A Plea for Visual Thinking / Rudolf Arnheim

Click to access 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: 

Click to access 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.

Once upon a time, I wrote prose / Walking to Sanity Re-Post

I congratulate myself on becoming mature and gently old, on surmounting difficulty; understanding my fate, and letting up, letting go, but truth is, I’m a liar who has pushed the past away, across the border of my small world. Protected by miles of badland emptiness, a curtain of silence has dropped around me; the outside world doesn’t exist except at set frequencies along the electromagnetic spectrum; television, the radio, the internet, and down deep, that’s the way I want it. I crawled to this place, breathing, and no more. I walked and walked the hills, each step forcing a breath, like a respirator powered by my feet hitting the ground. If I had quit walking I would have died.

A wildlife rescue takes injured raccoons, snakes, and birds and once fixed or repaired, returns them to the wild, whatever that means. But some birds will not be birds again, living with wings broken, bent to sickening angles, improper geometry, hopping, not flying: broken into submission. Dogs travel to new homes, to live skittish, nerve-wracked, terrified, and distrustful lives; barking, scratching, insane human lives. Some animals go crazy, like a chimpanzee wrecked by cruelty, by its forced employment in labs or zoos or circuses, tortured by people whose job it is to twist and maim other beings without conscience or regret; psychologists, cosmetics-makers. Children are disobedient rats. Women redden their lips with monkey blood.

What suffering creatures know,  when subjected to human perversion, every minute of their existence, is that even if they were to be set free – they will never be free.

An old soul of a chimpanzee discovers grass, a tree, air and sky, for the first time: old, too old – just a breath of what might have been, too late, and we congratulate our compassion.

I have created my own rescue a shelter; it is very pretty, very quiet location somewhere outside of time, outside of America, my house old, pre-me, built long before I was born. Other children played in the dirt, grown by Wyoming, shaped by wind, yellow dust in their lungs, cool air sinking from summer storms, building character. There is a character that I play; the old lady on the block who gardens, tends beauty, at arms reach, under my feet, a profusion of living things tangled, overgrown, so unlike the powdery banded desert. People like my yard and my face, but they don’t know that I’m an injured animal, wings broken and limping toward the wild. Salvation is instinctual, but sanity is earned by walking, walking the world away.



Thermodynamic Function of Life / Darwinian Theory Questioned

K. Michaelian, Instituto de Física, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Cto. de la Investigación Científica Cuidad Universitaria, Mexico D.F., C.P. 04510

Click to access 0907.0040.pdf

Equations that govern physical reality.


Darwin suggested that life was at the mercy of the forces of Nature and would necessarily adapt through natural selection to the demands of the external environmental. However, it has since become apparent that life plays a pivotal role in altering its physical environment (Lovelock, 1988) and what once appeared to be biotic evolution in response to abiotic pressure is now seen as coevolution of the biotic together with the abiotic to greater levels of complexity, stability, and entropy production (Ulanowicz and Hannon, 1987). Such an understanding, difficult to reconcile within traditional Darwinian theory, fits perfectly well within the framework of non-equilibrium thermodynamics in which dissipative processes spontaneously arise and coevolve in such a manner so as to increase the entropy production of the system plus its environment (Prigogine, 1972, Ulanowicz and Hannon, 1987, Swenson, 1989, Kleidon and Lorenz, 2005, Michaelian, 2005, Michaelian, 2009a).

Life is found everywhere on Earth. On the surface, the components of greatest biomass are the archea, prokaryote, and eukaryote life based on photosynthesis. In the sea, photosynthetic phytoplankton (archea, diatoms, cyanobacteria, and dinoflagallates) can be found in great density (up to 109/ml at the surface) in the euphotic zone which extends to a depth of 50 meters. Almost all photosynthesis ends at the bottom of the Epipelagic zone at about 200 m. Approaching these depths, special pigments are needed to utilize the only faint blue light that can penetrate. On land, diatoms, cyanobacteria, and plants, which evolved from ocean cyanobacteria some 470 million years ago (Wellman and Gray, 2000; Raven and Edwards, 2001), cover almost every available area, becoming sparse only where conditions are extremely harsh, particularly where liquid water is scarce. Photosynthesizing cyanobacteria have been found thriving in hotsprings at over 70 °C (Whitton and Potts, 2000) and on mountain glaciers and Antarctic ice (Parker et al., 1982) where absorption of solar radiation and its dissipation into heat by organic and lithogenic material produces the vital liquid water, even deep within the ice (Priscu et al., 2005).
The thermodynamic driving force for the process of photosynthesis that sustains surface life derives from the low entropy of sunlight and the second law of thermodynamics. Only twenty seven years after Darwin’s publication of the theory of evolution through natural selection, Boltzmann (1886) wrote: “The general struggle for existence of animate beings is therefore not a struggle for raw materials – nor for energy which exists in plenty in any body in the form of heat — but a struggle for entropy, which becomes available through the transition of energy from the hot sun to the cold earth”.


In photosynthesis, high-energy photons in the visible region of the Sun’s spectrum are converted by the chloroplasts into low energy photons in the infrared region. Part of the free energy made available in the process is utilized to maintain and propagate life. In this manner, photosynthetic life obtains its sustenance through the conversion of the low entropy of sunlight into the higher entropy of heat and thereby contributes to the positive entropy production of the Earth as a whole.

However, the proportion of the Sun’s light spectrum utilized in photosynthesis is small and thus the entropy producing potential of photosynthesis is small. Gates (1980) has estimated that the percentage of available (free) energy in solar radiation that shows up in the net primary production of the biosphere is less than 0.1%. Respiration consumes a similarly small quantity (Gates, 1980). Of all the irreversible processes performed by living organisms, the process generating by far the greatest amount of entropy (consuming the greatest amount of free energy) is the absorption of sunlight by organic molecules in the presence of water leading to evapotranspiration. Great quantities of water are absorbed by the root systems of plants and brought upwards to the leaves and then evaporated into the atmosphere. More than 90% of the free energy available in the sunlight captured by the leaves of plants is used in transpiration. In the oceans, phytoplankton within the euphotic zone absorb sunlight and transform it into heat that can be efficiently absorbed by the water. The temperature of the ocean surface is thereby raised by phytoplankton (Kahru et al., 1993) leading to increased evaporation, thereby promoting the water cycle.
There appears to be no important physiological need for the vast amount of transpiration carried out by land plants. It is known that only 3% of the water transpired by plants is used in photosynthesis and metabolism. In fact, most plants can grow normally under laboratory conditions of 100% humidity, at which the vapor pressure in the stoma of the leaves must be less than or equal to that of the atmosphere, and therefore transpiration is necessarily zero (Hernández Candia, 2009). Transpiration has often been considered as an unfortunate by-product of the process of photosynthesis in which water is unavoidably given off through the stoma of plants which are open in order to exchange CO2 and O2 with the atmosphere (Gates, 1980). Plants consist of up to 90% water by mass and thus appear to expose themselves to great risk of drying by transpiring so much water. Others have argued
that transpiration is useful to plants in that it helps to cool its leaves to a temperature optimal for photosynthesis. Such an explanation, however, is not convincing since Nature has produced examples of efficient photosynthesis at temperatures of up to 70 °C (Whitton and Potts, 2000). In any case, there exists other simpler and less free energy demanding strategies to reduce leaf temperature such as smaller or less photo-absorbent leaves. On the contrary, the evolutionary record indicates that plants and phytoplankton have evolved new pigments to absorb ever more completely the Sun’s spectrum. Dense pine forests appear black in the midday sun. Most plants appear green, not so much for lack of absorption at these wavelengths, as for the fact that the spectral response of human eyes peaks precisely at these wavelengths (Chang, 2000).

Transpiration is in fact extremely free energy intensive and, according to Darwinian Theory, such a process, with little direct utility to the plant, should have been eliminated or suppressed through natural selection. Plants which are able to take in CO2 while reducing water loss, by either opening their stoma only at night (CAM photosynthesis), or by reducing photorespiration (C4 photosynthesis, see below), indeed have evolved 32 and 9 million years ago respectively (Osborne and Freckleton, 2009). However, the water conserving photosynthesis has not displaced the older, heavily transpiring C3 photosynthesis which is still relevant for 95% of the biomass of Earth. Instead, new ecological niches in water scarce areas have opened up for the CAM and C4 plants, as, for example, the cacti of deserts.

All irreversible processes, including living systems, arise and persist to produce entropy. This is not incidental, but rather a fundamental principle of Nature. Excessive transpiration has not been eliminated from plants, despite the extraordinary free energy costs, precisely because the basic thermodynamic function of a plant is to increase the global entropy production of the Earth and this is achieved by dissipating high energy photons in the presence of water and thereby augmenting the global water cycle.

The Water Cycle Absorption of sunlight in the leaves of plants may increase their temperature by as much as 20°C over that of the ambient air (Gates, 1980). This leads to an increase of the H2O vapor pressure inside the cavities of the leaf with respect to that of the colder surrounding air. H2O vapor diffuses across this gradient of chemical potential from the wet mesophyll cell walls (containing the chloroplasts), through the intercellular cavities, and finally through the stoma and into the external atmosphere. There is also a parallel, but less efficient, circuit for diffusion of H2O vapor in leaves through the cuticle, providing up to 10% more transpiration (Gates, 1980). The H2O chemical potential of the air at the leaf surface itself depends on the ambient relative humidity and temperature, and thus on such factors as the local wind speed and insolation. Diffusion of H2O vapor into the atmosphere causes a drop in the water potential inside the leaf which provides the force to draw up new water from the root system of the plants.

Evaporation from moist turf (dense cut grass) can reach 80% of that of a natural water surface such as a lake (Gates, 1980), while that of a tropical forest can often surpass by 200% that of such a water surface (Michaelian, 2009b). Single trees in the Amazon rain forest have been measured to evaporate as much as 1180 liters/day (Wullschleger et al., 1998). This is principally due to the much larger surface area for evaporation that a tree offers with all of its leaves. Natural water surfaces, in turn, evaporate approximately 130% of distilled water surfaces due to the increased UV and visible photon absorption at the surface as a result of phytoplankton and other suspended organic materials, including a large component (up to 109/ml at the surface) of viral and dissolved DNA resulting from viral lysing of bacteria (Wommack and Colwell, 2000).

The water vapor transpired by the leaves, or evaporated by the phytoplankton, rises in the atmosphere, because water vapor at 0.804 g/l is less dense than dry air at 1.27 g/l, to a height corresponding to a temperature of about 259 K (-14 °C) (Newell et al., 1974) at which it condenses around suspended microscopic particles forming clouds. Over oceans, an important constituent of these microscopic particles acting as seeds of condensation are the sulfate aerosols produced by the oxidation of dimethylsulfide released by the phytoplankton themselves (Charlson et al., 1987). Condensation of the water releases an amount of latent heat of condensation ( 6 10427.2 × J /kg) into the upper atmosphere, much of which is then radiated into outer space at infrared wavelengths. In this manner, the Earth maintains its energy balance with space; the total energy incident on the biosphere in the form of sunlight is approximately equal to the total energy radiated by the biosphere into space at infrared wavelengths. Energy is conserved while the entropy of the Universe is augmented in the process.

The formation of clouds may at first consideration seem to have a detrimental effect on the water cycle since cloud cover on Earth reflects approximately 20% of light in the visible region of the Sun’s spectrum (Pidwirny and Budicova, 2008), thereby reducing the potential for evaporation. However, evapotranspiration is a strong function of the local relative humidity of the air around the leaves of plants or above the surface of the oceans. By producing regions of local cooling during the day on the Earth’s surface, clouds are able to maintain the average wind speed at the Earth’s surface within dense vegetation (see for example, Speck (2003)) at values above the threshold of 0.25 m/s required to make the boundary-layer resistance to water loss almost negligible in a plant leaf, thus procuring maximal transpiration (Gates, 1980).
Sublimation and ablation of ice over the polar regions, promoted in part by photon absorption of cyanobacteria within the ice, is also important to the water cycle, evaporating up to 30 cm of ice per year (Priscu et al., 2005).

Production of Entropy

The driving force of all irreversible processes, including the water cycle, is the production of entropy. The basic entropy producing process occurring on Earth is the absorption and dissipation of high energy photons to low energy photons, facilitated in part by the plants and cyanobacteria in the presence of water.

Much math / physics / chemistry / geology / planetary geology skipped: go to original. 

The Importance of Life to the Water Cycle

The very existence of liquid water on Earth can be attributed to the existence of life. Through mechanisms related to the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide first espoused in the Gaia hypothesis (Lovelock, 1988), life is able to maintain the temperature of the Earth within the narrow region required for liquid water, even though the amount of radiation from the Sun has increased by about 25% since the beginnings of life (Newman and Rood, 1977, Gough, 1981). Physical mechanisms exist that disassociate water into its hydrogen and oxygen components, for example through photo-dissociation of water by ultraviolet light (Chang, 2000). Photo-dissociation of methane has been suggested as a more important path to loosing the hydrogen necessary for water (Catling et al., 2001). Free hydrogen, being very light, can escape Earth’s gravity and drift into space, being dragged along by the solar wind. This loss of hydrogen would have lead to a gradual depletion of the Earth’s water (Lovelock, 2005). However, photosynthetic life sequesters oxygen from carbon dioxide thereby providing the potentiality for its recombination with the free hydrogen to produce water. For example, hydrogen sulfide is oxidized by aerobic chemoautotrophic bacteria, giving water as a waste product (Lovelock, 1988). Oxygen released by photosynthetic life also forms ozone in the upper atmosphere which protects water vapor and methane in the lower atmosphere from ultraviolet photo-dissociation. In this manner, the amount of water on Earth has been kept relatively constant since the beginnings of life.

It has been estimated that about 496,000 km3 of water is evaporated yearly, with 425,000 km3 (86%) of this from the ocean surface and the remaining 71,000 km3 (14%) from the land (Hubbart and Pidwirny, 2007). Evaporation rates depend on numerous physical factors such as insolation, absorption properties of air and water, temperature, relative humidity, and local wind speed. Most of these factors are non-linearly coupled. For example, local variations in sea surface temperature due to differential photon absorption rates caused by clouds or local phytoplankton blooms, leads to local wind currents. Global winds are driven by latitude variation of the solar irradiance and absorption, and the rotation of the Earth. Relative humidity is a function of temperature but also a function of the quantity of microscopic particles available for seeds of condensation (a significant amount of which are supplied by biology (Lovelock, 1988)).

The couplings of the different factors affecting the water cycle imply that quantifying the effect of biology on the cycle is difficult. However, simulations using climate models taking into account the important physical factors have been used to estimate the importance of vegetation on land to evapotranspiration. Kleidon (2008) has shown that without plants, average evaporation rates on land would decrease from their actual average values of 2.4 mm/d to 1.4 mm/d, suggesting that plants may be responsible for as much as 42% of the actual evaporation over land. There appears to be little recognition in the literature of the importance of cyanobacteria and other organic matter floating at the ocean surface to evaporation rates. Irrespective of other factors such as wind speed and humidity, evaporation rates should be at least related to the energy deposited in the sea surface layer. A calculation can therefore be made of the effect of biology on the evaporation rates over oceans and lakes.
Before attempting such a calculation, it is relevant to review the biological nature of the air / sea surface interface, and energy transfer within this layer, based on knowledge that has emerged over the last decade. This skin surface layer of roughly 1 mm thickness has its particular ecosystem of high density in organic material (up to 104 the density in water slightly below (Grammatika and Zimmerman, 2001)). This is due to the scavenging action of rising air bubbles due to breaking waves, surface tension, and natural buoyancy (Grammatika and Zimmerman, 2001). The organic material consists of cyanobacteria, diatoms, viruses, free floating RNA/DNA, and other living and non-living organic material such as chlorophyll and other pigments. Most of the heat exchange between the ocean and atmosphere of today occurs from within this upper 1 mm of ocean water. For example, most of the radiated infrared radiation from the sea comes from the upper 100 µ m (Schlussel, 1999). About 52% of the heat transfer from this ocean layer to atmosphere is in the form of latent heat (evaporation), radiated longwave radiation accounts for 33%, and sensible heat through direct conduction accounts for the remaining 15%.

Science, calculations, tables skipped; go to original.

Some theories have the origin of life dissipating other sources of free energy, such as chemical energy released from hydrothermal vents at deep ocean trenches. Whether life originated to dissipate the free energy in sunlight or the free energy in made available through chemical transformations, the quantity of life at hydrothermal vents today corresponds to a very minute portion of all life on Earth implying that its contribution to the actual entropy production of the Earth can be considered negligible. The rich ecosystems existing at these vents are, in fact, not completely autonomous, but dependent on the dissolved oxygen and nutrients of photosynthetic life living closer to the surface. An Earth without photosynthetic life would thus correspond to one in a wholly different class of thermodynamic stationary states, one probably with little involvement of a water cycle.

Evidence for Evolutionary Increases in the Water Cycle

Plants, far from eliminating transpiration as a wasteful use of free energy, have in fact evolved over time ever more efficient water transport and transpiration systems (Sperry, 2003). There is a general trend in evolution, and in ecosystem succession over shorter times, to ever increasing transpiration rates. For example, conifer forests are more efficient at transpiration than deciduous forests principally because of the greater surface area offered for evaporation by the needles as compared to the leaves. Conifers appeared later in the fossil record (late carboniferous) and appear in the late successional stage of ecosystems. Root systems are also much more extended in late evolutionary and successional species, allowing them to access water at ever greater depths (Raven and Edwards, 2001). New pigments besides chlorophyll have appeared in the evolutionary history of plants and cyanobacteria, covering an ever greater portion of the intense region of the solar spectrum, even though they have little or no effect on photosynthesis, for example, the carotenoids in plants, or the MAA’s found in phytoplankton which absorb across the UVB and UVA regions (310-400 nm) (Whitehead and Hedges, 2002). This is particularly notable in red algae, for example, where its total absorption spectrum has little correspondence with its photosynthetic activation spectrum (Berkaloff et al., 1971).

