Tag Archives: Science

Controversy between Science and Religion

Is it possible for a person to be both religious and accept science at the same time?  The debate between science and religion has occurred for centuries.  Ever since the Classical antiquity, these two different views of acquiring knowledge have been a hot topic with many different views and opinions.  Science generally acquires knowledge by using reason, empiricism, and evidence, whereas religion relies on revelation, faith, and belief in the unseen.  In The Eye of Allah, the Abbot’s faith is tested when he discovers pathogens under a microscope.  He finds himself in a situation where science interrupts his life and causes him to pick whether he wants to keep his faith or turn to science and reason.

In early 1200s AD, religion dominated life.  Religion was the main answer to why things happened because technology had not evolved yet, but mainly because scientific reasoning was not conventional.  The conflict between church and science was created because scientific thoughts were sins and were not accepted in society.  The church often ruthlessly persecuted many scientists or people who spoke out against the church, causing narrow-mindedness.

Rudyard Kipling in The Eye of Allah introduces science in a time when society is not ready for it.  When the Abbot is faced with the challenge of keeping the microscope or destroying it, he says, “’it would seem’, he said, ‘the choice lies between two sins.  To deny the world a Light which is under our hand, or to enlighten the world before her time” (170).  It is true that the Abbot does not know what to do, but in the end he chooses to pick his religion over science.  The reason is unknown, but it can be assumed that he wanted to censor the world from this new technology or simply because he wanted to save his position in religion.  In the end, was he right to choose religion over science?  Was the Abbot really helping society?  And is it indeed possible to believe in both religion and science?

Transcendence of Fiction

PrintThe Electric Ant was far the most reality bending, mind-blowing acid trip of a story I have ever read. Reality is a very baffling aspect of life that can never be explained, and the nature of it’s complex facet can be seen through Philip K Dick’s short story The Electric Ant. After reading such tale, my mind was engulfed and flummoxed by the amount of ideas and theories The Electric Ant entertained with.

Electric Ant has its own rhythm, its own slow grind towards Dick’s proselytizing of reality as a sustained and consensual hallucination. In broad strokes, Garson Poole wakes after an horrendous accident. It’s the near future, and yet. The loss of a hand, something Garson has ostensibly suffered, is still a setback. A slow dread mounts as Garson prepares himself for living with the best prosthesis future-money can buy. And yet, the absence of pain, and the absence of phantom-limb complex allows for an entirely other kind of dread to steadily mount. Why is there no pain?

Garson Poole of course is the titular Electric Ant, parlance for an organic robot. Garson Poole is an object, property that is owned, that has been traded, positioned into an artificial life, and ultimately is replaceable. His steady relationship with his partner, his friendship with his corporation’s CFO; these are nothing more than controls implemented by Poole’s perennially unseen owners.

How scary is having to reconfigure your life after the loss of a limb? It really is nothing compared with the deletion of a history. It was 1969 and PKD crafted a tale of pure terror. Electric Ant was and remains an exhilarating ride into fear, where perpetually unseen forces dehumanize the human spirit.  Electric Ant is also the unfurling of the human spirit. Taking his existence into his own hands, Garson Poole begins to manipulate the paper reel that runs his punch-card code that controls his reality. Garson Poole, on the terms of his new existence, begins to edit the code that represents his reality. And he slips anonymously away from objecthood into personhood. Very literally, Garson Poole re-humanizes himself. There is an indomitable refrain that appears. Not just in Poole’s courage to manipulate reality, but in PKD also. It is 1969. And PKD’s idea of reality being locked into place as a perception of a wide spectrum of possibility, narrowed to one code that must constantly re-run is 15 years ahead of Kanerva’s famous algorithm of distributed memory. It can be obviously dictated that the impact of PKD’s work is immense. It is a wave, reaching backwards in time as far as it crests forward.

However, with all this said there is also another theory that has unraveled itself through research of PKD himself. The theory of how there is a parallel that can be observed through the story of The Electric Ant with hallucinatory drug experimentation. PKD acquired a reputation as a “psychedelic writer” during the late sixties because of his fiction. In a interview, he even stated that he had a big drug problem, however it was only from prescription amphetamine abuse. To paraphrase from his explanation of his experience from lsd, the landscape froze over. God was judging him as a sinner and it went on for a thousand years. He could only speak Latin and the only part that captivated him was that when he looked in the refrigerator he saw that it was full of stalactites and stalagmites. Convenient and interesting how such a simply experiment can relate to so much of the experience explained within Electric Ant. Although many people including myself may prefer the first theory of PKD being ages ahead of his time, it doesn’t dispute the second theory that maybe he just got lucky with all the drug experimentation. However, no matter what PKD still transcended time with his story writing and opened up a whole new landscape of fiction and theory.

