Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [biopoet] The Psychological Disorder Game

Expand Messages
  • William Benzon
    ... Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer. -- William L. Benzon, Ph. D. 708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A Jersey City, NJ 07302 201 217-1010 Mind-Culture Coevolution:
    Message 1 of 7 , Aug 5, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Re: [biopoet] The Psychological Disorder Game

      on 8/5/06 1:02 PM, Mike Tintner at andarot@... wrote:


      A game that  literati should be good at.

      Take any psychological disorder or problem as recognized by scientific psychology or psychiatry, and find a literary work that illustrates and ideally explains it - even if only intuitively and in a particular case.. I've given myself an easy example. There was the woman who suffered from severe anxiety attacks, insomnia and nightmares. Rather puzzling at first. Except that she was Lady Macbeth.


      Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer.


      William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
      708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
      Jersey City, NJ 07302
      201 217-1010

      Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
    • Stephen Berer
      ... You probably know of the brilliant novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. There is no finer description of one form of
      Message 2 of 7 , Aug 5, 2006
      • 0 Attachment
        A game that  literati should be good at....
        ADHD? Depression? Fits of aggression? Obsessional compulsive disorder? Anxiety attacks? Etc.?

        You probably know of the brilliant novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  There is no finer description of one form of autism; indeed a textbook on the subject.
        Less well known, and yet to my mind one of the finest writers of all time, Gerard de Nerval.  His Aurelia is a must-read for any number of reasons, but for the purposes of this post, a remarkable insight into a form schizophrenia in first person.  The Three Maria's is another novel about another form of schizophrenia.
        Perhaps not exactly in the category of this game, but a book that was very helpful to me in earlier researches was The Inner World of Mental Illness, edited by Bert Kaplan, subtitled, "A series of first person accounts of what it was like." My edition is from 1964.
        The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski, and Fragments by Binjamin Wilkomirsky both document, among other things the effects of extreme trauma.
        Hunter Thompson for various illnesses, many induced, but especially paranoia.  Also Othello for paranoia/jealousy and sociopathic envy/hate.
        Fits of aggression: the classic, and intended to address just this subject: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
        Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is written from the perspective of 3 different troubled minds.  Been a while since I read it, but the Quentin section for obsession and depression, for sure; the Benjy section for downs syndrome (?); and the Jason section -- meanness, maybe <smile>.
        J. Huysmans, Against Nature.  Awesome book. Obsessive compulsive, I think.
        Eddie Poe and Johnny Swift explore lots of pretty strange states with monstrously fine talent.

        Got a great laugh, from William Benzon's post: ADHD: Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, altho, honestly speaking, I would disagree.  Perhaps Tom Sawyer was delusional, but I'd say Huck Finn has about the soundest mind of any character in literature!

        all the best,

                 The trueth iz a thred, it maezlike weev
                 Akross the mobeyus warp ov yur Addom
                 And its Shaddiy Seel, wun an the same.
                          from Pardaes Dokkumen (work in progress)
      • chorea_97
        There s an essay on autism and Bartleby available on the Net. ... scientific psychology or psychiatry, and find a literary work that illustrates and ideally
        Message 3 of 7 , Aug 6, 2006
        • 0 Attachment
          There's an essay on autism and Bartleby available on the Net.

          --- In biopoet@yahoogroups.com, Mike Tintner <andarot@...> wrote:
          > A game that literati should be good at.
          > Take any psychological disorder or problem as recognized by
          scientific psychology or psychiatry, and find a literary work that
          illustrates and ideally explains it - even if only intuitively and in a
          particular case.. I've given myself an easy example. There was the
          woman who suffered from severe anxiety attacks, insomnia and
          nightmares. Rather puzzling at first. Except that she was Lady Macbeth.
          > ADHD? Depression? Fits of aggression? Obsessional compulsive
          disorder? Anxiety attacks? Etc.?
        • Mike Tintner
          Thanks for all replies. Yes, I thought of Tom Sawyer too - the fence painting scene for me, shows that anything, even watching paint dry, can be fascinating if
          Message 4 of 7 , Aug 8, 2006
          • 0 Attachment
            Thanks for all replies.

            Yes, I thought of Tom Sawyer too - the fence painting scene for me,
            shows that anything, even watching paint dry, can be fascinating if
            framed correctly, and in that way questions ADHD.

            Thanks, Stephen, for various suggestions. Huysmans doesn't strike me
            as obsessive compulsive - that's repeating mundane rituals, no? But
            the consequences of his solitary aesthete's lifestyle for his nerves,
            (not very sketched in), perhaps relate very loosely to the example I
            give below.

