Top 5 Mad Geniuses

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by: Jane McGrath
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Though we may not know what a high IQ has to do with mental illness, brilliant people often strike us as more than a bit nutty.
H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

Is insanity the secret companion to ­genius? Though we can't very well perform psychological examinations on those who are long dead, that hasn't stopped historians from speculating about the mental conditions of deceased geniuses by interpreting their personal letters, their works and others' accounts. It turns out some of the world's greatest geniuses were quite mad. In fact, some scientis­ts claim that a far greater percentage of creative types (poets, painters, musicians and the like) have been afflicted with bipolar disorder than the general ­population. Some of the world's most renowned creative minds, including writers Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway; composers Irving Berlin and Sergey Rachmaninoff; and painters Paul Gauguin and Jackson Pollock are all believed to have suffered from the illness [source: Patient Health International].

­Despite evidence of a link between genius and madness, no one has proved that such a link exists. However, scientists at the University of Toronto have discovered that creative people possess little to no "latent inhibition," the unconscious ability to reject unimportant or irrelevant stimuli. As University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson puts it, "This means that creative individuals remain in­ contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment. The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities" [source: University of Toronto].

­Let's take a look at these mad geniuses -- the famous thinkers and artists who may have experienced mental illness. First, we'll inspect the modern case of John Nash, whose schizophrenia has been sensationalized by Hollywood.

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