Probing Pauling's Personality with the Rorschach Ink Blot Test
by Ted Goertzel
Linus Pauling participated in two psychological studies of the personalities of scientists: Anne Roe's The Making of a Scientist, published in 1953, and Bernice Eiduson's Scientists: Their Psychological World, published in 1962. Both of these studies relied in part on the Rorschach method of personality analysis, a psychological instrument first publicized by Hermann Rorschach in 1921. In the Rorschach, the subject is asked to view a series of black and white and colored ink blots and tell the examiner what he thinks the ink blots might be. The subject examines the ink blots one at a time, and the examiner writes down what the subject says and then goes through the record with the respondent to determine where on the blot each image was seen. Since the ink blots are actually only blobs of ink, the subject must draw on his own mind to find anything there.
Psychologists who use the Rorschach test interpret the answers as revealing a great deal about the subject's psychological make-up. There are, however, a range of opinions about the validity and usefulness of the Rorschach test. Some professionals believe that it is best regarded as a clinical tool which can help a therapist in working with a patient, but not as an objective measure of personality. Others believe that the Rorschach has some validity as a measure of what is going on in the subject's unconscious mind. These psychologists have developed a number of objective scoring protocols and even computer programs for analyzing people's responses to the ink blots. They have tested these scoring systems against thousands of cases, and found correlations between answers to the test and specific constructs of personality. But even those psychologists who believe the Rorschach has a degree of objective validity recognize that the interpretation will differ according to the theoretical perspective of the interpreter. All agree that the Rorschach should be used together with clinical interviews and other diagnostic instruments, not all by itself.
When Victor and Mildred Goertzel began work on this biography in 1962, Pauling told them that he had taken psychological tests for previous researchers, and suggested that these tests might be useful to them. Victor is a psychologist who had used the Rorschach in his Ph.D. dissertation (an experience which left him with a healthy skepticism about the measure). Pauling wrote to Anne Roe, authorizing her to release the Rorschach protocol, which she did.
Pauling was an enthusiastic participant in the Rorschach testing. He went through the 10 cards in 29 minutes, giving images as quickly as Anne Roe could take them down. At the end of the protocol, she observed:
Key Images in Linus Pauling's Rorschach Protocol
2. insect ... like a specimen
3. two pairs of white dots ... symmetrical translation
4. sine curve
5. lobster claws
6. bat wing ... I looked for the little hooks a bat uses to hang by but they are not visible.
7. lack of symmetry ... little white line on the left is not there on the right ... a little claw there
3. pair of butterflies ... wings vertical ... facing each other
4. pair of sharp-nosed pliers
5. two rabbits ... in an attitude of supplication
2. crab (the men are holding)
3. Picasso ... two white spots ... two eyes looking out ... the nose ... oligocephalic
4. red blotches ... the Bible is standing open
2. Dali's watches ... the two arms ... hang over in that limp manner
3. spigot that iron comes out of a cupola
4. testicles and penis
pile of skins (referring to 1)
5. gorilla ... standing there, illuminated by a bright light close behind his back
6. carcass of an animal spread open; I seem to see a cleaver, not in the picture but the act of cleaving
7. little group of very small dots ... spots on a Laue photograph ... two-dimensional lattice
2. swallow tailed butterfly ... moth
3. deer ... horns of a deer in the velvet
4. nut cracker
5. man with a derby hat just below the horns which suggests he is cuckolded
6. Icarus ... like DaVinci's drawing ... wearing skits
7. alligator, the heads ... bulging above the eyes
2. same sort of skin as before
3. the question of embryological development that arises from the ridge down the middle
4. this should be colored and should be orange, I don't know why
2. animal faces and heads, like the funny papers
