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The Common Character Trait of Geniuses

January 12, 2014, 12:00 AM
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James Gleick, who wrote a biography of Isaac Newton, describes the reclusive scientist as "antisocial, unpleasant and bitter." Newton fought with his friends "as much as with his enemies," Gleick says. In contrast, Richard Feynman, the subject of another Gleick biography, was "gregarious, funny, a great dancer." The superficial differences between the men go on and on. "Isaac Newton, I believe, never had sex," Gleick says. "Richard Feynman, I believe, had plenty."

So what could these two men possibly have in common? According to Gleick, when it came to making the great discoveries of science, both men were alone in their heads. This also applies to great geniuses like Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Ada Byron.  "They all had the ability to concentrate with a sort of intensity that is hard for mortals like me to grasp," Gleick says, "a kind of passion for abstraction that doesn't lend itself to easy communication."

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More from the Big Idea for Friday, May 16 2014

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Doctors are perplexed by the case of Jason Padgett--A Tacoma, Washington resident who suffered an assault that left him with the extraordinary ability to constantly see complex geometrical equatio... Read More…

 

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