The Solstice is Coming / Far more than Astronomy

A hunter uses physical evidence to gauge time. .

A hunter uses physical evidence to gauge time. .

The shortened periods of daylight that lead up to the Winter Solstice play havoc with my body and mental state. I’ve posted studies and articles on the human circadian rhythm and have suggested that festivals that include group ritual are indeed a means of synchronizing individual CRs and other body rhythms with each other. A group that is “in sync” would present a more efficient and coordinated work force and would likely “get along” with each other – a social harmony brought about by environmental cues and physical action – shared dance/music, a feast, extreme emotional experience.

But – before any of this occurs, an astronomical -environmental link must be noticed and a feedback loop begun, linking physical experience to daylight length and the sun’s movement and position.  Today the focus is on establishing and keeping track of accurate time: in the background of modern life there are billions of ticking clocks; we must know “what time it is” in order to know what it is we must do from second to second,  and on into the “future” – whatever imaginary construct that is. Calendars essentially create the illusion of “the future” by pegging natural and planned events to the patterns “revealed” by a device, whether or not it’s cut marks on a bone or an ytterbium atomic clock. Human events are tagged to what is assumed to be universal “clockwork” (despite how sophisticated modern humans claim to be) and from this, take on conceptual (illusional) importance.

time-ben-hecht

Prediction based on coincidence becomes a basis of power and a clever trick. Myriad superstitions arise. Magic subsumes reality.

How clever is it to take a “guaranteed” regular and repeating pattern of the sun’s motion and lunar phases, and local phenomena such as spring floods, seasonal storms, dry-wet-cold-hot seasons, and change them into utterly precarious and unpredictable god-forces,   who must be controlled by powerful supernatural “gimmicks” utilized by Top Males, their priests, and bureaucracies?

We can call this process the “socialization” of Nature; human hierarchical imposition of magical control over natural phenomena that are in fact, dependable and repetitive.

The question that has always plagued me about ancient cultures is, Why would anyone fear that the sun will not “rise” the “following day” (unless living in arctic latitudes, which does not account for most humans) when it always does “rise” and set, for as long as anyone can remember? Why fear the end of the most spectacularly dependable event imaginable?

The ability of a ruling class to convince “the people” that a “king, pharaoh, demi-god” and a priestly class are “in control” of the gods themselves – who control the universe, is perhaps the most impressive deception ever pulled off by Homo sapiens. Amazingly, this attribution is still in force, and evidenced by human belief that gods control the universe and their human stand-ins on earth (leaders) can control human fate.

Leaders of all stripes (royalty, dictators, elected officials, etc.) claim to possess powers that supersede the natural order, despite spectacular failure to establish what the typical human desires above all: PEACE. That is, to be free from war, violence, starvation, dislocation, and chaos. In the “name” of bringing “order” to an already orderly planet, leaders create chaos, instability, death, psychological and physical trauma, and wholesale destruction.

In comparison, natural events such as hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, landslides, drought, and even volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can be dealt with by judicious selection of where humans settle, how they produce food and clean water, and adequate engineering. The true dangers of living on earth are manageable!

iphone-a-tavola

 

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Question / Is Common Sense even better than Empathy?

My posting has slowed to almost nothing since last Saturday:

Summer at last; warm winds, blue skies, puffy clouds. The dog and I are both delirious over the ability to “get out of” quasi imprisonment indoors.

Into the truck; a short drive to the south, up and over the canyon edge into the wide open space of the plateau. Out into “the world again” striding easily along a two-rut track that goes nowhere; the type that is established by the driver of a first vehicle, turning off the road, through the brush, and headed nowhere. Humans cannot resist such a “lure” – Who drove off the road and why? Maybe the track does go somewhere. And so, the tracks grow, simply by repetition of the “nowhere” pattern. Years pass; ruts widen, deepen, grow and are bypassed, smoothed out, and grow again, becoming as permanent and indestructible as the Appian Way.

This particular set of ruts is a habitual dog-walking path for me: the view, the wind, the light, the sky whipped into a frenzy of lovely clouds… and then, agony. Gravel underfoot has turned my foot, twisting my ankle and plunging me into a deep rut and onto the rough ground. Pain; not Whoops, I tripped pain, but OMG! I’m screwed pain. I make a habit of glancing a few feet ahead to check where my feet are going, but my head was in the clouds.

This isn’t the first time in 23 years that I’ve taken a fall out in the boonies: a banged up shin or knee, a quick trip to the gravel; scraped hands, even a bonk on the head, but now… can I walk back to the truck, or even stand up? One, two, three… up.

Wow! Real pain; there’s no choice. Get to the truck, which appears to be very, very far away, at this point. Hobble, hobble, hobble; stop. Don’t stop! Keep going. Glance up at the truck to check periodically to see if it’s “growing bigger” – reachable. I always tell myself the same (true) mantra in circumstances like this: shut out time, let it pass, and suddenly, there you will be, pulling open the truck door and pulling yourself inside.

There is always some dumb luck in these matters: it’s my left ankle. I don’t need my left foot to drive home. Then the impossible journey from the truck to the house, the steps, the keys, wrangling the dog and her leash, trying not to get tangled and fall again – falling through the doorway, grabbing something and landing on the couch. Now what?

That was five days ago. Five days of rolling around with my knee planted in the seat of a wheeled office chair, pushing with the right foot as far as I can go, then hopping like a  one-legged kangaroo the rest of the way. Dwindling food supplies; unable to stand to cook; zapping anything eligible in the microwave. No milk in my coffee. Restless nights. Any bump to my bandaged foot wakes me up. This is ridiculous! My life utterly disrupted by a (badly) sprained ankle. I think I’m descending into depression.

Bipedalism, of course, begins to takeover my thoughts. But first, I try to locate hope on the internet, googling “treatment for sprained ankle.” You’re screwed, the pages of entries say. One begins to doubt “evolution” as the master process that produces elegant and sturdy design. Ankles are a nightmare of tiny bones and connecting ligaments, with little blood supply to heal the damage, and once damaged, a human can expect a long recovery, intermittent swelling and inevitable reinjury, for as long as you live.

It seems that for our “wild ancestors” a simple sprain could trigger the expiration date for any individual unlucky enough to be injured: the hyenas, big cats, bears and other local predators circle in, and then the vultures. Just like any other animal grazing the savannah or born into the forest, vulnerability = death. It’s as true today as it ever was. Unless someone is there with you when you are injured, you can be royally screwed: people die in their own homes due to accidents. People die in solo car wrecks. People go for a day hike in a state park and within an hour or two, require rescue, hospitalization and difficult recovery, from one slip in awareness and focus. And, being in the company of one or more humans, hardly guarantees survival. Success may depend on their common sense.

