It is beyond any doubt that Sir Isaac Newton was not only one of the most brilliant scientific minds the world has ever encountered, but also one of the most influential. His incredible volume of work, and his remarkable theories helped to define modern science. Sir Isaac Newton is rightfully renowned for his work as a philosopher (Newton was a deeply devote man of Christianity, reputed to have spent more time with his bible than his science books), mathematician, alchemist, and perhaps his most famous role, a groundbreaking physicist.
Like many of the wisest men in history Newton is a reported recluse – only one small romance is ever credited to his name, a teenage relationship with the stepdaughter of a man he was lodging with at the time. The relationship was short lived and from thereon out Newton is said to have lived his life as a bachelor. However a thoroughly modern theory has developed as of late which may begin to shed some light on the reasons behind why Newton was – despite all his fame, brilliance, and reputation – such a secluded, quiet, and perhaps even withdrawn person. Asperger’s syndrome.
Hundreds of years after the great scientist passed away, the idea that he may have suffered from this unique form of autism (a heritable condition, that is sometimes seen in families of people who have particularly high interests in maths and science) sprang to life. It is a condition that is thought to be present from birth, and which is classified as a form of “high functioning autism”. In other words those who suffer from this condition are believed to be able to function relatively “normally” in society, yet they share certain characteristic traits.
Many with Asperger’s (which is thought to be more prevalent in men than women) have above average intelligence. For example Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Nikola Tesla are among the growing list of great minds that are also suspected of having had this condition. They display an atypical personality, often having highly focused, concentrated interests in only a few subjects (which they engross themselves in rigorously), and a late development of speech and language skills, or other language oddities. In a nutshell it appears that those with Asperger’s are somehow devoid of the innate capacity to see and follow the usual ways of social interaction, and do not inherently know how to share and express their own feelings in social situations (lack of “normal” body language, etc). In other words they become fast targets for the somewhat misguided term “loner”, a word that is repeatedly linked to Isaac Newton.
Many with Asperger’s develop an almost obsessive level of interest in a particular field or subject (which can be virtually anything) or two, they may spend every available moment of their time on this subject and rarely seem to have patience for things that are not related to their passions. So engrossed was he in his work that Newton invented the cat flap (a hinged “door” or flap of material that a cat can enter and leave the house from) just to avoid having to get up and let the cat out.
Under these guidelines it seems that Newton was a hallmark example of Asperger’s syndrome. A quiet and subdued man, Isaac Newton is said to have rarely spoken. In fact, despite being a member of the British parliament for two years, the only comment ever credited to him in the Parliamentary records was a request that a drafty window be closed. When it came to his friends, they were somewhat few and far between, and those he did have were often treated with only a moderate level of friendship. Deeply devoted to his beliefs and the subjects he studied and wrote on, Newton even gave lectures to vacant halls when no one showed up at his speeches.
In the later half of his eighty four year life, Newton suffered a nervous breakdown, depression, and perhaps even paranoia. All these things give weight to the idea that he may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, yet they do not for a second detract from the brilliant, influential work that Newton carried out in his lifetime. For whether he did in fact have some form of autism or whether he was just exceptionally zealous and devoted to his interests is of little relevance. What matters are the extraordinary discoveries, ideas and legacy that this quiet English genius has given to the world.