Negative affectivity: The anterior cingulate cortex is the key to unlocking genius

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.[1] Negative affectivity subsumes a variety of negative emotions, including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, and fear,[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[1][3] Research shows that negative affectivity relates to different classes of variables: Self-reported stress and (poor) coping skills,[1][5][6] 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.[1] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.

  1. The use of the ACC to choose between explanatory theories is accompanied by a feeling of relative weightiness.
  2. The ACC downregulates social anxiety via narrative control.
  3. The phenomenon of genius is characterized by extraordinary creativity.
  4. Creativity also downregulates anxiety via introspection and understanding of previous traumas, and planning/working to avoid repeats.
  5. Geniuses are pathologically altruistic and socially disinterested. They are social failures in the most meaningful sense- they do not procreate.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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18 Responses to Negative affectivity: The anterior cingulate cortex is the key to unlocking genius

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    See also “toxic shame” and “depressive realism”.

    I have an inner critic that keeps telling me (in mentalese not human language) that I *am* bad. My Isness is wrong. I keep up coming up with neurolinguistic counter-koans. As a result I know my mind quite well. Whenever I have adequate dopamine I am a charismatic beast of personal development. Like running with a weight vest and then taking it off.

  2. Edenist whackjob says:

    Btw, negaffect + addicted to forbidden knowledge = necromancer mode. The more you learn the more it eats your humanity.

  3. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

    I’ve given up on my once-wish to be a genius because, A.) not intelligent enough, so it’s not possible; B.) even if it were possible, sick of all the misery that goes along with it. OTOH I may still try for being a tribal/local genius in Charlton’s terms, of sorts, or a 3rd or 4th class faux-genius.

    Lately many of my thoughts have been turned towards (among other things) how creativity and genius may/may not interact with divine grace– how grace builds on nature, or doesn’t– as applied to the such phenomena.

    So adding this post up with my own recent musings, my thought is that that creativity can be kept up via divine intervention via devout Christianity (optimally: devout Catholicism), yet manage to avoid so many of the potentially dark or deadly results of creativity.

    It’s interesting to compare devout Christian geniuses– such as Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, etc. with non-Christian ones such as, well, the first that pops to mind is Gould because… what a life characterized by misery, hypochondria and neuroticism. Jung or Freud are also good examples, but to view specifically as especially immoral and selectively dishonest geniuses, and (especially in Jung’s case) likely demon possessed or at least heavily demonically influenced– and who were both extremely destructive overall to civilization.

    Anyhow, the point is that you see an interesting sort of wholesomeness, completeness, and a certain non-futility, and anti-pomposity in the devout Christian geniuses (though in some cases it may not even be very noticeable until quite late in life)– even so in more misery-characterized ones with quite extreme trials like Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn. Whereas there is a certain unwholesomeness, incompleteness, futility and pomposity of the non-Christian geniuses and especially the more immoral ones. The actual suffering levels of the Christian ones can be quite high, and usually at some point in their life they pass through a phase of madness or depression and may battle with extreme neuroses, perhaps for a quite extended period of time– but sooner or later they attain the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”

    Anyhow, the point of this is:

    A.) “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” is to be aimed for regardless; seeing the comparison of non-Christian vs Christian genius illustrates this, and gives hope…

    B.) …for those with genius (even if low-tier or mere tribal/local genius) there is a very strange path for attaining to this; grace builds on nature and therefore an understanding of the genius-battle in natural terms is fruitful for understanding the process, and an awareness of what’s going on in them.

    C.) …and for not-yet Christian geniuses, the may perhaps be made more open to conversion via consideration of these things. E.g. myself I was actual partly-induced to conversion by noticing that Christian (and especially Catholic) geniuses have a certain (at the time perceived as) je ne sais quoi that I wanted. Now I see that it is divine intervention and the God-given gift of the peace that surpasses all understanding unto those who by nature (of genius) would otherwise live lives characterised by a Gould-like futility/neuroticism and/or an even worse madness-pomposity of the more immoral sort of genius.

    (anyhow, lots more thoughts maybe I’ll post later; but in closing, excellent synthesis! I think this understanding will bring much good.)

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      Concur om brilliance of post. Said in original comment but mobile browser waxed it.

    • Heaviside says:

      What did Jung ever do to you?

      • Never met him; but why do you ask?

      • Heaviside says:

        Come on, it’s an idiom. Why do you think he was “especially immoral and selectively dishonest” and “extremely destructive overall to civilization”?

      • Extremely destructive– his influence in the destruction of traditional religion and sexual morality, his influence in the new age movement and the widespread Western acceptance of open or covert relativism, moralistic-therapeutic deism and occultism.

        Especially immoral and selectively dishonest– see:

        Also on the his influence in general see:

        “Jungianism is indeed intensely individualistic; to the point of a selfishness so extreme as to be off-the-map – for each Jungian, ultimately, the world exists primarily in order that he personally – in his here and now – feels connected with it and positive about it.

        Everything else is, at root, a deceptive elaboration of this prime imperative: for each Jungian the world should be organized so that he personally feels as good about things as possible.


