Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Autistics/Savants - Where do they fit in Epistemology?

Rate this topic


Chris.S
 Share

Recommended Posts

Not so much where do they fit, but how are these people accounted for? I'm having a hard time formulating a question about their situation.

Also, as kind of an aside question, could these people with their differently-wired brains be precursors to human evolution?

In an interview, Daniel Tammet says that he thinks most other people can develop some of the skills he has by going back to an intuitive form of learning and using math and language, rather than the current way of learning by memorization (memorizing a 12x12 math table for example).

I can kind of agree with him that people should use their "feelings" or "emotions" or "intuition" more when dealing with this stuff. My experience with math getting into high school was pretty bad - if I didn't know the answer right away I'd sit there forever over-thinking the problem. So I passed, but barely. Then later in college I finally stopped trying to memorize everything and just learn the ideas and patterns behind the numbers, and everything finally clicked.

I'll make another example with throwing a ball. People don't do complex calculus determining the vector and curve the ball will take, what the wind resistance is and how that will affect trajectory - they just see the ball and catch it. All it requires is hand-eye coordination, which can be made better through practice. Obviously math skills get better with practice as well, but one can't memorize how to catch a ball, and yet one can still catch a multitude of balls in a multitude of trajectories. And yet most people have trouble finding the slope of 2 points on a curve because they're too focused on a memorized answer.

Maybe it's all just fruity science and thinking, but he might be on to something.

Edited by Chris.S
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not so much where do they fit, but how are these people accounted for? I'm having a hard time formulating a question about their situation.

Also, as kind of an aside question, could these people with their differently-wired brains be precursors to human evolution?

Likely not precursors. As Dr. Peikoff has recently observed, the lower intelligent mammals (dogs, in his discussion) exhibit a very poor, inhibited ability to exhibit free will. My own personal thought and observation in that matter is that the lower primates from which we descended increasingly used and developed this free will, as the ability to rearrange the world independent of (or, more than likely in most cases for them, in contrast to) inherited instinct is quite obviously a superior survival trait than leaning back and relying on instincts. Take a look, for instance, at how quickly adaptable a young chimpanzee can be to us humans - but, as it grows into adulthood, choice is defeated by instinct, likely because such an identity is what allows that species to survive (so similar to how drastic a human's exhibition of choice is as an infant in comparison to adulthood). Very likely, the more nomadic nature of our ancestral branch from the common ancestor with chimps necessitated our development of choice. Chimpanzees may even be "better off" evolving the ability to integrate concepts well enough to dispense of instinct, but as they stick to a particular geography, such development is not necessitated, because their remnant instinct is minimally necessary for an individual chimpanzee's survival in such a static environment, and nature always sticks with the simpler extant case until the species needs to change to survive (or else, extinction).

For chimps, their various locales did not lead to choice as a necessary trait. For us, our ancestors gradually gained it until, eventually, the necessity of instinct in our survival came off like our tails. Unlike all other animals, our choice is our means of survival, not our instincts. This is evidenced by the fact that the modern apes, whom shared a recent common ancestor with us, have all retained the quality that instinct is at least the most important means of survival - we're the only ones who "grew out of it." Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that our ancestors were not autistic, but instead were much like chimps who were a bit more advanced. We might be able to teach a time-warped ancestor how to hunt skillfully and perhaps even basic language and first-grade arithmetic (to the geniuses), but, ultimately, our ancestors would simply just use what he chose to integrate about the former in his savage hunter-gatherer roamings inherent to their former necessarily nomadic qualities. They'd probably forget about the former entirely.

An autistic, by contrast, still maintains the identity of a human, but is outside the norm: in certain areas, his brain is so naturally miswired that he loses the property of choice (and thus integration) of how to operate in these areas. He needs others to survive, since he as a human now lacks the hardwired instinct a "choice-inhibited" distant ancestor would have leaned upon had his own instinctual capacity not been affected by this hypothetical brain-scramble. It is important to not drop the context that a severely inhibited autistic, as a human, has no instinct to "fall back on" - choice gradually overcame extant instinct; instinct could not have suddenly disappeared before intellectual integration as it is in humans today developed, or humans would not have survived a single generation.

In an interview, Daniel Tammet says that he thinks most other people can develop some of the skills he has by going back to an intuitive form of learning and using math and language, rather than the current way of learning by memorization (memorizing a 12x12 math table for example).

I can kind of agree with him that people should use their "feelings" or "emotions" or "intuition" more when dealing with this stuff. My experience with math getting into high school was pretty bad - if I didn't know the answer right away I'd sit there forever over-thinking the problem. So I passed, but barely. Then later in college I finally stopped trying to memorize everything and just learn the ideas and patterns behind the numbers, and everything finally clicked.

I'll make another example with throwing a ball. People don't do complex calculus determining the vector and curve the ball will take, what the wind resistance is and how that will affect trajectory - they just see the ball and catch it. All it requires is hand-eye coordination, which can be made better through practice. Obviously math skills get better with practice as well, but one can't memorize how to catch a ball, and yet one can still catch a multitude of balls in a multitude of trajectories. And yet most people have trouble finding the slope of 2 points on a curve because they're too focused on a memorized answer.

Maybe it's all just fruity science and thinking, but he might be on to something.

