Walking the Cat . . .

Because life's kinda like that . . .

Here’s To The Crazy Ones . . .

with 3 comments

“There was never a great genius without a touch of madness”

–Ben Jonson

According to the results of  a study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience on Monday, Ben Jonson actually was correct.  According to the study, scientists in Iceland (of all places) report that “genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.  Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variant than professions . . .judged to be less creative, i.e. farmers, manual laborers and salespeople.” (Wonder why they didn’t include accountants?)

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings point to a common biology of some mental disorders and creativity.  He told the GUARDIAN, “To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.” Stefansson’s comment seems (to me at least) to contradict the validity of the study’s findings, saying creative people are viewed as mentally ill more as a result of operating outside of established societal or cultural norms than because of any biological (or genetic) abnormality. And I’m not the only one who’s skeptical of the study’s findings.

Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, is not convinced. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. In 2014, Rothenberg published, “Flight of Wonder; an investigation of scientific creativity”. He interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates and found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects such studies pick up on a different phenomenon.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative,” Rothenberg said. “Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature (two of the criteria used in the Iceland study, as well as the results of a questionnaire in which subjects self-identified as “creative”; and who doesn’t want to be considered “creative”, in this day and age?) does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people with mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data.”

It’s easy to see the results of this study are going to be debated, hashed and re-hashed for some time to come. The discussion’s been ongoing for millenia, with no sign of letting up. So, take heart all my fellow “creatives”, especially all you writers out there, staring at your computer screens, thinking, “I must be crazy to think I could do this.” You’re not, then again . . .

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3 Responses

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  1. The hen or the egg? I only hope that millions were not poured in this study. I do agree with Ben Johnson, though. The matter is, how you define madness in geniuses. Personality disorders? Yes. Mental illness? Probably not. Although we all know people who have succeeded “despite”, not because of mental illness.
    I believe that being very sensitive is the lot of creative minds and being very sensitive and creative opens up to major changes in ones perspective. And what is depression if not the expression of major changes.

    Thanks for making me think about this. Good thinking piece. Thanks!

    Mrs. Street

    June 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

  2. As I’ve sat back and observed “creatives” and have delved deeper into my own creative self, I’ve found that concepts like “crazy” or “craziness” to not really apply in their mainstream vernacular. When that edginess is essential to function and it is an asset to an individual and enhances their functionality, then it’s a good thing. Heck, even being “insane” can be a good thing when it’s helpful to an individual. When that balance between order and chaos tips too far and doesn’t get restored—–one way OR the other (yes, too much order is just as detrimental and destructive as too much chaos)—-that’s when the nice man in the white coat with the special blue pills becomes a very good friend.

    scfaler

    June 11, 2015 at 8:26 am

    • I agree wholeheartedly, Sara. “Crazy”, defined as anything outside the “norms” society has set (or has tried to set) for us, is a necessary part of what it means to be ‘creative’. As for those “special blue pills” you refer to . . . there are way too many ‘mother’s little helpers’ being used today. Seems there’s a pill for nearly every problem. We’ve lost our ability to deal with those difficulties life throws at us; much easier to take a pill than to make any creative changes (instant gratification and all that, you know). I’ve got to get off this topic or I’ll be here forever! Good to hear from you. Glad you read the article, glad you commented. Glad you were born. Hugs and Kisses to the girls (they’re getting so BIG!) DadDate: Thu, 11 Jun 2015 12:26:29 +0000 To: sw_thomas@outlook.com

      stevewthomas

      June 11, 2015 at 10:57 am


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