Publication date: 27/10/2016


Mary Shelley’s 200-year-old fable explores the tension between scientific creativity and social responsibility.

It is a nuanced exploration of scientific ethics and the dynamic between scientific creativity and social responsibility. The novel isn’t a straightforward warning to stop innovating; it is a cautionary tale. The dangers aren’t so much about what we do, but how we go about doing it.

Shelley’s narrative urges us to be good caretakers of the new things we bring into the world, whether they’re ideas or works of art or gadgets or synthetic beings. The novel cautions us that human creativity begets things of great power, and dramatizes what happens when a creator significantly shirks his responsibility.

We’re still grappling with these same issues of creativity and responsibility—even if our scientific knowledge and technological sophistication are far more advanced today than in Shelley’s early 19th century. In an age of obviously Frankensteinian breakthroughs in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and social robotics, we’ve already answered the simpler question—we’re being hubristic, in some sense, playing with the forces of life and death. What remains is the deeper lesson at the heart of Frankenstein: That the thrill of discovery is just the beginning of a creator’s work.

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