Science-Related Memetic Disorder
"Does he really have to kill them to prove his point? Can't he just show them a pie chart?"
Mad science isn't just about cool gadgets or revenge; it's a compulsion
. The Mad Scientist
insane, with an actual psychological disorder that causes both brilliance and madness.
In some series, this leads to a storyline in which one or more of the Mad Scientists (or perhaps some saner allies) seek out a cure
for their condition. Invariably, however, the cure comes at a cost, usually the loss of their terrible, manic genius, or else their energy and drive across the board. In other series, there may already
exist a treatment for it, but someone forgets (or "forgets"
) to take it one day...
Although obviously more extreme than in real life, this sort of thing is Truth in Television
(or other media): Some medications used to treat mental illness leave the patient drained of energy, unable to think clearly, cut off from the full use of the senses, or any combination thereof. This is one factor in some of the many historical geniuses
and others who refuse to take their medication, preferring insanity to a lackluster funk.
Named for the communicable form of mad science in the webcomic A Miracle of Science
Compare With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
, which, depending on the series, may be either the cause or the result of SRMD. Likely to lead to a No Medication for Me
/ Flowers for Algernon Syndrome
situation. Can quickly lead to The Madness Place
. Not to be confused with Memetic Mutation
. Also compare The Spark of Genius
, which is sometimes combined with this syndrome.
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Anime and Manga
- In Soul Eater Dr. Franken Stein suffers from this, explaining how as a child doctors tried to figure out the reason for his mental instability and desire to dissect everything, traits which also make him the most powerful graduate of Shibusen. He even goes on to explain how insanity is contagious, meaning his condition gets worse when madness begins to consume the world. When his madness is less controlled, he goes from analytical genius to stark-raving madman.
- In Stein's case, it could be said he was crazy and then took to science as he grew up. Young Stein is pure Slasher Smile, with a side of "Take it apart to see how it works." With 'it' often being a living, breathing thing - and he got pretty good at putting 'it' back together too.
- The Whispered in Full Metal Panic! are born with some form of Mad Science gene that allows them to build and instinctively understand one particular type of futuristic Black Box technology, such as the creation of Humongous Mecha, futuristic submarine construction, AI, cold-fusion reactors, or similar. Which Black Box technology any given Whispered has knowledge of is random, and when they access their knowledge abilities they slip into some form of catatonic state.
- Doctor Jail Scaglietti, the Big Bad of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, is eventually revealed to have been born with an uncontrollable obsession to discover the secrets behind the Lost Logia of Ancient Belka and Al-Hazard when he was created by the leaders of the TSAB as a result of project "Unlimited Desire".
- Will Magnus, the creator of the Metal Men in the DC universe, suffers from bipolar disorder. Taking pills prevents him from acting irrational and creating machines of death - like making a robot out of uranium - but also stifles his creativity - like making a sexy robot out of platinum.
- In some of his incarnations, the Lizard form of Curt Connors in Spider-Man acts like a mad scientist, even though normally, he is a good guy. Complicating things is that on other occasions, the Lizard form is non-sentient.
- Most versions of The Incredible Hulk revolve around Bruce Banner's attempts to resolve his... shall we say, emotional issues?
- Hank "Ant-Man" Pym. As he has stated, he only takes on board scientific projects that interest him or stimulate his imagination. He is also somewhat prone to bouts of insanity and creating villainous robots. Exactly what mental illness Hank suffers from has never really been disclosed, but the general consensus is that he really should be on some sort of medication. One theory is that he's neurotically obsessed with being a super-hero, despite being completely insane.
- Hank also turns out to be astonishingly easy to brainwash into believing almost anything. He was once brainwashed into believing that a woman with a pathologically large brain (as in, a few feet across) was his desperately ill wife who needed him to cure her. This was actually a ploy to get him to engineer a mobile platform for her so she could be a Person of Mass Destruction with her psychic powers.
- Mento of Doom Patrol is arrogant and mentally unstable at the best of times. He's also a freaking genius with several doctorates and a business savant who makes Batman look broke. He started heroing both to impress his (then-future) wife and because he was bored. It was after he lost Rita that he really went downhill.
