A Morbid Curiosity

Jaxon Higgins, Staff Writer

            Science is based on the idea that knowledge will never fully be obtained, that there is a perpetual search for truth. This, unfortunately, often becomes the bane of scientists around the globe, in every culture. This search for truth has a tendency to blind researchers to both the practicality, and morality of the means by which they acquire it. When a scientist’s curiosity is peaked, it will, more often than not, outweigh any other factors associated with the subject, no matter how vital. From the early studies of Milgram; in which participants were asked to willingly torture a complete stranger, to the modern documentary ‘Push’; wherein four individuals were pressured into pushing a man off of a roof, researchers have completely ignored any moral expectations, in order to selfishly answer a question.

           Stanley Milgram was a social psychologist working at Yale University in the sixties. He planned on studying the extent of our obedience to authority. Thus began one of the most infamously controversial studies ever held in the field of psychology. In short, Milgram asked a large group of participants to play the role of ‘teacher’, and when cued, they would administer an electrical shock to an individual – presented as real, however, present only as a recording of a voice in pain. These shocks would increase in severity until the individual heard in the recording was assumed to have passed out. A shocking amount of individuals were compliant, administering shocks until told to be done. However, while these findings were groundbreaking and extremely interesting, the risk of a heavy emotional toll on the participants was more than questionable. There was also no practical application to justify such a risk. In other words, the cost far outweighed the gain. Milgram was blinded by the desire to unearth human nature – as though by identifying it, he could mend it.

           A far more recent study, filmed in the documentary ‘The Push’, was also intended to understand our relationship with social pressure. In this experiment, individuals were unknowingly placed in a scenario that involved eventually being told to push a man off of a building. There was no reference to the consultation of an ethics committee, which is not difficult to believe, seeing as no board would consider this experiment even relatively humane. Four individuals were tested, by being told to consecutively hide a dead body, kick a corpse, and push a man to his death. This means four possibilities of lifelong trauma, the potential of PTSD for four innocents, and – albeit hyperbolic – four possible killers in the making. At the very best, this study showed a society how weak their social resolve is. Which pragmatically has zero value, excluding the fact that viewers will now become hyper aware when next asked to mislabel vegetarian foods.

           While these studies brought to light some very intriguing information, there was no justification to sensibly make acceptable the risk of the mental health of individuals that participated. Progress for the sake of progress should always be checked. And in this instance, the term ‘progress’ is used very loosely. In our very methodical, almost religious search for knowledge, it is imperative that we never compromise our morality.