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Caffeine: For the More Creative Mind

25 June 2013

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.

. . . .

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.”

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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

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10 Comments to “Caffeine: For the More Creative Mind”

  1. I knew about Balzac and his fifty cups a day. I have never been able to imagine having that much coffee. I might have the equivalent of two or three cups a day, usually in the morning and mid-afternoon; any more than that and I start getting a little hyper and then end up unable to sleep.

  2. At that time, coffee cups were the size of today’s espresso.

  3. I measure my coffee intake in pots.

  4. Anybody touches my chocolate or my caffeine and they will learn a new definition of the Dark Side of the Force. Even my son knows not to touch Mom’s writing supplies.

  5. I quit coffee entirely about 4 weeks ago. I’ve been a heavy coffee drinker from the age of about 12 (junior high school). About 10 10-12 ounce cups a day. The first couple of weeks I had a really difficult time with a fuzzy headed feeling and concentration. Now I’m doing a lot better and I don’t have so many times during the day where I start to feel manic. I’m now in the middle of a new book. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt my creativity or productivity, to be honest, but I do feel better now. I’m also not having as many short-tempered moments. Most days, anyway.

  6. Coffee is the drug addiction I picked up in the Navy. Prior to that, I didn’t even like the taste of it. Now I love it and get splitting headaches in the afternoon if I don’t get it in the morning. I’m cool with being an addict… as long as I can get my daily fix. :v

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