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Scientists and mental problems

  1. Oct 1, 2007 #1
    Is it only some strange stereotype kind of thing, that mathematicians and theoretical physicists would have notably more mental problems than is usual for humans? Is there any statistics concerning this? I know there's lot of jokes about this, and that there has been some notable individuals with mental illnesses, but it's difficult to see the reality of this issue.
     
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  3. Oct 1, 2007 #2

    D H

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    Whether a connection between genius and madness exists has been conjectured since ancient times. A quick selection of a google search on genius and madness:

    http://psychologytoday.com/rss/pto-20070507-000002.html
    What's more, says Csikszentmihalyi, the openness and sensitivity of creative people can expose them to suffering and pain. As electrical engineer Jacob Rabinow told him, "Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them." And yet, few things in life bring more satisfaction and fulfillment than the process of creation.​

    http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleId=164902206
    [T]he prevailing view appears to be that psychopathology and creativity are positively associated.​

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/li...ain.html?in_article_id=434938&in_page_id=1774
    Now scientists have discovered a gene which is linked to both intelligence and one of the most common forms of madness - schizophrenia.​
     
  4. Oct 1, 2007 #3

    Kurdt

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    There was a study conducted not too long ago where samples of people took the autism quotient test. It was found that scientists mathematicians and engineers scored significantly higher than a sample group.

    http://www.autismresearchcentre.com/docs/papers/2001_BCetal_AQ.pdf

    Could go some way to explaining the stereotype.
     
  5. Oct 1, 2007 #4
    Okey. So there's some truth behind this...
     
  6. Oct 1, 2007 #5

    D H

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    Did I say that? I know many people working in mathematics and science, including several with PhDs, who are from from geniuses. I would venture that majority of people working in mathematics and science are not geniuses. On the other hand, it certainly does look like there is indeed some kind of connection between madness and genius.
     
  7. Oct 1, 2007 #6

    D H

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    Acknowledgement for Chris: Most mathematicians and scientists are perfectly normal. I should have rejected the OP's hypothesis explicitly. I addressed the root cause of the stereotype, which is that madness and genius do appear to be related, and hence the stereotype.

    As a rule, we mathematicians, scientists, and engineers are no more likely to begin a conversation with the air than anyone else. (Aside: Appearing to do this is not a good measure of insanity anymore. Too many people have cellphones ...)
     
  8. Oct 1, 2007 #7
    does the computer/'threads' count as 'air'?
     
  9. Oct 1, 2007 #8

    Moonbear

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    Yeah, that's a risk everyone takes when giving a lecture, especially when it's to freshmen. :biggrin:
     
  10. Oct 1, 2007 #9

    Astronuc

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    It's quite normal for me to talk to myself. Only I can understand what I'm saying. :rolleyes:

    I sometimes talk through a problem - or I talked to the board, when I was in high school or university. That seemed to bother people, so I tried not to do it in public. These days to I talk to the computer(s). :biggrin:


    Apparently the population in math, science and engineering has a higher proportion of autistic or Asperger's characteristics, or more accurately, those who have such traits tend to go into math, science and engineering, and generally excel in those area. And in some or many cases, they may tend to be socially inept or somewhat restricted, which may manifest itself in an apparent shyness.
     
  11. Oct 1, 2007 #10

    Kurdt

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    I thought it was quite natural. Besides its the only way one can guarantee intelligent conversation.
     
  12. Oct 1, 2007 #11

    Astronuc

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    I also hum base and guitar lines. I like background noise.

    I can't stand dead silence. It was torture when I took tests like the SAT and GRE.

    I can't read with silence.
     
  13. Oct 1, 2007 #12

    symbolipoint

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    I wish you would explain that thoroughly. The discussion probably deserves a new topic started.
     
  14. Oct 1, 2007 #13

    Astronuc

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    It's just the way my brain is wired. I can't explain that, but my cerebral cortex needs a certain level of external stimulation to concentrate. I used to do my homework while watching (actually listening) TV (usually news), and I could do the problems and fully comprehend the news stories, and eat at the same time.

    I was doing multi-tasking before the word was coined.

    Oh, and I probably have autistic or Asperger's traits, which includes ADD/ADHD. I compensated over the years by drinking coffee and doing homework/tests as quickly as possible. One of my biggest problem areas was reading comprehension, mainly because what I read (in English) was uninteresting. I could read math and scientific literature without a problem. But having to read fiction was a problem - except for good science fiction.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2007
  15. Oct 4, 2007 #14
    hmhm.. where did Chris' comments go? I managed to took glance on them. Anyway, yes you got a point there, my google hits didn't give those same sites, because I wasn't using the keyword "genius". I was in fact asking precisely about the mental problems of all mathematicians and theoretical physicists, not necessarily about the small elite.

    I know one professor of mathematics who used to talk about mental problems of some major mathematicians, and he then often added "this is not unusual at all in this business...", meaning that it is common for mathematicians to be a little crazy. But it could be that it was only entertainment for his lectures. In fact, it certainly was entertainment (he was a very entertaining lecturer), but I couldn't be sure if it was a joke only :confused:

    I do know one theoretical physicists, who certainly has some problems. He is a professional physicist, but I can guarantee that he would get himself banned from physicsforums, if he tried to explain his views about QM over here. I don't know what's his story in detail, but some problems he must have.
     
  16. Oct 4, 2007 #15

    mgb_phys

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    Perfectly normal. Many surgeons have background music in operating theatres - complete silence creates an on-edge atmosphere where everyone is straining to hear any slight sound. Some low level background noise actually helps you concentrate.

    I can't sleep if it's too quiet, I need traffic or rain in the background - fortunately I moved to Vancouver!
     
  17. Oct 4, 2007 #16
    If you read the article carefully you see that the apparent connection actually amounts to a superficial resemblence:

    Indeed, outright psychopathology usually inhibits rather than helps creative expression.
    It is important not to glamorize mental illness as akin to genius, because that's frankly false. The majority of mentally ill people lead uncreative, unproductive lives.
     
  18. Oct 4, 2007 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    I've known a number of very smart businessmen who were nutty as fruitcakes; rich, but nuts. One time when he thought he was alone, the owner of one company proceeded to have an entire argument with himself while another engineer and I sat and listened... very quietly. I never could figure out if he was just role playing as a problem solving technique, or delusional.

    Incidentally, he was X CIA.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2007
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