I had planned to do this post on April 6, the day on which famous science fiction/science fact writer Isaac Asimov died in 1992, but my need to get out of the apartment I’m living in by the end of this month – not an easy task with rents skyrocketing and vacancies dwindling – has held me up. Rather than wait another year, I’m doing this testimony to him now.
Asimov is often found in those online lists of famous people who probably qualify, or qualified when they were alive, for a diagnosis somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I think he belongs there.
As I’ve said before, I think autism and the phenomena of the loner are closely related. Asimov was not the usual kind of loner, one who has limited appetite for social contact. He was a unique kind – those who are so mentally above the rest of us, that they are intellectual loners. Few could keep up with him. Though many of us have enjoyed his books, there really was no one like him.
He was also one of the happiest men who ever lived. If you doubt it, read his autobiography, It’s A Good Life, edited and published posthumously in 2002 by his wife, Janet Jeppson Asimov. There is an exuberant, irrepressible enthusiasm for life throughout that book, even in the sad time of dying. It’s present in all his books too, and it came out delightfully in interviews.
But Asimov wasn’t like that in spite of an autistic nature. No, he was happy because of his autistic nature. In this he was not alone.
For example, John Elder Robison, the autistic author of Be Different – Adventures of a Free Range Aspergian, and other books, says that, despite his life-long difficulty dealing with social people, life for him has been exciting and rewarding. Besides being an author, he has for decades been a musician, a creator of exotic musical instruments, and an auto repair mechanic.
Robison is adamant that he succeeded in those careers because of his autistic nature (the attention to detail, the persistence and determination, etc). Also, he says that if asked whether he wouldn’t rather be ‘normal’ (or ‘neurotypical’ as those on the spectrum say now), he responds with an emphatic no.
Look at this list of other people who are supposed to be/have been diagnosed with the form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome (according to themselves or someone else’s assessment), or look like they should have been:
- Charles Darwin
- Bill Gates
- Thomas Jefferson
- Jim Henson
- George Orwell
- Mark Twain
- Jane Austen
- Albert Einstein
- Alfred Hitchcock
- Hans Christian Anderson
- Thomas Edison
- Marilyn Munro
- Henry Ford
- Michael Jackson
- Isaac Newton.
Not only is this a list of achievers, but many of them are/were very satisfied with life. Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, George Orwell, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, were all happy people, despite adversities they encountered. Some of the others led a more tortured existence, but even Mozart, Beethoven, Marilyn Munro, and Michael Jackson knew how to enjoy life too.
Sure, society often does its best to make anyone different feel uncomfortable, anxious and unhappy about being different, to convince us that we’re wrong to keep other people at arm’s length, wrong to insist on extra personal space, and wrong not to chase after conventional rewards.
But the autistic man or woman who is able to ignore social pressures, who ranks the infinitely larger non-human universe over the world of human relationships, is often very happy. Asimov, who spent a lifetime collecting and interpreting knowledge, explained it best I think when when he said:
Knowledge is not only power; it is happiness.