“Things go to hell together”

While Crichton’s two-volume dinosaur saga, Jurassic Park and The Lost World, is filled with interesting characters, there are two, one major, the other minor, that stand out because of their philosophical outlook: Ian Malcolm and Jack Thorne—two very practical men, though in different ways. The latter has a disdain for theory, theoreticians and academics, while the former for the “practical” practitioners: engineers, scientists and so on.

Malcolm is a mathematician, specializing in chaos theory, who predicts that Hammond’s dream project, the dinosaur “amusement” park, is “an accident waiting to happen.” His advice that Hammond and his team are underestimating nature, and overestimating their own understanding of it, falls on deaf ears. Every event in JP1, and JP2, is a confirmation of his prediction. Malcolm uses mathematical equations and computer models to predict unpredictability. And Hammond & Co’s response is: “We’re dealing with living systems, after all. This is life, not computer models.” Ironical, because this argument is generally used against models that try to predict the unpredictable. Some interesting passages from JP1-

“[T]he history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

and this one, about Benoit Mandelbrot and fractals-

“And that’s how things are. A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there…. And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.”

[…]

“It’s the only way to look at things. At least the only way that is true to reality.”

and-

“[Arnold’s] all right. He’s an engineer. Wu’s the same. They’re both technicians. They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences. That’s how you get an island like this. From thintelligent thinking. Because you cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape. But they don’t see that.”

[…]

“Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something. They conveniently define such considerations as pointless.”

and one of the best passages, in JP1—Malcolm giving Hammond a piece of his mind when Hammond tells him that the park, inspite of all the complex science that went into its creation, was essentially a simple idea—which ends with this-

“I’ll make it simple. A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple.”

Malcolm’s views border on anti-science, and even, perhaps, anti-reason, or at least anti-science-as-it-is-being-practiced-

“But you decide you won’t be at the mercy of nature. You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it…. Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make the ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe.”

and, his final words in the book when Hammond tells him that the dinosaurs didn’t, after all, escape and destroy the planet-

“You egomaniacal idiot. Do you have any idea what you are talking about? You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have. You can’t destroy this planet. You can’t even come close.”

[…]

“My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…. It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”

[…]

“Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet—or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”

Crichton resurrected Malcolm from the dead for The Lost World. And he introduced the minor character of Jack “Doc” Thorne, a former professor of applied engineering who now practices what he taught-

“A platform to observe what?” Arby said.
Thorne said, “He didn’t tell you?”
“No,” Kelly said.
“No,” Arby said.
“Well, he didn’t tell me, either,” Thorne said, shaking his head. “All I know is he wants everything immensely strong. Light and strong, light and strong. Impossible.” He sighed. ” God save me from academics.”
“I thought you were an academic,” Kelly said.
“”Former academic,” Thorne said briskly. “Now I actually make things. I don’t just talk.”

The book has a few paragraphs in the form of a character study on him which explain why dislikes theory and academia so much. Otherwise, he’s used as an action figure rather than an intellectual. But that’s the nature of the book. While JP1 was about dispelling the illusion of control, JP2 is an action-mystery focusing on evolution and behavior. Things are already bad. They can hardly get much worse. But they do…. As Malcolm says while trying to explain the idea of Gambler’s Ruin, “Bad things cluster. Things go to hell together. That’s the real world.”

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