3. hinge ... special sort of structure ... bivalve
4. crustaceans or lobster claws
5. appearance of islands from the air, but the symmetry tends to remove that because no tropical island would occur in pairs like that
2. couple of animals ... not exactly beaver like, tails to the bottom, climbing up ... Dutch painter, Breughel? ... and of Bosch ... fanciful animals ... the temptation of St. Anthony involved trumpets in the noses and in this case ... tail suggests an adhesive organ, like the placenta
3. the color ... a liver a spinal column of a fish and ribs coming out (refers to 1)
4. one of those Breughel imaginary animals
5. landscape, there has been a lot of erosion by the rain
3. pelvic bones ... from in front instead of above
(referring to Card I)
6. flame produced from a central structure
(two elaborations of 1 and 3)
7. holes ... holes of the metal cylinder into which the glass globe of a kerosene lamp would fit and the bottom structure might be the container for the lamp
8. two pigs heads ... end of snout a porcine indication
2. governor of a locomotive the jowls ... 3 ellipses attached together by arms ... dynamically unsatisfactory
3. facing gnomes, two on the right and two on the left, the fatter one with arms around the thinner holding up a green structure which isn't heavy
4. two similar gnomes holding up, perhaps a candle stick...some little insect, colorless, water nymph
7. two caterpillars
9. sea horses, but the tails are bent the wrong way
10. Irish appearance too, the nose, and there is something hanging from both upper and lower lips, mouth open, it's ectoplasmic
12. the floats that hold kelp upon the surface
13. a sweet pea, not quite open
16. a cow lying down
To the layman who has never studied the Rorschach, Pauling's answers seem very imaginative and creative. As one might expect, there is some scientific terminology. There are more references to animals, plants and geography than to molecular structures. Pauling's lifelong hobby of reading encyclopedias had apparently given him a tremendous wealth of images to draw upon, and he enjoyed the creative process that the test called for.
Rorschach experts, however, can find a great deal more meaning in these responses than lay people. Ted Goertzel asked his colleague, psychologist Michael Wogan, to review the Rorschach protocol. Wogan knew that it was Linus Pauling's protocol, and took his knowledge of Pauling into account in his interpretations. His interpretation highlighted a number of aspects of Pauling's own personality. Wogan thought that Pauling:
- was extremely ambitious
- used a great deal of effort to protect himself against showing emotion
- tended to establish intellectual distance between himself and others, treating himself and others as objects.
- felt considerable emptiness due to the psychic effort devoted to his defenses.
- had a pervasive fearfulness, visualizing the world as being crushed, cleaved apart, split, or bloodied.
- felt a constant need to be in control, which could make problems in intimate relationships. Wogan thought that Pauling's marriage was probably one-sided, and that he was generally sexist with women although bright enough to avoid expressing this too openly.
The most outstanding feature of Pauling's Rorschach, in Wogan's view, was the lack of emotion. Wogan thought that Pauling was a person who felt little of life's pains and pleasures, avoiding strong emotion through denial and defenses.
In order to check on the reliability of the Rorschach interpretation, we went to the library and compiled a list of 22 specialists who had published articles on Rorschach interpretation in the Journal of Personality Assessment. We wrote to them and asked if they would be willing to do a "blind" interpretation, knowing nothing but the subject's sex and age at the time of testing. Fortunately, seven of these distinguished Rorschach experts generously agreed to participate in this research, purely on a voluntary basis.
When the experts' reports came in, we were pleased to find that they confirmed many of Michael Wogan's impressions. The fact that they were also consistent with each other in many ways increased our belief in the reliability and usefulness of the Rorschach test. On the other hand, we were quite surprised that the experts found as much pathology as they did in Pauling's responses, since Pauling had never required treatment for any kind of psychiatric illness.
