Flash from the Past: Right-Brained Learner...Gifted Dyslexic?

His mother was a doctor who was concern her son would get sick in the epidemics, so he chose to school him at home. His unemployed uncle taught him, and he had many strong ideas about not liking rote learning: " He...avoided teaching me the alphabet and multiplication tables (even today they give me trouble). Most of the time we played chess and read maps." Today he still says he doesn't know his multiplication tables past fives.

But despite a disdain for conventional rote learning, this flash-from-the-past's uncle encouraged him to read and "pay attention to miscellaneous facts." His approach to learning was transdisciplinary, but this also had its toll on goal-directed learning and project completion.

"Every so often I was seized by the sudden urge to drop a field right in the middle of writing a paper, and to grab a new research interest in a field about which I knew nothing. I followed my instincts, but could not account for them until much, much later. "

Who was this?

None other than Benoit Mandlebrot, father of fractals and chaos theory in science mathematics, and economics.

Could any budding Mandlebrot's today able to be so omnivorous and transdisciplinary in their education?

Not surprisingly, not everyone could see with his broad brush: "Still, I remained an outsider in every field I worked in, and just couldn't get my interdisciplinary and philosophical views accepted. For instance, while working on economics, I was dying to mention that my methods were also pertinent to physics, but the referees of my papers told me to remove this broader philosophy. Later, when I studied turbulence (which, because of its unpredictability, resembled the stock market), my broader comments were again removed, and many papers were totally rejected."

Mandlebrot is a great example of an accomplished right hemispheric thinker - driven by intuitive search for connections, finding simple principles in complex material, trandisciplinary, and analogical. We do not know whether he may have been a stealth dyslexic, but his talent set would fit neatly (as would his weakness with rote mathematics and the alphabet). Today he says he isn't able to use a telephone book because he can't remember the alphabet.

Mandlebrot: Fruits of a wandering spirit
Fractal Wisdom
Fractals in Nature
Wikipedia: picture of Mandlebrot set
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Cross-disciplinary thinking
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Complex Thinkers
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Problem solving by insight
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Easy and hard problem solving


  1. Wow.
    Well, when reading such success stories about neurodiverse achievers, I am simultaneously amazed and cynical. Amazed, because I was taught that only normal people count, and we "freaks" cannot be great. And cynical because I know the pupose of such a story is to make me and the whole lot of other neurodiverse folks believe that we all can (and will) be Einsteins, Edisons, Mandelbrots or whatever famous member of a neurological minority you can present. The thing is, how do we know who will be next?

    I'm dyscalculic, and this prevented me from getting entrance to med school (I wanted to be a neurologist), despite my avid interest, willingnes to learn, and talents in other, also needed areas. This doesn't mean "new opportunities" or "you have to work around it", nope, I am just unable to be what I wanted to be.

    Now what? What do you say to non-gifted LDers?

  2. It's not easy to succeed in forging a new domain whether you are a Mandlebrot, an Edison, or an Einstein. But the question you raise is a good one.

    There are some fields that are particularly hierarchical - and medicine and academics in general are two broad groups. This did not mean insurmountable to some extraordinary people (e.g. like Dr. Vivien Thomas here: http://classicalschool.blogspot.com/search/label/movies)or Jack Horner (http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2005/11/flash-from-presentthey-required-two.html).

    Usually these individuals benefit from unconventional entries into fields they loved - formal job descriptions that were below their ability level - late entry and acceptance into the traditional disciplines, and often mentors or colleagues who admired their ideas and accomplishments.

    So I guess some general advice (if finances permit) - 1. Find your passion, 2. Be willing to put up with being underestimated if the job offers opportunity to develop and think...and added bonus would be a boss / supervisor who was not overly hierarchical.

    As for neuroscience in general, I know there are certificate programs (e.g. University of Washington) in Neuroscience and Education that are not full degrees, but provide interdisciplinary exposure - I could imagine that careers in science education, education, educational psychology, science journalism or other media, etc. could be up your alley.

    If you are transdisciplinary at heart, medical school (or medical practice for that matter) may not have been that perfect match anyway.

    Cheers and best wishes!

    p.s. I (Fernette)have dyscalculia but managed to squeak through the process. I am very thankful for that. I still count on fingers so I don't make silly mistakes and fortunately most math you need above the middle school level allows you to use a calculator. My brothers tutored me heavily throughout my math K-12 (as well as mom), and in superhuman effort I passed out of Calculus by taking an AP exam in high school. So I could still graduate with honors as a biology major in college without having to take math!

  3. Hmm, if only I knew how that all could work here in Hungary...
    And I'm not sure that I'm interdisciplinary at heart, more like... explaining everything with the one discipline I am stuck in at the moment. When I was involved in politics, everything was "just like that", and now that I'm into transhumanism, all my (and anybody's) problems come down to that.
    About education and media - no. I get the creeps about being a mere duplicator of knowledge instead of doing actual research. Besides, I also have Aspergers and am not sure if it's okay in fields where you gotta work with people.
    Thanks anyways...
    But I still think I'll be going home soon.