In 1980, a movie adaptation of a novel, Lathe of Heaven aired a single time, and caused an uproar in academic circles. It poses a particular challenge to the philosophy and ethics in the fields of science. It illustrates that “playing God” can have good intentions, and be a gentle transition, but the dangers are nonetheless paramount.
The story features an unlucky man who discovers that his dreams and nightmares alter reality. He retreats to a psychologist who hypnotizes and suggests better dreams to him, unintentionally causing the psychologist to become more and more powerful each time. Then as the pressure of power and prestige become frighteningly apparent, he suggests a dream of less problems and more space. They are flung 10 years into the future where famine and disease have killed the world’s population down to a few thousand.
This scene was powerful and chilling because it did not show a world devastated by war and hunger. Instead it showed a dinner party, where Death slowly picked off the guests. This was perhaps the most artistic and emotionally charged part of the movie for its ripe symbolism. Those who came from the past were appalled and without words for the anguish they had caused. I won’t spoil the ending.
But it begs the question, is the pursuit of knowledge hollow and rife with unforeseeable dangers? How can we make progress if we fear failure? It is not surprising that scientists and engineers must plow through those fears in order to do the experiments which drive science. The following are TED talks on creativity, which is not an uncommon theme.
A couple real-world examples of the Lathe of Heaven‘s message, are the inventors of dynamite and the Gatling gun. Both men later regretted having invented machines of death, and assured them they were going to hell. So what do you think? Are we doomed to find world-ending devices the wrong way? Or should we be open to failure and its possibility, regardless of potential consequences?