Sunday, August 30, 2009

Scientific American has an article on the evolutionary history of depression, as the article states, although depression isn't just a problem for the young, surely by now we would have evolved our way away from such problems if they were just brain malfunctions.

So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it. For instance, in some of our research, we have found evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test.

The snarky side of me suggests that the article is arguing that all mathematicians should immediately be put in mental hospitals before they slit their wrists and that all those scientists who said that quantum theory was 'mindblowing' weren't talking in metaphor. But then six or seven years ago, when I was less of the happy bunny you see before you today, I found writing a lot easier than I do today and that a big mental Iron Curtain of a block has been raised as I developed techniques to either deal with or avoid bouts with the Black Dog. Seeing as Winter is a more difficult time for me I have been pondering doing the opposite of what I do normally and actually follow the habits that tended to lead to depression and see whether it actually has a corresponding increase in my creativity once more. I'm not saying 'great depression is necessary for great art', more like 'a little moodiness is necessary to write piddling little stories'.

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