So: the question arises around this whole business of Homo sapiens, The Social Species. There are many social species, and it is claimed that some “non-human” social species “survive and reproduce successfully” because they “travel together” in the dozens, thousands or millions and “empathize” with others of their kind. Really? How many of these individual organisms even notice that another is in peril, other than to sound the alarm and get the hell out of the danger zone or predator’s path? How one human mind gets from reproduction in massive numbers, that is, playing the “numbers game” (1/ 100, 1/100, 1, 100,000 new creatures survive in a generation), and the congregation of vast numbers in schools, flocks and the odds for “not being one of the few that gets caught and eaten” – how one gets from there to “pan-social wonderfulness” is one of the mysteries of the social human mind.

There are occasions when a herd may challenge a predator, or a predatory group; parents (usually the female), will defend offspring in varying manner and degree, but what one notices in encounters (fortuitously caught on camera, posted on the internet or included in documentaries) that solitary instances are declared to represent “universal behavior” and proof of the existence of (the current fad of) empathy in “lesser animals”. What is ignored (inattentional blindness) and not posted, is the usual behavior; some type of distraction or defensive behavior is invested in, but the attempt is abandoned, at some “common sense point” in the interaction; the parents give up, or the offspring or herd member is abandoned.

What one notices is that the eggs and the young of all species supply an immense amount of food for other species.

Skittles evolved solely as a food source for Homo sapiens children. It has no future as a species. LOL

I’ve been watching a lot of “nature documentaries” to pass the time. This is, in its way, an extraordinary “fact of nature”. Our orientation to extreme Darwinian evolution (reductionist survival of the fittest) is stunningly myopic. We create narratives from “wildlife video clips” edited and narrated to confirm our imaginary interpretation of natural processes; the baby “whatever” – bird, seal, monkey, or cute cub; scrambling, helpless, clueless, “magically” escapes death (dramatic soundtrack, breathless narration) due to Mom’s miraculous, just-in-the-nick-of-time return. The scoundrel predator is foiled once again; little penguin hero “Achilles” (they must have names) has triumphantly upheld our notion that “survival is no accident” – which in great measure is exactly what it is.

One thing about how evolution “works” (at least as presented) has always bothered me no end: that insistence that the individual creatures which survive to reproduce are “the fittest”. How can we know that? What if among the hundreds, thousands, millions of “young” produced, but almost immediately destroyed or consumed by chance, by random events, by the natural changes and disasters that occur again and again, the genetic potential “to be most fit” had been eliminated, depriving the species of potential even “better” adaptations than what those we see? We have to ask, which individuals are “fittest” for UNKNOWN challenges that have not yet occurred? Where is the variation that may be acted upon by the changing environment?

This is a problem of human perception; of anthropomorphic projection, of the unfailing insistence of belief in an intentional universe. Whatever “happens” is the fulfilment of a plan; evolution is distorted to “fit” the human conceit, that by one’s own superior DNA, survival and reproduction necessarily become fact. 

Human ankles (and many other details) of human physiology are not “great feats of evolutionary engineering.”

Like those two-rut roads that are ubiquitous where I live, chance predicts that most of evolution’s organisms “go nowhere” but do constitute quick and easy energy sources for a multitude of other organisms.

 

Visual Thinking / Maria Kozhevnikov Research Re-Post

http://nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/mkozhevnlab/?page_id=618 Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction Lab

 

For those who can’t resist taking brain tests, go to the website. I would love to hear comments by Aspies who look into this research.

Maria Kozhevnikov’s labs at Harvard and NUS jointly investigate the neural mechanisms of visual/spatial imagery, as well as individual differences in basic information processing capacities (e.g. the ability to generate, inspect, or transform visual/spatial images). In addition, the lab research focuses on examining how these individual differences affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics and science, as well as in exploring ways to train visual/spatial imagery skills and design learning technologies that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.

Our research into the object-spatial dissociation follow three directions:

Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery ability while object visualizers score poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excel on object imagery tasks, spatial visualizers score high on spatial imagery tasks  but poorly on object imagery tasks.  

Visualization Ability

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IMG_0142wp

“The land, and the land inside me.”

My awareness of the environment is overwhelmingly visual. I have stated before, that if asked “Who are you?” my answer would be, “I am everything that I have ever seen.” When immersed in the surrounding desert, which is mostly devoid of human activity, I experience the landscape intimately – its forms, surfaces and “light” – as if boundaries melt away. This “boundary-less” state probably also explains the Asperger dislike of humanscapes: the sensory “invasion” by human stress, emotions and aggression is highly negative and taxing. The exhaustion that comes with trying to “shut out” chaotic thoughts and constant social strife, simply is too much to endure for very long.
I haven’t explored the questionnaires constructed by Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction Lab, but I would predict that I’m an object visualizer. I have taken spatial tests, but these require “word instructions” beforehand that explain the steps one must follow to solve the puzzle. In other words, (it seems to me) that spatial tests are not entirely visual – they require conscious word activity and “rules” to accomplish the actual geometric tasks.
 

Big 5 Personality Traits / cont., The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans

I would submit that these personality factors are not scientifically valid, but socially invented and constructed; not objective, but subjective. This “theory without proof” lies outside the scientific method of proof – but these “speculations” are the basis for Psychology; the socio-cultural Western religion.   

Note the highly “socially judgmental” descriptions of “low scorers” and “high scorers”. A polarized view of human personality, in which “socially approved” characteristics (outgoing, empathetic, warm, helpful) are given “high scores” The  trait categories are also skewed: extraversion, agreeableness, openness – conscientiousness, neuroticism! How do these highly subjective ideas drive the relentless push toward conformity to social prescriptions for “normal, typical, or idealized” behavior, which is determined by culture? What they “measure” is the opinion of the measurer – and his or her socio-cultural agenda. As the author points out, “However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness.” 

continued from: The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and animals by Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University in American Psychologist, 2006  Evolution and Behaviour Research Group, Division of Psychology, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NE2 4HH, United Kingdom.

Human Personality Traits

The rest of this article follows the structure of the five factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1992; Digman, 1990). Though the five broad factors, or domains, are decomposable into finer facets (Costa & McCrae, 1985) and certainly do not capture all the variation in human personality (Paunonen & Jackson, 2000), there is broad consensus that they are useful representations of the major axes of variation in human disposition (Digman, 1990). Following the considerations outlined in the previous section, I briefly examine the nature of each domain and consider the kinds of costs and benefits that increasing the level of the domain might have with respect to biological fitness. The reviews here are speculative, but they are offered in the hope of stimulating empirical work and of drawing psychologists’ attention to the idea that changing the level of a trait is associated with fitness costs as well as fitness benefits.

Extraversion

Note that many of the “negative risk factors” are actually admired and rewarded in American males: I would go so far as to say, that ‘extraversion’ is tailor-made permission for “boys to be boys” as defined culturally. In females, these same behaviors are viewed negatively. Also, my comments refer to the BIG 5 model, not to the author’s concepts. 

