The Power of Being Different

May 20, 2017

Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci—some of the greatest minds in history came with unusual quirks.

Many of Einstein’s scientific breakthroughs, for example, emerged during his daydreams. He was famously absent-minded, yet his unconventional thinking led to an understanding of the universe that was light-years ahead of his time.

People have long witnessed a connection between creative thinking and peculiar behavior. Plato described it as “divine madness”; Aristotle recognized that creative people tended toward bouts of depression.

Recent research sees a similar pattern. Traits such as distractibility, anxiety, melancholy, and other mental obstacles are strongly associated with creativity. In multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been shown to correlate with an artistic temperament.

We all have relative weaknesses, and we all have relative strengths.

Psychiatrist and best-selling author Dr. Gail Saltz has been pondering this connection since childhood. Her fascination was sparked by her younger brother, astrophysicist Adam Riess, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011. His lifelong insatiable curiosity and fervent questioning led Saltz to wonder how his mind worked.

“My brother’s curiosity was so evident, and it made a big impression on me,” Saltz told The Epoch Times. “His thirst for knowing is highly important.”

Saltz’s new book, “The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius,” examines the unique features and struggles behind some of the world’s greatest minds. Her investigation looks at historical examples, the latest science, and firsthand accounts of people who endured depression, dyslexia, autism, and other psychological hurdles but went on to do great things.

“Many of the most successful people in their arenas got there because their brain worked differently,” she said. “That isn’t just an accident. It’s a difference that was bound to their particular strength and their subsequent success.”

Strength in Disguise

Stereotypes such as the tortured artist or absent-minded professor exist for a reason. Genius and eccentricity tend to go together, and that may be by design. Research has shown that deficiencies in certain areas of the brain typically allow for acuities in another. Like the ancient Chinese principle of yin and yang, a particular strength is often married to a complementary weakness.

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