Tag Archives: autism

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

Autistic Souls

Autism SpectrumAdam” is an excellent movie about the emotional life of a young man with Asperger syndrome (an Autism variant).  The movie blessed me with a warm, joyful smile for almost an hour and a half.  The ending is not what I expected.  If you saw the movie, tell me what you thought in the comments.  If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read the comments (just make them). 🙂

I have a good buddy who I hesitantly approached 3 years ago suggesting his child may possibly have Aspberger’s Syndrome.  I thought it was important to discuss.  But I failed.  I think it angered my friend and I think he avoided me for a long time after that.  But a year later, over a beer while re-cementing our relationship he wondered out-loud if indeed his son did fall close to the Aspberger classification.  That is one of my reasons for watching the movie.  The previews looked hopeful and I wanted to feel hopeful about my friend and his son.  He reads here occasionally, so this is an indirect recommendation — I don’t want to piss him off again.  For like Asperger adults, sometimes I can be a bit dull about how my words affect others.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin

But psychiatric classifications have an obvious artificial, limiting, medicalizing and social/political huge tainting to them that requires us to question them at all times. My friend was right to question them and to try a see his child as unique, well before viewing him as a simple “syndrome”.  I understand.

I am also reading “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism” by Temple Grandin which is excellent to help me understand more of this variant of a mental life.  Her writing is refreshingly blunt — much like “Adam” was in the movie.  These help people see that we should not take for granted the inner life of others.  A deeply valuable lesson.  The bravery of these two people is amazing and inspiring.  Yes, yes, Temple Grandin is real and Adam is fictional — but then this site is about religion where fictional lives can still be inspiring! 😉

Cold SoulsLastly, I also just watched “Cold Souls” which is about a company which extracts peoples’ souls (leaving them, oddly enough, largely intact but different).  The company then markets these souls.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  First, the main character, Paul Giamatti, was superb.  He was in the mini-series John Adams where he was also excellent.  I am a Thomas Jefferson fan and never really liked John Adams, but the mini-series made John Adams fascinatingly alive — I felt his soul.  And “Adam” tells us that Jefferson was possibly an Aspie (a term Adam uses to describe fellow Aspergers as opposed to NTs [neurotypicals].

Cold Soul is reviewed as a comedy but oddly enough I did not laugh once.  It didn’t feel like a comedy to me but like a philosophical movie — I loved how it made me think.  I do not recommend this film for natural atheists but for those of us with active religious defects (said affectionately), you may enjoy the explorations of this film like I did.  I don’t think it is profound, but it left a residual healthy hum in my mind — as if I had borrowed a soul for a while.  (The movie will make this last sentence make sense)

Souls are viewed in many ways in religious traditions. Eternal vs. Transient; Existent vs. Non-Existent; Pre-birth vs. Post-birth creations;  Self-made vs. Other-made; Personality-equivalent vs. Beyond-personality;  and more.

I still use the word “Soul” no matter what religious connotations it has.  I like reclaiming religious words from the religious.  My version of “soul” has lots of thought-out qualifiers, of course.  Do any of my non-believer readers use the word?  What does it mean to you?

Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you can see how all these movies and books tie together.  They did for me.  But then over-estimating connectedness is a classic symptom for the religiously-inclined.  That aside, for me, we are all different creatures — some of us are raccoons (an allusion to the film “Adam”) and some of us are cows (an allusion to Grandin’s book).  The word “person” or “human” disguises the uniqueness of our souls by making us often assume we have more in common with each other than we should.  Perhaps it is a good exercise to visualize each others as weird animals more than as people.  Ooops, there goes my delusional religious mind again ! 😉


Filed under Philosophy & Religion