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Is there a link between insanity and genius?

Insanity, genius, mental illness and madness are all labels we give to people who think and behave in ways that seem beyond, or outside what is seen as 'normal'.

Firsly, what is 'normal', and who labels it so?

Does 'mental illness' deserve such a label, or can so-called normality widen its scope to accept it as 'thinking differently' instead?

What and where is the demarcation line between madness and genius - and who draws that line?

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    Aug 28 2012: In the US, insanity is a legal term. You cannot be insane unless a court of law determines it. Although criteria for the declaration of insanity has changed over the years, one of the current definitions, 'danger of harm to self or others' has been consistently applied since the middle of the last century. I cannot think of any geniuses that have been declared legally insane. I think that there are some mass murderers who are geniuses that have been declared insane. Like the Zodiac killer but I have never seen any solid evidence.

    Madness finds its roots in the behavior of rabid animals. This definition describes a specific type of behavior. I cannot think of any genius frothing at the mouth at the current moment.

    Mental illness is a broad classification for a number of diseases. Diseases with biophysiological basis or malfunction. These diseases are typically described on a continuum from functional to severely incapacitating. Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of mental illness that have been described by pharmaceutical companies. Everything from 'do you feel anxious, are you feeling blue...'

    Having seen truly mentally ill people who struggle just to meet selfcare needs (feeding, bathing etc), I would have to say no, mental illness and genius do not go hand in hand. Savants being the rare exception.

    But understanding the continuum of mental illness especially in the functional arena, perhaps geniuses are just as likely to be depressed or anxious or have mild OCD as anyone else.

    Just wanted to clarify a few points for all the people I know who are truly severely incapacitated by mental illness and help to differentiate.
    • Aug 28 2012: Hi Linda.

      I have to say that there are a disproportionate number of people who may be regarded as geniuses, who have either taken their own lives or have descended into what many would regard as insanity, madness - or serious mental illness. Call it what you will.

      The likes of Friedrich Nietzche, Van Gogh, John Nash, Alan Turing, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath - the list is huge - would seem to point towards above average occurrence of mental illness of some sort, associated with genius.

      I'm not sure about the relevance of the behaviour of rabid animals with genius. Can you expand on that?

      Genius seems to be a fortuitous convergence of several factors, such as intense focus, perseverance, the ability to join up ideas from differing fields of knowledge, to think the unthinkable etc etc. - these are the more obvious ones.

      What about factors that are less obvious, like the possibility that the creative power of the unconscious mind and the right hemisphere being more prominent in the mind of a genius (or the conscious mind being more recessive)? This might form part of the link I suspect exists with mental illnesses, although I've not yet found research to fully back that up.

      I don't think mental illnesses in the functional arena can categorically be called illnesses. They could be an understandable and natural reaction to a society that has become dysfunctional and quite frankly, inhuman.
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        Aug 28 2012: Mental illness in the functional arena is definitely an illness. I could go into a whole bunch of pathophysiology gobbledegook but I think it might be best to illustrate.

        I worked with a colleague for a very long time who was diagnosed bipolar. He was on medication and with the help of the medication was a highly functional professional. During the course of the illness he started to go in to manic symptomology and as part of the symptomology he decided he was cured and no longer needed medications. Well his behavior became increasingly bizarre and irrational and was no longer able to function in a professional capacity. To the point of loosing his position. We did not hear from him for a long time but several months later he came back. He lost everything family, house, job. His family finally intervened and had him evaluated and committed. During the course of treatment, they were able to reverse the mania down to a rational level. When he visited he was calm and rational but you could tell he was not all there. He was never able to return to an independent functional level after the manic episode, at least not in a professional capacity.

        The disease was NOT a natural reaction to society and perhaps you should find out a little more about mental illness before deciding that depression is due to politics or some nonsense.

        I agree all those people were geniuses and probably had mental illness. But I have not seen any statistics at all that say the incidence of mental illness is greater among geniuses than the greater population.

        I disagree that genius is some type of cosmic convergence of those traits and I think that genius is a human trait that anyone can access. I have seen glimmers of genius from many people you would never expect it from. Some people just apply it more often. Mosttly people who have all their basic needs satisfied and have time to write, read, study instead of trying to put food on the table.
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        Aug 28 2012: Sorry ran out of characters.