The first blind Rorschach interpretation we received was from Clifford DeCato of Widener University. Dr. DeCato has practiced and taught Rorschach interpretation for twenty-five years, and has published widely on the topic. He became intrigued with what he called the "Mystery Case," spending as much as fifty hours of his time scoring and analyzing the record. He used two different scoring systems, the Perceptanalytic system developed by Z.A. Piotrowski and the Comprehensive System developed by John Exner, Jr. He provided us with the computer printouts and scoring records for the systems. Dr. DeCato warned us, however, that there were instances in which he had to make "educated guesses" as to aspects of Pauling's responses, since the psychologist who administered the test was not available for questioning. Several of the other experts, also, had told us that it was not always clear from the record which part of the ink blot Pauling was looking at when he made a particular remark. The record of the session, which was done over forty years ago, was not made with the complete rigor and precision expected of Rorschach records in the 1990s.
Dr. DeCato also warned us that "psychopathology may emerge more dramatically" in the Rorschach than in other tests. This was a useful warning, since his interpretation based on the Comprehensive System began with this rather ominous quote from the computer printout (The Rorschach Interpretation Assistance Program): "Warning!! -- He has many of the characteristics common to people who effect suicide. The possibility of a suicidal preoccupation should be evaluated carefully, and those responsible for his care should be alerted." DeCato went on to note that "the composite of findings concerning thinking and perceptual inaccuracy suggests a possibility of schizophrenia...he appears to be prone to frequent episodes of depression or emotional turmoil...he processes information hastily and haphazardly...his conception of himself is not well developed and is probably rather distorted. His self image includes many more negative features than should be the case."
In real life, Pauling was certainly not schizophrenic, he had never shown any signs of being suicidal, nor had he needed anyone to be "responsible for his care."
Using the Perceptanalytic Method, Dr. DeCato's observations were much closer to the mark, although still focusing on the negatives in Pauling's makeup. He found that the "Mystery Case" was a person who "gives the impression of an adult man who is intellectually very bright and has acquired through reading, education, or experience a wide array of information. He attempts to make his adaptation to the world through the use of his intelligence in a rapid-response fashion...he is often quick to respond without taking the time to review the situation in depth. He often responds hastily and avoids searching for a more thorough understanding of the whole. The upshot of this cognitive style is that he may often use his intelligence in relatively superficial ways and may make some errors of judgment by forming his opinions too hastily, or at the very least, not engaging his intelligence to the fullest... At times his judgment can become quite unrealistic and disorganized when he is assessing himself or others... He tends to focus on himself and his own feelings more than most people do which along with other features of his protocol suggests a painful sense of distortion in his self, a sense of being insufficient or damaged in some way, along with tendencies to brood on his own emotions."
Dr. DeCato further observed that "a strong trait of ingrained long standing anger expressed as hostility and a trend toward being oppositional and/or stubborn is a prominent feature of his personality...the need for his own space, to be his own master, to do things his own way, not be controlled by authorities, or to have control over his own life and be independent are some of the possibilities singly or in combination. People with this trait can sometimes accomplish outstanding achievement by refusing to give in and by insisting on following their principles or convictions no matter what the cost." Dr. DeCato further observed, however, that "in appropriately structured situations he might be able to use these features of his personality constructively or creatively."
These observations based on the Perceptanalytic analysis fitted
Pauling much better than those based on the Comprehensive System, but
the Perceptanalytic system also led Dr. DeCato to the observation that
"many problems in thinking, logic, and synthesizing across cognitive categories
occurred which in terms of both frequency and type of distortion are similar
to individuals who have schizophrenia." DeCato concluded that the subject
was a challenging case for Rorschach analysis, a bright, intellectualized
man who "struggles constantly with tendencies toward unrealistic perceptions
and judgments which he can keep under control in more superficial situations,
but which nevertheless are revealed in odd ideas and associations, leaps and
breaks in logic, distortions in self and other perceptions, and emotional
|This research has been published as: Gacono, Carl B; DeCato, Clifford M; Brabender, Virginia; Goertzel, Ted, "Vitamin C or pure C: The Rorschach of Linus Pauling." Pp 421-451 in Meloy, J. Reid (Ed), Acklin, Marvin W. (Ed), et al. Contemporary Rorschach Interpretation. (pp. 421-451). Mahwah, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1997.|
The next psychologist to report in was James Kleiger of the Meninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Dr. Kleiger has had 15 years of clinical, teaching, and supervisory experience with the Rorschach and has published several papers on its clinical uses. Dr. Kleiger observed that the subject was erudite and took pride in his intellectual judgments. He thought, however, that "unfortunately, his good natured attempts to amuse himself and impress the examiner with his knowledge and wit are quite strained and reveal a desperate effort to manage his confusing world by relying on an ineffective intellectual style... His responses were infused with a language of scientific precision; however, on occasion, he was unable to actually produce a scorable response. Characterologically, one is left with an impression of an individual with narcissistic, obsessional and histrionic traits... There is evidence that this man is working hard to ward off a clinical depression, most likely associated with his underlying sense of narcissistic vulnerability and deterioration. While not actively psychotic, he reveals some signs of idiosyncratic thinking, especially under the impact of his frantic efforts to fend off an unwanted sense of himself as weak and inadequate."
