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The Link Between Genius and Insanity 402

An anonymous reader writes in a story about the link between certain mental illnesses and high intelligence. "Genius and insanity may actually go together, according to scientists who found that mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often found in highly creative and intelligent people. The link is being investigated by a group of scientists who had all suffered some form of mental disorder. Bipolar sufferer Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that findings of some 20 or 30 scientific studies confirms the idea of the 'tortured genius' or 'mad scientist.'"
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The Link Between Genius and Insanity

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  • Stack overflow? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Skinkie ( 815924 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:20PM (#40214255) Homepage
    Maybe there is just a tippingpoint where the genius part of the brain has expanded that far that gets often out of bounds. Where the actual creativity is actually not a random set of neurons, but neurons primed for another task maintaining our common accepted singular personality.
  • Re:This just in... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:27PM (#40214321)

    I question the results. I don't think scientists have yet to find a valid method to test the intelligence of someone who is mentally ill. Intelligence tests are positively correlated to the motivation of the test taker, and the mentally ill are often not motivated. I guess a bipolar person in a manic state might do well on one of these tests, but a depressed schizophrenic or a bipolar person in a normal or depressed state would probably do worse. How are they correcting for this?

  • Rope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:33PM (#40214371)

    Think of it like rope. The longer the length of rope you have, the more you can do with it, but it's also much easer for it to get tangled up in knots.

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:46PM (#40214495) Journal

    If genius came free, without HUGE DOWNSIDES then selection would ensure that we'd all be geniuses. Think about it for a second, virtually every renowned genius had huge emotional or operational baggage. Dyslexia, autism, bipolar, monopolar, synesthesia... the list of common problems suffered by the exceptionally intelligent is legion. It's guessed that significantly more than half of all the great works of art and science were accomplished by Bipolar people in their manic phase. Personally, I think the hardest part for someone of profound genius, is being torn between the clear vision of what it possible and the sad reality of what is allowed by people to persist. There are some interesting conversations about ways of coping with genius. The Greeks had a very healthy concept, externalizing genius, such that it was a resource to be tapped and that some were simply better at getting to it. That took the onus of brilliance off the person, freeing them up, to simply pursue whatever it was they were pursuing. Here's a great TED Talk about that. []

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:53PM (#40214553)

    You caught yourself on using a technically incorrect definition of IQ - Thanks! You're halfway to understanding what you are wondering about, because you are at least trying to phrase your questions accurately.

    A few points:

    1. Intelligence does seem to be rising with each generation, if you use some of the standard tests and factor out a few questions for obvious logical reasons, (Such as one, for one example, that shows a picture of an old style rotary phone.). I.Q. remains at 100, but how many questions you get right to score that 100 goes up a smidge, in general, with each generation.

    2. Intelligence is greatly affected by more than one gene. It's quite likely there are genes that together create a higher than average intelligence, mentally stabile person if they are all there together with a gene we'll call (as a convenient fictitious example) I.Q.Factor3A, but create a person with a higher than average intelligence, and a dehabilitating mental illness, if they are in the same organism as the gene I.Q.Factor3B version. It's also fairly likely there are cases where the I.Q.Factor3 gene doesn't, by itself, cause any problems in a person of average intelligence, whether it's version A or B.

    3. One example of this is Aspergers syndrome. People (including many researchers) have tended to assume that a person with Aspergers has a lot of good genes for general intelligence and a bad gene that causes Aspergers, and that the same bad gene causes more 'typical' Autism in people without the bunch of good genes. But, that doesn't have to be the case. It could be, just for example, that a certain combination of otherwise good genes causes Aspergers if you have all five of them, but if you have any three, you get better than average intelligence without the problem side, and if you have any four, you get the smarts, plus only a few mildly limiting side effects that in general don't cause enough problems to be diagnosed. Factor in environment on top of this, and you see what a puzzle researchers are trying to unravel.

  • by shoor ( 33382 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:11PM (#40214695)

    I saw a documentary not too long ago, about autism (and similar afflictions) and superior ability in some special field. One example was a patient suffering from dementia. His hobby was painting and his doctor noticed that his painting got better as his dementia increased. There were other examples but the theory, which some people were getting ready to test, was that a 'healthy' brain filters out a lot of sensory input. In the case of this patient suffering from dementia, some of that filtering failed and he was seeing the world 'bare' so to speak. The filtering has a survival value in that it keeps us from being overwhelmed. To have the brain processing power to handle a greater input we'd need bigger brains, consuming more resources; birth would be more difficult, etc.

    Another thing to consider with people who lack social skills, is that it could be the lack of social skills that leads them to focus on, say, science, as a compensation or a way to pass the time, rather, than their concentration on science leading to underdeveloped social skills. I'm not saying that's the way it is, just that when seeing a correlation, to be careful about which is the cart and which is the horse.

