Most creativity experts today agree that creativity is not something you’re born with; it’s something you do. Anybody can be creative. This is a pleasant, inspiring, modern and democratic view – but it flies in the face of nearly 3000 years of scholarly study of creativity, psychology and human nature.
In this post I’m going to share some research that could suggest that earth signs – Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo – are more likely to be successfully creative. It’s pseudoscience at best, but the subject is utterly fascinating, and involves astrology, philosophy and the “humor” system of medicine.
Someday I’d like to prove a link between Hippocrates’ Four Humours and the Four Main Neurotransmitters and Brain Wave States. But I’m not a scientist. So I’ll just hypothesize (I’m summarizing quickly, so if I get any facts wrong, let me know in the comments).
The classical four elements are Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Since long ago, especially during ancient times human qualities were happily described with the help of these. The melancholic earth signs are Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. The Choleric fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. The Sanguine air signs are Libra, Aquarius and Gemini and the Phlegmatic water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces.
Aristotle writes that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of the atrabilious (melancholy) temperament. This also means they were born under the planet Saturn – a slow moving planet represented by a wise old man, father of time (pictures of Saturn is where we get our contemporary version of death personified… but also Father Time. “Father Christmas” with his beard and sleigh, is from the same tradition, though Saturn’s chariot was pulled by snakes).
This doesn’t mean though that only melancholy signs can be artists; every person has a mixture of planetary influences. So you can be another sign and still have some melancholy in you. And I don’t think just being an earth sign makes you creative, though it is true that earth signs may be more likely to do the work. Creativity is highly overrated. The other signs are big talkers. They’re social. They may be absolutely brilliant. But they can’t sit in their chair for six months and write that manuscript. They can’t organize their thoughts into a grand, masterful narrative or argument. They don’t have the patience and carefulness and attention for detail to really become masters of their skill. But… a lot of Virgo and Taurus I’ve met can’t either, because they don’t have that big picture vision. They are good at making things well, but maybe not creative thinking.
However, Ficino, in Three Books on Life, says that “melancholy and furor” are same phenomenon. And this is where it gets interesting. Melancholy is tied to sadness or depression, but also – for most manic depressions – is also linked with mania (same as “furor” or “frenzy”).
Creative genius didn’t used to be a way of thinking, it was a physiological reaction. It had specific symptoms. I get these same symptoms when I’m in a manic state: breathlessness, extra sweating, increased confidence and boldness, flushing, rapid talking, insomnia… my friends and family will tell me something is off. I’ll be extremely excited about EVERYTHING and think what I’m doing is going to change the world. I’ll get a ton of creative work done, but I could also endanger myself and others through bad decision making.
Check out this excerpt from the 11th century Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, attributed to John of Milano, give the basic run-down as to the effects of too much of one humor or another:
If Sanguin humour do too much abound,
These signes will be thereof appearing cheefe,
The face will swell, the cheeks grow red and round,
With staring eies, the pulse beate soft and breefe,
The veynes exceed, the belly will be bound,
The temples, and the forehead full of griefe,
Unquiet sleeps, that so strange dreames will make
To cause one blush to tell when he doth wake:
Besides the moysture of the mouth and spittle,
Will taste too sweet, and seeme the throat to tickle.
If Choller do exceed, as may sometime,
Your eares will ring, and make you to be wakefull,
Your tongue will seeme all rough, and oftentimes
Cause vomits, unaccustomed and hatefull,
Great thirst, your excrements are full of slime,
The stomacke squeamish, sustenance ungratefull,
Your appetite will seeme in nought delighting,
Your heart still greeued with continuall byting,
The pulse beate hard and swift, all hot, extreame,
Your spittle soure, of fire-worke oft you dreame.
If Flegme abundance haue due limits past,
These signes are here set downe will plainly shew,
The mouth will seeme to you quite out of taste,
And apt with moisture still to overflow,
Your sides will seeme all sore downe to the waist,
Your meat wax loathsome, your digestion slow,
Your head and stomacke both in so ill taking,
One seeming euer griping tother aking:
With empty veynes, the pulse beat slow and soft,
In sleepe, of seas and ryuers dreaming oft.
But if that dangerous humour ouer-raigne,
Of Melancholy, sometime making mad,
These tokens then will be appearing plaine,
The pulse beat hard, the colour darke and bad:
The water thin, a weake fantasticke braine,
False-grounded ioy, or else perpetuall sad,
Affrighted oftentimes with dreames like visions,
Presenting to the thought ill apparitions,
Of bitter belches from the stomacke comming,
His eare (the left especiall) euer humming.
These are real physical symptoms; even if ancient doctors were wrong about the four humours causing them, the remedies for fixing an imbalance tended to work, appearing to justify the whole system.
And the most dangerous was Melancholy, which could make one experience “false grounded joy” or “perceptual sadness” or even visions. Classic melancholic personalities also have these qualities:
- Easily embarrassed
- Easily hurt
- Likes to be alone
- Often artistic
- Often fussy and perfectionist
- Prone to depression, avarice, and gluttony
Melancholy is tied to apparitions and dreams
In Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster, Chanticleer, has a dream in which he was being pursued by a yellowish-red hound-like creature. He wonders if the dream is prophetic, so his wife, Pertelote, reassures him by telling him:
Certes this dream, which ye have mette tonight,
Cometh of the great supefluity
Of youre rede cholera, pardie,
Which causeth folk to dreaden in their dreams
Of arrows, and of fire with redde beams,
Of redde beastes, that they will them bite,
Of conteke [contention], and of whelpes great and lite [little];
Right as the humour of melancholy
Causeth full many a man in sleep to cry,
For fear of bulles, or of beares blake,
Or elles that black devils will them take,
Of other humours could I tell also,
That worke many a man in sleep much woe;
That I will pass as lightly as I can.
Based on the description, this actually sounds like Sleep Paralysis, a terrifying experience that seems like it has to be caused by supernatural forces (that’s the only way I could explain them, which my friends and family couldn’t help explain my visions and night terrors. It’s different now that we have the internet to look things up).
I think there’s also a link with migraines, which can have uncanny side effects.
Both can both manifest in hearing voices, distorted sensory perception, the feeling of persecution, delusions of grandeur.
Migraine and sleep paralysis are still exceptionally hard to understand, contemporary science still doesn’t exactly get what’s going on or how to fix or prevent it, though we have come up with many work arounds that help. But could there be a clear link between the four humours system and modern medicine?
Medieval science in Europe was grounded in ancient Greek science that was compatible with the beliefs of the Christian church. The science of temperament came from Hippocrates (born c. 460 BC), his son-in-law Polybus (c 400 BC) , and later Galen (c. 129-200 AD). It was based on their observation that blood separates into four parts: the clear red part, a yellow liquid that rises to the top, a dark liquid that settles to the bottom, and a whitish fluid.
Everything has a mix of these four elementals which they called humours. With people the relative proportion of each determines our disposition. The word temperament was taken from Latin temperamentum which means a proper mixture, or a mixing in due proportion, from the Latin root temperare to mix.
Sanguine the humour of the blood
The hot and moist element, is the humour of the blood. It is associated with the liver and with air. Where blood dominates a person is said to be sanguine from the Latin sanguis for blood. Being sanguine gives a person a cheerful, hopeful, confident disposition.
Choleric and the humour of yellow bile
The hot and dry element is the humour of yellow bile. It is associated with the spleen and with fire. Where yellow bile dominates a person is said to be choleric from the Greek khole for bile (khole is the basis for cholera a disease originally blamed on choler or bile and for the more modern word, cholesterol, based on chole for bile and steros for solid).
Being choleric gives a person an extremely irritable or easily angered nature. We still describe someone has hot tempered.
Melancholic and the humour of black bile
The cold and dry element is the humour of black bile. It is associated with the gall bladder and with earth. Where black bile dominates a person is said to be melancholic from the Greek melas for black and khole for bile. Being melancholic is having a gloomy state of mind or being depressed.
Phlegmatic and the humour of phlegm
The cold and moist element is the humour of phlegm. It is associated with the lungs and brain and with water. Where phlegm dominates a person is said to be phlegmatic from the Greek phlegmatikos meaning abounding in phlegm. A phlegmatic person is not easily excited to action or to displays of emotion. In the extreme this can be apathy and sluggishness. They are usually self-possessed, calm, and composed.
