Forgetful Geniuses

Mere mortals lose car keys, real geniuses lose whole cars. This seems to be a recurring motif in New Yorker profiles of distinguished scientists. Two examples (both require subscription):

From the current issue, Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Catastrophist”, a profile of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies director, James Hansen:

Hansen, who is sixty-eight, has greenish eyes, sparse brown hair, and the distracted manner of a man’s who’s just lost his wallet. (In fact, he frequently misplaces things, including, on occasion, his car.)

And, from the May 11 issue, John Colapinto’s “Brain Games”, which focuses on behavioral neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran:

On the first day of my visit to U.C.S.D, Ramachandran was unable to remember where in the parking lot he had left his car and finally had to activate the alarm on his remote control to locate it. His embarrassment suggested that this was the first time such a thing had happened. Yet, during the six days I spent with him, it happened every time. When I told this story to Diane [his wife] at dinner, she snorted.

“When we leave a place, he’ll go into the parking lot, and a lot of time he’ll just start walking,” she said. “He has no idea where he’s going. He just walks. One time, I picked him up from a trip—”

“Oh, don’t tell him that,” Ramachandran said.

But Diane went on. “He reached in his pocket and he said, ‘Oh, my God, I had a rental car in that city! I completely forgot! I have the keys and I didn’t turn the car in!”

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.