Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who were the crazy genius scientists?

Which famous scientists and/or mathematicians were also "crazy" (e.g. - far outside behavioral "norms") during their adult productive lives (excluding those, like Pauling, who became eccentric at an age where dementia is common)?

My current list is ...
  1. Newton: Perhaps autism spectrum, but he was so brilliant, and so bizarre, that he's untypable. He's outside of the human range. He may have hard mercury poisoning late in life, or perhaps a late-onset schizophrenia-like psychosis.
  2. John Nash: paranoid schizophrenic, though somewhat late-onset. His recovery is remarkable, as was Newton's -- but he was psychotic for a longer time period.
  3. Kurt Godel: schizotypal, later in life delusional beliefs with paranoid features.
  4. Nikolai Tesla: OCD, Autism spectrum?
  5. Henry Cavendish: social phobia, anxiety disorder.
  6. Boltzmann: bipolar disorder (classic)
Our classifications of mental illness are pretty weak even in normal IQ adults; this group is probably unclassifiable. Who else should be on the list?

Update: Philip K Dick wasn't quite in this group, but his late-onset pyschosis experience resembles Tesla's. Matt suggested Godel and Boltzmann. The pattern of schizotypal personality disorder behaviors with late-onset deterioration or psychosis might apply to Tesla, Newton and Godel. Botlzmann and Nash had more classic neurospychiatric disorders.

These are most extraordinary minds. It would not be surprising if they had extraordinary dysfunctions.

Update 6/7/2012: An academic opinion.


matt said...

godel, boltzmann

Anonymous said...

I think this underscores why the key to science is cooperation and communication. People often have the notion that science is about the 'scientific process' or about modelling or rigor.

And they also have the notion that what is important in science is the 'brilliant insight'. But 9 out of 10 brilliant insights are completely wrong and the 10th is still somewhat dubious. What science gave us was a community all exploring the same phenomena which could check each others notes and pick out that 10th insight and refine it.

It is still possible for a whole community to go off the rails. But when working alone, even geniuses stray far from the path...