There exist complex mechanisms in plants to dissipate photons directly into heat, bypassing completely photosynthesis. These mechanisms involve inducing particular electronic de-excitations using dedicated enzymes and proteins and come in a number of distinct classes. Constitutive mechanisms, allow for intersystem crossing of the excited chlorophyll molecule into triplet, long-lived, states which are subsequently quenched by energy transfer to the carotenoids. Inducible mechanisms can be regulated by the plant itself, for example, changing lumen pH causes the production of special enzymes that permit the non-photochemical de-excitation of chlorophyll. Sustained mechanisms are similar to inducible mechanisms but have been adapted to long term environmental stress. For example, over-wintering evergreen leaves produce little photosynthesis due to the extreme cold but continue transpiring by absorbing photons and degrading these to heat through non-photochemical de-excitation of chlorophyll. Hitherto, these mechanisms were considered as “safety valves” for photosynthesis, protecting the photosynthetic apparatus against light-induced damage (Niyogi, 2000). However, their existence and evolution can better be understood in a thermodynamic context as augmenting the entropy production potential of the plant through increased transpiration.

The recent findings of microsporine-like amino acids (MAAs) produced by plants and phytoplankton having strong absorption properties in the UVB and UVA regions follows their discovery in fungi (Leach, 1965). They are small (< 400 Da), water-soluble compounds composed of aminocyclohexenone or aminocycloheximine rings with nitrogen or imino alcohol substituents (Carreto et al., 1990) which display strong UV absorption maximum between 310 and 360 nm and high molar extinction (Whitehead and Hedges, 2002). These molecules have been assigned a UV photoprotective role in these organisms, but this appears dubious since more than 20 MAAs have been found in the same organism, each with different but overlapping absorption spectrum, determined by the particular molecular side chain (Whitehead and Hedges, 2002). If their principle function were photoprotective, there existence would be confined to those UV wavelengths that cause damage to the organism, and not to the whole UV broadband spectrum.

Plants also perform a free energy intensive process known as photorespiration in which O2 instead of CO2 is captured by the binding enzyme RuBisCo, the main enzyme of the light iindependent part of photosynthesis. This capture of O2 instead of CO2 (occurring about 25% of the time) is detrimental to the plant for a number of reasons, including the production of toxins that must be removed (Govindjee, 2005) and does not lead to ATP production. There is no apparent utility to the plant in performing photorespiration and in fact it reduces the efficiency of photosynthesis. It has often been considered as an “evolutionary relic” (Niyogi, 2000), still existing from the days when O2 was less prevalent in the atmosphere than today and CO2 more so (0.78% CO2 by volume at the rise of land plants during the Ordovician (ca. 470 Ma) compared with only 0.038% today). However, such an explanation is not in accord with the known efficacy of natural selection to eliminate useless or wasteful processes. Another theory has photorespiration as a way to dissipate excess photons and electrons and thus protect the plants photosynthesizing system from excess light-induced damage (Niyogi, 2000). Since photorespiration is common to all C3 plants, independent of their insolation environments, it is more plausible that photorespiration, being completely analogous to photosynthesis with respect to the dissipation of light into heat in the presence of water (by quenching of excited chlorophylls) and subsequent transpiration of water, is retained for its complimentary role in evapotranspiration and thus entropy production.

Plants not only evaporate water during sunlight hours, but also at night (Snyder et al., 2003). Common house plants evaporate up to 1/3 of the daily transpired water at night (Hernández Candía, 2009). Not all the stoma in C3 and C4 photosynthetic plants are closed at night and some water vapor also diffuses through the cuticle at night. The physiological reason, in benefit of the plant, for night transpiration, if one exists, remains unclear. It, of course, can have no relevance to cooling leaves for optimal photosynthetic rates. Explanations range from improving nutrient acquisition, recovery of water conductance from stressful daytime xylem cavitation events, and preventing excess leaf turgor when water potentials become large during the day (Snyder et al., 2003). However, night transpiration is less of an enigma if considered as a complement to the thermodynamic function of life to augment the entropy production of Earth through the water cycle. In this context, it is also relevant that chlorophyll has an anomalous absorption peak in the infrared at between about 4,000 and 10,000 nm (Gates, 1980), close to the wavelength at which the blackbody radiation of the Earth’s surface at 14 °C peaks.

Cyanobacteria have been found to be living within Antarctic ice at depths of up to 2 m. These bacteria and other lithogenic material absorb solar radiation which causes the formation of liquid water within the ice even though the outside air temperatures may be well below freezing. This heating from below causes excess ablation and sublimation of the overlying ice at rates as high as 30 cm per year (Priscu et al., 2005).
Finally, by analyzing latent heat fluxes (evaporation) and the CO2 flux for plants from various published data sets, Wang et al. (2007) have found vanishing derivatives of transpiration rates with respect to leaf temperature and CO2 flux, suggesting a maximum transpiration rate for plants, i.e. that the particular partition of latent and sensible heat fluxes is such that it leads to a leaf temperature and leaf water potential giving maximal transpiration rates, and thus maximal production of entropy (Wang et al., 2007).

The Function of Animals

If the primary thermodynamic function of the plants and cyanobacteria is to augment the entropy production of the Earth by absorbing light in the presence of liquid water, it may then be asked: What is the function of higher mobile animal life? Because of their intricate root system which allows the plants to draw up water for evaporation from great depths, plants are not mobile and depend on insects and other animals for their supply of nutrients, cross fertilization, and seed dissemination and dispersal into new environments. The mobility and the short life span of insects and animals mean that through excrement and eventual death, they provide a reliable mechanism for dispersal of nutrients and seeds.

Crustaceans and animal marine life in water perform a similar function as insect and animal life on land. These higher forms of life distribute nutrients throughout the ocean surface through excrement and dying. It is noteworthy that dead fish and mammals do not sink rapidly to the bottom of the sea, but remain floating for considerable time on the surface where, as on land, bacteria break down the organism into its components, allowing photon dissipating phytoplankton to reuse the nutrients, particularly nitrogen. It is interesting that many algae blooms produce a neurotoxin with apparently no other end than to kill higher marine life. There is also a continual cycling of nutrients from the depths of the ocean to the surface as deep diving mammals preying on bottom feeders release nutrients at the surface through excrement and death. Because of this cycling and mobility of animals, a much larger portion of the ocean surface is rendered suitable for phytoplankton growth, offering a much larger area for efficient surface absorption of sunlight and evaporation of water than would otherwise be the case.

From this thermodynamic viewpoint, animal life provides a specialized gardening service to the plants and cyanobacteria, which in turn catalyze the absorption and dissipation of sunlight in the presence of water, promoting entropy production through the water cycle. There is strong empirical evidence suggesting that ecosystem complexity, in terms of species diversity, is correlated with potential evapotranspiration (Gaston, 2000). The traditional ecological pyramid should thus be turned on its pinnacle. Instead of plants and phytoplankton being considered as the base that sustains animal life, animals are in fact the unwitting but content servants of plant and phytoplankton life, obtaining thermodynamic relevance only in how they increase the plant and phytoplankton potential for evaporation of water.


We have argued that the basic thermodynamic function of life (and organic material in general) is to absorb and dissipate high energy photons such that the heat can be absorbed by liquid water and eventually transferred to space through the water cycle. Photosynthesis, although relevant to cyanobacteria and plant growth, has only minor relevance to the thermodynamic function of life. Augmenting the water cycle through increased photon absorption and radiation-less relaxation, life augments the entropy production of the Earth in its interaction with its solar environment. We have presented empirical evidence indicating that the evolutionary history of Earth’s biosphere is one of increased photon absorption and dissipation over time, whether on shorter successional, or longer evolutionary, time scales.

This thermodynamic perspective on life views it as a catalyst for entropy production through the water cycle, and ocean and wind currents. It ties biotic processes to abiotic processes with the universal goal of increasing Earth’s global entropy production and thus provides a framework within which coevolution of the biotic with the abiotic can be accommodated. In important distinction to the hypothesis of Gaia, that mixed biotic-abiotic mechanisms have evolved to maintain the conditions on Earth suitable to life, it is here suggested instead that these biotic-abiotic mechanisms have evolved to augment the entropy production of Earth, principally, but not exclusively, through the facilitation of the water cycle. Life, as we know it, is an important, perhaps even inevitable, but certainly not indispensable, catalyst for the production of entropy on Earth.

Body language: The crotch displays of men (primates)

Right: This is one area where I’m relieved that “social conventions” restrict males from walking around naked. If they did, we’d have to put up with this type of behavior. LOL

Bipedalism was not a result of the crotch display, but it gave male bipeds a great opportunity to enhance traditional primate displays, and to threaten and intimidate other males. 


