Monday, June 29, 2009

Creativity and Genius - Madness or Gayness


The Independent Pink List counts gays in public life, there was a time when gays were thought fit only for creative roles, "in the thee-arterr" to quote my long dead mother-in-law.

The Institute of Psychiatry Debate June 10th Maudsley Debate, organised by Jo Hurlow, in which I recently participated asked the question "Is Mental Illness the price we pay for exceptional creativity?" or "No Genius without Madness" depending on whether you read the title or the subtitle. This was surrounded by an Art Exhibition from "people with mental health problems"

This question makes me uneasy. The overwhelming evidence suggests that poor mental health is associated with Poverty, Inequality, Physical Ill Health and Stress. I based my response on that. Our side won, I like to think that makes us right. Poor mental health is not associated with genius or creativity, it is associated with stress and poverty. Being ahead of your time, and living in a world of stupid people is stressful, and it is difficult to make money when no one understands your ideas, even if the next generation is going to be rich as Croesus.

That we still have the debate reminds of the time when it was OK to ask whether Blacks had a sense of rhythm and whether Gayness was the cause or consequence of a theatrical lifestyle.

I suggest that the Institute of Psychiatry now asks

"Do people with a broken leg write better plays?", "Are Blacks more musical?" and "Are Gays more creative ?" The answers have more to do with tolerance and diversity than human tendencies.

While we misguidedly continue to associate creativity with mental illness we ignore those causes that we can deal with:
Poverty, Inequality, Physical Ill Health and Stress

As I said in the Debate - the reason you may see more people with mental health problems in creative careers, is because the hours are more flexible and because few of us can get proper jobs because of the stigma associated with our illnesses.

11 comments:

angus said...

Absolutely spot on Liz, it seems that the stigma of mental illness pervades all walks of life.

It doesn't matter what your race colour or sexual preferences are, as soon as you tell someone you have a "mental illness" the attitude changes to that of "back off" and you become almost invisible to those that think they are "normal".

The world needs to change its attitude because the skills and experience of the mentally ill are being lost because of prejudice.

Black Coffee said...

What a spicy choice of title, art and words.

I am glad that you are proud that you won the debate. I am proud that I organised it. You were all inspiring for me. Here is the link to the podcast and perhaps a more impartial summary.

http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/podcast/?id=259&type=item

I continue to decline to take sides in the debate as the organiser. I also would not want to encourage people to develop or maintain prejudice towards people who experience mental health problems.

However,I think we have a duty to discuss and de-bulk stereotypes with reasoned arguments. Should we really avoid transparent debate about popular ideas simply because society is cruel and prone to prejudice? Is there no value in such up front, free and open discussions?

In the end you won. Therefore, one would hope that this would add weight behind people who challenge others who might lazily describe exotic and disquieting art work (like that above) as 'crazy' or 'mad'. Similarly perhaps they will think twice before they pigeon hole people who experience mental health problems as 'only fit for the arts'.

Conversely perhaps there is also value in challenging those who are prone to assume that any person with a mental health problem has no value in society and can't do anything worthwhile. Maybe the value of some people with certain specific problems may be linked to the biology of creativity. Maybe more of the most exceptional do suffer from mental health problems more often because of this. I am not aware of any empirical evidence that disproves this positive theory.

Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth, Hampshire said...

Dr Liz: Just wondered is there some mutation in the NRG1 gene, linked to psychosis, that might dampen down or render weak a relevant brain region?

Say, it might be a region that modulates our moods and behaviour, that might unleash, then "Awaken The Giant Within" as Tony Robbins might refer to it, in some, but psychosis and uncontrollable "UpTime" in others, what then? Baffling

For example, I'm sceptical evolution on a turgid planet like Earth would bother keeping alive a gene that links schizophrenia and psychosis to creativity, of all things

Us lot out here, learning how to cope with it all appropriately, every day, and as best we can, let alone control it and turn it into "Works of Art" - that's what's causing some of us all the problems

Creativity, yes. But up against the sheer trivialities of everydayness, too

I am reminded of that famous quote from a letter, written to Costance Malleson by Bertrand Russell in August 1918, over 90 years ago, about the vision of philosophy; the objectivity, meaning and sense of infinite purpose it entails

That letter where Russell writes about ...

