Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hypergraphia and the compulsion to create

A little while ago, the Wall-Street Journal published an article debunking the notion that creative people have a fundamental difference in how their brains work. This is along the way to encouraging people to bring out their inner creative genius.

Now, I'm all for encouraging everybody to think more creatively, simply because it's good healthy exercise for the brain. But if there's no structural difference in the brains of creative people, then how do you explain diseases like hypergraphia?

Hypergraphia is the overwhelming compulsion to write - external from any sense of reward. Among the famous cases of hypergraphics are Lewis Carroll, Vincent van Gogh, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Here is an article on Dostoevsky's particular malaise. It is associated with conditions such as epilepsy and manic depression.

Not coincidentally, many famous authors have referred to their writing ability in terms of a disease:

"I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs." -- H.L. Mencken

"I am a galley slave to pen and ink." -- Honore Balzac

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

Then there is the case of people who had overwhelming compulsions to create - but only after they'd suffered some kind of brain trauma! It is these that make for some of the most fascinating cases...

It's a well-studied enough phenomenon that there's an article on the emergence of artistic talent in frontotemporal dementia. The Wisconsin Medical Society examines cases of acquired savant characteristics and "accidental" geniuses. Famous cases include the man who became a Michelangelo after a stroke and brain surgery.

While banging your head against the wall isn't recommended to make yourself an artistic genius, these cases do provide some argument that people with creative skills do have something different about their brains. Speaking on my own experience, blogging, drawing, coding, and other creative acts satisfy an urge in me that nothing else can reach. And yes, I tend to get ideas in clusters, too, which come absolutely unbidden whether I want them or not.