The Genius-Insanity Gene: Why The Smartest People Are A Little Bit Crazy

by Dan Scotti

The way I see it, if you want to be successful in ANY walk of life, you gotta be a little bit f*cked up too. I mean, all the “good ones” are.

Take Albert Einstein, for instance. Absolute GENIUS when it came to modern physics, nobody’s questioning that, but the dude also never wore f*cking socks.

Yeah, ever. I don’t care how brilliant his theories within the realm of quantum physics may have been – until his views on personal hygiene improved – he probably wouldn’t be allowed to step (dirty) foot in my house (no pun intended). At least not without some plastic bags strapped to his feet or something.

If you’re still not sold on Einstein being a little f*cked up, he married his cousin; yeah, so that should put that argument to bed.

Like I said though, all of the good ones are. Think back to Hunter S. Thompson, iconic journalist and author of the American classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Anyone who’s read any of his work would never dare contest the man’s grandeur as a thinker and storyteller, but he, like Einstein, had more than just a few screws loose. Let’s be real here, the guy was bat sh*t crazy. But in the good way, obviously.

I mean, he sold tickets to the greatest heavyweight fight of all time for a sack of weed; he autographed his novels by shooting bullets into them and furnished his home with sticks of dynamite – so yeah, he danced gracefully along the border separating genius and psychopath.

And the list goes on: Vincent van Gogh cut off his hear, Michaelangelo was opposed to bathing and Freud had a fetish for the sex life of eels.

As you can see, the same people we regard as the brightest minds of our species history all sound like they could have their own hour-long feature on Dr. Phil, as well.

I suppose that’s why Aristotle once said, “no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness,” and, according to Rob Waugh of Daily Mail, there might be some scientific evidence behind his claim.

Then again, Aristotle also named his daughter the same name as his mother – and is widely considered as the smartest dude of all time – so yeah, I’m not sure how much more evidence is needed.

As told by Waugh, “there IS a link between creative genius and madness -- with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder frequent in highly creative and intelligent people.”

This theory results from studies conducted on Swedish teenagers, all 16 years of age, that showed how those considered more academically gifted than their counterparts also had a higher proclivity to develop certain disorders (specifically schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).

According to Kay Redfield Jamison, of Johns Hopkins school of Medicine, who suffers from bipolar disorder, “they found that people who excelled when they were 16 years old were four times as likely to go on to develop bipolar disorder.”

The “people who excelled,” whom Jamison is referring to, are those considered more intelligent after taking part in a number of different intelligence tests and performing higher than others.

Waugh continues to extrapolate upon the notion linking intelligence and madness by introducing the possibility of one genetic trait that could, in fact, be its driving force.

According to Waugh, one specific gene – referred to as DARPP-32 – allegedly connects genius and madness.

A version of DARPP-32, a gene that “enhances the ability to think,” as Roger Highfield of Telegraph reports, can be found in the genetic codes of almost three-quarters of people.

And while the majority of these people will experience cognitive improvements by carrying the gene, scientists have found this gene can also foreshadow a certain set of risks.

According to Highfield, “the DARPP-32 gene also shaped and controlled a nerve circuit, which links the prefrontal cortex with another brain region, the striatum, and is closely involved with schizophrenia.”

Highfield quotes Dr. Daniel Weinberger of the US National Institute for Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who believes the nature of this gene – whether it be advantageous or not – revolves around the presence of an antecedent (or pre-existing) brain impairment, such as schizophrenia.

As Highfield explains, one specific variant that elevated the use of DARPP-32 in the brain was linked with higher intellectual levels in the carrier, however, “preliminary analysis indicated that this variant was also associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia.”

Genetics aside, it’s hard to contest the correlation of madness and genius in more practical terms – and Natalie Wolchover, of Live Science, mentions the depiction of the “tortured genius,” one that transcends across American literature and film.

As Huffington Post Writer Sarah Klein explains, based on research by Harvard’s Shelley Carson, Ph.D., “The idea that a person's chances of mental illness, and her chances of being creative may stem from the same place, but that neither one causes the other.”

This provides reason to believe both “madness” and “genius,” respectively, could almost be viewed as the results of different styles of “nurture,” or upbringing.

Ultimately, if you keep your head in the right place, take an interest in the right things, and stay focused – I feel as though you can dictate which side of the spectrum your behavior will fall upon.