Dr. Kleiger concluded that Pauling's defensive style was generally ineffective and did not fend off feelings of vulnerability or his "nagging sense of cognitive and physical decline." He thought that Pauling showed a tendency to get caught up in emotionally evocative stimuli that would lead one to wonder about a possible hypomanic condition.
The next psychologist to answer was Paul Lerner of Asheville, North Carolina, who has been a leader in Rorschach analysis for many years and has published standard reference works on the subject. Dr. Lerner thought that "the subject presented as a highly pressured, manicky, very striving, idiosyncratic individual who is markedly self centered. He is intellectually exhibitionistic and pretentious. He used the test more to show off his vast storehouse of information than to merely comply with the task... Prominent in the subject's character make-up are obsessive compulsive and narcissistic features... he is self-centered, self-absorbed, egocentric and highly sensitive as to how he is regarded and treated by others... With respect to his thinking, he was an exceptionally bright individual who at this time is losing it."
Lerner thought that Pauling was depressed, and that this depression was related to declining mental powers in middle age. He observed that "the most prominent affect to appear on his test was depression... Particularly distressing is his sense of being a shell of the person he once was...at the time of testing there were test signs to indicate he was suicidal. While I cannot assess the acuteness of the danger, it would be related to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness and a sense of inability to regain his lost self-esteem."
In summary, Lerner concluded that "this once high striving, high-powered, exceptionally bright, proud individual is faltering. Despite attempts to cover it over and compensate for it, he is aware of it and feels it. His brain was exceptionally important to him. It was active, big and powerful, and a source of self-esteem. His pride and joy if you will. It was also his competitive weapon. It is now a source of shame and embarrassment... He is experiencing considerable pain. There is much depressive affect centered around a loss of self-esteem, inner feelings of emptiness, and a sense of being a mere shadow of what and who he once was."
The next interpretation came from John E. Exner, Jr., Executive Director of the Rorschach Workshops and creator of the Comprehensive System for analyzing the Rorschach. He expressed some reservations about the protocol which was "not well taken and apparently the examiner lost control of the situation." He also thought that having some information about marital status and interpersonal relations might have helped to clarify the "obvious issue of loneliness and/or emotional deprivation" which he observed in the protocol.
Exner thought Pauling "conveys the impression of a very disorganized individual whose thinking currently is fragmented, impulsive, and often quite chaotic. The characteristics of his disorganized thinking are typical of individuals who are unable to control and direct their thinking effectively." This disorganization, in Exner's view, was a chronic feature of Pauling's personality.
This observation is remarkably inconsistent with the known facts about Linus Pauling. If there was one thing Pauling could do, better than almost any other human being, it was organize his thoughts effectively (even if his thoughts, like anyone's, were not always accurate). If Pauling did not organize his responses to the ink blots in the way that most people do, perhaps it was simply because he thought the test did not call for organized, systematic thinking, but for a disorganized "brainstorming" process. Pauling had read the literature on creative thinking, and this literature strongly recommends against imposing structure on the initial phases of a creative process. Pauling's skill in doing this may give some insight into how a highly creative person differs from more typical people.