            Thanks also for autism/ Bartleby suggestion.

            Underlying the "game" is a serious idea, which is that most
            psychiatric problems simply don't make much sense WITHOUT
            illustrations from the dramatic/ narrative arts. Psychiatrists
            themselves have a hard time agreeing about them. Think of borderline
            personality disorder. Any suggestions?

            Here's another interesting example that came from a lit-med group I
            put the game to - a novel about temporary lobe epilepsy and visions,
            which although I have no experience of such matters, seems to suggest
            an obvious explanation: anyone who so cuts themself off from the world
            like the nun heroine is liable to such problems.

            AMAZON rEVIEW:

            In his third novel, Lying Awake, Mark Salzman breaks the primary rule
            of fiction by creating a protagonist who has virtually no external
            life. Sister John of the Cross, a middle-aged nun cloistered in a
            Carmelite monastery in contemporary Los Angeles, languished for years
            in a spiritual drought--"her prayers empty and her soul dry"--until
            she suddenly received God's grace in the form of intense mystical
            visions. So vivid have her visions become that they burn a kind of
            afterglow into her mind that she transcribes into crystalline (and
            highly popular) verse. The only downside is that they are accompanied
            by excruciating headaches that cause her to black out.

            The story hinges on Sister John's discovery that her visions are in
            fact the result of mild epileptic seizures. As she learns from her
            neurologist, temporal-lobe epilepsy commonly brings about
            "hypergraphia (voluminous writing), an intensification but also a
            narrowing of emotional response, and an obsessive interest in religion
            and philosophy." Dostoyevsky, the classic victim of this condition,
            wrote of his raptures: "There are moments, and it is only a matter of
            five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of eternal harmony....
            If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not
            endure it and would have to disappear." An exact description of Sister
            John's visions. The question she now faces is whether to go ahead with
            surgery--and risk obliterating both her spiritual life and her art--or
            cling to a state of grace that may actually be a delusion ignited by
            an electrochemical imbalance.

            Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere
            masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works
            perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the
            petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles
            monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination
            and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at
            bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic
            inspiration. Salzman made a highly auspicious debut in 1986 with Iron
            and Silk, a memoir of his years in China, and since then he has
            dramatically changed key in every book--most recently from the
            absurdist American suburban chronicle of Lost in Place to the
            artistic-crisis-cum-courtroom-drama novel The Soloist. Lying Awake is
            quieter and more sober than Salzman's previous narratives, but it is
            also more accomplished, more thought-provoking, and more highly
            crafted. --David Laskin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

            From Publishers Weekly
            Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing r?cit of a nun's
            dark night of the soul. It's 1997, and Sister John of the Cross, a
            Carmelite nun in a monastery just outside Los Angeles, seeks treatment
            for epilepsy, although the remedy threatens to diminish her formidable
            spiritual powers. The Carmelites place heavy emphasis on prayer, and
            over the years this discipline has helped Sister John to develop
            miraculous visionary gifts. When severe headaches precipitate a
            collapse that requires medical intervention, Sister John finds the
            process starkly juxtaposed against her centuries-old traditions: she
            discovers it's almost impossible to discuss infused contemplation with
            a neurologist. Is her continual prayer "hyperreligiosity"?; her choice
            to remain celibate "hyposexuality"?; her will to control her body
            "anorexia"? Although she accepts a CT scan and its diagnosis, Sister
            John determines that faith offers a more substantial, meaningful
            reality. Written with simple elegance, alternating narrative and
            prayer, the tale is engaging yet maintains a curious emotional
            elusiveness. A drama centering on the realm of mysticism is bound to
            be difficult to describe and, like Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy,
            this story doesn't aim to render the nun's spiritual life and psyche
            in accessible terms for lay readers. What Salzman conveys with perfect
            clarity is that momentary, extraordinary mental state in which
            physical pain becomes pure, lucid grace poised between corporeal
            reality and eternity, a state that Sister John desires to prolong for
            a lifetime. Salzman's talent for calling forth the details and essence
            of unfamiliar realms is well known: his memoir, Iron & Silk, was
            acclaimed for its deft rendering of life in China, no less authentic
            for being written by an outsider. With this third novel (after The
            Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices
            and consistently challenging themes, story lines and characters. Eight
            illus. by Stephanie Shieldhouse. (Sept.) FYI: The Soloist was a
            finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.