Each one of the Four Humors has certain foods that aggravate it. Consumption of these foods should be greatly reduced or avoided by those with an excess or aggravation of that humor, whether it be innate and constitutional, or an acquired condition or imbalance. The main problematic or aggravating foods for each humor are:
Phlegm: milk, dairy products, fresh cheeses, refined sugar, refined starches and flours, wheat and glutinous foods, cold foods, ice cold drinks; moist, creamy rich foods.
Yellow Bile: salt and salty foods, fats and cholesterol, fried foods, vinegar, alcohol, excessive sour or fermented foods, aged cheeses, excessive hot spices and chillies, excessive beef and red meat.
Black Bile: old, dry stale foods: excessive beans, soy, nuts, astringent foods, peanuts, rancid fats, nightshade vegetables – especially tomatoes and eggplant.
Blood: As blood is the healthiest, most desirable humor, it’s good to cultivate it with blood-building foods like spinach, green leafy vegetables, molasses, dark red and blue berries, and various types of meat in moderation. Excessive meat consumption may produce a lot of blood, but it won’t be of very high quality, often being too thick, toxic or acidic; blood circulation is also often compromised. Therefore, one shouldn’t rely exclusively on meat to build the blood.
Because their digestions are strong and efficient, and because meat consumption tends to aggravate bile, as well as heat and toxic residues in the blood, Choleric types generally do best on a vegetarian diet. Sanguines, with their tendency towards metabolic excesses of the blood, also do weel on a light, simple vegetarian diet. Melancholics, due to the irregularity and inefficiency of their digestions and their tendency towards anemia and other nutritional deficiencies, generally have the hardest time being purely vegetarian. Phlegmatics can go either way; the pros and cons are pretty evenly balanced for them.
I believe, as modern science is only now coming to an understanding of brain chemistry, that we will discover that brain chemicals correlate strongly with the traditional four humours, as evidenced by the list of recommended foods. My hypothesis is that the diet recommendations to balance the four humours actually did balance the four main biochemicals, and alleviate symptoms of inbalance, which appeared to justify the system. We are only now starting to explore how these chemicals influence behavior and mood.
In fact I’ve found I can consistently trigger a manic state by taking Huperzine A, which increases the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Read the description below, which describes people with acetylcholine natures as “highly innovative, intuitive, flexible and impulsive; writers, artists and advertising are natural occupations for the acetylcholine type.”
My guess is, manic and depressive states represent an imbalance of acetylcholine; and that certain types of people have a harder time regulating it – something that can be improved by avoiding certain foods, and eating other foods. The fact that food can change brain chemistry and alter mood gives credence to the original humours system, whose prescriptions aren’t that far off from modern counterpoints.
Brain chemicals and activity
Beta brain waves which make you feel alert are created in the frontal lobes of the brain from neurons that produce the biochemical dopamine, which controls the electrical voltage of your brain. Dopamine works as a natural amphetamine and controls your energy, excitement and motivation.
Those individuals with a predominant dopamine nature who are balanced know what they want, are assertive, strong-willed, fast on their feet and self-confident. Dopamine personalities tend to like facts and figures are highly rational and are achievement oriented. Dopamine types gravitate toward occupations such as law, science, allopathic medicine, engineering, architecture and the military.
Producing too much dopamine can make one too intense, compulsive and driven. Overproduction of dopamine can also lead to violent behavior.
Physical signs of dopamine deficiency will be fatigue, sleeping long hours and still not feeling rested, your mind wandering, difficulty making decisions, craving caffeine, sexual dysfunction. Unconsciously you will try to compensate by avoiding stressful situations, drinking coffee to give you energy and drinking alcohol to bring you down. It is important once you realize this to correct your underlying dopamine deficiency with proper nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle modifications.
Each of the primary neurotransmitters has a nutrient precursor, and dopamine is derived from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. Co-factors such as folic acid, vitamin B6, iron, copper and vitamin C are important for phenylanaline to be absorbed.
Common foods that have high phenylalanine (p) or tyrosine (t) concentrations (in grams) include: Chicken 6-8 oz. 1.60 (p)/ .4 (t); Cottage Cheese 1 cup 1.7 (p)/1.7 (t); walnuts 6-8 oz. 1.4 (p); Ricotta cheese 1 cup 1.35 (p)/1.5 (t); Turkey 6-8 oz. 1.6 (p)/.7 (t); Wild game 6-8 oz. 2.6 (p)/1.5 (t).
