from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An eccentric ( ancient Greek εκ-κέντρος 'outside the center') is a person who deviates significantly from social norms .

In his work On Liberty, John Stuart Mill emphasizes the importance of eccentrics for the development of any society . The otherness of eccentrics was previously attributed to a malfunction of the spleen in European medicine through humoral pathology , Greek σπλήν (splēn) , hence the word spleen .


The term “eccentric” describes a person who deliberately deviates from cultural norms. In every society there are many and different social norms that should be followed by different social groups. There is leeway with regard to the binding nature of these standards. Some norms have to be observed (e.g. laws), because otherwise very severe negative sanctions threaten, others can be ignored without too much effort (e.g. dietary advice). Societies and social groups use norms functionally, because without norms or rules, coexistence cannot in the long run be free of conflict. Norms are also used to exercise power and demonstrate status. Failure to comply with standards is usually severely punished. If you violate the norm, you quickly become a criminal or outsider and find yourself on the sidelines of society.

However, this does not apply to eccentrics. If you look at their social status, it is noticeable that they are found more often than the average in elites, and that fundamentally distinguishes them from other deviants. Eccentrics are people who know the rules or norms that apply in their social environment very well and consciously deviate from them at a well-measured distance in order to gain status. Eccentricity is therefore a conscious and freely lived deviation from the social mainstream.

The more complex and dynamic a society is, the more social groups there are who want to make themselves heard in the scramble for social power and recognition and who want to set the tone and define a “middle”. That makes it difficult to formulate a uniform definition of “eccentricity”. But especially in this competition for social acceptance and attention, people who are particularly loud, shrill or different are highly functional. And they act as a kind of "scouting party" that opens up a relatively safe departure for the other members of society to new opportunities. This is why a highly complex and very fruitful interrelationship has established itself between eccentrics and modern or postmodern cultures.

But even if a generally binding definition of "eccentrics" is not possible, ideal types can be distinguished from eccentrics. Both the few available scientific studies (especially the empirical study by David Weeks) and the epistemological instruments of Max Weber and Georg Simmel can be used as a basis for creating these ideal types.

Scientific investigations

The Scottish doctor David Joseph Weeks (* 1944) examined eccentric people in a research project in the 1980s, the results of which he published in both a scientific and a popular scientific work. With the help of British and American mass media, such as the BBC , New York Times and Wall Street Journal , he looked for test subjects for his studies, of which over 1,000 were shortlisted. In addition to a 90-minute interview, each test person was subjected to a standardized personality test, an intelligence test and tests to investigate mental illnesses. As a result of the investigation, Weeks formulated the following characteristics of an eccentric:

  • non-conformist ;
  • creative ;
  • strongly motivated by curiosity ;
  • idealistic: aiming to improve the world and make the people in it happier;
  • happily runs one or more hobby horses ;
  • is aware of being different from an early age;
  • intelligent ;
  • stubborn and outspoken ; convinced that you are right yourself and that the rest of the world is out of step;
  • without competition , without a demand for recognition or confirmation by society;
  • unusual eating habits and lifestyle;
  • not particularly interested in the views or company of others, except for the purpose of convincing them of their own - right - point of view
  • endowed with a mischievous sense of humor ;
  • single ;
  • usually the oldest or only child;
  • Incorrect spelling or tendency to use idiosyncratic neologisms or idioms without general linguistic acceptance.

The first five characteristics are common to almost every eccentric. The outstanding feature is non-conformism. Weeks estimates the incidence of eccentrics at around 1: 10,000. The standard intelligence tests showed that the subjects had an above-average IQ between 115 and 120. The subjects' health was well above average. People with eccentric personalities also lived significantly longer. Many subjects look younger. Weeks attributes this to lower social stress , which benefits the immune system . According to his own subjective assessment, eccentrics are usually happier and happier people.

To illustrate the popular science edition, Weeks cites people he considers eccentric: Joshua Abraham Norton , Patch Adams , Robert Coates , Glenn Gould , Erik Satie and Henry Cavendish .

Irish doctor for child and adolescent psychiatry Michael Fitzgerald sees a close connection between eccentricity and Asperger's syndrome in his publication Autism and Creativity . The connection between autism, eccentricity and creativity should not be underestimated in society. The psychologist Tony Attwood also sees a connection between eccentricity and Asperger's syndrome. These people have particular acceptance and admiration in British culture.

As a doctor, Weeks has been particularly concerned with the health and mental benefits of eccentric lifestyles. However, if you want to understand the phenomenon culturally in a comprehensive way, a social science approach is recommended. The basis for this is provided by Max Weber's epistemological considerations on the construction of ideal types. Based on this, four different categories of eccentrics can be distinguished.

