Junkie-Geniuses: Why History’s Visionaries All Got High

15 12 2009

Ernest Hemingway hitting the bottle.

Hemingway was a drunk.  Coleridge was addicted to opium.  Poe struggled with drinking and drugs.  Cobain, Jagger, Hendrix, Joplin were junkies.  Freud? Cokehead.

Why is it that many of history’s greatest thinkers and artists are also history’s most notorious addicts?

There’s one obvious answer, which is that some artists self-medicate in order to escape the crushing pressures of fame.  Creative minds are also prone to experimentation, which explains away the drug use in many scenarios.

But I also think some part of it has to do with IQ.  The brain of a visionary artist or thinker can be so overactive that they drive themselves mad with their everyday thoughts.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Thom Yorke, constantly churning out these brilliant, provocative, depressing lyrics.  People like Yorke and Edgar Allen Poe and Kurt Cobain probe into life, choosing to see what other people prefer to ignore.  That can be a really scary business.

Ignorance is bliss; it’s trite, but it’s true.  And it poses a huge dilemma: is it better to sacrifice knowledge for the sake of being happy, or should you force yourself to do the kind of difficult, between-the-lines thinking that sometimes brings your mind into really dark places?

Obviously, you choose the latter, and find some kind of outlet by which to express yourself.   Or if you’re someone like Hemingway, you booze to make up the difference.

Sometimes the booze and narcotics seem to work in these artists’ favor.  Coleridge could have never found the inspiration to write “Kubla Khan” without the opium-induced hallucination.

“For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

(We all know what you fed on, Sam.)

But inevitably, the drugs always get the best of these people.  The lifestyle becomes too much for one brain to handle, the artists/thinkers either OD or they commit suicide, and America loses some of its greatest minds.

Tragic, really– but maybe that’s what they were going for.

Food for thought: In a world without artificial mind-numbers, would you rather be dumb and happy, or brilliant and (occasionally) miserable?



11 responses

15 12 2009

there is also a large correlation with genius like this and bipolar disorder, self medication being one coping mechanism.

16 12 2009

What about those that didn’t do drugs?
Leonardo da Vinci… Zappa…

That’s all I got, nevermind.

16 12 2009
Mr. F

Doing drugs vs. getting crazy. The problem: answers, intelligent people have to find answers. Since they can’t, they do drugs, get crazy, or suicide, or ultimately start beleiving in god.

16 12 2009

I think the substance abuse arises out of depression or anxiety issues, and we only see a correlation between genius and abuse b/c history doesn’t remember morons. Maybe if the environment is stifling and someone feels their potential isn’t being filled, they might turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape. That seems like it would be true of anyone though. bros, do bi-polar sufferers of average intelligence not self-medicate? i feel like genius is a red herring.

16 12 2009

Lots of artists and songwriters have claimed they have to be high to create. So is it that creatively genious minds eventually drive themselves to drugs in order to cope, or is it that drugs inspire some genious minds to go to great creative lengths? I’ve often thought about that connection. But to answer your question…I’d rather be dumb and happy than brilliant and miserable/crazy.

16 12 2009

Let me get this straight. I drink too much, therfore I’m a genious?

16 12 2009

Aw Ben, she got you. I spelled it that way and got away with it. But then I’m dumb and happy.

16 12 2009

You’ll be a “genious” as soon as you learn how to spell it, Ben.

17 12 2009

I know that I drink to escape the crushing pressure of fame.

17 12 2009

brilliant, miserable and stoned. duh.

13 01 2010
Katherine Z

You didn’t mention the scientists–my favorites include Watson and Crick, Oppenheimer, and Feynman.

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