Kimberly Gerry-Tucker looks at famous people in history who had differently wired brains. October is Disability History and Awareness Month.
Research by scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden discovered low levels of dopamine receptors in the thalamus’ of highly creative types of people. I find that very interesting, since dopamine is a neurotransmitter which, simplistically speaking, plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior.
It’s theorized that dopamine filters the amount of information reaching the cortex, and that “this torrent of uncensored information ignites the creative spark.” At any given time, there are people in the world who contribute in ways that seem quite profound and are noteworthy for myriad reasons. Here are but a few.
(Albert, my dummy!)
Who would decide to take a sailboat out onto a lake precisely because on that particular day; at that particular moment there is NO wind. No breeze. Wind is needed for that type of boat, right? Einstein did. He said, “I like the challenge.” That’s how new solutions unveil themselves to inquiring minds. He’d drift out there on the water on a sailboat, no wind, contemplating…
It’s widely known Einstein didn’t speak until he was about four years old when suddenly he broke the silence by saying, “This soup is too hot!” Everyone around him; understandably were shocked he’d suddenly spoken, and so articulate was his first spoken sentence! Someone asked why he hadn’t spoken before. He replied simply, “Because up to now, everything was in order.”
What a wry wit! He was a sensitive soul too. Music brought Einstein to tears. But he wasn’t overly sensitive… I mean he was once observed picking up a grasshopper, popping it in his mouth and eating it. A peaceful man, Einstein loved bird watching and was himself a rare bird indeed. But for all his brilliance, he never drove a car. He walked or rode a bike. Interestingly enough, he was dyslexic and has been described as “very insecure.” Pulled out of school early, his mother would often say to him, “Albert my dummy…”
Referred to as a ‘mad scientist,’ Tesla was affiliated with Thomas Edison and with George Westinghouse. He developed radio and did early X-ray experiments, held 278 patents and laid the groundwork for the AC generator. Tesla was both an eidetic ( total recall of images, sounds and objects, i.e. memorizing whole books, etc.) and had a photographic memory too. He also had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
It got so bad that he couldn’t touch jewelry. He also had an aversion to touching round things. Imagine how he must have cringed at the sight of pearl necklaces! Now that would’ve been a double whammy for him personally. He had his peculiarities; of that there is no doubt.
Every day he flexed his toes 100 times.
He had a fixation for walking around a block exactly three times before entering a building.
So what did he especially like? Well, he was a loner who never married, (unlike Einstein who by comparison was a virtual Casanova, a real ladies man). But Tesla was drawn to pigeons. He really, really, liked them; especially white ones… He liked numbers too. Numbers divisible by three. For example, he liked 18 napkins to polish his silver. No more. No less.
It’s said that Tesla “cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene.” Wow, he was a serious, stinky, brilliant sort of man, wasn’t he?
They say he was born during a rip roaring lightning storm. Maybe that was all the excitement he could take for one lifetime. Interesting that he should be born, so said his mother, during the crack of thunder and flash of lightning, and he went on to make breakthroughs with electricity, on the cusp of discovering wireless technology, which he theorized to be possible.
He had blueprints for the armored car, the helicopter, cannon, machine gun, parachute (before the airplane even existed!) robots, and other modern inventions and this was in the 15th and 16th centuries. He was a master painter, architect, engineer, sculptor, scientist, musician, anatomist, (he dug up corpses and studied them) geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. How is this possible?
It seems superhuman. in a way he was. He slept just 20-30 minutes every two hours or so. This is called “polyphasic” sleep. Many animals do this instinctively. DaVinci said it helped with “brainstorming” and “vivid dreaming.” DaVinci wrote backwards more oft than not, also known as “mirror writing.”
He actually was a left-handed dyslexic, which may or may not have something to do with that. Paper was hard to come by back then and DaVinci is known for filling in every available niche and cranny; every space available on his pages with drawings and mirror writings. Some people believe this ‘backwards writing’ of his was done to keep his thoughts secret. But you know what? Because he lived so long ago there can only be speculation as to what ‘made him tick.’ We do know some things for sure; although not too much personal information was recorded.
