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Math Medicine Science

The Quirky Habits of Certified Science Geniuses (bbc.com) 190

dryriver shares a report from the BBC: Celebrated inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla swore by toe exercises -- every night, he'd repeatedly "squish" his toes, 100 times for each foot, according to the author Marc J Seifer. While it's not entirely clear exactly what that exercise involved, Tesla claimed it helped to stimulate his brain cells. The most prolific mathematician of the 20th Century, Paul Erdos, preferred a different kind of stimulant: amphetamine, which he used to fuel 20-hour number benders. When a friend bet him $500 that he couldn't stop for a month, he won but complained "You've set mathematics back a month." Newton, meanwhile, bragged about the benefits of celibacy. When he died in 1727, he had transformed our understanding of the natural world forever and left behind 10 million words of notes; he was also, by all accounts, still a virgin (Tesla was also celibate, though he later claimed he fell in love with a pigeon). It's common knowledge that sleep is good for your brain -- and Einstein took this advice more seriously than most. He reportedly slept for at least 10 hours per day -- nearly one and a half times as much as the average American today (6.8 hours). But can you really slumber your way to a sharper mind? Many of the world's most brilliant scientific minds were also fantastically weird. From Pythagoras' outright ban on beans to Benjamin Franklin's naked "air baths," the path to greatness is paved with some truly peculiar habits.

The Quirky Habits of Certified Science Geniuses

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    • by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:45AM (#54631827) Homepage

      I remember taking a left brain / right brain test in high school and the teacher saying that the only people who scored equal on both sides tended to be either genius or mentally retarded. Whether it is autism, schizophrenia, creativity, or something else, if you want to "think outside the box" then being on the fringe is to your advantage. It doesn't surprise me that great thinkers were far outside the box. The trick is being far outside the box without being so far out that you're unstable. Many great thinkers, artists, etc.. were fairly unstable but still managed to hold it together well enough to give us some novel ideas.

      On a somewhat related note, I have a personal theory that the spike in autism is being caused by smart people having children. If intelligence is "balancing on the brink of insanity", then two people on the brink who reproduce sometimes causes their offspring to be over the edge.

      • by Colin Castro ( 2881349 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:14AM (#54631949)
        Your personal theory is a published study. Mostly aspergers, but a prof looked into it and his theory is that since most people are marrying later, they are also marrying people in their fields. So instead of marrying a random girl from town, you're marrying someone that could also be intelligent and have low level autism. BUT there are studies that show autism stems from poor nutrition and especially LOW IRON. The more likely culprit is bad nutrient levels, especially since people are older and their body needs more work to maintain.
        • Since the available evidence seems to suggest that autism is congenital, you are likely getting cause and effect backwards. Autistics often have restricted diets, which can, in turn, lead to nutritional deficiencies.
        • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:37AM (#54632049)

          I thought autism was caused by blond actresses who saw something on TV and then convinced like-minded dolts to stop vaccinating their sproggs.

        • Your personal theory is a published study. Mostly aspergers, but a prof looked into it and his theory is that since most people are marrying later, they are also marrying people in their fields. So instead of marrying a random girl from town, you're marrying someone that could also be intelligent and have low level autism.

          Do you have a link to that study? I've seen from personal experience that most people I know with autistic kids tend to be highly intelligence and it makes sense that it could be some kind of "inbreeding" type characteristic especially considering that it's spiking in places like Silicon Valley but I have yet to see anything but conjecture on the topic.

          • I've tried finding it again, this was a couple years back, and it's been crushed under google by all the random BS articles about autism and aspergers. I really should have saved it somewhere, pisses me off.
      • by conquistadorst ( 2759585 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:42AM (#54632071)

        I remember taking a left brain / right brain test in high school and the teacher saying that the only people who scored equal on both sides tended to be either genius or mentally retarded. Whether it is autism, schizophrenia, creativity, or something else, if you want to "think outside the box" then being on the fringe is to your advantage. It doesn't surprise me that great thinkers were far outside the box. The trick is being far outside the box without being so far out that you're unstable. Many great thinkers, artists, etc.. were fairly unstable but still managed to hold it together well enough to give us some novel ideas.

        On a somewhat related note, I have a personal theory that the spike in autism is being caused by smart people having children. If intelligence is "balancing on the brink of insanity", then two people on the brink who reproduce sometimes causes their offspring to be over the edge.

