See Inside December 2005

Brian Wilson: A Cork on the Ocean

The rise and fall of the Beach Boys leader shows how crucial the brain's executive function is to creativity

What differentiates mere talent from creative genius? No one knows for sure. We do know, however, that many artistic advances and scientific discoveries come from men and women in their 20s--just old enough to have sufficient technical skills yet young enough to be unencumbered by the habits of older generations.

Psychological studies also indicate that highly creative people share an elevated risk of serious mental illness. For certain individuals, such ailments may actually contribute to their soaring achievements. Yet often the same condition eventually ruins their inventiveness and their lives. Perhaps no story better exemplifies how mental illness can free up creativity, then crush it, than that of Brian Wilson.

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