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The Top 10 Crazy Bastards Who Actually Changed the World (For the Better)

by mjrussel   October 02, 2009 at 10:00AM  |  Views: 135,577

G. K. Chesterton once said that imagination does not breed insanity, but reason. He argued that artists and poets rarely go crazy, but with scientists it’s pretty much par for the course, and one good look around the halls of fame of the scientific community seems to confirm this. Hell, Newton once stuck a giant needle under his eyelid to see what was back there. In tribute to the certifiable lunatics that made the world the way it was, we at Spike.com present nine doctors and scientists, and one president, who changed the world in spite of, and perhaps by virtue of, being completely bats**t insane.

By Marc Russel

Source: Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

10. W. C. Minor


Source: Oxford University Press

What he did:

The Oxford English Dictionary was notable as being one of the first well-organized and well-compiled dictionaries. Indeed, it was more or less the first dictionary that didn't suck, and which made an attempt to catalogue all the words in the English language, not just the ones that were tricky. Eventually, a few professors realized that all the dictionaries of the time were aggravatingly laid out and just generally crappy, so they set about making a better one.

One of the many problems they identified was that there weren't any good example quotations that demonstrated how to use the word in a sentence. Unfortunately to rectify that problem, they needed someone who could compile such quotations and definitions, and match them up to every word ever written. They were to busy to do it, and they didn't have the funding to pay anyone to do it, so they put out word that they needed volunteers for an frighteningly menial task. They didn't get a whole lot of go-getters.

Of the people who did volunteer was William Chester Minor, an American surgeon who loved the English language. Minor compiled an enormous quantity of words with quotations and definitions that he could call up on demand. He compiled lists of every instance of every word in all the books he owned, and was by far the most efficient of the volunteers for the OED. He became close friends with the Editor of the OED, Dr. James Murray, and they would eat lunch several times a week. Indeed without his contribution, the OED would have probably been as poorly done as all the others and dictionaries would continue to suck to this day.

So what's so crazy about him?

He did all of this while incarcerated in the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane, after going nuts and killing a father of six-with-one-more-on-the-way named George Merett, who Minor thought was out to get him. During his interment he had little else to do, so he hoarded definitions and quotations the way that lady down the street hoards stray cats. Meanwhile his mental condition became continued to deteriorate until he cut his dick off with a straight razor, and they shipped him back to America.


9. Tycho Brahe


Source: Eduard Ender

What he did:

Before Galileo, there was Tycho Brahe. Tycho Brahe catalogued the motion of every star, planet, UFO, and ball of ignited swamp gas in the heavens for much of his life, information that was surprisingly important for its time and allowed the creation of the laws of planetary motion.  His carefulness and scientifically rigorous methodology are considered to have been essential for setting the stage of the scientific revolution.

So what's so crazy about him?

Many famous geniuses were drunks, but few were as spectacularly so as Tycho Brahe. Dinner at his house would put most modern day drunken college frat parties to shame. Not only did he tend to do stupid things when he was drunk (at a Christmas party when he was 20 he got into a duel with a man in a pitch black room and lost his nose in the process), but his house was like a goddamn circus. Since Brahe at one time had a net worth of about one percent of the entire wealth Denmark and lived in a castle, the guy knew how to throw a hell of a party. Among other shenanigans, one thing he was known for was having a dwarf in his employ named Jepp who Brahe maintained was clairvoyant. Jepp's full-time job consisted of wearing a jester's outfit, sitting under the table at dinner, and whatever else a psychic midget is supposed to do. He also had a pet moose that would drink with the rest of them, until one day it got totally s***faced and fell down a flight of stairs.  When was the last time you were at a party and a drunk moose fell down the stairs? We thought so.


8. Samuel Morse


Source: Project Gutenberg

What he did:

He invented the first electrical telegraph, and made Morse code, the language used in communication for over a hundred years. This worked wonders in the advancement of civilization, as it provided a means of communication over long distance in short time, as well being the forerunner of modern binary code.

So what's so crazy about him?

He was a little paranoid. He was determined that the Blacks, Jews, Catholics and the entire nation of Austria were working to destroy the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants of America. He wrote several books on the subject in which he talked about how the immigrants and lesser races were oppressing all the white people, how the Jews and Catholics were working together to kill Protestants, and how all of these groups met on a regular basis in the basement of an orphanage in Ireland. Oh, and Austria's in there too somewhere.

Ironically, when the telegraph became widespread it allowed people to arrange in advance for their arrival when they immigrated. This led to a massive storm of immigration into the USA and filling it with people of different ethnicities, religions, and all the other things that are obviously conspiring against the poor oppressed WASPs of the country. So Morse ended up dying locked in his house afraid of going out for fear of the Catholic-Austrian-Immigrant Jews that were taking over the world.


7. Yoshiro Nakamatsu


Source: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

What he did:

At 81 years old, Nakamatsu has over 3,000 patents, giving him the record for the most patents in the history of ever (Thomas Edison only had a little over a thousand, most of which he ripped off).

Chances are you encounter several of his inventions on a regular basis. He invented the CD, the DVD, the digital watch, and the taxicab meter.

So what's so crazy about him?

Nakamatsu meticulously catalogues, records, and analyses everything he eats, in a bid to survive to the age of exactly 144. No more, no less, he is determined to die at that exact number. He sleeps only four hours a night, saying that sleeping over six hours is "very, very bad." His diet is almost exclusively made up of his "Yummy Nutri Brain Food", a combination of seaweed, cheese, yogurt, eel, eggs, beef, and chicken liver.

What is most interesting is his method for inventing things. He holds his breath underwater until he almost dies. He himself says "A lack of oxygen is very important... I get that flash just 0.5 sec before death. I remain under the surface until this trigger comes up and I write it down with a special waterproof Plexiglas writing pad I invented."

Usually when you need a near death experience just to get through the day, you're either insane, or you just have stones the size of basketballs. Or both.


6. Sergei Bryukhonenko


Source: Experiments in the Revival of Organisms/Prelinger Archive

What he did:

Sergei Bryukhonenko made enormous leaps for medical science, and indeed mankind, when in the early 1920s he invented The Autojector, the worlds first ever life-support machine. It acted as a mechanical heart and lung, and while primitive by today's standards it did the job pretty well. This was the template for pretty much all life support machines that came after, and we probably don't need to tell you how important those are.

So, what's so crazy about him?

In order to test his machine, he needed the dead and the dying, and even though this was back when medical ethics were pretty much left up to whatever the doctor's scruples were, he couldn't very well use people. Instead, he used dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. He would first kill them, then use his system of pumps and bowls to get them going again. As he went on, he got increasingly dramatic, practicing draining the blood from dogs' body, then restoring it and bringing the dog back alive (however brain damaged). Later he started testing if his machine would work only on the whole dogs, or if he could get away with only part of a dog. Like, say, just the head. As it turns out, it is possible to sever a dog's head, hook it up to a bunch of tubes, and keep it alive. Well, only for a few minutes, and in sort of a stupor, but it's the principle that counts.

All things considered, the man was only a castle, a hunchback, and poorly recorded lightning track from being Victor freaking Frankenstein.