Exner also felt that Pauling was undergoing some kind of "situationally related stress" which gave him "a marked sense of helplessness regarding his ability to respond effectively to the current circumstances." He thought Pauling was "burdened with some very intense negative feelings which included a marked sense of loneliness and a general pessimistic outlook concerning himself and his world." He observed that "it is obvious that he is a very intellectual person and, among other things, is prone to deal with his feelings on a more intellectual level than is customary for most people." This is certainly a valid observation about Pauling, and one which was noted by the other Rorschachers as well.
Exner thought that Pauling "does not process new information very well even though he makes a very concerted effort to do so. It seems obvious that he had a superior capacity to organize new information, but he often becomes almost obsessively trapped in details and his rather hectic thinking causes him to scan a stimulus field too hastily... This issue of reality testing is complicated even further when issues concerning his self image or self esteem are involved. Under those circumstances, he tends to distort reality considerably... He is not the sort of person who controls his emotional expressions very effectively.. He would like to be close to people but feels a marked sense of loss or failure in his attempts to develop close relations with others."
"In summary," says Exner, "it is very likely that this is an individual who will be regarded by those around him as `crazy.' Certainly, the disorganization of his thinking will convey this impression if one sits and listens to him for any lengthy period of time." In real life, of course, Pauling was a brilliant lecturer who impressed tens of thousands of people with his encyclopedic knowledge, rigorous logic, and brilliant insights.
The next Rorschach interpretation was from Eric Zillmer of Drexel University, who has just completed a book analyzing the Rorschachs of Nazi war criminals. Dr. Zillmer also noted the deficiencies of the protocol, but thought that it appeared valid in terms of being able to offer meaningful interpretations. He also observed that it was "particularly rich, spontaneous, and included a variety of imagery that would pique the curiosity of any experienced Rorschach analyst." He had it scored separately by two experts, using the Exner Comprehensive System, and the inter-scorer agreement among all the responses exceeded 80%. He then used two different computer programs to generate interpretative hypotheses.
Zillmer thought that Pauling was "a very bright and capable person who responds inconsistently to new problem solving situations or when making decisions... The protocol further suggests that this individual was experiencing substantial emotional uneasiness or distress at the time of the Rorschach administration. This may be related to a general sense of anxiety and tension, unmet dependency needs, and the internalization of emotional experiences."
Zillmer observed that Pauling "is somewhat uncomfortable in dealing with emotional experiences or situations directly... Individuals with this style usually feel uncomfortable about their ability to deal with negative feelings adequately and often `bend reality' to avoid dealing with perceived or anticipated negatives in their environment. This may lead to social isolation, a sense of loneliness, or emotional deprivation. This presents a conflict for this subject since there are indications of strong unmet needs for emotional sharing, accessibility, and interpersonal closeness."
Zillmer thought that Pauling had "unusually good internal resources to meet stress demands," but that he "may not be as controlled in situations where there is an increase in confusion about feelings, or when confronted with highly ambiguous situations." He thought that "a core element in this subject's personality is a narcissistic child-like tendency to overvalue his personal worth. This appears to be a dominant psychological influence which, although not necessarily pathological, does have a substantial influence on his perceptions of the world, as well as on decisions and behaviors."
In terms of interpersonal processes, Zillmer observed that "it is likely that this subject tends to be regarded by others as likable and outgoing." He thought that Pauling "tends to demonstrate a substantial flexibility in his cognitive approach to the environment and might be expected to think about the environment in a more varied manner than found among more cognitively rigid and less creative or intelligent individuals." Zillmer thought that Pauling "displays, at a minimum, an unusual response style which neglects the conventional, expected, simple, or acceptable response to his surroundings."
