Prometheanism--that powerful urge in man--has given birth to moon landings, space travel, voyages to the depths of the seas, organ transplants, cloning, giant atom smashers, jet planes, antibiotics, and more. Because of such feats, many people look upon those who transform dreams into reality (scientists, medical researchers, astronomers, technological experts) as miracle workers. Indeed, society often takes phenomenal achievements for granted, expecting events to continue indefinitely until, to use one of Voltaire's ironies, "the best of all possible worlds" comes into being. Even some physicists, such as Gerald Feinberg, harbor illusions that man will one day learn the secret of immortality. Feinberg bases his theory on unidentified particles called mindons and psychons. Such statements are faintly reminiscent of Paracelsus'utterings, "We shall be like Gods," or the lucubrations of Faust's student, "Although I know much, I want to know all."

Naive optimism with regard to reason dates back to Plato's and even to pre-Socratic time and will play a role in the unlimited advances still to come in the scientific, technological, and medical fields. In Phaedrus Plato depicts man as struggling to control his instincts and desires by repressing "the beast" within him and endowing the all-glorious mind with divine attributes. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas followed these lines. Descartes continued the trend when he laid down his principle: cogito ergo sum. Descartes' followers felt that reason eventually would become so perfected an instrument that it would be capable of logically thinking through all problems, including the discovery of the component parts of matter and universal secrets. Such unmitigated optimism gave birth to the notion of infinite progress evinced by Turgot and the nineteenth-century utopians such as Fourier, Blanc, Saint-Simon, and Marx. The motto of the ancient alchemists held true for modern man as well: "Lege, Lege, relege, ora, labora et invenies" (or "Read,


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The Prometheus Syndrome


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