Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams, Creative Genius & Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depression)

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“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence– whether much that is glorious– whether all that is profound– does not spring from disease of thought– from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.” - Edgar Allan Poe


Monday the world was rocked by news that Robin Williams, famous comedian and actor, had committed suicide by hanging himself at age 63:

Robin's often manic comedy routines reflected how he suffered from the underlying mental "illness" of bipolar disorder, what was once called manic-depression.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by regular and persistent large swings in mood and thinking between euphoric highs (mania or hypomania) and despairing lows (depression). The risk of suicide among those with the disorder is high at greater than 6% over 20 years.  It is estimated that three percent of the U.S. population will suffer from bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.

Since the death of Robin Williams will bring attention to bipolar disorder, I'd like to share my own research on the topic that some may find of interest.

First off, while manic-depression is classified as a mental "disorder", this is somewhat misleading in that the condition is consistently found with many of the most creative geniuses in history. 
Among famous comedians, on top of Robin Williams, some other entertainment personalities believed to have bipolar disorder are Russell Brand, Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle and John Cleese (and now deceased Jonathan Winters).
In a recent study of 523 comedians, the following was found:
The study supports the notion that comedians, like other creative people, are high on psychosis traits. The high scores of comedians in all psychotic traits do not mean that comedians (or actors) are psychotic or have mental problems. This is just a survey and not a clinical diagnosis 
However, the results might suggest that psychotic characteristics are the basis of stand-up comedy, or that people who pursue comedy as a career (remember, most of the subjects in this study were amateurs) have some characteristics of people suffering from schizophrenia or mania. What is perhaps surprising is the very high scores comedians achieved on these scales compared to other creative people. 
The authors interpret the results as showing a strong tendency toward being bipolar. On one hand, the comedians scored high on antisocial and depressive traits, but on the other hand, they scored high on the manic trait, which if true, does characterize people suffering from bipolar. 
Bipolar disorder is also quite prevalent among top musical artists. Some classical composers (more) thought to have been manic-depressive are Beethoven, Mozart, WagnerTchaikovsky, Handel, Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Brahms and Schumann.

As for modern famous musicians, the list is so extensive I've created a YouTube playlist, "THE MONSTER?: Bipolar Musicians", comprised of popular songs from bipolar artists:

For the manic-depressive artists used for my YouTube music video playlist, see HERE. It's obviously a who's who of the music industry.

What's remarkable, is that bipolar "disorder" is not only prevalent among leaders in music and comedy, it's commonly found with the greatest minds in history across a variety of fields, e.g., Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Mahatma GandhiMartin Luther King,  Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Ted Turner, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, etc., etc.

So is manic-depression really a mental "disorder"?  Indeed, it's increasingly being recognized that bipolar disorder is quite often a key to "creative genius".  From the U.K. Independent article, "You don't have to be bipolar to be a genius – but it helps", we read:
Scientists have for the first time found powerful evidence that genius may be linked with madness. 
Speculation that the two may be related dates back millennia, and can be found in the writings of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Aristotle once claimed that "there is no great genius without a mixture of madness", but the scientific evidence for an association has been weak – until now. 
A study of more than 700,000 adults showed that those who scored top grades at school were four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average grades. 
The link was strongest among those who studied music or literature, the two disciplines in which genius and madness are most often linked in historical records.
In books like Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament and The Key to Genius: Manic-Depression and the Creative Life, authors examine the link between manic-depression and the greatest creative minds the world has known.


What's even more intriguing is that, if a psychiatric diagnosis were applied to man as a species, and American society in particularly, it would be the same as that for Robin Williams and other great creative geniuses: bipolar disorder.

In a 2011 PsychologyToday article, "We Need a Bipolar President: A Bipolar Solution To Our Bipolar Economy", we read the following:
In recent months, discussions about the boom and bust cycles of our economy going back to the Great Depression have been the focus of many news stories. During boom cycles, too many of us experience periods of inflated feelings of power or delusions of grandeur, characterized by excessive risk taking and out of control spending. During bust cycles, many of us experience periods of indecisiveness, black and white thinking, loss of energy and fatigue, even feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. These reactions are classic symptoms of bipolar disorder.
I spent most of the 1990s in graduate school studying economics.  During that time, outside of my classwork, I devoted a great deal of time researching technical analysis of the stock market by famous Wall Street analysts.  While in class I was being taught about market "rationality", efficient markets and the random walk of stock prices, my own investigation into the behavior of financial markets found that the stock market and the economy swung between bull market booms and bear market busts.

This manic-depressive character of market economies was so historically obvious, I concluded that the "general equilibrium" economic theory I was learning in graduate school was just plain wrong and in an extensive master's thesis I proposed an opposing theory of economic behavior that I entitled, "Manic-Depressive Man" (please read the 2009 epilogue to understand my perspective).

The truth of the matter is that man as a species collectively thinks and behaves like a mad bipolar genius who swings between periods of extremely productive creative manias and prolonged phases of destructive despair, depression and war.  This "Global Bipolar Disorder" has spearheaded the rapid technological development, growth and change of recent history.  Indeed, the very essence of creative human life seems embodied in the spirit of the bipolar geniuses that have headlined our history.

So is this really a "disorder" as psychiatry has classified the mad moodiness of certain creative individuals who apparently characterize the temperament and mentality of our species as-a-whole?  Or is manic-depression the blessing and curse of the mind of the very Creator of this incredible and profound story in which we dwell?  Could it be the soul of God?

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