The Psychology of Evil

Below is a video of a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, an experiment to which Paul referred in his comment on Jess’s recent post.

In this talk Zimbardo raises a number of questions about the nature of humans and their capacity for evil which intersect, in many ways, with a good number of the texts we read (and especially Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

The talk also raises interesting questions about the capacity of humans for evil (and good) which might prove pertinent as you think about the readings about Sade for Monday.

TED Talk: The Psychology of Evil

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”.

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.

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.

Oedipus the King and Self-Knowledge

In all of the texts we’ve discussed so far, we’ve seen that knowledge often comes at a price. This is certainly also the case with Oedipus in Oedipus the King. Oedipus’ struggle to plumb the depths of his own history reveals for him a terrible secret, though ironically, it’s a “secret” he knew all along. The play is a meditation on a type of knowledge that we haven’t seen much of yet—self-knowledge—and this raises a number of questions.

How much do we really know about ourselves? How much do we want to know? Can we, like Oedipus, often be blind to our own inadequacies? These problems take on a contemporary flair if we consider the ways in which science and technology have made it possible to know things about ourselves that we could never know before. Genetic testing, for instance, can now give us insights into our susceptibilities to certain diseases. How should we react once or if we know our likelihood of dying from a particular malady? Can we change our lives to lower our risks, or is such behavior, like Oedipus’ attempts to change his fate, ultimately futile? If you could find out whether something terrible awaited you in the future, would you want to know?

Part of what Oedipus shows us is that this sense of control that we feel over our lives and ourselves is illusory, and this is a scary message indeed. Despite having the best of intentions, Oedipus could not escape his destiny.  This lesson applies to us too: even if we solve all of the riddles and get to the bottom of all of all of our questions, this does not necessarily grant us the power to change what it is that we actually find. And, what’s more, once we have made the discovery, we must still decide how to react …and live with the consequences.

Jocasta gives the following advice to Oedipus as he barrels down the pathway of discovering his true identity: “[it is] best to live lightly as one can, unthinkingly” (978). While this is certainly one way to react—to tamp down our thirst for knowledge entirely—to live a blissful life of ignorance—Oedipus himself also provides a model for how to seek out knowledge: once he finds the truth, he faces it and bears its consequences with a sense of dignity and personal responsibility.  Oedipus suffers dreadfully, but perhaps some amount of suffering is the price we must pay for knowing ourselves.

 

On a lighter note, do please enjoy this re-enactment of the Oedipus story with vegetables as actors: http://vimeo.com/19152100

Does Knowledge Alienate us from God?

We discussed in class today some of the broader similarities in worldview that one can discern in Gilgamesh, Genesis, and in Hesiod’s account of Prometheus and Pandora. All three deal fundamentally with what it means to be human and what we can and should, therefore, know or not know. In all three, we see how gaining knowledge has certain trade-offs and often comes with stiff consequences…

Of all of the characters we have read about, Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Babylonian flood story, seems the most fortunate in the whole gaining-of-knowledge shtick. He manages, though somewhat haphazardly, to survive the flood and is therefore granted the gift of immortality. For him, knowledge does not lead to death (or some other bad outcome), though his experience also seems like a bit of a fluke. As we learn from Gilgamesh, who fails multiple times in his quest for immortality, it seems near impossible to bridge the gap between man and god, immortal and mortal.

The other two stories seem to imply that knowledge alienates us from the divine—or at least that knowledge creates a sort of antagonistic relationship between us (humans) and them (God/the gods). In these stories, knowledge inspires wrath or punishment; and in the story of Adam and Eve in particular, it leads to a break-down in the relationship between humanity and their creator. Whether or not we accept any of these stories as part of our religious faith today, we see this conflict play out in contemporary terms in the science vs. religion debate that is a regular part of the “culture wars.” Does the knowledge offered to us by scientific progress (think of scientific theories like the Big Bang or Evolution) end up separating us from God? Does the accumulation of scientific knowledge diminish our belief in the divine? If it does, what have we lost? What have we gained?

 

We didn’t talk a lot about Pandora today, but it’s not uncommon to see the metaphor of Pandora’s box applied to the human thirst for knowledge more generally. We, like Pandora (or Eve?), can’t control ourselves when it comes to hunting down new discoveries and exploring new ideas, but in the process of opening that box, we often don’t slow down enough to consider the value of what’s flown out once the box is opened–let alone what the consequences of opening the box are in the first place!  We will explore this theme more fully at a later point in the term, but for now, it is worth considering whether religion and faith are a casualty of scientific progress and whether this is good, bad, or somewhere in-between.