schizophrenia and mental disorders, genius or evolutionary mistake

Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things, which escape those who dream only by night

–       Edgar Allen Poe

It is an eye-raising idea from the article, ” Schizophrenia: A Mind Divided,” by Nancy Andreasen who brushes on the possibility of the  link between mental disorders and genius. Andreasen writes that Scott; prior to developing Schizophrenia, was an intelligent boy, ahead of his fellow peers at a young age in terms of typical development, accomplished at any sport he tried, and even ambidexteritous-ability to use both hands with equal authority.

She mentions John Nash, the mathematical genius who was struck by Schizophrenia when he was 30; after already solidifying himself as one of the worlds greatest mathematicians.  A professor at Carnegie Tech (some of you know it as Carnegie Mellon University) wrote a recommendation for him with the only words on the letter, “This man is a Genius.” But I am diverging from my topic,  this Nobel Prize winner in mathematics-a prize he received in 1994 for what he claimed as his “most trivial work,” associated his madness with his living on an “ultralogical” plane, “breathing air too rare” for most mortals, and if being “cured” meant he could no longer do any original work at that level, then, Nash argued, a remission might not be worthwhile in the end.

Natasha and the rest of class, to clarify what Savantism is: Here is a boy named Rex. Not only is he blind but he faced multiple different developmental disorders and yet he is a musical savant. There are other savants that demonstrate other abilities on youtube so if you still don’t understand what Savantism is, it look at those.

The common theme that all savants have is the inability to socially interact in what we consider “normal” behaviors. They also often have co-morbid disorders such as autism or other types of retardation. Do you think these specialized skills at least artistically and mentally are the results of evolution;the next step for the human brain to attain, but is held back by other biological restraints not yet prepared to evolve in parallel? Therefore, what we see as detrimental side effects are the result of the body being pulled in two directions?

As you think about this question/idea I have posted a video of an artists who had schizophrenia. In the video you can understand why schizophrenia can be described as a neurodegenerative disease.

8 thoughts on “schizophrenia and mental disorders, genius or evolutionary mistake

  1. The youtube video about Louis Wain is really cool! I really like how the chronology of the pictures demonstrate a sort of “slip” into insanity. This guy is a fantastic artist, and I see a lot of irony in the fact that, as he grew progressively more insane, his art developed from hackneyed caricatures into magnificent works of art. It’s almost like scizophrenia doesn’t affect one’s ability to reason as much as it affects the perceptions of enviornmental stimuli, sort of like a smart person trapped in a fantasy reality. Very strange…


  2. Those cats were really interesting, it’s amazing how an internal disease such as schizophrenia manifests itself externally. Also, I wonder what the proportion of people who develop Schizophrenia is and if that is even measurable since it’s so hard to concretely define normalcy and signs in hindsight


  3. Wow that video about the cat artist is so eye-opening. You can REALLy see how his schizophrenia progresses as his painting turn into an obsessive behavior and his cats transform into demon like creatures.

    In response to the savantism video, I need to introduce you to another man who has an incredible skill. Doctors believe that seizures as a child rewired his brain so that he is now able to visualize numbers as shapes and movements. Because of this mental anomaly, Daniel is able to remember outrageous mathematical concepts (such as pi) and perform astounding equations in his head. His has recently admitted to being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrom, hoever he appears to be a perfectly normal guy.


  4. Lia,
    what a fascinating video. I don’t know who posted this both, but it has really made me wonder about evolution and our evolving brains and species. I find all of this “genius” talk so interesting, and it makes me wonder whether or not we will be calling people with autism and asberger’s “normal” in the future, if we all evolve into being geniuses?? Our brain capacity is so amazing.


  5. It’s really cool to think about a “genius” as someone whose resources are simply distributed differently from most people’s… for someone with Asperger’s who is a savant, for example, having superfluous resources for music/math/etc and less than normal ones for social skills. I’m sure that idea would be wayyy oversimplified, and likely not true, but I agree that the evolutionary concept is pretty fascinating. What could be the evolutionary benefit for autism?


  6. I think it’s interesting you posted the video on the cat painter as an example of Neurodegenerative diseases. I was talking to Melissa about this, and it seems like it’s a fairly new perception of the illness. But the degeneration in the accuracy of his paintings, with some not even resembling cats, could be pertinent evidence of this potential hypothesis. At the same time, it could simply be interpreted as a change in his style of art through a progression of time. In this case, it would relevant to investigate the areas of the brain that do control artistic abilities and correlate them to the changes in his expression through his paintings.


  7. Wow, the progression of the cat paintings truly were representative of his increasing schizophrenic condition. It was freaky towards the end, but the drastic colorful shapes made me think of the different voices schizophrenics are thought to hear. A good point was raised that this might just be his change in style of art, but I wonder if there are other examples of artistic pieces out there done by schizophrenics that would agree with this theory such as music or poetry. While the style may be changing, many people have a tendency to draw what they know so perhaps it really is related.

    This past fall in Neurobiology, we briefly learned about Savants and watched another video about Stephen Wiltshire that I found really interesting. Stephen is autistic and did not speak his first words until the age of five. Since the age of 11 however he earned himself the name of human camera because of his amazing talent of being able to redraw an aerial view of a city or area after a brief one-time helicopter ride. He was even able to successfully draw every window on all the buildings! I am blown away by the idea that people who suffer to have normal behavior are able to in another regard have these amazingly unique talents. It is very intriguing idea to think that evolution could in fact be playing a role and perhaps years from now everyone will be different compared to today’s normal.


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