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Reflecting on Autism (redux)

By Wah in Culture
Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 05:59:42 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

While sitting in bed this afternoon cogitating on some recent input, I expanded on a curious line of thinking. To get in the right frame of mind, you might want to peruse some stuff like this [dang link rot], this, a bit of this, and perhaps your own life.

My theory, or whatever you want to call it, could be put simply as this. Autism (roughly defined here) and various mind abnormalities are not diseases as Western medicine has classified them, but a continuing pattern of life that has come to be known as evolution.


[Well, it didn't take long for me to find someone who thought of it first, but that doesn't mean we can't talk about it.]

As our society has grown and become a stable force in the lives of thousands of generations of our species, evolution has decided to take a chance and change a certain part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that deals with social interaction. The part where we recogize faces and refine our social graces.

A graphic measuring the brain activity of autistic and nonautistic people shows a remarkable difference when given the same stimulus. In a normal brain the sight of a face activates the fusiform gyrus, a tiny region of the cerebral cortex. However, in an autistic brain, facial images are processed in a region normally used for perceiving inanimate objects, the inferior temporal gyrus [source: July 31, 2000, Newsweek, "Understanding Autism". The text is available for a fee from their archives, I can scan in the graphics if someone wants to see, but I don't have access to server space right now. If you wish to see them and can post them somewhere, give me an e-mail address and I can send the scan to you.] This data suggests that there is a physical difference either in the brain or the brain's wiring of autistic people.

The effects and meaning of this change are the essential elements of this discussion. Autistic brains seems to have expanded capabilities in certain areas, but lack other proficiencies. And there exists a complete range of this type of "disease". What I am more interested in discussing is not the debilitating form of this condition, but a more mild form known as High Functioning Autism, or Asperger's Syndrome (aptly discussed here with included qualitative rules for diagnosis)

My wild guess would be that because of this consistent, stable, social environment, a part of the brain that was needed to create that environment is no longer necessary to sustain it. An evolutionary code fork if you will. One can get along quite well, and reproduce effectively, without this particular function of the brain. Total conjecture would lead me to type that a possible explanation for this would be that one can learn most of these skills as needed, and that we no longer need the hardware to do it superfast and without effort. Evolution has found a new toy to play with, or perhaps a new way to play with a favored creation.

Before I go on, I would like to say that treating Evolution like a thinking being that decides direction and makes conscious choices is a mistake. But it does make the topic a bit easier to discuss. And calling something "evolutionary choice" rather than "mutation" seems more palatable to me. I am not discounting natural selection, far from it, but mutation is one way that evolution can test new attributes to select.

My earlier submission on this topic was misconstrued as an excuse to be an asshole. The idea being that one who is born without hardcoded social skils (and in fact barely realizing such skills exist) has free license to act as if they don't matter. This is not the case. The trade-off could be made, axing the social consciousness part of the brain for what I think of as a built-in calculator, only because these necessary skills can be learned.

Before you cast your vote, please note that this submission is cast under "roundtable" and not "science". I'm not even suggesting that this is fact, but I think discussion might lead to some interesting tidbits. And if you think evolution itself is a farce, umm, go pray or something.

Ultimately, I think it is useful to think of various mind ailments as attempts at creating new, interesting, and very useful humans. Especially given the profound ways in which managing complex absractions like math and computer code can provide for one's survival in our current environment. My fear, however, is that fear and misunderstanding will lead to those that have these proficiencies will be medicated out of existence. From the Asperger's description page.

For example, it is not at all uncommon for a child who was initially diagnosed with ADD or ADHD be re-diagnosed with AS.

Many of the mutations of the mind are ultimately fruitless. And often end up confining one to the loony bin. But as viral innoculation has shown us, a small part of something that is fatal in large doses can lead to a stronger organism. Newsweek reported that Autism is now believed to affect one in 500 people with a 3-5X higher rate in males. Are we ignoring or glossing over another step in the evolutionary process, or is something else going on?

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Reflecting on Autism (redux) | 52 comments (47 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting topic... (1.75 / 4) (#1)
by taruntius on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 03:50:40 PM EST

The part that interests me most as something to think about further is the assertion that autistics process faces in the part of the brain used (in normal people) for inanimate objects. I don't know nearly enough about the realities of autism to know if that's true, but if it is, then i think there are some pretty chilling implications there.

What would the broad implications be if, deep in the brain, everyone of people as inanimate objects? Would morality or ethics have any meaning in such a world? Would society as we know it have any hope of continuing? What would "society" mutate into? Scary thoughts, if you ask me...




--Believing I had supernatural powers I slammed into a brick wall.
inanimate/animate objects... (4.33 / 6) (#5)
by danceswithcrows on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:11:46 PM EST

What would the broad implications be if, deep in the brain, everyone [thought] of people as inanimate objects?

Probably no more disturbing than the tendency some people have to place their {dual water-cooled Athlon, Ferrari, gun collection, house} above their friends/family in importance. Heck, I read something 1.5 years ago about advertising consistently playing on peoples' emotions to make things seem more important than humans. ("The FooTag X-9000 refrigerator: More dependable than your last 3 boyfriends.")

And there are plenty of non-autistic humans out there who have little to no empathy. Check out the people stuck in the prison system sometime, or consider your last evil boss saying, "Can you work 75 hours this week?" I'd think that considering people as inanimate objects may have a future, if only because it reduces the load on the brain. Humans are complex, and many people can't remember the details of relationships and such between/among more than about 30 people. (Think of the last time you tried to lie convincingly to your MOTAS, and you realize how complex these things are...)

Inanimate objects are less complex than humans, usually, and you don't feel so bad about lying to one of those or pissing one of them off. Considering certain other people as less than human has been a survival characteristic in the past. If you can make the folks in tribe A believe that the folks in tribe B are not worthy of life, you can rally tribe A to exterminate tribe B and obtain tribe B's resources. This characteristic of humans probably isn't going away soon.

Whoa. Er... anyway, I wonder about the "autism" term. Like "schizophrenia", it seems to be applied to a number of different disorders that are superficially similar...

Matt G (aka Dances With Crows) There is no Darkness in Eternity/But only Light too dim for us to see
[ Parent ]

I had a conversation with someone about this... (3.45 / 11) (#2)
by Faulty Dreamer on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 04:00:23 PM EST

Years back I talked with someone about this concept. Our basic conversation turned up with this basic idea.

People keep becoming more and more specialized as individuals. When, at one time, a man knew damn near all he needed to know to survive on his own in the wilderness, now there is a good chance that any given individual will know one thing very, very well and not know much about anything outside of that. Not that they are totally ignorant that these "other things" exist, but that there is such specialization on their chosen profession that those other things just barely register beyond a "yep, they exist" level.

