One morning this week, editing my 2012 journal, I came upon a surprise that surprised me again – in physicist Lisa Randall’s book Knocking on Heaven’s Door (her book about expectations for the Large Hadron Collider), near the end of the book, she makes a comment to the effect that some scientists, like autistic people, lack creativity.
What? What? Einstein showed multiple signs of autism. So did Isaac Newton and Alan Turing. Three of the most creative scientists ever.
The poet/painter William Blake – mocked by other poets in his own time for declaring himself a poet, is now regarded as the greatest and most creative of the Romantic poets who wrote in English – but he is often proposed to have been on the spectrum.
Something about this reminds me of Francesca Happé’s book, Autism – an introduction to psychological theory (a survey of autism research which I have found insightful and useful) – specifically the story of a little boy travelling in a a railway car with his classmates – “they were all talking about ball games, and he was talking about the way train signals worked.” This disconnect between him and the others was said to be an example of “right hemisphere dysfunction” which is “associated with introversion, poor social perception, chronic emotional difficulties, inability to display affect….” (p.106 of the paperback).
Happé explains that many psychologists were now associating right hemisphere dysfunction (some calling it ‘right hemisphere damage’) with autism, especially with Asperger’s.
But let’s get back to creativity. I’m not going to do it again here, but I could produce a long list of successful authors and artists who easily fit on the autistic spectrum.
For example, Vincent Van Gogh, possibly the most famous painter of all, belongs there. But he was ignored in his own time. Despite producing 860 oil paintings, he sold only one, and that for a pittance, despite the fact that his brother was an art dealer who believed he was a genius and tried hard to sell his work. Van Gogh only attracted the attention of those looking for ‘creativity’ when, in despair, he shot himself and died at age 37. His creativity ended then, but, once dead, his paintings began to sell.
This society that talks so much about creativity, often doesn’t know what it is talking about.