        I did not associate madness with genius, you did. Madness describes the behavior of rabid animals and when people act like rabid animals they are said to have madness, snarling, screaming, eating peoples faces in subways. (Recently happened here in the US). That is madness.

        That whole unconscious processing stuff may come in to play in certain strokes of genius. They are called strokes of genius for a reason. I just do not think we know enough about how the brain works in some of those processes to have a good understanding. We can see how it manifests in people, but remember, even Freud's theories are now just a novelty to look at.
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    Aug 27 2012: I agree with your second question, I think 'insanity' is thinking differently and whats 'normal' is the certain behaviours,feelings ,patterns of thinking and ways of expressing ourselves accepted by the community we live in.So in the end none of these terms actually exist,they are only created by the society.Is there a link between 'insanity' and 'genius' ?,no there is just the courage to actually think outside the box and the frustration of 'normal' people who refuse to accept it,which is why the works,ideas etc.. of many 'geniuses' were appreciated much later on in time.
    • Aug 28 2012: Hi Beste,

      If a genius is unaccepted in his/her lifetime in his/her community, does that mean he/she might be vulnerable to mental illness because of that rejection?
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        Sep 2 2012: Yes,I think this works both ways, a genius can be seen as mentally ill which will lead to apprehension and unacceptance towards that person by the community or as you have said, he/she might already be unaccepted by the community thus feeling alone and misunderstood which can meke that person vulnerable to mental illness.
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    Aug 26 2012: Nowhere is the link between insanity and genius more observable than when a woman asks her husband if her pants/skirt/dress/shorts makes her look fat. Upon later review every given answer will be an example on one or the other. Also, any time behavior is off the minimum standard checklist there is a potential for re-labeling.
    • Aug 27 2012: Love the reply Edward! :-)

      I think you're right - standardizing and labelling are both important in this discussion.

      In most things (including pants), labelling should be firmly at the back.
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        Aug 27 2012: Thank you for your fitting response. What folly to put labeling in the front.
        Professor Hayakawa says:
        "[Genius] is conceived as a mental power far beyond explanation in terms of heritage or education and manifests itself by exceptional originality and extraordinary intelligence , surpassing that of most intellectually superior people:. . . " I think he is right that when a person's specific mental powers go beyond explanation such labels as "bizarre"; "eccentric"; "abnormal"; "weird"; even "insane", might be wrongly applied. Hate those labels!
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    Gail .

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    Aug 26 2012: I am of the "opinion" that genius can cause insanity - not that it does in all instances.

    Imagine that you look out on your world and you see something that NO ONE ELSE is able to see. Geniuses see more patterns than non-geniuses. What if in your genius, you had the a single answer to all of the problems that face the world, but no one would believe you. Imagine the horror that you would have to live with, knowing what you know but knowing that there is nothing you can do to help.

    Imagine being a musician who creates masterpieces that have real meaning, but no one knew how to hear the ideas because they don't know that music is a language. Unless the genius discovered a way to grapple with the isolation inherent in his life, he would be tormented, and those who are tormented are (in my opinion) insane - if only temporarily.

    Here is an interesting point about genius and how it is "educated" out of us: The whole video is GREAT and indirectly related, but to get to the point, go to 7:40 http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html

    I have a brother and a sister with schizophrenia. Their IQs were in the genius level until it hit. I have a brother and a sister with bipolar and the same is true for them. I am convinced that our family and our culture sent them in that direction, but there is little evidence for that opinion, other than a study of identical twins, where one had schizophrenia and the other didn't.
    • Aug 27 2012: Great reply TED Lover!

      I feel you're touching on something important here. You seem to recognise that brilliance and genius is 'locked in', until someone finds a key to release it.

      To continue the analogy, do you think that key could ever be found autonomously, or does it have to be found and used by someone on the outside who recognises that there is something within worth releasing?

      I would agree with you that family and culture can send people in directions not of their own making. Often those directions can be headed towards what we label 'insanity', only to be diagnosed and medicalised as such by the medical professions. It begs the question of whether many mental illnesses are actually illnesses at all - or whether society is ill?
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        Gail .

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        Aug 27 2012: Society is definitely ill, but I predict that that situation will be largely eradicated within the century.

        Science has discovered so much in the last 20 years, that it is very evident that humanity's common worldview is very much in error. What we call "rational" is not very rational. Ultimately, we are all locked in from the world that exists outside of you. But we are disconnected (through lack of awareness) from the world within us, where we are all connected.

