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Looking for life's little questions - Diane Wagner

When I was a child I was constantly asking questions.

Most children run through that stage, wondering why the sky is blue and the grass is green and how come you can't get McDonald's fries at Burger King.

Some eventually stop, but I was one of the ones who didn't. How do radio waves work? Can you ever be forgiven for one of the seven deadly sins? Why does President Nixon always look so mad?

My parents went from long explanations to shorter ones to buying me books and telling me to look it up.

Oddly enough, this little essay is not an intro into the reasons why I became a newspaper reporter. That career move came as an accident and is a whole 'nother story.

What I'm trying to get at here is that there are so many things we don't know. Still.

When I was a child I thought there were answers to everything and I was just too young to know them all. I viewed adulthood as the stage where everything finally became clear and fit together as a whole ? but the older I got, the farther away nirvana seemed.

It wasn't until I went to college that it started to sink in. I was afraid there would be nothing left for me to discover but I saw that we, meaning the entire human race, don't even know all the questions yet.

And, as I grow older, it's apparent that physical inventions are only the tip of the incredible iceberg we have yet to explore. Computer chips pale in comparison with findings as to how we fit into the universe.

For example, it's long been a stereotype that truly great writers, poets, artists and the like are crazed social misfits dependent on absinthe (like Thomas Chatterton), opium (like Samuel Taylor Coleridge), whiskey (like Ernest Hemingway) or other mind-altering substances (like Hunter S. Thompson).

As we moved into the modern age of science and statistics, that picture was denounced as blurry and irrational. Coincidences don't prove anything, thinking men said.

No, but they offer clues for follow-ups.

A recent study by psychologists at the University of Toronto claims to have identified a biological basis for creativity. And that biological basis is linked to a propensity for madness.

The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and reviewed on the Science Daily Magazine Web site.

It says that the brains of creative people seem to be more open to external stimuli that the brains of many others just shut out.

The blocking mechanism, called "latent inhibition," is how animals are able to ignore things that experience has shown to be irrelevant to them. Creative people, and psychotics, have lower levels of the stuff.

The authors of the study theorize that a lack of latent inhibition can make for some stunning insights n if the person has high intelligence and a good memory. But, without the ability to juggle many thoughts at once and discriminate between useful and useless ideas, a person can be buried under the barrage.

The findings open so many doors for further investigation, and they came about through a decision to ask whether there really is a connection between genius and madness.

Answers may be the building blocks of our world, but questions are the key.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.