The Psychopathology of Genius

August 11, 2014 2:13 PM

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The Psychopathology of Genius

Following the recent and popular article on the "Secrets of the Creative Brain" in The Atlantic magazine issue for the month of July, there has been an increased amount of discussion on where genius comes from and why it is often accompanied by mental illness. The age-old view that genius and madness are linked has its roots in classical Greece. Aristotle believed that, "those who have become eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia." Seneca stated that, "no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness." And Socrates said that the poet has "no invention in him until he has been inspired and out of his senses." Around the 19th century, the notion of madness and genius had become all but dogma, and many eminent psychiatrists devoted their lives to studying the pathological traits of genius.

The advent of psychoanalysis reinforced the espoused idea that madness and genius are linked. Sigmund Freud saw creative genius as a sign of neurosis. (1) Indeed, almost any outstanding achievement was suspect to some sort of psychopathology. Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Baker Eddy, Dostoevsky, and Woodr...

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