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PD & Creativity

Friday September 26, 2014

A new study by neurologist Rivka Inzelberg found that people whose Parkinson’s disease was being treated with different forms of dopamine replacement therapy were “more creative” than generic, non-PD afflicted people. Science Daily reported that Prof. Rivka Inzelberg “noticed the trend in her own Sheba Medical Center clinic when the usual holiday presents from patients -- typically chocolates or similar gifts -- took a surprising turn. ‘instead patients starting bringing us art they had made themselves.’"   In a statement about her study, Prof. Inzelberg wrote “Parkinson’s patients have a special interest in art and have creative hobbies incompatible with their physical limitations,” According to Dr. Inzelberg in an interview with The Atlantic Monthly, this study confirms her informal observation that  “her patients with Parkinson’s disease seemed to be authoring more novels than older people tend to author... poems and paintings also seemed to be pouring out of afflicted patients, in a relative sense—specifically those treated with a synthetic dopamine-precursor pill, levodopa (L-DOPA).”

 

Illustration PDS 7-28-14

Well. Questions explode around this finding like a herd of cattle stampeding across a minefield. This is just one study, is it even true? What does this tell us about creativity? About artists? About Parkinson’s Disease? Is creativity truly enhanced by these therapies or is it there all along, dormant, only to be unmasked by them? Is creativity reducible to the mere mechanics of chemical interactions or is there some divine spark, some whispering muse also necessary? How are we going to measure the whispering of a muse? Why do some people with Parkinson’s suddenly become poets, while others begin painting or sculpting for the first time? Would Picasso or Martha Graham have been more creative if on dopamine therapy for Parkinson’s? How about Lincoln? Einstein? Joan of Arc? Howlin’ Wolf? Do we all have creative ability unrealized, locked away from us by relative good health and lack of treatment for insufficient dopamine? Can we expect a creative bloom from that demographic behemoth, the Baby Boomers, now in their prime years for exhibiting the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s? Aren’t they about to start downing dopamine therapy like hippies taking acid at a Grateful Dead concert in The Summer of Love? How do we reconcile this study with other studies which assert that people with Parkinson’s are more “rigid” in personality than those without it? Can one be simultaneously rigid and creative? Are there different kinds of creativity? If so, are they all boosted equally by these medications? If not, which ones and why? And again, how would that be measured? Is this burst of creative power a “blessing in disguise”, or more mockery from a disorder that allows you think more creatively while depriving you of your voice, your ability to type or write in longhand, to make brush marks with control and subtlety? In other words, making you more creative while at the same time cruelly robbing you of your ability to express yourself creatively? Can we judge artistic capacity scientifically now, through measure of dopamine levels instead of through subjective evaluation of the artist’s work? Should the artistic accomplishments of people with Parkinson’s be seen as “artificially enhanced” and therefore judged differently than the work of people without PD?  Are PD-related hallucinations a related phenomena, creativity run amok, involuntary and possibly harmful? Would elephants that paint make more or better paintings if they had PD and it were treated with dopamine-replacement therapies? Would beluga whales sing more inventively?

Whew! I know, I know, that is a ton of questions. But don’t blame me... It’s the levodopa talking.

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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