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Evolution And Autism


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I've been reading The God Delusion, and I got to the part in the book last night where Dawkins talks about monists and dualists. If you haven't gotten there yet or haven't read the book, in short, dualists are people who "believe" that there is a consciousness that is separate from the brain (like a soul). Monists do not hold this "belief". I put belief in quotation marks because people don't choose which one to believe in. There is scientific evidence that points to this thought being ingrained in a person's mind at birth or a few months after. Natural selection has determined that the dualist point of view is the one that should be propagated because it allows for theory of mind, which aids in social interaction. Autistic individuals, however, are thought to lack theory of mind. There is a lot of speculation as to what causes this. There are people who think it's genetic, there are those who think it's caused by something that was recently added to our environment, people who think it's caused by vaccines, etc. There are many hypotheses out there. I think autistic people are people who were born monist instead of dualist. They lack the innate knowledge of a "soul" that most people have. I heard somewhere (I don't remember where, and I don't think it was based on any study) that most autistic people are atheists. If this is true, then it would align perfectly with this hypothesis. They don't believe in a soul that travels to a place after death, so many religions that cater to people who do have this belief don't make sense to autistics. It would also align with the thinking that autism is just another way of thinking, not a disease or a disorder.

 

I was diagnosed with a form of ASD called Asperger Syndrome. I can't remember what I thought about a soul when I was very young. I was indoctrinated into christianity as a very young child. I think I accepted that I had a soul because that's what I was told by my parents. I don't remember looking at another person and think that he/she also had a soul, though. Deconverting wasn't that difficult for me. I think it's because I never really believed in a soul to begin with. I was just trained to believe in it. I've noticed that other people here have said that it took a very long time and a lot of convincing to be able to deconvert.

 

So what do you think of this hypothesis? Is it a valid one? Am I wrong about anything? If I am, please feel free to correct me.

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I would have to call it a bit of a stretch, although there's certainly enough different types and effects of autism that one case doesn't generalize well at all.

 

I know an individual with Asperger's that's severe enough that other people have difficulty reading her, but she is certainly more spiritual, and spiritually involved in a practice, than I am.

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I kind of wanted to add some more on this. I'm interested in autism research and I've been thinking about it from an evolutionary point of view. I'm in the category of the people who think that autism is genetic, and I was wondering how it survived natural selection. Animals are social creatures and people with autism have trouble with socialization, so how could autistic people survive as primitive humans long enough to reproduce and pass on the gene? Another question I have is that if humans have autism, then why aren't there autistic animals, specifically primates? If it's even possible for a primate to have autism, then why is it something that mostly occurs in humans and not in primates? I'm at the stage now where I'm speculating that the "autism gene", if it exists, may have been a mutation of a gene that was beneficial. I don't know enough about evolution yet to say for sure, so I'm trying to bounce some ideas off of people who do know about evolution. Anyway, the monist/dualist thing jumped out at me, especially when Dawkins mentioned theory of mind, because it's a phrase that's often used in the field of autism. That got the gears turning and my brain popped out the above hypothesis.

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1. Autism doesn't kill off functioning. Okay, extreme autism does, but many autistic people are still able to use their skills and talents. Autism is a spectrum, not a very specific disorder.

 

2. It doesn't have to be as old as humanity--look at lactose tolerance, which arose in separate human populations fairly recently. We didn't have it on the savanna; it only emerged once we kept cattle. While autism certainly seems global, it may be a more recent evolution.

 

Edit: remember, autism is hard to categorize, diagnose, test, and study. So it's not as clear-cut as it sounds; and I'm not sure anyone's done a global breakdown of its occurrence.

 

3. It's hard to argue how beneficial a little of it might be, because we don't know what, exactly, causes autism. It might be a flaw in the way that the brain maintains itself--unused connections between cells atrophy as a normal part of learning/memory. Autistic people, if I recall correctly, don't seem to have the same dieback of formed connections that other people do.

 

So having mild autism may actually be an advantage if you have to remember very specific procedures. This could be useful if water gathering is very difficult, or you live in a place where a lot of the food is mildly toxic or inedible unless you gather/cook/prepare it right. Especially if you're still working on the whole "written language" thing--nobody may really like Granny Trueroot over there, but she can show you exactly how to make sourberry bread without making the whole family sick.

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1. Autism doesn't kill off functioning. Okay, extreme autism does, but many autistic people are still able to use their skills and talents. Autism is a spectrum, not a very specific disorder.

 

That's true. What I was getting at is that autistic people are, more often than not, rejected by their peers because of their "social impairments" and their lack of ability, in a lot of cases, to be able to make friends and socialize. It's hard to find a mate if you don't follow the protocol for obtaining a one. Of course, those on the milder end of the spectrum, even more mild than "typical" Asperger Syndrome, may not have this "impairment" but still possess the genetic markers for the disorder.

