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Frankenstein's monster would destroy humanity in 4,000 years

Published: 31st October, 2016 at 00:00
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Biologists calculate how long it would take the monster to outcompete humans for resources.

He's one of the most terrifying creations in literary history. Frankenstein's monster has inspired countless films and Halloween costumes, a nightmarish Creature with "yellow skin scarcely [covering] the work of muscles and arteries beneath". Thankfully, the Creature is a work of fiction. But what might have happened if he'd been let loose in the real world?


Two biologists in the US decided to find out. In Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, the Creature demands that Victor Frankenstein make him a mate, arguing that he deserves to be happy. He promises that he and his companion will vanish into the wilds of South America, never to be seen again.

Frankenstein ultimately refuses, destroying the companion-to-be, but what would have happened if he had released a pair of loved-up Creatures into the South American wild? To find out, the researchers created a mathematical model, using human population densities from 1816.

"We calculated that a founding population of two Creatures could drive us to extinction in as little as 4,000 years," says Nathaniel J. Dominy, Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College.

Our extinction would be caused by the Creatures competing with us for resources, ultimately leading to our demise. It's a concept known as 'competitive exclusion', and this research is further proof of Mary Shelley's genius in repackaging scientific and philosophical ideas to invent a whole new genre: science fiction.

And thank goodness it's only fiction...


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James Lloyd
James LloydStaff writer, BBC Science Focus

James is staff writer at BBC Science Focus magazine. He especially enjoys writing about wellbeing and psychology.


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