A dimension related to positive emotion, exploratory activity, and reward is a feature common to all personality frameworks and theories. Its most common label is extraversion, and its proximate basis is thought to involve variation in dopamine-mediated reward circuits in the brain (Depue & Collins, 1999). I have outlined a trade-offs-based evolutionary model for the maintenance of polymorphism in extraversion (Nettle, 2005). Extraversion is strongly and positively related to number of sexual partners (Heaven, Fitzpatrick, Craig, Kelly, & Sebar, 2000; Nettle, 2005), which, for men in particular, can increase fitness. High scorers are also more likely to engage in extrapair copulations or to terminate a relationship for another. This may lead to their securing mates of higher quality than those secured by individuals who are more constant in their choice of partners. The benefits of extraversion are not limited to mating, as extraverts, or those high on the closely correlated trait of sensation seeking, initiate more social behavior (Buchanan, Johnson, & Goldberg, 2005) and have more social support (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990) than others. Moreover, they are more physically active and undertake more exploration of their environment (Chen et al., 1999; Kircaldy, 1982). However, in pursuing high sexual diversity, and high levels of exploration and activity in general, extraverts also expose themselves to risk. Those who are hospitalized due to accident or illness are higher in extraversion than those who are not (Nettle, 2005), and those who suffer traumatic injury have been found to be high in sensation seeking (Field & O’Keefe, 2004). High extraversion or sensation seeking scorers also have elevated probabilities of migrating (Chen et al., 1999), becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behavior (Ellis, 1987), and being arrested (Samuels et al., 2004). All of these are sources of risk, risk that in the ancestral environment might have meant social ostracism or death. Moreover, because of their turnover of relationships, extraverts have an elevated probability of
exposing their offspring to step-parenting, which is a known risk factor for child well-being. One can thus conceive of extraversion as leading to benefits in terms of mating opportunities and exploration of novel aspects of the environment but carrying costs in terms of personal survival and possibly offspring welfare. It is unlikely that there will be a universal optimal position on this trade-off curve. Instead, local conditions, including the density and behavioral strategies of surrounding individuals, could lead to a constant fluctuation in the optimal value, and hence genetic polymorphism would be retained.

Neuroticism (Traditionally in psych / psych dogma, Neuroticism is by default the normal “female” condition.)

The neuroticism personality axis is associated with variation in the activity levels of negative emotion systems such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. The negative effects of neuroticism are well-known in the psychological literature. High neuroticism is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorder in general (Claridge & Davis, 2001), particularly depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is also associated with impaired physical health, presumably through chronic activation of stress mechanisms (Neeleman et al., 2002). Neuroticism is a predictor of relationship failure and social isolation (Kelly & Conley, 1987). A much more challenging issue, then, is finding any compensatory benefit to neuroticism. However, given the normal distribution observed in the human population, and the persistence of lineages demonstrably high in the trait, such a benefit seems likely. Studies in nonhuman animals, such as guppies (see the Evolution of Variation section), suggest that vigilance and wariness are both highly beneficial in avoiding predation and highly costly because they are quickly lost when predation pressure is absent. In ancestral environments, a level of neuroticism may have been necessary for avoidance of acute dangers. Anxiety, of which neuroticism can be considered a trait measure, enhances detection of threatening stimuli by speeding up the reaction to them, interpreting ambiguous stimuli as negative, and locking attention onto them (Mathews, Mackintosh, & Fulcher, 1997).

Because actual physical threats are generally attenuated in contemporary situations, (this is highly dependent on gender, race, socio-economic and class status and geographical location) the safety benefits of neuroticism may be hard to detect empirically. However, certain groups who take extreme risks, such as alpinists (mostly male?) (Goma-i-Freixanet, 1991) and Mount Everest climbers (Egan & Stelmack, 2003), have been found to be unusually low in neuroticism. Given the high mortality involved in such endeavors (around 300 people have died in attempting Everest), this finding suggests that neuroticism can be protective. There may also be other kinds of benefits to neuroticism. Neuroticism is positively correlated with competitiveness (Ross, Stewart, Mugge, & Fultz, 2001). McKenzie has shown that, among university students, academic success is strongly positively correlated with neuroticism among those who are resilient enough to cope with its effects (McKenzie, 1989; McKenzie, Taghavi-Knosary, & Tindell, 2000). Thus negative affect can be channeled into striving to better one’s position. However, here neuroticism certainly interacts with other factors. When intelligence or conscientiousness is high, for example, the outcomes of neuroticism may be significantly different than when such factors are low. Thus it is quite possible that very low neuroticism has fitness disadvantages in terms of lack of striving or hazard avoidance. Although very high neuroticism has evident drawbacks, it may also serve as a motivator to achievement in competitive fields among those equipped to succeed. Thus the optimal value of neuroticism would plausibly depend on precise local conditions and other attributes of the person, leading to the maintenance of polymorphism.

Openness

The trait of openness to experience again seems, at first blush, to be an unalloyed good. Openness is positively related to artistic creativity (McCrae, 1987). According to Miller’s (1999; 2000a) cultural courtship model, creative production in artistic domains serves to attract mates, and there is evidence that women find creativity attractive, (Again, we have the problem of just who is defining and judging what qualifies as “creative production”, a highly subjective culturally-dependent matter, often attributed in the U.S. to whatever/whomever makes a profit…) creative especially during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle (Haselton & Miller, 2006), and that poets and visual artists have higher numbers of sexual partners than controls (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). The core of openness seems to be a divergent cognitive style that seeks novelty and complexity and makes associations or mappings between apparently disparate domains (McCrae, 1987). Though such a cognitive style might appear purely beneficial, it is conceptually very similar to components of schizotypy, or proneness to psychosis (of course; creative types are “dangerous” in a rigid, impoverished culture of social conformity) (Green & Williams, 1999; Woody & Claridge, 1977). Indeed, five-factor Openness correlates positively with the Unusual Experiences scale of the Oxford–Liverpool Inventory for Feelings and Experiences schizotypy inventory (Mason, Claridge, & Jackson, 1995; Rawlings & Freeman, 1997). The Unusual Experiences scale is also correlated with measures of creativity (Nettle, in press-b; Schuldberg, 2000). Individuals scoring high in Unusual Experiences and on measures of creativity have increased levels of paranormal belief (McCreery & Claridge, 2002; Thalbourne, 2000; Thalbourne & Delin, 1994), and five-factor Openness itself is positively correlated with beliefs in the paranormal (Charlton, 2005). The Unusual Experiences trait is elevated in schizophrenia patients (Nettle, in press), and an extremely similar scale predicted the onset of schizophrenia in a longitudinal study (Chapman, Chapman, Kwapil, Eckblad,&Zinser,1994).Thus, openness and its covariates are associated with damaging psychotic and delusional phenomena as well as high function. Openness itself has been found to be associated with depression (Nowakowska, Strong, Santosa, Wang, & Ketter, 2005), as has a high score on the Unusual Experiences scale (Nettle, in press-b). Thus, the unusual thinking style characteristic of openness can lead to nonveridical ideas about the world, from supernatural or paranormal belief systems to the frank break with reality that is psychosis. What determines whether the outcome of openness is benign or pathological is not fully understood. It may be a simple matter of degree, or there may be interactions with developmental events. Poets, for example, differ from schizophrenia patients not in their Unusual Experiences scores, which are in the same range, but in the absence of negative symptoms such as anhedonia and social withdrawal (Nettle, in press-b).