Many autistic people have one thing that they excel at. I've known a few over the years, and they can totally boggle the mind in whatever it is they are "hard wired" to know better than any of us could ever hope to. Math is a fairly common one, but I have been a witness to those that were more inclined towards music, or writing, or any number of other things. Maybe this is evolution of the species. We have spent so much time trying to specialize that evolution has "branched" to include specialization as a natural part of the species.

Granted, any time that I have brought this up in mixed company I have been told to shut the hell up because, "Autism is a disease that must be eradicated in all its forms." The fear is very much alive and thriving. I realize some forms of Autism are extremely debillitating, but some more mild forms aren't nearly as negative to the person that is diagnosed Autistic. Must all of the Autistic people be labelled "diseased" and sent away?

This is an interesting thought anyway.

--------
Faulty Dreams - Barking at the moon 24/7...

If you think I'm an asshole, it's only because you haven't realized what a fucking idiot I am. - Faulty Dreamer

Specialization (3.62 / 8) (#6)
by catseye on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:12:29 PM EST

As Robert Heinlein said: A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

[ Parent ]
re: specialization (4.00 / 8) (#7)
by danceswithcrows on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:43:34 PM EST

[snip over-quoted Heinlein quote]

Every time I see someone quote that, I want to say, "All right, you take this axe, saw, knife, set of clothing, domesticated horse, tent, and 2 days worth of food, and you go survive in the boonies for a month."

Specialization is necessary. Heinlein himself was a specialist; he specialized in writing books for money. Humans are biologically specialized up the wazoo. We have large brains, bipedal locomotion, and opposable thumbs, and we communicate in various ways to create social structures. One human, without tools or clothing, dropped into the Amazon rain forest, would not survive very long. Even the earliest societies we know of had specialists: Groups of Cro-Magnon humans apparently delegated ritual/religious responsibilities to one man or a small group.

For one human to do all the things mentioned in the quote, that human has to A) be able to learn B) be willing to learn C) have sufficient time to learn all those things. A and B are not exactly common to 100% of the population, to say nothing of C.

Feh. I think the quote would be better if it said, "Humans should be able to learn and do many different things. Doing only one thing and not being able to do anything else is really bad when that one thing stops being in demand." As the quote stands, it's much more effective at arousing incoherent emotions than saying anything useful.

Now, go run along and slaughter the chickens for dinner, and don't forget to grind the corn for lunch tomorrow :-]

Matt G (aka Dances With Crows) There is no Darkness in Eternity/But only Light too dim for us to see
[ Parent ]

Another interpretation (none / 0) (#40)
by nakaduct on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 05:14:35 PM EST

Specialization is necessary. Heinlein himself was a specialist; ... [few humans] have sufficient time to learn all those things
You've missed his point. That quote has nothing to do with acquiring a bunch of unrelated, irrelevant skills. The essence of human intelligence is the ability to solve specific problems from general principles, and to recognize general principles from specific evidence.

I've done only a handful of those things, but could do any of them on the first or second try. Butcher a hog? Dispatch the animal (by hitting in the head, I guess), drain the blood, remove the organs (skin first), separate the limbs. It's not rocket science. It's not even non-rocket science.

People have adopted this idea that it takes a specialist to do anything competently, and that's just crap. Heinlein is reminding you of your versatility, not condemning your expertise.

[ Parent ]

Specialized tasks (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by error 404 on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 06:15:02 PM EST

If I can count on the one month time limit, the fact that I don't know how to utilize the horse properly makes the challenge trivial.

The other tools I've got down pat already. If I smoke the horse, that's an easy month's worth of food.

If I can't trust the month time limit, the horse becomes more valuable alive, and the exercise becomes a bit of a challenge. Frankly (and this isn't teenage invulnerability talking, I haven't been a teenager for a long time) that isn't all that hard a challenge.


..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

that quote is silly because... (3.00 / 8) (#16)
by boxed on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 08:56:31 AM EST

Humans are EXTREMELY specialized. We have a big brain, hands and practically nothing else! If we were truly general purpose beings, we'd have big brains, hands, claws, hoofs, FUR, etc, etc.

Human/tools are dynamic beings, we can choose specialization to a high degree after birth. Humans on their own without tools are very limited though. Human/tools are cybernetic beings at heart, we are one with the tools we use, and they are one with us.

[ Parent ]

Eradicating Einstein (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by arjan de lumens on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 01:09:22 PM EST

"Autism is a disease that must be eradicated in all its forms." !? Smacks of ignorance and prejudice to me.

Hmm. Try to tell them this: Albert Einstein may have been autistic. Somewhat speculative, but seems to fit rather nicely not only with "one thing they excel at", but apparently several other things as well. If autism and anything that looks like it were eradicated, Einstein-type people (and in general, people like these) look like they would forever be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Also, AFAIK, since there is no effective cure or treatment for autism as such (it can be masked with enough training in some cases, but not cured), and the cause of the condition is unknown (probably combination of numerous different factors), eradicating autism is essentially impossible as of now. It is possible to make it look as if autism was eradicated, but this currently requires Soviet or Third Reich style methods.

It also appears to me that many of the problems that autists struggle with in their everyday lives are caused or severely aggravated by the ignorance of the people around them and consequences thereof - first-person accounts of autism tend to contain tons of examples of such.

[ Parent ]

Evolution and society (2.60 / 5) (#3)
by egerlach on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 04:15:17 PM EST

If this is the case, then social interaction is no longer necessary in order to reproduce more than your evolutionary competition. This article on Bottomquark deals with evolution in modern society (does it exist?) Ultimately, IMHO being smart in one particular area does not help one (evolutionarily) if it doesn't lead to one's further reproduction. And so, whatever adavantages one gains from "losing" the portions of the brain realted to being social have to result in greater reproduction than other humans without this evolutionary trait. It's hard to say exactly what the effects on evolution would be.

"Free beer tends to lead to free speech"
Autism, evolution and "features" (3.85 / 7) (#4)
by Puzzle on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 05:08:12 PM EST

It is true that autists and people with Aspergers' syndrome are very good at one particular, or several special subjects, like maths, computers, music, and many other things.

However, many autists (and people with AS) do suffer heavily with their difficulties with interacting with other people - understanding other peoples' way of communicating. People with autism/AS learns social intelligence the hard way - if they learn it at all.

What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter if you can design rocket-engines in your head, if you can't communicate your message.

I cannot see how autism/AS is beneficial to an individual - or to humanity in general.

It certainly isn't beneficial to the individual.


On another note, I suspect that lots of people who have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, do not have it at all. I have met several people who have been diagnosed with it, and none of them have much in common - much less anything that makes people think "he/she's autistic".



One example (1.00 / 1) (#42)
by Wah on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 06:06:06 PM EST

I cannot see how autism/AS is beneficial to an individual - or to humanity in general.

Well, even discounting the various contributions of Autism or AS people, I think there could be some other benefits.