" ... the very Breath of Life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life, the vastness and fearful, passionless force of non-human things ... "

Quite right, too. We could all do with abit more of that round here lately, Bertrand

Here, mulling over the creative talents and multiple disappointments of Conrad Black's father, George. Tragically, he fell to his death, rich but despairingly disillusioned, reclusive and depressed in 1976

Yet George Black, father of Conrad - the disgraced former chairman of the Telegraph Group - may well hold the secret to his son's own "up n down" motivational swings

Because Dad George's last words to his son, Conrad, are quoted as ...

" ... Life is hell. Most people are bastards. And everything is bullshit ... "

Mmm, guess poor George could've benefited from a dose of CBT, if that's what he firmly believed was sound advice to pass down to his son, Conrad, by way of a legacy

Anyway, surely there's enough unique content and subject matter above already, to convince the organisers to arrange a follow-up Institute of Psychiatry, Maudsley Debate and seminar aquabble?

Hope so, because I've always enjoyed a day out, like 10 June 2009, organised by Jo Hurlow: gets me out of the house, a chance to meet others who're just as clueless what they're talking about

And, listening to crap always clears the forebrain garbage-bin of the mind wonderfully

Trevor Malcolm
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Dr. Liz Miller said...

Thanks Trevor,
First of all there is no consistent linkage of genes and behaviour or mental experience. I have followed the literature for twenty years, and every six months some group of scientists somewhere makes a "discovery"

The difficulty is with the quality of psychological/psychiatric research. I have a book Post-genomic behavioural genetics. DNA science - impressive, psychology - rubbish. Like bringing together steel and sackcloth

The only "genetic" evidence of any standing is that some mental illnesses seem to run in families, as does heart disease etc. But people have stopped claiming they have found the "heart disease" gene.

I think most people would agree, it is impossible to be creative whilst in the grips of a mental illness. As you say managing the trivialities of every life is usually enough to keep people occupied.

I think that the key is in balance, and the "truth" or at least human understanding of it, whatever it is, only emerges from debate. To be Eastern and mystic. "Only when you can see both sides of the argument, can you see the bigger picture."

I personally believe that mood disorders are a "disruption" of the function of the right hemisphere and that schizophrenia and thought disorders are a "disruption" of the function of the left hemisphere

This link or mapping holds good from Eysenck, Jung, through the marketing of Myers Briggs, to the split brain work of Sperry. Bipolar - mood disorder, Schizophrenia - thought disorder. The clues are in the words!

The idea that madness links to creativity is a bit like saying that blue links to yellow- they are both states of mind or colours and may be near each other or even blended to make green. Nonetheless they are different colours

I like the quote - a bit like Hobbes life is short and brutish. And I agree further debate is required!!

Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth, Hampshire said...

Yes, indeed, total agreement with both your observations; one on Hobbes, two on the need for ongoing debate

But weeks turn into months, still no response to your cordial invitation and appeal to the Institute of Psychiatry, to organise events that further progress the matter

Nor need organising events be as challenging and convoluted as some Events Organisers prefer to make out

Besides, the Institute of Psychiatry now boasts Dr Diana Rose, respected senior lecturer in user-led research into Mental Healthcare

Surely, as she is the co-director of the SURE team - “Service User Research Enterprise” that acronym’s meant to stand for - she could debate abit, at least

(Er, you weren’t meant to laugh out loud at the acronym like that, CrazyOnes. Nor can you expect academics and scholars to recognise the brand name of chemists' anti-perspirants)

To professional NHS psychiatric functionaries, words like “tokenism” still slip more glibly off their learned tongues

Still, all eight members of the SURE team are service-user researchers (wow, that’s good)

Yep, and nor are they like Spencer’s rustic Hobbinols. Nope, all trained, experienced academics (wow again, even better), two with PhDs, the other half-dozen with MSc “serious CV-enhancing certificate” qualifications

Although, sadly, that doesn’t guarantee the academics are advocates of the Venerable Master, Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” – otherwise, I guess they’d have, well, got on with it sooner

Ironic we should all be sat waiting for progress and the further debate your comment suggests, but stuck in the Moment, here and now

////////////////////

Now, Dr Liz, back to your original response with its reference to the truncated, “watered-down” Hobbism quote. Tactfully edited, I’m sure, to spare the severely depressed among us from the further anguish of the full-blast, word-for-word, original version

Yet, soon as I heard the full version, I sensed a kindred spirit. Englishman, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), an early example of the Artist-Philosopher-Outsider, who succinctly described the natural state of Mankind as “ … solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short ...

