schizophrenia, creativity, and evolution

July 7, 2007

I’m updating early because I’m moving apartments this weekend, but my general plan is to post every evening by nine-o-clock meds time (EST).

Nash Suggests Schizophrenia May Serve Adaptive Function

On the mental illness side: schizophrenia is not associated with genius or creativity.  None of our evidence says it’s anything but severely impairing.  Bipolar is associated with creativity despite fucking everyone over, but schizophrenia mostly just fucks people over, although there are people who do well at times.  John Nash is a genius, but that’s not necesarily due to schizophrenia.  People who are geniuses can also be crazy without a causal link.  People who have bipolar are more likely to be creative, and not necessarily actually more creative.  Inability to think clearly or concentrate, or being depressed or manic, can really do a number on your creativity.

On the evolutionary side:  the detrimental effects of adaptations sometimes get undermentioned.  An “successful” adaptation can severely impair most of the people who have it if, on average, there’s enough benefit for at least some people to “balance that out”.  It doesn’t have to benefit an individual person.  It doesn’t even have to benefit any of the people who actually have it!  It might benefit copies of their genes that reside in their kin, instead.  This is where schizophrenia may come into play – family members of people with schizophrenia display increased creativity (can provide cite later, seriously supposed to be packing my remaining crap right now).

Take-home point: If serious mental illnesses are adaptations (I’m not convinced they are, but I’m open to the possibility), they’re not beneficial for most affected people.  If they were, we wouldn’t call them mental illnesses – a major requirement in the DSM is that a mental disorder cause marked impairment in functioning.   It’s nice to think we’re all geniuses, but that stereotype covers up the crappy reality of just trying to make it day to day, let alone hold down a job or have good relationships.

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genius, and genetic screening

June 16, 2007

Check out these two articles together:

Let’s not reject our geniuses: Genetic screening risks losing a future Dickens

Joyce’s ADD and not talent made him a genius

The latter is a spoof, but it satirizes something common that shows up in the first article: We must retain mental disorders because society needs geniuses.

Most people with mental disorders, like most people without mental disorders, aren’t geniuses (duh). Mental disorders impair the ability to function normally (for all people – that’s why they’re disorders), rather than providing talent (for most people). Most aren’t even associated with genius and creativity. Bipolar disorder is, but I haven’t found any plausible research for any other disorders (someone correct me if I’m wrong here).

Maybe at some point we will deliberately keep some mental disorders around because society values so strongly the minority of sufferers who have associated talent. Via genetic screening, or a decision not to fix things in children when we can, whatever. (I really hope we make this choice based on actual associations between a disorder and creativity.)

If so, society and its individual elements are going to owe a debt to all the people they’re causing to suffer in obscurity, because they’ll be sacrificing all those individual peoples’ welfare to get a few people who get to be geniuses. And society better pony up compensatory resources.

People with mental disorders who are not geniuses are valuable to society in many other ways, and I’m not ignoring that. I’m just saying that if society makes a deliberate decision to keep mental disorders to get geniuses, it needs to take responsibility for the other effects of that decision, and to thoroughly recognize the value of the people it’s compensating, above and beyond that of regular human beings with medical disorders (which it sucks at now), as people who contribute to genius.