Intelligence and Insanity

It's a fine line separating intelligence and insanity. According to a new study, the same gene that makes you smarter also makes you more likely to go crazy:

Most people inherit a version of a gene that optimizes their brain's thinking circuitry, yet also appears to increase risk for schizophrenia, a severe mental illness marked by impaired thinking, scientists at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have discovered. The seeming paradox emerged from the first study to explore the effects of variation in the human gene for a brain master switch, DARPP-32.

The researchers identified a common version of the gene and showed how it impacts the way two key brain regions exchange information, affecting a range of functions from general intelligence to attention.

Three fourths of subjects studied had at least one copy of the version that results in more efficient filtering of information processed by the brain's executive hub, the prefrontal cortex. However, the same version was also more prevalent among people who developed schizophrenia, a severe mental illness marked by delusions, hallucinations and impaired emotion that affects one percent of the population.

This actually makes sense. The human brain is a pattern-making machine. We imagine causality and see intentionality everywhere. Schizophrenics suffer from an excess of patterns.* (A delusion is just the perception of a pattern that doesn't actually exist.) So it's entirely plausible that the same gene that endows with us the machinery to detect patterns (this involves the prefrontal cortex) is also involved with the machinery underlying madness. As G.K. Chesterton once said, "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

*The firing rates of dopamine neurons are largely responsible for our pattern detection abilities, at least when it comes to rewarding stimuli. Dopamine has also been implicated in many of the symptoms of schizophrenia, which seem to be partially caused by an excess of certain dopamine receptor subtypes.

More like this

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact:

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,

That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,

Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy;

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush supposed a bear!"

[A Midsummer Night's Dream. Act V. Scene i].

I wonder if this explains what philosophers have been speculating about for centuries: smart people have relatively high rates of mental illnesses such as depression.

Depression is also associated with deficits in prefrontal cortical activity.

It's an interesting argument because it explains why diseases like depression and schizophrenia would persist in a population -- they are associated with traits that are positively selected for.

IIRC, mesolimbocortical dopaminergic hyperactivity is caused by frontal hypoactivity, which is caused not by a loss of grey matter but a loss of neuropil (dendrites, terminal buttons etc). Thus the key line would be:

"...results in more efficient filtering of information processed by the brain's executive hub"

Maybe a considerable loss of neuropil results in more efficient information processing (as in synaptic pruning in infancy); perhaps schizophrenia is therefore the maladapative end of this process, with too much neuropil being lost. Just a thought.

There are differences between incidences of madness in different fields of employment. These are not necessarily about how stressful the job is (cops, dentists, examples of high stress). Anecdotally, scientists have slightly higher than average levels of madness within the general population; Mathematicians have higher levels than Scientists as a whole; and Logicians have higher levels than mathematicians in general.

Chess grandmasters have high levels of madness at times. There was a psychotic world champion (urinated in public at a match); and the sad case of Bobby Fischer, who saw deeper into Chess than anyone before him. Vladimir Nabokov has an entire novel from the viewpoint of a world champion contender (Luzhin) going mad at the tournament, eventually comitting suicide while believeing this to be a clever sacrifice, strategically. In English: "The Defense." In Russian: "The Luzhin Defense" (a triple pun, including on "Illusion").

I quoted Shakespeare, a few comments above, because of his tremendous insight into human nature, and the popularity of that quote.

The 2006 tale of a great Russian Mathematician (Perelman) solving one of the greatest unsolved problems in Math (the Poincare Conjecture) but refusing the Fields prize (top award in Math) has raised public awareness. Moreso, with a controversial New Yorker article on this, which painted the top Chinese Mathematician as the villain.

Other professions have lower than average incidences of madness. I have heard it said: "a writer doesn't want to be crazy in just one way."

Hormones can affect this? The lady astronaut in adult diapers -- high stress career, perhaps breakdown triggered by breakup with husband 3 weeks before alleged attempted murder. In her defense, I'd suggest that the stress of NASA flight competition plus unknown hormonal effects of weightlessness had unknown neurochemical effects. Hence, temporary insanity.

The case of John Forbes Nash, Jr., as fictionalized somewhat in "A Beautiful Mind" may be the best known such story in the general public now. Genius Mathematician goes mad, stays mad a long time, gradually recovers, wins Nobel Prize. I've met and talked with Nash, his wife, and their son at lengths. They like the movie, despite its Hollywoodizations. Nash is still doing good origonal research. The film is lauded by psychiatrists, who consider it the best portrayal of schizophrenia on film.

Psychiatrists have high incidence of madness. I once had to get a Temporary Restraining Order against a clinical psychologist who stopped taking her medications, on the grounds that they interfered with her "telepathic abilities." She drove my business into closing, by filling my answering machine with 30 minutes of incoherence every day, and coming to my office and threatening to come to my home for an imaginary triple marriage between her, me, and my wife.

I was once fired from (correcting for inflation) my $120,000/year job as a senior engineer on the Space Shuttle. This was caused by a pathological liar, a psychopath plagiarist, who sent documents to management (which convinced them) that I was close to being a genius, but that genius was very close to insanity. He then accused me of carrying a gun in a secure Federal facility (through which one had to pass through a metal detector), and Security believed him, without ever telling me that I had been accused.

There is a recent popular book on psychopaths being succesful in the workplace: "Snakes in Suits."

In Art, as opposed to Science, there is the terribly self-destructive romantic myth that the artists SHOULD drive himself/herself to the brink of madness, for the sake of Art. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, "systematic derangement of ther senses."

There was the Harvard study, as a book 2 or 3 years ago on the relationship of Genius with Madness. This is a very deep subject. Thank you for airing it.

One final phrase: "Mad Scientist!"

The earth is ruled and consumed by unthinking, unfeeling savages and those who go against all conscience to play that role.

Those who go beyond or are beyond become pariahs: labeled, persecuted, and crucified.

Now the science proves it.

Which makes more logical sense: that the gene that causes superior mental functioning also causes impairment? Or that the animals who run this farm are afraid of the vastly superior mind because they don't understand it and because of the threat that it represents to their own power and worldview?

By mineshaft canary (not verified) on 12 Feb 2007 #permalink

Canary, those two options are not mutually exclusive.

By fullerenedream (not verified) on 12 Feb 2007 #permalink

Impairment is an interesting word - there are theories about the evolutionary development of the brain that suggests schizophrenia was perfectly normal thousands of years ago - a of a completely bicameral brain - that is left and right worked independently, no corpus callosum exchanging data. The result was hallucination, religiosity, even influence in the formation of art (among other things). The theory (which has been around a while) has not received universal acceptance but it is meaningful in considering how we define impairment.

Today bipolar disorder is the cause d'jour (but seriously folks can there REALLY be that many bipolar people?.) As you mention with schizophrenia there is research that bipolar personalities are the inventors, the explorers etc - and that without them we would not have made the discoveries that we have as a species. When does illness become gift and vica versa.

Along a similar vein - insights into autism show that they have 'sensory filtering' differences as well. Autistics cannot filter sensory data, the overload makes integration difficult and causes severe behavioral reactions to the environment. Yet there are approaches which can mitigate this for many.

It seems that perception and integration of sensory data exist on a gradient. What is defined as impairment is to SOME degree what serves the social and environmental needs of our current environment. Today we can modify those attributes, often through drugs (and we can even produce them through drugs). However, there is also a growing consideration of the fact that stress and environmental factors are as significant as any underlying genetic predisposition - give anyone the right environment and some maladaptive component of their biology will display itself. It is perhaps dangerous to assume that a specific biological make up will produce genius or madness.

Equally we discover that the brain is far more flexible in adaptation than was believed. But to modify our brain functions using our brain requires effort and skill training. Babies do not have the filters or integration power of adults, (thus some of their behavior may seem odd) - but through the years they develop it from socialization and experience. That capacity we now discover does not go away. It is important to consider that we create a stressful and demanding environment but we have not adapted cognitive tools to handle this for most members of society (at least in the Western culture).

I do not mean to imply that schizophrenia is not an 'illness' or that it is caused solely by environment. Rather I am suggesting that the notion of genius and madness being a fine line suggests far more than a marker for illness.

The factors (consider the post about the Churchlands) which produce the individual and their consciousness are not so neatly tied up in dopamine levels a mistake we seem to be making in our approach to mental illness.

Hi Magpie,

There is indeed some research available that suggests that schizophrenia results from an excessive pruning of neural connections and that this carries forward in adulthood too. UCLA psychologists had provided time-scale movies on normal and schizophrenic brain development and I'm sure you'll find them very relevant.

The reason for branding intellegence as insanity.Is nothing than a mere stealth of persecution and control.People are afraid of change and growth.Their afraid of relaity.Ones who don't live in relaity don't understand what is goig on in the real world.Its a rule made for playing it safe.I mean, yes there are a lot of dangerous criminals with to much intellegence.Intellegence of high degree is a power.They can be a threat.Their is the genius of evil and the genius of good.And unfortunately the good are uprooted with bad.Which puts a great hurt on society.The most dangerous intellegence isn't really intellegence at all .But carried though ignorance...Its the psychiatrists .They have to much power.People want less arguements,less protests,less voices to be heard. To keep the economy going.They want peace.So they create a fantasy world and destroy Gods order in the process.The geniuses are the prophets of the times.They are destroyed .There are many types of geniuses.and emotional geniuses are just not accepted .Just the systematical geniuses .They don't have to have human insight .So they play it safe.Making it unsafe.The thing is .The people who take control are ignorant.The blind trying to lead the seeing.Judging and speaking things without knowledge.Its a mere persecution .Insight has nothing to do with what genes someone has.It has something to do with seeking outside of themsleves .The prophets of Gods design being hindered.Is the reason why this world is spiritually starving.This world is made up of one big popularity contest.In what people want.and its all about self power.A mathmatician doesn't make a genius.An empatheitc soul does.And a heart to revive what is dying.The love of God(reality).and the power by God to change the direction of a lost world and enlighten with the knowledge of God other than what one creates in their own imagination.What does a genius benefit the wolrd if they are geniuses with an inanimate object.People with so called great minds forced to only be appraised and focus on dead things.There are the geniuses of humanity.To buzy condemning and analyzing.Every sufferer is meantally ill.and every un-emapthetic and every person who has no idea what is going on in the world is normal.Just as long as they are continuously smiling and saying positive things.People who are not insane as they say.Are saying in their souls:stop bothering us with reality.Can't you see we are blessed with happiness.Who cares they say.But they are accepted and the mourners of this world isn't.WHo is to heal the world ? God always spoke and guided through the prophets.

By Prophetess Theresa (not verified) on 15 Feb 2008 #permalink

Psychaitrists are mere servents for a society that wants to prove there is no God.So they condem people who show creativity and genius differences.They are the most powerful pagan religion there is.They can't murder prophets.So they pill them up and send them away.The world is misguided into ignorance and kept that false ideas and veering the mind into ones self.They are branding past geniuses as bipolor.Saying"creative people"are mentally ill.The thing is they are rare out of the majority and cast off as different and the majority is the normal.All the delusional are anyone who has different beliefs than the accepted society.Those unique people are oppressed.either catering to large demands of a selfish society.Or the judgements of how one is suppose to be by ignorance.shrinking thier minds into their small ideas .Into their boxes.They are grieved on evey side .As they are not appreciated.and when they are angered the ignorant say "see" ..See ...They see truth and speak it .When one does not want it known.People don't want to accept wrong .and admit they knew nothing in all thier vain glory.society teaches to supres truth.society teaches to suppress emotions,and if you have them .You are crazy...These oppressors make life menaingless to the ones who want to give life meaning,to the ones who seek it, and know that there is something greater.Soem need to be fed.some are asleep and need to be awakened.some are hindered and have nothing to make them thrive.they are in waiting.for a chance to have thier light seen.all the talk about chemachal embalnce and not enough or to much dopamine is just passing around someone elses lie.

By Prophetess Theresa (not verified) on 15 Feb 2008 #permalink

Schizophrenics are mostly caused by damage to the brain of medications.and in some cases damage from street drugs.A psychiatrists will not admit the damage they cause to people.And all mostly it started with depression which is a normal response.To a lack of uderstanding and/or idiosyncratic personality to ones enviroment or misguided and a consequence of poor descisions.Which a pill does not correct these things .Everyone is a product of their enviroment,rather in oppostion to or in relation.Many people are misdiagnosed by lack of perception.It does exist that people are unenlightened and have blind percetion.Its been recorded 2,000 years ago ..and minds were opened.We live in a society of secrets ,elitism,and mind your own business,and "were impotant and your not".and everyones answer is the rejected have mental illness .The creative ...if they speak and branded a manic episode for being talkative or being assertive...These are a violation of thought ...a descrimination of charachter ...People who want to shut people up.Saying people who have a flight of ideas ..flight of ideas are great minds are being used .To discover,to stimulate,to seek ,to thrive.and if people are spirutally stupor and support the economy and just smile .Then thats ok ..The DSM has every charachteristic cornered for control.And the only ones who are accepted is who they choose.The ones who have communion with God are of mental illness, of grandiose,a mere act to destroy people of God.because someones opinioated ideas says there is no God and look around those who destroy humanity.Because of these false philosophies.

By Prophetess Theresa (not verified) on 15 Feb 2008 #permalink

After reading this posting, I am greatly relieved. I have often "seen" the answers to various problems while trying to build an idea into an invention. I could never explain where these images come from and have have worried about it from time to time. I am not saying I am very smart, I am just expressing some releif that maybe I am not totally insane.

From a ScienceDaily report (in 2005):

New research on individuals with schizotypal personalities � people characterized by odd behavior and language but who are not psychotic or schizophrenic � offers the first neurological evidence that they are more creative than either normal or fully schizophrenic individuals, and rely more heavily on the right sides of their brains than the general population to access their creativity.

The work by Vanderbilt psychologists Brad Folley and Sohee Park was published online last week by the journal Schizophrenia Research.

Psychologists believe that a number of famous creative luminaries, including Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Isaac Newton, had schizotypal personalities.

Full report: Odd Behavior And Creativity May Go Hand-in-hand

ok now that i know intelligence is linked to thinking impairment, in order to prevent mental impairment of any kind ill try to think less intelligent thoughts. wait wut?

Neuro"science" yeah,thats a good laugh.

If you brake it down and forget all the day to day madness forget jargon and science we are but creatures simple ones at that....

visulise the world

the human race is made up of different types of people

some are leaders

some are followers...

don't doubt this until you have read more.

The brain capicity and general intelect is higher in the leaders.

They have too much information to be able to process it all.

they need the followers to help build their empire, one without the other is useless.

If they have no followers the information collects and they cannot concentrate on one objective for long enough to see it through.

Working for others does not help

unless they find the way to unleash their creativity

they will end up depressed and insane

it would be an interesting study to see if mentaly impared people were given leadership projects would it brake the cycle?

I see this post is a little delayed, and Theresa may well be long gone, but as a ivy league educated high functioning schizophrenic, I think Theresa (religious views aside) holds the opinions and of some schizophrenics I know who refuse medication and who are, in my opinion, more symptomatic for it. (This may or may not be true, of course, but it seems very apparent to me). Unlike Theresa, I am deeply grateful for the medication that I am on, for my therapists, and psychiatrists. I would not be here today if it weren't for these things. To each his own, of course.

I just wanted to say I deeply appreciate the G K Chesterton quotation. It rings very true to me. I am a very rational person and when I am delusional I not only am involved in an intense meaning- and pattern-making described in the article above, but also feel intensely rational. Then again, I have talked to people who don't exist about the conspiracies enveloping me and the fact that there is a difference between being rational and rationalizing. And that Occam's razor (which gave me pause in my ranting) was not really a part of logic, and so my conspiracy isn't disproved. A more complicated description of things (a conspiracy) may still be the truth, even tho it is more complicated. (Instead Occam's razor is much more like common sense, something that I lack at the time.)

In addition, I'd just like to add my other favorite quote
on this subject:

"What's madness but nobility of the soul/ At odds with circumstance?" (Roethke).

For those of you who put this information up and commented on it, thank you. I have made the same kind of connections but mearly thought it further proved i was insane. I realize now that im not insane, and it helps alot to know that there are people out there who understand.