In not being hardcoded for social skills, one is also not as dependant on them for fulfillment. One area in which this would be useful is tasks that require long term isolation, like, oh say, interstellar (or even interplanetary) space flight. Isolation is a great way to drive a normal person insane, but it is much closer to the desired, and even "natural" state of an autist. So I might be reaching, but there's one example.

Now, one would need the social skills to learn how to operate the rocket ship they designed in their head, and this would require some two-way communication, but if you could make it that far, the rest of the journey might not be so difficult.
--
Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | SSP
[ Parent ]

there are voluntary autists in egan's "distre (3.90 / 10) (#9)
by sayke on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 07:35:02 PM EST

a book which i recommend to all comers, although the ending disappointed me. regardless, egan's voluntary autists think of intimacy as a dangerious delusion, and so they modify their neurological structure (by lesioning the fusiform gyrus) to free themselves of it. a particularly relevent bit from "distress" can be found on page 49:

"Of course, most animals will instinctively protect their young, or their mates, at a cost to themselves; altruism is an ancient behavior strategy. But how could *instinctive altruism* be made compatable with human self- awareness? Once there was a burgeoning ego, a growing sense of self in the foreground of every action, how was it prevented from overshadowing everything else?

The answer is, evolution invented *intimacy.* Intimacy makes it possible to attach some, or all, of the compelling qualities associated with the ego - the model of the self - to models of other people. And not just possible - pleasurable. A pleasure reinforced by sex, but not restricted to the act, like orgasm. And not even restricted to sexual partners, in humans... Intimacy is just the belief - rewarded by the brain - that you *know* the people you love in almost the same fashion as you know yourself."

and a bit later on page 51:

I said, "So if autism is a lack of understanding of others... and healing the lesion would grant you that lost understanding - "

Rourke broke in, "But how much is understanding - and how much is a delusion of understanding? Is intimacy a form of knowledge, or is it just a comforting false belief? Evolution isn't interested in whether or not we grasp the truth, except in the most pragmatic sense. And there can be equally pragmatic falsehoods... If the brain needs to grant us an exaggerated sense of our capacity for knowing each other - to make pair-bonding compatable with self- awareness - it will lie, shamelessly, as much as it has to, in order to make the strategy succeed."

the voluntary autists had been called "inhuman" by various people, and on page 55, rourke (one of the first voluntary autists) comments on that:

Rourke said, "It's the oldest semantic weapon there is. Think of all the catagories of people who've been classified as "non-human", in various cultures, at various times. People from other tribes. People with other skin colors. Slaves. Women. The mentally ill. The deaf. Homosexuals. Jews. Bosnians, Croats, Serbs, Armenians, Kurds - "

I said defensively, "Don't you think there's a slight difference between putting someone in the gas chamber, and using the phrase rhetorically?"

"Of course. But suppose you accuse me of "lacking humanity." What does that actually mean? What am I likely to have done? Murdered someone in cold blood? Drowned a puppy? Eaten meat? Failed to be moved by Beethoven's Fifth? Or just failed to have - or to seek - an emotional life identical to your own in every respect? Failed to share all your values and aspirations?"

I hadn't replied. Cyclists whirred by in the dark jungle behind me; it had begun to rain, but the canopy protected us.

Rourke continued cheerfully. "The answer is: 'any one of the above.' Which is why it's so fucking lazy... Questioning someone's 'humanity' puts them in the company of serial killers - which saves you the trouble of having to say anything intelligent about their views. And it lays claim to some vast imaginary consensus; an outraged majority standing behind you, backing you up all the way. When you claim that Voluntary Autists are trying to rid themselves of their 'humanity', you're not only defining the word as if you had some divine right to do that... you're implying that everyone else on the planet - short of the reincarnations of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot - agrees with you in ever detail." He spread his arms and declaimed to the trees, "Put down that scalpel, I beseech you... in the name of all humanity!"

yes, egan rules. and there's another gem on page 211. check this:

"I don't believe that honesty leads to madness.
I don't believe we need delusions to stay sane.
I don't believe the truth is strewn with booby-traps, waiting to swallow up anyone who thinks too much.
There is nowhere to fall - not unless you stand there digging the hole."

can i get a "fuck yea"? =)


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

Darwin Awards (3.66 / 6) (#11)
by SPrintF on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 10:17:13 PM EST

It seems fairly obvious that an inability to effectively bond with others would limit one's opportunities to reproduce, eh? It's an evolutionary "step" only the sense that Down's Syndrome is a step; ie, one taken in the wrong direction.

You're right (3.75 / 4) (#22)
by Wah on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 08:23:40 PM EST

and I admit as much here. One concept that was lost in my first submission to this one was that maybe it doesn't matter as much now. Heck, women can effectively reproduce now without having a male (although their children still seem to want to find their fathers to "help make sense of it all").

Think of sentience and tool use as a crossing point for evolution. After a while we can choose, in effect, our own direction. Small diversions that would have led to death in a less stable environment get a chance to flourish (on a small scale, but infinitely larger than 0) in such an environment. The gene stuff and passing along this condition to children is a subject that I think most will agree is still a big, unanswered question. But if it is a physical condition, I think that would point to some sort of genetic explanation. This is also scary since a small part of this tendency can be useful, but a large part is extremely debilitating (and the brain scan I mentioned was from a "terminal" case). Anyway, some dessert for thought.
--
Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | SSP
[ Parent ]

Autism and misc. *pathies (4.66 / 18) (#15)
by localroger on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 08:21:36 AM EST

I voted this up because it brings up interesting topics, but I seriously disagree with the author's premise.

Evolution cannot have anything whatsoever to do with any trait, however useful or useless, which is not heritable.

Autism is at one end of a spectrum of cognitive defects which do not have any obvious physiological cause. Other examples would include sociopathy, certain forms of schizophrenia, sexual deviance, and both low and high extremes of intelligence.

The human brain appears to me to be almost entirely self-programming. Humans don't even use the instincts and reflexes we have inherited the way other animals use them -- we have the walking reflex, which makes it possible for baby horses and giraffes to walk at 4 hours old; but we must lose it before we can learn to walk the human way, which allows us to choose our gait and even dance. And while most of us don't use the ability we can override nearly all of our bodies' automatic behaviors at will, if we practice at it.

This flexibility comes at a cost. Sometimes the programming doesn't take. This is probably the result of random influences whose importance is far from obvious at those early moments when critical imprinting occurs.

We are obviously not born knowing how to recognize faces, or ourselves as being equivalent to other human beings. We have lost the cues which trigger this imprinting in other animals because, on the whole, our method works better and doesn't have a lot of hardwired baggage attached. We don't drop what we are doing when a stray pheromone wafts by or we see the color red.

The flipside is that the process doesn't always work right. Evolution doesn't care about this. As long as enough individuals turn out right to propagate the species, evolution calls its method successful.