        The world within is accessible and magnificent and the isolation disappears within it.

        I am close with my bro (because he's most affected by his schizophrenia). He is terrified of things his voice speaks of, even though I agree wholeheartedly with his voice's teachings. His voice tells him strange things relative to conventional wisdom. My inner voice tells me the same things using different metaphors that "I" can relate to. I"ve talked to mental health workers who recognize this.

        I have to wonder if what I know to be true (now - though not always) were "normal" when he was younger, if he would have been taken down. What if he wasn't forced to conform to what he knew was wrong?

        Our cultural values are exceedingly cruel - and needlessly so.
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    Aug 26 2012: Most great inventors, creatives and innovators have been thought to be insane because they have ideas that most minds can not fathom.
    It is one of the disadvantages of always taking the views of the majority as the right and ideal view(I'll refer you to my conversation on minorities and the majority)

    But if we are really honest in our search for truth and clarification, we can distinguish between insane people and geniuses. The ideas of scientists, innovators or any exceptionally brilliant mind, is founded on the principles of his or her field, and a few people in the field would understand it(even though they may not admit it for fear of being labelled by a whole lot of ignorant people).

    The insane reveal themselves by their confusion and chaotic irrationality; a confused mind that speaks confusion and acts confusion. The lack of focus soon becomes obvious.
    Geniuses have a vision and a focus.
    • Aug 27 2012: Thanks for your reply Feyisayo.

      Good points about the ideas of great inventors, creatives and innovators.

      Could an otherwise brilliant mind display all the confusion, chaos and irrationality of the insane, and still be medicalised out of society as a result?

      Is it more stimulating for society to label someone as hopelessly insane, rather than taking the time to recognise possible brilliance?

      Is this the power of majority in trying to 'normalise' everything and everybody?
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    Aug 26 2012: There are many people that are extremely smart and their chemical neurological order is a little off. The funny part is that they are not functional enough to be around what is considered "normal" society long enough to do what they need to contribute, however, what they may be able to do could be not only needed but useful in our society.
    • Aug 26 2012: Hi Denise.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      I'm fascinated by your notion that smart people have a chemical neurology that is 'off'. Are you saying that extremely smart people are sometimes regarded as being ill? I think I would probably agree with you, but would need to get a clearer idea about what 'off' means, and who or what has deemed it so, if that person is also 'smart'.

      Would you say that the gray area between insanity and genius is one that is judged in the light of societal acceptance or non-acceptance - or does that judgement come from the 'self'?
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        Aug 27 2012: Hello Barney, there are 3 types of geniuses. Those that know, those that don't, and those that have a chemical, mental imbalance that challenges them to control their genius in a way that the general society can easily experience.

        For instance, when you have the autistic child that is blind but can play the piano brilliantly without lessons, that is when there is a fine line with the characteristic and if not nurtured properly the scales can be tipped either way.
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    Aug 25 2012: I would say not all insane people are geniuses, but many intelligent dissenters might come off as insane. This was one major focus in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. He stressed how important it is to protect the individual from the oppression law and custom. But he didn't have many good things to say about public opinion, he thought that custom was limiting and oppressive to the brilliant dissenter and it hindered progress as a result. To many libertarians such as myself this comes off as slightly elitist, but it's also a harsh reality unfortunatelyat least to some extent. custom can easily convince you that you are insane just because you have a different perspective on things. What is worse is that custom can crush the confidence of some very bright people with good ideas and in the most extreme example it can put them in an insane asylum.
    • Aug 25 2012: Hi Budimir. Thanks for your thoughts.

      The tyrrany of custom, if political, can indeed crush brilliant dissenters and hinder progress.

      What about apolitical custom? In other words, the kind of innate custom that has evolved from human tradition, rather than from political origins? Could that accommodate autonomy of thought?

      Do you think society could function without tradition? If it could, then what impact would that have on society's sense of individual liberty - and more specifically, the identity and demarcation of genius/insanity?
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        Aug 26 2012: Hey Barney,

        I think cultur largely influences all kinds of institutions so is it possible to separate tradition from politics, ideology from law?

