Yesterday I found out that one of my blog posts  had been linked by someone else who was writing about scientific studies that had found a genetic link between genius (especially artistic genius in writing or music or other types of art) and torment . How would one go about proving such a thing? I suppose one starts by anecdotal qualitative case studies which would clearly show that many intensely creative people in a wide variety of fields are nevertheless tormented souls. One could then move up from these case studies to a correlative study, where one would seek to determine a relationship between artistic achievement and various kinds of mental and emotional distress. Of course, correlation does not prove causality; it only indicates relationship. One has to distinguish, for example, the question as to whether one comes before the other or whether the two are conflated together in a complicated fashion. As it is fashionable these days to seek a genetic basis for human behavior, it is of little surprise that there should be some sort of genetic predisposition or sensitivity to certain kinds of genius that simultaneously also makes one more vulnerable to mental illness of certain kinds. This is not in the least surprising, especially because what makes someone more sensitive to insight from the outside world also makes one more sensitive to distress from that same world, a world that is often harsh and unfriendly and dangerous, and a world that does not often reward excessive sensitivity with the sort of gentleness and care that is often best. The opposite is the case often, as readers of my blog will be well aware of, given my own writing about my own personal life.
Late last week, as I was driving home before the Sabbath, I heard an advertisement for a sleep study group that happens to be within a mile or so of where I live. Since it was before sunset but after their office hours, and because I am generally shy about calling people on the phone personally, I sent an e-mail message expressing my interest in a sleep study. As it happens, I got a call this morning while I was at work, and the fellow there explained to me how the process would work. They will send me some information in the mail, and then in a little over a month I will have an appointment in the afternoon on my way back from work to rural Clackamas County at the time. I will then have a certain procedure to conduct for the take-home sleep study that night, which will be due from 9AM to noon the following morning at the office, which will be followed in about a week after that with another meeting to discuss the data from the test. While at times I may be a bit dilatory when comes to scheduling and dealing with various medical matters, it is good to at least try to solve one of my more longstanding and difficult problems regarding my health, at least to the best degree possible. From the fact that appointments are scheduled more than a month out in the future, I suppose a lot of people have at least some of the same kind of difficulties when it comes to sleep that I do, but being able to sleep easier and better would make a lot of life more pleasant.
Often, when I reflect on the suffering and difficulties of life, I seek to understand the purpose of them. Often there are many purposes for something. For one, it appears that as beings our talents and abilities are a matter of constraint optimization, in which there is a certain balance which is best all around, and where further gains in one area are balanced by drawbacks in another area. Often in life I find people express envy about my memory, or my intellect, or my skills at writing, or the ability I have in connecting insights together in an intuitive fashion. And, to be sure, I am thankful for these gifts. Yet each of these gifts can carry serious liabilities. The same memory that allows me to sweep all comers in Bible verse games also gives me plenty of flashbacks to my childhood, or painful memories of unpleasant situations in life. The same intellect that allows for the successful solution of some problems spins its wheels fruitlessly on problems that cannot be solved by reason alone, or solved by myself alone, but require some sort of input and involvement from others who are often disinclined to participate. The same skill of writing that allows me to write so colorfully and eloquently about my life, about book reviews and other matters also leads me into trouble when people read and interpret my writings in unfavorable ways. Likewise, the same intuition that can provide for putting together a case elegantly when it comes to understanding something also can put pieces together in ways that lead to a great deal of stress and alarm, whether it is warranted or not, and whatever my own capacity for dealing with such matters. And so it is with everyone’s gifts—we appreciate the good they bring us, but we are simultaneously aware that our gifts also give us vulnerabilities that can make life more difficult.
It is clear, when we look at the contributions of those with great talents, that such people certainly benefit humanity as a whole. Yet this is often done at significant cost to their own well-being through the suffering and torment that often accompany great talent and ability. How do we make genius worthwhile for the geniuses? I know this may seem to be a strange question to ask, but if we know that a given set of talents and abilities will also bring with it a significant amount of trouble, and one wants the benefits, one has to act in such a way as to minimize the trouble, to make it possible to cope better. To do otherwise is foolhardy in the extreme. Institutions that wish to profit from the creative energies of such people would be well-advised to help provide ways by which the stress of life may be reduced to tolerable levels, which is not particularly difficult to do if there is the will to do so. Another step, one that requires less institutional effort, is the creation of informal mutual encouragement societies, by which people who are creative and who are aware of the pressures and difficulties of life consciously choose to give encouragement to others to help alleviate the difficulties faced in life, especially where situations of torment and difficulty are seemingly never-ending. How can we expect people to be any kinder to us, after all, than we are to ourselves and our fellows?