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Since the beginning of time, man has taken every step possible to advance technology. Advancements in medicine, aviation, science, and other areas, have made our world a better place to live. But there have also been technological developments that perhaps have hurt mankind far greater than any benefit that they have provided. Through their works, five German authors present readers with a very difficult question: Is the technology really worth it? These authors present many common themes. In this essay I will discuss these themes and how they relate to the social cost of advancing technology.
The first play that I read this past semester was Goethe’s “Faust.” This play is centered around the life of the scientist and doctor, Faust. Faust is a very intelligent man who has excelled in life as a scientist and a doctor. Though everyone looks up to him and thinks he is a great man, he still thinks that he does not know enough. He believes that every bit of knowledge that there is to be attained must be attained. This belief coupled with the unhappiness he possesses with life leads him to make the ultimate decision which, in turn, ruins both his life and the life of others, all because he was selfish, and wanted to know it all and couldn’t do it on his own. Faust made a bet with Mephistopheles, the devil. This bargaining with the devil is something that the mind should never know about. Two people ended up dying because of the involvement Faust played in their lives because of this little bet that he made with Mephisto. And the only question that can be asked is “was it really worth watching others die just so he could be happy?” And the answer is no. He saw the woman he loved and her brother die before him because of his selfishness, his desire to milk life and knowledge for all that they were worth. And what did Faust gain? In my opinion, nothing. He only lost. Some things in the world are worth knowing. Some things are even worth going to extremely great ordeals to know them. But in Faust’s case, he was childish, immature, and selfish. He became so depressed and had to know more, even though most people would have killed to be as fortunate as he was.
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"Technological Advancement in Faust, Accident, Life of Galileo, Oppenheimer, and The Physicists." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Nov 2018
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Next I read Christina Wolf’s Accident. This book is a beautiful example to illustrate my point. It deals with the subject of nuclear technology and the disasters that accompany it. The only issue at hand is whether or not this novel is speaking against the technology or for the technology, and I believe that it is speaking against it. The main character has two disasters occur simultaneously in this novel. Her brother is having brain surgery, which could not even occur had there not been technological advancements, and the explosion at Chernobyl, which was a perfect example of technological advancement gone wrong. It is true, as I stated earlier, that some technological advancement is good, such as the advancements that have been made in the field of medicine. Therefore, the technology that will be used with her brother is good and welcome knowledge. But nuclear technology is a step that the world probably could have done without and it is still being debated whether or not we should have it. I believe that Wolf made it blatantly obvious that she was against nuclear technology and it was definitely spoken against. For starters, look at the effects. It threw the world into a frenzy. On that day in April in 1986 when Chernobyl exploded, the world got its first true look at the extreme negative side of nuclear technology. The reactor exploded and a massive amount of radioactive material was let loose into the environment. This caused the entire area to be evacuated, and is still to this day, not truly suitable for life, and it killed many people because of poisoning from the radiation. And before too long, the radioactive material that had gotten into the air had spread and was being detected in places all over the world. So many people have died, and still will die because of cancers due to the radiation that was released in that explosion. Christina Wolf saw this happening and voiced her opinion. The main character in Accident constantly struggles with coming to terms with what has happened. She can’t eat her food, drink her water, or do much of anything, because anything and everything has been contaminated. Her and everyone else’s lives have changed. And no one even had a choice in the matter. She goes over the whole situation and the scientists who work with nuclear technology, and technology in general, in her head until she just can’t understand it. She wonders why they have to move forward. She just can’t understand why scientists are so much more concerned with technological advancement than they are with simple pleasures of life. And she can only conclude at one point that they do it out of fear. They are afraid of living their lives just like everyone else. So they place themselves above the rest of society and do what they do: make and use technological advancement. If all of Wolf’s statements of the negativity of nuclear technology isn’t enough to show how she is speaking against it, then the fact that she refers to what is developing with nuclear technology as a substitute for love, should be. With all of Wolf’s statements and her main story line in this novel, it should be obvious to the reader that she is against the advancement of nuclear technology. And why shouldn’t she be? Yes, nuclear power is a much cheaper way of energy, but it also is a very dangerous thing that threatens life every day.
Of the works of literature that I read this past semester, some of the technological advancements were ones that had negative effects, but there were also those that didn’t. Even the technological advancements that are good were still spoken against in these works. The next play I read was Bertolt Brecht’s “Life of Galileo”. Everyone knows who Galileo was, but not everyone knows the troubles that the man went through just to get people to believe. His contribution towards the advancement of technology was not anything that ended up hurting people, as many have. He was simply a mathematician and an astronomer who wanted to let the world know what was really out there. The things that happened to Galileo almost act as encouragement for people to not come out with new discoveries when they find them. Galileo took the telescope and looked into the sky and discovered things about astronomy that people never knew or believed before. He did this for the good of the people. He did it so people could be more educated. But the people of his time were too stuck in their ignorance to want to progress further. Someone always had something against what he found. The government was against him. And most importantly, the Church was against him. To say that the earth was not the center of the universe was blasphemy, and Galileo said it. I personally don’t see any problem with advancement in astronomy. In fact, I’m all for it. It can help us to understand what is actually out there in this universe that we live in. But Galileo was threatened with his life when he tried to give people this information. He was told to recant what he’d found, and if he didn’t, he would die. It seems to me that this is almost saying to the reader, “if you discover something that people won’t like, don’t tell them. They’ll try to kill you.” It almost works as a discouraging factor for people. It seems as though it tries to show people what has happened to people of knowledge in the past and that it can happen to anyone. And if someone thinks that what they know is going to cost them their life, then of course, many times they won’t share the new information. Why should they? There is absolutely no harm in advancements in astronomy, but even that is spoken against. Although it may not seem like Brecht is speaking against it, I believe that it is doing so in a very subtle manner, whether he intended to do so or not. He shows people what has happened in the past, and in doing so, possible discourages people from trying to do it in the future.