The original “blue balls”

Body language: The crotch displays of men

(nipped for brevity)


One way in which males display dominance is by displaying their crotch…this behavior is something that we’ve inherited from our ancestors. The most common way in which men display their crotch is by taking up the thumbs-in-belt gesture.

Thumbs in belt or pockets

This gesture is used by men to display a dominant, sexually aggressive attitude. It’s perhaps the most direct sexual display a man can make towards a woman. (You’ve got to be joking!) Men also use this gesture to stake their territory or to show other men that they’re not afraid. This gesture communicates the non-verbal message, “I am virile, powerful and dominant”. 

The Obama White House criticized Putin’s posture. I guess the seated crotch display, when done properly,  does intimidate the Hell out of other males. LOL

In a seated position, it becomes kind of difficult for men to assume this gesture but they don’t shy away from displaying their crotch if they want to communicate the message of dominance. They’ll spread their legs and lean slightly backward so that their crotch comes forward and in full display.

Watch any group of young men who’re engaged in an activity that requires them to display a macho attitude and you’ll notice that they often stand with their legs apart and their hands somehow highlight their crotch.

For instance, when sports teams are ready for ‘action’ you may notice the players continually adjusting and re-adjusting their crotch as they unconsciously try to assert their masculinity. Interestingly, this crotch display gesture is also seen in apes and some other primates. Even though the apes don’t wear any belt or trousers, still they highlight their crotch with their hands when they have to stake their territory and show other apes that they’re unafraid.

Some primates such as baboons are a bit more direct. They display dominance by spreading their legs and displaying their penis, giving it continual adjustment or even waving it at their enemies.

What’s even more mind-boggling is that the same penis-waving tactic is also employed by some New Guinea tribes even today who are essentially cut off from modern civilization.

This clearly indicates that such a behavior is an evolved tendency in homo sapiens.

Dropping the pants

I must have been around 11 or 12 years old. It was a bright Sunday morning and we had arranged a cricket match with some schoolmates. Everything was normal as the game progressed and as usual, both the teams rejoiced at the high points and wore disappointed expressions at the low points of the game.

A rather strange thing happened when the game was over. It was a narrow contest right to the end but our team lost. Needless to say, the other team was elated. They jumped with joy, yelled and screamed. But one particular boy was over-excited. He felt so powerful and dominant due to the win that he dropped his pants and showed his penis to our team. (Why not to the other team?)

My team-mates laughed it off but I was taken aback.

I never forgot that incident. I wanted to know why he did that. What possible motive or desire could force a person to resort to such an extreme behavior? (Was the writer really so naive?)

It remained an unanswered question, an unresolved problem in my psyche for a long time until years later, when I read about human evolution and body language, the whole picture became clear to me.

Another similar and common incident that men experience at least once in their lives is when they jokingly question the size of their friend’s penis, the latter usually gets defensive and retorts with something like, “If I show it to you guys, you’ll become afraid and run away”. (Really? Guys say this?)

He may not realize it but unconsciously he knows that the penis display is an effective way to display dominance, and so do his friends.

I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to understand, by now, why people display their middle fingers when they want to offend someone and/or to feel dominant.

It’s not an acceptable behavior anymore in a civilized society for adults to drop their pants and show their penises so they use their middle fingers to symbolically convey the same feelings.

Some of you might ask, “Why do women who wear jeans assume the ‘thumbs-in-belt’ gesture?” or “Why do women show their middle fingers, when they have no actual penises to display?”

Well, it’s most probably a behavior that they’ve learned from men. (Ya think?) Penis display, symbolical or not, has come to be strongly associated with offending someone or showing dominance in the human psyche, thanks to its effectiveness.

I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to understand, by now, why people display their middle fingers when they want to offend someone and/or to feel dominant.

It’s not an acceptable behavior anymore in a civilized society for adults to drop their pants and show their penises so they use their middle fingers to symbolically convey the same feelings.

So, women are just using a tool from men’s psychological repertoire because they know how effective it can be.

Subtle forms of crotch display

No, no, no, never…


Belt and crotch grabbing while dancing is a subtle (?) form of crotch display and men across different cultures do it- from Michael Jackson to Salman Khan. Other subtle forms include wearing tight fitting pants, small-size speedo swimming trunks or even dangling a large bunch of keys/chains on the front or side of the crotch.

Baseball players are particularly “crotch grab prone”. The NHL crotch grab: a puck to the nuts. 

Rather ambiguous message, don’t you think?

The wallets that have those chains dangling on the side of the crotch became popular among men because it helped them draw attention to their crotch. 

To conclude consider what George Carlin, the late American comedian, had to say about wars:

“War is nothing but a whole lot of prick-waving. War is just a lot of men standing around in a field waving their pricks at one another. Of course, the bombs, the rockets, and the bullets are all shaped like dicks. It’s a subconscious need to project the penis into other people’s affairs.”

Are Japanese women tired of neotenic males, perhaps? 

Caption: REALISTIC male mannequins. How pitiful…

Brain Scams / No brain scan can diagnose specific mental illnesses

Brain Scans Cannot Differentiate Between Mental Health Conditions


A new study analyzing over 21,000 participants found that differences in activation of brain regions in different psychological “disorders” may have been overestimated, and confirms that there is still no brain scan capable of diagnosing a mental health concern.

A new study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, questions previous findings that specific brain regions are implicated in particular mental health conditions. Instead, according to the researchers, biased study design and the difficulty of publishing negative findings may have led to inaccurate results. While the researchers did find some differences in brain activation between people with mental health conditions and people without mental health conditions, they were not able to discriminate between specific diagnoses. The current study suggests that there are few, if any, differences in brain regions activated by specific mental health conditions. That is, there is still no brain scan that can tell whether a person has depression, social anxiety, or schizophrenia, for example.

Researchers have theorized that the different symptom clusters that form mental health diagnoses are linked to specific regions of the brain. If confirmed, such a finding would suggest that mental health diagnoses have biological components that could be targeted medically. However, the finding of the current study undermines this theory. Instead, the results indicate that while there is a general tendency for large parts of the brain (such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus) to be activated in a number of mental health conditions (as well as when humans are under stress in a number of ways), there is little difference between the varying diagnoses—even for diagnoses as seemingly different as social anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

The researchers were led by Emma Sprooten (Department of Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City). They used statistical tests to combine the results from 547 studies, which enabled them to analyze the data from 21,692 participants. The studies compared the brain scans of healthy participants with participants who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The studies in question used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a common type of brain scan which creates images based on blood oxygenation levels within the brain. Higher blood oxygenation levels are assumed to indicate areas involved in more activity. Thus, an fMRI result is theorized to indicate which areas of the brain are activated or deactivated for particular tasks or states of being.

Importantly, fMRI has endured its own questions of bias. A recent article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed a previous finding that up to 70% of the results in fMRI studies may actually be “false positives”—that is, finding a result when there actually is none. Nikos K. Logothetis wrote, in a 2008 article in Nature, that the fMRI “is an excellent tool for formulating intelligent, data-based hypotheses, but only in certain special cases can it be really useful for unambiguously selecting one of them, or for explaining the detailed neural mechanisms underlying the studied cognitive capacities.” That is, fMRI results can inform the questions we ask, but they can rarely answer those questions. Unfortunately, the neuropsychiatric literature is riddled with fMRI studies that purport to do just that.

Another recent study attempted to showcase just how much fMRI results rely on subjective interpretation. The researcher, Joshua Carp of the University of Michigan, examined a single fMRI event and found that there were 34,560 different results that could be reached by following different analysis procedures. He argues that the choice of analysis procedure is a subjective one, and researchers may try numerous procedures in order to achieve a positive result. He suggests that in the future, researchers must clearly specify which procedure they will use in order to reduce this extraordinary bias.

Sprooten and her colleagues framed their results as addressing the common practice of “reverse inference,” which has been challenged by other researchers as well. In reverse inference, researchers pre-select which brain regions (ROIs) they are going to study in order to maximize potential results—rather than examine the whole brain to determine which areas are activated. Put simply, if you study a particular area, then you will never see if there is activation in other brain regions during your test. You will only find activation in your pre-selected area. This result is often taken to indicate that particular disorders are associated with activation in particular regions—but this conclusion rests on the assumption that researchers would not have found other areas had they examined the whole brain.

The strength of the current study was its ability to compare ROI studies (studies that focused on only specific regions of the brain) with the results from whole-brain studies. The ROI studies tended to find differences in which brain regions were activated by different mental health conditions. However, once the whole-brain studies were factored in, these findings disappeared. When all studies were included, there were no differences between the diagnoses.

Notably, the researchers only included studies that found significant results—that is, those that purported to find differences between those with mental health diagnoses and those without. Their results would likely be even more striking if they factored in the studies with negative results—studies that did not find differences.

Sprooten writes:

“The pre-selection of ROIs, possibly in combination with the difficulty of publishing negative results, seems to bias the literature and may indirectly lead to oversimplification and over-localization of neurobiological models of behavior and symptoms.”

