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In the arena of art, it is not uncommon to find great writers, composers or painters who suffer from chaotic personal lives (e.g., lifelong alcoholism, addiction to prostitutes, stormy marriages and affairs), but it seems that most of the biographical sketches of great mathematicians I read portray their lives as peaceful in general.

A counterexample I can think of is Alexander Grothendieck, who estranged his wife and children, seeing other women while married. I understand that the criteria I'm setting is quite vague, but I suppose the example serves an illustrative purpose.

What are some other examples of mathematicians or scientists who led tumultuous private lives?

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    $\begingroup$ Galois' short life was chaotic by any standard. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ The question is where do you read the biographical sketches of mathematicians? If it is Wikipedia or MacTutor they deliberately focus on their work more than private life, and so do scientific biographies. You need to read general biographies instead if that is what you are looking for. Like the Nash's one that was made into a movie. There are fewer of those than for atrists, but that is simply because the bohema tends to write more about itself. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Which mathematicians died very young or in a tragic way? is very well received and has 29 answers! It probably is fine to leave this kind question here (tagged with big-list), it seems the community supports them. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Paracosmiste Einstein's penile adventures are very well known. I Googled for a reference and this was the first link that popped up, so to speak. Most of the information in the article was based on Walter Isaacson's book. Do you dispute the veracity of Isaacson's reporting? You think Einstein was a sexual ascetic like Newton? What exactly is your concern? $\endgroup$
    – user4894
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ Check this. If indian "scientists" make such claims, what do you expect of indian journals? $\endgroup$
    – user5402
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 10:57

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Kurt Gödel was certainly known as an eccentric in his life. In fact it is said that he starved to death when his wife died as he refused to take meals from anyone but his wife. In the language of today, he would probably be diagnosed as suffering from mental health issues.

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There is nothing special about great scientists, their personal life is in general like the personal life of other people. If you mean by "chaotic personal life" things like "estranged his wife and children, seeing other women while married," read biographies of Einstein or Schrodinger, for example. Several great mathematicians suffered from alcoholism (T. Carleman, and probably S. Banach). Another great mathematician, Andre Bloch, murdered his family and spent all all his math career in a mental asylum.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, those bits of personal life could be noted as more normal, if you provided information that, for example, adultery were normal in the contemporary population. ... Is it? $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Malady: Schroedinger's behavior was definitely not considered "normal" by contemporaries (as I understand he lost his job because of it). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I was just saying that there is nothing special about "great scientists": the frequency of all sorts of "deviations" in their personal life is about the same as in the rest of population. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how you're showing that the deviation frequency is the same, here? $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Malady He's not providing demographic evidence here, but it's pretty well understood by those who study the field that there is no significant difference in the percentage of mental health issues or bizarre family issues from scientist to any other class of people. Heck, even poets and blues singers are a lot more "normal" than the stereotypes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 13:08
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Georg Cantor faced many difficulties and died in a sanatorium.

Alan Turing faced persecution and ultimately committed suicide.

Both are titans of mathematics.

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    $\begingroup$ Alan Turing's troubles mostly stemmed from the fact that he was homosexual and that was considered a perversion in his culture. If he had lived in today's Western societies, there might not have been that much "chaos" in his life, just the one to be expected for any genius. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10 at 0:50
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I remember Prof. Ahlfors lecturing in our complex analysis class. One day he covered Bloch's inequality. He calmly remarked: "Bloch1 is the only well-known mathematician convicted of mass murder." Then he continued with the lecture.


1André Bloch "...killed three of his family members, for which he was institutionalized in a mental asylum for 31 years, during which all of his mathematical output was produced."

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    $\begingroup$ This lecture was in the early 1970's, so the Unabomber was not yet a mass murderer. And I would say Kaczynski is even now not well-known as a mathematician (despite having published some interesting work). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ I've added a link; I could not recall any murders by Felix Bloch so I had to look further. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 6 at 12:58
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Erwin Schrödinger was very particular for his polyamorous/swinger affairs. He slept with other women and (forced?) let his wife sleep with other men. He invented Schrödinger's equation after going away to a sky resort with an unidentified mistress during Christmas. Some of Schrödinger's sexual partners included underage girls (as young as 12). This revelation has pushed some universities to remove statues and well as his name from lecture rooms.

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    $\begingroup$ He also showed an eccentric kind of sadism towards cats. SCNR. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Where are these claims attested? $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Mar 7 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @DanFox you can find it easily online but it is all documented in Walter Moore's Schrödinger: Life and Thought, biography of Schrodinger. Disclaimer: Schrödinger's family does not agree with Moore's account. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented Mar 7 at 10:16
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The question is a bit ambiguous, as the OP acknowledges. But the answers so far are mostly about mathematicians who may have been crazy (e.g. Godel) or who lived unconventional lives (e.g. Schrodinger). This isn't exactly the same as "chaotic". In fact, Godel led a rather stunningly ordered life.

This Reddit thread is specifically about mathematicians who were alcoholics.

In Germany during the Nazi era, many mathematicians (and, of course millions of others) had rather chaotic (to put it mildly) lives. One is the engineer/mathematician Jakow Trachtenberg. He was born in pre-revolution Russia, fled to Weimar Germany, then got sent to a concentration camp where he developed a system of doing math very rapidly and largely in your head.

In some sense, Paul Erdos led a deliberately chaotic life, going from house to house with his minimal belongings and his incredible talent and interest in math.

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Feynman seems to fit, at least in some periods of his life.

For example, Schweber mentions that in "QED and the men who made it", 1994, p. 479, with a reference to Gleick's 1992 book on Feynman: "Until his marriage to Gweneth, the emptiness and yearning were filled by one-night stands and tempestuous, destructive love affairs'. I have not read the Gleick's book.

Another example. At least for quite some time, Feynman had some unconventional ideas on brushing teeth. It is easy to find references to that. For example, Gell-Mann mentioned that.

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