Abstract Details

Making Waves: Ripples of Consciousness in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein  Shoshannah Bryn Jones Square (English, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey, BC Canada)   C24

We emerge from darkness into light, from the nothingness of non-existence to the somethingness of conscious experience, in an echo of the dawning of the universe itself. As physicist Ian Walmsley writes, "Light gives life" (2). According to the Bible, before God created light, "the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep" (Genesis 1.1-2). However, when "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" and commanded, "Let there be light," the stillness was disturbed, the waters set in eternal motion, and the darkness was made dazzlingly bright. Science has a similar story about the birth of our inexplicable universe. As Stephen Hawking writes, "there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense," and "[o]ne may say that time had a beginning at the big bang," the instant when, suddenly, spontaneously, the universe became saturated by light (9). Like the wind suddenly creating perpetually-cresting waves in a motionless and soundless sea, so the big bang is said to have created cosmic ripples, ever-expanding waves swelling outwards. Strikingly, Baroness Susan Greenfield uses an almost identical analogy to describe the awakening of consciousness, likening it to a stone being thrown into a pool of water. Greenfield suggests that the stone is like a strong sensory experience such as the sound of an alarm clock, the equivalent of throwing the stone very forcefully and thereby generating strong enough ripples to rouse us from senselessness to awareness. Over 200 years ago, the teenage Mary Shelley was writing a novel, Frankenstein, whose very structure mirrors this rippling effect, its framed narratives expanding outwards, the creature's story being told and retold within the novel itself but also in the world outside Frankenstein. We, the readers, keep the novel alive. We read and re-read it, and we have created manifold iterations of it. As this paper will show, Frankenstein is a study of the science of consciousness, an exploration of what it is and what it means to be alive.