Autism is the failure to form one of several important data structures which make up what we call "personality." The autist may fail to identify himself with other human beings, in which case a host of other functions will fail to develop. Or one of those other functions may fail to click into place. The autist often uses that part of the brain the rest of us use to socialize for some other obsessive purpose, which is where the idiot savants come from. The powerful motivations wired into that part of the brain which normally informs our relationships with other people go into some other activity which has taken up residence there, and human relationships get the same second-billing the rest of us give a hobby or passing billboard.

I would class sociopathy as a form of autism in which the ability to function in society forms, but the identity of self with others does not.

If all goes well the concept of humans of the opposite sex will land in the part of our brain wired for sexual stimulation, but as we know that doesn't always happen. Sometimes it's just the "opposite sex" part that's lost, and the result is homosexuality; sometimes something totally weird lands there, like an inanimate texture or form or the abstraction of power. The area seems big enough to house several unrelated (or even competing) concepts.

Once these critical areas are programmed with inappropriate patterns it appears to be impossible to re-program them. (This is consistent with the model of memories being coded by the growing of nerve fibres and formation of synapses, a process which cannot readily be undone.)

This model is not very popular among academics. The reason is political. There are two major camps among academics studying consciousness, from AI researchers to doctors. The first camp wants it to be genetically programmed, so that the Problem can be Solved through eugenics or genetic engineering. The second camp wants it to be learned, so the Problem can be Solved through psychoanalysis.

The problem with the model I have presented is, the Problem can't be Solved. This makes it a poor choice to attract funding for research. It suggests no method to prevent the formation of paedophiles, nor any way to deal with them more useful than the .38 calibre one. All it suggests is a rather unpleasant and unavoidable aspect of the human condition.

And oh yes, it might be the truth. But then that would be so inconvenient.

I can haz blog!

Instinct vs self-programming (4.44 / 9) (#23)
by arjan de lumens on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 10:11:58 PM EST

AFAIK, in most human infants, at least two fairly strong instincts are obviously present immediately after birth (that is, long before they could possibly have been learned):
  • If they are hungry and presented to a female breast, they will begin to feed from it.
  • If exposed to physical pain (needles, colic, whatever), they will start screaming.
This by itself is not terribly remarkable. What is remarkable, though, is that in people with autism, it frequently turns out that such instincts were unusually weak or just plain missing in their early infancy. This suggests to me that there is at least something going on before or at time of birth.

For autism, as well as schizophrenia, and probably other cognitive defects as well, there is at least some hereditary component present - it is far more common for identical twins to both have such a condition than for non-identical twins. E.g. for schizophrenia, it is known that if one of a pair of identical twins has the condition, there is a 50% chance that the other one has it too (vs about 10% for non-identical twins). Something similar applies to autism as well. But given that the numbers are much less than 100%, genetics alone cannnot provide the entire answer.

Such conditions do not respond very well to psychoanalysis either - literature on asperger's syndrome even indicates that subjecting a person with asperger's to traditional, Freud-style psychoanalaysis can be extremely dangerous.

In sum, I think you overestimate the degree of self-programming going on in the human brain. I still pretty much agree with the final point ("Problem can't be solved") though.

[ Parent ]

Neurophysiology (4.87 / 8) (#26)
by sigwinch on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 12:22:32 AM EST

The human brain appears to me to be almost entirely self-programming.
The evidence does suggest that at the 'executive decision' level, most characteristics are learned (or at least strongly subject to learning). However, at a low level the brain is strongly hard wired. For example, try learning how to directly intrepret the sounds of a 100 baud computer modem. The information content is the same as speech, and the full information content is available to the ears. Yet you will never learn to hear words from modem noises because the brain does not posses the necessary gadgets for processing the sounds. Conversely, the brain does posses hard-wired gadgets for processing human speech.
We are obviously not born knowing how to recognize faces,...
Go read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a collection of tales about neurological oddities. The title of the book comes from a man who could not recognize human faces, but otherwise had good vision. Asked to describe a face, he would give an accurate description of colors, textures, curves, and surfaces.

There is also a lot of other evidence that the brain has highly specialized gadgets for particular jobs. E.g., Broca's area, a portion of the brain strongly linked to speech (interpretation and well as generation). Or the study of London cabbies that found enlargement in the hippocampus, presumably because it is used in learning locations and routes.

There are two major camps among academics studying consciousness, from AI researchers to doctors. The first camp wants it to be genetically programmed, so that the Problem can be Solved through eugenics or genetic engineering. The second camp wants it to be learned, so the Problem can be Solved through psychoanalysis.
Both ideas are wrong. If the former was correct, genius would be independent of education. If the latter is correct, you could teach a chimpanzee to play the violin with a little training. The truth lies firmly in the middle ground.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

I disagree. (3.66 / 3) (#28)
by Signal 11 on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 06:01:07 AM EST

Yet you will never learn to hear words from modem noises because the brain does not posses the necessary gadgets for processing the sounds.

I can distinguish between most types of handshake speeds, and I often know the speed it will negotiate at before the modem finishes. However, once that is finished, the content is reduced to noise. The human brain cannot take pure digital data or noise and interpret it, because there is no pattern to latch on to. Computers, however, don't need patterns... only protocol. Brains need the opposite - patterns, not protocol.




--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Re: your examples (4.50 / 8) (#30)
by localroger on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 08:48:08 AM EST

None of the examples you give contradindicate my proposal.

For example, try learning how to directly intrepret the sounds of a 100 baud computer modem. The information content is the same as speech, and the full information content is available to the ears.

Actually, the information content is not the same as speech; the modem uses too few symbols iterated too rapidly, and the ear filters out a lot of the content before it ever reaches the brain. Yes, that's hard-wired, but it's not hard-wired behavior. It wouldn't take much electronics to automatically translate the 110 baud signal into a series of sounds which could be interpreted and learned. There are quite a few people who can interpret DTMF with their ears.

There is also a lot of other evidence that the brain has highly specialized gadgets for particular jobs.

If you re-read my post, you'll see that I hypothesize areas where certain functions tend to "land" during self-programming. This doesn't mean those areas are any different than other areas, and the existence of malfunctions like autism (where PET scans reveal that functions have been moved to an unusual area) are actually evidence for my hypothesis. The brain's inputs and outputs are in fact hard-wired to particular areas of the otherwise mostly homogeneous cerebral cortex. But the cortex itself must be self-programmed to use those inputs and outputs correctly.

I believe the wiring of the brain is an emergent property (how else do you configure 10^14 connections with less than 10^9 bits of genetic code?). This means "small" changes cannot be made by genetic tweaking. Yes, you can throw a spanner in the works (Down's syndrome, etc.), but you cannot really show any morphological difference between someone with an IQ of 100 and one with an IQ of 180. OTOH you can usually show a vast difference in life experience.