We know he had trouble finishing projects. He was a big time perfectionist: he took ten years to finish Mona Lisa’s lips! He was a great procrastinator and that’s well documented but this is no flaw in his character, is it? Not only did he leave contributions to the world, he was apparently a man of great character. You see, he was known for his love of purchasing caged birds.
So he could set them free.
This image is an ode of sorts to DaVinci. I’ve signed it “Kimbelardo D. Tuckerinci.” I made this as a present for my son’s friend, and it is a play on “The Last Supper” painting. I’ve replaced the original subjects with his favorite pop culture characters and through in my son’s likeness and cat for good measure!
He wasn’t an especially poor kid. Had a rather larger head compared to his peers. He was “hyper” in the classroom, withdrawn from school and homeschooled by his mother who insisted he wasn’t “scrambled and addled” as many people describe, but rather, he was big-headed because he had promise!
Scandals would prevail as we learned more about his private life, but his legacy stands. He would go on to invent not only the telegraph, the battery for an electric car, the light bulb, the principles of mass production, the phonograph, the motion picture camera and so many other inventions (he held around 1,093 patents for them)… but he was working on a “spirit phone” to allow communication with the dead, which he never finished before his death. I can’t help but think of the popular ghost hunting shows of today that use EVP recorders (electronic voice recorders) to capture ghost voices. Was Edison onto this in 1920? He knew it could be done.
Edison the inventor was interesting. What about Edison the human being? Like DaVinci, he too believed in power naps. In fact he liked to snooze upright in armchairs with marbles deliberately stacked by his elbows. Apparently, when he’d inevitably shift in his sleep, the marbles would hit the floor; make a racket and wake him up. Of course, there’s the Sally story. We all know the longstanding intimate relationship and subsequent offspring he had with his slave Sally Hemings. Sadly it was commonplace then. I’m appalled that Edison electrocuted dogs in his experiments.
It was said that the only liquid Edison would drink was a pint of milk every three hours. His wife Mina said this about him in an interview: “Correct eating is one of his greatest hobbies.” This statement is all the more interesting given the fact that Edison died of complications from diabetes. By the way, if you’re up for some sight-seeing, Edison’s last breath is reportedly contained in a test tube at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan. Wanna’ go there and see it? (I’m passing.)
A prodigy. Fully consumed with and by chess. He “beat the Russians” in 1972. In the chess world there is no other. Bobby is gone from us now but in his day, he was the eleventh World Chess Champion and a best-selling chess author. He modified chess timing systems and proposed a new variant of chess. A chess legend, he won eight U. S. Championships from the time he was 14 yrs. old. He then became the youngest candidate of the U. S. Championships and the youngest Grandmaster. Bobby would fixate with passion on the types of chairs he sat on in tournaments.
He had to drop out of school as it limited his playing time.
He was often called eccentric; arguing over things like lighting issues and other match conditions.
He had an aversion to TV cameras, especially when he felt they were too close. Some people called this “psychological warfare” and others called this “mental illness.”
Nicknamed the “Boy Robot,” he was also described as being a “mere computer;” (both terms this writer finds a tad harsh). After Bobby totally obliterated one tough opponent, the losing opponent was quoted as saying, “Well, I still have my music.”
Bobby has been described as a loner; angry, profane and demanding to the degree that one of his games be played in an isolated room the size of a janitor’s closet (a game he won). Imagine that: getting the paparazzi to not only back off; but getting his demands met and playing his tournament his way in essentially a broom closet. As my Grandma would say, “That’s rich!” Bobby was literally; rich. Some of these tournaments paid in the millions.
Bobby Fischer’s I.Q. was extremely high. It was in the “Super Genius” range of 180 (only 1% of all people have an I.Q. of 135 or higher), though he squashed any such talk.
It is interesting that Fischer had a remarkably retentive memory. It was said that Fischer never forgot a game he had played, or any game analyses that he had read. His extremely high “chess intelligence quotient” was combined with a fierce determination to win and a monomania that made him the greatest chess player in the world.
