The Ethics Of Progress

The Ethics Of Progress
4 stars ****
Underbelly (Venue 61)

IT’S  ALMOST 50 years since C.P. Snow described how the “two cultures” – science and the arts – were becoming ever more separate; and the massive conceptual advances in science since then have only widened the gap.  Now, though, a whole generation of scientific writers and artists are seeking to heal the breach; and Unlimited Theatre of Leeds is one of the leading companies in this field, a group whose most personal and lyrical work has often featured a spooky backbeat of quantum physics.

Their latest show, The Ethics Of Progress, is a straightforward solo lecture-cum-stage-show, scripted for young and adult audiences by the regular Unlimited team of writer Chris Thorpe, director Clare Duffy and actor/artistic director Jon Spooner.  Over a brief hour or so, Spooner seeks to explain the meaning of three major concepts in quantum particle theory (superposition, entanglement, teleportation), and to outline what developments based on them might mean in practical and ethical terms.

This is mind-blowing stuff, well if hastily presented with the aid of clever visual images by Mic Pool.   The show really hits its stride, though, in the final sequence, where Spooner begins to talk about the experiences, memories and privacies that make us human, and to question what would become of those in a world – say – of regular teleportation, in which our physical composition could constantly be unmade and remade.

There are no answers here,  of course.  But there is a powerful clarion call for all of us non-scientists, young and old, to drop our foolish mental block about scientific concepts and arguments; and to engage with the astounding developments on which scientists are now working, if we want to have any hope of a democratic debate on how these technologies may be used and abused, as they begin to transform the nature of human life on earth, and beyond it.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 189



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