Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Potential, Evolution and Labelling

It was with a jolt that I realized in recent months that I meet many of the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome, the high-functioning form of autism. I went so far as to take an online test, the result of which said it was "highly likely". Bah!

I did some research online and found that virtually all geniuses and high achievers throughout history are now considered to have suffered from this condition. Doesn't that seem a little odd, a little curious? We want to label these people, who have contributed so much to human society, as somehow deficient??

I started to get really mad, especially when these sites talked about curing Aspergers or at least medicating it into submission. Medicating personality?

Now don't get me wrong, I understand that autism is real and can be extremely debilitating, especially at the lower end of the spectrum. Rates of autism have skyrocketed in recent years and it's a huge problem. We need to find out what's causing it--be it vaccines, environmental toxins, or something else--and fix it.

What I'm griping about is the general attitude towards the high-functioning end of this spectrum, which some people believe is not the same syndrome at all. Some are suggesting it's actually an evolutionary adaption. I tend to agree.

In one of her books, Temple Grandin talked about the differences in brain functioning between autistic people and "normals". There seems to be somewhat less activity in the frontal lobes of autistics. This makes sense as these areas affect such things as speech, socialization and mental flexibility/spontaneity--typical problem areas for autistics. Grandin, a highly accomplished autistic herself, believes that the autistic person is sort of half-animal, half-human in the way in which he or she perceives and responds to the world. And this makes sense too--our frontal lobes pretty much define us as humans. Her descriptions of her fluid, visual way of perceiving the world does seem to express a more primordial, animal orientation.

Here's what I think (bear with me):

Simply because a brain differs in function from the norm, doesn't make it a deficient brain. The brain is a fluid evolving structure, so you would hope there would be changes and adaptations over time.

It's easy to interpret a lessened reliance on the frontal lobes as a regression, and therefore undesirable. But what has occurred to me is that perhaps we're evolving to a more fluid way of being in the world and that new way of being will be much less reliant on the frontal lobes. Maybe in the course of our evolution highly developed frontal lobes were crucial, but once they serve their purpose, they will recede in importance.

I suspect that they were important for the development of ego. Speech helped us to name and label, creating subject and object--no longer a unified world, but us and them, self and other. No longer a fluid state of being, but clunky self-awareness. The need to belong to a group, to protect the isolated dot that you were.

One thing about Aspies (that's what they call themselves)--they have no need to belong. If the world were inhabited only by Aspies there would be no war or conflict, because they're just not concerned with those petty needs of the ego.

As I've said before (in Tracing the The Rise of Ego and Materialism), I think we're evolving from unconscious unity to conscious separateness (and ego) to, eventually, conscious unity. We are one with Gaia and with the cosmos, but we have yet to fully awaken to that. I believe that Aspies are at the cusp of this awakening.

The new human will live fluidly again with the world around him, in a state of unity and egolessness. In a sense he will be more animal-like again, with the only exception being that he will be fully awake--an enlightened, conscious being.

Check out this excerpt from Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation:

And this is a very beautiful myth about Aspies--it is a masterpiece: