“I don’t do this music shit, I lose my shit”Eminem, Survival of the Fittest
No, Eminem does not suffer from Schizophrenia, nor is he a mystic – at least, not to my knowledge. But incidentally, there are some wicked parallels between the minds of three seemingly disparate groups of people: those with schizophrenia, the recluse mystics in the mountains, and modern-day rappers. Without further adieu, let’s get started.
The Distant Cousins: Schizophrenia and Superhuman Creativity
It is no secret in scientific literature that the brains of highly innovative creatives show similar processes to those who suffer from serious mental illness. It is apparently a double-edged sword; the heightened activity in a creative’s mind, is their gift; but for the schizophrenic, it is their curse. What makes for a creative genius, is, on the extreme end of the spectrum, what makes for schizophrenia.
Looked at another way, those with unusually high cortical activity subconsciously produce creative work to avoid falling into the grips of mental illness. In Borderline, Peter Chadwick discusses this phenomenon:
“That highly creative people may possess a high loading on an underlying personality dimension related to psychosis has been noted many times… that creative production may in part be a control process which is required to keep psychopathology at bay… and that creative people differ from uncreatives in their dispositionally high resting cortical arousal levels…. This has also been noted in schizophrenics. Receptivity to information on the unattended channel has been found in both schizophrenics and high creatives and highly creative writers have been found to be over-inclusive on a test designed to assess this phenomenon in schizophrenics.”-Chadwick, Borderline: a psychological study of paranoia and delusional thinking, p. 104
He draws similarities between the personalities of high creatives and “psychotics”, explaining:
“Schizophrenia and creativity reflect similar cognitive processes. Psychotics are not only rather selfish and spoilt but are people of talent, originality, courage and grit, genuineness, perceptiveness, sensitivity and vision…creatives are renowned for needing solitude and quiet and freedom from uncontrollable disturbance; again their concentration difficulty may permit this openness to stimulation, could help produce a brilliant original painting or, via another route, a delusion.” 150
“Madness is perfectly normal in the sense that, judging from the experimental study, many of the processes involved exist on a continuum with normal functioning without qualitative discontinuity.” 65
And all things considered, Eminem himself may suspect that things may be slightly awry:
“Yea I probably got a couple of screws up in my head loose– Eminem, The Real Slim Shady
But no worse than what’s going on in your parents’ bedrooms”
Mysticism and Psychosis: The Teeter-Totter
“…the early stages of delusion may be characterized by ‘super-rational’ or mystical thinking… there seems little doubt that mystical and delusional thinking are, or can be, related.” 48
On the surface, mysticism and psychosis look rather similar, and one could easily be mistaken for the other. Yet again, in our studies of mental illness and reality, we come to be confounded by the question: who is seeing reality clearly? Is it that the “normal” are within an illusion, and that the mystic/psychotic has broken free from said illusion, and therefore seems mad to us “normal” folk? Or are they truly off the rails, out of touch with reality? Peter Chadwick discusses this:
“The mystic opens himself to that which is beyond himself and remains unharmed; the psychotic is very nearly destroyed. The mystic uses irrationality productively; the psychotic destructively. Taking [an] existential leap the mystic finds Nirvana, the psychotic Hell, the mystic swims, the psychotic drowns.”– Chadwick, Borderline: a psychological study of paranoia and delusional thinking, p. 93
“It is a disturbing yet, paradoxically, sobering thought that the type of person we have always regarded in the western world as ‘reality oriented’, ‘well adjusted’, ‘straight’ and ‘sensible’, the type of person we have seen as a good tool for the uncovering of what really is, may not in fact be of temperament appropriate to the accurate perception of reality at all. While we have encouraged people to be or to become of this ilk, our inducements could well have been profoundly misguided.” 95
“Psychosis touches both Abaddon and Nirvana and can thus only be appropriately characterized if we appreciate its double-edged nature and, perhaps, deeper significance. The delusional and, I believe, related area of mystical thought are both forms of cogntiive hyperorder. Hence their study may yet give us insight not only into aberrant brain processes but into the deepest (or highest) levels of reality.” 97
“The mystic thinks, ‘reality is weird’; the psychotic thinks, “there’s something weird happening in the world, directed at me’. The mystic/creative thinks, ‘I suffer my thoughts, streams of ideas just come to me’; the psychotic thinks, “thoughts are implanted in my mind by computers/hypnotic suggestion at a distance’.” 134-Chadwick, Borderline: a psychological study of paranoia and delusional thinking, p. 134
How do we come to understand why the mystical and/or delusional states arise?
“The mystical and delusional states, rather than being irrational and inexplicable, I thus see as solutions to an intolerable reality. Having been taken gently, year by year, away from a state of enculturation into society, the potential psychotic, like the mystic, discovers a new mode of brain functioning (physiology), a new perception or interpretation of the world through enhanced relational judgement (psychology) and perhaps even at times a new deeper dimension of reality (physics). In this context perhaps the mystical state is not only a Borderline state philosophically and psychologically between sanity and madness, actuality and possibility, but an intermediate form of brain functioning.” 153
Advice for anyone considering taking a conscious dive into mysticism:
“Anyone seeking this realm needs a social, cognitive and emotional support network without and positive self-regard within. It is not for the bitter loner or the ostracized recluse. In the latter circumstance magic can be ‘bad for the brain’. One cannot reach these realms without some degree of suffering and this has to be faced. We do like meaning but we do not like anxiety – but both are concomitants of living within a range of alternatives. To find the mystical domain one needs guidance, support and strength.” 135
“…Zaehner writes that true mystical experiences lead to ‘sobriety’, false ones to ‘drunkenness’ and are a form of madness, specifically mania.” 50
Chadwick, P. K. (2014). Borderline: a psychological study of paranoia and delusional thinking. London: Routledge.