- Everett Ducklair from Paperinik New Adventures couldn't help himself with this trope, as near-everything he created turned out to be a weapon of mass destruction.
- A filler issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man focuses on the Looter, a second rate scientist turned super-powered but still second rate villain. The Looter's ego makes him constantly try to outmaneuver Spider-Man, and this culminates in his being brutally beaten by the "Superior Spider-Man". Later, at a villain support group meeting, he acknowledges that he may have a problem, because even though he logically knows that he will be beaten even worse or killed if he encounters Spider-Man again, he can't stop himself because he "knows" he's superior to everyone else and has to show it by committing crimes.
- The Narbonic/Girl Genius forum-role play known as The Mad Scientist Wars, naturally. Almost every major member of the main cast is a Mad Scientist, and SRMD is shown to be well documented in the medical field. It's a purely genetic condition, of course. Interestingly, one character was shown to have been taking some kind of medication to repress the syndrome, before a skipped dose and stress caused him to 'break through'.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Fan Fic Contraptionology turns SRMD up to eleven when the entirety of Ponyville is infected.
- Dr. Herbert West the Re-Animator. He performs science because of the need to know, consequences be damned. His search to conquer death may have started with the benign reasoning of conquering humanity's greatest mystery and advancing medical science, but he goes WAY past the point of no return into straight up mad-scientific compulsion.
- In Transylvania 6-5000, Dr. Malavaqua is a normal scientist as long as he's outside his laboratory. On entering it, however, he proceeds to muss up his hair and go into full-blown Mad Scientist mode.
- It's implied that the title character of Young Frankenstein inherited his tendency toward mad science from his more famous predecessor.
- In the musical, it's stated outright. In fact, it's sung, in "Join The Family Business":
The Roqueforts are celebrated for their Roquefort cheese
The Rothschilds are famous for their wines
Hersheys have their chocolates, and Liptons have their teas,
But when it comes to making monsters you can't beat the Frankensteins!
- Oliver Sacks' book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat mentions a jazz drummer who has Tourette's Syndrome. He would take his anti-Tourette meds during the week, and be less prone to compulsions; but stop taking them for the weekend so he could do the wild drum improvisations that made him a desirable musician.
- Supervillains often suffer from "Malign Hypercognition Disorder" in Austin Grossman's book Soon I Will Be Invincible. It's stated that the Mad Scientist types will go this way when they are at the far right edge of the bell curve. Doctor Impossible knows his plans will be thwarted, knows he could use his inventions for other purposes, but has a psychological compulsion to try to rule the world. His alternating attempts to hide the painful truth from himself and justified self pity make him The Woobie.
- Another former villain with the same condition, Baron Ether, seems to have come to terms with the fact that he has an incurable condition and is burned out on the constant cycle of escape and doomed plans of world conquest: he needs to be kept under house arrest, and would of course escape in a heartbeat given the chance, but he really doesn't want to. He tries to get Dr. Impossible to understand, but it bounces right off his dementia.
- In one of Larry Niven's Known Space short stories, appropriately titled "Madness Has its Place," it's revealed that ARM (the technology-suppressing Secret Police branch of the UN) deliberately employs sociopaths and paranoid schizophrenics, though they're issued mandatory medication. The main character is one (he's implied to be a former serial killer), but in order to help prepare a defense against the approaching Kzinti aliens, he goes off his medication. His descent into paranoia and sociopathy make him frighteningly competent at war preparations for a humanity that hasn't known war in centuries. The ARM also creates treatments to artificially induce paranoid schizophrenia and other disorders in its agents, in case enough naturally occurring crazies of the right sort are unavailable.
- Although they're rarely developed characters, any Marthter that any Igor has worked for on the Discworld. Either they start out mad, or become mad, as a result of their scientific activities.
- The best example is Jeremy in Thief of Time. When he stops taking his medicine (although Igor specifically says "Marther pours out two spoonfuls each day." using an Exact Words ploy), his thoughts come much more quickly, although the nature of Jeremy's project makes the Igor extremely uneasy (and Igors are no stranger to Things Man Was Not Meant To Know)
- It doesn't help Igor that his grandfather was the assistant to the last guy who tried this stunt, and he's one of the few mortal being who know what really happened. It didn't end well that time, either.