The neurons in the parietal lobes of the brain, which are seated just behind the frontal lobes and on top of the temporal, produce the biochemical acetylcholine which is associated with alpha brain waves, which control brain speed. Acetylcholine is a lubricant which keeps the cells moist so that energy and information passes easily between cells. It is also the building block for the body’s insulation called myelin, which protects the nerves throughout the body.
When acetylcholine levels are balanced your brain operates quickly, one is optimally creative and confident. People with acetylcholine natures are highly innovative, intuitive, flexible and impulsive. Acetylcholine types are very sociable and charming. Relationships are natural to you, unlike dopamine dominants who often have trouble communicating their feelings. Occupations such as therapists, mediators, yoga teachers, social workers, writers, artists and advertising are natural occupations for the acetylcholine type.
Acetylcholine controls the brain’s speed of processing information and is a natural moisturizer that helps cells retain fluids and maintain their membrane coating. All acetylcholine deficiencies lead to dehydration. It is possible to have an overabundance of acetylcholine in which case an individual may feel paranoid and feel that life is taking advantage of them.
Acetylcholine deficiencies can lead to some of the following symptoms and diseases:
* Alzheimer’s disease
* Dry mouth and cough
* Excessive or frequent urination
* Inflammatory disorders
* Inability to carry out motor commands
* Reading or writing disorders
* Multiple sclerosis
* Bipolar disorder
* Learning disorders
* Mood swings
* Memory disturbance
* Attention problems
* Impaired creativity
* Impaired abstract thinking
Left unchecked a mild to moderate acetylcholine deficiency can lead to a drop in overall health. First one will tend to avoid contact with other people, more tension in your relationships may develop, you will have difficulty managing your schedule, muscles and bones will start to ache, sex will become less enjoyable due to vaginal dryness or difficulty with maintaining and erection. These can be some of the warning signs that acetylcholine levels are dropping.
Nutrition is the key to re-establishing healthy levels of acetylcholine. The B vitamin choline is converted to acetylcholine. Foods highest in choline are: egg yolk, meat, liver and whole grain cereals. My experience with myself and my clients have been that adding 2-3 raw eggs to a fruit smoothie with added flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed meal is a great way to boost numerous nutrients including choline and important antioxidants like vitamins C and E. These antioxidants as well as alpha lipoic acid protect the cell membranes of brain cells from being damaged by toxins and internally generated stress chemistries. One client of mine reversed the vast majority of his MS symptoms by utilizing a diet that included many of these raw-egg shakes.
Other acetylcholine boosters include: phosphatidylcholine and phosphastidylserine – both modified amino acids which help raise acetylcholine levels; DHA – the omega 3 fatty acid; the amino acid taurine; acetyl – L- carnitine and korean ginseng.
Neurons in the brain’s temporal lobes produce the biochemical GABA and their resulting theta brain waves. GABA is the brain’s natural valium providing calmness and aiding in the production of endorphins. When in balance the GABA dominant person is characterized by stability and reliability. These people are team players who thrive on organization and long-term relationships. Homemakers, administrators, technicians, nurses, security officers, accountants, bus drivers are all ideal occupations for GABA natured people. GABA natured people are nurturers and are tend to be very traditional. 50% of the world’s population is GABA dominant so it is very important to understand how to balance this vital brain neurotransmitter.
An excess of GABA can result in a person not taking care of their own needs at the expense of nurturing others.
Early signs that you are may be GABA deficient include: feeling anxious, nervous or irritable. You may start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Other symptoms include: allergies, light-headedness, muscle aches. This is just the beginning of what could become serious health problems.
As with all the brain’s neurotransmitters GABA deficiencies affect all four major domains of brain function. Physical, personality, memory and attention issues such as the following can present themselves as GABA deficiencies become more prominent:
* Cardiac arrhythmias
* Chronic pain
* Muscle loss
* Tachiycardia or palpitations
* Urinary frequency
* Guilt or feelings of worthlessness
* Manic depression
* Poor verbal memory
* Difficulty concentrating
* Inability to think clearly
Do these symptoms sound common? Remember 50% of the world’s population is GABA dominant and many millions of these are probably GABA deficient. Many of these symptoms appear in multiple neurotransmitter deficiencies because the neurotransmitters work in pairs. Dopamine and acetylcholine are the electrical “on” switches whereas GABA and serotonin are the electrical “off” switches.
