Beginning with Faustus of Milevis, covering the historical association between genius and mental illness, mad alchemists of the Renaissance, grave robbing and organ snatching, io9 has a rollicking look at the mad scientist in Western culture:
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The mad scientist can be usefully defined as an individual who conducts scientific experiments, invents something scientific, or does original scientific research, all while suffering from both psychological and moral insanity.
Historically the mad scientist has fallen into one of two modes. The first, what literary critics have variously labelled as “Promethean” or “utopian,” roughly follows the model of the figure of Prometheus from Greek mythology: the scientist is not inherently evil, and in fact is usually portrayed as either a self-sacrificing idealist or a deluded comic figure. The scientist’s mad science is morally ambivalent and ultimately degrades the moral sensibilities of the humans it comes in contact with. The Promethean/utopian mad scientist has noble goals but fails through human weakness, both his/her own and others’.