Heaviside the Man
I recently clicked on the link http://www.neurodiversity.com/bio_heaviside.html which is on my internet site. The collection of quotations there was updated by Kathleen Seidel on 19 September. For months it had shown Heaviside the mathematician in a nice glowing light.
It still quotes me praising Heaviside (which is why I had the link there, being humble), but it now also quotes an attack on Heaviside in a new book by Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside : The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age. The quotation is:
'He was a man who often was incapable of conducting himself properly in the most elementary social interactions. His only continuing contacts with women were limited to his mother, nieces, and housekeepers. He was a man who knew the power of money and desired it, but refused to work for it, preferring to live off the sweat of his family and long-suffering friends, whom he often insulted even as they paid his bills.'
If this is the sort of personal diatribe that happens, an attack on personal failures, then you don't want to become famous. My memory is going at 33, but I think when I saw Ivor Catt in February to video him talking about Heaviside for a DVD, he waited until I had used up all the DV tapes before discussing Heaviside. I did not like what I heard! I've always felt empathy a bit with Heaviside in the sense that I had a hearing difficulty at an early age.
Some of the anecdotes were more crazy than sad. One time, Heaviside broke a gas pipe and was worried about escaping gas. Knowing no chemistry, he decided that the safest way to prevent being suffocated by gas was to burn it off, and the resulting explosion burned and blackened his face for weeks. Heaviside never made money out of his fame, and Catt told me that the friends who gave Heaviside money were people who were grateful for his equations, like the famous Oliver Lodge. Lodge often visited Heaviside, and it was he who struggled to get Heaviside made an FRS.
My 'proof' of the strong nuclear force strength using Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and F=ma, which appears in the Electronics World April 2003 article, looks an insult to any mathematician. First, I confuse uncertainties in energy and time for differential elements of these two things, and then I confuse the differential element of distance for the true distance in the inverse square law. It is a first approximation towards reality. Big ideas don't get born as intelligent adults, they start off as something far more vulnerable ...