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October 20, 1993

Creative Brainstorms: The Relationship Between Madness and Genius

JAMA. 1993;270(15):1870. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510150106045

For many years, as a psychiatrist and neurophysiologist, Russell Monroe has been interested in episodic behavioral disorders. Some of these disorders, he believes, are caused by brainstorms: electrical discharges in the limbic system.

Working with Robert Heath at Tulane, he observed the LSD-like effects of electrical stimulation of the limbic system. Once, watching a flower garden while under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, he excitedly jumped to his feet and exclaimed, "My God, a van Gogh painting!"

From these experiences he formed a hypothesis: some creative people have brainstorms (sudden inspirations) because of epileptoid activity in the limbic lobe.

The idea that genius and epilepsy are connected has a long history. Reputed "epileptic geniuses" have included Socrates, Caesar, Byron, Peter the Great, and Alfred Nobel. It is obviously a hard theory to prove. Nevertheless, Monroe has pursued the brainstorm theory tenaciously.

In the book he compares creative people who