Choosing a brain region to examine, rather than examining the whole brain, appears to lead to biased, oversimplified results. Likewise, the conclusion that Logothetis reaches in his Nature article is that “the limitations of fMRI are not related to physics or poor engineering, and are unlikely to be resolved by increasing the sophistication and power of the scanners; they are instead due to the circuitry and functional organization of the brain, as well as to inappropriate experimental protocols that ignore this organization […]The magnitude of the fMRI signal cannot be quantified to reflect accurately differences between brain regions, or between tasks within the same region.”

The study conducted by Sprooten and her colleagues suggests that many fMRI studies misrepresent the abilities of brain scans. As Logothetis argues,

using fMRI results to confirm pre-existing theories of brain region activation in mental health diagnoses is in direct contradiction of the abilities of the fMRI technology. (It’s FRAUD!)

In short, brain scan research is of limited use in explaining the complex psychological states of human beings. If a neurological answer seems clear and easy, it may be being misrepresented and oversimplified.

Sprooten, E., Rasgon, A., Goodman, M., Carlin, A., Leibu, E., Lee, W. H., & Frangou, S. (2016). Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta-analyses of task-related brain activation in common mental disorders. Human Brain Mapping. doi:10.1002/hbm.23486 (Abstract)


see also:




Paper / Autistics have increased perceptual capacity over NTs IMPORTANT!

I’m not broken! You are partially blind and deaf. 

A sound advantage: Increased auditory capacity in autism

We’re not making it up: Sensory processing differences ARE REAL. 


1. Introduction

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is most often associated with social communication difficulties and the presence of rigid and repetitive behaviors (APA, 2013). Alongside these symptoms, however, are unusual perceptual and attentional processes that are increasingly being considered as central to the condition (Taylor et al., 2013). Indeed, altered sensory processing was included in the most recent set of diagnostic criteria (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), highlighting the timely nature of research in this area. Existing research on attention and perception in autism has revealed an intriguing profile of strengths and difficulties. Autistic individuals show evidence of superior discrimination abilities and yet also cases of increased distractibility (see Ames & Fletcher-Watson, 2010 for a review).

One possible explanation for this diverse set of observations is that autistic individuals have an increased perceptual capacity relative to neurotypical individuals which allows them to process more information at any given time. This hypothesis is based on the Load Theory of Attention and Cognitive Control (Lavie, 2005), which asserts that the extent of distractor processing depends on the level of perceptual load in a given task. When perceptual load is high, such that the task exhausts perceptual capacity, irrelevant distractor processing is eliminated. Conversely, on tasks with low perceptual load, the spare capacity that remains will automatically ‘spill over’ and result in irrelevant distractor processing.

Hence, with respect to autism, an increased capacity could underlie both superiorities and deficits: in some cases the additional capacity would be useful and promote enhanced task performance, and in other cases the same extra capacity would result in task-irrelevant processing, thereby increasing susceptibility to distraction. Our previous work on autistic visual attention has shown evidence for both these hypotheses. First, on selective attention tasks autistic adults and children demonstrated increased processing of irrelevant peripheral information under high levels of perceptual load, compared to neurotypical children and adults, despite having intact performance on the central attention task (Remington, Swettenham, Campbell, & Coleman, 2009; Swettenham et al., 2014). Second, on a dual-task paradigm where participants were asked to perform a central search task and a secondary detection task, autistic adults showed equivalent performance on the central task and superior performance on the detection task, particularly under high levels of load (Remington, Swettenham, & Lavie, 2012) Together, these studies suggest that autistic individuals have a greater perceptual capacity – at least in the visual domain.

There are many reasons to believe that the phenomenon should extend to the auditory domain. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting altered auditory processing in autism (see O’Connor, 2012 for review). For example, autistic individuals appear to show superior pitch perception (Bonnel et al., 2003) and better identification of, and memory for, musical notes (Heaton, Hermelin, & Pring, 1998). Akin to the findings in the visual domain, there also seems to be a local-processing bias with auditory stimuli. Bouvet, Simard-Meilleur, Paignon, Mottron, and Donnadieu (2014) used hierarchical stimuli to demonstrate that autistic individuals showed intact global processing, but superior local processing and reduced global interference when compared to neurotypical adults. Indeed the Enhanced Perceptual Functioning model of autism (Mottron, Dawson, Soulieres, Hubert, & Burack, 2006), which consolidated a number of experimental findings to propose an explanation for the observed superior attentional behavior in the condition, highlighted increased levels of processing both visual and auditory stimuli. The importance of this line of auditory research is further emphasized when considering the difficulties that seem to accompany these areas of ability. Autistic individuals often show hypersensitivity to certain sounds, leading to great distress in noisy environments (Gomes, Pedroso, & Wagner, 2008). Clinical observations and testimonies reveal the high levels of anxiety that can surround auditory processing (Grandin, 1995, 1997). This, in turn, leads to a variety of coping behaviors that range from grimacing and ear shielding to screaming (Attwood, 1998).

We suggest that both the strengths and difficulties seen with respect to auditory processing in autism might be subserved by increased perceptual capacity. For example, being able to process more auditory information at any given time could offer an advantage on auditory detection tasks but also lead to an overwhelming level of arousal. Here, we use two different attention paradigms to test auditory capacity in autism. To our knowledge, this is the first time that auditory capacity has been directly assessed in autistic individuals.

FOR DETAILS OF EXPERIMENTS and figures go to:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2017.04.002

6. Discussion

The results reported here provide evidence, from two separate attention tasks, that auditory perceptual capacity is increased in autistic adults. In the first, a dual-task paradigm with different levels of perceptual load, participants were asked to identify an auditory target and also perform a secondary auditory detection task. Both the autistic and neurotypical groups performed the primary target identification task to the same level (no significant group differences in RT or error rates). However, whereas neurotypical performance on the detection task dropped as load increased, autistic participants remained able to detect the critical stimulus under high levels of auditory load. This is reflected in significantly better performance by the autistic participants on the secondary task at the highest level of load. As such, these results suggest that the autistic adults have increased auditory capacity that, in this particular case, is an asset: capacity is available to perform both the primary and secondary aspects of the task.

In the second experiment, the same participants’ auditory capacity was tested on a more ecologically valid task that involved a binaural recording of an auditory scene. In this selective attention task, participants were asked to pay attention to a conversation between two women and answer a subsequent question about what they had said. In the middle of the scene an unexpected and unusual stimulus was presented: a man walking through the scene repeatedly saying “I’m a gorilla”. Immediately after listening to the auditory scene, participants were asked whether they had heard this unusual event. As in Experiment 1, both groups were able to successfully complete the primary task (answering the question correctly about the women’s conversation). With respect to the ‘gorilla’, 88% of neurotypical participants failed to notice the unexpected stimulus (replicating results of inattentional deafness in the mainstream population (Dalton & Fraenkel, 2012). Conversely, 47% of the autistic participants were aware of the ‘gorilla’, suggesting that they had the capacity to attend to the additional character as well as the central scene conversation. In this case, the increased capacity manifests as increased susceptibility to distraction, though not at the expense of task-performance (the ‘gorilla’ was task-irrelevant but did not conflict with the target response).

Our demonstration that auditory perceptual capacity appears to be enhanced in autism may allow a reinterpretation of some of the previous literature on auditory processing. Past research has reported a diverse set of atypicalities with respect to autistic audition, assessing aspects that range from basic physical properties (such as pitch) to more complex components (such as prosody) (see 8 for a review). Here, when considering auditory perceptual capacity, it is most relevant to focus on low-level auditory processing. It has been noted that a much higher proportion of autistic individuals show absolute (or ‘perfect’) pitch (5%, compared to 0.01–0.05% in the general population, (Rimland & Fein, 1988). Similarly, autistic children were more accurate at identifying and remembering musical notes (e.g. Heaton, 2003) and pitch discrimination (e.g. Bonnel et al., 2003; Heaton, 2005; Jarvinen-Pasley, Wallace, Ramus, Happe, & Heaton, 2008; O’Riordan and Passetti, 2006). In adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum, these advantages were primarily noted for those individuals who also displayed language difficulties (Bonnel et al., 2010; Heaton, Williams, Cummins, & Happe, 2008; Jones et al., 2009). In addition,

In many cases, however, this increased ability appears to be accompanied by a feeling of over-arousal (an overwhelming level of sensory input) or hyperacusis (where seemingly innocuous sounds are perceived as distressing) (Gomes et al., 2008). In the few studies examining loudness perception (despite many clinical observations), autistic children showed lower loudness discomfort thresholds (Khalfa et al., 2004) and were more likely to show discomfort to sounds below 80 dB(HL) compared to neurotypical individuals (Rosenhall, Nordin, Sandstrom, Ahlsen, & Gillberg, 1999). However, on tests of volume discrimination, autistic and non-autistic performance was equivalent (Bonnel et al., 2010). Closely related to this work, other research suggests autistic people may be more susceptible to distraction from auditory stimuli (Teder-Salejarvi, Pierce, Courchesne, & Hillyard, 2005) and appear to have a wider auditory filter than non-autistic individuals (Plaisted, Saksida, Alcantara, & Weisblatt, 2003). Consequently, there is mixed evidence regarding the ability of autistic individuals to extract speech from background noise, with some suggesting a reduced ability (Alcantara, Weisblatt, Moore, & Bolton, 2004) based on difficulties with stream segregation (Lepisto et al., 2009), while others highlight increased stream segregation abilities (Lin, Yamada, Komine, Kato, & Kashino, 2015). This issue is of particular interest when considering any links between auditory processing and social abilities.

