Friday, February 3, 2012

Jeff's Mind

Our conversation about Monticello and Jefferson's personal life inspired me to learn a little bit more about the man himself.  I was surprised to find a theory proposing that he may have exhibited symptoms of Asburgers syndrome.   Historian Norm Ledgin began to study Jefferson and soon discovered that many of Jefferson's personality traits (that most historians passed off as quarks) related to those of his son who has Asburgers.  Jefferson was observed to be very reserved and socially elusive, avoid eye contact, suffer from headaches and have strict rituals.  These are traits that are common with Asburgers.  Jefferson's widely acknowledged intelligence and genius in politics and many other fields are also consistant with Asburgers (George Orwell and Einstein are also theorized to have had it).  In his book, Diagnosing Jefferson, Ledgin uses historical texts to juxtapose observations of Jefferson's personality with the symptoms of Asburgers.  The fact that most artifacts from Jefferson's early life were lost in a fire undoubtably makes this a more difficult task.
Although I could not find nearly enough information on the internet to determine the accuracy of this theory it is interesting to consider our impression of him in class through this lens.  Although those who suffer from Asburgers are often characterized with exceptional intelligence they are also typically socially inept.  A limited empathy and ability to connect with others would certainly give insight into understanding why a man known to be a progressive genius was unable to see the moral error in owning slaves or taking a young bride.   Psychology definitely has a place in understanding history.

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