As we grow up we build a "library" of symbols at ever-greater levels of abstraction. The fact that we are not born with this library is the main reason humans have such a long childood; we must learn many things other animals are born knowing. Since the amount of information in the world is bigger than a brain, that library is never complete and at some levels it eventually gets so full that new programming cannot be accomplished. Humans, unlike chimpanzees, can learn to play the violin or dance; but at the age of 37, there is little chance that I could do either even if I tried. I'm still human, but my low-level library has hardened in other directions. To someone with an axe to grind this might look like a genetic fixation, but it really has no bearing on whether my parents or children might be able to dance or play music.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Aspergers/Autism, AI, and the Turing Test (3.37 / 8) (#17)
by maveness on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 05:14:49 PM EST

If it's true that a person with Asperger's processes the human face in the same way as the rest of us process recognition of inanimate objects....

Does that mean such an individual would be more likely to believe/accept the notion that human beings are essentially biological machines (i.e., that there is not such thing as a 'soul' or non-material component to human nature)? If they've had to learn the niceties of social interaction as it were by rote, as a technological skill, are they therefor any less likely to subscribe to moral or religious codes that depend on an empathetic link or a belief in an intangible spiritual element? Conversely, does the fact that human brains come attractively packaged in human bodies, and most of us are hardwired to pay special attention to this configuration, cause us to assume that we must be more than mere meat-machines?

If an AI program were developed that modeled severe Asperger's syndrome would that cause it to fail the Turing Test? Would the fact that this intelligence came in a non-human material form keep us from recognizing it as human-like? Would we immediately just say, "oh, it doesn't do social interaction very well, it must be a machine?" (If both an Asperger's human and the AI competed in the Turing Test, would it be harder to tell which was which?)

Would this 'mutation' make a cyborg type of relationship with a computational AI easier? If Ray Kurzweil is right, and we are all ultimately destined to either be outstripped by AIs or perhaps spliced onto them, would folks with this brain configuration have some kind of advantage? Especially if, in that scenario, biological reproduction has become largely passée?

Fascinating topic, +1FP from me.

*********
Latest fortune cookie: "The current year will bring you much happiness." As if.

Evolution doesn't think ahead (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by error 404 on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 05:53:44 PM EST

Maybe that will be an advantage in the future. But evolution has no mechanism to plan ahead. Any advantage has to be realized right now.

But not by this individual - a trait that makes your brother's offpring more viable is evolvable, even if it does nothing for your own offspring.


..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

"evolution" (3.00 / 3) (#18)
by crank42 on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 07:05:26 PM EST

Two problems:

As someone else has already pointed out, evolutionary traits have to be heritable. It is at least unclear whether many of these traits are heritable.

In any case, if these are heritable traits, then so what? Evolution has no telos. It doesn't make a species better or worse. It just changes it. If the changes happen to coincide in an advantageous way with all the other things in the world, then there is a good chance (though no guarantee) that the new trait will get passed on. No-one can say in advance, however, what will get passed on, and trying to guess is fruitless.

evolutionary (3.20 / 5) (#19)
by nodsmasher on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 07:12:32 PM EST

the idea that autism is an evolutionary trait only realy works if it has a significant impact on the ability to pass on ones genetic matreal in the world. but in todays modern sosiety every one can get mared if they really want to hard enough and math skills arn't going to help that. so for autism to have flurished in a evolutionary way there would have to have been a greater persentige of autistic kids get layed then normal ones. when in realaty most likely the opeset is true
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
Bloody Slashdot!! (2.00 / 1) (#20)
by J'raxis on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 07:24:59 PM EST

Slashdot has reimported all their comments into the database as part of their upgrade. So your “rotten” link should have been http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/09/13/1223215.

article.pl links used to rot after two weeks. Now they don’t, and all the .shtml links to which they used to be archived are now dead.

— The Raxis:
     Fighting Link Rot since 1996.

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]

the link rot comment (3.66 / 3) (#21)
by Wah on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 07:59:36 PM EST

was about the National Post article that is linked to from the slashdot discussion. I used the slashdot discussion as a poor substitute. It's probably in their archive, but I didn't look too hard.
--
Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | SSP
[ Parent ]
logical arrival at apparently not so logical stuff (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by goosedaemon on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 10:35:31 PM EST

i think this is an important question. is there a path through logic to those things that we assume to be not so logical? like love, altruism, other crap like that. people seem to automatically write them off as things we can't get to using logic, which annoys me, because i don't see why that's necessarily so.

but maybe i question too much.

in any case, i wonder what conclusions a philosophical autist has come to about religion, peace, love, and dope.

(speaking of dope, how do psychoactives behave on an autist?)

(speaking of autists, do they feel at all hurt or anything at the label autist?)

but maybe i question too much.



o.k. (2.50 / 2) (#27)
by Wah on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 12:44:32 AM EST

I'm not going to claim that I'm a textbook "sufferer" from this problem, but a lot of stuff seems to fit. I'll pass on the various life experiences that make me think this, but if you'll except that I think this way, then this...

in any case, i wonder what conclusions a philosophical autist has come to about religion, peace, love, and dope.

...is covered in a continuing thread from my original submission. And it goes further, if you want to ask. In short, yes, there is a logical process to reach most of them, but it does involve quantum mechanics. ;-)
--
Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | SSP
[ Parent ]

not the final step, but a test/nudge towards it... (3.20 / 5) (#25)
by adamtheo on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 10:37:28 PM EST

perhaps your basic evolution premise is correct, but there is the serious problem of it seeming more like a flaw than a evolutionary step. perhaps this could be explained by autism (or most forms of it?) is not an actual step in the evolutionary process, but instead simply a test by evolution in the general direction it is going. autism as we know it will likely be decided as an incorrect path by evoltion, b/c of the reduction in reproduction. but perhaps it's just one try in a general direction evolution is 'thinking' about taking... another thing, if the above idea is rejected, is perhaps most forms of autism s we know it today is 'correct' in evolution's opinion, but the problem is not with the autistic's development, but how we, as a society/parent are teaching it (or lack thereof). perhaps autism simply now requires a very different (and much more effort and time consuming) approach to teaching kids...? just som,e thoughts. your proposal is interesting, but i don't think it's quite likely. i think autism has probably been around for a long time, since before civilization, i'm sure. we've just killed the autistics off or let them die off in the past. now we are just druging or institutionalizing them...

Evolution? (4.00 / 5) (#29)
by sto0 on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 08:05:02 AM EST

Have you ever considered that this may also be a symptom of a dysfunctional culture? If we have evolved (or are evolving) slowly into animals which have particular abilities for something to the detriment of social skills, then this is an evolutionary fork gone wrong. No matter how far you place humankind above animals, we still need those basic social skills to survive. Our race needs them as they are the bedrock of any reproductive cycle.

From a purely evolutionary standpoint, such specialisation implies that we have reached the point whereby our culture is so advanced that people need only certain extreme talent, and any social skills can be learnt by such individuals. Does this match what I experience at the moment? I know that it certainly doesn't match much of what I see in human nature's development (i.e. not much) in our world. You only have to watch or read the news to realise that our own (myself included) middle-class worldview "spotlights" have blinded us to believe that humanity is essentially acheiving across the globe.

