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Planning Retirement Online

All about the brain

    March 2008   

How madness has changed the world

The relationship between creativity and psychiatric disorder is not a myth, according to Professor Michael Fitzgerald, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College, Dublin, and the author of a new book, Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World.
People with autism have a very narrow focus in their work, are very persistent, and have particular gifts in the fields of mathematics, engineering and physics. Charles de Gaulle had Asperger’s – and according to Professor Fitzgerald, talking at recent conference. de Gaulle’s illness was critical to his success as a politician.

‘He saw himself as representing his country. He said, "I am France." He was aloof, had a massive memory, lacked empathy with other people, and was extremely controlling and dominating. He also showed signs of autistic repetitiveness, and was similar in many respects to other great leaders with Asperger's syndrome, including Professor Thomas Jefferson in the USA and Enoch Powell in Britain’.

Another famous Briton with Asperger's syndrome was the writer H.G. Wells. He found it difficult to relate to other people, and was a workaholic and an incessant writer. Although fascinated by science, he found it difficult to separate fact from fantasy. In school he had just one friend. He was a gawky student, who was socially insecure and spoke with a high-pitched tone of voice. He was also excessively controlling and dominating, although deep down he was a very lonely man.

In predicting the future, he was not unlike another person with Asperger's syndrome, the writer George Orwell. H.G. Wells adored encyclopaedias, and spoke in a monologue. Ultimately, he was a naive and immature personality who suffered a great deal of depression.

Professor Fitzgerald said that anecdotes from biographies of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein showed how these famous scientists displayed all the characteristics of Asperger's syndrome. ‘Psychiatry tends to focus almost exclusively on the negative side of different forms of mental illness,’ says Professor Fitzgerald. ‘I want to show that psychiatric disorders can also have positive dimensions.’



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