Creativity, Psychosis & Human Evolution: A Panglossian Perspective?!
Venkatasubramanian Ganesan, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences
Aristotle’s famous quote “there is no great genius without a mixture of madness” aptly signifies the enigmatic relationship between “creativity” and “insanity”; indeed, the quest to understand this enigma has been persistent since past many centuries. Adaptive evolutionary theorists argue that the natural selection should have eliminated gene pools that confer any risk towards psychosis especially since these illnesses adversely impact fecundity; hence, persistence of these illnesses supports the view of associated adaptive advantages – creativity is one such postulated benefit. Lateralized brain function is regarded as one of the critical event underlying the evolution of Homo sapiens. The correlates of creativity with aberrant hemispheric lateralization support the link between creativity and human brain evolution. Interestingly, aberrant hemispheric lateralization has also been demonstrated in psychoses. Recent neurobiological research works have further strengthened the elusive link between creativity and insanity. For example, a biologically relevant polymorphism of the promoter region of the neuregulin 1 gene, which is linked with schizophrenia, has been shown to be associated with creativity in people with high intellectual and academic performance. Another interesting recent observation is the relationship between decreased thalamic dopamine receptor density and creativity; it is noteworthy that dopamine is one of the important neurotransmitters implicated in psychoses and thalamus deficit is a replicated research finding in schizophrenia. The link between creativity and psychiatry extends much beyond psychoses implicating autism spectrum disorders. However, a critique on current status of postulated evolutionary links between creativity & psychosis might argue that such speculations are ‘panglossian’. Nonetheless, such research attempts emphasize the need for much neglected “distal etiology-based” approaches in contemporary psychiatry research since “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.
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