be extremely allegorical. Even throughout the first 3 Acts there are hints towards issues and underlying themes of racism, sexism, and social class. Initially we learn that Iago is upset (to put it lightly) at Othello. Regardless of suspicion that Othello may or may not have slept with Emilia, his anger is fueled by the fact that Othello has given Michael Cassio the promotion that he felt he deserved. hmmmm? We notice Cassio being described as a Florentine, a foreigner, a mathematician, but of course no soldier like Iago. (anything yet?) Might this have been a contributing factor to why he was given the job over Iago? Not convinced yet..? fair enough! Upon Desdemona and Emilia’s arrival to Cyprus, Cassio greets them warmly with kisses and tells Iago that “tis my breeding that gives this bold show of courtesy”. The idea that it it’s his upbringing, his CLASS that propels him to act in this uppity way. I feel as though these differences are those which distinguish a Florentine smooth-talker like Cassio from a more soldierly Iago, therefore placing Cassio a step above Iago on the social ladder. Of course both men are considered “the elite” or the uperclass in this case but I feel as though this is definitely intentional. Another, more subtle example occurs when Iago goes on his rant about women, in essence, being good for nothing. (sexist right?) I find it quite interesting that although Emilia does not respond, Desdemona does. We know that Desdemona comes from a wealthy family, and so might be considered of higher class than both Iago and Emilia. Therefore not only would she not at all feel obligated to submissively listen to Iago’s opinion, but is also confident enough to retort and engage in conversation even though her husband is absent. Perhaps this exchange would not at all be possible is Desdemona were not of a certain status, keeping in mind she is the Boss’s wife of course. (its levels to this….)

Moving  on past Iago’s Chauvinism and Cassio’s possible class related promotion, there is the more obvious race thing. Race is real, just as it is today, it was than. We are confronted with these initial slight ( sometimes not so slight) instances of racism in both the diction used as well the ideology present within a couple characters. Apart from the examples we mentioned in class like Othello being refereed to as the Black ram tuppling Brabantio’s white ewe, did anyone notice that Othello is not even referred to by name until they get to the duke.(a man fair and who respects Othello). Here is this successful war hero, seems to be pretty well known and even financially well-off, yet those that mention him can’t even muster up enough respect to say his name. I feel as though this is a much more ideological racism being that it is not so much as stated as it is an assumed norm. Also when Brabantio learns that his beloved Desdemona has run off with a black man, he immediately assumes foul play, that which craft or some other mind-altering tool must have been used because no way his white pure, wholesome, christian daughter would fall for the black, moor.

Proposed in class what was the question of whether or not the antisemitic nature of this Shakespearean work affirms the beliefs and ideals of Shakespeare or do they acquit him of this rather sickening way of thinking. Although, I do believe that we must read Othello in totality and I personally must read more Shakespearean literature to accurately answer this question….. for the sake of a good time… I’ll give it a shot. (hopefully you guys follow up)                                                                                      Regardless of weather or not Shakespeare himself agrees with the ideals of his characters, the fact that he implemented these themes in his art shows that he is most definitely aware of these issues and therefore has an opinion. Perhaps in ‘publicizing” the nature of racism and sexism in a bit of discreet way, Shakespeare is speaking out against it. Regardless of, by no means would I deem this to “acquit”  him.