Reflecting the Mind of the Vatican since 1850
Who Are Scientists? Prometheus, Icarus, John the Baptist and scientific research
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The image that people tend to have of science is of an activity conducted by “Prometheans.” In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind. Punished by Zeus, he was chained to a cliff at the edge of the world, and then plunged into Tartarus. Of course, the image of the scientist as Prometheus is quite simplistic and does not do justice to many aspects. But in today’s era – in some ways “anti-scientific” and characterized by a populist and disoriented indifference – there is a risk of seeing men and women of science as beings animated by insatiable curiosity and existential hedonism, which leads them to investigate, without shame or respect, the mysteries of creation and the universe.

It seems to us, however, that this vision contains in itself two significant inaccuracies: on the one hand, it does not take into consideration the sense of the limit, of the horizon on to which the scientific vision is inescapably grafted, a state of affairs of which the researchers of the 21st century are well aware, much more so than in the past; on the other hand, the contemporary “Promethean scientist” does not consider aspects of the person of science and the very complexity to which he or she feels continually attracted.

Whoever does science is in constant dialectical “play” between scientific depth and lyrical heights. If the first element – scientific rigor – can be understood as constitutive of the researcher’s profession, the second – the more “poetic” dimension of life – is an element that the researcher, as a human being, does not know yet does not want to give up. This, too, must be taken into account when considering a scientific work.
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