The Dangers of Passion

At 1:00am on a November night, a man sat alone in an Ingolstadt apartment, consumed in passion, poring over the work before him. Two years of work were finally completed, and the experiment was a success! Surely this must have been a great victory for the student of science. It was not so: “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body,” he recounts, “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (p. 43). How could anyone create something that could have such an effect on its very creator? It is actually a fairly simple process. In the moments that joy of completion abate, so do passions and dreams of creation, and one is left to face only the results.

Is the problem then passion, itself? No, the problem is passion that overcomes reason. This student learned this, and in his latter years, he would pass it onto his only pupil. “A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule.” (p. 41).

Victor Frankenstein lived his whole life with a passionate obsession for this project tucked in the back of his mind, and he did so for the very same reason that it was allowed to come to fruition: because his entire education lacked oversight. Reflecting upon his life, he can identify this point for himself. As a young boy of thirteen, he came across a volume by the Alchemist Cornelius Agrippa which his father dismissed with the phrase “Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.” This was not adequate to quash the boy's interest, however, and he continued studying this work and thereafter, those of the man's colleagues. It was from them that he gained his insatiable interest in creating life, though he gained the means only later. In reflection, he sees that with a little more direction he could have avoided all the suffering that was to come. “If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded and that a modern system of science had been introduced which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical, under such circumstances I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin.” (pp. 24-25)

His later studies too were performed without direction or guidance. Though he learned from a few select professors, they never inquired into his work and he was left to complete it alone. Had any of them heard of his purposes they might perhaps have talked him out of such pursuits. Perhaps had they seen his creation in progress they, not blinded, by the creator's passion, would have seen the deformity in the creation and advised the creator. Maybe, he could have corrected this error and continued his work. He could have made a man and been in awe rather than horror of his creation, treated him nicely, and everyone lived happily ever after. By unfortunate circumstance, was not the case, and he continued his work, unabated, to its end and suffered for it ever after.

Luckily for our world, the constraints of the modern university grant system would prevent such experiments from taking place in such conditions. Further, better directed, more comprehensive education should keep such keep Frankenstein's early conditions from being replicated. This, however, is not enough to prevent all horrible things from being created. Though the university setting is now well regulated, there are still some institutions and groups “above” regulation, specifically those engaged by governments in creation of the implements of war. A modern observer scarcely has to scratch the surface of scientific history to discover an invention that brought forth reactions similar to those of poor Frankenstein in its creators.

At 5:30am on a July morning, a dedicated group of scientists sat in a tower in the New Mexico desert, consumed in excitement, looking out at the work before them. Five years of work were finally completed and the experiment was a success! Surely this must have been a great victory for these men of science. Though this was the initial reaction of some, as the first excitement of success faded, the reality set in. One present intoned: “Now we're all sons of bitches.” Scarcely a month later, the experiment was repeated, albeit on an island in the pacific with a couple hundred thousand more present. Though most were thereafter unavailable for comment, one with a particularly good vantage point put his reaction rather eloquently: “My God,” he wrote in his mission log, “what have we done?”

Unlike Frankenstein's creation, however, neither this creation nor the knowledge of its creation has died. Nuclear force is something that still roams the world today and seems increasingly to become a threat to its very creators. Like Frankenstein's creation, it threatens to kill us and those dear to us, and it will disappear only when it has completed its mission or in the unlikely event that we learn to look past our differences and accept one another.

Though, admittedly, the circumstances of the two creations were very different, they both demonstrate the responsibility one assumes in creation. They demonstrate that creation in fervor of intellectual pursuit, even in service to one's country, can override one's higher sensibilities. They both demonstrate that one's actions can have unintended consequences and that, therefore, ambitious projects should always be fully considered, preferably by many. They demonstrate that education in “how” to do something should always include education in “why” and “what next” as well. Though Frankenstein and his monster are both dead, we and our monsters are still alive and growing. If they could talk, what would they say in the end, when their office is fully fulfilled, their creators destroyed? Might they echo Frankenstein's creation in a cry not of satisfaction, but remorse; would one of our creations declare also that “it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing...You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself.”? (p. 209). Like Frankenstein, we won't be there to know.