Einstein & Newton

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Were Einstein and Newton Autistic?

Isaac Newton
Albert Einstein
Autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen says they both showed signs of Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. While it's impossible to definitely diagnose a dead person, he says he wants to use the information to find out why some autistic people excel, while others live a stunted life. Autism is genetic and those who are born with it may be unable to form social relationships, but they have a talent for understanding complex abstractions and memorizing facts (and are often excellent musicians). "Geeks," such as mathematicians, engineers and physicists, have a relatively high rate of autism in their families. Einstein and Newton both had the three key symptoms of Asperger syndrome: obsessive interests, difficulty in social relationships, and problems communicating.

Newton hardly spoke, was so engrossed in his work that he often forgot to eat, and was socially inept. If no one turned up to his lectures, he talked to an empty room. He was depressed and paranoid.

Einstein was a loner as a child, and repeated sentences obsessively until he was seven years old. He confused people who came to his lectures. However, he did have close friends and many affairs, and was concerned with social and political issues. "Passion, falling in love and standing up for justice are all perfectly compatible with Asperger syndrome," says Baron- Cohen. "What most people with AS find difficult is casual chatting they can't do small-talk."

Psychiatrist Glen Elliott doesn't agree. He says, "One can imagine geniuses who are socially inept and yet not remotely autistic. Impatience with the intellectual slowness of others, narcissism and passion for one's mission in life might combine to make such an individuals isolative and difficult." Elliott notes that Einstein had a good sense of humor, which few Asperger patients have.



Copyright 2010 Tim Stouse
Last modified: December 10, 2010
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