And yet, we relentlessly promote creativity and “out of the box” thinking in American schools as social positives; are we actually promoting sexual promiscuity, schizophrenia, “Ancient Alien” “UFO” “Paranormal” delusion and psychotic behavior?

The Unusual Experiences trait is positively correlated with mating success in nonclinical populations, at least partly because it leads to creativity (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). However, when it leads to schizophrenia, reproductive success is much reduced (Avila et al., 2001; Bassett et al., 1996). Thus the fitness payoffs to openness appear to be very context or condition dependent, leading to the retention of variation.

Conscientiousness

The remaining two personality domains, conscientiousness and agreeableness, are often thought of as being unalloyed in their benefits, because they are generally negatively related to measures of delinquency and antisocial behavior (e.g. Heaven, 1996). However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness. Natural selection favors traits that increase reproductive success, including many cases in which this success comes at the expense of other individuals. It is likely that fitness can be enhanced by a capacity to demand a free ride, break rules, and cheat on others under certain circumstances. Conscientiousness involves orderliness and self-control in the pursuit of goals. A by-product of conscientiousness is that immediate gratification is often delayed in favor of a longer term plan. This leads, for example, to a positive association of conscientiousness with life expectancy (Friedman et al., 1995), which works through adoption of healthy behaviors and avoidance of unhygienic risks. Very high levels of traits related to conscientiousness —moral principle, perfectionism, and self-control—are found in patients with eating disorders and with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000; Claridge & Davis, 2003).

Though some obsessional individuals can be very high achievers in the modern context, it is not evident that their fitness would always have been maximal in a variable and unpredictable ancestral environment. Their extreme self control not only may be damaging, as their routines become pathological, but may lead to the missing of spontaneous opportunities to enhance reproductive success. Highly conscientious individuals have fewer short-term mating episodes (Schmidt, 2004) and will forgo opportunities to take an immediate return that may be to their advantage. Adaptations that orient the organism toward working for long-term payoffs will tend to have the effect of reducing the opportunistic taking of immediate ones. This can have fitness costs and benefits, which will vary with local conditions.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness, with its correlates of empathy and trust, is also generally seen as beneficial by personality psychologists, and its absence is associated with antisocial personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000). Agreeableness is strongly correlated with Baron-Cohen’s empathizing scale (Nettle, in press-a), which is in turn argued to measure theory of mind abilities and the awareness of others’ mental states (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Several evolutionary psychologists have argued plausibly that as a highly social species, humans have been under strong selection to attend to and track the mental states of others (Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Dunbar, 1996; Humphrey, 1976). Others have noted that we seem to be unique among mammals in the extent of our cooperation with unrelated conspecifics. Inasmuch as agreeableness facilitates these interactions, it would be highly advantageous. Agreeable individuals have harmonious interpersonal interactions and avoid violence and interpersonal hostility (Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1996; Heaven, 1996; Suls, Martin, & David, 1998). They are much valued as friends and coalition partners. Although this may be true, a vast literature in theoretical biology has been devoted to demonstrating that unconditional trust of others is almost never an adaptive strategy. Across a wide variety of conditions, unconditional trusters are invariably outcompeted by defectors or by those whose trust is conditional or selective (see, e.g., Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Maynard-Smith, 1982; Trivers, 1971). Levels of aggression can often be selected for (Maynard-Smith, 1982). Very high agreeableness, if it led to an excessive attention to the needs and interests of others, or excessive trusting, would be detrimental to fitness. Among modern executives, agreeableness is negatively related to achieved remuneration and status (Boudreau, Boswell, & Judge, 2001), and creative accomplishment (as distinct from creative potential) is negatively related to agreeableness (King, Walker, & Broyles, 1996). Though it is an uncomfortable truth to recognize, it is unlikely that fitness is unconditionally maximized by investing energy in positive attention to others. Instead, though an empathic cognitive style may be useful in the whirl of social life, it may have costs in terms of exploitation or inattention to personal fitness gains.

Moreover, sociopaths, who are low in agreeableness, may at least sometimes do very well in terms of fitness, especially when they are rare in a population (Mealey, 1995). The balance of advantages between being agreeable and looking after personal interests will obviously vary enormously according to context. For example, in a small isolated group with a limited number of people to interact with and a need for common actions, high agreeableness may be selected for. Larger, looser social formations, or situations in which the environment allows solitary foraging, may select agreeableness downward.

Conclusions

This article has had several purposes. The first has been to stress that heritable variation is ubiquitous in wild populations and therefore should be expected as the normal outcome of evolutionary processes acting on human behavioral tendencies. Thus, personality variation can be understood in the context of a large literature, both theoretical and empirical, on variation in other species.

Second, I have suggested that a fruitful way of looking at variation is in terms of trade-offs of different fitness benefits and costs (summarized in Table 1 for the Big Five personality factors). Theories based on trade-offs have been very successful in providing an understanding of evolution in other species. Moreover, the idea of trade-offs can be usefully married to the notion of fluctuating selection to explain the persistence of diversity. Such accounts are not speculative. Studies such as those on great tits, guppies, finches, and sunfish (see the section on Evolution of Variation) have demonstrated how fluctuations in environmental context change the fitness outcomes associated with particular phenotypes, which in turn affects the future shape of the population through natural selection. Thus, researchers examining nonhuman variation have been able to go well beyond post hoc explanations and actually observe evolution in action. The current trade-off account builds on the ideas of MacDonald (1995), who argued that the observed range of variation represents the range of viable human behavioral strategies and who stressed that there are fitness disadvantages at the extremes. Thus, he stressed stabilizing selection. The present argument is that selection can fluctuate, such that it may sometimes be directional for increasing a trait and sometimes be directional for decreasing it. Among the great tits, for example, selection on exploration is clearly directional in any given year (Dingemanse et al., 2004). The retention of a normal distribution is a consequence of the inconsistency of the direction of selection, not its stabilizing form. That said, I agree with MacDonald that there could be quite general disadvantages at the extremes of some personality dimensions, such as chronic depression with high neuroticism, or obsessive–compulsive personality disorder with high conscientiousness. It is not a necessary feature of the current approach that there always be stabilizing effects. The other major difference between the current approach and that of MacDonald (1995) is that he did not fully develop the notion of trade-offs across the middle range of a continuum, and in particular, he did not develop empirical predictions for the nature of trade-offs for all the different five-factor dimensions. It is important to stress that trade-offs and fluctuating selection are not the only possible approaches to the maintenance of heritable variation. Biologists have also observed that there are a number of traits that are unidirectionally correlated with fitness and yet in which substantial heritable variation is maintained (Rowe & Houle, 1996). An example would be physical symmetry. In general, the more symmetrical an individual, the higher its fitness, and yet heritable variation in symmetry persists. The maintenance of variation in such cases appears paradoxical, because directional selection might be expected to home in on perfect symmetry and winnow out all variation. The solution to the paradox appears to be that such global traits as symmetry are affected by mutations to many, if not most, genes. Most mutations that arise are to some extent deleterious, so deviation from physical symmetry becomes an index of the load of mutations an individual is carrying.

