Thursday, November 06, 2008

Remembering Michael Crichton

Dinosaurs are in mourning. Michael Crichton has died from cancer at age 66.

Crichton’s books often explored the consequences of scientific advancements without ethical constraints. As a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard with an M.D. from that school, having done post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies and as Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Crichton had the educational background to explore these issues.

My favorite book and subsequent movie of his is Jurassic Park. In what I consider the pivotal quote in the movie, on hearing of the great scientific advancements Jurassic Park technicians have made, Dr. Malcolm warns, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”

This theme of ability outpacing morality echoes the sentiments of sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler in his famous book, “Future Shock”. It continues in our world today as we debate cloning, embryonic stem cell research and more.

Crichton never dodged controversy. In 2004, his book State of Fear was published which questioned the growing concern over global warming. He gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club on the hype which caused quite a stir. He compared environmentalism to a religion. Skeptics of the hysteria over global warming continue to sound the alarm that some “scientific beliefs” were much more faith-based than fact-based. In his 2006 novel Next, Crichton explored the legal and ethical issues of genetic research.

The literary world has lost one of its thinkers. I think I might have to rewatch Jurassic Park soon.

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