From The Atlantic:
Some say Sherlock Holmes’ regular use of cocaine was Doyle’s vehicle to illustrate the character’s moral weakness. It likely began more simply as a window into the culture of the time, when hard stimulants weren’t the taboo they are today. W.H. Auden apparently did believe his own dependence on the stimulant Benzedrine to be a sign of weak character, but he still took it every working morning and endorsed its creative influences effusively. Jack Kerouac and Jean-Paul Sartre offer similar testaments. Sir Elton John sang “Bennie and the Jets” … which may be in praise of Benzedrine, but is open to interpretation, depending where you stand on mohair suits.
2013’s cultural Benzedrines are Adderall (amphetamine salts) and excessive coffee. Caffeine remains non-prescription legal, and it’s still universally considered benignly delightful to make offhand comments about how unproductive we are without it.
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Meanwhile, for some, a threat to creativity is only slightly less terrifying than a threat to life. Being boring is just a notch above being malicious or genocidal in the hierarchy of human values for generation Millennial. So when, last week, friend-of-The-Atlantic Maria Konnikova wrote an interesting piece for The New Yorker entitled “How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity,” it concerned people like me. That is, people who use caffeine regularly and also sometimes want to create things and be interesting. The article read, “While caffeine has numerous benefits, it appears that the drug may undermine creativity more than it stimulates it.”
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I like the analogy that [caffeine] turns off the body’s brakes. How it affects creativity is mostly conjecture, and will vary from person to person.
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As someone who works with a lot of self-described creatives types, my experience is that the most common barriers to people creating are initiative, commitment, and self-doubt. Caffeine helps with all three of those. Even if there are some sort of subtle effects on free-association or Rorschach inkblots, or some people overdo it and lose sight of the big picture in a euphoric state of hyper-vigilance, I can’t see that outweighing the benefits of stimulation, disinhibition, and improved ability to focus on work. Deferring to Woody Allen: “80 percent of success is showing up.”
How all of this comes together to make any one of us think differently varies, of course. Case studies for caffeine endorsement abound: Simone de Beauvoir, Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, and the famous example Honoré de Balzac, who “is said to have” had 50 cups most days. He was plenty creative, but was also a notoriously eccentric man with gastric problems who died at 51 of a cardiac issue.
Link to the rest at The Atlantic