A scientist and a human

Within the first ten chapters of ” The Lost World” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle we are presented with various descriptions of  scientists. When the main protagonist, Edward Malone, enters Professor Challenger’s house he describes the professor as having an abnormally large head.  “His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being.”

I thought this line was very stereotypical of the time period. It refers to the high-brow, low-brow spectrum. By making reference to the size of the head, the author wished to convey a sense of superiority. A big head, or ‘high-brow’ indicated a larger brain and hence a more knowledgeable important person of class. He goes on to mention that the professor’s hat “would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders.” This in contrast showed the reporter to be in the low-brow category. This emphasizes the difference between these two men signifying the professor’s high scholarly status.

Malone is a regular man with a regular job. He does not work in a lab nor does he discover new species.  The book ,like the typical stereotype which lives on today, places the scientific man in a higher stature than the laymen. They are a higher grouping in society and hence there is a distinction, it seems, between the scientist and a human or regular man. Later in book, when the two scientists’ are in disagreement it  shows how similar they are to the layman, no matter how intellectually superior they may be made out to be. “They are children, yet each with a brain which has put him in the front rank of his scientific age.”

Among other stereotypes, the books refers to the other scientist, Professor Summerlee’s traits. “Among his minor peculiarities are that he is careless to his attire, unclean in person, exceedingly absent-minded in his habits, and addicted to smoking a short briar pipe, which is seldom out of his mouth.” These are the various stereotypes associated with scientists. They are so engrossed in their own research that they neglect themselves and the outside world. Even Professor Challenger, had a very thick beard which which was compared with an “assyrian bull.”

Besides all the stereotypes, it appears that deep down the basal traits of man is the same. Anger and jealously engulf the scientist just as much as a normal human.  It puts the question forward as to why people still accept these stereotypes when at the core, they are no different?

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One thought on “A scientist and a human

  1. Very nice details to notice and work with! There does seem to be a distinct motif about intelligence in TLW (perhaps not surprising since Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories!) I would argue you’re picking up on the first of a number of evolutionary arguments that Conan Doyle is making in the text, and the issue of highbrow/lowbrow certainly raises its ugly head, so to speak 🙂 Interestingly, however, Prof. Challenger is also presented as beast like (a bull) and certainly not a typical man of reason, given as he is to fits of anger….I wonder if he needs a certain amount of “animal vigor” to balance his big brain, if he is going to go out and adventure in the wilds and do battle with whatever nature brings (after all, few of his scientific colleagues want to leave home and their normal routines!) Where Prof. Challenger (and his kind of science) fit in the evoutionary framework will come up again in later chapters, never fear!

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