David Weeks and Jamie James
Phoenix, London, 1995.
Jamie James is the author of The Music of the Spheres, while David Weeks is a clinical neuropsychologist and therapist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, and it is he that carried out the research after realizing that "actual scientific knowledge about eccentrics was virtually non-existent".
He studied British and American eccentrics, listing their principal traits as being:
A glorious parade of eccentrics is presented, including the musicians Erik Satie and Glenn Gould. In the literary field, just about, is the world's worst poet, the Great McGonagall, who once bribed his way into playing the lead part in Macbeth and then refused to play dead when "run through" with Macduff's sword, preferring to improvise bad verse instead.
One of the contemporary scientists included in the study is the marvellously named Henry Alelove, who espouses a theory that 64Hz vibrations may facilitate levitation. A colleague of Alelove's has labelled his work "The Philosophy of Tetrahedronalism and its Tetradental Metaphysics and Metamathematics", which is oddly reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's tetrahedronal geometric philosophy, Synergetics. No doubt this is but a passing resemblance, although it sounds very much like the kind of stuff encountered on the Synergetics-L discussion list.
In the chapter, "Lost Continents and Golden Ages", we find Joseph Smith, who wrote a rather influential book about prosperous American civilizations in biblical times. Two consecutive societies disappeared due to catastrophic civil wars, leaving no archaeological traces apart from some golden tablets which an angel called Moroni told him about in a dream. Apparently a romance on the same theme was published by an American parson called Solomon Spaulding, 25 years before Smith's account. Weeks suggests that the creative visionary style of Smith may be seen as a type of eccentricity, a possibility that is not precluded by his powerful effect on millions of followers, known as Mormons.
Even more obviously eccentric are the tales of Madame Blavatsky, describing an ancient species of egg-laying hermaphrodites with a third eye in the back of their heads, which went on to create apes by breeding with other beasts. Their agricultural and other skills were acquired from visiting Venusians, whose home planet is ideal for farming, as can be imagined.
("Venus is a dry, hellish, high-pressure furnace whose magnetic field is not even strong enough to keep the solar wind from stripping away the upper atmosphere." Scientific American: Magnificent Cosmos, Spring 1998.)
Such wild fantasies did not stop Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, from having 100,000 followers at the time of her death.
This is a very entertaining and stimulating book, and it ends with a brief but positive chapter on eccentricity and health. The authors note that "with few exceptions, the subjects in the study were happy, even joyful people, and their joy was infectious". There is ample evidence that eccentrics are healthier and live longer than normal people. This may be credited to less experience of the stress arising from the effort to conform to social pressures.
The final remarks are a great encouragement to anyone involved, say, in exploring the ramifications of Synergetics, doubting the paranormal, or running a trombone trio:
"The condition of eccentrics is freedom... In an era when human beings seem more and more to be prisoners of their culture and their genes, eccentrics are a refreshing reminder of every person's intrinsic uniqueness".
PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF AND SUPERSTITION
© Paul Taylor 2001