Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Unleashed Mind

Scientific American has an interesting article on the connection between creativity and eccentricity. It notes that artists have a high incidence of depression, but also a high probability of having a schizotypal personality, which comes in a variety of forms, including magical thinking ("such as belief in telepathic communication, dreams that portend the future, and memories of past lives"), unusual perceptual experiences, social anhedonia (a preference for solitary activities), and mild paranoia. I write plays, poems, and short stories, and I myself am mildly bipolar, remember having had dreams that portend the future when I was younger, and I even have a mild form of synesthesia in that the texture of foods give them different flavors to me (spaghetti and fettuccine actually taste completely different to me).

The author argues that the reason creative people exhibit these features is because of cognitive disinhibition.

Cognitive disinhibition is the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival. We are all equipped with mental filters that hide most of the processing that goes on in our brains behind the scenes. So many signals come in through our sensory organs, for example, that if we paid attention to all of them we would be overwhelmed. Furthermore, our brains are constantly accessing imagery and memories stored in our mental files to process and decode incoming infor­mation. Thanks to cognitive filters, most of this input never reaches conscious awareness.

This is less active in creative people, meaning they actually experience more of the world. As noted, this can be overwhelming. It is not uncommon for artists to be overwhelmed -- and to thus go crazy. Most stay sane by funneling it into their creative works. The occasional voices become characters in a story and are thus controlled, tamed. Thus, the ability to control one's thoughts is a necessary part of the creative process. One needs self-control and discipline as much as cognitive disinhibition to make art and literature.

One must wonder, however, what effect, if any, this has on the reader. Or how understanding this might affect our understanding of an artist's works. How should this affect the way we analyze works?

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