        Culture is a constantly changing phenomenon, however we are sentimental about some cultural aspects and that's what we tend to call tradition. How important is tradition? I'm afraid I have to provide a very vague answer, I can certainly say that creative cultural change is important, we are not our history after all, we are instead the makers of our history. As times change things acquire new meanings, our art evolves, our aesthetics evolve, our technology evolves as well as our identity. Static unevolving culture doesn't just hinder progress but it also hinders the human capacity for freedom and creativity. On the other hand there needs to be some form of general principles that are static and guide progress in a direction that allow the culture to be self sustaining. Otherwise you have unlimited creativity and freedom, culture can take off in any direction and such unpredictable change can lead to any outcome, oppression, genocide etc. So the question is really some kind of balance between a creative free society and a self sustaining one which is preserved by general principles that are passed down. Trying to find a good balance is the bane of political philosophy.
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    . .

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    Aug 28 2012: The -link- is in the -perception- you choose for yourself. The only difference between depression, disappointment, fulfillment and happiness is your level of commitment. Dropping labels is a great start.
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      Aug 28 2012: Juliette,
      I think/feel dropping labels is a GREAT idea too. Once we have that label, or give someone else a label, we stop exploring other possibilities. We can use our knowledge to try to define how we may help ourselves or someone else, but to continue to use the labels does not serve any usefull purpose other than keeping a person in a "box".

      Your comment and the topic reminds me of guys I worked with who were incarcerated. Many of them were labeled ADHD as children, and when we first introduced new concepts to them, they often said....I'm ADHD...I can't do that. They used the label as an excuse their entire life, as to why they were not more successful in the life experience.

      When considering the link between "insanity" and "genius", I again consider these incarcerated people. We might think that their actions were "insane" at times...how can they believe that they can do the same things over and over again and have different results? It doesn't make any sense logically. But that's exactly what they did...and they did it very creatively at times. Many of them were very intelligent and creative when it came to crime.

      The thing we tried to do was redirect their energy, creativity and behaviors. I didn't recognize any geniuses in 6 years working with dept. of corrections, but who knows?
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        . .

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        Aug 28 2012: "To continue to use the labels does not serve any useful purpose other than keeping a person in a "box" which is not just useless but also counter intuitive.

        Beautiful !!

        This one step, which may be the mission of a life time for us, not unlike Apollo 11 ;-), will be a leap for mankind.

        "The thing we must do is an educational system that does not kill creativity..but redirects energy, creativity, originality, and behaviors."

        I married your words and Ken Robinson's:-) lol.
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          Aug 28 2012: Thank you Juliette:>) If I am going to be in a "marriage", that's a good one!!! LOL!

          It would be a GREAT leap, if we could keep the information we have gained from the labeling process, and discard the labels? I truly agree with you that it could be a leap for humankind:>)
      • Sep 6 2012: Is it a label that is so constricting. Or, is a mislabeling that is the error. Similarly, is there a misunderstanding on what to do with a particular label.

        Labels will never be left aside. There is a reason for that. It's because a label is a name...a word attatched to something in order to identify. If you are going to disavow a label then you are going to have to disavow names and even words. It goes to the essence of our communicatoins. There were many labels used in this thread to support your ideas.

        No, I think that we have to be more defined in our labels. More accurate and understand more of what to do with a situation as regards a person who is identified by a label. Take ADHD...if it is a true diagnosis (which is a label) then perhaps the treatment is what has failed and not the label. Or, perhaps we need a subset(s) of ADHD for people who met differnt criteria. i.e. we need to add or change the label to better reflect what we are trying to say.

        I believe what everyone is trying to say in this is that we cannot assume we have the sum total understanding of all the partculars of a situation which w are able to name (with a label). And, we cannot just decide the effects of a label de novo. We have to be based in reason and faithful to what we have reasoned. That said, though, we can't lose the forest on account of seeing only one tree. In other words, if we refuse to label a forest a forest bc there is a patch in it without trees, then we do violence to the idea that there is indeed a forest right there, in front of us.

        We can mislabel. But that does not make every label a bad thing in itself
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          Sep 7 2012: Good points J Ale,
          Mislabeling can be problematic, and misunderstanding what a particular label means can also be challenging. An individual's interpretation of a label can be interesting when one does not know the actual meaning of the label.

          I'm not advocating to "disavow a label", because it is exactly as you insightfully say...a way to identify things and conditions in our world. I think I touched on that with my statement..."We can use our knowledge to try to define how we may help ourselves or someone else, but to continue to use the labels does not serve any usefull purpose other than keeping a person in a "box".

