Creativity is a fascinating and important subject for anyone to study. Understanding how people tap into their creative powers and why some are better than others is quite interesting. Nancy C. Andreasen is a very qualified person to address this topic. In addition to a PhD in English literature, she later switched careers and earned an MD with a residency in psychiatry. In the current edition of The Atlantic, Andreasen writes on “Secrets of the Creative Brain” (July/August 2014, pp. 62–75).
As I have quoted Andreasen in a prior post (“Do You See What I See?” Blog.reliableinsights.com, 8/7/14), she articulates what she believes captures the essence of creativity:
“Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” (p. 70)
Therefore, possessing that free-flow aptitude for making associations of ideas to the point that you see what others do not see is at its core. Simultaneously and paradoxically, it is that very same quality that raises the specter of mental illness. Andreasen references the evidence of a genetic link both for mental illness and for creativity:
“Exceptionally creative people are more likely than control subjects to have one or more first-degree relatives with schizophrenia. . . . creativity tends to run in families.” (p. 72)
With those observations established, Andreasen then drills down to her seminal concept that perhaps:
“some particularly creative people owe their gifts to a subclinical variant of schizophrenia that loosens their associative links sufficiently to enhance their creativity but not enough to make them mentally ill.”
I think that her proposal is a brilliant and fascinating expression of exactly what happens on a broader scale with all creative people. It is so important to realize that as people, we are not a collection of ones and zeroes, on and off switches. Rather, we are all uniquely cast upon an immense array of continuums of every possible human trait and nuance. That is all part of the amazingly complex way in which we are designed.
With this understanding, we should all immediately have a heightened respect and appreciation for who we are as people and as individuals. This should be true not just on the basis of our amazing complexity and robustness, but also on the basis of our fragility.
An analogy that comes to mind is a tool. With a simple tool I can build great things and help the world, and with that same tool I can build horrible things and harm the world. I trust that we can have a similar respect and appreciation for all our human creativity—yours, mine, and the world’s.