Western CivJordan RudeProfessor WaldenApril 21, 2013Forward the Light BrigadeProgress is an interesting concept. Does it include all achievements and discoveries made by mankind? Does it refer to societal, or technological, or cultural changes? Does its very definition call into question the idea of free will? In fact, progress is all of these. It refers to all the changes, for good or for ill, that affect and shape the human race. Our very nature renders progress inevitable. The innate drive to learn, discover and explore naturally leads to technological improvements and advances, which in turn lead to beneficial social changes. However, not all progress is positive. Some improvements lead to oppression and death, but in the end the arc of time curves back towards the good and progress marches on. Mankind continuously searches for answers, for better methods, for more efficient processes. Without this drive, we would still live like our primitive ancestors, never knowing thatsomething better was out there, waiting to be found. This search for the truth and for improvement has been led by many great men, among them Galileo Galilei. His life, as depicted by Bertolt Brecht, was one of constant inquiry and curiosity. Galileo most certainly possessed theinner drive to achieve greater knowledge and understanding. Although he did not actually invent the telescope, he had this to say: “… the one I made… was twice as good.”1He felt the urge to improve upon this new instrument and to use it to better understand the world around him. Galileo was looking to make progress, both scientifically and technologically. When faced with holy skepticism for his methods and his findings, Galileo challenges the Church to re-examine 1 Bertolt Brecht, Life of Galileo (London: Penguin Books, 1980), 24.
what it knows and question everything. He asks, “But surely, gentlemen, mankind may not only get the motions of the stars wrong but the Bible too?”2Progress is made by questioning what is known and searching for better answers, and this is exactly what Galileo did. Of course, progress it not without its dangers. Victor Frankenstein can testify to the dark side of innovation. Mary Shelley’s protagonist did not possess the drive to make scientific discoveries; he allowed the drive to possess him. At first, he had the best of all reasons to search for answers and for progress. He said of his youth, “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature… are among the earliest sensations I can remember.”3In this respect Frankenstein is very similar to Galileo. Both men wanted to learn and discover so that they could illuminate the secrets of the world.