How Interdisciplinarity Prevents Dinosaurs (sort of)

(When I began to think of blending literature and science, this refused to stray from my mind. Pretend you haven’t seen this movie and scene a million times.)

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think whether they should.” Obviously applicable to the scientific revival of dinosaurs, this classic line is  more recently used to denounce food monstrosities like the caramel apple oreo and KFC doubledown sandwiches (look them up. Definitely an abuse of science.)

But what about real issues that face this concern? That the powers of science may be flourishing far more quickly than the grip of ethics can take hold? We reach farther and more rapaciously each day.  It was only in 1981 that the first embryonic stem cells were isolated in an experiment from mice, and now we can use them to research and cure a multitude of diseases and injury.The genetic importance of DNA was only discovered in 1953 and already we have learned to clone an entire being. And perhaps the most powerful, terrifying scientific discovery to date: in the 1930’s scientists began theoretically discussing nuclear fission. And in 1945, we tested Trinity, the first nuclear device that was by far the most devastating and powerful weapon ever seen before.

These, of course, are examples of the most polarizing scientific advancements. While the first two have become more accepted over time (duly so, in my opinion), all large leaps in science have been approached with fear and apprehension. Is this something that is morally okay to do? Is this “natural”? What are the possible consequences? And where will it lead? These are important questions that the scientific method doesn’t account for. All the empirical data in the world cannot give these answers. These questions and those like them can be used as a fear mongering tactic, but open minded, rational and respectful discussions of these concerns are necessary. Furthermore, despite the insistence of many that these kind of questions impede scientific advancement, I would argue that they enhance it. And it is English that teaches us to ask these questions. 

Taking advantage of English and literature’s practice to ask questions without “definitely true” answers is something science can benefit from. An important quality in a scientist is curiosity; Joe Moran notes in Interdisciplinarity that “scientific discovery proceeds not through careful processes of induction and deduction but through the creative generation of falsifiable hypotheses.” (Moran 138). Here at this stage a scientist is not afraid to be wrong or speculate; they recognize how these ponderings will advance what they want to know.  Questioning is an important part of the scientific process, not only in the beginning but throughout. Science in itself can answer questions that need an objective and true answer, but only through subjective thought that draws upon multiple sources can a scientist tackle questions of ethics and the future. Science can answer, “How do we make a dinosaur?” but English tells you to ask “Why should we make a dinosaur?”

English is also where we learn the primary bulk of our skills in critical thinking and making connections that science in turn relies upon. As a child, we are shown a page in a book that states “The ball is red” with the image of a red ball, and we learn to connect the word red with that image. Even when we become adults we still associate the color red with those old images impressed upon us instead of the color at the end of the spectrum. As we get older, these connections get harder to make yet more rewarding to discover. Literature is what demands us to make these connections, to look beyond mere texts and draw cultural, historical and sociological connections, among others. People in scientific fields need these critical thinking skills in order to advance past what is discovered and see the practical applications in the world around us and the consequences that may ensue. It can help us see that dinosaurs were incredibly dangerous in their self-contained ancient times, and because of that maybe they aren’t the best fit for our contemporary society. Contemporary scientists today are gifted with the use, as Moran states it, of “intuition, interpretation, guesswork and ‘thought experiments’ alongside empirical observation.” (Moran 142)

In finally returning to whether science could or should release the raptors, English is the discipline that allows for that (and other) questions to be discussed and answered. As Moran notes, “most science still takes place within the confines of disciplines and is often incomprehensible to scientists working in other specialisms, let alone lay people.” (Moran 146) This is a huge reason why these ethical questions come up about scientific advancement: the average person cannot understand what they are tackling and allow their innate fear of change and the unknown to run wild. English allows scientists to bridge this gap to assuage the fears of others and defend their positions. It allows them to hedge their knowledge and discoveries in metaphors, analogies and examples to explain their work for all to explain. And in doing so, it can help them foresee the answers to those burning questions that they may not have thought through before. Attempting to do this exemplifies English at its core; that is to say, teaching us to earn our knowledge through struggling with difficult questions, and to feel a sense of responsibility for our answers- exactly what Ian Malcolm criticizes Hammond of neglecting.

Science begins with a question. English teaches us how to ask that question. And, sometimes, how to answer it.

Now if only John Hammond had known that.

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