        I'd even take it a step further. It's their obsessiveness about that one thing. There are many people in this world that are dedicated to their work. They work hard, work all nighters, get stressed, study, etc... but there are very, very, very few people in this world so obsessed with a *SINGLE* topic that almost literally consumes them, all day, every day, for years and years. To the point they're not just neglecting themselves, they often consider their bodies a physical nuisance. They also shun everything else that doesn't seem important, like spending social time with others, what other people think, eating, cleaning, other mundane tasks. If you could free your mind of those things and spend every waking second on a single topic, then it should be no surprise one would argue that you already have clinical issues. Most of us are not wired to do that, we'd probably psychologically break down instead of thriving like these guys.

        • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @11:47AM (#54633431)

          The problem with this argument is that some of the geniuses under discussion were polymath generalists, not specialists in one thing. And even with the specialists, people like Tesla and Erdos covered an enormous range of topics within their specialization. The common factor with most of them is an enormous amount of energy bordering on mania, coupled with enough intelligence to make productive use of it instead of repeatedly rearranging the dishes in the kitchen at 3am.

          I suspect that our knowing about their weird habits is just a side-effect of self-confidence in some (Newton, Franklin), and an utter disregard for social convention (Tesla, Erdos) in others. Lots of people have weird habits -- and I'm looking at YOU, fellow Slashdot users -- but prefer to be discreet about them.

        • You're sort of saying they're monks but in a different way than most would consider?

    • You do have to be an outlier to get noticed. If you go around doing what everybody else does, you'll blend in to the background, and you also won't be doing anything terribly novel or intriguing.

      Makes sense that discovery comes from people who are different.

      • You do have to be an outlier to get noticed. If you go around doing what everybody else does, you'll blend in to the background, and you also won't be doing anything terribly novel or intriguing.

        Makes sense that discovery comes from people who are different.

        Pretty much agree about the differentness getting people noticed. But it's the differentness, not the genius. The entire article sounds like some racist screed about how Dark Skinned People from Africa are stronger but dumb, or the sexist bullshit that wimminfolk can't do serious work because they go crazy every month.

        Sorry everyone, but genius comes in all shapes and forms. And some of them live in McMansions in the suburbs, and enjoy football games. Just like "normal people".

        And some remarkably obtus

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @06:06AM (#54631587)

    But remember kids, you cannot omit that genius part. Without, carrying a blanket around and calling it your waifu only makes you a weirdo.

  • by Oxygen99 ( 634999 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @06:17AM (#54631603)
    I think it's a bit of stretch to call Newton's proclivities a 'quirky habit'.
    • Newton's fascination with mercury may have helped his insights - for a short time.

    • That's only weird by modern standards. For his time, searching for the philosopher's stone was like remembering sports statistics.
    • Also B. Franklin's sunbathing. Was that so unusual?
      • Not "sunbathing", exactly: he seems to have done it indoors, sitting in front of an open window to get fresh air.

        Going nekkid at home probably wasn't all that unusual, given that clothing was a significant expense...and Victorianism was still in the future.

  • Favism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <.ten.duagradg. .ta. .2todhsals.> on Friday June 16, 2017 @06:37AM (#54631647) Homepage
    Pythagoras ban's on fava beans can be traced back to his having favism [wikipedia.org].
  • Old hat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @06:47AM (#54631669)
    In other words, a lot of geniuses were probably autistic or had other conditions we generally consider to be 'mental illness.' Individuals with exceptionally high intelligence don't tend to integrate fully into society, and society's reaction is largely to consider them broken. As a great philosopher once said, "Only shooting stars break the mold."
    • My IQ was recently estimated to be very high, and I can attest. Growing up, I was considered 'learning disabled,' and mostly sidelined intellectually - my parents figured I'd be a police officer or something else that doesn't require much education so they didn't push.

      I am autistic and have ADHD. Before I started taking ADHD medication (when diagnosed at 33 for autism and ADHD, a few months ago), OCD was life. But I handled the OCD in a different way -- rather than looping about a single topic, I was able
    • In other words, a lot of geniuses were probably autistic or had other conditions we generally consider to be 'mental illness.'

      I'm sure a few were somewhere on the spectrum but I don't see any reason to think they had what we'd consider mental illnesses.

      Individuals with exceptionally high intelligence don't tend to integrate fully into society, and society's reaction is largely to consider them broken. As a great philosopher once said, "Only shooting stars break the mold."

