The Blank Slate of Frankenstein’s Mind

The Blank Slate of Frankenstein’s Mind

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The philosophical root of Frankenstein seems to be the empiricist theory first promoted by John Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In that essay, the mind is concieved as beginning as a blank slate or tabula rasa, upon which the various impressions gained by the outside world shape the personality. According to this strict empiricism, the mind contains no innate basis for the basic prerequisites for human socialization: a social code and/or morality with empathetic roots. As a result of the monster's isolation, he is unable to sympathize with human beings and loses respect for other intelligent life. Even though the monster has good intentions, his beneficence is subverted by the negative and anti-social reactions he receives from the people he encounters.

The most blatent passages in support of the tabula rasa can be found in the monster's account of the impressions of his early life at the beginning of Chapter IX (pg 70 Dover Edition). The relevant portion starts at the beginning of the chapter, but the passage of most interest is reproduced below:

"Several changes of day and night passed, and the orb of night had greatly lessened, when I began to distinguish my sensations from each other. I gradually saw plainly the clear stream that supplied me with drink, and the trees that shaded me with their foliage. I was delighted when I first discovered that a pleasant sound, which often saluted my ears, proceeded from the throats of the little winged animals who had often intercepted the light from my eyes. I began also to observe, with greater accuracy, the forms that surrounded me, and the boundaries of the radient roof of light which canopied me. Sometimes I tried to imitate the pleasant sounds of the birds, but was unable. Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me back into silence."

While this account is probably a poor model of how an actual entity would behave upon being thrust into a brand new world of sensations with sufficient cognitive apparati to comprehend the impressions (categories and systemization are utilized almost immediately, although there would be no reason for the monster to arrange things in this way, "light from my eyes" is a physical principal [an incorrect one at that] and would not likely be used in a naive description.

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Also, there is almost no way to know that the sounds of birds come from their throat, and little way for the monster to know this as birds are apt to adopt a flight response to a large imposing figure.), this passage nevertheless gives the reader of the early eighteenth century a intuitively correct model of how things might be perceived slowly by a newly existent mind.

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