Interesting Perspectives On Asperger

With a most retentive memory, his conversation was solid beyond that of any man.

1) John Rae: Life Of Adam Smith 

“With a most retentive memory, his conversation was solid beyond that of any man. I have often told him after half an hour’s conversation, ‘Sir, you have said enough to make a book.” His conversation, moreover, was particularly wide in its range. Though Smith seldom started a topic of conversation, there were few topics raised on which he was not found contributing something worth hearing, and Boswell, no very partial witness, admits that his talk evinced “a mind crowded with all manner of subjects. I shall be accused of going too far when I say that he was scarcely ever known to start a new topic himself, or to appear unprepared upon those topics that were introduced by others. Indeed, his conversation was never more amusing than when he gave a loose rein to his genius upon the very few branches of knowledge of which he only possessed the outlines.”

2) I often read that High IQ Asperger kids are not good at empathizing. Jim Sinclair has the best explanation that I have read, of how people with different perspectives always have difficulty understanding each other. And why things are a lot different from how they appear.

“Empathy” is a nebulous term that is often used to mean projection of one’s own feelings onto others; it is therefore much easier to “empathize” with someone whose ways of experiencing the world are similar to one’s own than to understand someone whose perceptions are very different.  But if empathy means being able to understand a perspective that is different from one’s own, then it is not possible to determine how much empathy is present between persons without first having an adequate understanding of each person’s perspective and of how different those perspectives are from each other. When I am interacting with someone, that person’s perspective is as foreign to me as mine is to the other person. But while I am aware of this difference and can make deliberate efforts to figure out how someone else is experiencing a situation, I generally find that other people do not notice the difference in perspectives and simply assume that they understand my experience.  When people make assumptions about my perspective without taking the trouble to find out such things as how I receive and process information or what my motives and priorities are, those assumptions are almost certain to be wrong.  Since people usually don’t state their assumptions explicitly so I can tell what they’re thinking, and since I don’t have a very large vocabulary of feeling-words, it is very difficult for me to find out what the assumptions are and to find a way to communicate discrepancies between what is being assumed and what I am actually experiencing.  While different people vary in how much they examine their assumptions about my experience and take care to communicate their own perspectives in terms I can understand, I have never interacted with anyone who was as careful about these things as I am.”

3)Psychologist Simon Baron Cohen argues that the extreme male brain is good at Systemizing, but poor at Empathizing (the skill to put yourself in the shoes of others). Cohen admits that people with an extreme male brain do not purposefully set out to hurt others, though they have difficulty putting themselves in the shoes of others. But, the hidden assumption is still that empathizing is a moral issue. This is again, nonsense. Kindness/Benevolence and the ability to read social cues are two different things. Though the inability of high IQ Asperger people to empathize do not lead to cruelty, this hidden assumption colors the way people look at empathy. In reality, people with Asperger often epitomizes kindness, rationality and systemizing skills. Why? Jim Sinclair again has a powerful analogy:

“There’s a special technique involved in tying a hangman’s noose so the victim is killed instantly by a broken neck, rather than slowly by strangulation.  I suppose it’s part of a hangman’s professional expertise to learn to tie this knot properly.  That expertise doesn’t make the hangman a caring or compassionate person.The hangman’s knot, the guillotine, the electric chair, the gas chamber, and the lethal injection were all designed to make deliberately inflicted death less painful to the victim.  But I’ve never heard the inventors or the users of these technologies hailed as great humanitarians.  I’ve never heard them praised for their great empathy toward the lives they’ve ended. Certainly it takes some ingenuity to invent new equipment.  I’m a pretty smart person, but my expertise with knots is limited to being able to tie my shoes, to make a slip knot and a square knot.  I tie these knots the way others taught me to tie them; I’ve never invented a new kind of knot by myself.  If I were to try to design a knot that could quickly and painlessly kill someone, I’d never be able to figure it out.   Whoever invented that knot had a type of mechanical creativity and skill that I don’t have. But if I did have it, I’d use it for other purposes.  I wouldn’t need to invent a way to kill with a knot, because I would never be willing to participate in any way in killing a bound and defenseless person.  Skill and ingenuity are not the same as empathy and caring.”

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