ltmurnau: (Default)
From the New York Times:

November 21, 2010, 4:30 pm
Beyond Understanding

I ought to have known better than to have lunch with a psychologist.

“Take you, for example,” he said. “You are definitely autistic.”


“I rest my case,” he shot back. “Q.E.D.”

His ironic point seemed to be that if I didn’t instantly grasp his point — which clearly I didn’t — then, at some level, I was exhibiting autistic tendencies.

Autism is often the subject of contentious and emotional debate, certainly because it manifests in the most vulnerable of humans — children. It is also hard to pin down; as a “spectrum disorder” it can take extreme and disheartening forms and incur a devastating toll on families. It is the “milder” or “high functioning” form and the two main agreed-upon symptoms of sub-optimal social and communication skills that I confine myself to here.

Simon Baron-Cohen, for example, in his book “Mindblindness,” argues that the whole raison d’être of consciousness is to be able to read other people’s minds; autism, in this context, can be defined as an inability to “get” other people, hence “mindblind.”

Was Wittgenstein hinting that autism is not some exotic anomaly but rather a constant?
A less recent but possibly related conversation took place during the viva voce exam Ludwig Wittgenstein was given by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore in Cambridge in 1929. Wittgenstein was formally presenting his “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” an already well-known work he had written in 1921, as his doctoral thesis. Russell and Moore were respectfully suggesting that they didn’t quite understand proposition 5.4541 when they were abruptly cut off by the irritable Wittgenstein. “I don’t expect you to understand!” (I am relying on local legend here; Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein has him, in a more clubbable way, slapping them on the back and bringing proceedings cheerfully to a close with the words, “Don’t worry, I know you’ll never understand it.”)

I have always thought of Wittgenstein’s line as (a) admittedly, a little tetchy (or in the Monk version condescending) but (b) expressing enviable self-confidence and (c) impressively devoid of deference (I’ve even tried to emulate it once or twice, but it never comes out quite right). But if autism can be defined, at one level, by a lack of understanding (verbal or otherwise), it is at least plausible that Wittgenstein is making (or at least implying) a broadly philosophical proposition here, rather than commenting, acerbically, on the limitations of these particular interlocutors. He could be read as saying:

"Thank you, gentlemen, for raising the issue of understanding here. The fact is, I don’t expect people in general to understand what I have written. And it is not just because I have written something, in places, particularly cryptic and elliptical and therefore hard to understand, or even because it is largely a meta-discourse and therefore senseless, but rather because, in my view, it is not given to us to achieve full understanding of what another person says. Therefore I don’t expect you to understand this problem of misunderstanding either."

If Wittgenstein was making a statement along these lines, then it would provide an illuminating perspective in which to read the “Tractatus.” The persistent theme within it of “propositions which say nothing,” which we tend to package up under the heading of “the mystical,” would have to be rethought. Rather than clinging to a clear-cut divide between all these propositions ─ over here, the well-formed and intelligible (scientific) and over there, the hazy, dubious and mystical (aesthetic or ethical) ─ we might have to concede that, given the way humans interact with one another, there is always a potential mystery concealed within the most elementary statement. And it is harder than you think it is going to be to eliminate, entirely, the residue of obscurity, the possibility of misunderstanding lurking at the core of every sentence. Sometimes Wittgenstein thinks he has solved the problem, at others not (“The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem,” he writes in “Tractatus.”) What do we make of those dense, elegiac and perhaps incomprehensible final lines, sometimes translated as “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must remain silent”? Positioned as it is right at the end of the book (like “the rest is silence” at the end of “Hamlet”), proposition number 7 is apt to be associated with death or the afterlife. But translating it yet again into the sort of terms a psychologist would readily grasp, perhaps Wittgenstein is also hinting: “I am autistic” or “I am mindblind.” Or, to put it another way, autism is not some exotic anomaly but rather a constant.