          I agree with you that it is how we use the information, and I believe it would be beneficial to understand that a person may have the behaviors of ADHD (for one example), and that does not TOTALLY identify who and what that person is, nor does it have to adversly impact that person's entire life.

          I agree....a label in and of itself is not a bad thing, and we could learn better ways of using the label.....perhaps to gain information, without totally identifying a person with that label?

          Many very creative people in our world have produced beautiful music, art, and scientific research, when it is believed that they may have had some kind of mental "disorder". We call some of these people geniuses because they were recognized for their work. I wonder how many other people fall into the cracks of their "label" without being recognized for something they may be able to offer us?
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    Aug 27 2012: "As far as depression goes, folks, I gotta be honest with you... If somebody comes up to you and says, I think you might be clinically depressed. You should probably say "Well, thank you... That means I'm awake. Is there any indication I shouldn't be depressed? Are you living on the same planet I am right now? Do you ever think that depression may be the reasonable human response to the crap we're going through as a species... Meant to propel us into the next evolutionairy step?

    Do you ever think that's it? Do you ever think that maybe it's the people who are happy all the time, that are really screwed up in the head? Where's that spin? Where's that twist? Where's that angle? Maybe it's those people. The people who are like "God I don't understand it, I just feel great again". "Well... Really? That's creepy and weird, maybe you should be on medication. Clearly you're self centered, delusional, narcissistic... I don't know, but you're draining me with your happy. Could you move along... Cus' I'm doing the big work"

    Marc Maron http://youtu.be/KX1WrXskYDc
    • Aug 27 2012: There's the truth!

      ;-)
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      Aug 27 2012: Excellent point David!
      I don't do "depression", because I always KNOW I'm going to keep moving and flowing. I don't use the term "depression" when talking with anyone else about his/her state of being either, because I believe it has become a catch phrase which is perceived as a disorder.

      I say I am going "under ground" at times, which means that I become very quiet, introspective, sometimes solitary for awhile, and I am exploring "stuff" on many different levels. Sometimes it doesn't feel so good, and I KNOW I choose to experience that state of being.

      After a near fatal head injury for example, they wanted to keep me on antidepressants. I had also been diagnosed with cancer, was ending 24 years of marriage, my mother and father died....all around the same time. I refused antidepressants because my feeling was that I needed and wanted to face the challenges at some point in time. No point in taking antidepressants, which altered my ability to fully FEEL all that I was experiencing. Of course it was frightening, frustrating, confusing and the gamet of emotions at time. AND I KNEW that if I did not face all the "stuff", I could not move on in my life to my satisfaction.

      I think/feel that it is the ability to face the challenges on many different levels, that creates contentment in my life. From that place in ourselves, we build strength, confidence and self esteem, so I would not deny myself that opportunity. The "big work" as you say David, includes facing EVERYTHING. I'm curious to know how it serves you to tell people who experience happiness/contentment to "... move along... Cus' I'm doing the big work". Often, we don't know what battles a person has faced until we ask. Then we might learn that the happiness/contentment one is experiencing is BECAUSE of the challenges s/he may have faced in the life experience....yes? no? maybe?

      BTW...people somtimes tell me that I'm crazy....I say "thank you":>)
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        Aug 27 2012: The "big work" in that context, I believe means understanding that the society in which you live in has descended into a wasteland devoid of morality, and context. A society in which all military aged males, are enemy combatants. A society in which your tax dollars pay for Bradley Manning, an American citizen and hero, to be in jail for 3 years without conviction... so much for a speedy trial.

        A society in which the patriot act is law, and big brother is watching. A society in which most of the people in jail, are non violent drug addicts, and black. A society which allows Dick Cheney, and Rupert Murdoch to roam free. A society in which torture, and rendition are legal, and every paycheck you take in... pays for them.

        If you're happy with that society... There is probably something severely wrong with the chemical composition of your brain : p
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          Aug 27 2012: David,
          In my perception, the "big work" is being aware of all aspects of the life experience. To me, that means being aware of the information you provided above, as well as all other information. I believe that what I focus on expands. If I focus on a belief in "society as a "wastelend devoid of morality", that is the reality I create for myself ALL THE TIME.

          I think that balance is more beneficial. Knowing the information you speak of AND realizing that there is another perspective as well, which I choose to focus on. I believe in being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

          For example, I'm not simply aware of the fact that 95% of those incarcerated are drug and or alcohal addicted...I'm not only aware of the fact that 1 in every 6 men in our world, many of whom are incarcerated, were sexually abused as children. I'm not only aware of these and other statistics, I also volunteered with the dept. of corrections for 6 years facilitating cognitive self change sessions.