In summary, Zillmer found the protocol to be very unusual, "most likely given by a highly complex man who has many strengths, but also several liabilities in his personality structure... the present Rorschach inkblot protocol indicates both, the potential for brilliant insight and sophistication on behalf of the respondent, but also the likelihood for inappropriate behaviors ranging from immaturity, to distorted thinking, particularly when confronted with emotionally laden situations. Thus, the central issue which defines the main aspect of the individual's personality structure, is related to how successfully he copes with his affective and emotional world."
Zillmer's interpretations varied considerably from Exner's and DeCato's, despite the fact that he relied, in part, on Exner's computer software which DeCato also used. This software is based on actuarial data from empirical studies on over 40,000 responses. Exner did not tell us whether he used the software in his own analysis. In checking the computer coding and printouts, however, we found that Zillmer and DeCato had scored the responses in much the same way and received essentially the same computer output. DeCato had stayed closer to the computer output in his interpretation, while Zillmer had used the computer output as a source of hypotheses to be balanced against his overall impression of the personality. On balance, Zillmer's interpretation seemed quite close to Pauling's personality as revealed in the biographical data.
The next Rorschach interpretation came from Vincent Nunno, a psychologist in Oakland, California who has also analyzed the Rorschachs of Nazi war criminals. Dr. Nunno thought that "this individual does not show test features which are commonly associated with a diagnosis of mental disorder." However, he thought that Pauling's responses showed a tendency to obsessively break the stimuli down into details. He observed that "it might be `argued' that people are `creative' because they can see reality in `new ways' rather than conventional or consensual ways, and this is probably true, but in this case, it appears that the breakdown is not due so much to `creativity' but rather, to an eccentric, overly unique, pedantic and self-centered style in which the subject does not perceive `conventional' boundaries, but rather, offers loose impressions or creates arbitrary boundaries in an attempt to `create the field' as he wishes to see it or talk about it rather than truly `analyzing' the natural contours and shapes of the blots."
Dr. Nunno observed that "my own feeling is that this person is using an overly intellectualized, overly self-referenced approach to these blots. He doesn't really `look' at the cards in some `neutral way,' trying to figure out what is there...he just assumes he does see reality without questioning and that it all must relate to him and his experience of the world. Possibly this is a characteristic of individuals who are `famous' for their unique intelligence but who have more difficulty with the world as it is `commonly' perceived by the average person."
He also observed that "I am getting the sense that this was once a man with a highly `functional' intellectual style that is now starting to become less efficient and organized due to aging."
Finally, Dr. Nunno warned that "it is always difficult to evaluate `creative' or `exceptional' people with a test that is grounded in the concept or `normality' as these individuals are not `normals' in the true sense of the word, and their `uniqueness' should not be conceptualized as a pathological deviation from normal expectancies."
At the last minute, we received an interpretation from Dr. Richard Kramer, a clinical psychologist in Israel whose busy schedule did not permit him to spend as much time as he would have liked with the record. Dr. Kramer thought that Pauling was "superficially very bright however his intelligence is more for show rather than what he can actually utilize...he is pedantic and does not think things out in a deep fashion...he is very reactive to his environment and exhibits signs of emotional impulsiveness, defensively, he operates via denial and attempts to psychologically distance himself from things in a narcissistic fashion. The individual is a very aggressive man...he has a great deal of hostility and contempt toward women, in this respect there is a great deal of classic masochism. It may even be that he is impotent (however, this is admittedly really pushing it as there is no actual data - this is more inferential)."
In real life, of course, Pauling had no problems with women or sexuality, enjoyed life fully with no signs of masochism, and was extraordinarily effective in utilizing his intelligence. When the interpretations diverge so sharply from the reality of Pauling's personality, it is tempting to simply dismiss the Rorschach results as invalid. It would be wrong to reach a conclusion about the validity of the Rorschach as a psychological measure, however, from one case. It may be that there was something in Pauling's personality which made him a particularly difficult subject for Rorschach interpretation. Over the years, many people have observed that genius and madness seem to have something in common. As long ago as 1680, the poet John Dryden wrote:
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
The Line Between Creativity and Madness.
