A Plea to STEM
January 31, 2017 § 5 Comments
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t hear about the push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). In this age of technological advancement, it’s no surprise that it has become an integral part of our society.
While the support for STEM is undoubtedly positive and necessary, it often leaves out something vital: the humanities. Please don’t misunderstand me; I realize that the individuals pursuing education and careers in the STEM field don’t exclude the humanities (and trust me, if I could code, I would be right there with them). But I’m not speaking about individuals in this case. I’m talking about the broader, societal desire and need for STEM. We need careers within STEM fields to such an extent that we often neglect, either wittingly or unwittingly, the value of the humanities. As a result, we tend to provide funding, discussion, and meaning to one, but not the other. The cost of such a combination, one that devotes most resources to STEM and neglects its counterpart, is not only negative, but it’s dangerous. In fact, it’s something that has close parallels to Frankenstein, even if Mary Shelley didn’t necessarily intend her work to reflect it.
The first time that I read Frankenstein, I was instantly hooked. My high school English teacher assigned it to my class, and after reading only the first few chapters, it became one of my favorites. I couldn’t go more than five lines without highlighting some sentence or phrase.
I loved it so much that I started watching all of the film adaptations I could find. To my dismay, it was hard to find one that captured the spirit of the book. Most Frankenstein films focus on the horror of an uncontrollable and murderous monster. After all, that’s what sells.
James Whale’s 1931 classic solidified the trend of these adaptations. Complete with the tagline, “It’s alive,” and plenty of aggression and murders, Whale turns the creature into a 1930s horror film villain with little sympathy. The film trades in the name Victor Frankenstein for Henry Frankenstein and presents an adaptation of a play’s adaptation of Shelley’s work. In the end, it does little to stay true to the original piece.
But if Mary Shelley and James Whale (indeed, all of the Frankenstein adaptations) share one thing in common, it’s this– the monster was a direct result of the pursuit of knowledge without careful consideration of ethics or morals. It didn’t come from fantasy or magic, and it didn’t occur as a natural phenomenon. The creature crawled out of Frankenstein’s imagination and into his own world.
The fundamental idea behind all of this is that the pursuit of knowledge holds dangerous implications when it doesn’t carefully question the morals behind the pursuit and the potential consequences of its result. In the novel, Frankenstein blames his “ardent curiosity” for his intense focus and desire to achieve supreme knowledge. His curiosity blinds him to all else, leading him to disregard morals, relationships, and human connection. As a result, he finds his desired knowledge, but he creates something with unforeseen and unintended consequences.
While you can never be certain of the consequences of a new technology, you can (and should) take steps to minimize the negative effects. The trouble arises, or, rather, monster comes to life, when you separate the technology from the ethics and the search for knowledge from the morals.
That’s the trouble with society’s desire to make STEM the forefront of our world– it excludes one of its most fundamental parts. To preach STEM without regard for the humanities is to hand Frankenstein the brain of a criminal for his creature. The two must go hand in hand.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the push for STEM in our world is overwhelmingly positive and needed. I see the value in continual technological advances, and the study of STEM provides that. Through STEM, we see the results of hard work realized in new medicines, more efficiency, and better lives. I simply mean that we cannot pursue these advances without the humanities. Through humanities, we see compassion, connection, empathy, meaning, and morals. The two work together, one no greater than the other, to create a balance that leads society to a better place.
We are closer now than ever before to making Frankenstein-esque discoveries. We cannot let our ardent curiosity and desire for knowledge blind us to the realities at stake. To do so would be to follow in the footsteps of Frankenstein himself, and if it were up to me, I would certainly choose to learn from his mistakes.