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  Mad Geniuses

Weirdness Posted by Mordecai Shapiro on Tuesday December 19, @04:20PM
from the wutz-dis-association? dept.

A fascinating capsule review appeared in a recent issue of New Scientist: “Why does schizophrenia persist in the population when it should have bred itself out generations ago? Some believe it adds to the gene pool a capacity for leaps of thought, giving rise to our greatest and most dangerous thinkers. In Prophets, Cults, and Madness, evolutionary psychiatrists Anthony Stevens and John Price argue that cult leaders from Abraham to David Koresh show schizotypal traits causing them to form splinter groups, thus driving the evolution of society.”

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**Re: Mad Geniuses**
by Tim Maroney on Tuesday December 19, @07:37PM

I'll have to read that. Also well worth reading in this connection is Len Oakes' Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities (Syracuse University Press, 1997), which analyzes spiritual leadership specifically from the perspective of clinical narcissism.


**Re: Mad Geniuses**
by <Xnoubis> on Thursday December 21, @04:30PM

I took a psychology class in High School. One of our final assignments was to describe a general theory of mental illness. At the time, I took the stance that mental illness was just a matter of looking at things so differently from other people that society couldn't tolerate you. The instructor commented on my paper: “I'm surprised that you'd come to that conclusion after taking my class. But you might be interested in the works of R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz.” So I read a little of both, not really enough to do either one justice. I remember thinking that Laing was a more compelling writer, but that Szasz more closely resembled my train of thought.

While I still think that the “Politics of Experience” is one of the major considerations in many kinds of mental illness, I've come around to thinking that the inability to work with others' reality models is a real disorder. I get the impression that Salvador Dali lived in a world all his own, but for most of his life he was able to function in the same world as the rest of us. I've heard some sad stories of his declining years, but not much detail, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up effectively insane, as his contact with the everyday world dissipated. Tesla might be another example.

Might there be something similar that happens with religious leaders? Colin Wilson is certainly not a credible historian, but in his history, The Occult, he makes an interesting observation that almost all of the great mages display a career curve of a great ascent followed by a dramatic and prolonged decline. Maybe it's true that the strength of vision necessary to promulgate a new spiritual path is often accompanied by a weakness in adjusting to the intricacies of established reality.

Madness still Adaptive?\\
by matt crouch on Sunday December 31, @06:31AM
“At the time, I took the stance that mental illness was just a matter of looking at things so differently from other people that society couldn't tolerate you”\\
I dont see how this view is inconsistent with your later idea that “the inability to work with others' reality models is a real disorder.”\\

What is a 'real' disorder?\\

The way we look at things–How we perceive reality–is a function of our biochemistry, roughly. There seems to be a good reason that our models of reality should be accurate, of course, since tigers bite more often they sing the macarena and people who chew on rocks dont get much nutritional value. Hence, 'rational'thinking (meshing with the mathematical/scientific model of the universe, that, depite its seeming arbitrariness, seems to work pretty well) and enough of an overlap in the way our brains work to permit meaningful communication.\\

However(to perhaps recap your argument. Not intentonally patronizing, just reviewing)

No physical processs is perfect, so we can't all be clones and precisely share a system for figuring stuff out and seeing truth only (even if such existed). Each of us is a little bit different. Our brains are different. The way we distort reality (perceive) varies at least between individuals and within a single individual over time. Most of the time This variation is harmless; in such cases, there is no selective pressure to remove the trait. Variation permits a species to collectively respond to a changing environment, and if everybody saw things the same way, they'd probably react to events in more or less in the same manner. And die.

Sometimes, people see such a differnet picture of realtiy that “we cannot tolerate them”, for evolutionary reasons. They hurt everybody else too much. So we call them crazy and burn them, imprison them, ridicule them and, at all costs, exile them from the community. We call them mad, but how differently their picture of reality needs to be is arbitrary. In the long run, we are all more or less mad.

Sometimes, we get people who can see old things in such a new beneficial way that the entire human organism shifts its perspective a bit. Everybody is helped. If madness is defined by having a perspectice radically different from the accepted versoin of reality, all our scientists, artists, and other visionaries are guity of madness.

In the past, our (lack of) power was such that we could afford a few mistakes – A few chieftains who went nuts and caused a few jyhads or cut off their ears didnt do enough bad, evolutionarily, to outweigh the good that the other crazies (think Da Vinci or Einstein) managed to do.

Finally: the point. What about now? Is our species' tendency to vary our brains and effectively 'create madness' adaptive? Think Kruschev and Kennedy. We have so much power that a single 'mistake' could kill us. And were gonna have a hell of a lot more power soon enough, what with nanotech and AI and Genetic Engineering and whatever else the crazies manage to think up next. Soon, even posistions of political or social power will not be necessary–everybody will have enough power (knowledge) to hurt or help lots of others. A lot of people, anyway. A Dali or Van Goh in decline located anywhere in society could be fatal.

Our power has evolved too rapidly for our biology or even our social institutions to repsond. I wonder what will happen next? No more madness or no more humans?

Have 'mages' and other radical visoinaries outgrown their usefulness? Can we afford to do anything but promote more or less fundamental accord? Kinda scary question to somebody who cherisheds the weird and the 'free' thought as much as its thinker.


  • |Re: Madness still Adaptive?\\
    by <Xnoubis> on Wednesday January 03, @01:03PM

    > I dont see how this view is inconsistent with\\
    > your later idea that “the inability to work\\
    > with others' reality models is a real\\
    > disorder.”\\
    Good point. I should have made it clear that, in my high school days, I felt that the fault was entirely upon the judgmentalism of “consensus society,” and not at all upon the mentally anomalous.\\

**Re: Mad Geniuses**
by David R. Jones on Saturday December 30, @03:49PM

As an aside does anyone have any of David Koresh's music?

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