You write:
"Newsweek reported that Autism is now believed to affect one in 500 people with a 3-5X higher rate in males"
Does this really mean that autism is on the rise, or our methods of detection have increased? It's a hard question to answer, but is one that needs considering.

What I would like to know is whether "social" autists exist -- that is, people who socially are amazing in the same way that an autist may be highly gifted in maths or something?

Nature/Nurture (4.33 / 3) (#32)
by Wah on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 10:02:56 AM EST

Have you ever considered that this may also be a symptom of a dysfunctional culture?

Yes, but I think that is more expressed by the anti-social nature of psychotics. Pure autism also seems to be recognizable in very young children, and they've probably been exposed to very little dehumanizing advertising at that point. I would point to a functional culture as a "cure" for this condition. A functional culture being one that teaches its most important traditions and wisdom by what would seem to be osmosis (especially if viewed from an objective position, and removed from the cruft of culture (stuff like language)). Current U.S. culture is, IMHO, quite dysfunctional, the main themes of social interaction when measured on a mass media basis, are pretty sick and shallow. And don't really seem to be what any real people believe (although the actors who portray them seem normal). But this is all pretty far out now, and I couldn't say either way.

You only have to watch or read the news to realise that our own (myself included) middle-class worldview "spotlights" have blinded us to believe that humanity is essentially acheiving across the globe.

I think watching the news is a poor source for this information. Watch your neighbors, and if you are really curious, watch them in a laboratory setting. Although I think doing it in a lab would blur any real findings to a degree similar to the one postulated by Heisenberg.

Does this really mean that autism is on the rise, or our methods of detection have increased? It's a hard question to answer, but is one that needs considering.

While a difficult question, I would hazard a guess to say it's immaterial. And from an objective position, how could you possibly tell the difference? Does it matter how many planets there are in the sky? Are more created every day? Which is to say, both sides of your question (which was one of the final ones in the Newsweek article) result in the same thing, you see more of it.

What I would like to know is whether "social" autists exist -- that is, people who socially are amazing in the same way that an autist may be highly gifted in maths or something?

That would follow. Although I generally dislike to stereotype, looking as sales people might be a good start. A friend of mine explained how he does it. It's all about aligning your feelings with another person, then picking a "meme" and passing it along. The idea of presenting a thought that is hard to argue since it comes from someone who has aligned themselves with you. This idea being that you want to buy what they are selling. And also on the reverse, I would guess that it would be more prevalent in women. Again, stereotyping, but they seem to be more on the "feeling" side of things. Check out "Dead Man Walking" for an illustration of this power (book or movie form).
--
Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | SSP
[ Parent ]

autistic kids I know (2.66 / 3) (#33)
by persimmon on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 12:01:56 PM EST

The two autistic kids I know (my brother and a friend's brother) come from families that also produced 2+ fairly normal people, and we _knew_ something was up long before we were exposed to rampant pop culture.

My brothers are twins--one as Asberger's, one is fairly average--and before they turned 2 the average brother were in trouble for never playing with the other brother.

Point being? In the cases I've seen, I don't think a dysfunctional culture is to blame--the condition showed up so early that the kids hadn't known much outside their families, and the siblings were so average that I don't think it's a result of the parenting.


--
It's funny because it's a blancmange!
[ Parent ]
Charismatic leaders (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by The Great Satan on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 11:26:45 PM EST

Adolph Hitler and Steve Jobs come to mind (disclaimer - I'm not saying the two are equivalent) as potential "social autists." I once knew someone who knew Jobs, and described him as having a "Reality Distortion Engine." I.E., he could explain what he wanted, and you would agree and think it was brilliant, only later on to wonder what the hell you were thinking at the time. I've read similiar accounts of Hitler. Cult leaders would probably also be good candidates.

If autism was going to pay off in reproductive success, this is who I'd expect to see more of in the future (the social autists).

disclaimer 2: If you happen to be Steve Jobs, realize that this is the purest of speculative nonsense. No offense.
Check out my comic at www.shizit.net/alpha. Or take care of your post hardcore music needs at www.shizit.net. Or ignore this lame self-promotional spam.
[ Parent ]
Question of heritable (4.00 / 7) (#31)
by acronos on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 09:36:36 AM EST

Many of you are saying that for evolution to be selecting for Autism, it must be of some evolutionary benefit to the individual. It may be that this is too small a view of evolution. It is possible for societies to evolve as well as individuals. Societies that have such genetic "defects" may have a higher chance of survival over societies in which everyone thinks the same.

My good friends include 2 paranoid schizophrenics, 2 manic depressives, 1 OCD, and 1 full autistic, as well as many who have not been diagnosed with anything. As you can see, I am not in any way put off by these "abnormal" people. They are some of the most fascinating people I know. They look at the world in ways that, frankly, never occur to me. Each of them values some aspects of their "disease" and hate others. A schizophrenics feels more intelligent and with more acute senses when his "disease" is strongest. The manic depressive has heightened sensitivity to other people from his depressive side and heightened intelligence during the hypo-manic stage right before full blown mania hits. The OCD is almost perfect in everything she does. She has never made even ONE mistake in her checkbook. She will remember a waiters name six months later after only seeing it once. My point being that these "diseases" may just be extremes of characteristics that are actually beneficial in milder forms. I find a link between intelligence and these "diseases."

A point that was made in the article is that genius may be a mild form of autism. I think that is very plausible. Most problems in society are solved by the looking at the problem in the normal view of society. Then there are these sticky problems that the normal ways of looking miss entirely. These problems exist in the society until someone comes along who "thinks differently." If the problem could be solved with the normal train of thought it would already have been solved. Maybe the evolutionary value of autism is to solve societies "sticky" problems. Those societies with the ability to do so would have an evolutionary advantage over those who are all "normal."

Normal People. (4.16 / 6) (#35)
by float1111 on Sun Aug 19, 2001 at 06:15:33 PM EST

"If the problem could be solved with the normal train of thought it would already have been solved."

I agree. The majority of all the notable inventors/scientists had some form or another of a neurological disorder. The normal people tend to be those who capitalize on the discoveries of these misunderstood geniuses, not usually the people who innovate; I don't think that is a coincidence, by any stretch of the word.

What is frightning is how society is systematically attempting to do away with these people, without having an actual understanding of them, without learning more of them, instead just passing them off as abnormal and therefore unfit for society; A more Normal mentality related approach to things. *shrug*
/._^./
[ Parent ]
And I thought... (none / 0) (#52)
by k31 on Sun Oct 20, 2002 at 01:11:18 AM EST

That I was the only weird person with weird friends.

Maybe I don't need to keep telling them to get professional help, then... (just kidding.. I accept my friends for who they are, as abnormal as that may be).

Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....
[ Parent ]

Roll the Bones. (2.33 / 3) (#37)
by pixel on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 10:48:30 AM EST

I've always held the theory that life is very much like an RPG. When you were conceived, you started with n character points. Some people's are allocated more towards the social end of the spectrum, some are more towards the intelligence end of the spectrum. This isn't always the case, but it seems to hold to be very true. (and this could be applied to many traits that are paired such as these)

It explains the notion that "Jocks" and "Cheerleaders" are very socially adept, yet lack the academic skills that "Nerds" or "Geeks" posess.

Maybe it's all just a balance - Autistic people were given 1/100 in social points, and 99 in intellectual.

I know that I very often feel that I have a hard time interacting socially with people, but have an easy time interacting with a computer, or doing things that are very mind-intensive.

Maybe Autism itself should be viewed as something that everyone has - maybe i have very mild autism, which has lessened my social skills, but heightened my intelligence. Autism should just be a descriptive term that explains the level of social and intellectual balance that a person posesses, rather than viewing it as a "Disease".




- eric - people see the world not as it is, but as they are.
excuse me, but... (2.50 / 2) (#47)
by Y on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 09:58:02 AM EST

... what are you smoking?

Some people's are allocated more towards the social end of the spectrum, some are more towards the intelligence end of the spectrum.

Since when has the ability to interact socially not required a serious amount of intelligence? I mean interacting socially in a meaningful way. The way you divide it makes it sound like the more social someone is, the stupider they are. Intelligent conversation requires a serious amount of brain power, just as much, I would wager, as programming on a computer. I should know: I've done both.

Suggesting you have mild autism because you have problems interacting socially with people is also patently ridiculous. Unless you are a doctor with experience in diagnosing autism, or have been diagnosed as such by a licensed doctor, making such claims in a response to the above article smacks of posing. I went on very few dates when I was in college and high school, and I have a reasonable amount of intelligence, but I certainly don't consider myself autistic. The reason I didn't date as often as other people is because I am an introverted and private person. Claiming to be autistic would be an insult to truly autistic people.

To exaggerate the example, I might say that because many black people like hip-hop music, and because I like hip-hop music, I may be mildly black. I'm not. I have no ethnic basis to consider myself an African-American. But the claim is similar: it's based on a small subset of non-necessary and non-sufficient conditions.

There are a number of factors that go into a diagnosis of autism, and poor social skills and heightened intelligence are not the solitary criteria, and may not always be criteria. Saying autism should just be a descriptive term to describe the social/intellectual balance is missing something in the equation. I'm not convinced that there is a social/intellectual balance because I don't think the two categories are mutually exclusive, and I think that the idea of social/intellectual balance oversimplifies autism in general.

It seems to me a disturbing trend of late on kuro5hin to post articles that are just ridiculous speculation. Furthermore, the comments posted to these articles tend to have a "me, too" attitude. Where are the hot debates? Perhaps it is because this article is so ridiculous, the people who would have an opposing viewpoint don't even bother.

- Mike Y.

[ Parent ]

Yup (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by freebird on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 11:47:00 AM EST

Since when has the ability to interact socially not required a serious amount of intelligence?
I agree. It smacks of the geeks/punks/etc in highschool deriding the jocks for getting exercise and having girlfriends. Not that I didn't get a lot out of that practice, but eventually gained a wider perspective, and began to see things in a wider perspective, wherein social/physical abilities were unversally important and enjoyable, and many people share both.

And while I agree that the article - or much of the response, rather - tends toward self-justification, I must disagree with your dismissal of its speculative nature. Trying to put things in an evolutionary perspective is almost always an interesting exercise. While the evolutionary theory wouldn't stand up to scrutiny by an expert, the author does catch himself on things like anthropomorphizing natural selection, which is nice. The evolutionary context avoids much of the baggage that comes with a philosophic,sociological, or pyschological approach.

...TAGGATC...(etc)
[ Parent ]

Interesting theory. (5.00 / 3) (#38)
by jd on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 01:30:47 PM EST

One problem. Many of these conditions are =SERIOUSLY= debilitating. Manic Depression, for example, is often accompanied by periods of uncontrollable rage. (The fictional character of Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk =is= the classic Manic Depressive figure, where the only changes are in the fact that Manic Depressives usually don't have to buy so many clothes, and it's not quite so predictable.)

Higher Functioning Autism (for which Asperger's Syndrome is a special case) is less-obviously debilitating. True, these people have much more focussed minds and are much more able to do -specific- tasks than your average Joe Bloggs. The price for their enhanced mental power is the partial (or even total) loss of certain mental faculties. The loss of social skills is certainly one, but that's only the most "noticable" to an outsider. There seem to be significant chunks of brain function missing, in which complex cognition is either seriously messed up, or missing altogether.

(A classic example of this is body-language. HFAs can't read it. Body-language is about as obscure as Martian, and much of the work with HFA's seems to concentrate on teaching people ways to deal with this.)

As someone who has Bipolar I (with rapid cycles, mixed states, and a teaspoon of nutmeg), and Asperger's Syndrome, I can honestly say that it offers no benefits, on the group or personal level.

Now, that does NOT mean that it is not "evolutionary". Evolution is not about "making things better", it's about "trying things out" and seeing what works. I can certainly accept the theory that all neurological "disorders" are really experiments by nature into what works.

Traditional "Autism" should =NOT= be excluded from this list, either. The people affected are more obviously "debilitated", but they are NOT simply cabbages. I suggest reading the excellent book "Somebody, Somewhere", for a more extensive description on Autism, but I'll put my thoughts here.

Autism covers a complete spectrum of conditions, ALL relating to mental focus. Those with SEVERE Autism are absolutely focussed. They will do a few things with absolute zeal, and with amazing innate ability.

There are autistic pianists who can repeat an entire piece, not-perfect, after hearing it once. THAT is a level of focus normal humans cannot achieve. The mental background noise is just too high. HOWEVER, that same "noise" allows normal humans to "multi-task" to a phenominal degree that no autistic person can ever achieve.

To put it in "computer" terms, "regular" people's brains have a pre-emtive Operating System. Any task can grab control, when necessary. This is a GREAT survival trait, and one that makes a world of difference, in dangerous situations.

Autistic people, on the other hand, have a "task-switching Operating System", where the granularity of the switching depends on the degree of autism. Higher-Functioning Autism is not unlike Windows 3.1, in that respect, with severe Autism closer to DOS, with a few routines loaded as TSR's.

Bipolar minds are much less about focus, as they are about mood. The focus is often unchanged. (eg: Most people go shopping for the week's groceries. A bipolar person, in their manic phase, might easily max out their credit cards, spend every last cent in their pockets, and then try to use an IOU to buy the rest of the mall.)

Herein lies the problem with Bipolar, though. It's NOT a trivial condition. There are 64 diagnosable forms of Bipolar disorder, each of which is significantly different from the others, in character.

It would be much more accurate to say that EVERY human being is "bipolar", but that "regular" people's minds stay within "functional" limits.

