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Madness Redefined: Creativity, Intelligence and the Dark Side of the Mind

Thursday, May 31, 2012
8:00 pm - 9:30 pm

The notion of a “tortured genius” or “mad scientist” may be more than a romantic aberration. Research shows that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia correlate with high creativity and intelligence, raising tantalizing questions: What role does environment play in the path to mental illness? Are so-called mental defects being positively selected for in the gene pool? Where’s the line between gift and deficit? As studies mount supporting the storied link between special aptitudes and mental illnesses, science is reexamining the shifting spectrum between brilliance and madness.

This program is part of the Big Ideas Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.


Cynthia McFaddenAnchor, Correspondent

Cynthia McFadden is the senior legal and investigative correspondent for NBC News. Before joining NBC News, she co-anchored Nightline at ABC News. She has won Emmy, Peabody, and duPont awards, among others.

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James FallonNeuroscientist

Internationally renowned neurobiologist James Fallon has made major scientific breakthroughs in the basic and clinical brain sciences. He was the first to describe a characterized growth factor in the central nervous system and the first to show how to stimulate the mass production and mobilization of adult stem cells in the adult brain.

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Kay Redfield JamisonPsychologist

Kay Redfield Jamison has been called a “hero of medicine” for turning her own struggle with manic-depression into a lifelong career researching the illness and its treatment.

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Susan McKeownSinger, Songwriter

One of the strongest, most expressive voices to have come out of Ireland belongs to Dublin native Susan McKeown. Her 2010 album Singing in the Dark explores creativity and madness with lyrics from poets such as Anne Sexton and Theodore Roethke, who were writing through the lens of depression, mania, and addiction.

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Elyn SaksMental Health Law Professor

Elyn Saks’ work focuses on the legal and ethical issues surrounding mental illness—something she has decades of personal experience with. When Saks was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than thirty years ago, her doctors didn’t expect she would be able to live independently, let alone work.

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