In light of our current findings, we suggest that increased auditory capacity might, in part, underlie the superior performance observed on tasks of auditory processing. If autistic individuals were able to process more information at any given time, performance would be enhanced on tasks that require participants to memorize and discriminate pitch and melodies. Conversely, this same increase in capacity could be detrimental to task performance in other situations: giving rise to additional auditory processing that results in distractibility, over-arousal and hyperacusis. Indeed, our cross-experiment analyses suggested that, irrespective of diagnosis, performance on the two tasks were related: those who noticed the auditory ‘gorilla’ also showed greater ability to detect the car stimulus under high levels of load. As such, increased auditory capacity could offer an explanation for the mixed picture of superiorities and difficulties seen with respect to auditory processing in autism.

At this point, it is also important to consider the potential neural mechanisms that may underlie the increased auditory capacity. Electrophysiological studies (using various oddball paradigms) have identified shorter N1 latencies to simple tones (Ferri et al., 2003; Oades, Walker, Geffen, & Stern, 1988), greater mismatch negativities (MMN) to pitch change and shortened MMN latencies to pitch changes (Gomot, Giard, Adrien, Barthelemy, & Bruneau, 2002) in children with autism, suggestive of more efficient early auditory processing components in autism. However, findings in this area have been mixed, with others showing the opposite pattern in response to more complex tones (see Haesen, Boets, & Wagemans, 2011, for discussion). On a neuroanatomical level, it has been shown that grey matter thickness was greater in the Heschl’s gyri of autistic individuals (compared to neurotypical controls), a region in the primary auditory cortex which is the first to process incoming auditory stimuli (Hyde, Samson, Evans, & Mottron, 2010). This perhaps reflects an increased availability of low-level auditory processing resources. Interestingly, this increased cortical thickness was also seen in other neural regions, including the visual and parietal cortices. This is therefore in line with our previous research showing increased visual perceptual capacity and superior performance on visual attention tasks in autism (Remington et al., 2012).

The importance of understanding of the mechanisms underlying autistic sensory processing should not be underestimated, given that it often causes a great deal of distress for those with the condition. In addition, difficulties with these basic perceptual processes risk disrupting numerous other areas of functioning as they may also reduce access to learning and employment opportunities.

Interestingly, research that has examined links between auditory discrimination ability and self-report sensory symptoms identified some associations between increased performance on auditory duration discrimination tasks and an increased level of reported sensory symptoms (Jones et al., 2009). However, in the same study intensity discrimination ability seemed to show the opposite relationship: with lower levels of sensory symptoms seen in those who were able to better discriminate between different auditory intensities.

While it is clear that further research is warranted, our findings reframe the altered behaviors in terms of increased capacity, rather than a filtering deficit or inability to maintain focus.

This reinterpretation fits well with anecdotal reports from autistic people who describe their ears being “like microphones”, picking up all the surrounding sounds indiscriminately (Grandin, 1996). Our results may also offer suggestions to ameliorate auditory difficulties. To reduce the impact of unwanted distraction in autism that results from increased capacity, we need to both reduce background noise but also increase the level of perceptual load in a given task (to exhaust more of the processing capacity with task-relevant information). This somewhat counterintuitive prediction is at odds with the common view that tasks and stimuli should be simplified for autistic children in schools. It is also a prediction that needs to be carefully applied in order to avoid over-arousal. As such, we view the present findings as the starting point for an interesting line of subsequent experimental and applied research.

Asperger “Symptoms” / Healthy Interpretation

 http://sengifted.org (SENG = Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

“The mission of SENG is to empower caring families and communities to influence more positively and effectively the development of giftedness in those individuals entrusted to their care. SENG’s mission is more vital than ever before. In these trying times, there is a need to foster in gifted individuals the mental health and social competence necessary for them to be free to choose ways to develop their abilities and talents fully. ” Arlene DeVries

Author Sharon Lind Citation from The SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6.

Overexcitability and the Gifted

A small amount of definitive research and a great deal of naturalistic observation have led to the belief that intensity, sensitivity and overexcitability are primary characteristics of the highly gifted. These observations are supported by parents and teachers who notice distinct behavioral and constitutional differences between highly gifted children and their peers. The work of Kazimierz Dabrowski, (1902-1980), provides an excellent framework with which to understand these characteristics. Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration as a response to the prevalent psychological theories of his time. He believed that conflict and inner suffering were necessary for advanced development – for movement towards a hierarchy of values based on altruism – for movement from “what is” to “what ought to be.” Dabrowski also observed that not all people move towards an advanced level of development but that innate ability/intelligence combined with overexcitability (OE) were predictive of potential for higher-level development. It is important to emphasize that not all gifted or highly gifted individuals have overexcitabilities. However we do find more people with OEs in the gifted population than in the average population.

OVEREXCITABILITIES Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli; found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience. Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity-Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these. “One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner” (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 7). Experiencing the world in this unique way carries with it great joys and sometimes great frustrations. The joys and positives of being overexcitable need to be celebrated. Any frustrations or negatives can be positively dealt with and used to help facilitate the child’s growth. The five OEs are described below. Each description is followed by several examples of strategies, which represent a fraction of the possible solutions to issues that may cause concern for overexcitable individuals or those who work and live with them. These should serve as a springboard for brainstorming additional strategies or interventions that will help improve the lives of overexcitable people.

PSYCHOMOTOR OVEREXCITABILITY Psychomotor OE is a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system. This Psychomotor intensity includes a “capacity for being active and energetic” (Piechowski, 1991, p. 287), love of movement for its own sake, surplus of energy demonstrated by rapid speech, zealous enthusiasm, intense physical activity, and a need for action (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). When feeling emotionally tense, individuals strong in Psychomotor OE may talk compulsively, act impulsively, misbehave and act out, display nervous habits, show intense drive (tending towards “workaholism”), compulsively organize, or become quite competitive. They derive great joy from their boundless physical and verbal enthusiasm and activity, but others may find them overwhelming. At home and at school, these children seem never to be still. They may talk constantly. Adults and peers want to tell them to sit down and be quiet! The Psychomotor OE child has the potential of being misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).


  • Allow time for physical or verbal activity, before, during, and after normal daily and school activities-these individuals love to “do” and need to “do.” Build activity and movement into their lives.
  • Be sure the physical or verbal activities are acceptable and not distracting to those around them. This may take some work, but it can be a fun project and beneficial to all.
  • Provide time for spontaneity and open-ended, freewheeling activities. These tend to favor the needs of a person high in Psychomotor OE.

SENSUAL OVEREXCITABILITY Sensual OE is expressed as a heightened experience of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Those with Sensual OE have a far more expansive experience from their sensual input than the average person. They have an increased and early appreciation of aesthetic pleasures such as music, language, and art, and derive endless delight from tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and sights. But because of this increased sensitivity, they may also feel over stimulated or uncomfortable with sensory input. When emotionally tense, some individuals high in Sensual OE may overeat, go on buying sprees, or seek the physical sensation of being the center of attraction (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Others may withdraw from stimulation. Sensually overexcitable children may find clothing tags, classroom noise, or smells from the cafeteria so distracting that schoolwork becomes secondary. These children may also become so absorbed in their love of a particular piece of art or music that the outside world ceases to exist.


  • Whenever possible, create an environment which limits offensive stimuli and provides comfort.
  • Provide appropriate opportunities for being in the limelight by giving unexpected attention, or facilitating creative and dramatic productions that have an audience. These individuals literally feel the recognition that comes from being in the limelight.
  • Provide time to dwell in the delight of the sensual and to create a soothing environment.

INTELLECTUAL OVEREXCITABILITTY Intellectual OE is demonstrated by a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and synthesize (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Those high in Intellectual OE have incredibly active minds. They are intensely curious, often avid readers, and usually keen observers. They are able to concentrate, engage in prolonged intellectual effort, and are tenacious in problem solving when they choose. Other characteristics may include relishing elaborate planning and having remarkably detailed visual recall. People with Intellectual OE frequently love theory, thinking about thinking, and moral thinking. This focus on moral thinking often translates into strong concerns about moral and ethical issues-fairness on the playground, lack of respect for children, or being concerned about “adult” issues such as the homeless, AIDS, or war. Intellectually overexcitable people are also quite independent of thought and sometimes appear critical of and impatient with others who cannot sustain their intellectual pace. Or they may be become so excited about an idea that they interrupt at inappropriate times.


