Isaac Newton, the father of gravity, was wildly neurotic. Unsolved problems bred a simmering anxiety alleviated only by solutions. His mind worked 24/7, spawning and testing hypotheses. He couldn’t help it. He explained, perhaps euphemistically, that he would “keep the subject constantly before [him].” His friends and colleagues explained it more concisely: he was neurotic. It was a double-edged sword: he was often miserable, but also enormously creative. He shared this blessing and curse with many of humanity’s most creative geniuses: Michelangelo, Darwin, Dickens, and more recently, Tesla, Einstein and Scorcese.
Still, despite this common thread of genius, neuroses have traditionally been viewed as entirely counterproductive: a simple neurologic magnification of perceived threats. It was only very recently that neurobiologist Adam Perkins decided to use FMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to explore the issue more deeply. He found that the brains of highly creative and neurotic people are like “storm-cloud factories.” Their brains spontaneously generate threats/problems (i.e., storm clouds) inspired by daily experience and then ceaselessly analyze them in search of clearer skies. “Keeping the subject before them” is not a conscious effort–it is neurologically hard-wired. The result is–along with increased rates of anxiety and depression–increased levels of creativity. Indeed, genius and insanity are better visualized by a Venn diagram rather than the proverbial “thin line” that was once thought to divide them.
Still curious? Check out this recent article by the Atlantic to learn more.