Top 5 Mad Geniuses
Though we may not know what a high IQ has to do with mental illness, brilliant people often strike us as more than a bit nutty.
Is insanity the secret companion to genius? Though we can’t very well perform psychological examinations on those who are long dead, that hasn’t stopped historians from speculating about the mental conditions of deceased geniuses by interpreting their personal letters, their works and others’ accounts. It turns out some of the world’s greatest geniuses were quite mad. In fact, some scientists claim that a far greater percentage of creative types (poets, painters, musicians and the like) have been afflicted with bipolar disorder than the general population. Some of the world’s most renowned creative minds, including writers Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway; composers Irving Berlin and Sergey Rachmaninoff; and painters Paul Gauguin and Jackson Pollock are all believed to have suffered
from the illness.
Despite evidence of a link between genius and madness, no one has proved that such a link exists. However, scientists at the University of Toronto have discovered that creative people possess little to no “latent inhibition,” the unconscious ability to reject unimportant or irrelevant stimuli. As University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson puts it, “This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment. 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.”
Let’s take a look at these mad geniuses – the famous thinkers and artists who may have experienced mental illness. First, we’ll inspect the modern case of John Nash, whose schizophrenia has been sensationalized by Hollywood.
1: John Nash (1928 – )
The award-winning film “A Beautiful Mind” popularized the story of John Nash. Nash is a world-renowned mathematician who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia after coming up with significant contributions to the concept of game theory. The idea of the “Nash Equilibrium,” which discusses whether players in a game can benefit if one of them changes a strategy, can be applied to various fields, including economics. The U. S. Military even adopted tactics based off his ideas to use for the Cold War.
Although the film (based on Sylvia Nasar’s biography of the same name) takes liberties with the true story of Nash’s life, he did experience hallucinations and delusions. His hallucinations included hearing voices, but not seeing people or things that weren’t there. He began to have delusions of grandeur and believed that major world figures were out to get him. After spending about 30 years struggling with the disorder and spending time in and out of hospitals, he was able to make a significant recovery in the late 1980s. In 1994, John Nash received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his early work with game theory.
John Nash suggests that irrational thought actually has its benefits. Discussing his recovery from schizophrenia, Nash remarks that it is not “entirely a matter of joy” for him. He explains: “One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos”
2: Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, such as “Starry Night” are quickly recognizable by their unique brushwork and expression.