You have heard more than once that the boundaries between genius and idiocy are subtle. I will give examples where there is no such border at all, where two extremes coexist in the same mind.
Here we have a picture of a completely miserable creature, drawn by Dr. AF Tredgold in the monumental work "Mental Disability".
The idiot's name was Louis Fleury, and his whole life was spent in a psychiatric hospital in the town of Armantiere in France.
Fleury was born into a syphilitic family. He was born blind and feeble-minded. Parents soon abandoned him, and he found himself within the walls of the institution, where they noticed his extraordinary gift to solve arithmetic problems in his mind.
Attempts to teach him common truths did not lead to anything - Fleury learned almost nothing. Stooped, with a shuffling gait, with dim eyes, timid, he spent whole days wandering the halls and grounds of the institution that had become his home.
But there came periods when Fleury seemed to come out of his cocoon of idiocy and amaze scientists. On such days, experts gathered to check whether Fleury really has some incredible abilities. The glory of the lightning counter followed him.
And what? Indeed, scientists left such meetings as if wiser and no less discouraged. Fleury could do mental calculations with a speed and precision that defied explanation.
Fleury was once shown to a group of twelve leading scientists and mathematicians in Europe to showcase his talents. He was led into a room, and he pressed himself against the wall in fright and grinned stupidly, completely at a loss from the presence of so many unfamiliar faces.
The person accompanying him read him a question prepared by scientists: you have 64 boxes, in the first box you put one grain, and in each subsequent box - twice as much as in the previous one, how many grains will be in 64 boxes?
Fleury continued to giggle, hiding his face from the professors. The attendant asked him if he understood the question. Yes, I understand. Does he know the answer? Less than half a minute later, Fleury reported the correct number: 18 446 734 073 709 551615.
Fleury, an idiot at the Armantier Clinic, did similar calculations for astronomers, architects, bank clerks, tax collectors, and shipbuilders. And each time he gave an accurate answer within a few seconds. No one could have done this kind of work before the era of electronic computing, decades after Fleury's death.
In some ways, Fleury's case is reminiscent of another one associated with the name of Tom Wiggins, a moron who was born from a slave girl on the Bethune estate in 1849, Alabama. Tom also was born blind, and since the blind child required increased care, the owners allowed the mother to keep him with her in the house.
The house was huge, but Tom quickly learned to navigate in all the nooks and crannies, he could go anywhere without the help of adults. Most of all he liked to stand motionless under the main staircase and listen to the ticking of the clock belonging to the master's grandfather.
One beautiful spring evening in 1855, when Tom was already 6 years old, guests from Montgomery came to the Bethune. Staged some performance. Bethune's mother-in-law and daughter-in-law performed two pieces on the piano. Both were excellent pianists with degrees from the Boston Conservatory.
When the guests had already gone to bed, the youngest Bethune was very surprised to hear the sounds of music coming from the hall. Did the mother-in-law decide to play the play again at such a late hour? Soon young Bethune was convinced that her mother-in-law was fast asleep. Even more surprised, the daughter-in-law tiptoed down into the hall where the piano stood.
In the moonlight streaming through the tall windows, she saw the blind Tom sitting at the instrument and walking with short fingers over the piano keyboard. With pauses, but unmistakably, he played one of the tunes performed by the ladies in the evening. Having passed the keys once, as if getting used to the piano, he suddenly began to play quickly and with inspiration, exactly following the melody and tempo of the piece he had heard a few hours before.
As it turned out later, the child made his way into the hall through an open window, went to the piano, which he could only touch before, and repeated note by note until he had finished the whole melody played by experienced pianists.
Mentally handicapped Tom Wiggins became Blind Tom - a musical prodigy. The Bethune discovered that he possessed a remarkable gift for unmistakable imitation. No matter how complex the piece was, he immediately repeated it exactly and made the same mistakes as the pianists.
The rumor of his talent quickly spread throughout the country, and the Bethune began to stage performances, first in southern cities, and then in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and others.
Twenty-five-year-old Blind Tom traveled around America and Europe with concerts and amazed the audience by the fact that, after listening to famous musicians, he immediately repeated what he heard with the finest shades of expression. Money flowed like a river. Young Mrs. Bethune prudently organized a special fund that allowed Tom to live a comfortable life.
