It is one of the oldest unanswered questions in all of science. Though slightly more grounded in empirical science than the likes of "Where did we come from?" or "Why are we here?" the impossible Nature/Nurture dichotomy has tormented truth-bound scientists for years. Recent advances in genetics have brought forward new possibilities for those who would study the pure effects of environmental variables on animals, but we are far from allowing ourselves to manipulate other human beings in such ways for the sake of collecting data. This strong moral stance does not diminish our curiosity and so the question must be asked: What would we do if a case in which the human had already been manipulated, by no will of our own, fell into the hands of science? How far would we go?
Every couple hundred years, one of these humans, by chance or by a case of true cruelty, falls into the hands of scientists, eager to make the most of such a 'misfortune'. Roger Shattuck's The Forbidden Experiment follows one of the more prominent cases of our recent history, that of the 'Wild Boy of Aveyron.'
The book takes little time to peak the reader's curiosity with the tale of a "savage" twelve-year-old wandering out of the woods of southern France on a cold January evening in 1800. Without a known history or the ability to communicate with his captors, Victor, as he was later named, was assumed to have lived in the wild for at least six years and probably more. In the midst of an intellectually lively France, Victor wandered into immediate fame and was brought to Paris so that the most capable scientists could take advantage of studying a human raised almost completely in isolation. The st...
... middle of paper ...
...t are our motives in these 'unfortunate' instances? Would we learn from the dumb how not to speak; how to forget? Or would we teach language and culture so that Victor may live with us and suffer as we do? What does that make us?
1) Shattuck, Roger. The Forbidden Experiment. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980
2)NOVA transcript, transcript for 'Genie' episode
3)The Civilizing of Genie , the story of Genie
4)Online News Hour, Shattuck interview
5)Ethical Culture Book Review, review of Forbidden Knowledge
6)Feral Children Website, a great resource about 'wild' children
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