- In the David Brin novel Kiln People, Mad Science is caused by one of several psychological complexes. The protagonist, a private detective with an interest in psychology, listens to the villain ramble and mentally goes down a list of symptoms, eventually diagnosing him with a textbook case of one of the complexes.
- Played straight in the Morganville Vampires books; Myrnin is a Mad Scientist vampire who has developed a disease that only targets vampires, he tries to find a cure and managed to develop medication to slow it down, but often forgets to take it, turning him into a bloodthirsty monster, which is why he needs someone there to help him remember, but hiring an assistant often doesn't go well.
- Lydia from The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling calls it Hypercognitive Dementia. It’s characterized by the ability to create devices that “regular” science would classify as impossible. However, there are downsides as well, including a marked reduction in empathy, an inability to see how one’s actions affect others, and a belief that the sufferer’s struggles are the only ones that matter.
- In Please Dont Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon (sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain), more detail is given on Penny's. For one thing, her power still doesn't like repeating itself, and also doesn't really repair things.
Live Action TV
- One episode of Monk has the eponymous detective put on medication for his crippling OCD, but the meds dampen his brilliant powers of observation and detection. He gives up the meds voluntarily when he realizes he can't remember the face of his dead wife.
- The title character of House seems to need his physical pain and emotional bitterness in order to keep his remarkable (if unorthodox) medical talent. When he tries methadone he finds himself pain-free, cleans himself up, and seems genuinely happy... until he realizes he's lost his edge.
- More precisely, being pain-free made him act uncharacteristically nice and accommodating to the worried parents of his patient which directly resulted in creating a health problem when the kid had actually just been dehydrated (he had a reaction to the contrast dye in their first test, everything else stemmed from that). That House believes he would have caught this right away otherwise was probably at least partly a rationalization on his part.
- However, when his vicodin is cut off the pain becomes so intense that he gets sloppy and almost gets a little girl's arm cut off when he misdiagnoses her porphyria as necrotizing fascitis.
- When he was in a relationship with Cuddy, a patient died as a direct result of him losing his edge because he was happy. He told her that their relationship had killed a patient, and would continue to kill patients. And it was worth it.
- Perception has Dr. Daniel Pierce, a paranoid schizophrenic neuroscientist that aids the FBI if there is a case that involves the brain in some way. His schizophrenia actually helps him on cases by giving him clues about what his mind unconsciously sees, but he doesn't, through hallucinations of people that are somehow related to the theme of the case.
- In the tabletop RPG setting Deadlands, "Mad Scientist" is actually a type of playable character. While it isn't a disease in the classic sense, being a Mad Scientist in this setting is an incurable condition, as demons whisper clues about devices that should not work, but do, into the ears of eager listeners, all in an attempt to hasten the end. Side effects include developing phobias of common items, depression, slavish obsession over one's creations, and possibly even horrific nightmares. Despite this—or perhaps because of it—Mad Scientists were among the most popular character types.
- Although all Orks in Warhammer 40,000 are already insane by human standards, their "mekboyz" and "painboyz" are even less stable, and infamous for performing acts of mad genius that unsettle even their fellow Orks. This is due to their very DNA - as a warrior race created by extinct precursors, some Orks have an instinctive understanding of science or medicine that grows through experimentation, compelling them to tinker in machine shops or perform unnecessary surgery on their squadmates. The end result is typically crude and dangerously unstable, but undeniably effective, even if the Ork can't explain how he got to it. It helps that Orks are latent psykers, to the extent that the fact that they expect a device to work allows their more insane creations to function in spite of the laws of physics.
- Old World of Darkness:
- In Mage: The Ascension, the Sons of Ether were basically Mad Scientist technomancers, with a penchant for Victorian Steam Punk or 1950s rayguns and giant robots. There was a thin line between maniacal Sons of Ether and Marauders (Awakened who have gone insane and warp reality all around them). Certainly a Technocrat who went Marauder would be a textbook example of a futuristic Mad Gadgeteer. In fact, the Technocracy called awakened mages and other supernaturals "reality deviants". Come to think of it, in Mage: The Ascension, paradigm dissonance is a form of insanity, if you define insanity as experiencing things differently from what the majority experiences. For the Awakened, if their avatar warps reality, then their hallucinations can turn real.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade, a few Malkavian vampires are scientists that have had the Malkav curse inflicted upon them. (There's even an archetype for playing such a character in the handbook.)