Selection, particularly that operating via mate choice, favors symmetry, and thus individual deleterious mutations are winnowed from the population. However, so many genes are involved that there is a constant stream of new mutations maintaining population diversity. Thus, symmetry is a fitness indicator trait in that it is a reliable signal of genetic quality. Some heritable human traits may be better explained by fitness indicator theory than by trade-off theory. Miller (2000b), for example, has applied such reasoning to intelligence. Intelligence is correlated with physical symmetry, (reallsuggesting that it taps overall quality (Prokosch, Yeo, & Miller, 2005). Thus, a fitness indicator approach seems likely to be fruitful in such a case. For personality, however, I suggest that an evolutionary trade-off account is likely to be useful. This does not mean that all personality differences are to be explained by the same mechanism. There are likely to be developmental calibration effects, too, as indicated by behavior genetics data showing a role for the unique environment and also as suggested by recent studies on early life stress and adult behavior (Figueredo et al., 2005). However, for the heritable basis of personality, the combination of trade-off and genetic polymorphism seems a fruitful avenue to pursue. It might be objected that the particular costs and benefits put forward here are speculative and as such amount to just-so stories about how personality variation has arisen. The former is true; as for the latter, such a charge misunderstands the utility of adaptive explanation in psychology. The evolutionary framework used here is hypothesis generating. That is, an article such as this one, which draws on evolutionary biology, is not an end in itself but rather an engine for generating testable empirical ideas.

The particular costs and benefits listed here may not turn out to be the correct ones. However, the framework makes testable predictions that would not have been arrived at inductively. For extraversion, the hypothesis that high scorers will have greater numbers of sexual partners but more serious injuries has already been confirmed (Nettle, 2005). For neuroticism, the current framework makes the prediction that performance on certain types of perceptual monitoring tasks, such as detecting an artificial predator, will actually be improved by neuroticism. Because neuroticism impairs performance on many kinds of tasks, this is a novel prediction.

For openness, the model predicts that high scorers will either be socially successful through creative activity or be socially and culturally marginalized through bizarre beliefs, (who decides which beliefs are “bizarre beliefs? This is highly culturally and individually determined) and the determinants of which outcome prevails may depend on overall condition. This is a hypothesis that certainly merits further investigation (see Nettle & Clegg, 2006).

For conscientiousness, the model predicts that high scoring individuals might perform badly on tasks in which they have to respond spontaneously to changes in the affordances of the local environment, because they will be rigidly attached to previously defined goals. Finally, for agreeableness, the theory predicts that high scorers will avoid being victims of interpersonal conflict but may often emerge as suckers in games such as the public goods game and the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, which are well studied by psychologists and in which the usual equilibrium is a mixture of cooperation and exploitation. Thus, the current framework should be seen not as a post hoc explanation of the past but as an engine of predictions about the consequences of dispositional variation in the present. Such consequences are a central explanatory concern of personality psychology, and as such, the evolutionary framework, with its emphasis on costs, benefits, and trade-offs, could be of great utility.

Individualism is an atheist lie / from a “Progressive Christian”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2011/10/19/individualism-is-an-atheist-lie/

October 19, 2011 by Morgan Guyton

We meditated on this quotation from Jesus yesterday at our Virginia Methodist provisional clergy mentor covenant group retreat. On the side, I have been reading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, which has caused me to see the implications of Jesus’ statement in a completely new light. Zizioulas writes that God is the only authentic person in the universe because God is the source of His own being. As creatures, we are completely contingent upon God for our being.

If we really believe that God is the source of every instant of our consciousness, then Jesus’ statement is a lot more all-encompassing than we might have previously thought. He is not simply talking about the relationship that followers have to their leader or students have to their teacher. He is not just talking about any kind of lifestyle or community we choose to enter into. He is talking about the relationship He has as Creator to all of His creatures who are branches on His vine whether we accept this reality or not. Nothing in the universe exists independent from Christ, who is not solely the man Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago but also the very Word of God, the creative agency which articulates and implements the Father’s will as John 1:3 describes: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

On the vine of our creator Christ, those whose hearts are opened to communion and intimacy with their Creator “bear fruit.” Those who pretend to “be like gods” themselves (Gen 3:5) and cling to the delusion of their own self-sufficiency are “like a branch that is thrown away and withers… [before it is] picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6). Individualism describes the atheist delusion that we are the source of our own being, which is having the naivete of a branch that thinks it does not need God’s vine to be fed and survive. You can be an individualist and talk about God all day, but God is not truly God to you if you think you’re a self-made person. Unfortunately, individualism is the default perspective with which people in our age view life, including many who never stop blabbering about Jesus.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Written by Rene Descartes in 1637, this is perhaps the most definitive declaration of independence from God in the course of Western history. (How about Nietzsche / “God is Dead” ?) It is the origin of secular thinking, because it sets as a foundational premise that our minds in effect “create” our existence, i.e. we are the source of our own identity (rather than God). Descartes’ premise is a choice to view the world with the assumption that the boundaries of reality are determined by our perception of it. I think; therefore I am” applied to the world outside my brain becomes “I see it; therefore it is,” which is the foundational premise of modern science.

Truth becomes that which has been observed and measured by multiple persons coming to the same conclusions instead of what our ancestors tell us that God told their ancestors to pass down to us. Rather than being a tribe in which our identity is given to us by our family, humanity is redefined by the Western secular tradition of Descartes and Enlightenment thinkers as a race of individuals who are the source of their own identity and subsequently form families and societies through social contracts with other individuals.

To view the world in this “I-centered” way which is ubiquitous to Western culture means living as if God doesn’t exist, at least not the God who Christians for centuries considered to be the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Rather than being understood as the source of our being, God becomes just another infinitely bigger and more powerful being who’s a constant threat to our freedom. God is the one who started the world, who intervenes occasionally in certain spectacular supernatural moments, and who will ultimately end the world, instead of being the One from whom creation is constantly emanating. God is seen as Someone outside of everything to whom we call to intervene rather than Someone inside of everything to whom we seek a purer connection. (That persistent NT insistence of inside / outside human isolation from Nature!) Paul’s declaration that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) sounds like pious poetry to us, but we don’t take this at all seriously as an ontological claim, because what we really believe in modernity is that “in science nature holds together” and, most problematically, “in our theological system God holds together.”

