Creativity & Madness: What Do They Share in Common?
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look will change” — was the front message of an old birthday card, found behind my wardrobe. That morning, I had my coffee, staring at the wall and pondering on the practical side of this theory.
If facts in life are mere interpretations of our subjective view, as the great thinker F. Nietzsche states, then indeed, anything is due to change.
Based on the notion of perspectivism, nothing in the world can be definitely true, as truth shifts depending on the viewer’s perspective (although someone could argue that this phrase contradicts itself by presenting something as given truth —i.e. that there is no objective truth). There is an eerie feeling provoked by the absurdity of perspectivism, however, things can get very interesting when rediscovering anything given or familiar.
Overload Protection: the role of Latent Inhibition
Every single day we encounter countless stimuli, awaiting to trigger certain senses and in turn, feelings. The sound of an alarm or a perfume of someone you love will draw your attention to ultimately initiate an action or a nostalgic break. But on an average day one hears, sees, smells and tastes millions of things that choose to completely ignore.
Let’s take our nose, for example. Normally, we can see our nose even without squinting. Our nose is always in the field of vision but we only get to realise it if we consciously think of it. Is this negligence a conscious choice? Of course not.
It is a brain’s automatic response that screens out any stimuli identified as irrelevant or neutral, called Latent Inhibition (LI). LI helps humans to ignore any incoming input previously recorded and established as known, neutral or irrelevant to current experience and one’s personal development.
As there are zero benefits from including the tip of the nose in every frame that the eyes capture, the brain decides to photoshop it, without even asking you.
The unconscious avoidance of the vast amount of information we receive is highly energy-efficient & energy-effective. It would be extremely time-consuming to constantly acknowledge all of our surroundings. Plus, learning from experience (i.e. conditional learning) increases the ability to predict, which gives us more space for processing any new interest.
Think of a kitchen pot. A pot has a function, a raison d’être (i.e. purpose of existence) that your mind has given and holds as a well-established belief. The pot lives in your kitchen. It is a utensil to prepare/cook food and it will most probably become the last thing you want to wash in the aftermath of a dinner party (pre-lockdown season of course!). That is a typical relationship one has with their pot and it is rarely questioned.
Whilst this relationship seems functional, sole reliance on past associations slows down or inhibits the formation of new ones — potentially more optimised or creative ones.
A kitchen pot could become a plant pot after all.
Genius or Mad?
People with lower than normal levels of LI, tend to treat a phenomenically obvious and familiar object as a newly observed one.
“A little while ago, just as I was coming into my room, I stopped short because I felt in my hand a cold object which held my attention through a sort of personality. I opened my hand, looked: I was simply holding the door-knob.” -JP Sartre, Nausea
Those presented with decreased LI, usually ‘fail’ in screening out previously classified objects and become more open to the interpretation of incoming stimuli. They can therefore identify the transient nature of its meaning. Given the subsequent divergent thinking and doubt of the obvious, this type of openness to experience leads to increased creativity.
“The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities.” highlights Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto.
To another extent, the inability to ignore irrelevant stimuli because of low LI might be a good reason to be utterly confused by the multi-diversity of reality.
A patient with schizophrenia will struggle to eat in a busy restaurant as their brain will surrender to all surrounding stimuli, making it impossible to focus on one objective — eating dinner for example. Chattering and cutlery sounds from other tables will become one unavoidable mass of noise, burdening the capacity of perceiving and processing, leading to a sensory overload.
Daring to doubt
When being overwhelmed by external voices or internal ideas, one can either stress or express.
Psychosis and high creativity are therefore extents of the same spectrum in which observing the obvious holds a significant role. According to JB Peterson and his research on LI, the factors moderating this relationship is IQ and working memory. Although IQ is a trait, non-negotiable characteristic, working memory is malleable and operates depending on how familiar the input might be.
If the information has been previously encountered, the brain will choose a similar way of processing it, aiming to save us some time. Although efficient, following the same train of thought makes the potential of an alternative view to become ultimately invisible. Like our nose!
Processing things differently will have a positive impact on creativity and the relationship with oneself and others. This might feel as giving second chances to people, things and situations without actively changing anything.
If things feel boring, consider it as a sign of religious repetition of processing patterns.
Dare yourself to think as you would never think you would.