I am wondering if anyone has heard about a guy named Walter Pitts. He may have been the inspiration behind the movie "Good Will Hunting". He seems to have been a savant who really struggled with social skills.
He was "discovered" in Chicago. He was, according to one story I read (there are several versions), a homeless waif who was hiding in the Chicago Public Library when he found a book on logic by Rudolf Carnap, and somehow afterward connected with Carnap and Bertrand Russell. One version has him & Carnap in a chance meeting on a park bench, and another version has him going into Carnap's office in UChicago & telling him of an error in the book, which Carnap had to admit was there.
In any event, these Carnap and Russell immediately realized that a prodigy was at hand. So Pitts spent some time with them; eventually word got to MIT, where he was invited and (here is the similarity with GWH) they got him a cover job as a janitor. He had no formal academic training, but he was easily "the brightest guy in the room", according to Jerome Lettvin, a fellow researcher who still works at MIT. Pitts quickly fell in with Norbert Wiener and Warren McCulloch, and became involved in several seminal papers on neural nets.
He was so far ahead of his peers that when they were just beginning to contemplate neural nets, he was already starting to model 3D neural nets without computers; just using pencil and paper and logic.
Then tragedy struck. Wiener got in an argument with McCulloch, and refused to speak with him again. Pitts was caught in the middle; he was a young man, with no social skills (Carnap had discovered him at age 14, I think; he was now in his mid-20s), and this was the only family he'd ever known. He couldn't handle the conflict, isolation, and rejection. So he went out and drank himself to death. He died of a ruptured esophogus, living in a flat in Cambridge, MA, some years later.
I don't think they would have sold many tickets to "Good Will Hunting" if they told the real story. But Walter Pitts was a real person. He was a janitor at MIT who never had any credentials but who was probably more gifted in mathematics and logic than any of the big names that were working there.
I have written several biographical sketches on my website "adaptingsystems.com" on Pitts & some other Complex Adaptive Systems personalities that interest me, along with some thoughts on adapting systems and networks.
If anyone knows about Pitts, or what are the differences between "networks" and "adapting systems" I would love to hear from you.
p.s. I have no knowledge that Matt Damon, the screenwriter of GWH, ever heard of Pitts. But there actually was, in fact, at least one very gifted janitor working at MIT.
p.p.s. Also, I did hear that the original ending of GWH was somewhat dark: like Pitts, Will Hunting ends up alienated and alone, with a drink in his hand. But thankfully for his career Damon rewrote the script.