Did Einstein eat peas?


Now for something out of the ordinary because, as we all know, too much exposure to topicality causes severe and permanent damage to the imagination and optimism.


Imagine (what a nice way to begin an out of the ordinary text!) that it is midday and you put food on the table for your children.

The elder one – (let’s say that it is a girl) is a “normal” child. A smiling person, a good student, she has many friends and lately she has taken on lowering the eyes provocatively when a boy makes advances to her.

Your second child, which is a five-year-old boy, is…”different”.

He has been this way since he was a baby. He didn’t like cuddling that much – something that hurt you a lot and filled you with remorse. He was late to talk and avoided playing with the other children right from the start. His best friend is your dog, with whom it seems he can communicate better than people.

Your psychologist told you about the Asperger syndrome, a form on the autism spectrum. In order to make you feel a bit better, he informed you that many researchers maintain that Mozart, Beethoven and Einstein suffered from Asperger’s syndrome.

This was cold comfort for you. You’d rather have a “normal” child.


That midday you had cooked peas. Your son, let’s call him Harry, loves peas and you take care of him as well as you can – perhaps, sometimes, at the expense of your relationship with your daughter.

When you put the plates before the children, Harry says: “There are two more beans on Mary’s”.

If you hadn’t gone to the psychologist, you would probably think that your child is spoiled and you would tell Harry (especially if you had just taken a look at the electricity bill): “Just eat your food and don’t talk”.

Or you could (if you were not weighed down by topicality) give the Solomon solution; to take a pea from Mary’s plate and put it on Harry’s.

But because the psychologist’s words still ring in your ears and you still have reserves of psychic tranquility, you do something else: You take the children’s dishes (prolonging their hunger for a little longer) and count the peas one by one.

When you are done, you see that Harry is right! On his dish there are 142 beans whereas on his sister’s there are 144. It took you some time to count all of them but he did it with a single look!


A few days later, while you read him Napoleon’s story (he is not too interested in bedtime stories) you mention the date of the Battle of the Waterloo and Harry says “Sunday”.

You browse Wikipedia and Harry is once again right: The battle of Waterloo was fought on a Sunday!

With the help of a specialist, you discover that Harry can tell you what day it was 22.000 B.C. ago or what day 22.000 A.D. will be.


“Harry” is a real person.

His name is Howard Potter and he can tell you the square root of…12851 without thinking, he can find if a seven-digit number is a prime number and he is exceptionally good at football statistics.

People like Howard are named by scientists as “savant”.

(We humans are prone to debunk ourselves. Homo sapiens, the wise man, became Homo Sapiens Sapiens to be separated from his ancestor who didn’t have a clue what an atomic bomb was. If we add up the third term, then we have Homo Sapiens Sapiens Savant, so it is no-brainer to figure out the burden that Howard bears on his shoulders.)

It is very hard to define “wise people’s” intelligence, since in some field (or fields) they outsmart supercomputers but at the same time they have a hard time dealing with practical problems that a child learns to cope with from the age of five.

Their most common weakness is to express and understand human feelings.

The representation of a smile means nothing to them.

Perhaps it is not accidental that six out of seven “wise” are men. “Wisdom”, just like autism, is much more common to the male sex.

The psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen maintains that autism is “the male sex in its most extreme”. He also holds responsibility for this autism, the increased secretion of testosterone in the amniotic fluid.


If we make a funny reduction of the particularity of the “wise” people in every- day life, we could tell that the best part of men are little savants.

They express themselves with great difficulty (aside anger, which is expressed by attacking).

They are, more often than women, armoured against the others’ feelings.

They are able to demonstrate remarkable skills in a field, but at the same time they have trouble remembering where they left their slippers.

And, for the love of God, take no stab at making a conversation with them when they fry an egg!


A few decades ago, psychiatrists put the blame for infant autism on…who else? Women.

Just because autistic people have this emotional block, doctors maintained that their cold mothers were the cause of this because they didn’t hug their babies.

Now it is proved that autism is not acquired. A parent’s love and affection may render an autistic individual more functional and happy (which, of course, applies to all children), but it is beyond them to change it.


Autism is not acquired but “wisdom” sometimes may be. Usually wisdom follows injuries or epileptic seizures.

Orlando Serrell was struck by a baseball on the left side of his head when he was ten years old. He fainted but when he came back to his senses felt no more pain and continued playing.

The thing is that a few months later Orlando perceived that he could remember everything!

After 27 years he can tell you precisely what he did on 9 August 1995 or any other day of his life, after the accident occurred.

But be forewarned, before you start striking your grandmother on the head with balls or heavier objects.

Orlando described all these memories as “trash in my mind” since he could not make the connection between the countless data that crowded his mind.


The most famous savant case is the “Rain Man”. Kim Peek is the most “wise” among the “wise”.

Characteristically, we mention that he could read and memorize two pages of a book simultaneously in eight seconds. He read the left page with his left eye and at the same time he read the right page with his right eye.

Peek would be able to read this text in 24 seconds. He would also be able to recall it 20 years later. But, unfortunately, he could not combine creatively the 12,000 books he had committed to his memory to write an original text.


There are many more astonishing savant cases.

The autistic Matt Savage taught himself overnight to read piano music. He could play Schubert six months later and by the age of fourteen he had released four CDs with compositions of his own, a proof that the lack of creativity is not a rule for the “wise”.

The most vigorous example that “wise” can be creative is a woman, Mary Temple Grandin.

Grandin, in spite of autism, earned her bachelor’s degree and wrote books about animal’s behavior and how the autistics think. She also came up with improvements of standards of slaughterhouses, so that at least the animals would not suffer before and during their death.


All these “wise”, each with peculiarities of their own, are a good argument to tip the scale towards the theory of “quality intelligence” to “quantitative intelligence”, since it seems that great skills like high I.Q, don’t contribute necessarily to creative thought.


Wrapping up this text, let’s quote Steve Jobs off a lecture in some University: “If your IQ is 160, give away 40 units to someone else. You can do everything with an IQ of 120” (the average).


PS: More than likely there will be readers who will jump down my throat for taking such a serious matter so lightly, so have this in mind:

People like “savants” or autistics who are not so “wise”, shouldn’t be treated with awe and mock-seriousness, as if they are lesser or greater human beings.

This well-worn “difference” is a fairytale for selling books for children.

It is racial by default, since it classifies people into “normal”, “different”, into “many” and “few”, into “us” and “them”.

The right term that would emphasize the value of human (and not only) existence would be “diversity”.

Every human is different. Our similarities unite us and our differences make us wonderful.


If you wish to learn more about autistics, don’t read a study but the book “The curious incident of the dog in night-time” by Haddon Mark. It is supposed to be a book for adults, but it was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize just like any other book.

And make sure you see the movie “Temple Grandin”.

I found information about “wise” people in an old issue of GEO (July 2007).


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Translated by Alexandros Mantas: