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A Brilliant Madness About John Forbes Nash

1700 words - 7 pages

“To some extent insanity is a form of conformity; people are always selling the idea that people who have mental illness are suffering. But it’s really not so simple…I think mental illness or madness can be an escape also” (qtd. in “John Forbes Nash”). To many “normal” people, the terms “insanity” or “madness” portray a negative connotation-- the unfortunate ones “suffer” from mental illness. However, brilliant mathematician and Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash, who has paranoid schizophrenia, cherishes his unique condition as a means of retreat from the brutalities of reality (“John Forbes Nash”). Since ancient times, people have observed the link between madness and creative genius. Indeed, research has proven that the two conditions of psychology display similar characteristics, both behaviourally and genetically. Unfortunately, this subject remains quite ambiguous, and science may never fully grasp the concept (Griffith 626; Ludwig 5; Simonton; Neihart). Although it lacks in hard facts, many compelling theories arise from this field of study: a little madness may bolster creative genius, but too much madness can overpower the creativity and kill the genius. The right amount of insanity can produce positive results.
To comprehend the relationship between genius and madness, one must first establish the definitions and understand the history of the two mental dispositions. In very general terms, a genius represents one who has achieved exceptional eminence through creative thought and who possesses the ability to see and think outside the scope of standard logic in a productive form (Simonton; Griffith 627; Neihart). A genius typically has a high IQ score and bears certain characteristics, such as impulsiveness, self-confidence, versatility, and non-conformity. In addition, he/she may have tendencies toward risk-taking and work-addiction (Simonton; “Genius or Madness?”). On the other hand, a person considered mentally insane may not have control of his/her own conscience and thus cannot discern between reality and imagination, resulting in destructive behavior. The skill of visualizing concepts and ideas foreign to the normal mind also resides in an insane person; however, this ability exists as a result of losing touch with reality (Griffith 627; Neihart).
Many factors hinder a truly effective study of and conclusion to the relationship between genius and insanity. For instance, who determines a genius? One can measure neither creativity nor madness, for these two factors are purely objective and up to the discretion of the individual carrying out the test (Simonton; Weisberg 362). In addition, the measures of genius and madness may simply depend on the culture and time period; Galileo, the famed astronomer who proved the Copernican theory that the planets revolved around the sun, a presently obvious but at the time completely heretical idea, was deemed a madman by the Roman Catholic Church (Ludwig 12; “Genius or Madness?”). The issue...

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