I, for example, am a Roman Catholic, albeit a bad one. I believe in the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church, in God the Father, in the election of the Jews, in Jesus Christ His Son our Lord, who founded the Church on Peter his first vicar, which will last until the end of the world. Some years ago, however, I stopped eating Christ in Communion, stopped going to mass, and have since fallen into a disorderly life. I believe in God and the whole business but I love women best, music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellowman hardly at all. Generally I do as I please. A man, wrote John, who says he believes in God and does not keep his commandments is a liar. If John is right, then I am a liar. Nevertheless, I still believe.
. . .
The vanity of scientists! My article, it is true, is an extremely important one, perhaps even epochal in its significance. With it, my little invention, in hand, any doctor can probe the very secrets of the soul, diagnose the maladies that poison the wellsprings of man’s hope. It could save the world or destroy it—and in the next two hours will very likely do one or the other—for as any doctor knows, the more effective a treatment is, the more dangerous it is in the wrong hands.
But the question remains: which prospect is more unpleasant, the destruction of the world, or that the destruction may come before my achievement is made known? The latter I must confess, because I keep imagining the scene in the Director’s office the day the Nobel Prize is awarded. I enter. The secretaries blush. My colleagues horse around. The Director breaks out the champagne and paper cups (like Houston Control after the moon landing). “Hats off, gentlemen!” cries the Director in his best derisive style (from him the highest accolade). “A toast to our local Pasteur! No, rather the new Copernicus! The latter-day Archimedes who found the place to insert his lever and turn the world not upside down but right side up!”
If the truth be known, scientists are neither more nor less vain that other people. It is rather that their vanity is the more striking as it appears side by side with their well-known objectivity. The layman is scandalized, but the scandal is not so much the fault of the scientist as it is the layman’s canonization of scientists, which the latter never asked for.
The prayer of the scientist if he prayed, which is not likely: Lord, grant that my discovery may increase knowledge and help other men. Failing that, Lord, grant that it will not lead to man’s destruction. Failing that, Lord, grant that my article in Brain be published before the destruction takes place.
Room 202 in the motel is my room. Room 206 is stacked to the roof with canned food, mostly Vienna sausage and Campbell’s soup, fifteen cases of Early Times bourbon whiskey, and the World’s Great Books. In the rooms intervening, 203, 204, and 205, are to be found Ellen, Moira, and Lola respectively.
My spirits rise. My quilted scalp pops another hair root. The silky albumen from the gin fizzes coats my brain membranes. Even if worst comes to worst, is there any reason why the four of us cannot live happily together, sip toddies, eat Campbell’s chicken-and-rice, and spend the long summer evenings listening to Lola play the cello and reading aloud from the World’s Great Books stacked right alongside the cases of Early Times, beginning with Homer’s first words: “Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles,” and ending with Freud’s last words: “—but we cannot help them and cannot change our own way of thinking on their account”? Then we can read the Great Ideas, beginning with the first volume, Angel to Love. Then we can start over—until the Campbell’s soup and Early Times run out.