Monday, March 17, 2008

Adam Smith and Tourettes Syndrome

Martin Kelly (‘thoughts from the West of Scotland’) writes a speculative article on whether Adam Smith suffered somewhere on the Tourett syndrome. (here):

In search of Historic Tourettists’ (16 March)

Whether or not this adds any weight to the conclusion may be debatable; but Claudius seems to have shared a personality characteristic, the tendency to take long digressions, with the second possible historic Tourettist - Adam Smith.

Wikipedia's page on Smith notes,

"Contemporary accounts describe Smith as an eccentric but benevolent intellectual, comically absent minded, with peculiar habits of speech and gait and a smile of "inexpressible benignity."[6]"
'Peculiar habits of speech and gait'...hmmm...

In his book on 'The Wealth of Nations', P. J. O' Rourke wrote,
"He talked to himself. His head swayed continually from side to side. When he walked he looked as of he was headed off in all directions...Dining at Dalkeith House, the country seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, Smith began a scathing commentary on some important politician with the politician's closest relative sitting across the table. Smith stopped when he realised this. But then he began talking to himself, saying that the devil may care but it was all true...(w)hen Smith was a government official in Edinburgh he had a ceremonial guard consisting of a porter..wielding a seven foot staff. Each day when Smith arrived the porter would perform a sort of drill team exercise. One day Smith became fascinated by this and, using his bamboo cane in plca e of the staff, matched the porter's every motion, present arms for present arms, about face for about face, parade rest for parade rest. Afterward no one could convince Smith that he'd done anything odd". (pps 172-173)

Why should he think that? He was a sufferer of complex tics who couldn't stop blurting out what he thought and who'd just undergone an echopraxic episode. At that time, for him to walk behind his porter in that manner must have been the most natural thing in the world to do
.”

Comment
Having no expertise in Tourette syndrome I cannot give an opinion. If any reader has views on the possibility, please let us all know.

I should say I have always been sceptical of anecdotes about Adam Smith, given that some of them were recorded by social voyeurs like Alexander Carlyle who didn’t take to Smith, especially, it seems because he was welcomed by persons of high-social standing, when Carlyle ( a minister of the church) considered himself highly socially adept, especially with the ladies (I have no information of what the ladies concerned thought of Carlyle)

5 Comments:

Blogger Tim Worstall said...

Speculative, perhaps, but Martin does have Tourette's, which is I think what informed his post.

9:50 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Tim
I have been asking around about the syndrome and have described to them a more comprehensive and balanced description of Adam Smith's behaviours and mannerisms.

So far the case for Tourett's appears weak possibility, but not a strong as the case for some milder version of Asperges.

I shall continue asking medical people I meet.

Gavin

1:22 pm  
Blogger Tim Worstall said...

Please do let me know if we get a retrospective diagnosis of Aspie's....it's a subject I write about (in connection with the theories of Simon Baron Cohen) and it would make an interesting little note.

10:38 am  
Blogger Martin said...

Dr. Kennedy,

Thanks for the link.

Although Tourettes can contain characteristics of both Aspergers and autism, I discounted Asperger's on the basis that Smith seemed to have little trouble building relationships; his friendships seem to have been many and solid.

Unless I'm mistaken, Aspergers also does not contain the element of involuntary movement which Smith seemed to exhibit. The incident with the porter is classic echopraxia, usually only present in a small minority of Tourettes cases.

It would be interesting to know the bases upon which those with whom you have spoken suggested Asperger's.

7:58 am  
Blogger David said...

Dr Johnson was a probable Tourette's sufferer( source- Sir Roger Bannister, neurologist and miler.)Do Tourette's sufferers recognise each other and is there antipathy between them?

Given the real difficulties in writing a biography of Smith that emphasises the personal and psychological sides of the man, I guess we will never know.In any case, how imporatant is it?

10:32 am  

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