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Blog 12: But not all creative people are mentally ill and not all crazy people are creative 

2nd August 2020

If de-differentiation of waking and dreaming explains the link between creativity and craziness, how come there are creative people who aren’t the least bit crazy and crazy people who don’t show any signs of creativity?

Well, first, creativity is a fuzzy idea. Broadly speaking, what we call creativity can come about in two different ways.  The first way is through sudden insight – an “Aha!”, “Eureka” or “lightbulb” moment.

Sudden insight: It just came to me…

The second way is through step by step linear-logic over a period of time. Two cognitive psychologists, John Kounios and Mark Beeman use the example of Scrabble to illustrate.

Say your Scrabble letters are “A-E-H-I-P-N-Y-P”. If you look at them and suddenly realise these letters make the word EPIPHANY- this is the first type of creativity: sudden insight. But if you rearrange the letters using linear logic, thinking, for example, that the word probably starts with a vowel (there are three vowels in the letters) and then, systematically, trying different combinations of letters after a vowel then you are using the second type of creativity: step-by-step linear logic.

You might also use a combination of the two types of creativity.  Say you first identified some shorter, less high scoring words: HIP,  PIP, HEN or YEN.  You then thought of putting a vowel in front of one of them, “EPIP” isn’t a word but it may trigger a sudden insight:  Eureka!  “EPIPHANY”.

If you use purely step by step, linear logic to arrive at your creative idea then this type of creativity won’t be linked to de-differentiation because this produces a hybrid wake-dream state. In such a hybrid state, the remote associations that prevail in the dream state will weaken the step-by-step linear-logical associative reasoning that is required during focussed tasks in the wake state.  Step by step linear logic tends to produce the sort of creativity that leads to innovation in science, engineering, technology and design. Such creativity/innovation is not likely to be linked to craziness because it doesn’t need input from the dream state.

So if your creativity depends on step-by step logical reasoning, this sort of creativity is unlikely to be associated with mental illness. In contrast if your creativity depends on remote or loose associations,  a clear example is poetry, then the probability of you having some sort of mental disorder increases.

But evidence shows an inverted U-shaped relationship between creativity and mental illness. The relationship only holds until normal functioning in wake becomes severely compromised – after this point creativity decreases. In other words only mild to moderate mental illness is linked to creativity.  Yet in a previous blog I mentioned how Blake, Byron, Schumann, Van Gogh, and Woolf are all thought to have had manic depression, now called bipolar disorder.  This is a severe disorder but maybe it can accommodate artistic work. Manic periods of intense energy may drive writing, composing and painting,

There’s a time for art

while editing and reworking take place in depressive periods.

But, there’s more to creativity than a bit of craziness. There is a positive relationship between creativity and intelligence- up to IQs of about 120 (100 is average) after which creativity and intelligence begin to diverge.  Creativity is also linked to personality- being open to new ideas and experiences is significant, so is confidence and autonomy.

So, although there’s evidence that creativity and craziness are linked, not all creative people are mentally ill and not all crazy people are creative. The reasons are:

First, there are, broadly speaking, two thought processes that enable creativity: sudden insight and step-by-step logical reasoning. Only creativity through sudden insight is linked to mental health disorders.

Second, only mild to moderate mental illness is associated with creativity- severe mental health disorders aren’t.

Third, other factors, aside from a bit of craziness, enable creativity. Intelligence, up to a certain point, is one. Personality is another.

And so why is dreaming important in this debate? First, because dreaming is driven by remote associations and such associations are key to the sudden insight type of creativity.  Second, because, for a long time, psychiatrists and philosophers,  including Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud, Jung and Bleuler, have suggested that if remote associations which characterise dreaming invade the awake state madness may result.

At this point we need to consider dreaming and the unconscious, my next blog (after my annual leave) will cover this

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