Name-Amnesia

The names, they come and go–we label men
And women well before we know them–known,
The name forgotten–I would need a pen
To pin it down on paper scraps, then thrown
Down to the ground, up to the wind they’re strewn.
Perhaps a scraps will soon return–but when?
My name-amnesia’s only ever grown–
I recognize you, don’t know where it’s been.

Sea turtle names are easy, names of sharks
And orchids spring to mind with awesome ease–
I’ll tell you who or what I’ve read and show
My knowledge–meaning, memory–embarks
On nothing but well-traveled trails–but please
Don’t ask me for your name. I do not know.

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Neurodiversity and Group Selection

Humans are hypersocial, but hypersociality doesn’t necessarily mean acceptance of diversity. And yet, humans do manage to be both hypersocial and accepting of difference. Recent research suggests that the acceptance of diversity occurred about 100,000 years ago, and allowed for more general accepting of such diversity as autism.

Why is this important? Well, if wider acceptance of neurodiversity, meaning diverse ways of thinking and behaving, were to be adaptive for groups, we would expect humans expressing such acceptance to have come to dominate. What was later developed as specialization and gains through trade likely started with a general acceptance of different kinds of human behaviors within the tribes.

Why is acceptance of neurodiversity important? Well, neurotypical people are great at copying what everyone else is doing, but it turns out that as a result, they are actually pretty poor at coming up with new things. Autistic people in particular tend to try to solve things without relying on how things have always been done. This results in innovations that improve the material conditions of everyone in the tribe, and which everyone else dutifully copies. As a result, there is a balance between stable copiers and unstable innovators that keeps human populations on the edge of order and chaos, known as criticality. This is in fact the most creative space a self-organizing network process can be in.

Presently there is not a lot of acceptance of neurodiversity, at least not in the U.S. There is some anecdotal appreciation of a few people who people think may be on the spectrum, but these people are typically seen as outliers rather than a healthy part of our social networks. So much emphasis is put on everyone being the same and acting the same and thinking the same (lip service to “thinking outside the box” notwithstanding) that people who are in fact different in the ways they think and act and experience the world are held in contempt.

In fact, it is this contempt in which we on the spectrum are generally held that I try to focus on many of the positive aspects of being on the spectrum. We need to have healthier attitudes toward neurodiversity precisely because groups that don’t have such diversity stagnate at best. And really, nature abhors stagnation, meaning there is either growth or death. Dynamic tensions create growth; eliminating those tensions results in equilibrium, or death. A healthy society is a diverse society.

Shakespeare and Autism

There is a new autism therapy based on the works of Shakespeare called the Hunter Heartbeat Method. The initial results seem extremely promising in improving socialization skills. The theater games all make a great deal of sense to me, at least. Even better, from my perspective, is that theater and, especially Shakespeare, the greatest of all playwrights, is being used to help socialize us. Who better to teach us how to be human all too human?

Processing New Information, Daniel-Style

Daniel’s on a roll.

Just now:

Daniel: What’s a step-brother?

Anna: Well, if I got married to someone else, and he had a little boy, that little boy would be your step-brother.

Daniel: You can marry other humans?!? That’s cool. I want a bigger family.

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Earlier today:

Daniel: I’m going to make a Bible. I’m going to draw the story of Adam and Eve, who were made with the Earth back when God was alive.

Me: Oh, that sound interesting.

Daniel: When’s the Earth’s birthday? How old is the Earth?

Me: The Earth is 4 and a half billion years old.

Daniel: 4 and a half? That’s old!

 

Literary Interests on the Spectrum — Fantasy, Comics, and SciFi

Reading NeuroTribes meant recognizing patterns repeated in me. There’s something I share with practically every case study mentioned (Wittgensteinian “family resemblances” to be sure!) But sometimes I recognize patterns found in others. One such pattern is the recurring patterns of people on the spectrum reading comic books, fantasy, and fairy tales (I suspect SciFi is also in there, but he doesn’t mentioned it in the book). I’ve never read a lot of comic books (though I have a small collection), and little fantasy or SciFi (I’m a fan of such movies, though).

