[ExI] The undivided mind

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Tue Jul 14 10:03:16 UTC 2009

I just started reading "Create your own economy" by Tyler Cowen - so
far is extremely interesting. It's a book about the autistic cognitive
style and its validity in our internet-enabled society. Highly

I have some of my own reflections on autistic cognitive style:

Autism is a form of abnormal development of the brain, where the most
basic neurological substrate of cognition, such as the cortical
mantle, cortical columns, and the subcortical support structures,
develop normally, yet there is an impairment in the long-range
connections (white matter tracts) between cortical modules. This
differs from garden-variety retardation where the substrate of
cognition is itself dysfunctional. Furthermore, the impairment of
long-range white matter tracts is not random. Random damage to white
matter is seen in multiple sclerosis and microvascular disease which
produce a totally different cognitive outcome (although infrequently
one may observe some savant-like traits). The tracts most affected in
autism tend to be the highly specialized networks important for social
and linguistic tasks, while general-purpose cognitive circuitry is

The special purpose circuitry is very important for fast achievement
of social competence, which is obviously extremely important for
survival in the prehistoric jungle that shaped our genes. Yet, such
speed comes at a cost: The social circuitry imposes a pre-determined
structure on cognition, directing attention to stimuli and phenomena
most important for survival in the jungle. This structure carries with
itself evolutionary assumptions about social tactics, finely
calibrated to life in small tribes. It teaches about dominance and
submission games, coalition-building and exclusion of strangers, the
uses of violence and deception in both offensive and defensive
applications. It teaches to devote cognitive resources to tracking the
alphas, rather than count petals in various flowers. It weaves lies,
violence and the ability to self-deceive into the very fabric of the
mind, making them into unseen yet all pervading facts of life.

The mildly autistic mind is to some extent deprived of such
pre-ordained structure. It is free to use its raw intelligence without
compulsive focus on tribal structure. It tends to excel and then focus
on tasks that do not require extensive long-range cortical
connections, such as mathematics, or physical modeling of the
environment. It is forced to come up with its own ways of imposing
structure on sensory input which is much slower than pre-configured
ideas - but it is free not to be shackled by tricks calibrated for the
hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The autistic person is in a way weak,
innocent, inept at bullying, lying and social manipulation, yet his
mind is like a primal force, unbound by outdated assumptions. He is
mentally undivided, applying his general cognitive engine to a greater
scope of tasks than usual among the dominant social animals. His style
reflects his neural structure - a Hawkins' hierarchical temporal
memory, fluidly building ever more complex hierarchy of world models
from simpler units, without the shortcuts afforded by the specialized
neural hardware seen in standard humans - slower but less likely to
make systematic mistakes in understanding. He is the persistent
truth-finder, at times appalled by what he finds out. He is the
innocent, fluid force of truth.


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