History
has recognized Vincent Van Gogh as one of the most remarkable artists of all
time. He was posthumously famous for his revolutionary style in painting. As a
known expressionist, his liberal stroke of brushes and unconventional subject
earned him a place in the art world. He was described as misunderstood, often
having a hard time communicating his feelings but he is best in putting it in
his paintings. In just a decade, he had created over a thousand paintings,
which unfortunately did not gain much attention while he was still alive. Today
he was glorified because of his exceptional talent and his different perception
of the world. But beyond his groundbreaking artworks, lies a long history of
mental illness that had manifested throughout his lifetime. Yes, he was also
infamous for his unusual behavior that led him to be tried and be expelled from
his community in Arles, France a year before his death, and be involved in some
scandals in his lifetime. In addition is another incident in which he deliberately
cut his ear after an argument with his fellow artist Paul Gauguin. His insanity
has been documented through a letter from his physician Felix Rey, who treated
him when he finally took his life by shooting himself with a gun. He was
supported financially by his brother Theo and was reportedly using most of his
budget to his artworks. Along these lines, his staple diet has been compromised
and he became dependent on alcohol. Just like the famous Nature versus Nurture
debate, Psychology is trying to grasp is how far our free will can go. Little
has been documented regarding the mental health of his whole family tree, which
leads to some experts to question whether his free have come into play with his
insanity. Today, our biological predisposition to mental and physical health
has been widely established through several scientific tests and experiments.
On the other hand, the concept of transcendence, free will and our ability to
make a decision seemed to be a strong idea to make us wonder again, is Insanity
a predisposition or a choice?

            There is a thin line that separates
sanity from insanity. Long before the foundation of the modern psychology that
we know today, our forefathers have already established their own standard of
behavior that known to be socially accepted. Just like the modern days, great
philosophers have started to wonder how a body can be in perfectly good shape
while the mind that runs it isn’t. The word “sane” originated from
the Latin word “sanus”, which means healthy. From the earliest
civilization to modern time, theories and studies have been published, whether
our body or mind is a separate entity or whether it is being inherited, or
acquired or learned.

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             “Insanity, craziness or madness is a
spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral
patterns” (Wikipedia)

            Legally, “non compos
mentis”, which means “not of sound mind” is generally used to
describe insanity, although in some cases, is often used to describe confused
states where an individual’s intellectual capability are temporarily or mildly
impaired such as dementia, drunkenness or any euphoric episodes. A better
number of nations have recognized insanity as a valid criminal defense. Most
especially in the United States, insanity defense argues that a person, who
happened to experience a mental disorder to a certain extent, may not be
responsible for the crime he/she have committed. In the Philippines, The Mental
Health Act was recently passed in the Congress that aims to promote
psychological health among individual.

              
In popular culture, being insane has been comically associated with the
feeling of being in love, too much hatred and other extreme emotions. Insane
people have been depicted to be violent, have poor hygiene, and constructs
ideas and uses language in an absurd way.

            Inevitably, biological factors play
an important role in insanity. Numerous studies have shown that some of our key
attitudes, most especially aggression can be inherited and pieces of evidence
support the idea that our genetic built are designed to manifest certain
behaviors. Even the simplest physical characteristics of our body parts
influence our behavior, for example, one study suggested that aggressive people
have a slightly flexible blood vessels than those who are considered passive.
Also, men who are predisposed to grow more hair in the body are found to be
more active sexually as excess strands are found to stimulate a larger part of
the body. Down syndrome, a hereditary condition of chromosomes affects the growth
and intellectual development of the child as well as his/her behavior.
Predisposition to certain events is the center of the study of what has been
considered as one of the pillars of modern psychology Sigmund Freud. His works
suggest that our urges are our predisposition. He theorized human behavior
through pleasures and drives that dictate our actions and perhaps our choices.
He conceptualized subconscious thoughts as an influential force that is beyond
our control. To this day, his works have laid the foundation of modern-day
studies of human behavior.

             

             As a strong case, free will have made its way
to our perception and started to tickle our minds of the possibility that
everything around us can be controlled. In everyday life, we make choices, some
are simple and some are life-changing decisions. We choose who to make friends
with; we’re thought of the phrase “mind over matter” and made us
realize that we attract misfortune and possibility base on what we think.
Speeches and articles have been dedicated to strong-willed, free-spirited
people. We grew up in a society that guarantees us the freedom to soar and
achieve whatever we wanted to be, regardless of who we are or where we came
from. This is the popular idea that everyone is holding on to, that we can
transcend whatever difficulty we’re in. We often incorporate free will to our
challenges and to larger-than-life undertakings, but with the truth that there
is a thin line that keeps us sane is it possible that we might cross the other
line and just give up on trying? Physiologically, we have specialized regions
in our body that allow us to select what we think is useful and important.
Reticular activating system (RAS) allows us to filter messages and information
that we receive from the outside environment. This gives us control to block
information that we deemed as unnecessary. Through RAS, we recognized words
that please us, literally anything we agree on. With the existence of RAS, we
can reject advice, we learn to assess information, and we learn to refuse. This
fact gave rise to the possibility that maybe, in a way or another, we might
find crossing the boundaries of sanity perhaps because it’s more comfortable to
flow freely, unattached to the world, unattached to reality. There is little to
no evidence of Van Gogh’s mental illness’ genetic origin. His family members
have been documented through exchanges of records, and court documents but none
of these talked about their respective mental health. What has been documented
was his lifestyle, how he had developed his rage behavior, his dependence on
absinthe, unbalanced diet and mishaps that led him to become insane.

            Predisposition to insanity is
natural and is always there, while choice provides provision for change, for
self-determination and groundbreaking decisions. Predisposition’s inescapable
truth leaves us humble to where we came from and gives us something to look
back into. On the other hand, our love for power and control has paved a
possible way that maybe, at one point, we might be responsible to our own sanity
that maybe, how we live our life is partly blamed. Except that, since we are
referring to insanity, we relinquish our control and just let ourselves be gone
insane.

 

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