One of the reasons I love science fiction is that it gets me thinking about all sorts of interesting ideas and concepts. I’ve written about why I love science fiction before. And today I’d like to take a dive into one of the most classic sci-fi concepts, and that’s the idea of messing with nature.
Recently I rewatched the movie World War Z, which is also about nature gone wrong. And there are plenty of other examples in sci-fi literature and movies.
One reason I think that premise is so popular is because it satisfies our innate curiosity. And not only is it good for storytelling, with its built-in conflict, but it also acts as a kind of morality tale for us: messing with nature is a bad idea. Humans being the forgetful bunch that we are, we need that reminder on a fairly consistent basis.
We humans are a curious bunch. We love to learn new things, conduct experiments, and generally find out what would happen if (fill in the blank). I think this curiosity is partly true curiosity and partly a desire to know the future and control things (more on that in next week’s blog post).
It’s also important to us to push the boundaries of knowledge and constantly seek out the edge of reality. Messing with nature is a great way to do that.
In Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Jekyll’s goal was to separate his good and evil sides, which he succeeded in doing. In Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein wanted to prove that reanimation was possible, and in Brave New World, the entire population consists of test tube babies preprogrammed for a particular social class, intelligence level, and destiny, the goal being complete social peace and order.
What do all these stories have in common?
They each somehow show that by trying to play God we only end up perverting ourselves. Messing with nature, whether it’s internal to us or external, will corrupt us in the end.
Dr. Frankenstein totally loses himself to his creation, spending the rest of his life running from it. But also, while he was working on his creation, he lost track of literally everything else, holed up in his lab, working on it day and night. Dr. Jekyll loses his life as well. And the citizens of Brave New World, happy though they may be, are basically mindless zombies.
Another foundation for the desire to experiment/mess with/control nature is the inability to accept certain truths, for example death, the existence of both good and evil in each of us, or that humans just suck sometimes.
But that’s also why I love science fiction, because it has the wonderful ability to show us to ourselves, and maybe some of that work can help us accepts ourselves as well.