I just came across this interesting article about how research using some sort of brain scanning technology noted similarities between the brains of highly creative people and the brains of people with schizophrenia, notably fewer receptors of a particular kind. From the article:
“Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,” said Professor Ullen.
He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark. This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.
Looking through history it seems almost as if very creative individuals and crazy lives go hand in hand. Take, for example, the life of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Charlie Parker. In addition to helping to create a new style of improvisation that would lead to modern jazz, Parker also suffered virtually his whole life with addictions and mental illness. Like other similar cases, Parker died young, at the age of 34 (and the coroner who conducted his autopsy famously estimated his age to be in his fifties).
I tend to think the idea of linking tragic lives and creativity to contain a bit of confirmation bias. It’s more interesting to study the biography of someone who was eccentric and we tend to not think about the more normal lives of other creative figures in history. Still, this new research goes a long way in explaining why it seems that highly creative people often seem to be, well, a little off in their own world.