  • by Stalyn ( 662 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:17PM (#40214739) Homepage Journal

    I don't think that's true. Take for example Terence Tao []. No doubt a genius but he doesn't seem to suffer from any "isolation, stilted interaction, and resultant mental illness". Then examine Grigori Perelman [], another genius but definitely suffers from what you described.

    You don't have to be "tortured" to be a genius. But it doesn't hurt either.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:18PM (#40214749)

    being the smartest person on earth is like being a kindergarden teacher, only the kindergartners own your apartment, the streets, the guns, the hospitals, the psychiatrists, everything, and when they do something horrible it's always an accident, because they don't know any better. Then they will cherry pick your ideas, steal the ones that work and have you committed, or sued for the theft of intellectual property. In fact think of the language surrounding intellectual property regarding any workplace, any idea you have on the work floor is typically laid claim to by the property owner simply by virtue of the location where you were when the idea was conceived, this is a blanket attitude of intellectual theft. There is nothing to gain from being smart, it's a service and nearly thankless service to humanity and hell, do you think Einstein HAD to study physics? No, he didn't, he very well could have become a semi famous drunken chess player instead.

  • Re:This just in... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blue trane ( 110704 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:27PM (#40214823) Homepage Journal

    "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - Jiddu Krishnamurti []

  • The tortured soul (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:52PM (#40214997)

    That idea may have come from variations of "ignorance is bliss". If you don't have a clue about the world around you, you have nothing to worry about. The better your perception or understanding of things, the more pitfalls or risks you can see.

    There's gotta be a Windows user angle here someplace.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @08:01PM (#40215079)

    Good point. I remember hearing of a study done on a Jewish community in Europe that suffered much higher than normal rates of some severe neurological problem, I forget what exactly. They also scored an average of 6-10 IQ points higher than the larger community. The conclusion of the researchers was that this community had been genetically isolated for many generations by antisemitic sentiment in an environment where intelligence presented a significant procreative advantage (the financial industry, which the surrounding Christians were religiously prohibited from entering)

    As a result a gene mutation that caused increased brain activity (and intelligence) in those possessing a single copy spread throughout the community. Unfortunately, inheriting two copies of the gene apparently over-revved the brain beyond what it could reliably handle and caused... whatever the problem was. Frequent seizures maybe.

    A similar phenomena surrounds sickle-cell anemia. Inherit two copies of the gene and you get a death sentence, probably long before you reach adulthood, at least before modern medicine. But, if you have only one copy of the gene then not only are you unharmed, you're immune to malaria. In the African population in which the mutation emerged, where malaria ran rampant, this gene represented a good deal: even if both parents carried it they would only lose 1 in 4 children to anemia, while two would be immune to malaria. If only one parent carried the gene then it's an even better deal - half their children would be immune and the other half would be normal. (Incidentally if you're reading this as a KKK member with SSA, I hate to break it to you but there's only one way you could possibly carry the gene. Best get to burning crosses on your own lawn)

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @08:40PM (#40215323)
    As we're mentioning mathematicians, I recall a brilliant quote (one of my all-time favourites) from Ferdinand Eisenstein. I can't find any English rendition of it, so here's my attempt at a translation:

    When my father witnessed what kinds of questions I'm dealing with in number theory, he quipped that all it takes to provide the world with a sufficient number of genius mathematicians is to open the front door of an asylum. I replied - and Dirichlet agreed with me - that mathematics is a particular kind of insanity but that the reverse theorem does not always hold.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @09:09PM (#40215499)

    Given the segment of the population that has bi-polar disorder; and a known correlation between the disorder and some of the greatest artists and geniuses - I find it highly interesting that we suppress these people with medication.

    Is this ethical?

  • by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @10:28PM (#40215973) Journal

    The average (the "norms") seem to make quick judgements and associations regarding the mentally ill, whether this means mild depression, or OCD, or full blown mania. First and formost, it is seen as insult. "Crazy" used to be cool... now its somehow on the same level as "homeless." Then it is somehow inexplicably associated with violence. Next, crime, then sexual devience, and finally, pedophelia. It matters not that evidence shows that, on one point listed, the violent are almost never mentally ill, and the mentally ill are almost never violent. About 1% of any population is inherently violent, and this is true among the mentally ill as well, 1%. Yet when an average person learns that another is mentally ill, they immediate begin to fear them and treat them with mistrust, only serving to exacerbate the condition of the individual suffering mental illness by ostracizing them.

    People in general place far too much significance on what they believe is going on in another individual's mind, forgetting that there is no way to know, and also forgetting that mental illness is not crime nor indiciative of a criminal mind. The criminal, by the vast majority, are all sane. We, as a society, need to move back towards responsibility of action, not continue to gravitate towards the notion of thought-crimes. Judge a person by what they do, not by wild, unprovably notions of what or how they think.

