X-Files examines the possible motivations behind some scientific endeavors

In this clip, filmed like the old Frankenstein Movies, X-Files agents Mulder and Scully interview a scientist who’s been performing some disturbing experiments on genetic manipulation.
Background: Perhaps no TV show of the late 90’s was more influential to present-day TV than The X-Files, in which FBI agents investigate paranormal- and “fringe-science-” related crimes, while attempting to unravel a deep conspiracy.
Having found a very sure footing by its fifth season, the show began to experiment with more comedic, quirky episodes, producing some of its best material. In this one (directed by Chris Carter, creator of the series) we find Mulder and Scully trying to discover the source of some monster viewings in a small town, to which purpose they pay a visit to the town’s resident scientist.
The X-Files, Season 5, Episode 5: “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” (1997)
Directed by Chris Carter.
Posted in YouTube by Philosophy Clips

Themes: Genetic technologies, ethics of technology, hubris.

Teaching tips:

This is a very short clip, but conveys its message very well. The context and the way in which it is filmed can add some layers to the philosophical discussion. The black-and-white, the lightning, and the episode’s title are all referencing the old Frankenstein movies. And Dr. Frankenstein represents, perhaps better than any other fictional characters, the dangers of scientific hubris.

While the modifications depicted in this clip may seem frivolous, there is a lot of seemingly frivolous experimentation going on. To bring the discussion to a more contemporary setting, you may want to show a few minutes of this TED Talk by Paul Root Wolpe: “It’s Time to Question Bio-Engineering.” (2010). It’s light material, and seven years old, but it provides a good introduction.

Also, if you are interested in discussing the concept of “hubris” in a broader setting, you’ll find some additional material here.

Questions for discussion:

  • Why is the episode filmed in this manner? What is the director trying to convey?
  • What is the significance of the episode’s title: “The Post-Modern Prometheus”? Who was Prometheus? Who was the modern Prometheus? And why is this one “post-modern”?
  • “Because I can.” Is that an acceptable answer? Is science bound by no moral laws? Or in a different manner: does scientific progress justify overstepping moral laws?
  • Watch a few minutes of the TED Talk by Paul Root Wolpe: “It’s Time to Question Bio-Engineering.” Are the examples portrayed there examples of frivolous (or perhaps damaging) use of technology? How do they compare with what the Scientist is doing in the X-Files clip? Are they similar, or are there morally relevant differences?
  • Can you think of works of fiction (especially in the area of science fiction) apart from the one referenced in the title, that bring up similar questions?
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