Are the 'Mad' really so?

I was reading a book called 'The Lightning Cage' by Alan Wall. This is the story of two people - an obscure poet from the 18th century and a scholar who is preparing a thesis on his life and works. The fictional character of poet 'Richard Pelham', is loosely based on many real world poets who led a weird life by normal standards. Richard is a brilliant writer who prefers to write about the dark world and creatures he sees around him. After writing few highly acclaimed works, he gets admitted in an asylum, writes his magnum opus there, while the doctors experiment on him the cures they developed for madness.

Madness or craziness is something we associate with the so called 'geniuses' as frequently as we associate it with the lesser mortals. A lot of our bright men have one time or other walked along the hazy borderline of genius and madness. Is it a reasonable assumption that madness is an extreme case of brightness? If a person does something 'awesome' by our standards and then move into the 'crazy' space, we still acknowledge him and call him 'hyper-intellectual'. But if a person is born 'hyper-intellectual', we have an issue in respecting and accepting him. Why can't we think that they crossed the realms of 'genius' quite early?

Most of the so called 'mad' people we see around are least bothered about the things happening around them. They don't care about their social status or the society's perception about them... they just move on blissfully in life without complaints or concerns. Though it is difficult for us to accept, we all strive hard to attain this state of blissfulness only, just that the path we choose is a little different. We want to make some money and then retire to this peaceful, happy and contented life. Don't you think the 'mad' men are already there? Reminds me of the story of the Mexican fisherman. Seeing him sitting idle on the beach, a consultant advices him to work more, catch more fish, make more money, expand his business and eventually retire to a fine property and enjoy life. The fisherman replies that 'enjoyment' is precisely what he was doing then, relaxing by the sea. Seems like we have a twisted idea of everything and a complex game plan to achieve them.

Studies by neuro-scientists have off late provided lot of insights into the working of our brain. We now know that lot of things we call anomalies, are results of cross wiring of various parts of our brain. People like Dr. V Ramachandran from the Center for Brain and Cognition, San Diego, have done extensive research towards explaining creativity and intelligence as function of brain cells. (His book 'Phantoms in the Brain' is a great read) He says that creative people like poets, writers and artists are able to come up with surprising metaphors and interesting world views, by virtue of cross wiring between the areas responsible for various sensory perceptions in the brain. So if a poet can visualize and use cross-sensory metaphors like 'her hair smells like a sunday morning', this can be due to cross wiring between the areas of smell and vision inside his brain. I think madness is also a result of such excessive linkages between otherwise unrelated areas of the brain.

Perhaps, the thing that needs most explanation is not why some people are mad, but why most of us are not!

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