With the release of the new movie, Jurassic World this week, I decided to read the original book by Michael Crichton which he wrote in 1990. As I got into the story I realized the book’s real focus was not dinosaurs. Instead, it is a riveting critique of the idea that science has the final authority on truth.
Crichton, who died in 2008, was a prolific writer who wrote a series of books that expressed an ongoing theme, he believed scientists had become more concerned about profits than discoveries that furthered the health and welfare of humanity.
In Jurassic Park, Crichton’s voice is heard in the words of Ian Malcom, a maverick mathematical genius. He was hired as a consultant to advise John Hammond, the rich entrepreneur who wanted to advance the field of genetic engineering, no matter the cost. Rather than be burdened by government red tape, he bought an island where he was free to do what ever he wanted in the name of science. His goal was to create a controlled environment where he could show the world the amazing things that could be done, even bringing dinosaurs back to life.
Throughout the book Malcom utters a series of remarks that skews the notion that scientists can control their creations. Malcom (i.e. Crichton) makes the case that the idea the physical universe follows a predictable, observable pattern has been overturned by mathematical discoveries like chaos theory and fractals. He also believed you can’t control nature. Living things will do anything to survive. Here are two quotes that sums up the theme that runs through the book:
“You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it…Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make an ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe.” (p. 351, Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990).
“My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…it was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing…Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
(p. 369 Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990)
So if you happen to go to the theater this week to watch dinosaurs break free of their constraints and eat some humans, be well advised that Crichton’s ideas have far larger implications. For him the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are a metaphor for how science without ethics and boundaries has the potential to unleash environmental catastrophes that in the long run won’t bother the planet one iota. The real problem is not what we are doing to the planet. Its what we are doing to ourselves.
If you take your iKid (the generation born since 2000) to the movie, here are a couple of questions for reflection:
- Why did the scientists create the dinosaurs?
- What scientific advances do you think are creating a better future?
- Which ones do you think are dangerous?
- Do you think we should use genetics to create new creatures? (Like combining the DNA of a monkey and a jelly fish so the monkey glows in the dark)
- How do we decide which discoveries are good and which ones are bad?
Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age