Perfect, yes, perfect, sir

Those who now yearn to read Hobbes’ 1651 book, "Leviathan", please refer to Dr Liz’s blog of hot tips on how to blag your books abit cheaper than you can on the Amazon website

But, even when purchasing online, remember Hobbes’ warning – ‘tis a “ … warre of every man against other man … bellum omnium, contra omnes …” – ie, a war of all against all the others out there

A sort of 17th century version of Caveat Emptor, I guess, or right now, in the year of 2009;

" ... Best look after your own ass, Sunshine Shyster, cos the other bugger might be an even sharper, good-for-nothing rapscallion than you are, Dickhead Punter …"

Mmm, sounds to me like the “Spirit of Hobbism” still lingers on, then

Trevor Malcolm

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watsinit? said...

Hello Dr Liz,we havent met before,i think.. i quote you...

´´I personally believe that mood disorders are a "disruption" of the function of the right hemisphere and that schizophrenia and thought disorders are a "disruption" of the function of the left hemisphere

This link or mapping holds good from Eysenck, Jung, through the marketing of Myers Briggs, to the split brain work of Sperry. Bipolar - mood disorder, Schizophrenia - thought disorder. The clues are in the words!´´

please check out this link...http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

you probably have seen it,now my question is...could it not be both disorders of the left (analytical)side of the brain?the way this lady speaks of it...mood disorders are just wrong interpretations of feelings by the left side.

Genes have nothing to do with it, it suggests that consciousness is generated by the body(brain).If that were so, how do you explain the scientific fact of telepathy, which was proven,-- and i daily experience it-- thirty or more years ago by dr silva (the silva method).I did his initial,basic course and they let you do, after two weekends, some pretty inexplicable things, like ´´diagnose´´ a person (know what he s got)who you do not know, have never met, will probably never meet,only by knowing his/her name and gender.thirty people had a 100% score.´´science~´´ignores it because they cannot explain it without radical rethinking (letting go of old prejudices)(precious jobs...)
oh, silva courses are worldwide available and they have a no good money back garuantee.Ilearned it 25 years ago.No i am not profiting in any way.

so the issue is now..: what IS consciousness..

Dr. Liz Miller said...

Thanks - yes I have heard Jill Bolte Taylor's description of losing her left hemisphere

It fits well with my view of human personality
Two major axes
1 - Talking or Thinking
2 - Doing or Observing/being

Jill loses her Talking Doing hemisphere, that is the "logical left hemisphere"
I am too dogmatic

My overriding impression of schizophrenia is that it is the loss of the Talking and the Doing. Their communication is shite and they express the weird thoughts that we all have and generally keep quiet about. The ability to act is also shite. They end up in trouble because they cannot look after themselves.

On the other hand, unless severely distressed their difficulties seem to bring out the gentleness, kindness and sensitivity that most of us don't have time for.

Just an opinion!

As for what is consciousness? it is awareness + self awareness - animals have it. Antonio Damasio's book "The feeling of what happens" gives the best account I have read. He places it within the brain stem. Brain structures that all vertebrates and possibly invertebrates possess.

For me consciousness is not all or nothing - I worked as a neurosurgeon for six or seven years. It is graded quality, some people have more and others less.

We are variously conscious at different times during our lives and during the day. Not everyone is that conscious, most of us are half asleep - for most of our lives!

In my view, consciousness is not all or nothing, and most importantly not restricted to humans

It is the name we give to the highest level of awareness

Dr. Liz Miller said...

PS da Silva methods are, to the best of my knowledge, effective methods of inducing trance and relaxation.

