There are several not-very-subtle unifying threads that can be seen in all these stories. One thread is human curiosity. It is characteristic of the human spirit, I think, to the very essence, the root of our being, to be explorers, discoverers, inventors. Human beings have a natural desire, stated so eloquently in the Star Trek series "To boldly go where no one has gone before."
Second, scientific discovery is a profound and sacred enterprise. As Arthur C. Clarke wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Every new scientific advance is a transition from the unknown to the known, from the sacrosanct to the wondrous, and, finally, to the commonplace.
A third thread is that human beings are rebellious. Forbidden fruit is so delicious. We will defy our very God or Gods to discover something new.
Another thread is hubris. We have the excessive pride and self-confidence to believe that we can contain, to control, the knowledge we uncover. But, we being mere mortals, sometimes have a narrow understanding of the consequences of our discoveries. In the wakes of discoveries there are innumerable unknowns. Although it can illuminate, Science is also dangerous. The consequences of discovering the keys that unlock the mysteries of the Universe are hard to predict. Fire can bring light, but it also burns.
And, my last thread, with knowledge comes responsibility. What is done, cannot be undone. As in the old saw, you cannot stuff the genie back into the bottle. In all four of my examples above, whether myth, fiction or real, the principals felt acutely responsible for what they had done.
But, there is now a different ethos spreading through humanity. People are rejecting the gods and mythologies of the past. More and more the gods are seen as a product of the human imagination, rather than the other way around. We are alone. We must take full responsibility for our fate, and the consequences of our actions. I would not wish to dismiss the benefits of scientific advance. Who wishes to live without medicine, or agriculture or transportation? Still, humanity is faced with substantial challenges; overpopulation, global climate change, nuclear proliferation. and now we don't have a Sky Daddy to rescue us. William Faulkner said as part of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?"
But, there is hope in all four of the stories I cite above. Prometheus was finally unchained from the rock by Hercules; Adam and Eve went on to "be fruitful and multiply;" We have listened to Mary Shelley's cautionary tale which has spread widely, and morphed into many similar legends; and we are trying, at least, to harness the atom for peaceful purposes. Even Faulkner, maybe especially Faulkner, refused to surrender to fate. Later in his speech he stated, "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. "
So, this blogger asks not the question "When will I be blown up" but I ask: Will you blow it up? Will we?
| || |