            The Vision of the Chariot: Transcendent Experience and Temporal Lobe

            Temporal lobe epilepsy has been linked to divine encounters, artistic
            creation and fearful visitations from other realms. Pickover examines
            some of the implications of current research into this mysterious disease.

            by Clifford Pickover

            SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999—Temporal lobe epilepsy has often been linked to
            a variety of transcendent experiences: ecstatic communion with the
            divine, epiphanies of artistic creation, fearful encounters with alien
            beings. Clifford Pickover examines some of the implications of current
            research now shedding light on the terrors and wonders of this
            mysterious disease.

            Treading the Labyrinth

            "With TLE, I see things slightly different than before. I have visions
            and images that normal people don't have. Some of my seizures are like
            entering another dimension, the closest to religious or spiritual
            feelings I've ever had. Epilepsy has given me a rare vision and
            insight into myself, and sometimes beyond myself, and it has played to
            my creative side. Without TLE, I would not have begun to sculpt."

            This testimony comes from a woman who suffers from — and, obviously,
            often exults in — temporal lobe epilepsy. This condition (TLE, for
            short), is caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain's
            temporal lobes A significant proportion of people with TLE report that
            their seizures often bring on extraordinary experiences of
            transcendent wonder, luminous insight — or, at times, harrowing,
            uncanny fear.

            Take, for example, the numerous reported cases of "alien abduction."
            TLE researcher Eve LaPlante has noted that many abductees feel mild,
            epileptic-like symptoms just before they are "captured." Some
            abductees feel heat on one side of their faces, hear a ringing in
            their ears, and see flashes of light prior to an abduction. Others
            report a cessation of sound and feeling, or an overwhelming feeling of
            apprehension. All of this is typical of certain kinds of epileptic
            seizures. In fact, LaPlante suggests that the most famous abductee of
            our time, best-selling author Whitley Strieber, suffers from TLE.

            In 1987, Strieber wrote the book Communion which described his
            abduction by 3 1/2 foot aliens with two dark holes for eyes. In his
            account, Strieber exhibits various symptoms of TLE: jamais vu (the
            feeling of never having been in what should be a familiar place — the
            opposite of deja vu); formication (feeling bugs crawling under the
            skin); vivid smells, hallucinations, rapid heartbeats, the sensation
            of rising and falling, and partial amnesia. Magnetic resonance imaging
            of Strieber's brain has revealed "occasional punctate foci of high
            signal intensity" in his left temporoparietal region, which is
            suggestive of scarring that could lead to TLE.

            Such alien abduction stories can tell us about the workings of the
            mind. Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in
            Sudbury, Ontario, found that people with frequent bursts of electrical
            activity in their temporal lobes report sensations of flying,
            floating, or leaving the body, as well as other mystical experiences.
            By applying magnetic fields to the brain, he can also induce odd
            mental experiences — possibly caused by bursts of neuron firing in the
            temporal lobes. For example, he has made people feel as if two alien
            hands grabbed their shoulders and distorted their legs when he applied
            magnetic fields to their brains.

            Our modern fasicnation with other such phenomena, such as ESP,
            past-life regression, and out-of-the-body experiences, may also be the
            result of mild, undiagnosed TLE. It's a fertile field, awaiting more
            research to bring such mysteries out of the realm of the "paranormal"
            and into the fascinating labyrinth of the brain.

            Fear and Trembling

            Has TLE changed the course of civilization? LaPlante and many other
            TLE experts speculate that the mystical religious experiences of some
            of the great prophets were induced by TLE — because the historical
            writings describe classic TLE symptoms. The religious prophets most
            often thought to have had epilepsy are Mohammad, Moses, and St. Paul.
            Dostoevsky, another famous epileptic whose works are filled with
            ecstatic visions of universal love (and terrible nightmares of uncanny
            fear and radical evil), thought it was obvious that Mohammad's visions
            of God were triggered by epilepsy. "Mohammad assures us in this Koran
            that he had seen Paradise," Doestevsky notes. "He did not lie. He had
            indeed been in Paradise — during an attack of epilepsy, from which he
            suffered, as I do."

            When Mohammad first had his visions of God, he felt oppressed,
            smothered, as if his breath were being squeezed from his chest. Later
            he heard a voice calling his name, but when he turned to find the
            source of the voice, no one was there. The local Christians, Jews, and
            Arabs called him insane. When he was five years old, he told his
            foster parents, "Two men in white raiment came and threw me down and
            opened up my belly and searched inside for I don't know what." This
            description is startling similar to the alien abduction experience
            described by people with TLE.