The next work that I read had what was probably the strongest subtle argument against the advancement and use of technology. Heinar Kipphardt’s “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer” is centered around the development and use of the atomic and the hydrogen bombs. Oppenheimer was a scientist who played a great role in the development of the atomic bomb and also worked with the team that created the hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer is the perfect example of my thesis. For years, Oppenheimer and the other scientists involved slaved over what was to be the atomic bomb. And thanks to the efforts of Oppenheimer and his colleges, the bomb was finally created. During it’s creation, Oppenheimer was very interested in creating the bomb just for the scientific discovery and knowledge, and also because he was being forced to by his country’s government as a response to what was occurring in Nazi Germany at the time. When it came time to use the bomb, he started thinking otherwise. He didn’t want the bomb to be used because he knew the kind of effect it would have and he had a severe moral issue with dropping it. But it was done anyway. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. And a second was dropped on Nagasaki soon afterward. Yes, this did bring a quick end to a devastating war, but Oppenheimer, and many others believed that it was not ethical. Then the work on the hydrogen bomb was in full scale. But this time, Oppenheimer didn’t want to be the one who was creating a weapon that had the power to destroy what it did. So he just supervised the project, but still was against it ever being used. In the play, the government questioned him over and over again about his moral issues against using these weapons and also tried to accuse him of supplying information to communists. And eventually the play ends with Oppenheimer losing his security clearance because they feel that if he doesn’t see things their way, then he is a threat. When it all comes down to it, one of the main reasons he was penalized was because he believed that it wasn’t right to use these horrible weapons of destruction. Kipphardt made it perfectly clear in this play how Oppenheimer and other scientists involved in these projects felt about them. After reading all of Oppenheimer’s arguments about the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb, it is obvious that that particular advancement in technology is spoken against. Most of the play is listening to Oppenheimer talk about how he felt about the two bombs and how they should not be used because of the horrible effects they have. Kipphardt made it blatantly obvious to his readers that both he and Oppenheimer were against those advancements in technology.
Another good example of my point occurs in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Physicists”. This play depicts a situation where an incredibly intelligent scientist, Mobius, is in a mental institution. Mobius has been doing a lot of work, and eventually ends up in a mental institution. Everyone in his family and at the asylum truly thinks he is crazy. It turns out, in fact, that he is not. He is a perfectly sane and brilliant man. During his stay at the mental institution, he makes some incredible discoveries. There were two other people in the asylum who are posing as insane people just so they can get closer to Mobius. They are working for organizations that both wanted Mobius to work for them. When their true identities come out and Mobius reveals what he has discovered, they question how it is that he can be rotting away his life in that asylum when he should be sharing his wonderful discoveries with the world, and their organizations in particular. And his reply is what tells me that this play is speaking against the advancement of technology. Mobius simply tells them that there are some discoveries that the world is not ready to know. And that if some discoveries get into the wrong hands, it can create huge problems. Mobius was very intelligent and very right. He knew that some of his discoveries would probably cause more trouble than they are worth. He knew that some advancement just shouldn’t have been made yet. I think that this makes it blatantly obvious that this play subtly speaks against the advancement of technology.
The advancement of technology and the mind is spoken against in a subtle manner in the works discussed here. There have been many advancements in history, such as nuclear technology, the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and various other scientific advancement, that probably shouldn’t have been discovered. The world might possibly be a better place if we didn’t have these things. Many advancements create problems with individuals and some, as we have seen can be the cause of the loss of life, especially with nuclear technology. Not only can it create problems as it did at Chernobyl, but now we can create nuclear weapons that can destroy mankind. I’m not too sure if these authors were intending to speak out against these situations or if they were specific historic accounts. But it is my opinion that they were speaking against these advancements in a very subtle manner. And I also believe that when an intelligent reader reads these German works of literature, they will become slightly more enlightened on the matter. I encourage every reader to read deeply into these works, and then do some deep thinking about the subject and see if they don’t believe that some technological discoveries should not have been made.
Brecht, Bertolt. “Life of Galileo”. Arcade Publishing. New York. 1940.
Durrenmatt, Friedrich. “The Physicists”. Grove Press. New York. 1964.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von. “Faust: Part I”. New Directions Publishing Corporation. New York. 1808.
Kipphardt, Heinar. “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer”. Hill and Wang. New York. 1964.
Wolf, Christa. Accident. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. New York. 1989