I am probably misreading the text here — if I have understood it correctly, I must be misreading it. But Wittgenstein has frequently been categorized, in recent retrospective diagnoses, as autistic. Sula Wolff, for example, in “Loners, The Life Path of Unusual Children” (1995), analyzes Wittgenstein as a classic case of Asperger’s syndrome, so-called “high-functioning autism” ─ that is, being articulate, numerate and not visibly dysfunctional, but nevertheless awkward and unskilled in social intercourse. He is apt to get hold of the wrong end of the stick (not to mention the poker that he once waved aggressively at Karl Popper). An illustrative true story: he is dying of cancer; it is his birthday; his cheerful landlady comes in and wishes him “Many happy returns, Mr. Wittgenstein”; he snaps back, “There will be no returns.”

Wittgenstein, not unlike someone with Asperger’s, admits to having difficulty working out what people are really going on about. In “Culture and Value” (1914) he writes: “We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognize language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot recognize the humanity of another human being.” Which might also go some way towards explaining his remark (in the later “Philosophical Investigations”) that even if a lion could speak English, we would still be unable to understand him.

Wittgenstein is not alone among philosophers in being included in this category of mindblindness. Russell, for one, has also been labeled autistic. Taking this into account, it is conceivable that Wittgenstein is saying to Russell, when he tells him that he doesn’t expect him to understand, “You are autistic!” Or (assuming a handy intellectual time machine), “If I am to believe Wolff and others, we are autistic. Perhaps all philosophers are. It is why we end up studying philosophy.”

I don’t want to maintain that all philosophers are autistic in this sense. Perhaps not even that “You don’t have to be autistic, but it helps.” And yet there are certainly episodes and sentences associated with philosophers quite distinct from Wittgenstein and Russell, that might lead us to think in that way.

The philosopher may tend to interpret what people say as a puzzle of some kind, a machine that may or may not work.
Consider, for example, Sartre’s classic one-liner, “Hell is other people.” Wouldn’t autism, with its inherent poverty of affective contact, go some way towards accounting for that? The fear of faces and the “gaze of the other” that Sartre analyzes are classic symptoms. Sartre recognized this in himself and in others as well: he explicitly describes Flaubert as “autistic” in his great, sprawling study of the writer, “The Family Idiot,” and also asserts that “Flaubert c’est moi.” Sartre’s theory that Flaubert starts off autistic and everything he writes afterwards — trying to work out what is in Madame Bovary’s mind, for example — is a form of compensation or rectification, could easily apply to his own work.

One implication of what a psychologist might say about autism goes something like this: you, a philosopher, are mindblind and liable to take up philosophy precisely because you don’t “get” what other people are saying to you. You, like Wittgenstein, have a habit of hearing and seeing propositions, but feeling that they say nothing (as if they were rendered in Chinese). In other words, philosophy would be a tendency to interpret what people say as a puzzle of some kind, a machine that may or may not work.

I think this helps to explain Wittgenstein’s otherwise slightly mysterious advice, to the effect that if you want to be a good philosopher, you should become a car mechanic (a job Wittgenstein actually held during part of the Great War). It was not just some notion of getting away from the study of previous philosophers, but also the idea that working on machines would be a good way of thinking about language. Wittgenstein, we know, came up with his preliminary model of language while studying court reports of a car accident in Paris during the war. The roots of picture theory (the model used in court to portray the event) and ostensive definition (all those little arrows and labels) are all here. But at the core of the episode are two machines and a collision. Perhaps language can be seen as a car, a vehicle of some kind, designed to get you from A to B, carrying a certain amount of information, but apt to get stuck in jams or break down or crash; and which will therefore need fixing. Wittgenstein and the art of car maintenance. This car mechanic conception of language is just the sort of thing high-functioning autistic types would come up with, my psychologist friend might say, because they understand “systems” better than they understand people. They are “(hyper-)systemizers” not “empathizers.” The point I am not exactly “driving” at but rather skidding into, and cannot seem to avoid, is this: indisputably, most car mechanics are men.

If Wittgenstein is suggesting that philosophers are typically autistic in a broad sense, this view might explain (in part) the preponderance of male philosophers.
My psychologist friend assured me that I was not alone. “Men tend to be autistic on average. More so than women.” The accepted male-to-female ratio for autism is roughly 4-to-1; for Asperger’s the ratio jumps even higher, by some accounts 10-to-1 (other statistics give higher or lower figures but retain the male prevalence). Asperger himself wrote that the autistic mind is “an extreme variant of male intelligence”; Baron-Cohen argues that “the extreme male brain” (not exclusive to men) is the product of an overdose of fetal testosterone.

