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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 adapt our behaviour to our environment. Yet in serious mental illness, the mind does exactly the opposite of these things. The sufferer builds castles of imaginative delusion, fails to adapt, and becomes a stranger among his own people. Yet 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 traits that 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 the families 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 as psychological 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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Book Details

ISBN: 9780198507062
ISBN-10: 0198507062
Format: Hardback
(227mm x 146mm x 18mm)
Pages: 248
Imprint: Oxford University Press
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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Author Biography - Daniel Nettle

Daniel Nettle studied psychology at Oxford, before completing his PhD in Anthropology at University College London. In 1996 he was elected a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford. He has lectured in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Nigeria, and written widely across many areas of the human sciences. He is also active in the theatre. He lives in Oxford.

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