Why some people are more creative than others has baffled scientists for centuries. In 2015, for my undergraduate dissertation, I investigated the link between temporal lobe epilepsy and creativity. I wanted to discover what the link was and why most creatives seem to have a hard life. I wanted to find out if my own experiences had instigated my route towards writing and later, ghostwriting. Not only did I achieve my objective, but over the course of my research I discovered why some people are writers and others artists. If endured trauma as a kid or if you’re interested in the science behind creativity, this series of short articles is for you.
What do Charles Dickens, Lewis Carrol, Vincent Van Gough and singer / song writer, Prince all have in common? They all suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. If you were to sit down, then, and think about what makes a great writer, looking at the similarities and differences between creatives and epilepsy sufferers would be a good place to start.
You might not have heard of Margiad Evans, but she was a Welsh author. In 1950, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and later wrote a book called A Ray of Darkness that talked about the effects of epilepsy in great detail. The interesting thing was, that one of her doctors, Dr Golla, who was an expert in epilepsy studies, thought that her illness enhanced her creative work. (Larner, 2009) It’s important to note also, that her seizures originated from the right temporal lobe. And according to her autobiography, she endured a very difficult childhood.
At the tender age of twelve, Charles Dickens went to work in a blacking factory. He hated this work and was most relieved when a change in family fortunes meant he was able to leave. However, his mother insisted he remained. He harboured resentment towards his mother for the rest of his life. He rarely talked about his feelings though. (Schlicke, 2004) Some psychoanalysts, including Freud, considered keeping things in to be the cause of neurological problems.
And it’s not just writers that are affected by childhood trauma. Vincent Van Gough, who is also thought to have suffered from epilepsy had a particularly difficult life, with severe bouts of depression and frequent suicidal thoughts. According to Mehlum (1996), this was instigated by childhood trauma.
So why have there been so many great writers and artists without epilepsy? According to research undertaken in 2004, creativity is a form of benign epileptic activity. In other words, creative genius sits between those without epilepsy and those with the clinical condition. (Cartwright et al., 2004)
Epilepsy is caused by a scar to the brain. The form the seizures take is determined by the scar’s location. Epilepsy often follow severe bouts of depression. Could it be then, that depression causes a scar?
Think back to all the tales you’ve heard about writers and artists enduring a hard life. This must surely be no coincidence. Whether the scar causes epilepsy or not is determined by your genes. But, for now, that’s a different story.
Stay tuned to find out more
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