          Perhaps you are right in that there may indeed be "something severely wrong with the chemical composition" of my brain...according to you. OR...perhaps it is the "right" chemical composition", and you have not yet discovered how life can be lived when in balance....recognizing the things we can change in our world with more positive reinforcement:>)

          I like being part of the solution. I don't like being part of the problem by focusing on what is "wrong" unless I'm willing to put in the time to contribute to making it "right". What are you doing in that respect?
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        Aug 27 2012: I have actually volunteered for numerous social organizations which at the time I believed were interested in setting things right... Now I am working on a small promotion company for a few green technologies.

        In general however, I surf at the poverty line, providing for myself, writing, rarely published. I worked for the immigration department part time as a contractor distributing immigration forms worldwide, for about 10 years. Simple labor, but it helps people get here legally. Now I'm hoping I'll make ten k a year convincing people to buy electric motorcycles, and electric skateboards.

        Couple scripts in the can, novel and collection of rants in the works, predominantly aimed at encouraging people to stop voting for psychopaths. I am not depressed and unproductive, I simply won't pay tax money to murderers, and in America, if I stay at the poverty line, I don't have to. I acknowledge that the society I live in is depressing, and thus I would suggest that insanity, is not even merely a sign of genius anymore... Simply competence, and consciousness.

        We live in a world where neither candidate running for office, has a solution, or plans to change, any of the problems I have listed. Yet 80% of people, who vote, will vote for one of them. It's embarassing... You don't have to get depressed, but certainly no one who participates in this society has any right to expect people to be happy. And no one contributing to it, has any right to call anyone else insane. If we fix this society, then we can start making those claims again... though they are a bit relativistic in nature to begin with. The part about your brain being broken was just meant to be funny Colleen, I very much respect your opinion... but you are a bit of a hippy daisy sometimes : p
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          Aug 27 2012: Good for you David, for being part of the solution:>)

          Yeah....I "surf at the poverty line too"....so what? I planned well for my financial future, then the market was challenged, and that causes me to be challenged. HOWEVER, I've faced challenges before, so it's ok:>)

          The good thing, is that we have so many choices! I don't think "the society" is depressing, and if you do, I agree to disagree:>)

          We cannot do anything about who runs for offices, nor can we do anything about who votes, or why they vote as they do. We can run ourselves (which I did once), we can wholeheartedly support people we believe in who are running, and we can vote.

          I don't "expect" anyone to be happy. The only one I can control is myself, and I do the best to stay content:>)

          I know the part about the brain being broken was a joke. You've told me several times that you respect my opinion, and I FOCUS ON THAT!!! LOL:>)

          I AM INDEED A HIPPY DAISY......don't you love it???
          I taught myself to play the guitar in the early 60s, and by the time I was 17 I was singing and playing guitar in bars and lounges. Joan Baez was my role model....absolutely....flowers in the long flowing hair...singing peace songs!!! You are very insightful to notice that my friend:>) Imagine my delight, when I met Joan a few years ago and spent the evening with her and a bunch of other folks I was equally honored to meet and spend time with.....what fun!!! Maybe I'm insane...maybe I'm a genius......maybe I'm simply living life with gusto in each and every moment:>)
    • Aug 27 2012: Interesting concept David, that depression is the natural response to a declining civilisation.

      Please help me out because I'm not that bright. When was the peak of human civilisation again? You know, that time when our ancestors had it so much better than we do... I just can't see it.

      By the way, in psychology they refer to depression in the face of adversity as 'learned helplessness', it is an emotional state in which the subject no longer makes any attempt to improve the situation or alleviate the adverse conditions being imposed on them even after the conditions change and action could be effective.

      So when you ask 'Do you ever think that depression may be the reasonable human response', my answer is a resounding no. It's an understandable response but in no way is it a reasonable response.

      If your reaction to injustices in the world is depression you are no use to any cause that may wish to right the wrong. There will always be wrong in the world, and it's being tackled by those that don't curl up into a depressed ball and lament the state of the world.
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        Aug 27 2012: Personally, for Americans I would argue we had it best in the Clinton era, though the man made several mistakes for which we are now paying. In general, worldwide, things are getting much better, but America, as a nation, was much less violent, xenophobic, and anti science, a mere 12 years ago.

