By Innocent Nahabwe

Last week, we lost a man, praised by his peers, for his brilliance in class and all things tech following mob justice around Parliamentary Avenue. His name was Reverence. His peers say he was too brilliant for his age coming up with great products for telecoms.

Many people used to call us who did sciences psychos. Many Professors also had issues. So does being brilliant in anyway lead to madness?

One writer, Timothy Bano writes
“I would not dare to say that there is a direct relation between mathematics and madness,” said the mathematician John Nash, “but there is no doubt that great mathematicians suffer from maniacal characteristics, delirium and symptoms of schizophrenia.” Nobel prize winner, mathematical maverick and schizophrenic, Nash is one of the high-profile mathematicians whose life-story, portrayed in the film A Beautiful Mind, contributes to the popularly held belief that there is a link between genius and madness.

As Nash suggests, high profile figures from the discipline of mathematics, such as himself, seem to have made a disproportionate contribution to this popular assumption. One thinks of Isaac Newton sticking a needle into the back of his eye (he wanted to find out how this would distort his vision), or more recently, the eccentricities of Grigori Perelman.

Dubbed by the Guardian as a ‘reclusive Russian genius’ and ‘the world’s cleverest man’, in the early noughties, Perelman found the answer to a mathematical problem that had been considered unsolvable. This solution was worth $1 million dollars, a reward offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute. But rather than claim the prize-money and accept public acclaim, Perelman decided to hunker down in the St Petersburg flat that he shares with his mother and sister, and bar the door. The world wondered whether this self-imposed isolation was idiosyncrasy, or something more serious.

To succeed in cracking open such locked problems of mathematics takes a degree of obsession. To quote the mathematician Andrew Wiles: “Pure mathematicians just love to try unsolved problems—they love a challenge.” It was Wiles who finally solved Fermat’s Last Theorem, an infamous number conundrum. The young Wiles discovered Fermat in his local Cambridge library when he was a child. “Here was a problem, that I, a 10 year old, could understand, and I knew from that moment that I would never let it go. I had to solve it.” ‘Not letting it go’ is a sign of the single-minded devotion needed to pursue such apparently impossible dreams. From films to plays, art has courted this romantic notion of the mad genius, and the American mathematician John Nash has been a focus for such attention. Following Sylvia Nasar’s well-received biography, Nash was played by Russell Crowe in the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, which garnered the Oscar for best picture and director for its critically lauded portrayal of schizophrenia. Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard, who has extensively researched the depiction of mental illness in cinema, praised the film in The New York Times as being “one of the better portrayals…of what the disease is like”.

So, should we worry about our brilliant friends?