        Since such radical individualism is impossible; in practice, this means that Jungians cohere and cooperate by defaulting to the usual, mainstream, Left-Liberalism, and have, like everybody else – pretty much, followed this into political correctness.”

        Regarding demonic influence, Jung believed that he had communicated with various entities, in particular a spirit named “Philemon.” Some have thought he was exaggerating it, or perhaps had just gone mad, but he himself insisted that he meant what he said and really did communicate with these entities.

  4. j says:

    Woohoo this is great

  5. Edenist whackjob says:

    I can identify people who have the same “thing” as me from a mile away. Contact is extremely high bandwidth but brief also. Too painful to be around others with the same kind of extreme negativity for too long. Talking becomes like debugging code. Very acetyl-choline. I prefer to be around others who can heatsink my crap and provide influx of dopamine.

  6. Here’s another weird sort of psychic state I went through. I don’t know if this would happen to everyone or not, but this post made me think of it.

    At some point I remember a sense of losing all *personal* connection with past memories, and also a strange psychic state that seemed as if sort of envelopment in a hazy fog regarding all memories and perceptions of the external world. It was sort of gradual, but started to occur around the time of “…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?).”

    My thought is that this state was caused by eventually applying the same sorts of modes of thought that cause the “Australia skepticism,” to one’s own memories and present perceptual faculties; and having “weird trust problems” directed towards *my own* authority (and towards my “own authority’s” most appropriate domain– i.e. own perception of reality). So kind of like treating myself like a crazy person even though I’m not… but thereby becoming sort of crazy, lol.

    To make a bit more clear what these symptoms were: I could remember things from the past, but they all seemed somewhat unreal and completely impersonal, like “data” I remembered rather than *my* memories.

    E.g. one time around Christmas I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen in since highschool. I immediately recognized him, and felt a bit of the sort of excitement and joy one should feel upon a chance meeting with an old friend, but yet this excitement was felt as strangely “outside of myself”– as sort of a feeling that I could kind of see in the distance and quasi-feel, all while innately knowing that it should not be that way– as a sort of hypothesis that needs confirmation. The knowledge that he was an old friend was felt as exactly *knowledge,* or mere data, and not something that really connected with my being. I felt a certain sense of distance, but totally different than that of the distance caused by the passage of time, but rather a sort of skepticism that I actually hadn’t known him ever (not that I consciously doubted it intentionally, but that a certain sense of doubt had become ingrained). I remember I after greeting, asking him “hey! Man it’s been so long. Did you even remember me?” And he looked at me a bit weirdly like “huh?” and said of course he did; which I think was caused by me projecting my own strange foggy state of skepticism and disconnection from my own memories and sense perceptions onto him– which was of course not the case at all; and he didn’t have the slightest skepticism or fogginess (except for the normal sort caused by the passage of time) towards his own memories of me.

    Same thing occurred with all memories and sense perceptions. It was like they weren’t mine but “memories or perceptions of some guy (who happens to be me, apparently) that I happen to be aware of.”

    That particular incident though, was especially notable because it made me aware that something seriously screwy was going on with my brain, and it forced upon me an awareness that I was in some sort of psychic fog, even though I couldn’t really tell what it was.

    Such a strange state it is when one has this ingrained skepticism towards his own memories and sense perceptions… recently I’ve been coming out of this haze and so only now able to describe it from the outside.

    Thinking back on it, it seems to have been caused by “weird trust problems with authority” when applied to my own authority, in precisely that area where only oneself should have authority. For me it was also concurrent with a re-evaluation of my morality, and so I think it was actually a necessary stage (though in hindsight probably could have been avoided or handled better), at least for me, that had some value for moral purification: “(if perhaps *I am* a social-climbing liar, can I even believe that my own perceptions and memories are real without confirming it “myself?” (strange paradox))”

    Although a part of it was also just “failure,” as reacted to in the “melonhead hell” way; and then also mixed in with a weird but more generally *objective* existential crisis.

    (anyone else go through a psychic state somewhat like this?)

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      “(anyone else go through a psychic state somewhat like this?)”

      Yep. I can relate.

      Total distrust in all narratives, including one’s own core programs. Depersonalized state ensues, where one kind of knows one is just a mismatch of limbic programs and false narratives, yet wanting to believe there is more.

  7. justabum says:

    I thought this would be an appropriate place to leave this.

    Well mate I worked out my puzzle.

    Dual back TM, told you I’ve a huge head, literally. With a mix of thal melon face to boot, imagine a mix of Amud melon I think. You’ve seen me before years ago anyway, just not the dual back… Yes, I was embarrassed to show off my hmmm hump.

    Your post sang to me. I find negativity gives me a drive, the more the better, particularly if it’s people trying to inflict negativity onto me, I’ll fight back till I conquer, no matter how much time elapses. Negativity is like a puzzle of chaos to make order from. An order I find desirable.

    A little saying I had on my very first forum, before I was exposed to anything phrenological/anthropological…

    “I may be a piss ant, but I’ve a very LOUD VOICE!!”