        Also, American citizens had rights, back then, we couldn't be searched or recorded without warrant. We couldn't be imprisoned without trial. We weren't training 18 year old children to kill people with video game controllers attached to flying killer robots.

        I was 18 when 9/11 happened, and America began it's downward decline, into violent madness. Since then, I have felt no desire, to contribute more than exactly what I need to, in order to survive. Volunteering however, is different. I am depressed, because I have learned that far too many people in my country are blissfully, and intentionally unaware, of the major issues we face, so I know that I am helpless to heal the society I live in, and it is doomed to decline.

        Human civillization however, will continue to flourish, and if my ideas can foster that, great. If I'm wrong about being helpless, I am still working for the cause, so I will turn out to be very usefull. To think you as an individual, can completely change a society, that is intentionally burying it's head in the sand is depressing and a bit crazy. I will continue to be a bit crazy, because, hiding my head in the sand to maintain happiness would not help the cause.
        • Aug 28 2012: Fluctuations due to temporary political changes have always occurred, that doesn't describe a trend.

          It's not too far back to the cold war era, as an outside observer I would say your current state of events are far less paranoid and xenophobic than the cold war period.

          I think perhaps you have a rosier picture of the state of your nation in previous times. 18 year olds have always been trained to kill, the draft starts at 18 then moves up by age.

          Civil rights are always fluctuating and have not been significantly eroded in practice in the past decade or so. You have far more scrutiny of changes and breaches to civil rights a la social media and Wikileaks, and civil liberties organisations are stronger and more vocal than ever.

          Everyone has a camera phone now so police are forced to moderate their behaviour.

          I suspect the very mechanisms in place to broadcast violations of civil and human rights is the reason many think these violations are on the rise, whereas the exact opposite may be the case. We are becoming more aware of violations of rights and this discussion and publicising of breaches is what brings it to the forefront of your nations psyche (which is a good thing, but leads some to believe violations are on the rise).

          As for America's decline... maybe, maybe not, hard to tell. I can say this though, as 'atrocious' as America's human rights record may be, their decline will be countered by the rise of china, which is on a totally different level when it comes to rights.
      • Aug 28 2012: Depression = Learned helplessness?

        That's a new one on me.

        What kind of psychology do they teach in Australia?
  • Sep 7 2012: "Firstly what is 'normal?'"

    Normal can be spoken of in 2 ways. First, Something can be called normal if it is an ordered effect of a cause. Thus, if it is that if I see a fish (which is caused by its parents) then I would expect it to swim and use gills because it is ordered to aquatic life. This is normal And in like manner, if I am caused to trip, then I would be expected to fall downwards because as I have mass, I am orderd to gravity. This is normal

    the second way that something can be normal is according to what has come to be understood as normal. A fish normally swims not because we decide it should but because it is ordered to that type of life. But a sombrero, for example, would not be expeceed to denote a Mexican unless it had normally been understood that Sombrero's come from Mexico. In the first type of normalcy, there is a necessity involved. In the second type there is only human convention.

    That which is abnormal can be likewise considered in two ways. In The case of something that is suposed to act according to its nature, but does not. As in the case of the heart that develops a dysrrythmia or a blood vessel that chokes with a clot. The second way is according, to convention, again. Thus I am expected to wear clothing in public. It would be abnormal if I do not. Of course this is locale dependant and is conventional to varying degrees.

    The case comes in when the cause does not express itself as one would expect, yet is still normal. The example would be the fish that is able to remove himself from water and breathe air. But in this case, it is not truly abnromal but a species of fish which is able to air breathe. Yet, any behaviour outside the usual does not automatically mean it can be considered a "new"normal as is the fish who evolves lungs. If I decide that I shall fly off of a cliff., this is never normal. And if I decide that it is, then I am insane to some degree.
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    Aug 29 2012: Depression is such a killer,it's silent.
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    Aug 29 2012: I think that sometimes they are one and the same...at least to a degree. I'm sure that many people thought Einstein was crazy, but we look to him as a pure genius now.
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    Gail .

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    Aug 27 2012: Society is definitely ill, but I predict that that situation will be largely eradicated within the century.

