Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is definitely a work of fiction. But what if the titular Frankenstein Monster of that book had existed in real life, and found himself a female of his own species, if you could even call it that? A new study published this week in the journal BioScience suggests that that would have had a deleterious effect on mankind — the possible extinction of humanity.
A report on the study from Phys.org cites the researchers’ main point of interest — the scene where Victor Frankenstein’s rather lonely monster asks his creator to make him a female companion. But that’s not the only thing he wants in this scene, as the monster states that he and his prospective partner would want to live in the “wilds of South America,” and would require a different diet from average humans.
At that point, Frankenstein feels that his monster may have a point, as the monster and his prospective mate wouldn’t interact too much with humans in their isolated environment. But he ultimately decides against creating a female equivalent to his “Creature” when he realizes the two could very well procreate, thereby breeding generations of Frankenstein Monsters and potentially wiping out mankind.
“The principle of competitive exclusion was not formally defined until the 1930s,” said co-author Nathaniel Dominy of Dartmouth University. “Given Shelley’s early command of this foundational concept, we used computational tools developed by ecologists to explore if, and how quickly, an expanding population of creatures would drive humans to extinction.”
In order to determine what kind of effect the Frankenstein Monster and his mate would have on mankind had they existed and populated, the researchers used a mathematical model that took into consideration human population densities at the time Shelley published her novel. According to ABC News Australia, the researchers also assumed some of the monster’s traits, taking his published height of eight feet tall, and theorizing that he would have a more diverse diet than that of humans while being able to heal quickly after being shot in the shoulder.
All told, Dominy believes that the Frankenstein Monster could populate and ultimately cause human extinction in about 4,000 years’ time.
Dominy’s fellow study author Justin Yeakel, an assistant professor at the University of California, Merced’s School of Natural Sciences, said that Shelley was ahead of her time regarding predicting evolutionary and ecological concepts before they became common knowledge.
“To date, most scholars have focused on Mary Shelley’s knowledge of then-prevailing views on alchemy, physiology and resurrection; however, the genius of Mary Shelley lies in how she combined and repackaged existing scientific debates to invent the genre of science fiction. Our study adds to Mary Shelley’s legacy, by showing that her science fiction accurately anticipated fundamental concepts in ecology and evolution by many decades.”
Specifically, Dominy and Yeakel believe that Frankenstein — the scientist, not his monster — was considering the idea of competitive exclusion, even if Shelley hadn’t defined it as such, even if the term hadn’t been invented yet. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is a phenomenon where two species will directly compete with each other for the same resources within an overlapping ecological niche. This would end with the more competitive species rendering the other one extinct.
ABC News Australia also added some interesting insights on the new study, taking into account how the world’s population has multiplied sevenfold since Mary Shelley wrote about Victor Frankenstein and his monster. Although the world now has 7.35 billion people, there have been hundreds of animal species that have since gone extinct, mostly a result of “competitions” with humans or other invasive species, as driven by man-made factors.
[Featured Image by Clive Limpkin/Getty Images]