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June 12, 2005

Who's insane?

I just found an article about Asbergerís syndrome (in Norwegian), which got me thinking about how the world views unusually talented people. While Asbergerís syndrome is real, isnít it fascinating how we look at people like Bill Gates and Albert Einstein and assume that they must in some way be different from us, that there must be something ďwrongĒ with them? As if it doesnít occur to anyone that (warning, this thought is scary) maybe theyíre just smarter?

So many people have said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity, but I donít want to believe it. Iím not saying that an insane person canít be a genius, but I refuse to believe that there is a certain limit to our natural intelligence and that if you overstep that boundary, you lose control of your mind. That idea is dangerously close to the belief that anyone smarter than you must be nuts.

According to this article, one of the symptoms of Asbergerís is a limited ability to interact with others, particularly people of oneís own age. But when children realize that they donít think the way other children think, isnít it a natural reaction to want to retreat away from others? In a documentary shown a couple of months ago on NRK, the mother of an unusually smart boy told her story. She said the day her son realized that he was different from the other children and that they were not going to change and start thinking like him, he became depressed.

This blog may end up looking very nerdy. So far the categories Iím writing in are Books and Other, and I have not added complaints about friends, links to Internet quizzes or anything personal (Iím not saying I never will). And somehow Iíve managed to spend the last three years doing advanced math and physics with future doctors and scientists (long story). But Iíve always considered myself too social, too girly and maybe even too pretty to be a real geek. Unlike this guy (who explains some things well very well in his article), Iíve never been bullied. I donít see myself as different from everyone else, but sometimes I wonder if I should. I have been to parties where Iíve wanted to scream: ďAm I the only non-idiot here?Ē before slapping the hostess and running away. And I have encountered so many silly prejudices, including:

∑ You are either creative or smart. Never both. You canít be both artistic and good at math. (According to the best math student in the class)
∑ If you think about Einsteinís theory of relativity for too long, your brain wonít be able to handle it. (According to my physics teacher)
∑ The modern world doesnít need mathematicians and scientists anymore. (According to a journalist in my countryís biggest newspaper)
∑ ďYour favorite subject is MATH?!?! Seriously? UmÖ okÖ uhÖĒ (The host of a childrenís program, while interviewing a nine-year-old girl.)

Iím beginning to wonder if all the insane geniuses throughout history lost their minds from over-exhaustion, or if all the ďnormalĒ people just drove them crazy.

Posted by Julie at June 12, 2005 2:12 PM

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If you haven't read "The curious incident of the Dog in the Night-time" already (judging from your blog, you probably have ;), you really should do so as soon as possible. Though by no means as brilliant as many reviewers would have it (the ending just trails off, for instance), the descriptions of Christopher's need for order and serenity are enlightening in a way only written words can be. And the moment that he realizes that the London Underground is a form of a transportation that makes sense from an (in this case) autistic perspective, is quite beautiful.

Posted by: Eirik at June 12, 2005 5:23 PM

Yes, I've read (and loved) The Curious Incident. After reading it once, I chose it as one of two books to read for the English exam mentioned in my last post. The other book was "To Kill A Mockingbird" (yes, I cheated and chose books I had already read. That's the advantage of being a bookworm). I ended up writing a comparison between these two books, and the stories are remarkably similar. They are both told through the eyes of very special children, who realize that adults make terrible mistakes and that the world is more complex than they had thought.

The descriptions of Christopher's personality show how crazy everyone but Christopher really is. It is no less logical for Christopher to be depressed by yellow cars as it is for us to be depressed by rain. So true. And why do we think that we see certain constellations, when we might as well combine the stars in new ways, to make new images? There are similar eye-opening paragraphs in the article by Rod Van Mechelen (the last link in this entry)

Posted by: Julie at June 12, 2005 6:17 PM

>And why do we think that we see certain constellations,
>when we might as well combine the stars in new ways,
>to make new images?

This is what I've been saying (and writing) for years. :-) To us, it's the Big Dipper or Charles' Wain. To the Egyptians, it's the foreleg of an ox, to the Chinese, the Heavenly Bureaucrats. That any kid gets this instantly, is something I see every time I visit a classroom. As for adults, that's a completely different story...

Posted by: Eirik at June 12, 2005 7:51 PM

I borrowed the The Curious Incident from a good friend of mine and read it on my way to Peru :-) twice...

Posted by: heidi karethe at July 31, 2006 8:27 PM

Have you read "The Last Samurai" by Helen DeWitt yet? If not, it will be your Cristmas present. It has nothing to do with Tom Cruise whatsoever ,but rather with an unusually clever boy with no father and a very funny translator mum.

Posted by: Anna at August 1, 2006 4:38 PM