The New York Times ran an article this week How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect. The study cited shows that new research is beginning to corroborate what I have long believed – that I have become more intelligent from my son’s schizophrenia. The research also reassures me that Chris began looking for meaning when his familiar habits of thought came under pressure. Schizophrenia is a creative response to crisis, if you allow it to be. This is what writers like Hermann Hesse have been saying for years. As R.D. Laing says: “Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.”
The Times article is not about schizophrenia, but it could be. The article talks about experiences that violate all logic and expectation. Kierkegaard called it “a sensation of the absurd.” The article goes on to say that “at best, the feeling is disorienting. At worst, it’s creepy….. Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.”
According to the article, “the brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns. When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense. It may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.”
The previous sentence should give anyone hope that schizophrenia (or autism or OCD), properly understood and handled, is a quest for growth and that recovery is indeed likely. A caring individual can help the person with the diagnosis to find that pattern by understanding and appreciating that what is taking place is something quite extraordinary.
The study involved twenty college students who read a short story by Franz Kafka, wherein many strange and unexplainable things happened. Afterwards, they and a group of students who had read a different more coherent short story took a test of what researchers call “implicit learning” or knowledge gained without awareness. The test involved studying a series of “45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” The students later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.
The Kafka readers outperformed the control group by 30% to 50%.
My own Kafkaesque experience went like this: After we got the “diagnosis” and as I struggled to stop panicking and remain calm, I started to do a lot of research about schizophrenia. The experience of schizophrenia in my son was so bizarre for me, so out of the ordinary, that in itself sharpened my intellect. I had to resort to more creative thinking after being confronted by nonsense talk and spooky behavior. I read up on and questioned everything I saw and heard. I began downing megadoses of the recommended niacin cure for schizophrenia. As a result, I found myself becoming even more focused and energetic, which allowed me to read and observe even more, putting me on a vicious cycle of intellect improvement. By observing my son and looking outward and inward, I began to see connections where previously I would not have seen any. I began to understand synchronicity as I began to understand schizophrenia better. I began to dimly perceive how the universe is connected. I took up writing. I am studying German.
The Kafkaesque journey of schizophrenia provides many side benefits.