Basic idea: The anterior cingulate cortex has at least two modes.
The function of the ACC, in Aeolitalk, is to observe possible narratives crafted by the subconscious, and choose the one that downregulates the amygdala the most. In the typical mode of function, where social success is preferred, the most self-flattering model of understanding is chosen. For instance, “I’m not successful because I’m a victim of prejudice.” This also helps people get along in modern life because believing the most self-flattering model which fits the observable data helps people to craft this narrative spontaneously in social situations, and also self-advocate effectively. Probably self-advocacy is the most important component of success in the modern economy.
However, via depression the ACC can be flipped to another mode which favors genius. I will refer to this as “observer mode”. That is, dopamine starvation makes a person “give up” and their subconscious mind acquires negative affectivity. (Or at least this is how it happened in my case.)
Negative affectivity (NA) is a personality variable that involves the experience of negative emotions and poor self-concept. Negative affectivity subsumes a variety of negative emotions, including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, and fear, and nervousness. Low negative affectivity is characterized by frequent states of calmness and serenity, along with states of confidence, activeness, and great enthusiasm.
Individuals differ in negative emotional reactivity. Trait negative affectivity roughly corresponds to the dominant personality factor of anxiety/neuroticism that is found within the Big Five personality traits as emotional stability. The Big Five are characterized as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Neuroticism can plague an individual with severe mood swings, frequent sadness, worry, and also being easily disturbed. Research shows that negative affectivity relates to different classes of variables: Self-reported stress and (poor) coping skills, health complaints, and frequency of unpleasant events. Weight gain and mental health complaints are often experienced as well.
People who express high negative affectivity view themselves and a variety of aspects of the world around them in generally negative terms. Negative affectivity is strongly related to life satisfaction. Individuals high in negative affect will exhibit, on average, higher levels of distress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, and tend to focus on the unpleasant aspects of themselves, the world, the future, and other people, and also evoke more negative life events. The similarities between these affective traits and life satisfaction have led some researchers to view both positive and negative affect with life satisfaction as specific indicators of the broader construct of subjective well-being.
Negative affect arousal mechanisms can induce negative affective states as evidenced by a study conducted by Stanley S. Seidner on negative arousal and white noise. The study quantified reactions from Mexican and Puerto Rican participants in response to the devaluation of speakers from other ethnic origins.
Particular symptoms I noticed are extreme memory problems, weird trust problems with authority (if everyone around me is a social-climbing liar, can I even believe Australia is a real place without confirming it myself?), and the negative arousal to white noise explained in the Seidner study.
Depression and negative affect produce an alternative way of seeing the world- pessimistic rather than optimistic. This is a sort of energy-saving strategy which is a response to dopamine starvation. I believe this is the case because chronic high stress produces the conviction that “what I’m doing just isn’t working and it’s not going to get better”. I.e. The body senses that resources are restricted, and shuts down all the activity that is typically driven by optimism. This mode prefers clear observation of reality in order to avoid making a bad situation worse. Sort of a “lurker” mentality.
This shift is what produces the lack of social anxiety/interest seen in geniuses. But most “observers” don’t become creative or geniuses. This takes many more ingredients, like a high level of mental energy, humility, and high discernment. Presuming such ingredients, let’s roll with the momentum.
High mental energy predisposes a person to express their observations, i.e. creativity. A successful expression creates a huge shot of dopamine. The major initial symptom of this addiction is stupid and silly creative efforts that don’t make any sense to outsiders. E.g. Creating a primitive philosophy-of-mind from scratch rather than referring to trusted authorities (because negative affect), or trying to devise a new music theory without scales.
This is where the genius-as-chemical-addiction-to-creativity comes from, and thence the obsessive behavior. Further, a highly creative person has the option of choosing this as their self-identification, as explained by Charlton in the genius journey. If they do this, it is possible for them to regain their agency, their sense of self as someone who chooses and acts. Maybe this is due to the social nature of genius? Artists get out of bed every morning because they’re addicted to the applause. Thus the civilization-building altruism is still selfish in the psychological sense, and the group selection is more of an accident of feeling connected to Western Civilization (in our case), and important to the group.
Speculatively, this is probably where it becomes possible to “direct” genius like a shotgun, and come up with creative solutions simply by directing attention at a subject or a particular problem. (Remember I once said I’ve very occasionally done creativity on purpose?) Otherwise the highly creative are stuck in a lower level of pure associative addiction to their particular subject matter.
Okay, after all that insight dumping it’s time for me to collect some info at the proper level of abstraction and synthesize the parts.
- The use of the ACC to choose between explanatory theories is accompanied by a feeling of relative weightiness.
- The ACC downregulates social anxiety via narrative control.
- The phenomenon of genius is characterized by extraordinary creativity.
- Creativity also downregulates anxiety via introspection and understanding of previous traumas, and planning/working to avoid repeats.
- Geniuses are pathologically altruistic and socially disinterested. They are social failures in the most meaningful sense- they do not procreate.
- Artists and highly creative folks are predisposed to depression and negative affectivity. However, at the highest levels of creativity they are the more likely they are to be socially adjusted and functional.
- The symptoms of genius-as-psychological-phenomenon are best described as addictive behavior, where creative expression and social approval form the source of the addiction.
I think that’s all of it.
Synthesis: The anterior cingulate cortex has two settings, exogenous and endogenous. The neurotypical setting is exogenous, which is concerned with social narratives and self-promotion for the purposes of sex, reproduction, etc. The “observer” setting is endogenous, concerned only with energy conservation and reduction of anxiety through threat avoidance. This is accomplished by observation and reflection, with heavy emissions of acetylcholine in order to build mental models.