If Wittgenstein in his conversation with Russell is suggesting that philosophers are typically autistic in a broad sense, this view might explain (in part) the preponderance of male philosophers. I went back over several sources to get an idea of the philosophical ratio: Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” (about 100-to-1), Critchley’s “Book of Dead Philosophers” (30-to-1), while, in the realm of the living, the list of contributors to The Stone, for example, the ratio narrows to more like 4-to-1.

A psychologist might say something like: “Q.E.D., philosophy is all about systemizing (therefore male) and cold, hard logic, whereas the empathizers (largely female) seek out more humane, less mechanistic havens.” I would like to offer a slightly different take on the evidence. Plato took the view (in Book V of “The Republic”) that women were just as philosophical as men and would qualify to become the philosopher “guardians” of the ideal Greek state of the future (in return they would have to learn to run around naked at the gym). It seems likely that women were among the pre-Socratic archi-philosophers. But they were largely oracular. They tended to speak in riddles. The point of philosophy from Aristotle onwards was to resolve and abolish the riddle.

But perhaps the riddle is making a comeback. Understanding can be coercive and suffocating. Do I really have to be quite so “understanding”? Isn’t that the same as being masochistically subservient? And isn’t it just another aspect of your hegemony to claim to understand me quite so well? Simone de Beauvoir was exercising her right to what I would like to call autismo when she wrote that, “one is not born a woman but becomes one.” Similarly, when she emblazons her first novel, “She Came To Stay,” with an epigraph derived from Hegel ─ “every consciousness seeks the death of the other” ─ and her philosophical avatar takes it upon herself to bump off the provincial young woman she has invited to stay in Paris: I refuse to understand, to be a mind-reader. Conversely, when Luce Irigaray, the feminist theorist and philosopher, speaks — again paradoxically — of “this sex which is not one,” she is asking us to think twice about our premature understanding of gender — what Wittgenstein might call a case of “bewitchment.”

The study of our psychopathology, via cognitive neuroscience, suggests a hypothetical history. Why does language arise? It arises because of the scope for misunderstanding. Body language, gestures, looks, winks, are not quite enough. I am not a mind-reader. I don’t understand. We need noises and written signs, speech-acts, the Word, logos. If you tell me what you want, I will tell you what I want. Language is a system that arises to compensate for an empathy deficit. But with or without language, I can still exhibit traits of autism. I can misread the signs. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that autism only arises, is only identified, at the same time as there is an expectation of understanding. But if autism is a problem, from certain points of view, autismo is also a solution: it is an assertion that understanding itself can be overvalued.

It is a point that Wittgenstein makes memorably in the introduction to the “Tractatus,” in which he writes:

"I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems [of philosophy]. And if I am not mistaken in this belief … it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved."

Which is why he also suggests, at the end of the book, that anyone who has climbed up his philosophical ladder should throw it away.

Andy Martin is currently completing “Philosophy Fight Club: Sartre vs. Camus,” to be published by Simon and Schuster. He was a 2009-10 fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers in New York, and teaches at Cambridge University.


In other news:

Boy it's cold outside! The snow started falling at 9:00 and hasn't stopped - it has slacked off and is now getting blown around a lot. Getting home is going to be fun.
ltmurnau: (Default)
This is interesting....

Autism and schizophrenia linked to faults in same genes: Study

By Randy Shore, For Canwest News Service
December 3, 2009 8:12

METRO VANCOUVER – Simon Fraser University researchers have found that autism and schizophrenia are both caused by faults in the same set of genes, raising hopes that an effective test or treatment for one may be adapted for use on the other.

