Sunday, September 30, 2007

Clear thinking ...

... and the lack thereof. I have remarked here that it seems to me that there are more and more scientists who, however fine their expertise in their specialty, seem to lack a capacity for clear thinking. This, I think, is made manifest here: Biological Basis For Creativity Linked To Mental Illness. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It would appear that they have established that mental illness and creativity both correlate to low levels of latent inhibition. They have not, however, established that mental illness and creativity correlate to each other. They assume that. Notice also this quote: "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities." Again, creativity is assumed to be abnormal, and normal people are assumed to lack creativity.


  1. It's the myth of exceptionalism, again: how artists are exceptional, in the minority, and somehow different. This makes the usual fallaciousness conflation between someone who produces a creative art-product, who perhaps indeed may be exceptional and well-studied and much-practiced, with the truth that everyone does contain SOME kind of creative ability. That creativity is not necessarily and ARTISTIC ability, or creativity. It's like saying all creative people are artists, and everyone else is an engineer. Well, I know some very creative engineers.

    But it's also the assumption, as you say, of abnormality: as though anything but the mindless hum of lowest-common-denominator existence were a nail that sticks up and must be pounded down. It's the medical assumption that difference equates with pathology.

    I think these scientists haven't looked at their own thought processes much. Self-awareness is lacking, as all their attention is turned outwards.

  2. Your last graph in particular nails it, Art.

  3. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Kay Redfield Jamison has indeed shown links between bipolar disorder and creativity. Her "Unquiet Mind" is the memoir about her own struggle with mental illness, but her Ph.D. dissertation was on creative souls from Hemingway to Van Gogh to Mozart who struggled with demons and made great art. I've forgotten the title of this book, but her case was pretty persuasive.

    My own belief is that people who suffer from depression struggle to treat it and one way is through self-expression. Another is through substance abuse, hence so many dual diagnoses among the creative.

    I do indeed think there's a link, though of course there are plenty of folks who have no mental illness at all and produce art.

    In my experience, nothing is ever black and white.

  4. Susan:
    That would reinforce the correlation not between creativity and mental illness, but rather with the way both correlate to a low level of latent inhibition. It also establishes that creativity is no necessary guard against mental illness. But, since you can have a low level of latent inhibition and not be creative, the source of creativity must be something in addition to, if not altogether different from, the low level of latent inhibition. As you note, there is yet a third category: those who are creative (and presumably have a low level of latent inhibition), but are not mentally ill.