April 23, 1997

The Dueling Diagnoses of Darwin

Author Affiliations

Ottawa, Ontario

JAMA. 1997;277(16):1276. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540400026014

To the Editor.  —Barloon and Noyes1 suggest that Charles Darwin's anxiety neurosis might more specifically be classified as panic disorder with agoraphobia. It is an attractive hypothesis. However, their opinion that the illness may well have facilitated completion of Darwin's work is not original and invites comment.In his 1974 book, Pickering2 examined creative genius and discussed the close link between mental illness and the work of 6 famous people. These links differed distinctly in their nature. A thoroughly researched consideration of the life and work of Darwin was the starting point for his study. He considered, as also in the case of Florence Nightingale, the role of emotional illness in providing the social withdrawal essential to intense and prolonged intellectual activity. The book was acclaimed and reprinted3 in the United States. References to it are readily accessible in the medical literature, as, for instance, in the article4 by