I 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):
- Concentration Skills
“Reading”: looking many moves ahead. Avoiding distraction.
- Patternicity Skills (this is the magic aspect of the game)
(a) Understanding “stone shapes”
(b) Whole board viewing
- Area Recognition Skills (visual)
Judging one enclosed irregular area size vs another
- 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:
- Avoid situation where our deficits may harm us
- Improve our weaknesses
- 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.