The link between creativity and schizophrenia has long been suspected, but recent research by the Swedish Karolinska Institute, using brain scans, has identified that a lower density of thalamus D2 dopamine receptors is a characteristic shared by the highly creative and the schizophrenic, depressed and bipolar. It’s as if the thalamus receives information and does not filter it as thoroughly. Think of it as a high bandwidth thalamus, if you will.
The thalamus serves as a relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.
To quote the British Psychological Society’s Mark Millard:
“Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes.”
“Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It’s like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way.”
“There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd.”
I think creative people often do not see a fractured world, personally. It might not be seen the same way as everybody else sees it, but it is often entirely consistent, whole and in some sense, even more connected and consistent than the world that the less creative perceive. That’s just my view.
Chartered psychologist and executive coach Gary Fitzgibbon says an ability to “suspend disbelief” is one way of looking at creativity.
“When you suspend disbelief you are prepared to believe anything and this opens up the scope for seeing more possibilities.”
Well yes, you can see more possibilities, but it doesn’t follow that you accept all of those beliefs in the end. Creativity is not quite so random, in my opinion.
Gary Fitzgibbon continues: “Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as ‘mentally ill’.”
So is it an illness, or just diversity? Are creative people and insane people looked on as deranged only because they are in the minority? To me, creativity is a good thing, It’s a wonderful thing. To suggest that it is an aberration seems to me to be “dopaminist”.
Other studies that try to determine the interaction of the illegal drug LSD with the D2 dopamine receptors in the thalamus find that LSD and dopamine D2 binding sites do, in fact, interact.
Perhaps all LSD does is simulate this ability to suspend disbelief by binding to the D2 binding sites before the dopamine does. I speculate wildly and without basis that it might be a temporary path to creativity to those that have a high density of D2 receptors (which must feel like an amazing change in brain ability, if you are not “naturally” creative by the genetic accident of having a lower density of D2 receptors). I further speculate, again wildly and with no basis, that naturally creative beings perhaps feel a lesser effect and maybe merely move their state from creativity to insanity, albeit temporarily – the “Bad Trip” experience. Of course, this might not be the only LSD and brain chemistry interaction and nothing I have read indicates why some with low D2 receptor density experience creativity while others with similarly low D2 receptor density experience insanity. Insufficient is known.
That said, I’d hate to be rendered permanently insane by experimenting with agents like this, wouldn’t you? My view is that meddling with brain chemistry is not something that should be attempted by those that have no idea about the detail of what’s going on in the brain (and their own unique brain, in particular), whether it’s reversible or not and what it’s long term effects will be. In 2010, that’s everybody.
Meanwhile, it is believed that Attention-Deficit disorders may be the spark behind creative geniuses such as Byron, Picasso and even Kurt Cobain. These are the claims made by a psychiatrist, Professor Michael Fitzgerald, of Trinity College Dublin. He says that people with ADHD have the ability to “hyper-focus” on things of interest.
If that turns out to be so, why, then, do we drug our ADHD children until they lose their propensity for genius? Isn’t this a potential scandal of epic proportions and aren’t the perpetrators short-changing the future of the very creative minds we will all depend upon? If this proves to be so, isn’t it something akin to institutionalised child abuse? The article goes on to comment that too much ADHD is a bad thing, but who draws the line? What measurement scale determines how much is too much? Medical science offers us no good yardstick.
Something about these articles makes me respond with, “so what?” If you are a creative being, you still need to have a rich and fulfilling life. Rather than trying to normalize those that are creative, why not concentrate on making their lives rather more liveable?