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Such a monster was easily associated with worries over science in general and atomic energy in particular. Reporters liked to say that radioactivity 37 T H E S E C R E T , T H E M A S T E R , A N D T H E M O N S T E R would be a “docile servant of mankind,” but people began to wonder whether such servants would stay docile. ”7 Even better at carrying such warnings was the golem’s offspring, the mechanical robot. After all, it was technology that actually took away people’s jobs, mangled them in wars, and insulted the countryside.

The symbolic associations between secret forces and victimization were described most fully by people who specialized in fear, that is, paranoiacs. It was common among paranoid schizophrenics to think about the end of the world, to feel a paralyzing loneliness as if they were lost in a frozen waste, to envision cosmic battles and revelations, and at the center of it all to see themselves, chosen for survival and rebirth to restore the life of the universe. Epileptic fits and hallucinogenic drugs could bring forth similar overwhelming images, while much the same visions came to apocalyptic mystics from medieval times onward, and sometimes to more ordinary poets and writers.

When doctors reported that atomic rays could heal, they seemed only to confirm that radioactivity meant life-force. ” 25 R A D I U M : E L I X I R O R P O I S O N ? If electricity was becoming a humdrum household matter, then the mysteries once associated with it could be transferred to radioactivity, where they seemed to fit even better. 4 A power great enough to transfigure flesh could also destroy it: the death ray. Like other radiation themes, this idea had a long history of emotive associations.

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