Marx e Engels defenderam uma visão mais molar da história, como um processo onde os agentes principais eram agregados de pessoas em vez de pessoas individuais, em paralelo com os historiadores de ciência que acreditam que esta é fruto principalmente do trabalho de milhares de cientistas médios e não de personalidades excepcionais. Nos modelos de mudança histórica como processo de avalanches críticas, as avalanches em si são o fruto da interação de indivíduos "normais". Mas o início das avalanches (ou seu prosseguimento ou não em certos momentos especiais) se deve a indivíduos específicos, "grãos de areia que estavam no lugar certo na hora certa".
Se esse indivíduo se torna, além disso, um hub (centro) em uma rede scale-free de contatos sociais, seu efeito será ainda maior. Se é um cientista obsessivo, capaz de pensar no mesmo problema anos a fio (como os Aspengers, as pessoas com TOC e os bipolares têm mais facilidade de fazer), então isso aumenta ainda mais a probabilidade dele se tornar um grão catalizador de uma avalanche. Ou seja, indivíduos e massa são igualmente agentes da História, a probabilidade de sua vida ter um impacto relevante na sociedade provavelmente segue uma lei de potência. Os grandes gênios não são separados da humanidade. São apenas a cauda da distribuição.
- 19:00 30 April 2003
- Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition.
- Hazel Muir
They were certainly geniuses, but did Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton also have autism? According to autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen, they might both have shown many signs of Asperger syndrome, a form of the condition that does not cause learning difficulties.
Although he admits that it is impossible to make a definite diagnosis for someone who is no longer living, Baron-Cohen says he hopes this kind of analysis can shed light on why some people with autism excel in life, while others struggle.
Autism is heritable, and there are clues that the genes for autism are linked to those that confer a talent for grasping complex systems - anything from computer programs to musical techniques. Mathematicians, engineers and physicists, for instance, tend to have a relatively high rate of autism among their relatives.
Baron-Cohen, who is based at Cambridge University, and mathematician Ioan James of Oxford University assessed the personality traits of Newton and Einstein to see if they exhibited three key symptoms of Asperger syndrome: obsessive interests, difficulty in social relationships, and problems communicating.
Newton seems like a classic case. He hardly spoke, was so engrossed in his work that he often forgot to eat, and was lukewarm or bad-tempered with the few friends he had. If no one turned up to his lectures, he gave them anyway, talking to an empty room. He had a nervous breakdown at 50, brought on by depression and paranoia.
As a child, Einstein was also a loner, and repeated sentences obsessively until he was seven years old. He became a notoriously confusing lecturer. And despite the fact that he made intimate friends, had numerous affairs and was outspoken on political issues, Baron-Cohen suspects that he too showed signs of Asperger syndrome.
"Passion, falling in love and standing up for justice are all perfectly compatible with Asperger syndrome," he says. "What most people with AS find difficult is casual chatting - they can't do small-talk."
Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist from the University of California at San Francisco, is not convinced. He says attempting to diagnose on the basis of biographical information is extremely unreliable, and points out that any behaviour can have various causes. He thinks being highly intelligent would itself have shaped Newton and Einstein's personalities.
"One can imagine geniuses who are socially inept and yet not remotely autistic," he says. "Impatience with the intellectual slowness of others, narcissism and passion for one's mission in life might combine to make such an individuals isolative and difficult." Elliott adds that Einstein had a good sense of humour, a trait that is virtually unknown in people with severe Asperger syndrome.
But Baron-Cohen thinks the idea is still worth considering - there may be certain niches in society where people with AS can flourish for their strengths rather than their social skills, he says. "This condition can make people depressed or suicidal, so if we can find out how to make things easier for them, that's worthwhile."