Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature

Paperback | March 15, 2002

byDaniel Nettle

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Madness is the central mystery of the human psyche. Our minds evolved to give us a faithful understanding of reality, to allow us to integrate into our communities, and to help us to adapt our behaviour to our environment. Yet in serious mental illness, the mind does exactly the opposite ofthese things. The sufferer builds castles of imaginative delusion, fails to adapt, and becomes a stranger among their own people. Mental illness is no marginal phenomenon: it is found in all societies and all historical epochs, and the genes that underlie it are quite common. Furthermore, the traitsthat identify the madman are found in attenuated form in normal thinking and feeling. The persistence of madness, then, is a terrible puzzle from both an evolutionary and a human point of view.In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare suggested a link between madness and artistic creativity: 'The lunatic, the lover, and the poet', he wrote, 'Are of imagination all compact'. Recent studies have shown that there is indeed a connection. Rates of mental illness are hugely elevated in thefamilies of poets, writers, and artists, suggesting that the same genes, the same temperaments, and the same imaginative capacities are at work in insanity and in creative ability. Thus the reason madness continues to exist is that the traits behind it have psychological benefits as well aspsychological costs.In Strong Imagination, Daniel Nettle explores the nature of mental illness, the biological mechanisms that underlie it, and its link to creative genius. He goes on to consider the place of both madness and creative imagination in the evolution of our species.

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Madness is the central mystery of the human psyche. Our minds evolved to give us a faithful understanding of reality, to allow us to integrate into our communities, and to help us to adapt our behaviour to our environment. Yet in serious mental illness, the mind does exactly the opposite ofthese things. The sufferer builds castles of i...

Daniel Nettle studied psychology at the University of Oxford and then moved to University College London to carry out his PhD research in anthropology. He has written widely across several areas in the human sciences and has lectured in London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Nigeria. He lives in Oxford.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:245 pages, 7.72 × 5.08 × 0.55 inPublished:March 15, 2002Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198605005

ISBN - 13:9780198605003

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. From disease to difference and back again2. From Nature to Nurture and back again3. This taint of blood4. The storm-tossed soul5. The sleep of reason produces monsters6. Such tricks hath strong imagination7. The lunatic, the lover, and the poet8. Civilization and its discontents9. Staying saneEpilogueFurther reading; References; Index

Editorial Reviews

`Nettle writes well. He enlivens the scientific data with fascinating clinical vignettes, anthropological observations and well-chosen quotations from Shakespeare...a readable and up-to-date review of a very large body of literature on a fascinating subject.'Nature, Vol 409, Jan 2001