    Once observed, then learned, it can never be unseen.

    That saying above was when I realised, I was manipulating major journalists of prominent news papers… back in oh 08…till 2010. I predicted 2 years before it happened, a hung parliament, then helped make it happen, via a snowball effect. Though I did have another aristocratic Ace up my sleeve. Blood lines, yes…

    I’ve also learned that I’m classed as a hacktavist by tptb, though I don’t hack computers at all.

    I’ve an email in mind that will make more sense then the last…

  8. Ha, you know, thinking about this post I came to a strange epiphany. If you’ll excuse the nature of the metaphor, I think it’s really pretty good. This is kind of pinging of the path I was heading down in the previous comment.

    Creativity and genius has a dark side and a light side, and a lot of the differences match perfectly with what’s seen in Star Wars with dark side vs light side of the force.

    Unfortunately, what you have described in this post is, I believe, describing not the the key to unlocking genius in general, but in unlocking the dark side of genius/creativity.

    I think that light side creativity is exceedingly rare these days, and even most of the best (morally) creatives and geniuses these days use mostly dark side genius. It’s not so binary as it is in Star Wars where generally you’re almost always either a Sith or a Jedi or can’t use the force at all. Many people of good will use a mixture of dark-side and light-side, but I estimate that there are almost zero, if not actually zero geniuses of even the third or fourth rate who use light side genius almost exclusively (and there are quite a few 2nd, 3rd, 4th, but very few, or perhaps zero 1st rate users of dark side genius these days).

    Indeed, the dark enlightenment and neoreactionary “Sith lord,” trope likely has its origins in a subconscious inkling that they are using the dark side for ostensibly light side aims, like the LOTR idea of using the One Ring counter to its original purpose. (hmmmm… now I’m realizing that perhaps I should have used the LOTR ring metaphor rather than Star Wars, but I’ll continue with it for now).

    Like in Star Wars, where the dark side has a heavy emphasis on embracing negative and destructive passions and emotions; so too, the key to unlocking dark side genius is tapping into “negative affectivity.”

    Light side force in Star Wars has a more objective emphasis– on perceiving how the force flows through all living things. To quote Kenobi from A New Hope: “[the force is the] energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us. It penetrates us. It binds us all together”. It is also focused on objective purpose, purpose existing outside of us– akin to the idea of tao– whereas the dark side is about forcibly imposes one’s own subjective purpose onto objective reality (Vader’s proposal to “bring order to the galaxy,” absent reference to an already-existing outside of oneself objective order).

    Dark side genius is much the same, it begins with seeing through lies perhaps, of seeing through false dark side origin, but ends up as:

    “an alternative way of seeing the world- pessimistic rather than optimistic,”
    “an alternative way of seeing the world- pessimistic rather than optimistic”
    “get out of bed every morning because they’re addicted to the applause”

    [not trying to rip these unfairly out of context– though it may seem like that on the surface]

    Like in Star Wars, dark side genius seems as powerful as light side, and it operates very similarly. The Jedi and Sith use the same sorts of force powers such as premonition, ESP, force-pull, force-push, mind tricks, etc. (with force lightning perhaps the only exclusively dark side power). So with dark side genius– it actually is just as powerful in the natural order, and it is only because of the supernatural (God’s providence) that light side genius is in its peculiar way ‘more powerful’ and destined to win. And of course, dark side genius can produce good and true (to some extent) results, but this is mainly because of the principle that God can draw good out of evil (and that is why He permits it to exist).

    It is a bit more complicated, and perhaps the thing is that the initial beginnings of genius are usually as you describe, a shift away from the “typical mode of function, where social success is preferred, the most self-flattering model of understanding is chosen.” But the thing is it seems clear to me now that almost always these days the ‘dark side’ of creativity is what replaces the selfish, but in some ways more innocent mode of simple selfish understanding. A lot of folks may end up saved from total corruption, and as I said it’s not as clear cut as the Sith-Jedi-forceless divide in Star Wars; and in a way this whole post is saying the same thing Charlton said when he named the ultimate origins of the genius-drought as God’s mercy (because God knows our society is too dark to produce first rate light-side geniuses); but in sum, gone are the Tolkiens, Davillas, Aquinases, Shakespeares, Vidas, etc.

    Anyhow, now there remains the task to find out:

    -A better description of light-side creativity: its origins, operations, key differences with dark-side
    -Strategies to avoid seduction to the dark side, and to help others avoid it who have had some degree of creative/genius awakening
    -Closer study of historical first-rate light side vs dark side vs mixted geniuses (with the natural sciences or mathematics it would be more difficult to determine someone’s usage of light vs dark, vs the humanities, especially philosophy and religious subjects)
    -Closer study of past and present second, third, fourth raters of light vs dark vs mixted

  9. Pingback: Vomitus; Dark vs Light creativity; the supreme truth of God | Sub umbra alarum tuarum protege me

  10. Pingback: The perception and the will | Aeoli Pera

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