In his recent biography of Richard Feynman, James Gleick asks "when people speak of the borderline between genius and madness, why is it so evident what they mean?" Perhaps these Rorschach interpretations, so many of which confuse Pauling's creativity with psychiatric disorder, can help us to answer Gleick's question. There is evidence that highly creative people often score similarly to schizophrenics on the Rorschach, even though they do not have any kind of psychiatric disorder. This is believed to be true because creative people are able to draw on primitive psychological processes which "normal" people do not often use. However, they are not stuck on a primitive or chaotic level of thinking, as some mentally ill people are, but are quite capable of integrating their thinking in a mature way when appropriate.
Bernice Eiduson observed this phenomenon in her study of scientists (in which Pauling was included). She thought that scientists as a group had a heightened sensitivity to experiences which:
- were intellectually gifted children, whose greatest talent was their mind
- had limited intimacy with their families as children, particularly with their fathers who were often absent
- found nurturance in intellectual life, turning to reading, puzzles, daydreams and fantasies for entertainment and escape
- received tangible recognition for their intellectual accomplishments in the forms of scholarships and prizes
- built a set of "intellectual fences" to defend themselves against problems or disturbances at home
- learned to value novelty, innovation, and difference, while tolerating any ambiguity and uncertainty which this might create
- developed into intellectual rebels, channeling their aggressions into their intellectual life
- valued logic, rationality and emotional control
- were likely to enter into traditional marriages with competent women who took responsibility for home and children
-were fulfilled by their work as an end in itself, not primarily for the extrinsic rewards it provides
These findings fit Linus Pauling remarkably well. In many ways, Pauling's personality profile was much like other distinguished scientists. Pauling differed from most of the scientists Eiduson studied by his intense involvement in political and medical controversies, and his tendency to take very strong positions on issues where the objective evidence was ambivalent at best. To understand these traits, we need to look at the specifics of Pauling's personality structure.
We sent a summary of our results to each of the Rorschach experts, letting them know who the subject was and sending them a copy of the article on Pauling which we had published in the Antioch Review in 1981. In response, Dr. DeCato rose to the defense of the Rorschach, observing that "there are many startlingly consistent points between your Antioch article and my Rorschach blind analysis." His "attempt to theorize about what might have occurred with Dr. Pauling" is worth quoting at length:
"The description in the Antioch article corroborates this view in many different places. The blind analysis suggested that he would have difficulties with close relationships but might be able to function well in structured environments. Again, the Antioch article describes a man who preferred to leave everyday affairs to his wife and subordinates, devoting his time and efforts to creative thinking. The tendency to slip into unrealistic thinking was constant, but was generally countered by his high intelligence and wish to be socially respected. For Dr. Pauling, the conflict probably always existed between believing his own ideas which could be unconventional and his desire to be accepted and respected which is conventional. His tendency to become unrealistic and to believe the reality of his own fantasies over external evidence was both a strength and a weakness. At its best this trend allowed him to be very creative, breaking the usual rubrics and inhibitions of thinking and learned knowledge to produce novel ideas and solutions to problems, a process sometimes referred to as `regression in the service of the ego.' Indeed, there is every reason to believe that his capacity for sudden breaks in conventional logic may very well have helped him make breakthroughs in his research and scholarly efforts. On the other hand his tendency to detach from reality and violate the usual modes of causal thinking and conventional beliefs very likely contributed to his social problems (the social isolation, arrogance, impulsivity, and ill treatment afforded his colleague, Dr. Robinson). In a word, Dr. Pauling was capable of believing things that others might consider unproven or absurd, and held his own ideas in greater esteem and affection than he did people. To him his ideas were more real and more important than anything else leading him to act in support of his ideas and ignore the emotional and interpersonal consequences."
