Regardless of whether you think the five inventors listed below are mad men, geniuses, insane in the membrane or a blend of all three, the quirky personalities and eccentricities of Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Louis-Sebastien Lenormand, Nikola Tesla and Alan Turing undoubtedly aided their efforts in discovering, inventing and changing the world around them. In the realm of inventing, the quirkier you are, the better! Now, let’s go back to the beginning...
If you’ve sat through at least a handful of middle school geometry classes, and managed to stay awake, then it’s likely you learned about the Pythagorean theorem and Pythagoras – the truly odd inventor of this foundational mathematical formula. As undoubtedly genius as this discovery has been in the fields of math, science and physics, Pythagoras also conjured up many other bizarre belief systems that demonstrated his eccentricity and unique ways of viewing reality.
Included among these strange ideologies was his own school of philosophy and religious order called Pythagoreanism. Though this abstract school of thought is difficult to describe concisely due to many piecemealed historical accounts, Pythagoreanism is based on the metaphysics of numbers and the belief that all reality - nature, music and the cosmos - can be represented mathematically, with a huge emphasis on symbolism.
Some of the major tenets of his beliefs included complete rejection of beans - yes, like the ones in chili - because Pythagoras believed that humans and beans were composed of the same biological matter and that eating beans of any kind was the same as cannibalism.
In addition, Pythagoras insisted that none of his beliefs or teachings be written down or recorded and all members were sworn to secrecy. Other absurd commandments from Pythagoras for those who followed his cultish lifestyle included smoothing out all body indentations left on pillows and bedding, no walking on highways and not allowing swallows to nest under roofs. Eccentric, indeed...
The name and works of this brilliant 15th Century Renaissance Man are ingrained in the pages of mankind’s history forever thanks in large part to his famous and infamous artistic works like the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man. But da Vinci was also one of the most prolific innovators in history who thought up numerous inventions including the clock, water systems, flying machines like the helicopter, weapons and tools.
Many of da Vinci’s innovations remained locked within the hundreds of pages of his sketchbooks during his lifetime, as he either lost interest in developing them or could not secure enough financial backing to produce his musings. Due to his unparalleled number of interests including engineering, sculpting, botany and anatomy, Da Vinci rarely finished projects before jumping on to the next endeavor.
Da Vinci maintained a very strict sleeping schedule of 2-3 hours a day, which he achieved in half-hour increments every four hours throughout his day. He believed that acquiring sleep in this manner freed up more time to brainstorm and caused more vivid and lucid dreaming. Most of the notes da Vinci recorded aside his inventions were written in mirror-text, and various theories exist as to whether da Vinci was indeed dyslexic or just wanted to deter those trying to steal his ideas.
One more bizarre and morbid fact about da Vinci: he was said to have been a grave robber and examined cadavers to study anatomy.
As far as eccentricity goes, you’ve got to have at least a little to jump out of a tree with two modified umbrellas, and then from atop a tall building with his creation, “le parachute.”
Though Lenormand did not invent the concept of a parachute, he was the first to test his version of one - a piece of cloth attached to a rigid wooden structure - in front of a large crowd of onlookers by jumping off of the Montpellier Observatory in France in 1783. He intended that his invention provide a safe escape route for people trapped in burning buildings. He landed safely on the ground seconds after the leap and is credited with naming the parachute - a combination of the Greek word “para,” meaning “against” and French word “chute,” or “fall.”
After his stunt, Lenormand donated his life’s work to establishing the science of “pure technology,” and submitted patents for a paddleboat, clock design and a public lighting system. He died as a monk in Castres after renouncing his marriage to his wife.
Tesla played a crucial role in the discovery of several groundbreaking inventions like alternating current, X-rays, the radio and the electric motor and much more, and was hung out to dry by several of the 20th century’s business tycoons who tried to steal and discredit his innovations.
Though his name and accomplishments are known around the world today, the brilliant innovator received little to no acknowledgement for his creations when he died poor in 1943. Robert Lomas labeled Tesla “the man who invented the 20th century.”
Tesla was plagued with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and suffered from a debilitating fear of germs. To highlight just a few of the quirks manifested by his condition, he refused to touch anything that bore the slightest hint of dirt, as well as anything of a round shape, which created some significant hurdles for him as an electrical engineer.
The number three became the working integer of his obsessions; he would circle the block three times before entering a building, request hotel rooms with the digit of three in the number, and ate every meal using three stacks of six napkins. Like Da Vinci, Tesla rarely slept and reportedly told John O’Neil, the author of Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla, that he once worked for 84 hours straight.
He went through odd diet phases during his life too, including a diet of only milk, honey, bread and vegetable juices, and then, due to his germophobic tendencies later in life, would only eat foods that had been boiled. And according to Marc Seifer, author of "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," the eccentric inventor curled the toes on his feet, 100 times each foot every night, because he believed the action stimulated his brain cells.
A headmistress at St. Michael’s Primary School in England was quoted as having said, “I have had clever boys and hard-working boys, but Alan is a genius,” when he was only about 9 years old.
Alan Turing, who is credited by Winston Churchill as having made the single most impactful contribution to the Allies’ victory in World War II, was a phenomenal mathematician and academic who cracked the Nazi’s Enigma Machine code. The complex electro-mechanical device created by Turing and a colleague called “The Bombe,” analyzed the millions of code configurations that could be generated by the Enigma and reduced the number of combinations to a manageable number for further hand testing. This machine led to the invention of the first computer.
Turing’s many accomplishments in the fields of mathematics and science were matched in number only by his many oddities and peculiarities. Regardless of the important work he was doing, Turing rarely looked presentable and often appeared scruffy and unkempt.
Right before he cracked the Enigma code, Turing proposed to his colleague, Joan Clarke, only to confess to her shortly afterwards that he was a gay man. He stuttered, was said to have been seen riding his bike with a gas mask on during a Hay Fever outbreak, and created an entire new field of biology, morphogenesis, out of his obsession with daisies.
Though we often condemn members of society who fall outside the proverbial norm, today we celebrate the unparalleled and brilliant minds of these five inventors, which allowed them to think outside the box, ignore the status quo and create innovations that changed the course of history.
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