How Perceiving More of the World Fosters Creativity and Mental Illness

Here’s how to steer clear of mental illness and stay on the side of creativity.

Here’s how to steer clear of mental illness and stay on the side of creativity.

The innovations of the world are built on creativity.

Genuine creativity is like a mosaic of seemingly unrelated bits of information pieced together into a beautiful tapestry that no one has seen before.

Taking information and combining it in novel ways requires an open mind. As your mind opens to the latent inspiration around you, creativity naturally follows. This is what Steve Jobs did with Apple, the Wright brothers with the airplane, and what we writers on Medium seek to do with every post.

Obviously, not everything we create is as revolutionary as the iPhone. It may not go viral, but surely the writing process itself can spark a revolution within our bodies, minds, and souls. Spark Perception is built on that.

Let in too little information and the mind stays naive and dull.

Let in too much and it becomes schizophrenic.

A mind that welcomes information has the foundation to be creative.

Some minds have low latent inhibition. Having this trait means that you find it hard to ignore the noise of the world. A lack of or a relaxed inhibiting filter causes more information to enter consciousness. Talk about some food for the fodder of creativity!

Be careful though, science shows that low levels of latent inhibition are linked to mental illness.

There is a fine line between genius and madness.

Oscar Levant

Also, to add to that quote, genius and madness are not mutually exclusive. Many geniuses of past times: Neiztche, Jung, Freud, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, were characterized by periods of great psychological turmoil coupled with subsequent revelatory insight that made them geniuses.

This post will explore latent inhibition and how to steer away from madness and towards genius by improving your working memory.

But first, a word on creativity.

What is Creativity?

Creativity starts off as brainstorming or as science calls it: “divergent thinking.”

Then, we gather our thoughts, generate insights, and synthesize something creative. This process is called “convergent thinking.”

Creativity has to include both convergent and divergent thinking & the product of our convergent thinking has to generate good solutions to problems. Without novel solutions that solve problems, we don’t have genuine creativity.

Having low levels of latent inhibition increases our capacity for divergent thinking. Organizing information and having a good working memory gives us a safeguard from insanity.

Shelley Carson, a Harvard psychologist, says, “Getting swamped by new information that you have difficulty handling may predispose you to a mental disorder. But if you have high intelligence and a good working memory, you are more likely to be able to combine bits of new information in creative ways.”

In other words, the fine line between genius and madness stays on the genius side in proportion to your ability to engage in convergent thinking. However, reckless divergent thinking without the ability to converge leaves you in disarray.

The Benefits of Having Low Latent Inhibition

Having low latent inhibition in a world with endless information is both a blessing and a curse.

It allows you to see what others overlook but can make you perpetually distracted and perhaps rationally deluded.

The difference between the genius and the madman is their working memory. Since they both have low latent inhibition, the amount of information they let in is higher than normal. The difference is how well they are able to assimilate that information through the action of their working memory.

How do you safeguard a descent into madness?

Improve your working memory (also known as short-term memory).

How do you improve it? There are many ways but I will highlight the ones I’ve leveraged to improve my working memory. Even if you don’t struggle with low latent inhibition, these techniques will definitely help the writer in you.

The exploratory feature of the dopamine system in pursuit of a goal is the foundation for experiencing joy. Writers especially of non-fiction constantly seek information (divergent thinking) and have the working memory to bring this information together (convergent thinking) to generate insight. Do this effectively and you have the makings of genuine creativity.

Therefore, training working memory is essential not only for great writing but also for experiencing joy in life.

5 Ways To Improve Working Memory

  1. Building a second brain to free up your brain’s real estate (CODE framework)
  2. Developing habitual routines
  3. Optimizing sleep
  4. Mindfulness to minimize susceptibility to distraction
  5. Exercise and nutrition
Building a Second Brain

Technology isn’t all distractions.

In the book, Building a Second Brain, Tiago Forte explains the CODE framework for creating a second brain. The second brain functions as your own personal database to capture information you will likely forget if you don’t write it down. Now your 1st brain, your actual one, has more “RAM” space.

The CODE framework is simple:

  • C: Capture information
  • O: Organize it in a way you understand it (highlighting, revising, connecting to other concepts, relating to your life)
  • D: Distilling the information’s main points
  • E: Express (Us writers like to write to express ourselves, but feel free to grab a megaphone and bombard people on the streets with your insights)
Developing Habitual Routines

If it’s a habit you don’t think, you just do it!

Now you can think about literally anything else!

Optimizing Sleep

Try remembering something with 4 hours of sleep vs. 7 hours.

I know from experience that my working memory dwindles with 4 hours of sleep.

Science shows that cortisol, the stress hormone, builds up with a lack of sleep. This means that you’re not only tired, you’re anxious. There is no room for new knowledge when your body’s fighting and flighting.

Reset your working memory with some zzz’s.

Mindfulness to Minimize Susceptibility to Distraction

Whenever somebody talks about distraction, you can be sure that means technology.

Technology and social media is the biggest distraction of this generation.

Guard it by training your mind. If not you risk the floodgates flinging open into the ocean of fragmented information.

Exercise and Nutrition

Improving both of these will result in feeling better and thinking with more clarity.

Sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mental health all feed off each other.

That is why Peter Attia (MD) in his book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity explains that sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mental health are the 4 pillars of preventative medicine. Optimizing these pillars sends reverberations through your mind, body, and soul.

High vibes are built on these pillars.

And so is working memory.

Go On a Vision Quest

The indigenous treatment of madness is held in sharp contrast to the allopathic remedy.

Indigenous cultures emphasize the hero’s journey in treating the madness. Madness to them is a gift from God, and they send the sufferer on vision quests (physical or mental journeys) to connect with what God is trying to tell them. When done effectively, the madness is healed when they return to the community with the wisdom gained from the vision quest.

It sure sounds more enlivening than a trip to the doctor’s office.

Conclusion

If you recognize low levels of latent inhibition in you, find a creative outlet. Otherwise, working memory becomes bombarded without a route toward outward expression. Of equal importance is the need to refine your working memory and attention.

Do this and at minimum, you steer away from madness.

You might even be a genius.

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