      I think that's close, but misses the mark. Most of us have oddities and quirks, but we tend to suppress them because we want friends and jobs. A crazy hat is fine up until you realize the girl you like doesn't dig it.

      But when you're successful enough everybody already wants to be your friend so there's no need to normalize, in fact those weird little habits just become part of your

      • I'm sure a few were somewhere on the spectrum but I don't see any reason to think they had what we'd consider mental illnesses.

        Well, autism itself is considered a mental illness by the DSM, and the incidence of things like schizophrenia and dyslexia is significantly higher in certain fields.

        I think that's close, but misses the mark. Most of us have oddities and quirks, but we tend to suppress them because we want friends and jobs. A crazy hat is fine up until you realize the girl you like doesn't dig it.

        An

    • With no intellectual equals among the adult population, they are feral humans who grew up among children [mamensa.org].

      There have been perhaps a few thousands of true humans, and everybody else is just a trainable animal.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The only difference between brilliance and insanity is success.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:03AM (#54631903)

      Not at all. Most insanity is destructive. These people are/were not insane at all. They just did not give a damn what others think. The average human being, however, is so focused on what others think that they can regularly not even recognize clear nonsense. The critical characteristic needed for making mental breakthroughs is not high intelligence. That one, a lot of people have. It is the ability to use it independently and most people (even most highly intelligent ones) fail at that completely. Intelligence does not help if you do not use it.

  • by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:08AM (#54631719)

    I see two distinct, yet likely, possibilities.

    1. They were all autistic. Autists don't like change and tend to develop rituals and patterns, such as hammering your feet before bedtime or closing/opening the door 9 times before going through. Autists are sometimes also very sharp (though faaar from all of them) when they manage to focus their behavioral patterns on logical problems.

    2. This is visibility bias. We are all quirky in some way, but not all of us invented relativity theory. I have a friend that sleeps 11+ hours a day, but she's not a genius, so no-one cares. I had a friend that only ate cereal, but she wasn't a genius so no-one cared. Looking back, most of my friends have had some quirk or other, and I'm guessing that if I spent some time digging I'd find that everyone has at least one. So, these geniuses aren't special on the quirk side, they are simply the ones we notice because they're 'famous'. I bet you all know of some unique quirk belonging to your favorite actor/actress, not because they're quirky, but because they're covered by the press 24/7 in detail.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:18AM (#54631735)

      You don't have to sleep 10+ hours to be a genius. Take a look at my cousin. He sleeps 16 hours a day and don't know shit!

    • Autism has nothing to do with celibacy, using meth, running around naked outside, sleeping 10 hours a night and not eating beans because nobody understands what glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency is, so your first possibility is distinctly unlikely.

      Your second possibility, on the other hand, is absolutely on point.

      • Autism has nothing to do with celibacy, using meth, running around naked outside, sleeping 10 hours a night and not eating beans because nobody understands what glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency is

        Maybe not directly, but Autism is strongly correlated with most of those things... except maybe the meth.

        • Autism has nothing to do with celibacy, using meth, running around naked outside, sleeping 10 hours a night and not eating beans because nobody understands what glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency is

          Maybe not directly, but Autism is strongly correlated with most of those things... except maybe the meth.

          Have we reached the point where 100 percent of us are autistic yet?

        • Maybe not directly, but Autism is strongly correlated with most of those things... except maybe the meth.

          Citation needed. I challenge you to find a single study showing that any of those things correlates with autism. Especially the sleeping 10 hours one, because autism actually fucks up your ability to sleep.

          • Not bothering to pull up a study, especially since those aren't things likely to be directly addressed, as they are very unacademic, but I will address them point by point:

            Celibacy: Difficulty forming close knit bonds, hyper and hyposensitivity, and difficulty acting in socially appropriate manners are all impediments to having sex. Hyperfocus on special interests often lead to failures in self-care, which is generally unattractive, and means that more immediate needs than sex are ignored.
            Meth: High rat

    • Just because they are distinct does not mean they are not both true.

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:26AM (#54631759)

    So what earns a person certification in being a genius?

    150+ on Stanford-Binet? 145+ on Wechsler? A life where one generates a great amount of new science/art/architecture/writing? A ton of Patents?

