Does eccentricity go hand-in-hand with genius? The prevalence of bizarre habits amongst some of the greatest geniuses of our time would suggest that it does. The poet T.S. Elliot was partial to green-tinted face powder and lipstick; novelist Stephen King had such an intense hatred for the use of adverbs that he wrote 2,000 adverb-free words each day – even while on vacation. Victorian engineer and mathematician Oliver Heaviside shunned conventional furniture, replacing this with blocks of granite; he also wore pink nail-varnish and signed his name “WORM”.
Here’s a whimsical romp through the weird and wonderful inner world of five famous geniuses – truly fascinating insights:
1. Albert Einstein
Einstein famously struggled with language as a child and was a slow developer who showed few of the traits normally associated with genius (his own mother called him a “dummy”). He had an intense personality that not only fuelled his scientific discoveries but which also gave him an extraordinary level of intimacy with anything that took his fancy. He would take his violin on bird watching treks and play music – the beauty of the music often reduced him to tears. And he was known to sometimes pack up food packages and distribute them to poor children, so impacted was he by their plight.
2. Honore de Balzac
Honore de Balzac, the French novelist, was not only a prodigious talent, but also a consumer of prodigious amounts of coffee. He drank up to 50 cups a day (as did other geniuses, such as Voltaire, for example). A true artist, he described his coffee consumption in literary fashion in "The Pleasures and Pain of Coffee", describing it as the “great power in my life” and comparing its effects to “sparks shooting all the way up to the brain”. Unfortunately, he died young, his death ironically attributed to his coffee addiction.
3. Nikola Telsa
Inventor and engineer Nikola Telsa ,to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude for his contribution to the field of electromagnetics, had some extraordinary habits. He was a workaholic who would awake at 3:00AM to work, finishing at 11:00PM. He had a bizarre fondness for white pigeons and an odd fear of dirt, and of dark and round objects. He also had a peculiar hatred of pearls and an obsession with the number 3.
Telsa wore a standard attire of a “black Prince Albert coat and a derby hat”, complete with “silk handkerchiefs”, worn whether in the laboratory or “covered” with pigeons. Not one for modesty, he would also often sign his name with “G.I.”, i.e. Great Inventor.
4. Thomas Edison
Edison is the famous American who is commonly, but wrongly believed to have invented the light bulb amongst other notable inventions (he in fact perfected, not invented it). Edison had a most unusual screening process. He would make any prospective research assistants drink a bowl of soup in his presence and evaluate their suitability based on whether they seasoned the soup before tasting it. Those who seasoned the soup before tasting it were judged as guilty of making assumptions, and they wouldn’t be hired. So perhaps your interview wasn’t so bad after all.
5. Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu
Nakamatsu is probably the greatest, most prolific Japanese inventor (over 3,000 patents to his name) you and I have never heard of. And his brand of eccentricity is not mad or bad – it’s just dangerous. Nakamatsu (now 86-years-old) believes that his best inventions came when he was almost drowning: “0.5 seconds before death”, at which point he would jot down his ideas on an underwater notepad. Nakamatsu also believes in the value of routine. One of his daily rituals is to retire to his “Calm Room”, “a bathroom tiled in 24-carat gold”, to brainstorm.
Over to you: what do you make of this assortment of phobias, habits and beliefs? Is intellect a gateway to insanity? Add your comments below.