Wednesday’s Words of Worry

Wednesday, 20 February, 2008

I’ve decided that every Wednesday (a day decided upon to help the alliteration in the title), I will find a notable quote. This quote may not necessarily be intended to be relevant to human enhancement, but usually there will be a way to read that into it without much effort. To start, I’ve gone far back to … 1818 (admittedly, I could have gone back to the Bible or something, but this will do for now).

“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.” – Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein (1818 edition) by Mary Shelley

Much of Frankenstein is based around scientific hubris – the idea that there are things man should never know or do. Indeed, so much of the current debate on human enhancement carries the same message. It is a deep and human desire to want to go back and just be ignorant. As the saying goes – ignorance is bliss. However, I find it hard to believe that Mary Shelley intended Victor Frankenstein to have this view on all things, as throughout much of the story Victor expresses wonder at the nature world. Rather, I suspect that Mary Shelley intends us to believe that Victor Frankenstein has found respect for those secrets within the ‘citadel of nature’ (as the young Frankenstein puts it in Chapter 2 of the 3rd edition). Indeed, many of those sceptical about human enhancement ideas express that these are within such limits. It is for that reason that these words are, to me, words of worry.


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