  •  Show how to find the answers to questions. This respects and encourages a person’s passion to analyze, synthesize, and seek understanding.
  • Provide or suggest ways for those interested in moral and ethical issues to act upon their concerns-such as collecting blankets for the homeless or writing to soldiers in Kosovo. This enables them to feel that they can help, in even a small way, to solve community or worldwide problems.
  • If individuals seem critical or too outspoken to others, help them to see how their intent may be perceived as cruel or disrespectful. For example saying “that is a stupid idea” may not be well received, even if the idea is truly stupid.

IMAGINATIONAL OVEREXCITABILITY Imaginational OE reflects a heightened play of the imagination with rich association of images and impressions, frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, detailed visualization, and elaborate dreams (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Often children high in Imaginational OE mix truth with fiction, or create their own private worlds with imaginary companions and dramatizations to escape boredom. They find it difficult to stay tuned into a classroom where creativity and imagination are secondary to learning rigid academic curriculum. They may write stories or draw instead of doing seatwork or participating in class discussions, or they may have difficulty completing tasks when some incredible idea sends them off on an imaginative tangent.


  • Imaginational people may confuse reality and fiction because their memories and new ideas become blended in their mind. Help individuals to differentiate between their imagination and the real world by having them place a stop sign in their mental videotape, or write down or draw the factual account before they embellish it.
  • Help people use their imagination to function in the real world and promote learning and productivity. For example, instead of the conventional school organized notebook, have children create their own organizational system.

EMOTIONAL OVEREXCITABILITY Emotional OE is often the first to be noticed by parents. It is reflected in heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression (Piechowski, 1991). Other manifestations include physical responses like stomachaches and blushing or concern with death and depression (Piechowski, 1979). Emotionally overexcitable people have a remarkable capacity for deep relationships; they show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977). They have compassion, empathy, and sensitivity in relation-ships. Those with strong Emotional OE are acutely aware of their own feelings, of how they are growing and changing, and often carry on inner dialogs and practice self-judgment (Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Children high in Emotional OE‚ are often accused of “overreacting.” Their compassion and concern for others, their focus on relationships, and the intensity of their feelings may interfere with everyday tasks like homework or doing the dishes.


  • Accept all feelings, regardless of intensity. For people who are not highly emotional, this seems particularly odd. They feel that those high in Emotional OE are just being melodramatic. But if we accept their emotional intensity and help them work through any problems that might result, we will facilitate healthy growth.
  • Teach individuals to anticipate physical and emotional responses and prepare for them. Emotionally intense people often don’t know when they are becoming so overwrought that they may lose control or may have physical responses to their emotions. Help them to identify the physical warning signs of their emotional stress such as headache, sweaty palms, and stomachache. By knowing the warning signs and acting on them early, individuals will be better able to cope with emotional situations and not lose control.

GENERAL STRATEGIES It is often quite difficult and demanding to work and live with overexcitable individuals. Those who are not so, find the behaviors unexplainable, frequently incomprehensible, and often bizarre. Overexcitable people living with other overexcitable people often have more compassion and understanding for each other, but may feel conflicts when their OEs are not to the same degree. Finding strategies for helping children and adults deal with and take advantage of these innate and enduring characteristics may seem difficult. However, resources may be gathered from varied places: Literature regarding counseling, learning styles, special education, and classroom management; parenting books; even popular business texts. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the following general strategies, applicable regardless of which OEs are present.

DISCUSS THE CONCEPT OF OVEREXCITABILITY Share the descriptions of OEs with the family, class, or counseling group. Ask individuals if they see themselves with some of the characteristics. Point out that this article and many others like it indicates that being overexcitable is OK and it is understood and accepted.

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES Jointly discuss the positives of each overexcitability when you first introduce the concept, and continue to point out these merits. Benefits include being energetic, enthusiastic, sensual, aesthetic, curious, loyal, tenacious, moral, metacognitive, integrative, creative, metaphorical, dramatic, poetic, compassion-ate, empathetic, and self-aware.

CHERISH AND CELEBRATE DIVERSITY One outcome of the pursuit of educational and societal equity has been a diminishing of the celebration of diversity and individual differences. Highly gifted individuals, because of their uniqueness, can fall prey to the public and personal belief that they are not OK. It is vital when discussing OEs that individuals realize that overexcitability is just one more description of who they are, as is being tall, or Asian, or left-handed. Since OEs are inborn traits, they cannot be unlearned! It is therefore exceedingly important that we accept our overexcitable selves, children, and friends. This acceptance provides validation and helps to free people from feelings of “weirdness” and isolation

Another way to show acceptance is to provide opportunities for people to pursue their passions. This shows respect for their abilities and intensities and allows time for them to “wallow” in what they love, to be validated for who they are. Removing passions as consequences for inappropriate behavior has a negative effect by giving the message that your passions, the essence of who you are, are not valuable or worthy of respect.

USE AND TEACH CLEAR VERBAL AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS All people deserve respect and need to be listened to and responded to with grace. Overexcitable people need this under-standing and patience to a greater degree because they are experiencing the world with greater intensity and need to be able to share their intensity and feelings of differentness to thrive. It is vital to learn good communication skills and to teach them to children. Good communication skills are useful on multiple levels, from improving the chances of getting what you want, to nurturing and facilitating growth in others. Regardless of one’s motivation for learning these skills, the outcomes will include less stress, greater self-acceptance, greater understanding from and about others, and less daily friction at home, school, work, or in the grocery store.

When learning communication skills be sure to include both verbal-listening, responding, questioning, telephoning, problem solving (Faber and Mazlish, 1980), and nonverbal-rhythm and use of time, interpersonal distance and touch, gestures and postures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and style of dress (Nowicki, 1992). Verbal and nonverbal strategies improve interpersonal communication and provide the skills individuals need to fit in when they wish to, to change the system if necessary, and to treat others with caring and respect.

TEACH STRESS MANAGEMENT FROM TODDLERHOOD ON Everyone deals with stress on a daily basis. But overexcitable individuals have increased stress reactions because of their increased reception of and reaction to external input. There are many programs and books about stress reduction. The key components are to (1) learn to identify your stress symptoms: headache, backache, pencil tapping, pacing, etc. (2) develop strategies for coping with stress: talk about your feelings, do relaxation exercises, change your diet, exercise, meditate, ask for help, develop organizational and time management skills and (3) develop strategies to prevent stress: make time for fun; develop a cadre of people to help, advise, humor you; practice tolerance of your own and others’ imperfections.

CREATE A COMFORTING ENVIRONMENT WHENEVER POSSIBLE Intense people need to know how to make their environment more comfortable in order to create places for retreat or safety. For example: find places to work or think which are not distracting, work in a quiet or calm environment, listen to music, look at a lovely picture, carry a comforting item, move while working, or wear clothing which does not scratch or cling. Learning to finesse one’s environment to meet one’s needs takes experimentation and cooperation from others, but the outcome will be a greater sense of well being and improved productivity.

HELP TO RAISE AWARENESS OF ONE’S BEHAVIORS AND THEIR IMPACT ON OTHERS Paradoxically, overexcitable people are often insensitive and unaware of how their behaviors affect others. They may assume that everyone will just understand why they interrupt to share an important idea, or tune out when creating a short story in their head during dinner. It is vital to teach children and adults to be responsible for their behaviors, to become more aware of how their behaviors affect others, and to understand that their needs are not more important than those of others. The key is to realize that you can show children and adults how they are perceived, you can teach them strategies to fit in, but they must choose to change.

REMEMBER THE JOY Often when overexcitability is discussed examples and concerns are mostly negative. Remember that being overexcitable also brings with it great joy, astonishment, beauty, compassion, and creativity. Perhaps the most important thing is to acknowledge and relish the uniqueness of an overexcitable child or adult.

References Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London: Gryf. (Out of print) Dabrowski, K & Piechowski, M.M. (1977). Theory of levels of emotional development (Vols.1 & 2). Oceanside, NY: Dabor Science. (Out of print) Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk. New York: Avon.


Autism researchers admit their reseach is CRAP / Yes, indeed it is.

Unthinking social obedience is not moral behavior.

Full article: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep04314

The relationship between moral judgment and cooperation in children with high-functioning autism

Jing Li, , Liqi Zhu, & Michaela Gummerum

For the rest of the blah, blah, blah see original. I’m posting this as an example of how ASD researchers are NOT SCIENTIFIC in their mental constructs; indeed they are socially biased in their assumptions. And ridiculously “childish” in their “belief” that subjecting a handful of supposedly Typically Developing Children (PC for normal) and a handful of supposedly High Functioning Autistic children (a label which appears to be interchangeable with an Asperger diagnosis – sloppy!) to “nice and naughty” stories and quizzes, pre-loaded with “socially prescribed” answers as to what is “correct” morally. They insist that morality is a question of socially-prescribed “naughty or nice” rules. 