            Note that the overriding emotion experienced by Mohammed, Moses and
            St. Paul during their religious visions was not one of rapture and joy
            but rather of fear. When Moses heard the voice of God from a burning
            bush, he hid his face and was frightened. Luke and Paul both agreed
            that Paul suffered from an unknown "illness" or "bodily weakness"
            which he called his "thorn in the flesh." Many biblical commentators
            have attributed this to either migraine headaches or epilepsy. Paul
            did once have malaria, which involves a high fever that can damage the
            brain. Other psychologists have noted that likely TLE sufferers such
            as Moses, Flaubert, Saint Paul, and Dostevesky were also famous for
            their rages.

            However, psychologist William James has argued that religious states
            are not less profound simply because they can be induced by mental

            "Even more perhaps than other kinds of genius, religious leaders have
            been subject to abnormal psychical visitations. Invariably they have
            been creatures of exalted emotional sensitivity liable to obsessions
            and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard
            voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which
            are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these
            pathological features have helped to give them their religious
            authority and influence. To plead the organic causation of a religious
            state of mind in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual
            value is quite illogical and arbitrary. [Because if that were the
            case], none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific
            doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as
            revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception
            flows from the state of the possessor's body at the time. Saint Paul
            certainly once had an epileptoid, if not an epileptic, seizure, but
            there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy
            or morbid, that has not some organic processes as its condition."

            More recently, several TLE nuns have provided further evidence for an
            epileptic root of many mystical religious experiences. For example,
            one former nun "apprehended" God in TLE seizures and described the

            "Suddenly everything comes together in a moment — everything adds up,
            and you're flooded with a sense of joy, and you're just about to grasp
            it, and then you lose it and you crawl into an attack. It's easy to
            see how, in a prescientific age, an epileptic or any temporal lobe
            fringe experience like that could be thought to be God Himself."

            Even the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had a TLE-like vision
            reminiscent of modern UFO reports — the famous, fearsome Ma'aseh
            Merkabah, the Vision of the Chariot:

            "And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great
            cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and
            out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of
            the fire.... Also out of the midst thereof, came the likeness of four
            living creatures. And this was their appearance, they had the likeness
            of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
            And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like
            the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like the color of
            burnished brass."

            The Light of the Storm

            LaPlante is just one of a growing number of writers and researchers
            delving into TLE-induced religious experiences. For example, Professor
            Michael Persinger from Ontario does research on the neurophysiology of
            religious feelings, and believes that spiritual experiences come from
            altered electrical activity in the brain. David Bear from Harvard
            Medical School believes that "a temporal lobe focus in superior
            individuals (like van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Mohammad, Saint Paul and
            Moses) may spark an extraordinary search for the entity we
            alternatively call truth or beauty." Religion, then, is sometimes our
            interpretation of altered temporolimbic electrical activity. This is
            not to demean the mystical experience, because TLE personalities have
            obviously accomplished great things, whose depth and meaning have
            radiated far beyond the electric storms of a single cranium.

            LaPlante, in her book Seized, aptly sums up the growing evidence
            linking TLE and creativity:

            "Hidden or diagnosed, admitted or unknown, the mental states that
            occur in TLE seizures are more than simply neurological symptoms. In
            people like Tennyson, Saint Paul, and van Gogh these states may have
            provided material for religion and art. People with TLE, whether or
            not they know the physiological cause of their seizures, often
            incorporate their symptoms into poems, stories and myths. And the
            disorder does more than provide the stuff of religious experience and
            creative work. TLE is associated with personality change even when
            seizures are not occurring; it amplifies the very traits that draw
            people to religion and art."

            Clifford Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University's Department
            of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. His most recent book is
            Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists
            and Madmen. His web site covering these and many other scientific
            topics can be found at: www.pickover.com.

            Further Reading

            Jamison, K. (1995) Manic-depressive illness and creativity. Scientific
            American, February. 272(2): 62-67.

            LaPlante, E. (1993) Seized. HarperCollins: New York.

            Mack, J. (1995) Abduction. (Revised Edition). Ballantine: New York.

            Pickover, C. (1999) Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of
            Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. Quill: New York.

            Pickover, C. (1997) The Loom of God. Plenum: New York.

