Was it the drugs, or was it the parky’s?

So, the question is whether we ought to read carefully, or just the headlines.

Parkinson’s UK posted this article today on the supposed link between Parkinson’s and creativity. It was the third paragraph before these words appeared: ‘The researchers spilt [sic] the people with Parkinson’s into 2 groups and found that those who took more Parkinson’s medication were the most creative.’

The research that this refers is also reported here. Much as I hate to be a killjoy, the header to this press release, ‘Proof: Parkinson’s enhances creativity’ no more understands what the word ‘proof’ means than it bothered to read the release, which again says this:

The conclusions from the second round of testing — in which the Parkinson’s participants were split into higher- and lower-medicated groups — also demonstrated a clear link between medication and creativity. Parkinson’s patients suffer from a lack of dopamine, which is associated with tremors and poor coordination. As such, they are usually treated with either synthetic precursors of dopamine or dopamine receptor agonists

According to Prof. Inzelberg, the results are hardly surprising, because dopamine and artistry have long been connected. “We know that Van Gogh had psychotic spells, in which high levels of dopamine are secreted in the brain, and he was able to paint masterpieces during these spells – so we know there is a strong relationship between creativity and dopamine,” said Prof. Inzelberg.


Ah, so the link is with the drugs, not the disease … and anyway, correlation does not equal causation, as any fule kno. To extrapolate van Gogh’s ‘psychotic interludes’ with increased dopamine levels (they obviously have proof of this, and are not speculating at all, right?) and thence to his painting masterpieces  and thus to ‘a strong relationship between creativity and dopamine’ is doing logic, and science, a disservice.

The most shocking thing of all is that it’s in the Daily friggin’ Mail that this is finally pointed out:

Do Parkinson’s drugs make people more CREATIVE? Pills that increase dopamine levels may improve artistic abilities

So, the DM not always total bollocks.
It also, however, included the following:

Professor Inzelberg’s latest research, which looks at clear evidence that creativity might be due to obsessive tendencies, was published this week in the journal Annals of Neurology.

According to James Hamblin writing in The Atlantic, Professor Inzelberg concluded there was no relationship between the creativity she had been noticing and any degree of compulsive behaviour.

This is intriguing, as not only do  I see a clear link between the obsessive-compulsive behaviours that are exacerbated by PD drugs, but so (wait for it) does Freud:
Freud defined sublimation as ‘the power [of an instinct] to replace its immediate aim by other aims which may be valued more highly’, yet Leslie Hill suggests it is a far from complete theory: ‘Sublimation, then, names a process of displacement that shows little respect for continuity or identity. It functions as an index for the enigmatic [my italics] production of the non-sexual from the sexual, or the cultural from the erotic; but as such […] what it offers is less a theory of cultural productions than a myth of origins. Sublimation, it appears, is more like a fable than a concept.’ Freud explains the need for this ‘fable’ in On Sexuality’: ‘The very incapacity of the sexual instinct to yield complete satisfaction as soon as it submits to the first demands of civilisation becomes the source, however, of the noblest cultural achievements which are brought into being by ever more extensive sublimation of its instinctual components. For what motive could men have for putting sexual instinctual forces to other uses if, by any distribution of these forces, they could obtain fully satisfying pleasure? They would never abandon that pleasure and they would never make any further progress,’ or, as we saw above: ‘What appears to be a renunciation is really the formation of a substitute or surrogate.’ Sublimation is the diversion of sexual instincts which cannot be satisfied to other ends, most notably cultural or the urge for knowledge. As Freud noted in the life of Leonardo da Vinci, such aims become a substitute for sexual activity: ‘the libido evades the fate of repression by being sublimated from the very beginning into curiosity and by becoming attached to the powerful instinct for research as a reinforcement. Here, too, the research becomes to some extent compulsive and a substitute for sexual activity.’
Hmm … interesting, no?
For the text above, see Freud, Klein and Dr. Seuss.
The researchers also spilt the people with Parkinson’s into 2 groups and found that those who took more Parkinson’s medication were the most creative. – See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/22-july-2014/parkinsons-enhances-creativity#sthash.2bFwJwV2.dpuf
The researchers also spilt the people with Parkinson’s into 2 groups and found that those who took more Parkinson’s medication were the most creative. – See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/22-july-2014/parkinsons-enhances-creativity#sthash.2bFwJwV2.dpuf
The researchers also spilt the people with Parkinson’s into 2 groups and found that those who took more Parkinson’s medication were the most creative. – See more at: http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/news/22-july-2014/parkinsons-enhances-creativity#sthash.2bFwJwV2.dpuf

