Autism, WeiQi and Patternicity

autistic-brain_temple-grandin_hresI greatly enjoyed Temple Grandin’s book “Thinking in Pictures” (2007) so when I saw Wired’s excerpt from her new book “The Autistic Brain” (2013), I gave it a read. Unfortunately Grandin did the classic move of dividing people up into limited categories .  She tells us there are three kinds-of-minds: visual, verbal and pattern-thinking minds. The article is her efforts to illustrate her schema.

Dividing people into types is a tried-and-true marketing scheme.   Whether it is Astrology, Japanese Blood-Types or Myer-Briggs typing, the temptation of simplicity lures the human brain into feeling it understands something when it doesn’t. But, sometimes such simple rules capture more usefulness than detriment for the person that buys into it. This is the root of the believing mind.  But categorizing is also one of the methods of science– but science should then test their categories and be willing to cast them aside when more accurate patterns are found — this doesn’t happen for the believing mind.

Grandin’s article does a fun job discussing “patternicity” as an aspect of mind.  “Patternicity” was actually coined by Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist skeptic.  Adding “Patternicity” to a way of viewing other minds is valuable, especially for people that have bought into the simpler version which sees only two types of mind: verbal and visual.

Anyway, in one of her paragraphs, I was disappointed when Grandin tries to illustrate her 3-view model using the game of Chess. Being a player of  both WeiQi and Chess, I feel WeiQi would have been a far better choice. Below are the skills I think are needed to play good WeiQi (I thought I take a stab at categorizing too):

  1. Concentration Skills
    “Reading”: looking many moves ahead. Avoiding distraction.
  2. Patternicity Skills (this is the magic aspect of the game)
    (a) Understanding “stone shapes”
    (b) Whole board viewing
  3. Area Recognition Skills (visual)
    Judging one enclosed irregular area size vs another
  4. Analytic Skills
    (a) Tetsuji (“tricks”): Memorized small tactical methods
    (b) Joseki: Memorized larger tactical patterns

I am a very low-level Weiqi  player and am weak in all these categories, but I think my weakest, improvable skill is #3.

In the Wired excerpt, Grandin makes a very important point:

“If people can consciously recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their ways of thinking, they can then seek out the right kinds of minds for the right reasons.”

It is important to understand the limitations of our own minds, and those of others.  We can use this information to:

  1. Avoid situation where our deficits may harm us
  2. Improve our weaknesses
  3. Seek out others to supplement our deficits and protect us from ourselves

All of us come with a unique mixes of skills — understanding what kind of animal we are can help us be compassionate to both ourselves and others; Or it can help us to understand why others may be wrong, or worse, dangerous.  Learning to supplement deficits, can improve ourselves, our workplace and our communities.

I think I will read Grandin’s new book.  As a brilliant, successful, autistic person, her ways of thinking (even if using models I think are too simple) supplement my weaknesses fantastically.  And someday, I may also focus on my geometry skills in WeiQi.

Question to readers:  Give us an example of one of your weaknesses and tell us how you have used that insight to improve your life or the life of others.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Autism, WeiQi and Patternicity

  1. I have a hard time being assertive and really don’t like conflict. I worry about hurting other people’s feelings so much that sometimes I don’t stick up for myself when they’ve said or done something that hurts me.

    On a positive note, empathy is one of my biggest strengths. It’s taught me to stand with people who are perceived as weak or different. In the past I’ve made a conscious decision to befriend people who were being bullied even when it meant I became the next target.

  2. @ lydia: So, how have you learned to protect yourself from your lack of assertiveness? I society, there are those nonbelievers who are not afraid to offend — do you look down on them or do you see their voices as valuable given your lack of assertiveness?

  3. CRL

    Oh, but, clearly, her eagerness to categorize is simply an example of black-and-white thinking often associated with autism. Since you do not fall into this category, you clearly cannot have this problem!

    My greatest flaws (in go as in life!) are carelessness and forgetfulness, which I suppose fall into number one. The time I knocked a plate of cells off a lab bench, killing my week of work, probably provides the best example. I’m trying to get better about writing things down, being aware of my surroundings, etc., however, I’ve also decided to major in mathematical and computation biology, rather than straight bio, in order to avoid future encounters will cells, lab coat sleeves, and waving arms (among other reasons).

  4. @CRL,
    Ah, I hadn’t thought of the categorization propensity.
    I had to laugh at your wise decision to stay away from the lab bench!
    Thanx for sharing.

  5. CRL

    If I didn’t make it clear, that was intended to be sarcasm of a sort—an example of me trying to put things into much neater categories than they belong. I think you’ve still got to worry about your own categorization propensity!

  6. Nah, I’m not going to worry about mine. 🙂

  7. TWF

    Nice write-up! Properly categorizing things is really tricky. I’m glad you touched on both benefits and pitfalls.

    I have an introverted personality, so I’ve forced myself to be more gregarious at times. Balancing my weakness, my friends and allies tend to be extroverts.

  8. Earnest

    I have been victimized by my own confirmation bias, which I guess is a type of categorization flaw. But making big decisions on fragmentary data can increase speed to an outcome.

    So, looking at an ER for example, if patternicity is concordant, there can be great efficiency. Sadly, humans are only stereotypical some of the time. Sometimes I have to step back and realize that I am trying too hard to stick a diagnosis on a patient.

    So my weakness and strength are both patternicity.

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