He’s endured because we can’t forget his characters. He was the bomb of the Victorian era. He also couldn’t pass by a mirror without combing his hair and liked to practice hypnotism on his wife and children to “cure” them of their ailments. Incidentally, he called one of his kids “Chickenstalker” and one of them “Skittles.” So apparently, he liked nicknames. He referred to himself as ‘The Sparkler of Albion’ (Albion is an archaic name for England).
He also had a thing about due North. He had to sleep facing North. That is to say when he managed to sleep, because he suffered from insomnia. His writing desk was positioned facing north and he carried a compass around to keep track of where North was at all times. I’m not sure of any documented ailments this guy had other than the insomnia (although he is known to have had epilepsy and in fact many of his fictional characters did as well) although OCD is a safe bet.
He apparently liked to touch everything three times for ‘good luck.’ He had a sense of humor too. He liked to entertain people as an amateur magician. Dickens had a secret door in his study lined with fake books. I wonder what was behind it. Sounds whimsical.
When Dickens’ favorite cat Bob died, he had one of his claws made into a letter opener. Hmmmm. In closing, I just want to say, wherever you are Charles; thanks for Scrooge. A character almost as colorful as you are.
Vincent Van Gogh
Temporal lobe epilepsy? Brain lesions caused by prolonged use of absinthe (a popular but toxic alcoholic drink at the time)? Digitalis used to treat epilepsy which caused him to see yellow spots as a side effect? One of the reasons he loved this color? Lead poisoning? This can cause swelling of the retinas and cause someone to see halos around lights or objects. Think Starry Night. Van Gogh often drank kerosene and ate his paint. He nibbled at paint chips.
Aspergers? Schizophrenia? Depression? Bipolar? Something else? Was it mania that compelled him to cut off his ear? Let’s agree on one thing: his genius and legacy.
One thing we know is Van Gogh had hypergraphia, the need to write. He wrote over 800 letters in his lifetime. I wonder what the need to paint is called. The paint was not even dry on his last painting “Crows Over a Wheatfield” as he lay dying from a self inflicted gunshot wound. Your paintings are sad but the colors are happy. You never sold a single one in your lifetime. Peace, Vincent.
Co-founder of the Cubist movement, infamous womanizer, and art socialite. His work looks simple. It’s strange. Distorted. Somehow appealing. To some people his creations look “warped and deformed” while others say he “transformed” them. “Reality must be torn apart!” he is quoted as saying. Interestingly, like Einstein, Picasso never drove a car, although he appreciated “powerful” ones. Art drove him continuously.
Even when taking a rest or pausing to entertain his daughter, Picasso could not help creating art. “All day long while he worked, he smoked,” says his daughter. “The cigarettes came in little cardboard cartons and whenever he finished a packet, which was three or four times a day, he’d cut it up to make me a doll or a finger puppet or scribble a pencil drawing on it. He couldn’t stop himself.”
This brilliant writer was a conundrum of sorts. He managed to win a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and lived by an exacting timetable of early rising and precise order. Said Auden, ” “A modern stoic,” knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” He lived life according to a relentless timetable; eating, drinking, writing, shopping, crossword puzzles, even the mailman’s arrival – all were timed to the minute. what did his schedule look like in part? A Benzedrine in the morning, which he called the “labor saving devices” of his “mental kitchen.” Coffee and tobacco throughout the day and work of course (writing). Cocktail “hour” at 6:30 p.m. sharp. Copious amounts of vodka martinis. Followed by wine. Seconal for sleep.
Auden called this lifestyle “the chemical life” which he kept up for twenty years. He died in 1973.
Before you judge, know this: genius and strangeness often go hand in hand. Be open minded!
Einstein photo: From the website, (Len Fisher) “…Why Einstein didn’t wear socks:” https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/einstein-socks-nature-scientific-inquiry/7395862
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker is an artist, QA tester, and writer. She is the author of Under The Banana Moon, living, loving, loss and aspergers/selective mutism. She resides in Connecticut with her pets and significant other Al and serves on the board for The Art of Autism nonprofit.