Parkinson’s and creativity

This is a piece a wrote just over a year ago, and I’m going to reproduce it here:

Creativity and Parkinson’s. A contentious pairing of a much-argued ‘gift’ and a disease that rots your brain in an extremely precise manner. They are inextricably connected inasmuch as the fruits of creativity vary wildly in their quality, just as the wholesale slaughter of the basal ganglia seems to produce wildly varying symptoms in each individual. There’s obviously a massive problem with attempting to gauge the true relationship between the two, namely the necessarily subjective nature of assessment. How does one measure creativity? By the quantity of stuff produced, or by the quality. Do we, as PWP, think (as many with various conditions do), that we become more creative as a direct or indirect result of our condition, or do we simply create more? There is, I contend, a very clear difference between the two.

Anecdotally, it appears that PWP experience a surge in the urge to make things, though it’s difficult to tell whether this begins pre or post-diagnosis. This may appear irrelevant but it relates directly to both the mindset of the individual and the chemical state of their brain. That is, diagnosis changes the way the world is viewed, while prescription changes the working of the organ which perceives the world: the brain. Both of these facts can lead to changes in behaviour, one of which is related to creativity.

What follows is utterly uninformed by research, neurological knowhow or any other concrete information. It is, however, informed by my own experience, as both PWP and a writer and musician, as well as my observation of others. I make no claims for it other than it is how I view things. You may disagree. You may think I’m rude. You may even think I’m an idiot. These possible reactions are your prerogative. All I ask is that you try, as I always try, to be honest with yourself about the whole subject.

What I see is that yes, there does seem to be an increase in basic creativity in PWP. This has two possible causes.

The first cause is the shock of diagnosis. To put it simply, the desire to express oneself increases in direct proportion to the extent to which a diagnosis seems to define one. It is, if you like, a raging against the dying of the self. The more we seem defined by our Parkinson’s, the more we wish to assert our sense of self. This urge can be observed in a great increase in extreme behaviours, one of which is increased creativity, while another is charity work, especially work which centres on the individual, such as my batting for Parkinson’s and Country House Cricketer projects, Alex Flynn’s million metres, Tim Andrews’ Over the Hill. All these are good things, don’t get me wrong, but they are centred on the self to a degree perhaps less common in those projects in which people raise money for others. We are raising cash for ourselves, in effect, as well as raising awareness by doing it ourselves. ‘Art’, for want of a better definition, is the conscious assertion of the self into a particular medium. I assert my self when I write. You assert your self when you paint/sculpt/play an instrument … when our sense of self is challenged, such as by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, we need to reassert it. Many choose creative media in which to do it.

The second cause is medication. The indiscriminate flooding of a system with dopamine, a chemical with known connections to the risk/reward cycle in humans, can cause a lot of problems. As we know, dopamine agonists are connected with compulsive eating, shopping, and fucking. At the risk of sounding all Romantic (note capital ‘R’), these three compulsions are not altogether dissimilar from the urge to create. The reason so many artists suffer from drink and drug problems is, I suspect, because creating something stimulates similar receptors. Basically, the creative act pushes the same buttons as the drink, drugs, sex or shopping. It’s rewarding, chemically.

Now, here comes the contentious bit. But not until I’ve softened you up with a nice anecdote. Years ago, a friend’s mother visited an emporium of alcoholic liquor, with a view to buying a bottle of single malt scotch whisky for her favourite (well, only) son. She accosted a likely-looking assistant and announced in her strident tones, ‘I would like to buy a bottle of single malt scotch whisky for my favourite (well, only) son. I know nothing about whisky, but I hear that Glenfiddich is very popular.’ ‘Madam,’ the assistant intoned gravely, ‘its popularity has thus far failed to make it any good.’

