not just attention, not just mood, etc.

July 10, 2007

Stimulant medication helps with acceptance of noise in AD/HD study (pubmed abstract).  “Acceptance of noise” appears to basically mean “how much background noise you’re willing to put up with when listening to speech” and was initially coined to refer to how much background noise hearing-impaired people were willing to put up with in a hearing aid before refusing to use it at all.

(anecdote warning) When I first started a stimulant medication, I was floored by how calm I felt, but more surprised by how different sensory input was – it was like a bird passing overhead was a solid, coherent bird object, rather than a set of discoherent pictures.  Not on the level of vision, but on the level of attention.  The “background noise” was turned down.

This is one of those interesting things that doesn’t get much play in most peoples’ conceptions of mental disorders: ADHD is about being hyperactive and distractible, mood disorders are about mood, schizophrenia is about psychosis, etc.  All of those things are true (I mean, we do call them mood disorders etc for a reason), but mental disorders involve multiple systems, often in non-intuitive ways.  Depression and heart disease, for example, or schizophrenia and apathy.

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.