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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2014

9 - Creativity and the spectrum of affective and schizophrenic psychoses

from Part III - Creativity and the spectrum of mental illness


The possible connection between madness and creativity is a highly controversial issue. This is barely surprising, because it touches upon fundamental, human nature, issues that resonate beyond the scientific arena. In a sense, the subject borders on themes that can be regarded as distributive justice (Does one need to “pay a price” for having superior gifts?), “poetic” justice (Are those cursed with mental suffering at least compensated with an easier access to the muse?), and ethics (If we could eradicate the genetics of psychosis, would we actually be removing the genetic reservoir of unique human qualities such as creativity?).

Some would consider that the question itself is fundamentally wrong for various reasons. Humanistic and positive psychology schools view it as an attempt to pathologize what is essentially a positive feature that arises in healthy and self-actualized individuals (e.g., Fromm, 1980). Others claim that the whole theme survives as a cultural myth derived from inaccurate historical reinterpretations of the association between melancholia and creativity established by Greek philosophers (e.g., Schlesinger, 2009). Finally, many have criticized the lack of “strong” methods to prove the connection, which has relied on anecdotal descriptions of mad geniuses for a long time. All of these criticisms contain grains of truth and not surprisingly are brought up when the issue is presented in terms of madness being a necessary condition for creativity or creativity leading to madness. However, as will be elaborated, the recognition of multiple ingredients in both creativity and madness and the addition of more sound methods challenge the simple dismissal of this topic.

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