    IQ is just a raw measure of the potential of a mind. The "mental velocity", as they call it. What one does with it. . . That is what really differentiates the geniuses.

    Never declare anyone a genius until they are at least 35 years old. The truth is that you just can't tell which ones will bloom – so provide opportunities to all of the ones who exhibit high IQs or similar at a young age. Observe their progress and proclivities, and you might just be part of the formative years of a genius. (or you can quench it, as frequently happens)

  • ...at a time one cannot say to actually be gay...
    • Or, conversely, before it was trendy to post-mortem "identify" people as being gay, without any real evidence..

    • Is it so hard to believe people can just be celibate?
      • When I was depressed I had no sex desire at all so, yes, certain mind "states" can lead to celibacy. I might be that whatever made them so intelligent also made them uninterested in sex
    • I get the feeling that Tesla and Leonardo Da Vinci were asexual. Leo once wrote something about how he thought the "means of reproduction" were so disgusting that he was amazed people hadn't gone extinct.

      Now Newton was not merely disinterested in sex like Tesla and Da Vinci, but was religiously opposed to sexual activity, so yeah there's a good chance he was sucking dudes off in the bathroom at every opportunity.

  • Quirk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:39AM (#54631805) Homepage
    There are more quirkly homeless people than quirky geniuses. We don't need to spread the myth about quirks being a fundamental particle of genius. We already have too much self-described geniuses on websites like Slashdot who are arseholes because they read a self-confirming article that many geniuses were arseholes.
    • There are more quirkly homeless people than quirky geniuses.

      Just playing devil's advocate but is this actually true and what is the evidence for or against? Are you just assuming it to be true because it sounds right? We're talking about opposite ends of the spectrum in many cases but both tend to be some standard deviations outside the norm. It wouldn't actually surprise me if the number of crazy geniuses in total wasn't all that different from the number of crazy homeless people. I have no evidence for or against but it is an interesting question. (to me anyw

      • There are more homeless people than there are geniuses. It's simply easier to become homeless than be a genius. Out of those groups, quirkiness would have to be much much more common in geniuses than in homeless people for there to be roughly similar numbers.
        • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:37AM (#54632053)
          According to US stats, 85 out of 100,000 people in the US are homeless. That's 0.085% of the population. A Stanford-Bbinet score of 150 or higher would be present in 0.089% of the population. Depending on where you draw the line for genius, either one could be more prevalent. Yes, you can become homeless, while you can't become a genius, but the current distribution of the two groups are not as radically different as you claim.
          • It's funny how no intelligence tests makes falsifiable predictions about who shows the signs of genius yet so many people assume they're scientific. http://www.independent.co.uk/n... [independent.co.uk] According to you and sjbe, this child is more of a genius than Einstein. I bet none of you would actually call this child a genius until she does something that you would recognize as genius.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

            How many of these people would you or sjbe actually admit are/were geniuses?
            • Again, it depends on how you define genius, for which there is no hard rule. I personally don't conclude that 'genius' implies accomplishment, just ability that is a number of standard deviations away from the norm. A person can be a genius whose intellectual capacity far exceeds Einstein in intellectual capacity, yet spends their entire life as a janitor or sweatshop worker. In my view, not all genius have monumental accomplishments, but monumental accomplishments tend to be accomplished by geniuses.

              I

              • I personally don't conclude that 'genius' implies accomplishment, just ability that is a number of standard deviations away from the norm.

                Everyone who has been historically considered a genius had notable achievements to their name. Achievements, and peer recogntion, are undeniable criteria for being considered a genius.

                • Everyone who has been historically considered has had notable achievements because history doesn't record the unremarkable actions of unremarkable people.

                  Here are the dictionary definitions of genius: 1. exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. 2. a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect.

                  Those don't include any kind of requirement of achievement. The etymology of 'genius' roughly translates to 'inborn' or 'innate,'

                • Please find me a dictionary definition of genius that specifies a requirement for historically significant achievements.

                  You're insisting on your own personal definition, and making a circular argument based on it. "All historically notable geniuses have done historically notable things", well no shit Sherlock.

        • There are more homeless people than there are geniuses

          It depends on how you define genius. Approximately 2.2% of the population has an IQ above 140 which is the cutoff for MENSA membership. Approximately in the US is homeless. So if you are talking Newton or Tesla level geniuses you might be right but if you define genius as the smartest 1-2% of the population then there are at least as many geniuses as homeless people. [wikipedia.org]

          Basically you are simply assuming there are more homeless people than geniuses when in fact the data seems to show that probably isn't act

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            It depends on how you define genius. Approximately 2.2% of the population has an IQ above 140 which is the cutoff for MENSA membership.

