Thursday, October 29, 2015

Brave Genius

Citing Marx’s line that “religion is the opium of the people,” the French philosopher Raymond Aron wrote a critique of Marxism entitled The Opium of the Intellectuals. The biologist Jacques Monod and the novelist and philosopher Albert Camus both won the Nobel prize in physiology and literature respectively, both were members of the resistance during World War II (Camus edited Combat, which produced the feuilleton of the resistance) and both eventually shared a need to push back against not only fascism, but totalitarianism as it manifested in the Communist ideology of the cold war period. In her review of Sean B. Carroll’s Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher and Their Daring Adventures From the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize (“The Improbable French Buddies,” NYT, 10/21/13), Jennifer Schuessler quotes Carroll thusly “Molecular Biology had brought Monod full circle to Camus’s territory of the absurd condition—that contradiction between the human longing for meaning and the universe’s silence.” Schuessler points out that Monod’s bestselling Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology “took it’s epigraph from Camus’s 'Myth of Sisyphus’ thus repaying and an earlier compliment from Camus that readers of 'Brave Genius' will not find at all absurd: ‘I have only known one true genius: Jacques Monod.'” The locution is actually curious in that it recalls Camus famous line from The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is only one really serious philosophical question and that is suicide.”

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