How a blind, imbecile pianist first got acquainted with the piano keyboard is still a mystery. As a child, he was not allowed into the room where the piano was, and afterwards he could not even remember if he had ever tried to play before that night.
Tom reached adulthood, weighed 250 pounds (113 kg) and, having the mind of a child, caused a lot of trouble for those around him, especially when traveling. At a meal, he scattered food like a capricious child, and after the performances, pleased with the applause, he stood on his head in the middle of the stage - a performance not at all for a musician.
Blind Tom Wiggins, the idiot pianist, was gradually losing his incredible talent. In middle age, he turned into a snotty, helpless moron again (and died as such in 1907), living on the money left over from a fantastic career.
A boy baptized by Gottfried Meind was born to a wealthy family in Bern, Switzerland, in 1768. The signs of mental retardation, noted in the child, soon developed into an obvious debility.
The family was wealthy, so everything was done for the child's intellectual development, but to no avail. From birth until his death in 1814, at the age of 46, Gottfried Mind was a mentally retarded person, unable to take care of himself, so he was accompanied by a bodyguard during walks.
Even as a child, Gottfried got acquainted with paints, crayons and slate boards. Soon he began to paint amazing pictures, some of them were done in watercolors. On fine days, the guard took him somewhere in a wonderful corner of nature in his parents' estate, and for hours Gottfried sat there, happy, muttering something to himself, drawing everything that attracted the attention of this adult baby.
By the age of thirty, this young man became famous throughout Europe for his paintings. He especially succeeded in painting with pets and children, to which he was closest in terms of mental development. The painting "Cat with Kittens" was bought by King George IV of England, and for a long time it hung in the royal palace.
Such a strange mixture of artist and idiot is seen in Gottfried Meind's contemporary doppelganger of Kyoshi Yamashita of Kobe, Japan.
Like Gottfried Mind in his time, Yamashita needs protection and care like a child, but his paintings have become widely known. They were exhibited in the Kobe supermarket in 1957, and, according to experts, more than a hundred thousand people visited the exhibition and sale.
Born in a slum, Kyoshi was so underdeveloped that at the age of 12 it became necessary to place him in a mental hospital. On the line of parents and relatives, no one was an artist, Kyoshi himself did not have such a vocation in childhood, when suddenly he began to make appliqués: he tore up colored paper and pasted the pieces on canvas.
The talent continued to develop and grow stronger. The medical staff encouraged Kyoshi in every possible way. They began to bring him paints, but he began to eat them like candies, then he mastered brushes and began to paint with paints. He is now Japan's national favorite. The magazines argue among themselves for the right to place his drawings on the covers.
Kyoshi Yamashita's book of color drawings, published in 1956, had an unusual success in Japan, while Kyoshi himself wandered the streets of the city at that time and begged for alms, unable to answer who he was and where he was from.
The Japanese government has assigned a bodyguard to Kyoshi, since an artist can go out naked and wander wherever he goes. But at times he manages to sneak away, and then he staggers through the streets, dirty, ragged, living on alms, until they find him again.
Dr. Ryuzaburo Shikiba, a leading psychiatrist in Japan, says of Kyoshi Yamashita: "The idiot sage is a mystery and a challenge to science."
Kyoshi Yamashita paintings
The case of Jeffrey Janet, born in 1945 in Ilford, England, a blind cripple, further emphasizes the ephemerality of the border between idiocy and genius. The doctors examined the crumpled baby and told the parents: "He will be feeble-minded and will last two years at most."
Jeffrey Janet not only "held out", but also became a wonderful guy with the talents of a real genius. At sixteen, blind, unable to walk on his own, Jeffrey showed stunning abilities.
Doctors and journalists have witnessed Geoffrey recite every single week of British radio and television programs read to him by heart.
This idiot, "who could last two years at best," did complex mathematical calculations, giving the correct answer in seconds. Somehow, in a way that was only available to him, in a few seconds he could quite accurately find out on what date any day of transmission would fall in the future or in the past, even taking into account the changes in the calendar.
His fantastic talent simply ignored all the data of medical practice, once again claiming how little we know about the wonderland, which is the human brain.