Again, I'm not arguing against the concept that bipolar could be evolutionary. Again, evolution is about experimentation, and nature is forever restless. It is entirely believable that bipolar disorder is such an experiment, but if so, it is an experiment that is doomed. The price paid by bipolar people far exceeds all the benefits, because all the benefits are illusions created by the extreme mood swings. It's a bottle of poison marked "drink me". Give in to it at your peril.

"But what about all those creative manic depressives?"

*SIGH* Their brain is a 5 litre, turbocharged engine. Mania is hitting the highs, in 6th gear, depression is switching into reverse. Ever wanted to see what happens to a gear-box, when you try a manoever like that?

What is needed is to keep the brain in about 3rd gear. Quite enough power to do everything you want (and more), without shredding the innards of the brain in the process.

This is what Lithium, et al, do. The "slowing down" that people feel is the dropping from 5th to 3rd. Yeah, SURE it feels slower. But it's also sustainable, and you don't mangle your mind by hitting reverse any more.

Being productive =ALL= the time, rather than losing half to depression and half of what's left to picking up the pieces, is the way to go.

debilitating? (5.00 / 2) (#44)
by elotiumq32 on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 06:32:56 PM EST

The world would be an interesting place if a whole slew of mental disorders weren't regarded as disorders, just differences. I know you couldn't regard all cases in this way, but there are many shades of grey between the extreme and the "norm". I know exactly what you're talking about with the bottle of poison and the brain in 6th gear, I've got a perspective on cyclical depression and anxiety disorder, however, I don't know that the solution is to perpetually run in "3rd gear". Certainly, to get by just like everyone else, that's what I'm doing, but I wonder if part of my self is denied by down-shifting, so to speak. Psychoactive drugs have a way of altering who you are. I sometimes wonder, if as long as one is not threatening one's life or the lives of others, then why should one live stuck perpetually in 3rd gear? Perhaps those few moments of manic inspiration, heightened productivity, whatever you want to call it, are worth the hours spent wallowing in the muck.

[ Parent ]
I think you're on the right track... (4.33 / 3) (#45)
by jd on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 11:01:54 PM EST

...but how about going one step further?

The problem with Manic Depression is that the shifts are extreme and uncontrollable. Staying in 3rd gear is certainly an improvement on that, but as you say, there is always that nagging feeling that you're not what you could be.

Which leaves one question begging to be asked...

...What if YOU took control of the engine? Shifted gears as was needed, same as you would in a car? You don't climb a hill in 5th, and you don't cruise an Interstate in 1st.

This is something people generally don't do well. The "normal" human brain really =IS= stuck in 3rd. This is why your average person is NOT likely to win any Formula 1, or Indycar, championships in the near future. Nor are they likely to paint any chapel ceilings, or compose entire albums in their sleep.

With Manic Depressives, it seems that this gear lever is "unstuck", but it moves entirely too randomly, resulting in the engine getting wildly out of contol.

What is needed is some in-between state, but ALSO allows control of that state. That control is what is missing from ALL treatments of manic depression. And, if there is to be any rose amongst the thorns, it's going to be there.

[ Parent ]

The Crucial Role of Social Relationships (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by liquidweb on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 03:45:42 PM EST

The human race is only as intelligent as the pool of knowledge which builds itself and teaches the next generation the concepts already discovered and the fundamentals to explore the next. Without this, we are as simple as primortal man, essentially.

To insinuate that a serious social disorder is an inherent aspect of the next evolutionary step is illogical to me. It could result in nothing more than a bunch of super-intelligent super geeks roaming around counting things and adding numbers coupled with rythmic rocking and possible druling and/or swatting (but not at the same time). Probably starving all the while and failing to properly sustain the race itself.

Without the pool of knowledge that society maintains, the mind is simple. We haven't changed much physiologically, evolution is essentially dead in the first world (at least in respect to the whole natural selection thing) it's all about the fundamental concepts which you are taught, and the progress made by those before you. You can take this in, and work it in new ways, but the human mind creates nothing beyond random synapse and the exporation of reality and reflection upon the results.

Mutation may be the experiment of nature, and potential may be within these individuals to solve specific problems if directed properly.

That's just my opinion though, and I consider myself as ignorant as the next guy making broad conclusions based on unsubstantial evidence.


reproduction. bah. (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by jbridge21 on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 11:52:49 PM EST

Bah. I have Asperger's, but I think it _is_ affecting my ability to get a date. Anybody want to help me out there? ;-)

On a more serious note, my social skills were seriously impaired until I started learning them by observation. And they're still not native social skills as most other people have; if I wanted to try and blend in perfectly, it would require a lot of conscious mental effort to process other people's emotions and reactions, and then calculate what response a normal person would have....

As it is, it's mild enough to where I can just not think too hard about things, and those whom I spend a lot of time around kind of get used to me not being able to read unspoken emotions very well.

As to it being evolutionary? Sure, it's a mutation, but I'm not so sure it will/would hold its own in the wild.

Autism and Vaccination in Ireland. (none / 0) (#48)
by hjw on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 10:10:44 AM EST

In Ireland at the moment there is a lot of news about Autism. Most of the press is fairly dumbed down, but understandably so.

Although I agree with the general idea that it is possible for medicine to misdiagnose evolutionary changes as dieases, I'm far from convinced that this applies to Autism.

One of the major claims I've seen lately in Ireland is that Autism is linked to the triple-vacination for mumps, measles and rubela.

Does anyone have links to more concrete evidence for such claims?



That was touched on in the Newsweek article (none / 0) (#49)
by Wah on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 10:41:41 AM EST

And I'll go ahead and quote the appropriate paragraph.

In a study published last year [1999], researchers led by Dr. Brent Taylor of the Royal Free Hospital reviewed autism rates in eight British health districts over a 13-year period to see if they had spiked following introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1998. They hadn't. And once MMR was available, kids who got the vaccine exhibited no more autism than those who didn't. "If such an association occurs," the researchers concluded, "it is so rare that it could not be identified in this large regional sample." An expert panel convened by Britain's Medical Research Council reached similar consclusions after reveiwing all available evidence.

But this is not wholly conclusive, there is still research being done. A cynical person might also note that these studies were conducted after a large group of parents sued the gov't about it. CYA can be a powerful motivator. Either way, more research needs to be done. It is also not recommended to forgoe the vaccinations in fear of this possibility.
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Information wants to be free, wouldn't you? | Parent ]

vaccination link (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by elmaster on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 03:02:37 PM EST

This supposed link has been investigated and looked at for quite some time.

The current belief is that there is not a link between the vaccination and development of Autism. The appearance of a link was due to coincidence.

Autistic children develop normally for a period of time. Then at some point they start seeming to lose information / progress backwards or more slowly than is normal. It just happened that the start of the backwards / slowing of development to kick them out of the normal range coincided with the time that the vaccination was given.

[ Parent ]

Reflecting on Autism (redux) | 52 comments (47 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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