            UnluckiIy for you, IQ doesn't test for genius, and neither does MENSA membership. For one thing, you can practice for IQ tests. No different from all the high performing students who get amazingly high marks but fail to produce results in the real world. Like it or not, genius has a large "peer review" component and is one of those "we know it when we see it" type things.

            It's simply easier to become homeless than be a genius.

            That is an assumption not an evidence based fact.

            Really? And you have examples of people who were of average intelligence and skill suddenly found themselves on the top tier in a matter

    • But we might want to spread the idea that if we are a little more accommodating to neurological differences, we might end up with more geniuses, and the products of their labor. You are also assuming that there aren't any homeless geniuses (or people who could be geniuses if they had appropriate care).
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        I agree we ought to be more accommodating to neurological differences...but we'd have to jettison much of the Western religions to do it.

        Academia tends to be more accommodating to neurological differences than the commercial world. The downside of that is when quirky individuals teach rather than confine themselves to research, they can sometimes be very disruptive. I've seen many graduate students ruined by professors who were quirky to the point of obnoxious.

        • I'm not sure how jettisoning Western religions would help. The thing about genius is that geniuses can believe the wrong things. Einstein disbelieved quantum mechanics, and Godel believed he was in danger of being poisoned. Abolishing people's tendencies to believe the wrong things would also abolish the very thing that can make someone a genius.
    • I was thinking the same thing. Everyone on Slashdot is a special snowflake and that explains their crappy behavior. I'll bet most Slashdotters think they have Aspbergers.
    • I think I'd rather have more people being a bit quirky than everyone acting normally and rationally every single waking hour of the day.
  • I got quirky habits down pat. Loads of them. Quirky is actually a charitable way to describe them, that much quirky. So where do I collect my certificate for geniusity ? or is it geniusness?
  • by KozmoStevnNaut ( 630146 ) <henrikstevn@nospaM.gmail.com> on Friday June 16, 2017 @07:45AM (#54631825)

    The use of amphetamines isn't a quirk, it's just common sense.

  • I have some truly peculiar habits, therefor I am a genius.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday June 16, 2017 @08:22AM (#54631979)

    Many people do similar things. It is a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy. There are sports people who have to go on the field with the right foot first. Some will want to have a lucky number as shirtnumber.
    A politician might want to have his tie done in a cerain way.
    In programming: Some will use spaces instead of tabs.

    The result is the same: It works. Now why is that? Because when you do it, you won't spend time thinking how you did NOT do it. That time can then be used for the task at hand. And when you need to be concentrated 100%, you will be better than using 1% thinking how something is a bit off.

    We learn as kids that a kiss on the knee is the bestest way to stop a booboo.

    And I am sure that everybody has things like this and that has nothing to do with autism or anything else. Just human behaviour.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Just in general, the regular pop. does not get statistics. When a street light pops as a person walks under it, frequently they attribute it to some dark force. The number of street lights popping intersected with the number of people walking under them will lead to a great number of dark forces at work.

  • People who are extremely intelligent are accustomed to being right when everyone around them are wrong and in fact aren't bright enough to realize they're wrong. This is not a good thing.

    The smartest person I know (and I know a *lot* of smart people) had an affair with a married man that any idiot would have known was going to end badly. But there was no point in debating that with her because it would be like climbing into the ring and sparring with Ali in his prime. She never, ever loses an argument. I

  • Stonewall Jackson held one arm aloft as much as he could, even riding into battle -- supposedly to equalize blood flow. He didn't quit even after he caught a bullet that way.

  • We all have quirky habits. Quirky habits do not a genius make.
  • At that point, it's considered further evidence of the practitioner's brilliance.
  • I can definitively say that cerebro-diversity is a thing. Our school focuses on dyslexic and Asperger's kids - their brains are wired differently and as a result, they see the world differently.

    I'll bet most of the geniuses found in history also had brains that were wired differently than most of us. That would explain their talents and their quirks.

    I don't think you can simply adopt a few odd behaviors in the hopes of attaining genius status.

  • The fact that a genius does something doesn't imply that if you do the same you are or become a genius.

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