The finding is a radical departure from conventional medical thinking about the two disorders as separate and distinct illnesses, according to evolutionary biologist Bernard Crespi, but it opens the door to new avenues of research into the cause and potential cure for each.
Read more... )

I have always been of the tendency that both were genetically caused, at least enough for a predisposition. I agree it would be nice if some form of therapy could be discovered for either, or both. However, I don't know if I like the metaphor of "dialing human evolution up and down", but then again, I'm not supposed to be able to comprehend figurative language in the first place.

CBC wrote it up a little differently:

Mutations link autism, schizophrenia: study

Last Updated: Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 11:44 AM PT
CBC News

Autism and schizophrenia may be genetic opposites, an evolutionary biologist in British Columbia says.

Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University and his colleagues analyzed data on all known genetic variants linked to both conditions.

Crespi thinks that autism and schizophrenia are diametric opposites in how they affect gene activity in specific regions of the brain.

The researchers looked at four regions in the human genome where mutations known as copy number variants can arise — stretches of DNA that contain accidental duplications or deletions. Instead of the usual two copies, one or three copies may be found.

The investigators found deletion mutations in people with autism and duplications in people with schizophrenia, the team reported in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the of the National Academy of Sciences.

Crespi said the immediate importance of the finding is that if autism and schizophrenia are proven to be opposites, then researchers working on a therapy for one illness may be able to consider new directions for the other.

"The conceptual framework of one disorder will illuminate the study of the other," he told CBC News.

This could be true for both drugs and cognitive behaviour or talk therapy, since drugs working on receptors in the brain could be dialled down for one condition and made to work more for the other.

The findings fit with data from studies of head and brain sizes that show autism is commonly associated with developmentally enhanced brain growth while people with schizophrenia tend to show reduced brain growth.

The copy number variants are very rare events. When they do occur, the odds of getting autism or schizophrenia increase dramatically, Crespi said.
ltmurnau: (Default)
This is encouraging...

Autistic people better at problem solving than non-autistics: Research

By Amy Minsky, Canwest News ServiceJune 17, 2009 2:03 PM

New research suggests that autistic people are 40 per cent faster at problem solving than non-autistics.

Read more... )
I suppose the visual-details and pattern-finding abilities are the best leads here. Certainly, it helps to try and teach someone using their strengths, to address their weaknesses.
ltmurnau: (Default)
Hardly surprising at all, when you stop to consider that
1) there is a strong genetic component to autism spectrum disorders,
and even more importantly
2) autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.

What do people expect to have happen? If your whole life is like wanking with sandpaper, of course you're at a greater risk of developing affective disorders, depression, and addiction/ abuse issues.

If people were so quick to credit Deleuze-Guattari and others in the anti-psychiatry crowd that capitalism (a fairly late development in human social history) creates schizophrenia, why be reticent about something even more basic - how human society, at any stage of its development, treats its outliers?

Parents of autistic children twice as likely to have serious mental disorder
Last Updated: Monday, May 5, 2008 | 3:42 PM ET
CBC News

Parents of autistic children are twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a serious mental disorder than the parents of children without the disorder, suggests new research.

A review of Swedish birth and hospital records by U.S. researchers reveals that if a child is autistic, their parents are twice as likely as other parents to have been hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia.

Depression and personality disorders were more common among mothers of autistic children (1.2 times more likely) than among mothers of non-autistic kids, suggests the study, published in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study looked at 1,237 children born between 1977 and 2003 who were diagnosed with autism before age 10. To be deemed autistic, the children all had to have received a diagnosis of autism disorder, Asperger Syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder.

Asperger Syndrome is a variant of autism in which individuals often exhibit extensive knowledge of a specific interest. Symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder include impairments in social interaction, imaginative activity, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and a limited number of interests and activities that tend to be repetitive.

Seventy-seven per cent of the children involved in the study were boys.

"These results support those of smaller studies that indicated an increase in psychiatric conditions among parents of children with autism, specifically schizophrenia, neurotic disorders and depression," write the authors. "Identifying families with a propensity for rare psychiatric conditions may help uncover rare genes that contribute to the susceptibility of both disorders."

Other mental conditions in parents evaluated in the study were affective disorders, neurotic and personality disoders, and non-psychotic disorders, alcohol and drug addiction, and abuse.

