The Modern Prometheus

06 Dec 2011

Frankenstein is a story that has informed the human drive to science, to progress, and to enhancement. While Mary Shelly’s best known work may not inspire the creation of any specific technology, it does form the basis of how human beings view their technologies through fear.

The terror of the monster that Victor Frankenstein creates has nothing to do with the actual being itself; it is a creature of frightful appearance, but that is hardly impossible to overcome – consider, for example, the ugly and the deformed of today and this becomes easier to understand. Instead, the terror of the modern Prometheus is that it is a Creation without purpose; a technology that has been invented simply to exist.

When Prometheus came to give man fire, he introduced to us the notion of human enhancement. The gift of fire informs us human beings that we have the capability to be better than we are: Prometheus gave us technology. Since him, we have viewed the ultimate purpose of technology as enhancement of the human being. It becomes possible for us to create cell phones so that we can better our communication skills; to build houses so that we can enhance our protections; and to discover medicines and cures that allow us to live healthier and for longer.

The fear that comes from Frankenstein’s monster is that it introduces a completely new dynamic to the relationship of humans to their technology; it transforms us from creatures with the capacity for progress into actual divine beings. No longer must we be subservient to anything. Enhancement is for mere mortals; it is the realm of the Gods to Create. It is not the “abhorred devil” himself that causes us to fear him; it is that he serves as a representation of what we, as a species, have become by constructing him. We have assumed the role of Gods and, as our own histories and origin stories tell us, we know that eventually all creations fail to live up to the expectations of their Creators.