    Science has discovered so much in the last 20 years, that it is very evident that humanity's common worldview is very much in error. What we call "rational" is not very rational. Ultimately, we are all locked in from the world that exists outside of you. But we are disconnected (through lack of awareness) from the world within us, where we are all connected.

    The world within is accessible and magnificent and the isolation disappears within it.

    I am close with my bro (because he's most affected by his schizophrenia). He is terrified of things his voice speaks of, even though I agree wholeheartedly with his voice's teachings. His voice tells him strange things relative to conventional wisdom. My inner voice tells me the same things using different metaphors that "I" can relate to. I"ve talked to mental health workers who recognize this.

    I have to wonder if what I know to be true (now - though not always) were "normal" when he was younger, if he would have been taken down. What if he wasn't forced to conform to what he knew was wrong?
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    Aug 26 2012: Definitely:):) as thrusted by three top TED talks, other three listed above, and Iain McGilchrist's.
    The only person who defines the demarcation line is one's self.
    And as Sir Ken Robinson emphasizes;
    It takes a good teacher / system to cultivate the genius that everyone is born with.
    • Aug 27 2012: Juliette - you've just reminded me that I did actually mean to add Iain McGilchrist's talk to my list! (Have you read his book: 'The Master and his Emissary'? - a v. interesting read!)

      Do you think that the demarcation line can be defined by the self? I'm generalising hugely here, but I think geniuses may be prone to introspection, leading to possible negativity if their gift is unrecognised - and thus inaccurate placement of that line?

      Your point about teaching is massively important. Certainly in UK, standardised education seems to have an unfortunate ability to only produce standardised students. Gifted children go unrecognised, who may then go on into life to experience mental health problems - or even insanity.
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        Aug 27 2012: .............from time to time I catch myself remembering that “ Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. ” - (Albert Einstein).
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    Aug 26 2012: Well they're both labelled to be extreme cases of their respective quality.
    • Aug 26 2012: Thanks for your reply James.

      So do you think that the two extremities are linked in any way, and does the labelling seek to divide rather than unite?
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        Aug 26 2012: It's hard to say because genius is related to IQ, but insanity seems broader and less specific to genius.
  • Aug 25 2012: I have heard it said that there is a fine line between insanity and genius.
    I think which side you land on is how successful you are.
    Mental illness is a totally separate entity, in which brain malfunctions cause damages and such.
    • Aug 26 2012: Hi Scott. Appreciate your reply.

      How do you measure success?

      Are you suggesting that genius has to be connected to success in order for it to be 'released'?

      What do you think that genius was seen as, before the time of recognition?
      • Aug 27 2012: no I was saying that in order for a person to be considered genius rather than insane it depends on how successful what they where doing/thinking was. for example Columbus was considered insane for thinking the world was round, turns out he though outside the box and is considered somewhat of a genius. Or if you go military, if a general tries something that is completely unorthadox and it works he is considered a genius, if it doesn't he could be branded anything from insane to incompetant.

        And in this case success is defined by the end result being the original intention
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    Aug 25 2012: I would for intense argue that this is not inherent to public opinion but public opinion is molded by a strongly ideological and dogmatic culture, ie nationalism, religion etc., as oppossed to a creative and productive culture.
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    Aug 25 2012: If you are interested in the question of how mental illness and genius are related, I can recommend a book on a nearby topic- the relationship between madness and creative genius. Kay Jamieson's book Touched with Fire provides a detailed study of that topic which shows, among other things, that there is a strong correlation between bipolar illness and creative genius and also a strong correlation between creativity and having blood relatives with bipolar illness.

    She discusses schizophrenia as well.
    • Aug 25 2012: Thanks for the book recommendation Fritzie. It looks really interesting.

      What are your thoughts on why we put labels on others?

      I'm thinking that maybe it is to do with an innate need to categorize others into 'types', but maybe that's too simplistic?
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        Aug 25 2012: I think we use labels typically to reduce cognitive load. That is, when we act we do that on the basis of models that we accept because predictions from them have worked adequately for us in the past. Models do not include all the details of situations, but rather they exclude differences we don't expect from our experience to be of great importance for the matter at hand.

        I think our ability to take action depends on being able to categorize situations that are not identical but seem similar enough to combine for purposes of the decisions and judgments we are considering.

        Labels represent categories we use to in our models.

        The omissions and abbreviations will lead to errors, but we are cognitively unable to process information without abbreviating details

        There are also situations in which labels are used strategically to persuade, for example in politics and advertising.