Absent-minded professor

Absent-minded professor

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The absent-minded professor is a stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

 of popular fiction, usually portrayed as a talented academic whose focus on academic matters leads them to ignore or forget their surroundings.

The phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

 "absent-minded professor" is also commonly used more generally in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 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.

The stereotype is very old: the ancient Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 biographer Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 wrote that the philosopher Thales
Thales of Miletus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Miletus in Asia Minor, and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition...

 walked at night with his eyes focused on the heavens and, as a result, fell down a well
Water well
A water well is an excavation or structure created in the ground by digging, driving, boring or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers. The well water is drawn by an electric submersible pump, a trash pump, a vertical turbine pump, a handpump or a mechanical pump...


Examples of real absent-minded professors

Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

, Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

, André-Marie Ampère
André-Marie Ampère
André-Marie Ampère was a French physicist and mathematician who is generally regarded as one of the main discoverers of electromagnetism. The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him....

, Sewall Wright
Sewall Wright
Sewall Green Wright was an American geneticist known for his influential work on evolutionary theory and also for his work on path analysis. With R. A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane, he was a founder of theoretical population genetics. He is the discoverer of the inbreeding coefficient and of...

, Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician.A famous child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.Wiener is regarded as the originator of cybernetics, a...

, Archimedes
Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an...

, and Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

  were all scholars considered to be absent-minded by their contemporaries – their attention absorbed by their academic studies. William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner was a famous Oxford don whose name is given to the linguistic phenomenon of spoonerism.-Biography:...

, who gave his name to the spoonerism
A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched . It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner , Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency...

, was known for his absent-mindedness and eccentricity.

Fictitious absent-minded professors

Examples in film of absent-minded professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

s include "Doc" Emmett Brown
Emmett Brown
Doctor Emmett Lathrop "Doc" Brown, Ph.D. is a fictional character and one of the lead characters in the Back to the Future film trilogy, in which he is the inventor of the first time machine, which he builds out of a DeLorean sports car...

 from Back to the Future
Back to the Future
Back to the Future is a 1985 American science-fiction adventure film. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The film tells the story of...

, and, of course, the title character in the film The Absent-Minded Professor
The Absent-Minded Professor
The Absent-Minded Professor is a 1961 black-and-white Walt Disney Productions film based on the short story A Situation of Gravity, by Samuel W. Taylor....

and its less successful film remakes all based on the short story A Situation of Gravity, by Samuel W. Taylor
Samuel W. Taylor
Samuel Woolley Taylor was an American novelist, scriptwriter and historian.- Biography :Taylor was born in Provo, Utah to Janet "Nettie" Maria Woolley and John W. Taylor, the son of John Taylor, the late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...

, as well as Professor Farnsworth
Hubert J. Farnsworth
Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, or simply The Professor, is a fictional character in the American animated television series Futurama. He is voiced by Billy West using a combination of impressions of Burgess Meredith and Frank Morgan. Farnsworth is the proprietor of the Planet Express delivery...

 of Futurama
Futurama is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J...

and Professor Frink
Professor Frink
Professor John Nerdelbaum Frink, Jr., or simply Professor Frink, is a recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons. He is voiced by Hank Azaria, and first appeared in the 1991 episode "Old Money". Frink is Springfield's nerdy scientist and professor and is extremely...

 in The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

. Professor Kokintz in The Mouse That Roared
The Mouse That Roared
The Mouse That Roared is a 1955 Cold War satirical novel by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley, which launched a series of satirical books about an imaginary country in Europe called the Duchy of Grand Fenwick...

by Leonard Wibberley
Leonard Wibberley
Leonard Patrick O'Connor Wibberley : a prolific and versatile Irish-born author who spent most of his life in the United States. Wibberley published, under his name and also three pen-names, over one hundred books...

 is an example from literature, while Professor Branestawm
Professor Branestawm
Professor Branestawm is a series of thirteen books written by the English author Norman Hunter. Written over a 50 year period, between 1933 and 1983, the children's books feature as protagonist the eponymous inventor, Professor Theophilus Branestawm, who is depicted throughout the books as the...