  • by phrostie ( 121428 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @10:51PM (#40216079)

    A Professor of mine used to say, "I'm not going to go over the edge, i just enjoy the view".

  • Re:This just in... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @11:27PM (#40216251)

    Your post is modded funny, which it is, but it's funny because it's true.

    I'm a researcher and professor of psychiatry at a large research university, and I see this all the time. Patients come to me with all sorts of ways of making themselves feel better about their disorder.

    A manic individual, one of whose problems is grandiosity finds a link between genius and mania? How surprising!

    Maybe there's something to this, but I think it's telling this is not coming from a peer-reviewed publication. I'm not going to hold my breath for when it is (and even when it is I still won't hold my breath for the shocking truth).

    I've read multiple--numerous--published meta-analyses of this topic, assigned them to my students, and it's pretty clear intelligence and cognitive functioning more generally are negatively related to mania and schizophrenia overall. Not strongly so, but clearly in the negative direction.

    So, if there's some specific effect where it's associated with very great intelligence, it must be also be associated with an even bigger effect where it decreases the intelligence of individuals on the low end even more. This unpublished talk at some conference would have to trump dozens of meta-analyses on the topic by multiple totally distinct research groups spanning decades of research. Could it happen? Sure, but to paraphrase Sagan: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    The article angers me in some ways, actually, because it contributes to some myth that mania and psychosis are somehow beneficial, which discourages individuals from getting treatment, or at least gives them excuses not to. It's irresponsible to perpetuate this so lightly.

    The article is also misleading--bipolar is sort of a dated concept--the cyclicity idea isn't how these things really work, any more than any other form of psychopathology is cyclic (it's akin to calling alcohol dependence "bipolar disorder" because they have binge episodes followed by depression).

  • Bipolar Near Genius (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @12:05AM (#40216425)

    I'm bipolar and have an IQ of 145. This is the internet and I'm an AC so you'll just have to trust me.

    This article resonated so strongly with me. My creativity has always been tied directly to my mania. Innovative problem solving, writing, music, artistic endeavors (for one unmedicated period of three years I became a traditional glassblower). It's not the mania itself, it's the period of transition from "baseline" to full-blown manic. As the brakes come off and my mind begins to work in a more random, expansive fashion I find new insights that don't really have a linear explanation. They just bubble up, seemingly from nowhere.

    Of course, there's the rest of the time. The crushing, suicidal depression that follows the bouts of rabid, incoherent mania; the self harm and risky behavior; and the impossibility of maintaining a normal life and relationships. The 2% of my time that I was genuinely brilliant wasn't worth the rest of the symptoms.

    I'm heavily medicated now, which has alleviated the extremes of my disorder. I must say that I miss my crazy. I can play the songs I wrote before, but when I pick up my guitar now nothing new ever comes out of it. I wrote whole stage plays in an evening, but haven't written a scene in a year. Whatever my "spark" was, it was the product of whatever malformation I'm now treating.

    After suicide attempts and running down the street being chased by things that weren't there, I'm still not sure that I've made the right decision

  • by fearofcarpet ( 654438 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:20AM (#40216683)

    Another thing to consider with people who lack social skills, is that it could be the lack of social skills that leads them to focus on, say, science, as a compensation or a way to pass the time, rather, than their concentration on science leading to underdeveloped social skills. I'm not saying that's the way it is, just that when seeing a correlation, to be careful about which is the cart and which is the horse.

    As a scientist and a person who has worked, for years, around incredibly gifted and incredibly successful people, my observation is that there are two flavors of gifted scientist; one that lacks social skills and one that does not. It has been my experience that the most gifted scientists often lack social skills. Some are assholes, some are recluses, and some are just weird. But they all approach research as a solitary activity for them to focus on--often on a borderline nocturnal schedule--to the exclusion of normal human interaction. Tragically, many of these people fight a constant uphill battle in their careers (particularly the weird recluses) despite publishing creative and insightful Science. The second flavor are, in my opinion, not quite as gifted as the first, but have the social skills to network, land good academic positions, and--most importantly--find funding. They produce a larger volume of publications and do excellent research, but generally focusing on open questions, staying more in the main stream of thought in a particular topic. They also inhabit ivy league departments, make it into panels and boards, win awards, and are generally recognized as incredibly successful. Meanwhile the socially inept scientists pushing boundaries and posing new questions bifurcate between moderate success and winning a Nobel Prize. I think Dan Shechtman [] is an example of the latter. He also is illustrative of the difference between a crazy person on the fringes of science who is marginalized by consensus thought and a ground-breaking, tenacious scientist--i.e., a Noble Prize.

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @03:12AM (#40217029) Homepage
    Your post is a good example of why workers' socialist governments put so many intellectuals into labor camps for a long bout of honest work, plus some reeducation about what life is really like. Bourgeois intellectuals have always been the enemy of the working class.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982