Absent-minded professor

The absent-minded professor is a stock character of popular fiction usually portrayed as an academic with important information, but whose focus on their learning leads him to ignore or forget his surroundings.

The stereotype is very old; a story associated with the philosopher Thales says that he walked at night with his eyes focused on the heavens, and as a result, fell down a well.


Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, and Albert Einstein were all considered absent-minded. André-Marie Ampère used a cloth chalkboard eraser as a handkerchief. In the streets of Paris, he mistook the side of a horse-drawn delivery van for a blackboard, began some calculation on it, walked, and then ran along beside it to continue his work when it drove off. Between the afternoon and the evening of one day he forgot a dinner invitation personally delivered by the Emperor Napoleon. Geneticist Sewall Wright, known for his copious use of chalkboards, is said to have once accidentally used a guinea pig as an eraser.

Another usage of the phrase "absent-minded professor" is common in the English language. Like the phrase itself implies, it is used to describe people who are so engrossed in their 'own world' that they fail to keep track of their surroundings. It is a common stereotype that professors get so obsessed with their research that they pay little attention to anything else.

In fiction

An example of an absent-minded professor is Professor Calculus from The Adventures of Tintin, or "Doc" Emmett Brown from Back to the Future. or, of course, from the film titled The Absent-Minded Professor and its less successful film remakes all based on the short story A Situation of Gravity, by Samuel W. Taylor.

The "absent-minded professor" archetype is often mixed with that of the "mad scientist", often to comic effect as in the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor. However, the mad scientist archetype often has malevolent connotations, the absent minded professor is typically characterized as being benevolent.

The archetype is generally associated with, but not restricted to college professors usually in the field of sciences or engineering; in the fantasy genre, he may appear as a wizard, an example of which is Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series.


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