I understand that there are many positives to the legacy of Descartes and the Enlightenment. I just think it’s completely wrong to say Cogito ergo sum when we should be saying Cogitat Deus ergo sum (God thinks; therefore I am). Cogito ergo sum isn’t just Descartes’ delusion; it’s the delusion of all in our society who are taught to see themselves as self-made individuals. People don’t make themselves. Individualism is an atheist lie. Christ is our Creator. In Him all things hold together. All things are created through Him and for Him. He is the vine and we are the branches.

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Okay, this may seem an odd piece to post, but it does contribute to the topic of recent posts on the concept of SELF. It demonstrates the ongoing conflict between so-called ‘secular thinking’ and ‘religious thinking’ and also the failure to recognize that philosophical points of view, and definitions of specific terms, pass into popular cultural as  strange and distorted “thingies”. We can also detect the influence of psychology and the social sciences, which, with traditional Biblical sources, create a fine mish-mash of assertions. Science, the method, is completely misunderstood.

The “point” of the piece seems to be the instructive metaphor, “He is the vine, and we are the branches”. This seems a sufficient illustration of belief. Why all the  unnecessary flailing around over misrepresentations of historical contributions to “Western Thought”? This, to me, weakens the “message.” “Stand by your man…”

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INDIVIDUALISM / 1.The habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. ‘a culture that celebrates individualism and wealth’ 1.1 Self-centered feeling or conduct; egoism. 2. A social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. ‘encouragement has been given to individualism, free enterprise, and the pursuit of profit’

Hmmmmm  …. If Individualism is an atheist lie, then The United States was founded by atheists, and no “true” Christian can participate in the U.S. Capitalist economy, and in fact, a “true” Christian believes in Communism / Socialism  and not in Democracy, as a form of governance.    

The fundamental “bottom line” of science. 

No “true” Christian should purchase or use any product of “computer science” (including the Internet) unless Jesus Christ can be proven to have invented it.  

 

 

Herzog / Into the Inferno / Humans and Volcanoes

Go watch this on NETFLIX. “Odd” human behavior against the backdrop of spectacular volcanic forces. Don’t miss segment on north Korea…

CODE Marcus Sautoy / Fantastic “math in nature” for visual learners

The CODE is a three-part visual exploration of how the mathematics that are the “blueprint” for our universe are concealed in nature. My reaction: Why isn’t mathematics introduced to children using this concrete visual method? For those of us who are “math as abstract language” impaired, videos like this are essential to grasping the importance of mathematics.

There are many other videos by Sautoy available on youtube, notably the history of the development of math languages. 

Part 2 introduces geometry essential to geologic processes and structures; very familiar to anyone interested in mineralogy AND so incredibly beautiful and simple. If you don’t view anything else, at least check out the “bubble” segment starting at 10:53. 

Disappointing video quality: looking for something better! 

A Plea for Visual Thinking / Rudolf Arnheim

http://g-e-s-t-a-l-t.org/MEDIA/PDF/A-Plea-for-Visual-Thinking.pdf

A Plea for Visual Thinking

see also an interview with RA:  http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/rudolfarnheim.php

Rudolf Arnheim Reviewed work(s): Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), pp. 489-497 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343105 . Accessed: 31/01/2013 13:04

Perception and thinking are treated by textbooks of psychology in separate chapters. The senses are said to gather information about the outer world; thinking is said to process that information. Thinking emerges from this approach as the “higher,” more respectable function, to which consequently education assigns most of the school hours and most of the credit. The exercise of the senses is a mere recreation, relegated to spare time.

It is left to the playful practice of the arts and music and is readily dispensed with when a tight budget calls for economy. The habit of separating the intuitive from the abstractive functions, as they were called in the Middle Ages, goes far back in our tradition. Descartes, in the sixth Meditation, defined man as “a thing that thinks,” to which reasoning came naturally (it obviously doesn’t!); whereas imagining, the activity of the senses, required a special effort and was in no way necessary to the human nature or essence. (The arts and technology are vital to human health and happiness -)

Note: We see the “elevation” of these narrow ideas about “a hierarchy of thinking” (that damn pyramid obsession again) in the denigration of ASD / Asperger abilities: (formal, old-fashioned use of language if language is present; echoing or copying (parroting) of language with an extensive “memorized” vocabulary, but without a “clue” to the “deeper meaning”  of language; an indictment of ASD / AS individuals as robots that are utterly lacking in imagination or creativity; as enthralled by boring subject matter (to social types) and above all, the failure to accomplish what has recently been elevated to the “highest level of cognition attainable, socio-emotional language, exemplified by: Have a nice day!

For “verbally deficient” autistics, this means an immediate judgement of low intelligence.  

So far, we have a very clear historical explanation as to why “visual-sensory thinking” got trashed, demoted and eventually designated as a “developmental disability” by American psychologists. This vital and creative cognitive process has vanished from the “acceptable human social repertoire” of “brain activity” in puritanical” American culture.  

The passive ability to receive images of sensory things, said Descartes, would be useless if there did not exist in the mind a further and higher active faculty capable of shaping these images and of correcting the errors that derive from sensory experience. (Exactly backwards to how thinking works) A century later Leibniz spoke of two levels of clear cognition.’ Reasoning was cognition of the higher degree: it was distinct, that is, it could analyze things into their components. Sensory experience, on the other hand, was cognition of the lower order: it also could be clear but it was confused, in the original Latin sense of the term; that is, all elements fused and mingled together in an indivisible whole. Thus artists, who rely on this inferior faculty (as do many top inventors and scientists), are good judges of works of art but when asked what is wrong with a particular piece that displeases them can only reply that it lacks nescio quid, a certain “I don’t know what.” (Intuitively, you “get it” or you don’t)

Yes, the Descartes – thing is nonsense. Just because a man is a genius is one field, doesn’t mean that he is an expert on everything; but NTs love authority and will believe without question what “great men” say. Our present predicament of relying on a “false pyramid of thinking” based on “dumb” (not reasonable) value judgements from (European white male) heroes of the past, has devastated the power of thinking “outside the box of verbal abstraction and generalities” in entire societies.

In our own time, language has been designated as the place of refuge from the problems incurred in direct perceptual experience; this in spite of the fact that language, although a powerful help to our thinking, does not offer in and by itself an arena in which thinking can take place. Thus the very title of a recent collection of articles by Jerome S. Bruner suggests that in order to arrive at knowledge the human mind must go “beyond the information given” by direct sensory experience. Bruner adopts the belief that the cognitive development of a child passes through three stages. The child explores the world first through action, then through imagery, and finally through language. 

The implication is, unfortunately, that with the arrival at a next level the earlier one falls by the wayside.

