As tormenting and devastating as it is, schizophrenia may also include qualities of thinking that enhance creativity – qualities we may all experience, even if we aren’t psychotic.

But the distinction between “real” creative ideas and delusion can be tricky, as mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. experienced.

As related in “A Beautiful Mind,” the bio by Sylvia Nasar (the photo is Russell Crowe as Nash in the movie version), Nash was asked how he could believe that he was “being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world.”

Nash replied, “Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.”

In his post Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist’s Experience, Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. notes that schizotypy, a milder version of schizophrenia, “consists of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone.”

“Research confirms a link between schizotypy and creative achievement. In particular, ‘positive’ schizotypal traits such as unusual perceptual experiences and magical beliefs tend to be elevated in artists and ‘negative’ schizotypal traits such as physical and social anhedonia and introversion tend to be associated with mathematical and scientific creativity.”

One of the main topics of Kaufman’s post is flow (see my article Creativity and Flow Psychology), and he quotes Susan K. Perry from her book Writing in Flow:

“… looseness and the ability to cross mental boundaries are aspects of both schizophrenic thinking and creative thinking.”

A study by Daniel Nettle, a psychologist at Newcastle University, and colleagues found that artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on “unusual cognition.”

According to Dr. Nettle, the results suggest that the creativity of some artists can be fueled by “the unique world view mental illness can provide.”

From my post Highly creative people have brains similar to those with schizophrenia.

Another research study by the Karolinska Institute showed that “the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.

“Certain psychological traits, such as the ability to make unusual or bizarre associations are also shared by schizophrenics and healthy, highly creative people.”

From article Creativity linked to mental health and illness.

Back to Nash again: his biographer Sylvia Nasar notes some aspects of his “deviant” but creatively productive thinking: “In almost everything he did – from game theory to geometry — he thumbed his nose at the received wisdom, current fashions, established methods… almost always worked alone, in his head, usually walking, often whistling Bach.

“When he focused on some new puzzle, he saw dimensions that people who really knew the subject (he never did) initially dismissed as naive or wrong-headed. Even as a student, his indifference to others’ skepticism, doubt, and ridicule was awesome.”

From my post Creativity and madness: High ability and schizophrenia.

That sort of independence of feeling and thinking can be useful to all of us.