Does All Creativity Come From Pain? (NSQ Ep. 4)

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Also: is life precious because it’s finite?

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Relevant References & Research

Question 1: Are you sublimating?

  • Angela clarifies that this question is about the psychoanalytic concept of sublimation, not chemical sublimation — the process in which a solid transforms into a gas phase without first melting to form a liquid phase. Substances that chemically sublime include iodine, dry ice, and menthol.
  • Angela applies sublimation to the human experience of frustration or psychological pain in general, but she says that Freud mainly thought of it in the context of sexuality. In his essay On Narcissism (1914), Freud writes, “Sublimation is a process that concerns object-libido and consists in the instinct directing itself toward an aim other than, and remote from, that of sexual satisfaction; in the process the accent falls upon deflection from sexuality.” For example, in Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910), he argues that da Vinici’s repressed homosexual desires drove his scientific and artistic research.
  • During this conversation, Stephen talks a little bit about what life was like for him as a child. If you were interested in this part of the episode and want to hear more, check out Stephen’s 2006 memoir Choosing My Religion.
  • Stephen references his life as a musician. Before becoming a writer, Stephen was part of the rock band The Right Profile.
  • Angela mentions that her decision to become a research psychologist was influenced by Marty Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. Angela went on to work with him at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.
  • Angela mentions Freudian defense mechanisms. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalyst daughter Anna Freud developed and elaborated on her father’s ideas about defense mechanisms in her 1936 work Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. Many psychoanalysts, such as George Vaillant, went on to explore further types of defenses and coping mechanisms.

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Question 2: How would your life be different if you knew you were going to live forever?

  • At the beginning of the conversation, Stephen mentions that scientists are working on extending life for many years. Virtual reality technology may even allow humans to “live” forever. To learn more about this kind of technology, we recommend checking out Anya Bernstein’s 2019 book The Future of Immortality.
  • Angela shares that, as a young adult, she was very interested in death. She shares two books that she found particularly compelling: Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die (1994) and John Gunter’s Death Be Not Proud (1949).
  • Angela says that one of the things that separates us from animals is that we are conscious of our own mortality. If you’re curious to read about other theories about what sets the human mind apart from the animal mind, you might be interested in reading psychologist Thomas Sudderndorf’s The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us From Other Animals.
  • Angela discusses Terror Management Theory. The theory was developed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski and discussed in their 2015 book, The Worm at the Core. The concept is built on the work of anthropologist Ernest Becker and his 1973 book, The Denial of Death.