Proving telepathy is a bit like proving the existence of God? Not sure that many of the studies pass muster by 21st century standards?

Anonymous said...

I´ll leave the consciousness discussion for what it is for now,however i would recommend a great read, ´´collision with the infinite´´,by suzanne segal (practising psychologist)who enters into cosmic consciousness and doesnt realize this and gets pathologized by each and every psychiatrist she meets.eventually she gets ´´IT´´.she wrote a book that wipes the floor with conventional methods.radical.humoristic.

proving telepathy is not like proving God, i am amazed that you think that, it just proves what we probably would agree on is some form of telepathy.
Go there try it, you are a scientist, set up a test.
,what i witnessed, were 30 participants,60 (never present) ´´patients´´ of which each participant knew only two names and diseases,and they had a 100% score.(60 correct ´´diagnoses´´).

The silva basic course wasnt changed over 30 years, nor their policy of garanteed moneyback.when i did it,no one asked for money back, they were ordinary people, even sceptics who came for a fun weekend with money back at the end.Millions have done this.
why havent YOU heard from this?

because you do not believe it?, it cant be true?.It would shake the foundations...(your own words,like proving god...)

search Skeptic, you wont find them as they are genuine.there is nothing paranormal about it.Skeptic only reports on the fakers.
and they are the real,inexplicable deal.

love, nico

watsinit? said...

I´ll leave the consciousness discussion for what it is for now,i was interested in where you stand on this,however i would recommend a great read, ´´collision with the infinite´´,by suzanne segal (practising psychologist)who enters into cosmic consciousness and doesnt realize this and gets pathologized by each and every psychiatrist she meets.till eventually she gets ´´IT´´.she wrote a book that wipes the floor with conventional methods.radical.humoristic.

proving telepathy is not like proving God, i am amazed that you think that, it just proves what we probably would agree on is some form of telepathy.
Go there try it, you are a scientist, i am just an artist,set up a test.
,what i witnessed, were 30 participants,60 (never present) ´´patients´´ of which each participant knew only two names and diseases,and they had a 100% score.(60 correct ´´diagnoses´´).

The silva basic course wasnt changed over 30 years, nor their policy of garanteed moneyback.when i did it,no one asked for money back, they were ordinary people, even sceptics who came for a fun weekend with money back at the end.Millions have done this.
why havent YOU heard from this?

because you do not believe it?, it cant be true?.It would shake the foundations...?(your own words,like proving god...?)

search Skeptic, you wont find them as they are genuine.there is nothing ´´paranormal´´ about it.Skeptic only reports on the fakers.
and they are the real,inexplicable deal.

love, nico

watsinit? said...

p.s.
I am not sure why
they (the Silva method)do not boast about this telepathy thing,(maybe to keep out annoying people, and lots of prejudiced comments in the media) they promise some other stuff, like always finding a parking spot, and --it ALWAYS works--only for that it is worth every penny.(i was an express courier in a van in Amsterdam for many years--)


these other things they teach need some simple practice to master, and time to see it work in your life, thats probably why they do the telepathy thing, as it is provable on the spot and quite stunning...(=why no one asks his money back...)i saw they do not even announce it in the basic course on the internet,probably a well thought through strategy...they are not a circus show and have integrity...(such powers can be misused)

i havent repeated the basic course for 20 years and never did follow up courses..i still profit daily from what i learned there.

i found this blog, as i commented earlier,as artist and diagnosed schizofrenic, on the regeneration movement site, the one initiating / inviting for this madness and genius debate.

I think that the initiator handled this and another discussion he initiated very poorly, bordering on irresponsible and unethical...

if you invite ´´crazy´´ people to participate in something, you should be prepared for crazy responses, and this one was not...it seems he was just intent on putting one artist on the map...


this needed to be said, i am afraid.(i wont be offended if you delete or edit this part,--from ´´I think etc.´´), Dr. Liz, i wonder if you are/were aware of goings on at that particular site on artreview, leading up to the debate..his contributions there- they were not exactly a shining example of intelligence - rather the opposite i am afraid...)However I wish the persons in question lots of happiness though...and fresh water,clean air, sunshine...