Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House, the tortured genius

One topic mentioned in last week's Plan II Perspectives lecture by Wendy Domjan was the myth of the tortured genius. In discussion, House (of the television show of the same name) surfaced as an example. Or rather, someone was trying to cite House as an example of an unhappy genius...and this was the only time I spoke up that evening, to point out that House was an example of the myth, and that we probably accept the character because he fits the myth.

This was funny because the person speaking was citing House to try to prove a point, as if the existence of a fictional character like this proved something about happiness or intelligence. 

But the lecturer had cited this as a myth, and that was the interesting point for me. She said the data doesn't bear out our belief that unhappy folks tend to be smarter. And she'd of course mentioned that negative emotions tend to constrain thought and action to the obvious, in-the-box ideas, while positive ones promote long-term thinking and creativity. 


  1. That's funny. Way to stick to the point of the lecture, my man.

    Is House really unhappy, or is he just an asshole? By which I mean, I think he derives satisfaction in his life from his tortured relationships with others and his skill at tormenting them. He doesn't seem like he would do well on his own, because he needs people to abuse and impress.

    In real life, I think we'd chalk House up as a dysfunctional jerk and not be as sympathetic to him. The tortured genius myth ups our sympathy quotient.

    Most people probably think of Van Gogh as an example. But I notice that a lot of respected artists and musicians and writers seem to live a long time. I don't think you can chalk it all up to financial success, because many aren't commercial successes and/or had rough childhoods, which often predisposes people toward health problems.

    I have trouble believing that a bunch of depressed geniuses would lead longer lives.

  2. When I was looking into this a little I saw some references to the idea that Van Gogh's tortured genius cred has been called into question as well.