01 February 2007

Crazy smart

I know Nerdshit posted this a while back, but I never got around to reading it. The BPS Digest has an entry on "crazy" experiences and being a genius. Lots of people walk around trying to pretend their hardcore crazy or rebels to the bone, but really… it's not as easy as you think. I long ago realised, with the aid of a background in chaos magic, that paradigms were my friends. I learned to shift perspectives — paradigm management, I called it — and in my early twenties I sometimes wanted to kill myself because I couldn't find one reality to settle on. It's hard being one's own Devil's advocate on every issue in life.

It's the people that may be a bit out in leftfield that strive to claim their normalcy, trust me. But establishing an ordered view of the world and one's reality from outside of that social norm is an achievement of no little value. I mean, really, you've wandered off the beaten path of social mores and risked your sanity and social niceties to explore — what? — reality from a ways off the beaten path? So what's the point?

Poets and artists have as many ‘unusual experiences’ as people with schizophrenia

The idea that creative geniuses might not be entirely sane isn't exactly new. But just how much do creative types have in common with people suffering from psychosis? Well, according to Daniel Nettle at the University of Newcastle, serious poets and artists have just as many ‘unusual experiences’ as people diagnosed with schizophrenia. What saves them from the disabling effects of schizophrenia is that they don’t suffer from the lack of emotion and motivation – known as ‘introvertive anhedonia’ – also associated with the illness.

Nettle asked artists and poets, mental health patients and ‘non-creative’, healthy controls to fill out a questionnaire that’s designed to detect schizophrenic-like symptoms in healthy people. Participants seriously involved in poetry or art (as opposed to mere hobbyists, or non-creative controls) reported having just as many unusual experiences as did patients diagnosed with schizophrenia – that is they tended to answer yes to questions like “Do you think you could learn to read others’ minds if you wanted to?” or “Are the sounds you hear in your daydreams really clear and distinct?”. However, in contrast, they scored lower than both patients and healthy controls on measures of lack of emotion and motivation.

“What factors moderate the development of introvertive anhedonia, and whether they can be modified during life, is yet to be determined”, Nettle said, “but is obviously of the greatest interest in terms of the prevention of suffering and the enhancement of creativity”.

Nettle also asked professional mathematicians to complete the same questionnaire. He found they reported even fewer unusual experiences than the healthy controls, but that they tended to score highly on lack of emotion and motivation – the opposite pattern to artists and poets. “The constellation of autism, systemising and science appears to be in many respects the opposite tail of the distribution to the constellation of arts, unusual experiences and affective and psychotic disorders explored in the present study”, Nettle said.

And on that note, to any naysayers who worship the stability of the status quo, Nobel Prize genius Crick was under the influence of LSD when he first deduced thedouble-helix structure of DNA nearly 50 years ago.

Being out in leftfield is fine as long as you maintain regular experience interacting with your fellow peers. No man is an island, unless you're on that Zen path.

Crazy needs to be harnesses and utilised. The problem is the social checks and balances that believe that the ego — as structured by standard institutions such as family, school, and whatever else — is a unique and special thing. If we can temporarily create environs and conditions which do away with that belief, we can design experiences which will draw the mind away from its normal precepts and into uncharted waters. Here, we can build new analogies and bridges to answer more of the world's design problems. It can be done faster and more effectively, too, if semantic and social relationships are maintained without fear, censure, or prejudice. The translators have to maintain an understanding of how the psychonaut gets to where they're going so they can translate the results back to the norms of the "everyday" world.

Speaking of which, I should get around to reading The Ten Faces of Innovation. It's been just sitting here, staring at me for months now. I am sure it'll expound on some of these thoughts…


Dom said...

I am a bipolar who has experienced both "delusionary" states - 3 times ages 16 to 23, and more mundane, non-delusionary, mood-stabilized struggles ages 23-ish to present - age 44.

If I extrapolate from my own non-delusional self's relation ship to my delusional state, I deduce for my self, and in general, that there is error in the absolute distinguishing of one form of thinking, being, from another.

Conversely, its extremely useful to understand the differences between absolute states, i.e. absence of volition and emotion in schizophrenia. And yet...from my work in social services, and through my contacts with clients, friends, strangers, etc., Im inclined to lean towards the notion of interpenetration of states of being (i.e. we're all more alike than we think) as existing quite comfortably with the reality of difference - i.e. to borrow from the illustration of cymatics (google search brought me here!)one frequency is distinct from another.

Reality encompasses paradox, and its opposite.

I don't say this with smug certainty, I hope, but from gut response to this post.



Dom said...

A quick clarification.

What I want to emphasize, as I believe its the following point which most characterizes my belief as different from the original post, is that:

In the field of psychiatry, and all its spin-offs, a mental-illness, as distinct entity, is the coin of the realm. People, however, are complex systems, which may experience, or intersect with mental illness for seconds at a time, micro-seconds, years, or life-times. In otherwords, while its possible to discuss disease-entities as though they were distinct, one runs into problems of accuracy when discussing schizophrenics, rather than schizophrenia - or more appropriately, aspects of those illnesses currently falling under the sub-category of the rubric of schizophrenia.