            Strieber, W. (1987) Communion. Avon: New York.
          • Stephen Berer
            Dear Mike, ... Thanx for the correction; most likely, other corrections on my diagnoses are in order, too. Haven t read Huysmans in ages... best smb
            Message 5 of 7 , Aug 8, 2006
            • 0 Attachment
              Dear Mike,

              >Thanks, Stephen, for various suggestions. Huysmans doesn't strike me
              >as obsessive compulsive - that's repeating mundane rituals, no? But
              >the consequences of his solitary aesthete's lifestyle for his nerves,
              >(not very sketched in), perhaps relate very loosely to the example I
              >give below

              Thanx for the correction; most likely, other corrections on my "diagnoses"
              are in order, too. <smile>
              Haven't read Huysmans in ages...
            • Tom Dolack
              I m just finishing this book now and am a bit underwhelmed, but there s some hints for substantial future research if anybody s looking for ideas, and it s a
              Message 6 of 7 , Aug 9, 2006
              • 0 Attachment
                I'm just finishing this book now and am a bit underwhelmed, but
                there's some hints for substantial future research if anybody's
                looking for ideas, and it's a quick read. (Although, this is the
                second positive review I've read, so maybe it's just me.)

                The Creating Brain by Nancy C. Andreasen
                The Creating Brain
                The Neuroscience of Genius
                by Nancy C. Andreasen
                Dana Press, 2005
                Review by Nigel Leary on Jul 18th 2006
                Volume: 10, Number: 29

                Nancy C. Andreasen's book, The Creating Brain, is an interesting and
                insightful hypothesis about the nature of creativity. Her style is
                fluid and engaging, and she presents both her hypothesis and her
                research in equally effective and accessible ways. Andreasen is, to
                be sure, an interesting character: she started her career as a
                professor of Renaissance literature before going on to study as a
                neuroscientist, and she is now the Andrew H. Woods Chair of
                Psychiatry and Director of Mental Health Clinical Research Centre at
                the University of Iowa. This rare mixing of disciplines has left
                Andreasen in the somewhat extraordinary position to approach the
                notion of creativity from both a scientific perceptive (as a
                neuroscientist) and from an inherently creative background (as a
                literary professor). This meld not only gives Andreasen's book an
                engaging and readable style, but motivates her project, and provides
                her with a strong insight into both a) the creative process and b)
                the creative psyche.

                Andreasen's research is multifaceted, but the main goal of the
                project is to 'drill down to the deepest level possible and attempt
                to find the neural basis of creativity' (p. 50). However, what is
                especially significant is Andreasen's presentation of introspective
                accounts of the creative process prior to the introduction of her own
                project. What this does is ground the reader firmly in the topic,
                and gives an insight into the creative process from the perspective
                of the deeply creative mind, examples of which include Wolfgang
                Amadeus Mozart, Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Henri Poincare, Fredrich
                Kekule and Stephen Spender. Once the topic is grounded, and the
                reader engaged, Andreasen is careful to inform the intelligent lay
                reader of all the relevant terminology. The journey starts with a
                short excursion into How Does the Brain Think?, followed by A Primer
                for Brain Anatomy, The Complexity of Brain Networks, The Human Brain
                as a Self-organizing System and What is Human Thought?, before we
                reach what becomes a key section on Unconscious Thought: The Edge of
                the Mind's Precipice. It is important to stress that as engaging and
                interesting as Andreasen's work is she is a pioneer of the field, and
                as such much of her research is, in fact, the only research on the
                market. What this means is that as intuitive and encouraging as any
                of the results may be they are, at this stage, inconclusive, but as
                long as we, the readers, bear this in mind Andreasen's research and
                hypotheses remain highly informative. That being said, the author is
                clear that this is new, uncharted territory, and as an 'adventurer'
                she has decided 'to take the plunge over the precipice and to study
                the neural basis of free association using neuroimaging technology to
                obtain measurements of cerebral blood flow to determine which regions
                of the brain became activated' (p. 70). But what is the relevance of
                free association to creativity?

