Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Autistic Brain and Thinking About Spontaneous Orders

I am currently reading The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin. It is a fascinating book that really draws your attention to what is known and what is unknown about autism -- and some of the problems with autism research that are caused by the fact that most researchers into autism are not themselves autistic, and the fact that there is a strong bias against self-reports, meaning there is too much focus on external expressions and not enough on what someone with autism is experiencing. It seems odd that autism research is, in this sense, a final holdout of behaviorism.

It should not be surprising that Grandin, being autistic herself, focuses on how autistics experience the world. But she also points out that autistics think about the world in a different way. Specifically, she notes that neurotypicals think in a top-down fashion (big picture before details), while autistics think in a bottom-up fashion (details before big picture). This has an interesting result. This means that neurotypicals tend to develop ideas from fewer sources, then take that theory and go back to the facts, where as autistics collect far more details and develop a theory from the details, from the facts. This also, coincidentally, is what allows autistics to see and understand patterns better and in more detail.

Also, this bottom-up thinking might help autistics to understand bottom-up processes better. I am learning that there are a large number of people with Asperger's and autism among libertarians. I could point to the fact that autistics base their decisions on facts and information and are dispassionate in their conclusions, which is no doubt one of the main reasons why they would tend to support free markets. A more cynical view would be that autistics just want to be left alone to do their work, and extrapolate this out to government (just leave me alone and everything will be fine!). I'm not even going to argue that this isn't perhaps a part of it. However, it is also likely true that a more bottom-up, pattern-based thinker is going to see and understand bottom-up processes with complex patterns better than neurotypicals, meaning they will tend to understand spontaneous orders in general better than neurotypicals. Seeing social processes for what they are surely has to help one to come to certain kinds of libertarian conclusions when it comes to social orders.
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