Science Fiction and Models of Humanity

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Holland, Emily
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Science Fiction and Models of Humanity
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Science Fiction as a literary genre offers a unique platform for social commentary. It presents plausible scientific advancements as a reality, and then uses this possible future to enter the discussion on society’s current model of humanity. One of the first works of Science Fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818, was written in a time overflowing with new scientific theories and advancements. Two such sciences, galvanism and vitalism, aimed to identify the principle of life in the human body. At the same time, pseudo-psychological theories discussed the psychological aspects of what we call humanity, specifically emotional connection and sympathy. Shelley drew on galvanic, vitalist, and pseudo-psychological theories. Her model defines humanity by emotional expression, a capability for sympathy, and a basic desire to connect. Her novel has since driven more Science Fiction works to define humanity on innovative psychological levels. One example is Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, published in 1976. In the 1970s, the ethics of cloning and genetic control were highly debated. Wilhelm’s novel creates a world where cloning is the preferred means of human generation, instead of sexual reproduction. Her model defines humanity less by biology, and more by individuality and a capability for original thought. Kate Wilhelm and Mary Shelley both use Science Fiction to present psychologically focused models of humanity. This research presentation will compare and contrast how these two authors use science and psychological theory in representing life and drawing models of humanity.
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