I watched the latest Fantastic Four film a few weeks ago. Now this post isn’t going to be a deconstruction of the film or a look at the merits and failings of what was put on the screen. Instead it’s a look at something which was held up at the very start of the film. The delight of scientific discovery.
Science is very often portrayed as the pervue of terrifyingly intelligent people who just deal with numbers, cells or chemicals all day. Studious sorts that are regularly shown to be socially awkward and so often, not very attractive. But science isn’t just those things.
If you listen to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson speak about their specialist subject you can begin to get an idea about the kind of wonder and splendour which reside within the realms of science. The understanding of the truths at the very edges of human knowledge can be some of the most amazing journeys we can take and wanting to push those boundaries whispers to just about everyone.
If you look at where so many of the classic comic book characters begin, they come from science or unforeseen circumstances in the pursuit of the scientific truth. The Incredible Hulk and gamma rays, Spiderman and the dodgy bite, Fantastic Four and their various cosmic rays all ended up with amazing powers at the hands of science. All these people were trying to expand the knowledge of the human race, trying to see if they could step beyond the beaten path and its possible to say that they were ‘gifted’ the amazing powers almost as a reward for that enthusiasm.
Scientists are trying to crack puzzles. The understanding of something which could expand the standard of life in some way and improve everything for everyone is a noble goal in itself but for so many, the desire to just look beyond how something works, to understand it and gain knowledge of it is almost like a drug. To reach further than everyone else and unlock a new truth drives some like the classic, “Why climb the mountain? Because it’s there?”
But should we always strive to see behind the curtain and get a glimpse of what the wizard actually looks like?
The counterpoint to the almost childlike exuberance of discovery comes when you consider the wider implications of what said discovery could be. Another film quote seems to sum it up well for me. Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park points out that, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” in reference to the relative over reach of the scientists.
Just discovering for the sake of it doesn’t add anything but could, in extremes, cause unforeseen problems. Does that discovery seem as worthwhile if there is enormous collateral damage?
We also see far too regularly in fiction, and no doubt in the real world as well, how a previously benign discovery can be twisted by governments or corporations looking to exploit any kind of new technology. The Xenomorph in the Alien franchise was originally wanted for weapons research and Arrakis is fought over for political power associated with the properties of the spice melange. Add to the mix a healthy dose of paranoia at what horrors are being unleashed by the mad scientist, Frankenstein being a good example, and you end up in a pretty bad place.
All scientific breakthroughs will come with risks attached, even if we can’t identify each and every one of them as we’re discovering but that simple curiosity burns like a flame in our species meaning that there will always be a group of people reaching further than before. Man walked on the moon with technology endowed with less computing power than most modern smart phones and we’ve always wanted to push against what we perceive as being our boundaries. I love that aspect of the human spirit. We want to do more, to go faster, further or longer and that enthusiasm has spread into the realms of science. The problem I think, comes from the fact that where there are people trying to advance the human race, there will always be those who are trying to profit from it, those trying to own it and those who are afraid of what’s going on.
Spread the knowledge as we keep looking for answers, it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward as a species.