Thursday, 8 January 2015

Newtonian Asperger's?

In recent days - and with no intended reference to anyone who posts here - I've been thinking about the way certain academics (and by no means limited to the fields often discussed on this blog) seem to suffer Asperger-type symptoms. There's a degree of single-mindedness, a lack of empathy or tolerance, a degree of obsessiveness and defensiveness which characterises certain debaters residing in the ivory towers.

This is not of course the way its supposed to be. Academics claim to follow the trail of evidence, go where it will. Sweet reason prevails, theories are testable, and may the soundest reconstruction prevail.

And let all the people say, Amen.

But that is more sanctified ideal than everyday reality, and only a fool would claim to be immune from self interest, including more common clods like thee or me. (Actually, when I think about it, blogging may be a prime indicator of dysfunctionality!)

What sparked off the thought was the suggestion that Sir Isaac Newton's "obsessiveness suggests that he may have suffered from a mild form of autism, such as Asperger's Syndrome." (Lloyd & Mitchinson, The QI Book of the Dead, p.12-17 throughout). Newton clearly was a brilliant man whose legacy will endure till the end of history, and yet the "slightest criticism of his work drove him into a furious rage, and his life was blighted by vicious feuds with other eminent mathematicians such as Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz and Robert Hooke."

Newton was more than a scientist, he was a devoted Bible student who "spent the bulk of his working life trying to calculate the date of the end of the world as encoded in the Book of Revelation, unravel the meaning of the prophecies of the Book of Daniel and relate the chronology of human history to the population cycle of the locust." Clearly misdirected genius, more in common here with Hal Lindsey than Einstein. "Newton believed that it would be for his religious theories, rather than for his work on optics or motion, that he would be remembered."

So you have to wonder about other great figures in Christian history; the vile Athanasius, the humourless Calvin, the [choose your own adjective] Barth... the list could go on. Undoubtedly gifted, one and all. (Point of clarification: we're not talking about Frankin Graham and Creflo Dollar here. You can be a ghastly human being without being anything close to intellectually competent. Nor did a surfeit of duplicitous cunning upgrade Herb Armstrong to sit alongside such heavyweights.)

Any thoughts?


  1. Borrow and capitalize on the strengths of another human, making these things your own? Yes! You can do this even with a savant, or a benign sociopath, so long as you remain the driver. But, abandon your own psyche, personality and customs to pattern your life after that of an employer, minister, or guru? Absolutely not! That becomes the tail wagging the dog, and as bad as alcohol or substance dependency. Unless you happen to be a member of an ACOG, in which case I understand they call it "being Philadelphian".


  2. The anger. Where does the anger come from when you point out that the belief system espoused by someone isn't just wrong -- it's daft rubbish?

    For some of us on the other side of this anger, we become angry ourselves when we present 'proof' such as it is to those who are obviously in error and they act as though we not only don't exist, but don't even acknowledge that we say anything, secure in their belief that no one can touch them.

    It's a bit upsetting.

    Sure, we know we can be wrong and we admit that. All we're saying is that they are wrong and we can 'prove' it. Our ideas could be wrong too, but we weren't sharing those, we object to those who tell lies and deceive people for their own ego and to rip other people off from their money. We also strenuously object to people who commit incest as Apostles, commit adultery on their wife as she lies dying of cancer and then forms his own church he's the head of when the other churches know what he has done and wouldn't let him become a minister, pedophiles, the oppressive and abusive, those who commit felony tax fraud, those prophets who get drunk, resist arrest and have to be bailed out at midnight after a holyday, those who promote stalkers for sake of revenge, those who break child labor laws... and so much more. It's outrageous. Perhaps we could be given a bit of slack for getting hot under the collar.

    But in the end it makes no difference.

    We can expose these frauds for what they are, but the people still follow them.

    The best we can do now is study the people who follow the con men. Why do they do it? What's wrong with them? It's a fascinating long term study.

    Because in the end, perhaps the anger we have had is misdirected. Maybe it shouldn't be to the leaders. After all, they only provided the con in the first place. It's the ones who allow themselves to be bamboozeled by flim-flamary.

    And so it is that some of us have seen the wisdom of 'be angry and sin not and let not the sun go down on your wrath'. Before bed time we all clear our heads and think nice thoughts, dispelling the anger.

    And then, the next morning, we renew our anger to again maintain an offensive against those who would damage society by their outrageous acts. It keeps the adrenaline flowing, makes us alert and has a definite evolutionary advantage.

    And besides, sometimes, just sometimes, there may be one or two, here or there, who take not and actually leave.

    Isn't that worth it?

  3. The inordinate growth in America of the "4 A" disorders is disconcerting. These are asthma, allergies, ADHD and Autism. Asperger's fits somewhere in the last category. I work at an institution that has an exceptional number of highly intelligent people. And in many cases, your description of Newton applies. Back long ago when I was in college, we learned in Psychology 101 that high intelligence was associated with good health generally. One of my buddies did a study that correlated high intelligence with low tooth decay. The correlation was positive. Now there is a developing awareness that high intelligence does have a downside. In many cases it is associated with the 4-A disorders.

    One of the prime characteristics afflicting people in the autism spectrum is their inability to recognize that there is anyone else in the universe that matters except themselves. This state of mind favors the ego-centrism of atheism or the development of religious leaders who claim great authority for themselves, many times to the pragmatic exclusion of God. I think it also makes bloggers who do not recognize the personal dimension to bloggic interaction. When they blog, they are carrying on a conversation with themselves or at most with a machine.

    I believe this trend will change American society significantly. It is like the apocalypse is happening right now in front of the cold glow of computer monitors but it is difficult to understand. It is the rise of a class of people who were once submerged. Will they deliver to us a better world? From what I have seen, I wouldn't bet on it.

    -- Neo

  4. Wonder if Allan Turing was Asperger's as, in his case, is often associated with being the youngest child of older parents. There was a recent "must see" film about him, The Imitation Game, missed it. Might take a person of similar genius focus to solve the Jesus Puzzle, perhaps some are already working on it?

  5. unknown, kudos for your post on 9 January

  6. Newton was also an alchemist who spent many hours trying to turn lead into gold (etc), and he reportedly said on his deathbed that one of his proudest achievements was the fact that he never shared his bed with a woman. At once a genius and a sociopath.

    In relation to my own recent interaction on your blog (which I like, btw), this was an interesting read. I'm going to add you to my blogroll.


  7. Athanasius would be shocked to know that Arianism would be BIG in the largest Christian nation 17 centuries in the future!
    Millions and millions of Arians in USA alone: Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Adventist spinoffs, Armstrongites...
    What if the Jehovah's Witnesses came to Karl Barth's door ... must have happened, would have been a big mistake.

  8. Let's be honest here: Robert Hooke stole Isaac Newton's ideas, particularly on gravitation (inverse square law) and did nasty things to Newton in his position at the Royal Society as President. Betrayed people are often obsessive (and as often sometimes rather vengeful). It has nothing to do with autism.

    Other factors should be considered: Did Isaac Newton exhibit symptoms clearly delineated in the DSM V for autism? For example, was socially disconnected? Was he sensitized to people touching him? If there are no objective measurements to delineate the disorder, it is rather suspect for people to just come up with the idea that Isaac Newton had autism.

    Making assumptions based on suspect observations and ideas is exactly how British Israelism began.

    And then compound the problem by assuming that Isaac Newton had autism and then ascribe it to others with a religious bent.

    Are there any grownups here that follow the scientific method?