One has to wonder what the fascination is with SciFi and fantasy among those on the spectrum. These are magical worlds, different from the world in which we live and experience, but surely such escape is not exclusively autistic. And yet, given the strong connection between the two, what may the popularity of SciFi and fantasy suggest about the true prevalence of autism, broadly understood?

Of course, I may be simply over-extending here. Autistics’ interest in SciFi and fantasy hardly means the causation runs backwards, that interest in SciFi and fantasy means autism/autistic traits. But it would be worth researching.

Nonfiction, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

In two past articles, I have argued that autistics don’t typically like fiction and that we tend to prefer science fiction and fantasy over more mainstream fiction. This seems to be contradictory, but I would argue that both are true.

Autistics tend to read less fiction and to not like fiction; however, if they do get turned on by fiction, it’s likely to be either science fiction or fantasy. I suspect that more “mainstream” fiction is too ambiguous for autistics– that is, the boundaries between the real (nonfiction) and fiction is too blurred and thus a bit confusing–or perhaps it’s that science fiction and fantasy are more focused on plot (action) than on character development. The characters in science fiction and fantasy are less “human” so to speak, than in mainstream novels. We have a hard time relating to characters in the latter than in the former, as a consequence.

With science fiction, at least, there is also a tendency to have a focus on science and technology, two areas of particular interest to many if not most on the autism spectrum. While I always wanted to read, I have discovered many on the spectrum do not care to read all that much. But really, it’s like almost anything with autism–find the right topic, and it’s easy to get them to read (or talk). I recently got a 12-year-old autistic boy to read a book simply by finding a book about sharks (like Daniel, he’s interested in sharks). Until then, getting him to read was like pulling teeth. Without novocaine. And without strapping the patient down.

Part of the problem may simply be that many on the spectrum simply don’t see the point of reading fiction. If it didn’t happen, if you can’t learn something factual from it, why read it? Combine that with the typical autistic problem of understanding metaphors and other issues of literalism, and it might make sense why many autistics avoid fiction.

Science fiction can of course help with these matters, because science fiction involves science and technology, meaning it’s rooted in things autistics tend to like. The preference for fantasy among fiction-reading autistics, however, is a bit more of a mystery. Perhaps the fact that it’s so obviously untrue makes it attractive. It’s all so outlandish, outrageous that we’re comfortable in it.

Nietzsche, who I suspect to have been on the autism spectrum, argued that art is true because it doesn’t pretend not to be untrue. He was talking about how we believe science to tell us what is true, with scientists themselves presenting their findings as true (when their findings are ultimately falsified into theories and generalities that cover the variations among all things), but we can perhaps see how this attitude, when applied to literature, would make even more obviously “untrue” literature, like fantasy and science fiction, more attractive. Surely the more untrue art appears to be, the more true it really is.

Science fiction, fantasy, and video games are all plot-driven and do not focus much on character development. The internal goings-on of the average person is a mystery to us, and so it’s also possible that science fiction and fantasy are comfortable to us because these genres tend not to focus on those things. We see people acting, and we supply our own interpretations of why they act that way; we can do the same in plot-driven fiction.

All of these are mostly preliminary thoughts on this issue. I like fiction, but if the books I’ve read are any indication, I like nonfiction books more. Yet, I write fiction. But the reason I write fiction–especially short stories–is that I am typically trying to figure out what people were thinking when they did certain things. And of course I read fiction because I write fiction, as any moderately decent artist would. I haven’t written any short stories in a while, and I have several unfinished novel manuscripts, but I am now working on a fantasy epic, so I guess I’ve learned to become who I am.

Bees Aren’t Nocturnal

The other day, we came home after sundown. I opened the side door of our minivan and Dylan, who is 6, asked me to lift him down. I grabbed him, and turned around to pretend to put him in the flowering bush next to the driveway. Dylan started objecting, “No! There’s bees! There’s bees!”

Daniel, from the back of the van, said, “There aren’t any bees. It’s dark and bees aren’t nocturnal. So you don’t have to worry about bees.”

Anna said, “Only our kids would have this conversation.”