(Stolen from a Wikipedia article).
Occasionally, individuals have sought to excel in subjects outside the mainstream of conventional education:
* Socrates, Avicenna, Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw, Feodor Chaliapin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Alva Edison and many others were autodidacts. Karl Popper never took courses in philosophy and he did his initial work in the philosophy of science during the late 1920s and early 1930s while he was teaching science and math in high school. He then turned to the social sciences and attempted to transform them as well, again without any formal training or official mentoring. The best source for this story is Malachi Hacohen’s book “Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902-1945″.
* The cognitive scientist Walter Pitts from the MIT was an autodidact. He taught himself mathematical logic, psychology and neuroscience. He was one of the scientists who laid the foundations of cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence and cybernetics.
* Forensic facial reconstruction artist Frank Bender is self-taught. His well-known forensic career started off with a day trip to a morgue, asked to try to put a face on the deceased, brought measurements home, created a successful facial reconstruction that led to his first (of many) IDs. He only took one semester of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
* Mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and Newton’s contemporary Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz were largely self-taught in mathematics, as was Oliver Heaviside. Ramanujan is notable as an autodidact for having developed thousands of new mathematical theorems despite having no formal education in mathematics.
* A number of famous British scientists in the nineteenth century taught themselves. The chemist and physicist Michael Faraday, the natural historians Alfred Russel Wallace (co-discoverer of natural selection) and Henry Walter Bates, “Darwin’s Bulldog” Thomas Henry Huxley, the social philosopher Herbert Spencer.
* Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea depicts an autodidact who is a self-deluding dilettante.
* Physicist and Judo expert Moshe Feldenkrais developed an autodidactic method of self-improvement based on his own experience with self-directed learning in physiology and neurology. He was motivated by his own crippling knee injury.
* Gerda Alexander, Heinrich Jacoby, and a number of other 20th century European innovators worked out methods of self-development which stressed intelligent sensitivity and awareness.
* John Boyd, fighter pilot and military strategist, was an accomplished autodidact who not only revolutionized fighter aircraft design, but also developed new theories on learning and creativity.
* Mythologist Joseph Campbell exemplified the autodidactic method. Following completion of his masters degree, Campbell decided not to go forward with his plans to earn a doctorate, and he went into the woods in upstate New York, reading deeply for five years. According to poet and author Robert Bly, a friend of Campbell’s, Campbell developed a systematic program of reading nine hours a day.
* The musician Frank Zappa is noted for his exhortation, “Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.”
* Mark Twain is known to have said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
* Playwright August Wilson dropped out of school in the ninth grade but continued to educate himself by spending long hours reading at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library.
* Arnold Schoenberg called himself an ‘autodidact’ in an interview. Other largely self-taught composers include notably Joachim Raff, Georg Philipp Telemann and Edward Elgar.
* Several notable people considered to have an inspirational religious message have been autodidacts: for instance John Bunyan, George Fox and Rodney “Gypsy” Smith.
* Many successful filmmakers did not attend college or dropped out. These include Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston and Steven Soderbergh.
* Penn Jillette, a member of the comedy and magic duo Penn & Teller, declared both he and his partner Teller to be autodidacts in an episode of their television series, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
* Comedian Drew Carey claims that he learned comedy through reading books on the subject.
* Modern Pashto poet Ameer Hamza Shinwari though not educated in the regular manner, was able to establish his career through self-education.
* Robert Lewis Shayon, early radio producer, author, television critic for Christian Science Monitor and The Saturday Review, and Ivy League professor, never had a college education.
* David Bowie, Singer, Musician, Multi-instrumentalist, Actor and Painter. Has never trained in any of these fields and only received a few singing lessons in the 60’s (as reported by his ex manager Ken Pitt) and as a teenager he took some lessons on Saxophone by Ronnie Ross. All other instruments (including Piano, Keyboards/Synths, Rhythm/Electric/Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica, Koto, limited Bass and Percussion), he taught himself. His paintings and sculptures were created (and exhibited) without any formal artschool training. He took a few lessons in Movement and Dance with Lindsey Kemps Dance company but trained himself in Mime