5 Historical Geniuses Who Were Essentially Mad Scientists
Thanks to horror films, we’ve developed the belief that when you reach a certain degree of intelligence, a little bit of insanity simply comes with the package. In real life, though, plenty of people are capable of being true geniuses without losing their minds.
But talking about those people is boring. Instead, let's talk about these psychos.
J. Robert Oppenheimer
As the key force behind the creation of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer already earns a spot on the list of “smart guys who also remind us of movie villains.”
But like it or not, Oppenheimer was simply doing his job for the war effort—even if you consider his contribution to the world negative, it’s not like he simply tried to commit cold-blooded murder himself.
Except, well, he did. As a graduate student, Oppenheimer had a problem with one of his professors. Most of us would handle this by giving said instructor a nasty write-up on RateMyProfessors.com, but Oppenheimer decided to go with a more unique method, lacing an apple with poison and placing it on the desk of the professor in the hopes that he would take a bite from it. And then die, in case that wasn’t clear.
His plot was actually discovered, and it nearly got him expelled, but his parents’ clout was strong enough to both prevent an attempted murder charge and keep him in school under the condition that he undergo sessions with a psychiatrist. That seems just a touch lenient.
Sir Isaac Newton will forever be known for discovering gravity. Well, he didn’t exactly discover it, but he did realize how it worked, which was an extremely significant breakthrough, paving the way for flight, space travel, and Superman seeming more impressive.
But that wasn’t the subject that most interested Newton. He was actually pretty obsessed with the occult, developing a deep interest in alchemy, Bible interpretation, and his own belief that God had chosen him to be among the select few who truly understood Scripture. He eventually decided that, based on his reading, the world would not end before 2060. Which is comforting, I guess.
Before inspiring the name behind a line of eco-friendly cars, Nikola Tesla was a major innovator who, despite being pretty much driven to obscurity by his rival Thomas Edison, managed to develop technological advances far beyond his time. Unfortunately, he was not always able to see all his goals to fruition.
Then again, that might be a good thing, seeing as one of those goals was a “death ray.”
The proposed device, which Tesla referred to as “Teleforce,” would focus an electrically charged stream of energy through the air. If used effectively, Tesla believed that it could “bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation's border” as well as “cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.”
Despite trying to peddle this idea to various governments, including our own, Tesla couldn’t find anyone interested in funding the idea, probably because it sounded like the rantings of a lunatic. This was the 1930s, after all. Insane weapons technology was still in its infancy.
Edward Teller invented the hydrogen bomb and inspired the title character of Dr. Strangelove, which should be enough to get him on this list simply by association alone.
But Teller wasn’t a minor nuclear enthusiast. He truly did love the bomb, as evidenced by his ideas to use it for many, many other applications beyond merely killing thousands of people in an instant. Teller was a proponent of plans which involved creating an artificial deep water harbor via underground hydrogen bomb, extracting oil via nuclear explosions, and creating a second Panama Canal by nuking the land.
So, basically: a 14-year-old boy with a genius IQ.
Though his name has been somewhat absent from history books, Jack Parsons is one of the people who perfected the jet engine. He’s the reason your fear of flying is pretty much unfounded.
He was also a complete lunatic. Parsons was a friend of L. Ron Hubbard, already a bad sign for his sanity. He also hung around Aleister Crowley (just check out this psycho's bio), and developed a deep interest in black magic and the paranormal, even believing he could use alchemy to control the weather.
Parsons had long been interested in these subjects, but it took his lover leaving him for him to truly go off the deep end. Because that situation is just a cocktail of pure insanity.
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