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Bioethics through the lenses of literature and film Dr Pat Brereton & Dr Brigitte Le Juez.

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Presentation on theme: "Bioethics through the lenses of literature and film Dr Pat Brereton & Dr Brigitte Le Juez."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bioethics through the lenses of literature and film Dr Pat Brereton & Dr Brigitte Le Juez

2 Current intra-faculty research project Enhancing Ethics though Literature and Film (EELF) Members: Pat Brereton (Film Studies, SC), Bert Gordijn (Director of Ethics Institute), Brigitte Le Juez (Comparative Literature, SALIS) and Francesca Lorenzi (Philosophy of Education, SE) Research Question: How can Literature and Film be used to enhance Ethics Education? One of our objectives: creation of an intra- university module on ethics education (open to the Sciences).

3 Premise Literature and Film part of the science of observation and of getting to know humanity based on critical investigation of human nature in all its representations and forms of expression. Essential (moral) educational feature: to explore ethical themes, develop self-awareness in terms of values and beliefs (incl. stereotypes), and offer new perceptions of the real in order to develop the autonomous, critical self. Literature and Film may form a Moral Laboratory.

4 The perception of science Mixture of awe, respect and suspicion re scientists embedded in culture, as shown in literature (from Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, novels by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, among the great classics) and film (from Fritz Lang early films to the James Bond villains and The Fly). For Lewis Wolpert (UCL): confusion between science and the technological applications of science. ‘Reliable’ scientific knowledge value-free, with no moral or ethical value (admits that a rare case of immoral science was eugenics). Obligation of scientists to make public both any social implications of their work and its technological applications. For information we rely on institutions of democratic societies: parliament, free and vigorous press, affected groups + the scientists themselves. Recognises difficulty in promoting public understanding of science. Can literature and film help?

5 Teaching Bioethics from an Interdisciplinary Perspective: a previous experiment Rivers Singleton and D. Heyward Brock’s experience (both University of Delaware) started in 1982 Based on their Centre of Science and Culture’s interdisciplinary courses on bioethics and related problems Taught by teams of scientists, literary critics, historians and philosophers Based on given issues which each member of the team approaches from his or her own perspective.

6 Theme: Human experimentation The scientist’s primary role is to keep the discussion as factually correct as possible. The philosopher’s is to connect ethical and philosophical principles. The literary critic with the help of the historian provides an exploration of ‘how human beings experience the moral and ethical dimension of their lives in a more dynamic and perceptive way than can be obtained through sketchy case studies alone.’ Films used as complements to literary texts. None of the members operates in intellectual isolation. Objectivity of overall discussion thanks to multiplicity of perspectives.

7 Literary Texts Chosen for their strong moral component. Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych (allows to discuss how human beings react to dying and death) –Two films used here as well (Please let me die and Who Shall Survive?) on euthanasia. Dürrenmatt’s play, The Physicists, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories, Dr Heidegger’s Experiment and Rappaccini’s Daughter: no resemblance to reality in current science but possible discussion on perceived deficiency of science re the dignity and worth of people (possible subjects of discussion: DNA or abortion, for ex.). Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World: discussion on foetal research or genetic engineering, and the consequences of utilitarian ethics.

8 Positive reaction and outcome Those involved in the programme felt both ‘excited’ and ‘enlightened’ by their participation.  because of the new contexts and new perspectives encountered  feeling of intellectual stimulation of working together with colleagues from different disciplines on questions of common interest. Experiment brought to high-school level.

9 Brave New World (1932) Why this choice of text?  News of Ridley Scott’s adaptation to appear in  Huxley’s novel still topical: BNW’s argument that man is genetically modifiable and psychologically conditionable still rings true.  Director: Ridley Scott well known for films dealing with science fiction (Alien, Blade Runner), myth (Gladiator), ethics (American Gangster)  Main actor (and possible producer), Leonardo di Caprio also significant: involved in films dealing with human experimentation (mostly of a psychological nature, latest films Shutter Island and Inception) and ethics (Blood Diamonds and Body of Lies, the latter also by Scott).

10 ‘Genetically modifiable and psychologically conditionable’ Novel opens in Central London Hatching and Conditioning Centre, where we learn about the Bokanovsky and Podsnap Processes that allow the Hatchery to produce thousands of nearly identical human embryos. During the gestation period embryos travel in bottles along a conveyor belt in a factory, and are conditioned to belong to 1 of 5 castes: The Alpha embryos destined to become the leaders and thinkers of the World State, and each of the succeeding castes is conditioned to be less physically and intellectually able. The Epsilons, stunted and stupefied by oxygen deprivation and chemical treatments, destined to perform menial labour. “Hypnopaedic” (sleep-teaching) methods used to teach children morals of the State. While children nap, a whispering voice repeats lessons in “Elementary Class Consciousness.” To make them docile and eager consumers later on, infants can be programmed to dislike books and flowers.

11 Current view on BNW: still relevant to current debate on cloning Patrick Hopkins argues that BNW is a stand-alone reference, image, and warning about dehumanization, totalitarianism, and technology-wrought misery – epitomised and made possible by the technology of cloning. He also argues that Huxley’s work continues to influence the discourse on cloning in recent media coverage, for there has been ‘no comparable book’ that speaks to the potential benefits of cloning. Also appearing on school syllabi (example).example Library list on the cloning debate entitled BNW.BNW What will Ridley Scott’s stance be ? (no interviews available yet)

12 Themes found in science fiction novels an films inspired by BNW Negative view: –Eugenics as a means of controlling and selecting the population –Issues of differentiation and identity –The separation of sex from reproduction (and subsequent effects on love relationships) –The resulting disintegration of familiar family structures –Institution of laws for the production and regulation of clones and cloning in a totalitarian society. Positive view: –Gene therapy and the ability to clone organs for transplants In both cases, novels explore fear of effects of human cloning on people and future generations.

13 Synopsis of BNW Novel takes place in 26 th century (A.F. 632) World united as ‘The World State’, eternally peaceful, stable and plentiful, where everyone thinks they’re happy. Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are conceived, born and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres. Sexual competition and romantic relationships obsolete. Society rigidly divided into 5 castes: the Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons (further split into Plus and Minus members). Alphas and Betas top of society. No concept of family. Father, mother and love are considered dirty words. All citizens conditioned to believe in the values idealised by the State. Everyone consumes soma, an anti-depressant hallucinogen. Everybody dies at 60. No sense of loss or mourning. Two characters go to an island (margin of the State where ‘savages’ still live according to old order). Discover one man born of a stray ‘civilised’ woman, John. Bring him back to the mainland with devastating consequences for all around.

14 From a literary perspective Examination of how the themes are tackled: –Huxley clearly adopts negative view from first page, present scientists as either experienced and dangerously knowledgeable, or as meek students, discouraged from conceiving/expressing alternative views. –Dark picture of the future, reflecting both an amazing vision of what science can achieve and the dangers of such achievement (elimination of human qualities). –Use of stereotypes (need to question his apparent misogynistic and racist portrayals/remarks – imagology) –Elements of humour, reflecting on current society – God/the Lord has been replaced by ‘Ford’ (i.e. a successful American business figure). ‘Thank Ford!’ –Language: neologisms and play with words (like ‘feely’).

15 Contemporary issues of early 20th century Huxley ( ) Although set in the future, the novel has contemporary references: –The Industrial Revolution –Mass production –References to politics, Russian Revolution and WW1 (characters’ names: Polly Trotsky, Benito Hoover, Lenina Crowne, Mustapha Mond, Helmholtz Watson and Bernard Marx) –Religion replaced by consumerism but ideas of ‘opium of the people’ (Marx) perpetuated. Citizens indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans –Also unhappiness resolved by antidepressant and hallucinogenic drug soma distributed by the Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury. Expresses widely-held opinions: fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future (particularly fear of Americanisation) and/or in totalitarian conditions.

