Madness as Muse

Question: What is the relationship between creativity and depression?

Kay Redfield Jamison: I think that for thousands of years people have made the observation that there are certain kinds of extreme depressive states that seem to be more likely to produce philosophers, people in the arts, unusually brilliant scientists. In modern studies, a lot of modern studies have born that out, that there is a disproportionate rate of mood disorders, of depression and bipolar disorder in highly creative groups in the arts, sciences and so forth. I think that that's a real phenomenon. I think that the changes that go on in the brain when people are mildly manic, the experiences of extreme states, the kind of experiences that people then go on to write and create about. All those things I think are reasonably well documented. It's controversial but it's actually the studies are almost all in the same direction.

That doesn't get away from the fact that these people, a lot of these people who are highly creative also had very miserable lives and I try to point this out when people start romanticizing mental illness, is that Byron and Van Gogh wanted to be treated. Byron traveled with doctors. Van Gogh admitted himself, finally, to the hospital. They were in agony, in pain, and suffering. So it's not a romantic life; it may look romantic from the outside, but if you read their letters and their correspondence with friends, it's not anything wonderful. Many of them died young by suicide and the rate of suicide is also way disproportionately high in these highly creative groups. It's the last thing you want is people dying young, dying prematurely in any event.

So I don't think it has to be a choice between being creative and being on medication. In this day and age, we've got a lot of a wide variety of medications and psychotherapies and people are kept at much lower doses than they used to be. It used to be in the early days of lithium, people were really tanked up on lithium so that I think it really did have an affect.

Recorded On: September 30, 2009

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth

Upload your mind? Here's a reality check on the Singularity.

Videos
  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we're nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
Keep reading Show less