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Jurassic Park | Themes

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Value of Experiential Science

An important theme in Jurassic Park is the value of experiential science, or learning from firsthand experiences. The word science comes from the Latin term scientia, which means knowledge or knowing. Michael Crichton shows what happens when empirical knowledge clashes with theoretical science, as in Chapter 5, when lab tech Alice Levin correctly identifies Tina Bowman's drawing as that of a dinosaur, not a modern lizard. Tina's sketch is accurate and Alice is correct, but Dr. Stone rejects their insights because Alice is "just a technician."

Throughout the novel, scientists such as Dr. Alan Grant, who have devoted their lives to a field and done considerable hands-on work, are portrayed in a more favorable light than those like Dr. Henry Wu, whose knowledge is strictly theoretical or too narrow. Dr. Wu represents the danger of abstract science driven by greed and arrogance, while Dr. Grant embodies the humble scientist who recognizes his limitations and lack of understanding and uses empirical evidence to further scientific thought.

Hubris

The Greek term hubris refers to a quality of character in which gifted heroes overreach themselves through arrogance. Beyond this general tradition, there is a more specific one in science fiction when a scientist or scientific project reaches beyond the limits suitable to humanity and suffers for it. An early example of this is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in which Victor Frankenstein animates dead tissue in an act of unnatural creation and creates a monster who destroys his life. Frankenstein's hubris and his desire to be the world's greatest scientist ultimately leads to disaster.

Similarly, John Hammond and Dr. Henry Wu are filled with the same hubris. The technology used is different—rather than stitching together body parts, following alchemical texts and applying a jolt of electricity to bring the dead back to life, extinct species are revived through cloning. The results, however, are the same. Hammond and Wu do not operate according to a set of moral or ethical principles. Their hubris fuels their desire to be the first to bring dinosaurs to life, and to create new hybrids. In the process they disregard the potential implications, not only for themselves but for humanity.

System Complexity

John Hammond, John Arnold, and Dr. Henry Wu all act as if they can contain and control the dinosaurs they have created. They seem to believe that the dinosaurs are fundamentally simpler than they really are. However, throughout the book they find their predictions and assumptions are incorrect. Even their observations are dangerously flawed and partial. This can be seen early in the tour of the park, when they don't realize the stegosaurus has been accidentally poisoning itself, and more vividly when the motion sensors finally count 292 dinosaurs rather than the expected 238.

The novel repeatedly exposes the fallacies in how the park personnel think, and Crichton underscores this by including Ian Malcolm as the idiosyncratic prophet of chaos theory, who explicitly predicts the park's collapse into a "Malcolm Effect" of complete chaos.

Greed

Throughout Jurassic Park, Crichton treats greed, especially corporate greed, as incredibly dangerous. He establishes this point in the Introduction when he discusses how genetic engineering, funded by powerful corporations, develops differently from other sciences. Unlike many other sciences where the aim is to find a solution to an existing problem (such as developing a cure for a disease), genetic engineering is driven by a corporation's desire to be the first to develop a new organism. These organisms do not necessarily serve a purpose but are simply created to gain recognition and fill the corporation's pockets.

Once the novel is underway, any action directly driven by financial motivation is shown to be short-sighted and often destructive. The starkest example of this is Dennis Nedry's choice to betray the park by stealing and selling dinosaur embryos. This leads him to shut down the park's systems, and ultimately ends in his death, blinded and eaten by a carnivorous dinosaur. This is a modern example of poetic justice in which good is lavishly rewarded and evil (or even poor decision-making) is punished.

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