Catching a ball is remnant instinct, not intuition. As humans, we still need to dodge the occasional predator, tossed spear, or falling piano to survive; therefore, our instinctual reaction judgments have survived (some are obviously better than others, such as a ball player in your example, but all properly functioning men have this built-in). Perhaps in some distant future a culture so advanced could exist for so long that such instincts fall away; likely humans would be replaced with descendants who are able to quickly calculate such trajectories by means of powerful prior integration, leading to the use of choice as a better means even in this regard than instinct would be (and subsequently the falling away of that particular inferior instinct). Such may be evident today already, i.e. in the ways wide receivers and outfielders utilize choice to at least improve their innate instinctual reactions. It would probably take a lot longer than our ancestors utilizing choice to improve and ultimately dispense with whatever instinctual means of survival they once possessed, since our ancestors needed to do so to survive, and (hopefully) future cultures will not necessitate such survival scenarios.

As an extreme case for my proposition, observe what happens when a person who has properly been evaluated psychiatrically as totally psychotic or severely retarded: their capacity to choose has been so hampered that their resultant behavior, utilizing the remaining trace of inhereted instinct that is inefficient for their survival as a fallback for the loss of the ability to integrate concepts in all areas, would mean their deaths in the wild immediately. They cannot choose to integrate reality, and their lack of aforementioned fallback gives the expected result: dangerous irrationality and/or complete inability to deal with other humans or with reality itself.

Be sure not to equivocate an unusual mind (such as an autistic's mind in the extreme, or a person with a choice-overpowering chemical brain imbalance in the more common case) with the human mind which represents the majority of properly functioning men. People wishing to demonstrate to me that determinism (or at least compatibilist free-will) is the case often propose such examples, and doing so is the same on their parts as claiming that nobody at all can run because someone can simply break their legs with a club. . Unusual cases are a metaphysical given, and examples abound apart from the brain - take dwarfism for instance - but such should not be considered the norm of human progress (but, of course, not "inferior" as such abnormal folk, provided they aren't catatonically incapacitated, still possess the identity of a man relying on personal choice and therefore have the same rights as every "normal" human).

Edited by Flagg
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not so much where do they fit, but how are these people accounted for? I'm having a hard time formulating a question about their situation.

Also, as kind of an aside question, could these people with their differently-wired brains be precursors to human evolution?

Savant's minds are different in the sense that they are not using vast resources in perpetual pattern recognition, this simultaneously accounts for their amazing mental feats and inversely proportional social skills. Discover magazine has a good write up on the topic http://discovermagazine.com/2002/feb/featsavant including a device which will artificially and temporarily induce savant like abilities in 'normal' people. The human brain is an incredibly powerful supercomputer, probably 10 - 100 times more powerful than the most powerful one built yet, but a huge proportion of it's resources are used for subconscious pattern, primarily visual, recognition. When a 'normal' person draws an animal, for instance, they sketch out the rough shape and then add in the details, working backwards from the concept of the animal to the concept of it's details. A savant, in contrast, will draw a hoof, then a tail, then an eye, then a shoulder muscle, all proportioned and spaced exactly, they draw by recreating every minute detail, but do not understand the concept or pattern behind it, and if you ask them to do a different angle, or create their own angle / vision, and they will not be able to. This is also why a savant / autistic person can be seemingly captivated by something others might find mind numbingly boring, like clothes tumbling in a dryer. For them, every single instance is a unique and fascinating sensory stimulation, for everyone else, the brain eventually get's it, and moves on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another comment: the unusual nature of the brains of autistic savants does entail, in several cases, the ability on the part of the autistic to demonstrate a high capacity to integrate and apply concepts in one particular area. Although in today's society of achievement recognition, such autistics may earn and survive based on their incredible skill in their respective areas, the fact that they are incapacitated in other areas entails that they, as a whole, could not have survived well in the nomadic hunter-gatherer situations in which our ancestors lived and evolved. Such early autistics may have prompted humans as a whole to advance in areas that the "normal man" would not have epistemologically been capable of developing, but in most cases, my guess is that their lack of overall ability to integrate in all areas of their lives meant they died early. Had that not been the case, we'd all be autistic, for the relatively unchanged metaphysical situation for the vast majority of our history would have meant the early autistics proposed would have remained the same throughout history, since the proposition you mentioned presupposes the survival of early human species ;)

Since we're not all autistic savants, but normatively able in all areas, I think the hypothesis is easily dispensed, although it did provoke some interesting thoughts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another comment: the unusual nature of the brains of autistic savants does entail, in several cases, the ability on the part of the autistic to demonstrate a high capacity to integrate and apply concepts in one particular area. Although in today's society of achievement recognition, such autistics may earn and survive based on their incredible skill in their respective areas, the fact that they are incapacitated in other areas entails that they, as a whole, could not have survived well in the nomadic hunter-gatherer situations in which our ancestors lived and evolved. Such early autistics may have prompted humans as a whole to advance in areas that the "normal man" would not have epistemologically been capable of developing, but in most cases, my guess is that their lack of overall ability to integrate in all areas of their lives meant they died early. Had that not been the case, we'd all be autistic, for the relatively unchanged metaphysical situation for the vast majority of our history would have meant the early autistics proposed would have remained the same throughout history, since the proposition you mentioned presupposes the survival of early human species :)

Since we're not all autistic savants, but normatively able in all areas, I think the hypothesis is easily dispensed, although it did provoke some interesting thoughts.

Yeah, you guys had some good things to read ;)

So basically, his book is just "practice makes better". I thought so at first hearing him talk about it, but then I got to thinking of his language examples where people can possibly understand the meaning of another language based on how the word sounds if given the context . Somewhat similar to the European languages, I suppose.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...