, created in the 1930s by Norman Hunter
Norman Hunter (author)
Norman George Lorimer Hunter was a British children's author, best known for his novels' character Professor Branestawm.-Career:Hunter wrote popular books on writing for advertising, brain-teasers and conjuring among many others...

 is an earlier archetype. Comic strip examples include Professor Calculus
Professor Calculus
Professor Cuthbert Calculus is a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the series of classic Belgian comic books written and illustrated by Hergé...

, in The Adventures of Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin is a series of classic comic books created by Belgian artist , who wrote under the pen name of Hergé...

, and Professor Edgewise, a minor recurring character in Marvel Family
Marvel Family
The Marvel Family is a group of fictional characters, a team of superheroes in the Fawcett Comics and DC Comics universes. Created in 1942 by writer Otto Binder and Fawcett artists C. C...

 stories. Professor Caractacus Potts in the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang qualifies as an absent minded inventor. Multo, one of the characters in the hit series The Zula Patrol
The Zula Patrol
The Zula Patrol is an animated television series distributed by American Public Television to PBS stations in the United States. It is now also airing on Qubo. Some adaptations of the Zula Patrol also include planetarium shows....

, is an example of an absent-minded professor. One in Television is that of Sheldon Cooper
Sheldon Cooper
Sheldon Lee Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D. is a fictional character from Texas on the CBS television series The Big Bang Theory, portrayed by actor Jim Parsons...

 in the CBS
CBS Broadcasting Inc. is a major US commercial broadcasting television network, which started as a radio network. The name is derived from the initials of the network's former name, Columbia Broadcasting System. The network is sometimes referred to as the "Eye Network" in reference to the shape of...

 television series The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, both of whom serve as executive producers on the show, along with Steven Molaro. All three also serve as head writers...

. Isaac Kleiner, from the Half-Life
Half-Life (series)
The Half-Life series of video games share a science fiction alternate history. Nearly all of the games are first-person shooters on the GoldSource or Source engines, and most are linear, narrative, single-player titles....

saga as well as Professor Harold MacDougal from Red Dead Redemption, are examples in videogames.

The archetype is sometimes mixed with that of the mad scientist
Mad scientist
A mad scientist is a stock character of popular fiction, specifically science fiction. The mad scientist may be villainous or antagonistic, benign or neutral, and whether insane, eccentric, or simply bumbling, mad scientists often work with fictional technology in order to forward their schemes, if...

, often for comic effect as in the Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis is an American comedian, actor, singer, film producer, screenwriter and film director. He is best known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio. He was originally paired up with Dean Martin in 1946, forming the famed comedy team of Martin and Lewis...

 film The Nutty Professor
The Nutty Professor
The Nutty Professor is a 1963 Paramount Pictures science fiction comedy feature film produced, directed, co-written and starring Jerry Lewis...

. However, the mad scientist archetype usually has malevolent connotations, while the absent minded professor is typically characterized as benevolent.

The fictional absent-minded professor is often a college professor of science or engineering; in the fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 genre, a similar character may appear as a wizard
Magician (fantasy)
A magician, mage, sorcerer, sorceress, wizard, enchanter, enchantress, thaumaturge or a person known under one of many other possible terms is someone who uses or practices magic that derives from supernatural or occult sources...

. An example of this would be the characterisation of Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

 in The Sword in the Stone
The Sword in the Stone
The Sword in the Stone is a novel by T. H. White, published in 1939, initially a stand-alone work but now the first part of a tetralogy The Once and Future King. A fantasy of the boyhood of King Arthur, it is a sui generis work which combines elements of legend, history, fantasy and comedy...

—particularly the Disney adaptation
The Sword in the Stone (film)
The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American animated fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney and originally released to theaters on December 25, 1963...

—and Albus Dumbledore
Albus Dumbledore
Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is a major character in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. For most of the series, he is the headmaster of the wizarding school Hogwarts...

 in Harry Potter
Harry Potter
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...