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Was Aldous Huxley trying to tell us something and if so what?

Carter Liou

4/24/18

STS 112 – WA

 

In Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, the context of the story is set in a dystopian-like future labeled the “World State.”  Naturally, this fictional society differs in many ways from our own, and Huxley distinctly describes the points where our world and the World State diverge.  While these differences, such as how babies are genetically engineered through artificial wombs, or how infants in different castes are classically conditioned in different ways, may seem quite obvious to the reader, what is not as evident are the ways in which the New World society mirrors ours.  Through the idea that this future New World shares the similarities with our current society, Huxley is ultimately warning us of the harmful effects that expansion and development of a capitalist ideology can impose on society.

 

While in modern society we are forced to sacrifice certain aspects of our lives to conform to certain norms, in Brave New World, the sacrifices that are made are far more extreme.  In Huxley’s dystopia, the ruling body, under Mustapha Mond, pursues a society driven by absolute consumerism by ultimately sacrificing certain human values, that in today’s society, might be seen as essential.   The first value that Mond believes must be sacrificed are personal relationships that produce emotions or feelings of passion. For this reason we see that the citizens of the New World do not have parents, lovers or children.  Ironically, in the real world family is essential and often acts as a primary support system, in the World State that job is given to Soma, a recreational drug, that alleviates any pain the user is experiencing. While in our current world this concept seem unimaginable, in the eyes of Mond, the restriction of personal relationships lead to an economic stability in society.  

 

Another sacrifice is that of equality.  It’s true that today we are not all born equal, but in the western world it is believed that even if one is born into poverty, that with hard work and dedication, one can climb the socio-economic pyramid.  In Brave New World this idea of the American Dream is nonexistent.  People are born into a certain caste (Alpha, Beta, Gamma Delta, and Epsilon) and will remain is such caste for their entire life.  This is ensured through the treatment of the embryos, fetuses and infants in different castes. For example the Gamma Delta, and Epsilon embryos are shocked into form 90 identical embryos, but the Alpha and Beta embryos are not.  During the fetal stage, the lower castes are given alcohol and deprived of oxygen to ensure lower intelligence, and during infancy.  The lower classes are also dissuaded from the pursuit of knowledge.  For example, the Delta class is classically conditioned to fears flowers and books through a series of repeated shocks whereas hypnopaedia is instilled in the Alpha and Beta castes.  This may seem diabolic, but Mond explains that inequality is crucial for the stability of their heavily consumerist society. In this way the castes know their role in the larger mechanism that is productivity of goods and services.

 

The debate between capitalism and communism was prominent during the twentieth century, when Huxley wrote this story.  Is it then safe to say that Huxley is intrinsically communist? Not exactly. For a decent portion of the novel, we the readers, identify Bernard Marx as the protagonist of the novel.  The fact that Bernard exemplifies an outcast who envies his friend makes him inherently human, unlike all his brainwashed counterparts. While Berard defies the system by bringing John to the World States, he does so not to expose the defects of society, but rather for his own personal gain.  It should be noted that his last name is clearly hinting at Karl Marx, one of the leading figures in communism, and although he opposes the corruptness of the World State, he does not do so for the right reasons. Is this sense Huxley’s view can be seen as one that stresses moderation over extremity.

The Yin and Yang of the Two Cultures

Carter Liou

3/13/18

ST112-WA

 

In his 1959 Rede Lecture, C.P. Snow addressed an idea that would later spark debate over the divergence of academia in the Western world.  His argument was that there was an “ever growing” schism between the sciences and the humanities, which could ultimately be responsible for the lack of progression in solving global problems.  Snow would go on to criticise the British educational system, holding it accountable for misguided political leadership. While Snow presents the two fields of study, which he refers to as “cultures,” as being antithetical to one another, the two are actually not as black and white as he deems them to be.  A perfect representation of their relationship is the Yin and Yang symbol which illustrates that seemingly opposing concepts or, in this case, cultures, may actually be interconnected in small, distinct ways. Thusly, I will be comparing very stereotypical aspects of the two different cultures; for the sciences I will be examining lab based-research, and for the humanities I will be examining literature.  

 

The first way in which the two cultures overlap is through the integration of creativity. For a fiction writer, the need to have a creative mind is fairly self explanatory in the sense that in order to develop a story, the writer must develop something new.  In the sciences, creativity is not as obvious, but still essential.   In lab research, before an experiment can be conducted, a hypothesis must be developed.   This requires creative thinking through the formulation of something that, although may not be factual at first, is in itself new.  In this sense, creativity is necessary for the overall pursuit of scientific knowledge because all scientific research is conducted by first setting up a hypothesis.  Without creative thinking, progress in both the sciences and the humanities would not exist.

 

The second way in which the two cultures overlap is through an emphasis on precision.  The term “precision” denotes how closely a concept, story, or measurement is to the actual thing.  In the humanities, precision writing is an exercise where a writer learns to discriminate between essential and nonessential information.  The goal is ultimately to clarify and to highlight information that the writer wishes to convey to the reader. In this way, an exercise such as precision writing is helpful in honing one’s ability to compose the journals, articles and biographies that constitute nonfiction writing.

 

In lab research the use of precision is also important.  When conducting research, it is necessary to follow instructions and ensure that measurements are precise.  Precision is also vital to results in which a percent error can tell you how precise your data was. This is crucial and allows scientists to examine the mistakes that could have been made during the experiment.  Without the integration of precision in the sciences and the humanities, both cultures would struggle to produce reliable data and comprehensible writing.