Eccentric Scientists

Medieval diagram of a "perpetual motion machine"

Even in the more rational areas of science there were and are eccentrics. They include, for example, people who disregard generally accepted knowledge and theories in a manner that appears downright ridiculous for their specialist colleagues. One should think, for example, of those physicists who strive for the perpetual motion machine, i.e. a machine that constantly keeps itself running through its own motion, which according to the principles of thermodynamics cannot exist.

The development of scientific theories without any empirical - methodological basis belongs here: For example, attempts have repeatedly been made to prove the existence of sunken continents such as Plato's Atlantis ( Paul Schliemann ) or the colonization of the earth by aliens in the distant past , contrary to the archaeological - geological state of knowledge ( Erich von Däniken ). There are historians who dismiss parts of medieval history as mere fiction ( Heribert Illig ), or linguists who, on the basis of chance coincidences , want to recognize a relationship between Mexican Indian dialects and the Aramaic of the time of Jesus ( Augustus Le Plongeon ). Numerous types of conspiracy theorists should also be classified as eccentric .

At the same time, in the field of science in particular, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish it from ingenuity , as numerous pioneering researchers , inventors and discoverers , whose models, which at first appear absurd, have only been confirmed by history ( Charles Darwin , Heinrich Schliemann , Albert Einstein , Alfred Wegener, etc.) , are considered eccentric by the above standards.

Eccentric artists

Suzanne Valadon : Erik Satie , 1893

Since the creativity and imagination required for artistic activity , by definition, presupposes a deviation from norms, artists are from the outset in a natural proximity to eccentricity. In particular, the luminaries in their respective fields, such as Bobby Fischer , Igor Stravinsky , James Joyce , John Lennon , Michael Jackson , Morrissey , Pablo Picasso , Prince and Thelonious Monk were mostly perceived or rejected by those around them as headstrong, radical and bizarre.

Many of them transcended the generally recognized code of values ​​and behavior, but also beyond the actual creative process in everyday life. The French composer Erik Satie is mentioned , for example , who actively participated in the rituals of the Rosicrucians , but on the other hand structured his daily routine absurdly and meticulously with times set down to the minute ("being inspired from 10.23 a.m. to 11.47 a.m.") and sometimes commissioned work declined with the argument that the fee offered was too high.

Religious eccentrics

Since beliefs largely elude rationality and there is considerable pluralism in ideological matters , the definition of recognized norms and, consequently, the deviating eccentricity in the field of religion is particularly difficult. Unlike scientific theories, revelations cannot be classified as true or false, but rather enjoy equal tolerance , at least in liberal societies . It appears particularly problematic to use the sheer numerical strength of a religious community as a criterion.

But at least those religious founders who hold on to their theses - even if they have been allegedly revealed - even after their stringent empirical or theoretical-scientific refutation may be regarded as eccentric. For example, doomsday preachers are mentioned whose predicted dates have passed several times without consequences, as was the case with the group around the Scottish mystic Elspeth Buchan in the 18th century. The assumption of some Christian groups that the world is only a few thousand years old ( young earth creationism ), which is not tenable in view of more recent geological findings , also has eccentric features. The same applies to the claim of the Mormons , which is not even partially proven , that America was settled by seafaring Israelites in biblical times (Jared and Lehi) .

See also

As synonyms for eccentrics, the terms are sometimes maverick , maverick , eccentric , spinners or codger used.


Individual evidence

  1. Dörr-Backes, Felicitas: Eccentric - The fools of modernity . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2003, ISBN 3-8260-2496-6 , p. 90-97 .
  2. ^ National Library of Australia , accessed December 14, 2009
  3. ^ David Joseph Weeks: Eccentrics, the scientific investigation . The Proceeding of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 1989
  4. David Weeks, Jamie James: Eccentrics: About the Pleasure of Being Different Rowohlt 1997
  5. David Weeks and Jamie James: Eccentric , p. 34
  6. David Weeks, Jamie James: Eccentric. P. 44
  7. David Weeks, Jamie James: Eccentric. P. 269
  8. Michael Fitzgerald: Autism and Creativity. P. 7
  9. Tony Attwood: A Whole Life With Asperger's Syndrome. P. 250
  10. ^ Weber, Max: The objectivity of sociological and sociopolitical knowledge . In: Winckelmann, Johannes (Ed.): Collected works on science . Tubingen 1985.
  11. David Weeks, Jamie James: Eccentric. P. 74
  12. David Weeks, Jamie James: Eccentric. P. 92

Web links

Wiktionary: Eccentric  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations