The sentences dragged on and the words were annoying. We counted how many pages were left. We sludged through each chapter.
The great academic tragedy of our hatred for homework: we let incredible lessons sail right over our heads. We groaned and detested absolute masterpieces.
You probably grossly misunderstand Frankenstein. But it isn’t entirely your fault.
The irony of Mary Shelley’s original story lies in its overt mutilation by pop culture. With the rise of AI, gene editing, and rethinking animal consciousness, the book is strikingly relevant and full of lessons.
Above all, there’s a particularly useful application of wisdom that’s gone unmentioned and unextrapolated. Let’s change that.
There’s more to this story than most realize
As you probably already know, Frankenstein is about a doctor whose obsession with creating life spins out of control. He patches together parts from multiple dead people and animates a creature with an unspoken new science.
Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein in 1818. Society was making great strides in science, particularly with electricity. This burgeoning future with uncertain limits conflicted with the ideals of romanticism. Church and government authorities feared disturbing the natural order of things.
Frankenstein, the world’s first science fiction novel, written by a 19-year-old woman, is an extension of that fear. We see the monster evolve from non-verbal to speaking to articulating his feelings. In one memorable scene, he hides in bushes outside a home, watching a family eating dinner together. As they talk and laugh, he longs to be with them, surrounded by love.
He eventually confronts his creator and begs for acceptance. Dr. Frankenstein is horrified by him and shouts at him. Victor flees his apartment. Then, when he returns, his creation has run away. It is scared, angry, and scorned by society. From there, everything flies off the rails.
There’s a great anonymous quote from a few years back:
“Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster.
Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster.”
It addresses one of the most common misconceptions in the literature world: that Frankenstein is the actual creation. Victor Frankenstein never actually named his creature.
Knowledge means you get this basic fact. Wisdom means you understand Dr. Frankenstein is the monster because he had no business creating life. He played god and made selfish, low-empathy decisions.
Knowledge means you know the information. Wisdom means you apply it effectively to your life.
Would you rather be wise or intelligent?
Intelligence is an oft-hyped attribute. Yes, when combined with effort, it certainly opens doors. Yet wisdom is deeply underappreciated.
Let’s make hypothetical bets. We have 100 people. If 50 chose high intelligence and 50 chose high wisdom, which group would live, on average, better lives? My bet is on the latter.
Why? Because there’s a long list of very, very intelligent people who still make terrible decisions. The astrophysicist still cheats on his wife. The brilliant doctor still gives in to greed and loses his license. My own uncle was a neurosurgeon and died at 50 because he smoked cigarettes.
Dr. Frankenstein was clearly brilliant but deeply flawed. He robbed graves. He ignored his advisors. He was selfish and didn’t take responsibility for his creation. Obsession blinded him.
Most important decisions don’t involve high levels of complexity. It is you and I who complicate things.
Some different avenues to apply wisdom
Wisdom is simple and dynamic. You focus on clarity. You purge obsessive and irrational thoughts. You monitor ego-centric biases. You treat every decision as an investment with either payoff or a punishment.
- Learning An intelligent person knows the right answers. A wise person asks the right questions. They accept they can’t know everything.
- Evolving A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes.
- Emotions An intelligent person gets mad about the right things. A wise person waits a day before acting on that anger.
- Intentions A smart person is cautious of other people’s motivations. A wise person is cautious of other people’s motivations, as well as their own.
- Relationships A smart person knows that compromise is important. A wise person is actually willing to give up things.
- Symbolic Fictional Quests An intelligent person knows not to go into a dragon’s cave. A wise person chooses not to.
Intelligence is more conceptual. Wisdom has a follow-through.
Conclusion and takeaways
Wisdom requires acceptance of your flawed, bestial nature. It demands recognition that pleasure is often deception.
So don’t hoard knowledge like a dragon hoards gold. Have intent. Ask yourself, “How could I actually use this information?” Draw life’s complexities back to a simple place. Make that information actionable and use it.
I try to think of wisdom as an aspirational lifestyle. We often say, “Work smart.” I would say, “Live wise.”
Think a step ahead. Think deeper. Consider the ramifications of your actions. Draw upon your own experience before acting. And again, don’t be afraid to just sit and listen before you talk. Unless you like the taste of your own foot.
Don’t be the smart-dumb person in the room.