I think you know what I’m going to say here. Parkinson’s may well increase the urge to create, but having the urge does not make one an artist. PWP may well create more than ‘normal’ people, but I strongly suspect that much of what is created has value only in the act of creation, rather than holding any intrinsic value in itself.

I’m not for a minute saying don’t do it. Making stuff is a wonderful thing. Just don’t fall into the trap that we are all prone to, that is, do remember that making something does not automatically make it any good.

But bloody well go ahead and make it anyway, because it might just be great – and if not, who cares? If it feels good, do it.

A sword with four edges

To misquote Francis Bacon:

It is generally better to deal by radio than by print […] print is good, when a man would draw an answer by print back again; or when it may serve for a man’s justification afterwards to produce his own writing.

Radio, instantaneous and far-reaching it may be, but it still is a dangerous medium, as your reactions must be instantaneous, and correct first time. There is no room in the editing suite for the guest, no track changes, no jolly sub-editor polishing your answers to a high gloss. The weighting is very taxing, as while you may know the first question, after then it becomes more free-form, and commensurately more dangerous. Continue reading

Is silence golden?

To pervert a well-known phrase, ‘All that is required for bad books to prevail is that good critics say nothing’, and yet, increasingly, that is exactly what is happening in those realms which heft most influence. It may not be happening in the blogosphere, but we’ll come to that soon enough.
I recently cut into a twitter conversation, which went something like this:

Spkr 1. Modern moral dilemma: given much hyped novel by publisher. It’s a bit ‘meh’. Don’t feel should say so on Good Reads

Spkr 2. I wouldn’t review at all

Spkr 1. My view too.

Me. So no review=bad review? What happened to ‘if you want my opinion, I’ll give it to you, but be sure you want it’?

Spkr 1. I’m more ‘If you can’t say something nice, say nothing’ when it’s books published by friends, & given by friends

Spkr 2. I agree

Me. It’s a thorny problem, especially when said friend can only read the ensuing silence one way …

Spkr 1. I’m given so many books, publishers don’t expect feedback on them all, so silence is ok.

Me. nice get-out clause …

The rest was silence. Continue reading

In control?

I’ve already written this post three times this morning. In fact, I’ve written this post dozens of times over the past few years. What is it to be in control? This was one version:

As I sit, cross-legged on my bed, laptop atop my lap (as it ought to be), listening to the rain beat against the roof, waiting for the plumber to arrive, checking social media for, well, anything to distract me from the task at hand, I’m less concerned with being ‘in control’ than I am wondering what it means. Continue reading

When is an author

Publishing is changing.
Danuta Kean recently wrote a piece on the trend towards not paying writers which included this sentence:

Thanks to the rapid growth in blogging and self-publishing – neither of which provide much reward for practitioners (81% of bloggers earn less than $100 a year, while half of US self-published writers earn less than $500 from their books) – the professional status of writers has been eroded, lending credence to the idea that practitioners do it for love not money and that freelancers bring easily replicated skills (they do not, see Danuta’s Guides).

Continue reading

On bands that aren’t quite …

Every so often you come across a band whose passion and simple joy in the act of creation render criticism of any technical deficiencies moot, whose internal coherence drives them forward as one. It’s one of those ironies of life when the band you’re sent to review really aren’t that band. Continue reading

A book in hand …

Ok, so I published another book – Black Box, a collection of short stories from the dark to the whimsical and back again. It’s available as an e-book and as a c-book (c for carboniferous), just like my last book, Slender Threads. I’m not so interested in their relative subject matter as I am in their formats, and how they’ve fared in the (relative) marketplace. Continue reading

Black Box

Black Box is a collection of stories that were written between 1998 and 2011. I’m not exactly prolific. They cover a wide range of topics while never straying far from ‘the’ question. From hangovers to Faustian bargains, the stories are often about stories. And some of them are true. Cover by Helen Masacz.

Available now on Amazon in e-book and c-book formats and in the US at the createspace store.

Continue reading