16 Huxley Scientific Credentials Huxley wrote BNW before structure of DNA known, but Gregor Mendel’s work with inheritance patterns in peas re-discovered in 1900, and eugenics movement well established. Huxley's family included prominent biologists: Thomas Huxley (grand-father, supporter of Darwin), half- brother and Nobel Laureate Andrew Huxley (in the Physiology or Medicine category in 1963), and brother Julian Huxley (first Director of UNESCO and notable evolutionary biologist and humanist). Peter Firchow: before partial blindness, Huxley prepared for career in biology. Literary work, whether fiction or essays, full scientific references. (‘Science and Conscience in Huxley's BNW’)

17 Huxley Scientific Influences and Vision JBS Haldane (Marxist pioneer geneticist) a friend of AH. His essay, Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), predicted many scientific advances but criticised for presenting idealistic view of scientific progress. Showed effect of separation between sexual life and pregnancy as satisfactory on human psychology and social life. Book regarded as shocking science fiction, being the first book about ectogenesis. Selective breeding (Pavlov, J. B. Watson +Nazi experiments come to mind). Finally, Freud’s ideas about happiness and how suffering can be regulated by chemical means (‘Civilisation and its Discontents’).

18 Reception of BNW in Ireland Book banned in 1932 for centring around negative activity, for its bad language, and for being anti-family and anti-Christian (no explicit mention of sexual liberty).

19 Reading film [based on literary and other models of analysis] Film grammar – camera, editing, composition, lighting, music, acting etc. Generic Conventions Narrative Structure Auteuristic preoccupations Realistic Representation Reflection theory and thematic concerns

20 Science Fiction film and Science Communication ‘Science’ and the ‘mediation’ of science, including bioethics in film. Stephen Mulhall: films might themselves be seen as ‘themselves reflecting seriously and systematically about them in just the ways that philosophers do’? Christopher Falzon: ‘just as images in philosophy can go beyond illustration and play a role in the argument itself, the kinds of concrete scenarios that are portrayed in a film may be used to explicitly raise questions within the film’s narrative about the adequacy of sense experience for giving us knowledge of reality.’ (2007: 7) Film as ‘teacherly text’ for exploring/explaining ethics.

21 Cloning on film Staple metaphor in many sci-fi films from Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, through Jurassic Park, I Robot, The Island and many others. Sci-fi ‘exemplifies/simplifies’ complex scientific and ethical issues. Long history of film analysis as a means of explaining ethics/science.

22 Film Theory Debates include Address: how does a film/media product address its audience [gender, age, ethnicity etc.]. Semiotics – encoding/decoding: how to read image making. Ideology – what is film trying to say [politics/mystification, etc.]. Reality and Representation [diegesis of film?]. Intertextual: how films link to other texts.

23 Brave New World What is the film saying about ethics? Opening exposition Form v content debate The power of the visual Leaving a lasting impression What questions does it present to the viewer?

24 Related novels and films The Boys from Brazil (a novel by Ira Levin, 1976, first film version, 1978) sci-fi thriller whose premise is based on a Nazi death- camp Dr Joseph Mengele’s endeavour to resurrect Adolf Hitler through cloning (having acquired skin and blood samples from Hitler to use as DNA). A remake is planned for 2012.

25 Bibliography Firchow, Peter, Science and Conscience in Huxley’s Brave New World. Contemporary Literature, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Summer), pp Hopkins, Patrick, The News Media and the Human Cloning Debate. In The Ethics of Human Cloning. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven pp Singleton, Rivers & Brock, D. Heyward, Teaching Bioethics from an Interdisciplinary Perspective. The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 44, No. 5, May, pp Wolpert, Lewis, The Medawar Lecture 1998: ‘Is Science Dangerous?’ Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 360, No (Jun. 29), pp


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