This is obviously untrue: adults retain modes of “thinking” from childhood stages. Magical thinking is the default mode of thinking for neotenic social typicals. Magic  “fills in” the gaps left by inferior sensory data and perception, supplying “fantastical” explanations for phenomena. Reasoning, critical analysis, and effective understanding of “how the universe works” (math-science) may be native to a few individuals, but must be taught and cultivated in the majority of children. This is a taboo in highly religious American culture. Reality-based thinking has been abandoned, even demonized, in American education – and for several generations – in favor of socially-promoted emotional narcissism that contributes to a very distorted social reality and description of “being human.” That is, a supernatural orientation is the result of developmental stagnation, and furnishes the status quo in religious, psychological and social engineering regimes. Neoteny is a fact of life for the modern social human. 

Thus when the child learns to go beyond a particular constellation directly given to his eyes, the ability to restructure the situation in a more suitable way is not credited by Bruner to the maturing of perceptual capacity but to the switch toward a new processing medium, namely, language. Thus language is praised as the indispensable instrument for essential refinements of the mind, toward which in fact, language is little more than a reflector.

To claim that “cognition” suddenly appeared out of nowhere, only with the “arrival of human verbal language” is idiotic and unbelievably arrogant! 550 million years of “arms race” evolution, but “sensory thinking” is inferior…

We are told by psychologists that “autistic” children are defective (low intelligence) due to two outrageous prejudices:

1. Lack of verbal language use, and/or failure to use language as prescribed (social scripts) is automatically a “sign” of defective development. (This overturns and discards 550 millions of years of evolution)

2. Superior sensory perception and processing, which are autistic strengths, are denigrated as ‘low-level’ cognition.

Since experts insist that perception offers nothing better than the fairly mechanical recording of the stimuli arriving at the sensory receptors, it is useful to respond with a few examples which show that perception transcends constantly and routinely the mere mechanical recording of sensory raw material. (I am limiting myself in the following to visual perception.) At a fairly simple level, the psychologist Roger N. Shepard and his coworkers have shown that visual imagination can rotate the spatial position of a given object when a different view is needed to solve a problem, for example, in order to identify the object with, or distinguish it from, a similar one. (I have noted previously that this type of “test” is a very limited and rule-based conception of what visual thinking can and does accomplish) This is worth knowing. But reports by artists and scientists indicate that visual imagination is capable of much more spectacular exploits. Indeed, the imagination of the average person demands our respect.

Let me use an example cited in an article by Lewis E. Walkup. The solution of the puzzle should be attempted without the help of an illustration. Imagine a large cube made up of twenty-seven smaller cubes, that is, three layers of nine cubes each. Imagine further that the entire outer surface of the large cube is painted red and ask yourself how many of the smaller cubes will be red on three sides, two sides, one side, or no side at all.

SEE Skipped TEXT

Far from abandoning our image, we discovered it to be a beautiful, composition, in which each element was defined by its place in the whole. Did we need language to perform this operation? Not at all; although language could help us to codify our results. Did we need intelligence, inventiveness, creative discovery? Yes, some. In a modest way, the operation we performed is of the stuff that good science and good art are made of.

Was it seeing or was it thinking that solved the problem? Obviously, the distinction is absurd.

In order to see we had to think; and we had nothing to think about if we were not looking. But our claim goes farther. We assert not only that perceptual problems can be solved by perceptual operations but that productive thinking solves any kind of problem in the perceptual realm because there exists no other arena in which true thinking can take place. Therefore it is now necessary to show, at least sketchily, how one goes about solving a highly “abstract” problem. For the sake of an example, let me ask the old question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Instead of looking up the answer in Saint Augustine or Spinoza, I watch what happens when I begin to think. In what medium does the thinking take place? Images start to form. Motivational forces, in order to become manipulable, take the shape of arrows. These arrows line up in a sequence, each pushing the next-a deterministic chain that does not seem to leave room for any freedom (fig. la). Next I ask What is freedom? and I see a sheaf of vectors issuing from a base (fig. lb). Each arrow is free, within the limits of the constellation, to move in any direction it pleases and to reach as far as it can and will. But there is something incomplete about this image of freedom. It operates in empty space, and there is no sense to freedom without the context of the world to which it applies. My next image adds an external system of a world minding its own business and thereby frustrating the arrows that issue from my freedom-seeking creature (fig. ic). I must ask: Are the two systems incompatible in principle? In my … GO TO: 

http://g-e-s-t-a-l-t.org/MEDIA/PDF/A-Plea-for-Visual-Thinking.pdf

 

Exciting Paper / Enhanced Perception (Autism)

Royal Society Publishing
Note: I think this “pattern-structure perception” applies also to Asperger individuals who are visual sensory thinkers, but proficient in verbal language. That is, it’s not an “either or” situation in actual brains. (This “either or” insistence is NT projection of their black and white, oppositional, competitive obsession). Specific brains can and do process and sensory info and utilize verbal language; these are not “matter-antimatter” interactions as NTs imagine.  

Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity

Laurent Mottron, Michelle Dawson, Isabelle Soulières / .

Full paper: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1385.long

5. Savant creativity: a different relationship to structure

Savant performance cannot be reduced to uniquely efficient rote memory skills (see Miller 1999, for a review), and encompasses not only the ability for strict recall, requiring pattern completion, but also the ability to produce creative, new material within the constraints of a previously integrated structure, i.e. the process of pattern generation. This creative, flexible, albeit structure-guided, aspect of savant productions has been clearly described (e.g. Pring 2008). It is analogous to what Miller (1999, p. 33) reported on error analyses in musical memory: ‘savants were more likely to impose structure in their renditions of musical fragments when it was absent in the original, producing renditions that, if anything, were less ‘literal’ than those of the comparison participants’. Pattern generation is also intrinsic to the account provided by Waterhouse (1988).

The question of how to produce creative results using perceptual mechanisms, including those considered low-level in non-autistics, is at the very centre of the debate on the relationship between the nature of the human factor referred to as intelligence and the specific cognitive and physiological mechanisms of savant syndrome (maths or memory, O’Connor & Hermelin 1984; rules or regularities, Hermelin & O’Connor 1986; implicit or explicit, O’Connor 1989; rhyme or reason, Nettlebeck 1999). It also echoes the questions raised by recent evidence of major discrepancies in the measurement of autistic intelligence according to the instruments used (Dawson et al. 2007).

A combination of multiple pattern completions at various scales could explain how a perceptual mechanism, apparently unable to produce novelty and abstraction in non-autistics, contributes in a unique way to autistic creativity. The atypically independent cognitive processes characteristic of autism allow for the parallel, non-strategic integration of patterns across multiple levels and scales, without information being lost owing to the automatic hierarchies governing information processing and limiting the role of perception in non-autistics. (Remember; in visual perception and memory the image is the content; therefore it is dense with detail and connections – “patterns”. NTs “fill-in” the gaps in their perception with “magical / supernatural” explanations for phenomena)

An interest in internal structure may also explain a specific, and new, interest for domains never before encountered. For example, a savant artist newly presented with the structure of visual tones learned this technique more rapidly and proficiently than typical students (Pring et al. 1997). In addition, the initial choice of domain of so-called restricted interest demonstrates the versatility of the autistic brain, in the sense that it represents spontaneous orientation towards, and mastering of, a new domain without external prompts or instruction. How many such domains are chosen would then depend on the free availability of the kinds, amounts and arrangements of information which define the structure of the domain, according to aspects of information that autistics process well. Generalization also occurs under these circumstances, for example, to materials that share with the initial material similar formal properties, i.e. those that allow ‘veridical mapping’ with the existing ability. In Pring & Hermelin (2002), a savant calendar calculator with absolute pitch displayed initial facility with basic number–letter associations, and was able to quickly learn new associations and provide novel manipulations of these letter–number correspondences.

