Jurassic Park: The Dangers of Scientific Positivism Run Amok

Jurassic-Park-Michael-Crichton-book-cover

Just a couple nights ago I was informed that Jurassic Park III was on AMC and, it being late and myself still being more than just a little burned out by Infinite Jest, I decided to give the movie a watch. This was a mistake. JPIII is easily and accurately described as horrendous. I can suspend my disbelief of dinosaurs being created for entertainment purposes (this assuming at some point someone drops to their knees in the pouring rain, exclaiming, “What has science done?!”), but JPIII takes this too far. I cannot and will not believe that a fourteen year-old boy could survive for eight weeks, alone, on an island inhabited solely by dinosaurs. Beyond that, there is a point in which William H. Macy’s character offers to refinish and re-tile Dr. Grant’s bathroom as payment for Macy’s lying to Grant and basically kidnapping him. Nice. 

But what the hot piece of garbage that is JPIII did inspire me to do was to track down a copy of Michael Crichton’s famous novel, Jurassic Park. I read a few of Crichton’s books in high school, the only ones that really stick out in my mind now being Congo (because it terrified me) and Andromeda Strain (which was easily top five for me as far as novels I read in high school go). I’m always amused that Crichton is so widely read. His fiction has technical terminology and spends pages explaining both practical science and philosophy of science. Thus it’s surprising that so many people really enjoy his books. I don’t think his characters are necessarily memorable. I can’t imagine someone telling me that her favorite character of all time was (insert Michael Crichton character). He tells truly imaginative stories that are interesting and exciting because they seem like they could actually happen. This is not meant to deride Crichton in any way, far from it; I just find it very interesting that he is widely read.

I don’t know what I expected going into Jurassic Park. I sold Crichton short in my mind simply by thinking that because the book was so unbelievably popular that it might be one of his best works of storytelling, but weak on the mindbending qualities that made Crichton, well, Crichton. I was wrong. This may be Crichton’s best book. You know the premise, so I will spare you that. But I will say that if you’ve only watched the movie and have not read the book then you are missing out on something that, frankly, makes me a little disappointed in the adaptation.

Perhaps why the book is so good, in my opinion, is it’s distinct commentary on the direction of science in the contemporary world. Ian Malcolm is obviously Crichton’s critical voice within the story. He never seems quite as “in” the situation as the rest of the characters, often making philosophical and mathematical critiques of the park’s existence at very random and inopportune times. However this is most likely part of Crichton’s point with Malcolm. He is an outlier within the novel. He does not function as the rest of the characters do. Yet he, though it could be argued as Alan Grant, is probably the best character. Malcolm is there to explain to readers why the novel was even written. He is an expert on chaos theory, and each section of the book is prefaced with a quote from Malcolm and a non-linear mathematical model that shows the unpredictability of daily events.

Though the book uses the example of genetically man-made dinosaurs as example, Crichton really wants the book’s critique to extend to daily life. In the age of reason, the age of enlightenment, the predominant opinion around the world is one that is still mired in a dichotomy that was sui generis within the system that is called the age of reason. People, still helplessly and hopelessly searching out certainty in a universe that is “wired” to be uncertain at its most fundamental levels. This uncertainty extends to everyday activities. People can argue this until they are blue in the face, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is true and that their arguments are, deep down, most likely based upon a need for solid-footing and certainty. We don’t like to imagine that anything could happen at any point. That prediction is a fairy-tale in many situations. My absolute favorite passage from the novel is Malcolm’s expressing of this:

“But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside of the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is. And chaos theory teaches us,” Malcolm said, “that straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist. Linearity is an artificial way of viewing the world. Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way.” Malcolm sat back in his seat, looking toward the other Land Cruiser, a few yards ahead. “That’s a deep truth about the structure of our universe. But, for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true.”

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

However this is not something to fret about, but rather is something to embrace. Life is more than a series of equations. It is more than our idea of a forward moving system in which we are contained (yet act as if we are perpetually outside of). Jurassic Park is entertaining science-fiction, but it’s a warning against humanity’s arrogance and desire to control everything. We have such a mighty view of ourselves that we forget how small we actually are. Even the rockstar scientists of the world preach humility, but yet speak as if they are the holders of all knowledge. Of the language of reality. There is a line that people don’t think exists that Jurassic Park sits on. That line is a critique of scientific positivism while maintaining respect for scientific achievement and the future of science. It’s desire is to cast a warning about the allure of power and the misinformed western desire for control.

Jurassic Park is a must-read, but the real flaw in the book is found in how Crichton writes the children, Lex and Tim, who are entirely too composed throughout the novel to be believable. Another real disappointment for myself is the amount of times Crichton spends on explaining the non-linear structure of everything and our ignorance of it, yet he doesn’t incorporate this into the novel itself. The novel jumps from character to character, but flows forward. To me, this was a real chance for Crichton to do something extremely interesting and inventive, but he missed it.

Recommended to: Those looking for an exciting book that is fast paced and original, and those who have watched the movie but never read the book.

Avoid as if it were Jurassic Park III: No one. Just avoid Jurassic Park III.

Above all else, this book surprised me completely. I did not think it would be nearly as good as it was.

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One thought on “Jurassic Park: The Dangers of Scientific Positivism Run Amok

  1. Pingback: Jurassic Park: The Dangers of Scientific Positivism Run Amok - Todd DeanTodd Dean

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