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…