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Brilliance? Or just odd social behavior?

I tried a scientific experiment recently. I head-butted an engine block to test out the hardness of my head. I now have a scrape on my forehead, but the headache has subsided.
Actually, I was helping my son haul his latest acquisition, another engine block, off his truck bed and into the garage. As we placed it on the garage floor, I pinched my finger against another piece of his engine junk, jerked my head forward and promptly ran headlong into the engine block we had just plopped down. He laughed; I cringed as I saw stars. I swear I’m getting too old to be hauling engine blocks.
Lo and behold, several days later he comes back with another “prize” that needs to go down into the basement.
“Get one of your buddies to help you,” I said.
“You’re it,” my son replied.
“Then get new relatives!”
After a pause, I added, “Then get your mother to help you!” Then I realized she was standing right around the corner.
So down in the basement we went, hauling another engine block, this time using chains as handles. By the way, this is the same son who helped me haul an old refrigerator up from the basement last year, only to end up wearing the refrigerator on my chest when I slipped and fell down. We didn’t hurt ourselves this time.
You would think I would have known better. Apparently not.
All this reminded me of a book I just read. (I read a lot in my retirement.) It’s entitled “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. It’s normally not what I read because it is a mix of science and math (not my strong suits) rolled into a humorous narrative. In other words, I had to think a lot about what I was reading.
I have always claimed that science and math are naturals together. Just like English and history often go together. Bryson’s book is a combination of all of that.
But I had to wade through the “Big Bang Theory” and Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” to get to the good parts … the people behind all these wonderful discoveries. And many of these scientists were quite eccentric, as only Bryson can parlay in his book.
For example, Bryson writes about a family of British intellectuals by the name of Haldane, whom the author called “outstandingly eccentric.” The senior Haldane, a professor of physiology at Oxford University, was absent minded as well.
As Bryson writes: “Once after his wife had sent him upstairs to change for a dinner party, he failed to return and was discovered asleep in bed in his pajamas. When roused, Haldane explained he had found himself disrobing and assumed it was bedtime. His idea of a vacation was to travel to Cornwall to study hookworm in miners.”
The younger Haldane never had a degree in science, Bryson writes, but became a brilliant scientist in his own right. Bryson writes that Haldane and his father tested gases and gas masks, “… taking turns to see how long it took them to pass out.”
Added Bryson: “Perhaps uniquely among human beings, the younger Haldane found World War I ‘a very enjoyable experience’ and freely admitted he ‘enjoyed the opportunity of killing people.’”
The elder Haldane, in his experiments on himself, broke bones, had collapsed lungs and perforated his ear drums, Bryson writes, and “...in his essays, Haldane wrote ‘… the drum generally heals up; and if the hole remains, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment.’”
Byron’s book is filled with similar hilarious accounts of people who made such amazing discoveries throughout history, but were just a little … odd. It is a great read, and you might even learn something.
So mashing my head into an engine block may be a sign of brilliance disguised as odd social behavior. I think I’ll stick with that theory.
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, 2014, but still plans to submit an occasional column.