                Well, free association is an instance of episodic memory -- a type of
                autobiographical memory which recollects the information linked to a
                person's experience – but, in this particular case, it is, according
                to Andreasen, 'more mysterious' because it 'is clearly less
                sequential and time-linked [and]…may be the repository of information
                that is stored deeply and is therefore sometimes less consciously
                accessible' (p. 71). What Andreasen's experiment reveals is that the
                area of the brain which registers activity during free association is
                the association cortex. This cortex is what gathers and links
                information from various other areas in the brain, and here is the
                interesting part, 'in potentially novel ways' (p. 71). So, the claim
                is that the genesis of new ideas and concepts is attributable to this
                neural process, which links information in the subject’s brain in
                novel ways. However, what makes these discoveries fascinating in the
                study of creativity is that i) much of this linking process occurs in
                what we refer to as 'the unconscious mind' and ii) this capacity uses
                the parts of the brain which are it’s 'most human and complex
                parts' (p. 71). According to Andreasen, there is a distinction to be
                made between ordinary creativity (creating sentences in conversation)
                and extraordinary creativity (composing symphonies), and she connects
                the empirical evidence back to the introspective accounts presented
                to the reader earlier. What this link, successfully, demonstrates is
                that the creative process in the instances of people like Mozart and
                Tchaikovsky is extraordinary and characterized by a unique thought
                process, which in turn must (although Andreasen is careful to say
                presumably) be caused by a unique neural process. In essence, the
                claim is that the type of creativity we are interested in, the type
                which produces paintings like the Mona Lisa, is a distinct type of
                neural activity which can be distinguished from other types of brain
                activity. Furthermore, it appears to be something which occurs in
                the unconscious mind, via a process of free association. As
                Andreasen herself puts it:

                'I would hypothesize that during the creative process the brain
                begins by disorganizing, making links between shadowy forms of
                objects or symbols or words or remembered experiences that have not
                previously been linked. Out of this disorganization, self-
                organization eventually emerges and takes over in the brain. The
                result is a completely new and original thing: a mathematical
                function, a symphony, or a poem…[P]ossessors of extraordinary
                creativity are…gifted with unusual brains.' (p. 77/8).

                Andreasen goes on to explore the apparent links between creativity
                and some malady of the mind. Chapter four, Genius and Insanity,
                opens with some particularly well chosen quotes, including one from
                John Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel: Great Wits are sure to Madness
                near ally'd: And thin Partitions do their Bounds divide (p. 79). The
                point of the chapter is to explore whether there are actually any
                links between mental illness and creativity. Once again Andreasen
                draws the reader's attention to a list of names including John Nash,
                Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway and Ludwig von
                Beethoven. The question is are these instances of a direct link
                between creativity and mental illness, or is the link simply
                coincidental? Andreasen's own study reveals some solid correlative
                evidence between artistic creativity and mood disorder, but also that
                there is no apparent link between creativity and schizophrenia. She
                goes to some length to discuss, rationally, why high levels of
                creativity can lead to some sorts of mental disorder, and also points
                out that although there is no direct correlation between the
                occurrence of mental illness and schizophrenia, the mental or neural
                processes where the brain becomes 'momentarily disorganized' in
                creativity, such as free association, are remarkably similar to those
                in 'psychotic states of mania, depression, or schizophrenia' (p. 102).

                The fifth chapter What Creates the Creative Brain is, I think, the
                best chapter of the book. Its use of Leonardo da Vinci and
                Michelangelo Buonarroti as examples is masterful; as is Andreasen’s
                account of the climate of creativity in which both artists developed
                and nurtured their talents. This chapter also contains what is
                perhaps the clearest exposition of Andreasen's position:

                'Somehow an innate gift, intrinsically coded in their brains by
                genetic influences that we do not as yet understand, was present. It
                is manifested by cognitive and personality traits such as curiosity,
                openness to experience, and self-confidence. These traits can be
                further enhanced by environmental influences…because the human brain
                is ''plastic.'' That is, it is intensively shaped throughout life by
                interaction with the world around it.' (p. 135)

                Although Andreasen admits that her study has only a limited
                application to any significant nature vs. nurture debate her evidence
                is compelling. This chapter also sees the formulation of a series
                five necessary cultural conditions for creativity, although I must
                admit some level of personal scepticism as to their application.
                That being said they are certainly logical, even intuitive, but I
                find it hard to believe that the conditions for creativity are so
                easily exhausted.

                Chapter six is dominated by various pieces of advice and numerous
                activities to promote creativity, and includes sections titled Mental
                Exercises for Adults and Tips for Teaching Tots. Again, the advice
                appears sound, and, given the framework of Andreasen's studies and
                findings, makes perfect sense. As compelling and convincing as
                Andreasen's hypotheses and findings are they must be taken with a
                pinch of salt, not because they aren’t logical or rational, but
                simply because their empirical verification is, at present,
                immature. The studies themselves appear valid, and offer credible
                results, but there simply have not been enough of them to demonstrate
                the veridical nature of the claims. That being said Andreasen
                deserves full credit for an engaging, interesting, insightful and
                intuitive book which is not only informative, but leaves everyone in
                a position to nurture their own creative talents. I sincerely hope
                to see more research in this area to fortify Andreasen's position,
                and to verify her claims.
              Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.