fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,
fauxklore
fauxklore

Mendelssohn Bicentennial Event

The "Music and the Brain" series at the Library of Congress picked up on Tuesday night with a symposium on depression and creativity, in honor of the 200th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn. The subject was one I didn't really have a lot of interest in, but I've gone to all of the series so far. I suspect other people were equally lukewarm towards the topic, since few of the regulars were there.

There were three speakers, all of whom focused on bipolar disorder. Kay Redfield Jamison had some charts correlating the creative output of various artists (writers, painters, composers) with their reported episodes of depression or mania. She used that to conclude that people produce less when they're depressed. While she was an entertaining speaker, I didn't find that exactly profound. She did, at least, point out that, while there is a disproportionate rate of bipolar disorder among artists, the majority of creative people do not have such disorders.

The second speaker, Terence Ketter, did have a more scientific focus. He described an experiment in which people (controls, people with bipolar disorder, people with unipolar depression, and "creative controls," i.e. artists who don't have mood disorders) were given various personality tests. The controversial one was a test (the name of which I don't remember) that alleges to measure creativity by what pictures somebody does and doesn't like, with creativity correlating with liking the more complex pictures. Since it's easier to score as creative on that test if you dislike the simple pictures. The people with unipolar depression scored highest and Ketter suggested that "depressed people find it easy not to like things." He also talked about other tests (e.g. Meyers-Briggs) and the correlation of creativity with intuition. Being an INTJ, I approve.

Finally, Peter Whybrow talked about "the creative cycle," essentially dividing creativity into three phases: novelty generation, memory, and cognitive control. He did, at least, actually talk a little bit about Mendelssohn (and about Robert Schumann), but he used a lot of jargon and did things like showing pictures of functional MRIs without any real explanation for a general audience.

Overall, I was disappointed since there was no actual discussion of music, except in the context of other arts. It was an interesting enough couple of hours, but not really what I was looking for.
Tags: neuroscience
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