“Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.” Plato
This quote from Phaedrus was written almost 2,400 years ago, so the idea that gifted people are cuckoo for cocoa puffs has been around since dirt was a boy. Interestingly, ancient Greece didn’t even have a word for genius – Plato used “madness” to describe how poets produce great work, but the idea is the same. Brilliance in poetry (and later in art, science, literature, etc.) originates from a place not of the “normal” world.
I know what you’re thinking. Is it really possible that only the unbalanced can produce beautiful melodies, elegant designs, or insightful analyses? Not at all – that’s crazy talk. Or is it? As a public service to you, my esteemed readers, I looked it up. And believe it or not, there is a medical explanation. Swedish Professor Fredrik Ullen and others have conducted studies confirming that the number of dopamine receptors in highly creative people is similar to that of schizophrenics. The short version of what this may mean is that creative people are capable of greater divergence of thought than the rest of us due to less filtering in the cognition and reason center of the brain. This could lead to (for example) enhanced problem solving, the ability to see unusual connections and patterns, and the boldness required to act on these in a public way.
So does this explain the Kurt Cobains and Hunter Thompsons and L’Wren Scotts of the world?
It kinda does. But back to my original question – why be crazy if you’re great at what you do? I find it simultaneously sad and ironic that brilliant minds with gifts for all of us decide to close up shop. To me, these people already possess the very qualities that give life its spark. Think about the common refrains of early check-outs – the first is the perception that somehow, the person is alone. And of course, if one is alone, then no one will miss you. A great writer doesn’t need to hide in a dark, smoky attic to create. Today there are countless opportunities to connect with people of similar interests, both online and in person. Take advantage! Join these groups and commiserate. Let people critique your work and critique theirs. Get new ideas – if the theory I’ve described on creativity is true, just think of the potential for explosive, mind-bending brilliance if an entire network of these folks worked together. But most importantly, there is no alone.
The other stereotypical lament is the belief that the person is a burden. I have two problems with this – the first is it doesn’t make sense (how can you be a burden if you’re alone?) But my second problem is resolved by my answer to the first one. Being connected with a group having similar interests means you are being productive and helping others as you help yourself. Rather than being a burden, you are an irreplaceable cog in the machine of mastery, churning out the songs and sonnets that make our synapses fire with joyful abandon. Burden? No. Blessing.
So embrace your creativity and channel it productively. Bounce it off of people for feedback. Share it with people you trust, and do the same for them. You have gifts and the means to use them. Dr. Ullen says it best, “Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.”
Well put, Doc.