It is often said “there’s a thin line between genius and insanity”. From Einstein with his shaggy hair and stuck-out tongue to Archimedes running about the street naked shouting “eureka! ” after making a discovery, one can’t help but agree with whoever made that statement. Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck and Jeremy Bernstein all wrote stories of scientists who were all geniuses – they all had devoted years of study into their fields.
Yet, some of them acted irrationally without considering the consequences of their actions (Frankenstein; Aylmer), some did things against their nature (Frankenstein; Phillips), and you couldn’t help but question the sanity of others (the narrator in Bubble and Squeak; Aylmer). In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein was “forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses”. Of course, no one forced him to– he was driven by the ambition to discover the source of life.
And when he did, an even greater ambition drove him – to create and give life to a human being and eventually, “a new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me”. To make this dream a reality, he subjected himself to many experiences that the next human would find extremely repulsive and disgusting. In his own words, “…often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation. ” But the ambition always overpowered his human nature. A beautiful summer came and passed, but he was too busy with his studies to notice.
He had also lost touch with his family and friends, even though he knew his father would be anxious. It was telling on him, too. He had become emaciated, and many sleepless nights had his eyes bulging from their sockets. He deteriorated to the extent that he became a nervous, solitary wreck, and a fever came upon him every night. Nathaniel Hawthorne in his book “The Birthmark” said the scientific hero Aylmer had “devoted himself too unreservedly to scientific studies to be weaned from them by any second passion.
His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two, but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love for science and uniting the strength of the latter to his own. ” Aylmer had a young, beautiful wife; unfortunately Georgiana had a tiny flaw on her face, which made her imperfect in his sight. From then on, his obsession was to get rid of the birthmark from her face, and he had come to hate it so much that the sight of it made him shudder. Other men saw the birthmark and saw beauty and charm, Aylmer saw it and saw a defect, a representation of all imperfections.
Even Aminadab, Aylmer’s lab assistant, said that “if she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark. ” Because the birthmark was in the shape of a tiny hand, it was often remarked that it was the print of a fairy’s hand on her cheek, which made her “hold such sway over all hearts. ” However, Aylmer was a man of science, and most likely did not believe in fairies and all the whatnot, and so he considered the birthmark as “a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.
” In other words, his horror at the birthmark for making Georgiana imperfect became stronger than his appreciation of Georgiana’s beauty. Further along in the story, Aylmer became extremely devoted into creating a mixture to get rid of the birthmark that he secluded his wife. Once, Georgiana followed him into his lab and was frightened, not by the scientific apparatus, but by what she saw of her husband. “He was pale as death, anxious and absorbed.
” Georgiana once wondered if she could satisfy him, and realized that she couldn’t, as “his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending, and each instant required something that was beyond the scope of the instant before. ” Dr Phillips in John Steinbeck’s “The Snake” was a man who “could kill a thousand animals for knowledge, but not an insect for pleasure. ” He had no problem with killing for study, as was shown when he was petting cats and feeding them in one minute, and in the next put one of them into a killing chamber for biology classes.
His research about the starfish also shows that. But we know killing animals is not in his nature when he “felt that it was profoundly wrong to put a rat into the [rattlesnake’s] cage, deeply sinful” when the strange woman asked him to feed the snake. It was something he did regularly himself, when he needed to feed the snakes, but because the snake had already had its rat for the week, Dr Phillips felt sickened. Probably because he felt the rat was going to die for no reason. For science, Dr Phillips went against his nature.
Jeremy Bernstein’s “Bubble and Squeak” is the story of a mathematician who had become so analytical it was comical. For example, normal people emphasize the scariness of ghosts in ghost stories; instead, he tries to explain ghosts as apparitions caused by atmospheric densities. He always tried to draw a mathematical and scientific parallel to everything he saw. He calculated probabilities of events, and even wondered if it was possible to measure feelings. What these four scientific heroes had in common was obsession.
Victor Frankenstein’s obsession was to become a creator of humans; Aylmer’s obsession was perfection, as expressed by wanting to get rid of his wife’s birthmark; Dr Phillips numbed his nature for the study of science, he was obsessed with biology; and the narrator in Bubble and Squeak had become too mathematical and scientific for his own good. Science in its nature is rather addictive. The more you discover, the more you want to discover – It’s like a never quenching thirst for knowledge. In the words of Victor Frankenstein, “… in a scientific pursuit there is a continual food for discovery and wonder.
” It is as a result of this persistent pursuit of science that many inventions that we take for granted today, the same inventions we can’t imagine living without, were created. However, the danger is in letting our pursuit of knowledge or any other thing control us, such that we do things that are against our nature, or fail to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. As Victor Frankenstein eventually learnt, “A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility.
I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is unlawful, that is to say, not benefitting the human mind. ” (Shelley 40) SADE MABA HUM 101 WORK CITED: Lynch, Robert; Swanzey, Thomas and Coakley, John. The Example of Science. 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2003. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 30th ed. New York: New American Library, Penguin Group (USA) Inc. , 2000.
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