 

While there are underlying similarities between the humanities and the sciences, it does not mean the two are one in the same and that one can equally divide their time in both and be successful.  Then again, to only dedicate one’s time to a single subject would not stimulate “well rounded” intellectual growth. The key is to find a healthy balance and to utilize skills that radiate from both sides of the academic spectrum.  

Nature versus Nurture (or how society reacted)

Carter Liou

2/26/18

Nature vs Nurture.  

The debate over nature versus nurture is a prevalent theme in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  In the novel the reader is exposed to the atrocities that are committed by Victor Frankenstein’s creature. The question then is: Was it in the nature of the monster to be malicious or rather was it the environment that caused it to commit the heinous acts that it did?  In actuality, both the monster’s nature and the way society reacted to its existence can be held responsible for the murders that arise in the novel.

While Victor’s creation takes the form of a grotesque-like creature, the reader discovers, that despite its deformed appearance, the being possesses kindness, intellect and above all a curiosity concerning the society that surrounds it.  Sadly, these desirable qualities of the creature begin to fade as it is pushed further into isolation first by Victor and then by the people it encounters.  In some sense, the concept of nature and nurture are directly related when it comes to Frankenstein’s monster.  Its horrid appearance – its nature or natural state of being – has extensive influence over the way that both Victor and society treat the creature.  This can be seen in the fifth chapter when Victor flees from his house upon running into the monster, in the fifth-teeth chapter when the monster is driven away by Felix, and in the sixteenth chapter when it saves a drowning girl but is later shot at when a man believes that it is the accomplice.  All three of these instances fuel the monster’s hatred for mankind and ultimately lead him to kill his first victim, Victor’s brother.  In this way, although it is the mistreatment and isolation the creature experiences, that drives it to kill, it is its physical appearance that initially drives such mistreatment and isolation.  

Despite its monsteresque appearance, the reader soon understands, that at heart the creature is not a monster and that its actions reflect the suffering that it has been forced to undergo.  The concept of monsters is obviously a major theme in the novel as the storyline follows the life and actions of Frankenstein’s creature.  The question then remains:  If the creature is not the monster in the story, who is?  A strong argument can be made for its creator, Victor Frankenstein.  Although Victor is not 8 feet tall, or constructed from stolen body parts, he can be seen as the monster due to his passion in the pursuit of dangerous knowledge.  The creation of Frankenstein’s creature can be seen as surpassing the natural human limits of science, and is what ultimately sparks his alienation from his friends and family.  Furthermore, Victor’s hatred and endless obsession with destroying his own creation furthers his unnatural and monsteresque personality given that parents are programmed to protect and care for their children.  All in all, the novel shows the reader how monsters can come in all shapes and forms and fortifies the idea of the consequences of judging a book solely off of its cover.

The Never-ending Scientific Revolution

Carter Liou

2/20/18

STS 112-WA

 

The Scientific Revolution was a period of intense debate between science and religion.   Prior to the Scientific Revolution, a majority of the European population was uneducated, and the little schooling that was accessible was closely regulated by the Roman Catholic Church.   Their scientific teachings were heavily influenced by biblical theory and the science that had been provided by the Ancient Greeks.  For example,  the geocentric system– which was accepted by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy– argued that Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Sun, Moon, stars and other known planets all orbited Earth.  This way of of thinking was prevalent up until the Scientific Revolution, during which Nicolaus Copernicus developed the Copernican system that stated that the earth orbited the sun which was located at the center of the solar system.  In addition, the Bible also stated that the Sun and the Moon were perfect in form because they had been created in God’s image.  This idea was debunked by Italian philosopher Galileo who built a telescope which he used to examine sunspots and the craters of the moon.  The church, however, did not take these findings lightly as they continued to disregard the laws established by natural scientists throughout the Scientific Revolution.  

This debate continued long after such period in European history.  When Charles Darwin released his On the Origins of Species in 1859, he sparked a debate between the concepts of evolution and creationism that would carry on long after his death.  In 1925, the infamous Scopes Trial, where a highschool teacher named John T. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in a public school in Tennessee, brought attention to the rejection of evolution and whether or not it should be taught in schools.

Today it is appropriate to say that we have entered another Scientific Revolution; however, the central debate revolves more so around science with respect to political ideals.  A primary example is the ongoing dispute over the ethics of abortion.  This debate fosters two opposing views: pro-choice which believes that the woman has the right to terminate the fetus, and pro-life which believes that the fetus has the right to be born.  Many differences stem from the abortion debate such as when the fetus should be considered living and what methods of abortion are considered humane.  

The most influential and perhaps controversial debate is the argument over climate change.  Although a minority of the U.S. population does not believe in the legitimacy of rising temperatures on the surface of the Earth, most accept this to be unequivocal, and therefore the dispute focuses more so on whether or not human activity can be held responsible for the rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.   The pro-side argues that the burning of fossil fuels by humans should be responsible for this increase and that a halt in the usage of fossil fuels is essential to stopping climate change.  The con-side argues that greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity are to small to affect earth’s climate and that the increase in temperature is rather due to the sun.  The argument has been further stimulated after the United States, controversially, withdrew the from the Paris Accords under the presidency of Donald Trump.   

As we undergo this modern scientific revolution it is important to remember that science will always be met with some sort of opposing force.  In this sense, the scientific revolution is not finite.  The purpose of science is to discover the new–and frankly the new may seem daunting– but without change, the human race cannot improve on the mistakes that it has made in the past.  

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