As for the TD children, were they tested against a set of “normal” diagnostic symptoms? Were their brains scanned; were they the object of opinion surveys by parents, teachers, and strangers; tested for IQ across multiple intelligences, videotaped – and their every word, body motion or “magically evident thought processes” ridiculed? Of course not.


This study had two main aims: First, to examine whether HFA children could make correct moral judgments, similar to TD children (TD children are held to be exemplars of moral decision-making, intuition and action? REALLY? Their “moral choices” are CORRECT merely because they conform to the “naughty or nice” social response standards of the researchers); and second, whether an interaction partner’s morality affected cooperation in HFA and TD children. (Again, a conformist idea that “naughty people” ought to be exiled from interaction with “nice people”, permanently, for one or two contrived (fictional) behaviors. Remember these “tests” carefully simplified and dumbed-down moral tales that reflect Western religious prejudice.

None of that “Eastern” compassion stuff is allowed! 

Concerning the first aim, both HFA children and TD children could make moral judgment correctly in this study, consistent with Leslie, et al.13. Thus, following these authors and others(e.g., Grant, et al.19), HFA children seemed to have little difficulty in evaluating certain acts (such as hitting and sharing) in terms of their morality. On the contrary, HFA children judged harming others as significantly worse than TD children. This indicates that HFA children might have more rigid criteria for what constitutes morally naughty actions. (Could we please drop the naughty-nice stuff and use adult language?) This might be because HFA children are more rule-oriented when it comes to certain behavior because of their disorder. For example, stereotypy, compulsive behavior, sameness, ritualistic behavior, repetitive or restricted behavior have been associated as part of the diagnosis of autism27. Thus, HFA children might also be more rule-oriented when it comes to moral actions. (Wow! Talk about improper inference from a list of “symptoms, traits, behaviors” that are all assumed to apply to all Asperger individuals – “guilt by label of Autism”. Outrageous…) Similarly, Baron-Cohen28 argued that although autistic individuals are typically self-focused, they are highly moral people, have a strong sense of justice, and think deeply about how to be good. Well, gee whiz! Thanks B-C. That’s certainly a positive (indictment) of Asperger people. (Just wait – these admirable qualities are about to be turned into ‘defects”)

Naughty us for having strong moral principles in a society that promotes violence, bullying, lying, cheating and inequality; the good ol’ USA is undeniably lacking such “old-fashioned” Asperger notions of basic morality, Thank God! 

While HFA children can correctly judge the morality of nice and naughty acts, being partnered with persons of different morality did not change their level of cooperation. Furthermore, HFA children’s cooperation was not different when they played with a random stranger, compared with when they played with the nice child or with the naughty child. On the other hand, TD children cooperated more when they played with the nice child than that when they played with the naughty child or the random stranger. These latter findings are in line with previous research22,23 which shows that, beginning in the preschool years, TD children take into account their interaction partners’ previous moral behavior when deciding whether to act prosocially. (Yes, TD automatic social discrimination IS CORRECT behavior.)

HFA children essentially focus on their own self, and have lower empathic abilities than normally developing children3. (Here we go! Social indictment of an inherent Asperger egalitarian view of human worth! None of that “compassion-equality” stuff is allowed in the good ol’ USA.) While some HFA children show empathy with others and overcome their self-focus, this takes great cognitive effort28. Being less interested in others and the world outside their own might lead to HFA paying little attention to partner’s morality when they play in the PDG, even (when?) they had an idea about the morality of the partner. Thus, HFA children’s cooperative performance was not influenced by partner’s morality, although they could correctly judge others’ morality in basic moral judgment stories. (Does this not hint that Asperger types possess a more sophisticated and generous spirit toward the array of behavior that is human behavior? That people are NOT DEFINED by broad generalizations; by one or two “naughty choices” but by an overall PATTERN of behavior? The choice to “not cooperate or mingle with naughty people” is NEUROTYPICAL class prejudice. It is NTs who exclude “certain people” based on knee-jerk social rules; racism – explain that! Entire “categories” of human beings -minorities, women, non-Christian religious groups, “foreign” ethnicities and those of low economic status are considered by NTs to be “naughty people”…) 

What would Bhudda do? 

In addition, differences in peer experience between HFA children and TD children might also contribute to finding that TD children show different levels of cooperation with different partners while HFA children do not. HFA children have difficulties in social initiation and social-emotional understanding, but are not insensitive to social stimuli, as they were as likely to interact socially with peers29. Autistic children are in a vicious circle of social isolation. (Gee whiz; do you think social people, following rigid social rules, may have some part in creating this situation?) On the one hand, they want to interact with peers and to express the feelings of disappointment and loneliness in the absence of interaction. On the other hand, they do not know how to properly interact with peers due to their limited capacity and experience of social and emotional understanding30. Children with autism have poor experiences in interacting with peer group in daily life, which might make HFA children show similar levels of cooperation in experimental situations (such as the prisoner’s dilemma game) when they played with (a) partner of different morality. In contrast, TD children make many friends and accumulate rich experiences to get along with peers in elementary school, at which stage it is important to develop friendships31. Moreover, attention to moral principles, such as norm and promise32, becomes an important feature of friendships and peer relations33. Therefore, TD children might be more likely to take into account their partners’ characters, including their morality, compared with HFA children.

One may as well substitute all kinds of social prejudice – race, income level, ethnicity, non-Christian religion, non-conformist values, foreign birth, disability and neorodiversity for the euphemism of “morality”.

The brutal American childhood hierarchy of social rejection, exile, intimidation and violence against peers, which arises from rigid social hierarchy rules is so much better than compassionate open-mindedness.  

Furthermore, HFA children also have deficits in reciprocal peer interaction and social cognition. They perform more ritualized behavior and less social interactive behavior (such as prosocial behavior). Moreover, the social interactive behavior performed by autistic children is only to maintain similarity but not to share emotion and experience with peers29.

How dare the researchers condemn an entire group of people, whom they have defined and  segregated from the rest of humanity, out of their own prejudice, as “not human” robots without a desire to “share emotion and experience”

Here it is in one sentence: the true “message”-

Peer interactions provide opportunities to initiate and maintain prosocial behavior with individuals of similar power and status.

In these relationships children learn the principles of reciprocity and open communication34. Children develop a deep understanding about moral (SOCIAL)identity by thinking about moral events from different perspectives. Moreover, peers are able to provide warm and powerful resources, (yikes!) which is an important ingredient of prosocial behavior. Peers also give feedback by providing reward and punishment to promote and diminish moral and prosocial behavior. Peers and the experiences based on interacting with peers are important to children’s prosocial behavior, trust and intimacy, which are produced through reciprocal prosocial behavior and, are the foundation of the development of positive morals34. Peers and peer relationship are important to the development of children’s prosocial behavior35,36. HFA children’s deficiency in peer relationship might lead them to perform indiscriminate cooperation when playing with the naughty and the nice partner in the current study. 

In addition, HFA children have typically deficits in social function, based on their impairments in ToM and empathy, although they have normal IQ. Empathy is important for children’s development of moral judgment, prosocial behaviors, and social competence37. The strong relationship between moral judgment and ToM is also confirmed by neuroimaging evidence10,38,39. (Totally unproven non-scientific assumption) Furthermore, the relationship between theory of mind and cooperation has also been shown through behavioral evidence40 and neuroimaging41,42,43. Thus, HFA children’s deficits in social functioning might lead them to perform similar cooperation when they interacted with partners of different moralities in prisoner’s dilemma game, although they could judge other’s morality correctly. (OMG! Yes, there are no other possible explanations for this single “conclusion” to which these researchers  present as an “obsession” – some kind of “global truth” about “correct” human behavior. 

Some limitations of the current study should be acknowledged. Firstly, while HFA and TD children were matched on age, gender, and IQ; differences in children’s verbal ability were not controlled for. Future research should measure HFA children’s language ability before examining their social behavior.

Then why present a paper based on inadequate preparation, untested assumptions and hearsay evidence?

Secondly, although the autistic children in this study were evaluated by the expert clinician based on DSM-IV criteria and their diagnosis was confirmed by other multiple clinical evaluation (see details in Method section), their diagnosis was not confirmed by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Future research should use this more standardized clinical instrument to ensure a research-quality diagnosis. In addition, more sophisticated moral judgments should be used further in the future. For example, since HFA children might have particular difficulties with understanding others’ intentions moral judgments based on others’ intentions and cooperation with well- and ill-intended partners might be an interesting direction for future studies. (How garbled can this get?)

How novel: Researchers admit that their research is CRAP.

Overall, this study found that both HFA children and TD children could make correct moral judgments, and HFA children might have even more rigid criteria for what constitutes a “naughty” act than TD children. (How terrible!) HFA children’s cooperation was similar when they played with partners of different moralities, while TD children showed higher cooperation when they played with a morally nice child than that when they interacted with a naughty child. Therefore, HFA children’s cooperation was not influenced by partner’s morality, while TD children’s cooperation might be prompted by partner’s nice morality. This study thus gives an important insight into high-functioning autistic children’s moral judgment and moral behavior.