8. Was this a true “experiment”? If so, what was being tested? In the short story “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, rather than observing the effect on people of the water from the Fountain of Youth, there is a true experiment behind. Though the narrator spends chunks of description on how the water changes people’s appearance and action, the inner human nature is what it really tests. As the doctor said before the experiment, “it would be well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. Though not explicitly shown in the story, it is apparent that the experiment involves more than physical changes. Concerned with the behavior of people, Dr. Heidegger is not just interested in the physical effect of the water. Will anyone ever learn from previous experiences? Will people make the same mistakes if they have a chance to start over? What’s the relationship between age, appearance, and action? The experiment is true for it raises several questionable issues related to human nature and reveals certain answers through the behaviors of the four people in the story. a) Why did he select four people of such similar personality? Would it not have been a more productive and interesting experiment had differing personalities been included? By selecting four people of similar personality, Dr. Heidegger could have a better understanding on his experimental subjects and reached his purpose. One fact in common is that “they were all sad old creatures who had been unfortunate in life”. Namely, these four elders all squandered their money and reputation due to youthful foolishness.
As the purpose was to explore the human nature (whether people would change), he knew that if given a choice to be young again, they would be the ones who wanted to change most. Yet, all of them proved the doctor wrong in the end, which clearly served the purpose of the experiment as well as made it more representative. If differing personalities were included, it would make the experiment harder to conclude, digress from its purpose, and lose its precision.
Controlling variables was an important step to reach the result which was to examine whether youthful foolishness could be changed. Besides, it wouldn’t be any more productive since any successful experiment aiming to figure out a general phenomenon requires more than one subject. And in this case, four was a better choice. ? b) What did Dr. Heidegger expect to see? What might have been his initial hypothesis? Support your thinking with reference to the story. Dr. Heidegger expected to see a change in behaviors when the four guests were given a do-over chance.
Before they drank the magical water, he reminded them that “it would be well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. ” In other words, he wished his four guests would change whatever caused their previous failure and stop making the same mistakes. He hoped to see a positive transformation which the elders used their lifetime wisdom to guide themselves in the right way. However, as high as his expectation appeared to be, his initial hypothesis wasn’t exactly ideal.
When he asked the four friends to assist him, he claimed that “For my own part, having had much trouble in growing old, I am in no hurry to grow young again”. That is, the doctor himself had no intention to be young even though he once had some miserable time, just like his guests. Thus, we can conclude that the reason he just wanted to be an observer was that he believed people would make the same mistakes even granted a second chance. ? c) What, if anything, did he expect his “subjects” to learn from the experiment? What might have been his purpose?
As his guests suffered in their youth and lost their vigor, he might expect them to learn that since people couldn’t change, they might as well accept the reality. After the experiment, Dr. Heidegger said, “Well – I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it – no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me! ” As we can see, Dr. Heidegger knew this water did no good on people except creating illusions. And even in fake reality, people still remained who they used to be without single change despite of their senility. “Pressing the withered rose to his withered lips” Dr. Heidegger also said that “I love it as well thus as in its dewy freshness”. Compared with his subjects, Dr. Heidegger appeared to possess more wisdom and virtue, which was the two presents of age. He loved the way he was, for his age gave him wisdom. Therefore, all he did was to test his friends with the expectation that they would learn to change, or at least realize the inevitability of old age and death, and then embrace their presence after all these.
The purpose of this experiment might be to discover the relationship between age, appearance, and behavior. Age, despite of physical senescence, depends more on the state of mind. Though the guests were seen to act differently due to their youthful appearances, the real reason was their inner self, who they thought they were. However, the experiment also proved that one was not likely to change who he or she really was even given another chance.
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