From Natural to Artificial Selection: A Chaotic Reading of Shelagh Stephenson’s An Experiment with an Air Pump (1998)

Khalid Ahmad Yas, Arbaayah Ali Termizi, Rosli Talif, Hardev Kaur


The paper aims to utilise chaos theory as a methodology and perspective to analyse Shelagh Stephenson’s science drama An Experiment with an Air Pump thematically and structurally. It is highly pertinent to mention here that the discovery of the DNA structure in 1953 by Watson and Crick coincided with the development of a new paradigm shift in science, chaos theory.  The discovery of the DNA structure, on the other hand, led to the birth of the science of genetics which reached its peak in the late 1990s when Human Genome Project was completed. Theatre did not stand aloof from this radical shift. Mapping human genome might lead to appalling ethical dilemmas. Topics related to the cold war and nuclear-bomb were replaced with ones quoted from biology, genetics and cloning. Stephenson’s play brings to light the danger of turning from natural to artificial selection as science, now, has access not only to the DNA structure but also how to manipulate it.  The drama’s extensive debate focuses mainly on the risk of genome-related discrimination.


Thermodynamics; Entropy; Chaos Theory; Self-Organization; Genetics; Artificial Selection

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