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The two-faced Roman god Janus

Janusian thinking is the combined use of logical and associative thinking. It can make a creative person appear unstable.

Creative people are famously unstable, both emotionally and in their thinking; the artistic temperament is moody, and creators openly tolerate polarities in ideas and viewpoints that others reject, and then try to bury. Oscillations between two distinctly different modes of thinking may account for a lot of this instability and openness. Creators are more skilled in the combined use of two kinds of thought processes: linear thinking, which is verbal, logical, sequential, and analytic; and non-linear thinking, which is associative, more image oriented, non-sequential, and non-logical (but not irrational).

In addition, both logical and associative thinking have a gut-reaction aspect in that certain thoughts, ideas, images, situations, or events may resonate with some of the emotionally important ideas that form the authentic self. Resonance manifests as “spiritual” feelings such as joy, bliss, delight, or enchantment. An enhanced ability to experience resonance and a greater willingness to respond to it in a concrete way (e.g. via art or science) is another characteristic of the highly creative individual. Creators revel in the uplifting effect of resonance and pay special attention to the immediacy and specific relevance of its workings. In art especially, the process is uniquely personal and often generates intimate, complex, and sometimes frustrating emotional relationships between creators and the works they create.

The practice of creativity requires a constant shuffling between logical and associative thinking. Nietzsche touched on this when he discussed the two opposing artistic impulses known as Apollonian (form, order, and reason) and Dionysian (surging vitality, intuition, and emotion). The German philosopher believed the pair battled one another for supremacy, a position that is understandable when you consider how the creator may appear emotionally and intellectually unstable. Yet he also believed the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian artistic impulses forms the basis for the dramatic arts, specifically tragedies. Recent creativity research suggests the impulses complement one another in a remarkably powerful way. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks did not consider Apollo and Dionysus to be opposites or rivals. They placed them both on Mt. Parnassus, the mythical home of poetry and all art.

Janusian thinking is a term used to describe a creative person’s deliberate use of opposites when thinking about a project. The term might also serve well to describe the process of blending, or alternating between, logical and associative thinking. (Janus was the two-faced Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings.) With logical thinking housed in the conscious mind and associative thinking at home in the unconscious, simultaneously using the two thought modes involves looking in two directions at the same time!

Synergistic thinking is a more modern term that suggests the enhanced power of the combined thought modes. Those with the capacity to engage in substantial amounts of synergistic thinking will, because they are functioning in two distinct, nearly contradictory, cognitive modes appear the most unstable. That is to say, the greatest creators are likely to seem the most mad. This is largely an illusion, but one that has spawned many a theory linking madness with creativity and genius. We live in a romantic age, so the idea that great creators are somehow crazy has broad appeal.