30 November 18
How the Myth of “The Unhealthy Genius” Is Ruining Your Body and Your Career.
The idea of “the unhealthy genius” is everywhere.
Whether it’s a drunk composer creating a masterpiece or a quirky math wizard who gains unique insights from his array of drugs, we constantly see the image of someone whose body is terrible while their brain is incredible.
But where does it come from?
And more importantly, how is this dangerous myth ruining your own life?
Sorry. Edgar Allan Poe Wasn’t an Alcoholic (or an Opioid Addict).
Poe wrote about drugs and alcohol a lot in his horror fiction.
As a result, people today believe he was an alcoholic, which fits perfectly with our pop culture idea of the tortured genius.
But in reality, Poe wrote about drugs and alcohol in a cautionary way: don’t drink too much, or your cat will burn down your house.
If you’ve ever met someone who chronically abused alcohol and opium, you probably wouldn’t expect them to be capable of writing long, elaborately rhymed poems.
But What About THIS Genius?
You may be thinking of some counter-examples.
Surely there are a few genius thinkers in history who also abused drugs.
But that’s not a scientific approach to the question at hand, because we don’t have a way of knowing what those geniuses would have done if they weren’t using drugs.
However, it’s safe to assume that drug abuse did not help, and were more likely to be the result of the same intelligence that gave them their cognitive abilities, since high-IQ children are more likely to develop drug problems later in life.
Alcohol Shrinks Your Brain.
There is no reason to think that alcohol abuse benefits your cognitive ability.
In one study, people with a blood alcohol level of .075 were better at solving a certain kind of creative thinking problem.
But before you say, “that means alcoholics are better creative thinkers,” just remember: .075 is roughly the BAC level of someone who had a single light beer -- hardly the amount consumed by an alcoholic.
And other studies show that long-term alcohol abuse actually shrinks your brain.
So while a single beer might help you with a little creative thinking, abusing alcohol isn’t going to turn you into Mozart.
Why This Myth Matters to You.
There are a lot of ways to improve your cognitive ability:
Drinking more water.
Getting regular exercise.
Socializing with friends and family.
Taking a supplement for your unique cognitive challenges
And none of those scientifically proven brain-boosters put you at a higher risk of cancer or death.
If you think you’re reaching your full potential as a thinker while neglecting your body and health, you’re wrong.
And treating your body like something separate from your mind is a double-edged sword:
Bad mental health can lead to real, physical illnesses.
Bad physical health can ruin your brain and creative thinking.
Taking care of your body is one of the most important things you can do for your brain, creative thinking, and even your career.