Saturday, August 18, 2007

Unstructured Archetypes: The Scientist

The ScientistHe is Victor Frankenstein. He is Henry Jekyll. He is Edward Mobius.

The Scientist is usually male, though the Scientist can be female.

In the Scientist's own eyes, his work is always for the Greater Good. He believes himself selfless. He is arrogant, though he clothes himself in modesty.

He secretly relishes the fame his success will bring him. He honestly believes he is in fact The Hero. Yet he loudly proclaims his own humbleness.

The Scientist is not crazy or power hungry. His Quest is not for domination. His Quest is not for power or riches. He is not a Mad Scientist, nor is he an Evil Genius.

The Scientist is not good; the scientist is not evil. The Scientist is focused on achieving his goal and success and nothing else.

Obstacles to his goal will be swept aside by his brilliance. Side-effects are unlikely or impossible.

The Scientist never achieves his goal. The Scientist always succumbs to his Great Mistake.

In the instant of his Great Mistake, the Scientist realizes nobody should pry so deeply into the Great Mysteries.

Though the Scientist is not evil, his Great Mistake creates Evil.

The Scientist is all the reasons we should remain ignorant for Our Own Good.

The Scientist is always ultimately destroyed by his Great Mistake.

He finds atonement only through self-sacrifice, helping The Hero stop the Mistake.

The Scientist is functionally celibate; he is not a family man, even when he has a family.

The Scientist is often the father of the Hero's One True Love.

The Scientist does not worship God. God is either superstition, or the Ultimate Mystery; in neither case does God deserve the Scientist's worship.

At the instant of his Great Mistake, the Scientist realizes God has always been there and that the Great Mistake is attempting to usurp God.


This post has been contributed by Arturo Magidin. Arturo is a mathematician living in Louisiana. If there were such an archetype, he would be The Reader.

9 comments:

Andrew Lias said...

I would first like to thank Arturo for a excellent article.

I would like to open for discussion what elements distinguish the Scientist, as Arturo has defined him, from the Mad Scientist and the Evil Genius.

I think that Scientists belief that he's working for the Greater Good is the keystone but curious to see what other distinctions you may see.

ron smith said...

Well done Arturo.

magidin said...

In my opinion, you are correct that the keystone difference is the intent. The Scientist thinks he works for the greater good, and any personal gain will be a corollary, an earned reward, of that greater good. The Evil Genius uses knowledge for his own evil, egotistical purposes, and is not truly interested in the knowledge itself. The Mad Scientist searches for power because it will, in his mind, allow him to finish his quest (the quest itself being again something egotistical, not for the Greater Good).

So a search for power is also always a component of both the Evil Genius and the Mad Scientist (whether as the end or as a means, respectively), while it is never part of the quest for the Scientist. This is in part a corollary of that outlook, in that both the Evil Genius and the Mad Scientist are, first and foremost, in it for themselves; while the Scientist is in it for the Greater Good (and, okay, for the "reflected glory"; but that is the consequence of his Quest as he sees it, and neither goal nor means of that quest).

Now, in a slightly different topiic, the mature archetype emerges with Shelley's Frankenstein, of course. Does anyone know of a prior incarnation?

Andrew Lias said...

Hmm. Well, taking a cue from Shelly's own subtitle, I'd say that Prometheus is a kind of prototype for the archetype. I think that a better example, however, might be the story of Daedalus.

Whether or not trying to save himself and his son could be considered acting for the Greater Good is a debatable point but I do think that the critical element of hubris and the consequences of that hubris are clearly analogous.

I do think that Frankenstein is the the earliest modern incarnation.

magidin said...

I would agree as far as Daedalus; I'm not so sure about Prometheus. Prometheus gives fire and knowledge to mankind; thereby he himself suffers, punished by the gods for his actions, but it was not an act of hubris on his part. In point of fact, Prometheus is working for the greater good, and viewed as such. His subsequent punishment is that of a Martyr. I think Shelley's subtitle is precisely the observation that Frankenstein believes himself to be like Prometheus, bringer of new knowledge, stolen from the Gods, into the world.

magidin said...

Here is one distinction between the Scientist and the Mad Scientist. If they are both looking for "the secret of immortality", the Scientist will describe his success by saying "Imagine it: nobody will every die again;" while the Mad Scientist will say "I will have power over life and death."

The literary Victor Frankenstein is the archetypical Scientist; the moviedom Victor Frankenstein, on the other hand, is the archetypical Mad Scientist. IMHO.

Andrew Lias said...

I think that's a fair distinction, Arturo; especially with regards to the difference between the literary and the cinematic Dr. Frankenstein.

Andrew Lias said...

Natalie suggests that Dr. Faust may also be a prototype of the scientist. I don't think that the match is exact but I can see a case being made that Faust is in the vicinity (depending on which version of the Faustus tale we go by, of course).

magidin said...

I will agree with Faust as well; the failure of a full match comes, I think, simply from the fact that while I've described a Supporting Character archetype, Faust is a Protagonist. All the archetypes clearly require some modification when they change from a supporting role to a lead role, and vice-versa.

As for older instance of the archetype, the architect in charge of the Tower of Babel would also qualify, I think.

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