Pauling's Personality: A Biographer's Appraisal. Perhaps the Rorschach can be useful, even when it is unreliable, because it helps us to break out of our established mental sets and confront new hypotheses. In this final section, and in this spirit, we offer our own interpretation of Pauling's personality. This interpretation includes only those points from the Rorschach interpretations which we believe are consistdnt with the biographical information. Since Eric Zillmer turned out to be a neighbor as well as an expert in personality assessment, we invited him to review all of the Rorschach interpretations and help us in preparing this appraisal.
There is no question that Pauling was extremely intelligent, including both verbal and mathematical abilities. He had an outstanding ability to visualize spatial relationships. He was a creative, intuitive thinker, for whom new ideas came quickly and spontaneously. He contrasted himself to very capable scientists who got new ideas by "fiddling with the equations." By contrast, he said "I've never made a contribution that I didn't get just by having a new idea. Then I would fiddle with the equations to help support the new idea." His approach, as he often remarked, was to have a lot of ideas and then throw away the bad ones.
He had two different intellectual styles in coping with this flow of ideas. In the first, he carefully tested his ideas against empirical data. In this mode, he was open to modifying or even abandoning his ideas if they were not supported. In this process, he often came up with new ideas. He used this mode of thinking in his work in chemistry, and more generally in work which did not involve a strong emotional dimension. He was at his best when he was solving scientific puzzles. In the second mode of thinking, he became emotionally committed to his ideas and selectively sought out evidence to support them. He became defensive against anyone who questioned his thinking on these matters, often assuming that they were motivated by personal animosity. He made the strongest case possible for his point of view, while minimizing contradictory evidence. His political and nutritional work often followed this second mode of thinking, and it was often effective in advocating for controversial positions.
In contrast to his tremendous enjoyment of intellectual activity, Pauling found emotional life troublesome, and he often tried to avoid situations which involved emotionally charged interactions. He did this especially when he was young, largely as a way to avoid the demands of his mother and others who wanted to steer him away from his intellectual and scientific interests. Once he achieved success with his theory of the chemical bond, he allowed himself to become involved in issues which were emotionally charged for him. Rather than focusing on personal or family life, however, he felt most comfortable in the public arena where he could rely on his skill as a speaker and writer and his prestige as a scientist.
A core element of Pauling's personality was a narcissistic tendency to overvalue his personal worth and seek the approval of others for his ideas and accomplishments. He loved giving speeches and receiving the approval of large groups of admirers, and he devoted a great deal of time and energy to travel and public speaking at the expense of his scientific work. His narcissism was displayed in an extreme sensitivity to criticism, including a tendency to file law suits against his critics.
In his personal life, Pauling was stiff and formal, not the kind of person who enjoyed casual, lighthearted activities. He was happy to leave the responsibility for personal and social matters to his wife, to whom he was quite devoted. He did not spend much time on close friendships which involved meaningful interpersonal commitments. His wife was certain he would never have an affair, because he would not want to spend the time needed to romance a woman. He might have felt isolated or lonely, if it were not for the devoted companionship of his wife and the continual stream of attention from admirers around the world.
He had the capacity for brilliant insight, but also for distorted thinking particularly when confronted with situations which were emotionally laden. In these situations, his intellectual defenses sometimes broke down. The sad confrontation with Arthur Robinson was the worst example of this pattern. It can also be seen in his response to Dr. Moertel and the New England Journal of Medicine.
The personality patterns which Pauling displayed throughout life developed in the period after his father's death. His father had admired him greatly, and encouraged his intellectuality. His mother, because of her illness and vulnerability as a widow, was not able to provide the same degree of support. He found that he could use his intellectual brilliance to maintain independence from her and obtain approval from others. He married a woman who gave him the devotion he was unable to get from his mother.
Despite his tremendous success as a young scientist, Linus Pauling was
never satisfied. Having won two Nobel Prizes, he felt he deserved a third.
When his brilliance as a scientific innovator declined with age, he fell more
and more into his second intellectual style. In his later years, his combativeness
and defensiveness increasingly triumphed over his brilliance and creativity.