 

2. It doesn't have to be as old as humanity--look at lactose tolerance, which arose in separate human populations fairly recently. We didn't have it on the savanna; it only emerged once we kept cattle. While autism certainly seems global, it may be a more recent evolution.

 

When you say recent, how recent are you talking? I've been doing research into autism and mental illness in general (I know it's not a mental illness but it may have been mislabeled as one) and there's some evidence to suggest that people with these characteristics existed before it was first identified by Leo Kanner. "The New Latin word autismus (English translation autism) was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 as he was defining symptoms of schizophrenia. He derived it from the Greek word autos (αὐτός, meaning self)." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism#History It doesn't help that before this, we didn't know much about the brain and there were periods of time where people who were different were considered demon possessed or witches and were condemned to death. Just one more way that religion screws us over.

 

3. It's hard to argue how beneficial a little of it might be, because we don't know what, exactly, causes autism. It might be a flaw in the way that the brain maintains itself--unused connections between cells atrophy as a normal part of learning/memory. Autistic people, if I recall correctly, don't seem to have the same dieback of formed connections that other people do.

 

So having mild autism may actually be an advantage if you have to remember very specific procedures. This could be useful if water gathering is very difficult, or you live in a place where a lot of the food is mildly toxic or inedible unless you gather/cook/prepare it right. Especially if you're still working on the whole "written language" thing--nobody may really like Granny Trueroot over there, but she can show you exactly how to make sourberry bread without making the whole family sick.

 

This makes sense. There are a lot of autistic people out there who have a huge catalog of information in their heads on one specific topic. That's one "symptom" of autism.

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I'm gonna answer with numbers again, because trying to separate our quotes will make my eyes cross and I'll reply to myself or something. XD

 

1. Well, we also socially accept even difficult people because we like their parents or the people they have been able to bond with, and autistic people in the past probably found mates the same way they do now--they found people who didn't mind, or thought their good points offset a little trouble talking to them sometimes, or they were very attractive. Even a very difficult person to get along with could still watch your back and yell when there was a hyena sneaking up on you. And you would like them more after they did that a couple of times. Social cooperation isn't just about bonding; it's also about being alert and pulling your share of the load.

 

Also, what you just said--once you have enough "mild" contributers, people with stronger traits are more likely.

 

2. I don't know. This is speculative. And it depends on how you look at it--I mean, blue eyes are a "recent" mutation. I think it would have to be older than that, or it would have to do what lactose tolerance did and rise separately in a few areas. Which is, again, possible, because autism is so hard to describe and diagnose that maybe we aren't always talking about the same thing in all populations. We don't know yet.

 

3. And yes, exactly. Aboriginal peoples who walk in the desert survive by knowing that if you go a mile that way, and pick up a rock, there will be a little bit of water trapped under it. If you're less likely to forget exactly which rock it was, your chances of passing on your genes are a lot better. If you're hellbent on finding every water source in fifty miles, you will be loved. If you're an expert in flaking survival tools because you're just addicted to practicing and studying knapping, you'll be pretty popular in your group. If you're an early woman who's absolutely obsessed with learning how to make better pots, the same thing can happen.

 

There may also be some hidden protective result of autism we don't know about--the gene or genes involved may not produce autism if they're engaged later or earlier, or some such. We don't know.

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Guest QuidEstCaritas?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Nelson_Pillsbury

 

 

Pillsbury was a very strong blindfold chess player, and could play checkers and chess simultaneously while playing a hand of whist, and reciting a list of long words. His maximum was 22 simultaneous blindfold games at Moscow 1902. However, his greatest feat was 21 simultaneous games against the players in the Hannover Hauptturnier of 1902—the winner of the Hauptturnier would be recognized as a master, yet Pillsbury scored +3-7=11. As a teenager, Edward Lasker played Pillsbury in a blindfold exhibition in Breslau, against the wishes of his mother, and recalled in Chess Secrets I learned from the Masters:

 

But it soon became evident that I would have lost my game even if I had been in the calmest of moods. Pillsbury gave a marvellous performance, winning 13 of the 16 blindfold games, drawing two, and losing only one. He played strong chess and made no mistakes [presumably in recalling the positions]. The picture of Pillsbury sitting calmly in an armchair, with his back to the players, smoking one cigar after another, and replying to his opponents' moves after brief consideration in a clear, unhesitating manner, came back to my mind 30 years later, when I refereed Alekhine's world record performance at the Chicago World's Fair, where he played 32 blindfold games simultaneously. It was quite an astounding demonstration, but Alekhine made quite a number of mistakes, and his performance did not impress me half as much as Pillsbury's in Breslau.

 

 

I have no clue if Pillsbury had an Autistic spectrum view on things or what, I just thought you guys might find that interesting.

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