- In Genius The Transgression, becoming a Genius warps you into something not quite human. On the one hand, Inspiration grants the ability to "delicately bend" the laws of physics, with higher levels of Inspiration naturally granting greater power. On the other hand, a more Inspired Genius will likely find it harder and harder to maintain his Obligation and, if they snap, they can become an Unmada, or worse, one of the Illuminated, at which point everyone and everything starts to look like a resource. Inspiration also seems to be contagious; Mortals exposed to mad science have a likelihood of becoming Beholden, if not a Genius in their own right.
- Promethean: The Created uses a variant of this to explain the "demiurges" who created the Promethean Lineages — they were mortals unwittingly channeling the Divine Fire of the universe, the fundamental force of existence. However, humans weren't made to channel the Divine Fire, which meant the demiurges were a bit... off when they decided to bring human corpses back to life.
- Dungeons & Dragons has this in the form of the tinker gnomes of the Dragonlance setting. A sub-race of gnomes who were cursed by a god to be brilliant and ingenious inventors with absolutely no concept of 'practicality' or even 'safety'.
- The projected lifespan of tinker gnome NPCs was not very long: that of one who (as a player character) took up heroic engineering was usually measurable on a clock, as opposed to a calendar.
- Tabletop Game/JAGS, as one of the archetype ability choices in the CORE rulebook has "Twisted Genius", which at the basic, 8-point level allows the character to make physics-bending machines at a rate of one per month. At the 16-point level, the machines can outright break physics and can make them much faster, but the character also picks up a compulsion to build them and they usually have side-effects.
- Cave Johnson, the founding mind behind Aperture Science, in Portal. It's All There in the Manual that he inadvertently came up with an idea for a quantum hole in the space-time continuum, which he thought could have applications as a shower curtain.
- In Portal 2 it's revealed that the central programming for testing produces a data burst akin to pleasure for the main AI when a test is completed, but the AI rapidly develop an immunity to it. This becomes a plot point when Wheatley takes over and begins to suffer "test withdrawal".
- A Miracle of Science, the Trope Namer, is about a reformed mad scientist turned police detective hunting down a mad roboticist who is threatening the stability of the solar system. The medications used in the treatment of SRMD makes one character, in his own words, "feel like [his] head is full of felt."
- The genetic condition of Mad Science (aka hypercognitive dementia, also known as Walton's Disorder, also known popularly as Mad Genius; DSM-IV numeric code 29533) and its eventual treatment is also the major theme in Narbonic. There is talk of a cure, but at least in the form we see it, it turns the mad scientist into a Weirdness Censor-equipped mundane. Makes them impotent, too. Right at the end a character from the future claims the cure has been perfected.
- Because of their shared 'verse, Mad Scientists show up in Skin Horse as well. Tigerlily and Captain Bram so far, but there's a whole "Institute for the Sane,note Study of Mad Genius" out there. Not to mention St. Charlie, "a technocratic city dedicated to the irrational sciences".
- Girl Genius is a Steam Punk series in which "Sparks" run rampant. No cure in sight short of massive, irreversible brain damage. But the Spark who's working on it is getting much better about that whole "quality of life" thing! Sparks are compelled to build things - often extremely dangerous things - with minds of their own and little to no regard for consequences. It's been called 'The Madness Place' with three known levels. After the first, concern for safety starts to falter a bit - all safety.
- Baron Klaus Wulfenbach is notable because he is the only Spark seen that is mostly immune to this, though he still has his moments. As Tarvek says to Gil when he realizes that the Baron has been slaver-wasped but is somehow Fighting from the Inside, Klaus Wulfenbach is special and breaks all of the "rules" concerning Sparks. Of course he's also a construct made from what was left of three Sparks who died in a lab accident
- The "inventor's gene" in General Protection Fault is a relatively benign form of this.
- Hannelore's father in Questionable Content is implied to suffer from a version of this; in one strip he goes off his meds and builds her a "fully functional" robot boy. Well, almost fully functional; the fun parts are still in "beta". Private beta, obviously.