The autistic children were compared to 30,925 kids who were matched in terms of gender, age and hospital.
ltmurnau: (Default)
I hope this will help to end the discussion. I never credited this theory anyway: I think there is a genetic component, and yes, geeks are breeding....

Autism not linked to vaccine ingredient: Calif. study

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 | 3:56 PM ET
The Associated Press

Autism cases in California continued to climb even after a mercury-based vaccine preservative that some people blame for the neurological disorder was removed from routine childhood shots, a new study found.
Read more... )
ltmurnau: (Default)

Your Aspie score: 130 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 82 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie

More later. Busy day today.

More, Part One:

Now this is interesting, especially the links that break down the numbers:
Mostly armored fighting vehicles (those wheeled LAVs are popular), and of course parts and munitions - it's one thing to sell the system, but the real money is in keeping that system working and supplied.

What could we have sold to Libya that was worth only one dollar?

Especially when placed against this:
"OTTAWA -- Twelve military equipment projects totalling $7.3 billion are considered "high risk" and have gone over budget and are at least two years behind schedule, according to a Defence Department review."

Guess it's OK to go late and over-budget when you're supplying your own government.

More, Part Two:

Has anyone seen the new commercial for the new Dell laptop, with the models in red/white/black dresses cranking wrenches and pushing buttons? The soundtrack is by Devo, their first new music in years.

See it here (actually, it's the full length video, not the commercial itself):

I so wanted to see them this fall in Puyallup (!), but it was not to be. Maybe if they return to Seattle.

But I have been noticing more and more the use of "old" popular music in commercials. Yes, Devo's "Whip It" was used in both a Swiffer commercial and a Taco Bell, The Clash's "Pressure Drop" in some car commercial, and Dennis Hopper, posed somewhere in the Black Rock Desert or something that looks like it, tells me not to sell out my dreams to The Man to the tune of something from the 60s I can't identify by title. Contrast this with the practice in Japan of musical groups hitting the big time after they score commercials, e.g. Pizzicato Five (well, that's the only one I can think of right now).
ltmurnau: (Default)
This is just here for my future reference: move along, move along, nothing to see here....

Read more... )
ltmurnau: (Default)
OK, as tempting as the first story is, I simply cannot credit it. If anything, it may simply act to make existing autism or autistic tendencies in a child more prominent, making diagnosis easier. That does not mean TV causes autism.

However, the admonishment to keep your child's brain healthy by keeping it away from TV, period, is a good one.

Television, autism linked?
Cornell University study shows rates increased with rise of cable

Gregg Easterbrook (
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of three.
Read more... )

This I am more inclined to credit. Problems associated with elderly gravida are well established, no reason why elderly sperm should not also be the cause of defects as well.

Dad's age increases autism risk
Friday, September 08, 2006

While increasing maternal age has long been associated with fertility problems and increased risk of Down syndrome and birth defects, new research shows that older dads run a higher risk of having kids with autism.
Read more... )
ltmurnau: (CX)
Researchers link gene with autism

Last Updated: Monday, December 18, 2006 | 1:23 PM ET
CBC News

European scientists have identified mutations in a gene in three families with autism disorders, the journal Nature Genetics reported Monday.

In an abstract published online, the journal said a mutation in the SHANK3 gene "can result in language and/or social communication disorders."

The mutations were found in only three families with autism disorders, "but they shed light on one … synaptic pathway that is involved in autism spectrum disorders."

Thomas Bourgeron from the Institut Pasteur and University Denis Diderot in Paris, with colleagues from France, Sweden, Germany, Britain and Norway, said SHANK3 is related to neuroligins, and genes encoding neuroligins are mutated in autism and Asperger syndrome.

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be very different, but are generally used to describe people who have problems communicating and relating to others. In severe cases, children can't connect with people around them.

People with Asperger syndrome have problems with social development, and often exhibit obsessive, repetitive behaviours and preoccupations such as rocking or hand waving.

The Autism Society Canada said that more than one out of every 200 children is affected.


I've always subscribed to the genetic-origin theory rather than the vaccine theory.

Funny that they name the gene SHANK, like a sharpened toothbrush handle between the ribs in the shower room....


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