If your GABA deficiency is mild to moderate you should be able to balance it with diet, supplements, exercise and lifestyle modifications. The amino acid glutamine is necessary for the production of GABA. Start with adding foods that are rich in glutamine (Mgs. Per 6-8 oz. serving) such as: almonds 10.3 g., bananas 220 mg., beef liver 6.5 g., brown rice 940 mg., halibut 7.9 g., oats 7.4 g., walnuts 5.4 g., spinach 680 mg..
Additional nutrients to add to your program include: inositol in doses of up to 2-12 grams per day, thiamine 400 mg. per day, niacinamide 100 mg. per day and Pyridoxine 10 mg. per day. Also taking either the herb valerian root or passionflower will boost GABA levels. GABA itself is generally not well absorbed; however, I have found a brand that is easily absorbed.
Aerobic exercise is very important for boosting either GABA, serotonin or acetylcholine. Dopamine is boosted by weightlifting and other anaerobic exercise. Lastly GABA depletion is accelerated by toxic chemicals and metals, especially lead. A hair mineral analysis can tell you if your lead levels are elevated and be brought down with a metal detoxification program.
The brain’s occipital lobes are found near the rear of the brain and control vision and regulate your brain’s ability to rest and resynchronize by producing the biochemical serotonin and its resulting delta brain waves. When your serotonin levels are balanced you can sleep deeply and think rationally, you can enjoy the simple things of life like eating a good meal or going for a walk in nature.
People with a serotonin nature know how to live in the moment. The serotonin type thrives on change and can be impulsive and is not easily deterred. For these people they must enjoy their work or they will start to look for a change. Serotonin types often have excellent hand-eye coordination and mental flexibility. Any occupation that involves operating the most advanced and expensive tools and technology is attractive to serotonin types such as: airline pilots, oil riggers, emergency vehicle drivers, and computer programmers. Increased serotonin levels can often lead one into the more glamorous careers of professional sports, acting and modeling. Serotonin dominance would be helpful for surgeons, chiropractors, detectives, investigators and those who deal with crisis intervention.
Serotonin types are often passionate about their relationships but are tend to be the most independent of the four types and have more difficulty in committed relationships. The serotonin type is interested in excitement whether it is skydiving, mountain climbing or an exciting passionate relationship.
Producing too much serotonin can make one extremely nervous and paranoid. Excessive levels of serotonin can lead to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority and contribute to sadness, depression, anger and desperation for interpersonal relationships which they are, ironically too afraid to attempt.
The early warning signs of serotonin deficiency manifest in symptoms of a disconnect between the mind and body. Some of the symptoms of serotonin deficiency include:
* Muscle aches and pains
* Urinary frequency
* Light headedness
* Loner behaviors
* Masochistic tendencies
* Memory loss
* Difficulty concentrating
The early warning signs of a serotonin deficiency may start with a loss of enthusiasm for your favorite activity or a lack of enjoying your favorite foods. Insomnia and lack of productivity may be the next level of manifestation of serotonin deficiency. Finally physical symptoms like weight gain or skin breakouts will get your attention that you have a biochemical imbalance.
In the early stages of deficiency proper diet, supplementation and exercise can correct the serotonin imbalance within a couple of months. The starting point for replenishing your serotinin levels is to eat foods that have plenty of the amino acid tryptophan which the body converts to serotonin. The following foods have high amounts of tryptophan: 1 Avocado (.40 grams), 6-8 oz. of Turkey (.37 grams), 6-8 oz. of Pork (1.00 gram), 1 cup Cottage cheese (.40 grams), 1 cup of wheat germ (.40 grams), 6-8 oz. wild game (1.15 grams).
When you’re deficient in serotonin you will crave simple carbohydrate such as pasta, alcohol and rice as well as salt, all of which promote the release of stored serotonin. It is important to limit one’s alcoholic intake to several drinks per week. The following supplements are helpful for boosting serotonin levels (dosages are dependent on severity of deficiency): Calcium, Magnesium, Fish oils, 5-HTP, melatonin, Passionflower, Pyridoxine, SAM-e, tryptophan, Zinc.
In addition to increasing foods that have high amounts of tryptophan and adding some of the above supplements other serotonin boosting activities include.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.