Friday, July 2, 2010

Does Reason Breed Insanity?

G.K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton wrote:
Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.

There is a lot to say about the Chesterton quote in Orthodoxy in the year 1900. First, the whole book is online, and its FREE on the Kindle. Chesterton follows this quote with a discussion on famous insane people as examples.

Second, his book is an orthodox Christian apologetic, so Chesterton is explaining to his peers why it is OK/Good to be Christian, and he feels it necessary to address the poetic reality of Orthodoxy.  

Third, Chesterton's book reminds me of Don Cupitt's idea of Non-realism, that is he understands that his views aren't completely logical, and that is OK. Don Cupitt is a priest in the Church of England. He is about the most liberal theologian one could find. Some consider him an atheist -- me too. There is an interesting interview on this podcast.

I have looked for data on insanity and occupation, and there is little, chiefly work by Norwegian Professor Odegari, and some of these studies are fifty years old. Unfortunately most are in journals not accessible online. I'll post an update if I find something.

Finally, there was a tradition from the beginning of the twentieth century that using your mind more caused more insanity, that is that factory workers or farmers were less likely to go crazy. I view this as elite "brain" workers feeling sorry for themselves. Chesterton was probably echoing this point of view in his book.