The apparently ‘restricted’ aspects of restricted interests are at least partly related to pattern detection, in that there are positive emotions in the presence of material presenting a high level of internal structure, and a seeking out of material related in form and structure to what has already been encountered and memorized. Limitation of generalization may also be explained by the constraints inherent in the role of similarity in pattern detection, which would prevent an extension of isomorphisms to classes of elements that are excessively dissimilar to those composing the initial form. In any case, there is no reason why autistic perceptual experts would be any less firm, diligent or enthusiastic in their specific preferences for materials and domains than their non-autistic expert counterparts. However, it must also be acknowledged that the information autistics require in order to choose and generalize any given interest is likely to be atypical in many respects (in that this may not be the information that non-autistics would require), and may not be freely or at all available. In addition, the atypical ways in which autistics and savants learn well have attracted little interest and are as yet poorly studied and understood, such that we remain ignorant as to the best ways in which to teach these individuals (Dawson et al. 2008). Therefore, a failure to provide autistics or savants with the kinds of information and opportunities from which they can learn well must also be considered as explaining apparent limitations in the interests and abilities of savant and non-savant autistics (see also Heaton 2009).

6. Structure, emotion and expertise

While reliable information about the earliest development or manifestations of savant abilities in an individual is very sparse, biographies of some savants suggest a sequence starting with uninstructed, sometimes apparently passive, but intent and attentive (e.g. Horwitz et al. 1965; Selfe 1977; Sacks 1995) orientation to and study of their materials of interest. In keeping with our proposal about how savants perceive and integrate patterns, materials that spontaneously attract interest may be at any scale or level within a structure, including those that appear unsuitable for the individual’s apparent developmental level. For example, Paul, a 4-year-old autistic boy (with a presumed mental age of 17 months), who was found to have outstanding literacy, exceeding that of typical 9-year olds, intently studied newspapers starting before his second birthday (Atkin & Lorch 2006). It should not be surprising that in savants, the consistent or reliable availability of structured or formatted information and materials can influence the extent of the resulting ability. For example, the types of words easily memorized by NM, proper names, in addition to being redundant in Quebec, share a highly similar structural presentation in the context where NM learned them, including phone books, obituaries and grave markers (Mottron et al. 1996, 1998). However, a fuller account of why there is the initial attraction to and preference for materials with a high degree of intrinsic organization, and for specific kinds of such structured materials in any particular individual, is necessary.

Positive emotions are reported in connection with the performance of savant abilities (e.g. Selfe 1977; Sloboda et al. 1985; Miller 1989). Therefore, it is possible that a chance encounter with structured material gives birth to an autistic special interest, which then serves as the emotional anchor of the codes involved in savant abilities, associated with both positive emotions and a growing behavioural orientation towards similar patterns (Mercier et al. 2000). Brain structures involved in the processing of emotional content can be activated during attention to objects of special interest in autistics (Grelotti et al. 2005). So-called repetitive play in autism, associated with positive emotions, consists of grouping objects or information encompassing, as in the codes described above, series of similar or equivalent attributes. In addition, in our clinical experience, we observe that repetitive autistic movements are often associated with positive emotions.

One possibility worth further investigation would be that patterns in structured materials, in themselves, may trigger positive emotions in autism and that arbitrary alterations to these patterns may produce negative emotions (Yes! Stop f—ing with our interests!)—a cognitive account of the insistence on sameness with which autistics have been characterized from the outset (Kanner 1943). Individuals who excel in detecting, integrating and completing patterns at multiple levels and scales, as we propose is the case with savants, would have a commensurate sensitivity to anomalies within the full array of perceived similarities and regularities (e.g. O’Connell 1974). In Hermelin & O’Connor (1990), an autistic savant (with apparently very limited language skills) known for his numerical abilities, including factorization, but who had never been asked to identify prime numbers, instantly expressed—without words—his perfect understanding of this concept when first presented with a prime number. The superior ability of autistics to detect anomalies—departures from pattern or similarity—has accordingly been reported (e.g. Plaisted et al. 1998; Baron-Cohen 2005).

Overexposure to material highly loaded with internal structure plausibly favours implicit learning and storage of information units based on their perceptual similarity, and more generally, of expertise effects. Savants benefit from expertise effects to the same extent as non-autistic experts (Miller 1999). Among expertise effects is the recognition of units at a more specific level compared with non-experts and the suppression of negative interference effects among members of the same category. Reduced interference has been demonstrated between lists of proper names in a savant memorizer (Mottron et al. 1998). Another expertise effect is the ‘frequency effect’, the relative ease with which memorization and manipulation of units, to which an individual has been massively exposed, can be accomplished (Segui et al. 1982). For example, Heavey et al. (1999) found that calendar calculators recalled more calendar-related items than controls matched for age, verbal IQ and diagnosis, but exhibited unremarkable short- or long-term recall of more general material unrelated to calendars. These two aspects of expertise would favour the emergence and the stabilization of macrounits (e.g. written code in a specific language, or set of pitches arranged by harmonic rules), which are perceptually the spatio-temporal conjunctions of recognizable patterns related by isomorphisms. Conversely, pattern detection may be unremarkable or even diminished in the case of arbitrarily presented unfamiliar material (Frith 1970).

Identifying savant syndrome as aptitude, material availability and expertise, combined with an autistic brain characterized by EPF, is also informative on the relationship between savant syndrome and peaks of ability in non-savant autistics. Perceptual peaks are largely measured using materials with which the participant has not been trained, whereas savant syndrome encompasses the effects of a life spent pursuing the processing of specific information and materials. We therefore forward the possibility that the range and extent of autistic abilities may be revealed only following access to specific kinds, quantities and arrangements of information. However, we do not expect savant abilities to differ from non-savant autistic peaks of ability in their basic mechanisms. According to this understanding of differences between savant and non-savant autistics, the fact that not all autistics are savants is no more surprising than the fact that not all non-autistics are experts.

NTs fill-in the gaps in their perception of the environment with magical beliefs; magical thinking is a developmental stage in young children.  

What psychologists say: Stage by Stage, age 3 – 4

  • Threes and fours often use magical thinking to explain causes of events.
  • Preschoolers sometimes assign their own thinking as a reason for occurrences that are actually out of their control.
  • Three- and 4-year-olds believe, with their powers of magical thinking, that they can change reality into anything they wish.