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DeepBlueLake
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03 May 2007, 11:56 pm

STROBE MIND versus BLURRED MIND

This is a personal take on what might be going on in the autistic mind, and why it’s sometimes hard for others to interact with us. I’m just putting it out to see if it resonates with anybody, or if someone I haven’t come across has had similar ideas. Please note that I’m painting with broad strokes here. The way these issues weave themselves into real human lives is more subtle and less clear.

First, the science bit.

One of the more amusing discoveries of the last century was Heisenberg’s principle of Indeterminacy. It simply says that you can never know where something is, and how fast it’s going, both at the same time. If a car is sitting in a garage, you know exactly where it is, but it has no speed that you can measure. If the car is driving, how can you know where it is? As soon as you arrive with your measuring tape, it’s moved on. You can’t catch up.

You can measure one aspect precisely, but not without blowing your chance of ever measuring the other aspect. You can find out where a speeding car is by firing a rocket launcher at it. It will soon come to a standstill and you can check out exactly where it is. But of its speed - ? Well, it’s a twisted pile of metal. It’s not speeding anywhere. And now the police want to talk to you.

It’s often more useful to know both aspects of something roughly, rather than one aspect precisely. So our minds settle for seeing reality slightly blurred. We get to know where something pretty much is, and pretty much how fast it’s going. “Northbound along the M1 between junctions seventeen and eighteen, travelling approximately seventy miles an hour” might be a good enough report on our car. “Going to smile and wave” is a good-enough report on what somebody is about to do. You get used to your blurred reality - blurred shapes, blurred speed, blurred moments.

This blur turns out to be really useful. You can sense your present moment blurring slightly forward into the future. This gives you a good idea of what’s going to happen. You can call it instinct, or psychic power, if you’re melodramatic. Going back to the car, it’s like the GPS system. It tells you how the road is going to curve ahead of you, and which turns you need to take to get where you’re going.

Of course, you aren’t really psychic, just like GPS isn’t a perfect map of the future. A road may be closed, there might be a diversion. GPS couldn’t tell you about the leaves on the trees or the faces of the passers-by. But imperfect though it is, it’s a huge help.

When you chat, play tennis, cards or chess, the blurred 4D image you sense hints as to what’s coming, and what to do or say. It informs all our dreams and decisions.

For most human beings, the blur simply is reality. It is your mind. You cannot imagine a reality that wasn’t blurred along the fourth dimension..

Some people, however, are forced to disagree with you.

Autism is a different way of perceiving the natural world. It’s a vision that focuses on the solid reality of 3-dimensional objects and the systems that govern them. We see them with a clarity and understanding that is lost on other people. We know their patterns and their relationships. For us the world finally stands still, letting itself be understood and worked with.

We cannot see the blur.

Instead of life as a movie, we see an endless series of still photographs. These photographs are high-resolution images, far clearer than the smudgy camcorder footage that flows through the brain of a normal human. Everything looks so clean and logical and obvious to us.

To such a mind, knowledge becomes like air. You can just breathe it in. Reading a dull, hard textbook is no different to hiking up a mountain to catch a spectacular sunset. It isn’t even work. It’s just exercise.

The worlds of technology, engineering and all the sciences are in part the gift of the autistic mind. Wherever the bottom line depends on the understanding of abstract systems, the autistic can make good money. Often enough for a serious comic book collection.

We tend to love comics. They show the world as we see it, in small visual blinks. And do you know what all that science fiction fantasy comic book hero stuff is about? It’s a morality tale told again and again in all different guises. The idea is always the same. Somebody gets a special gift or talent, and with it they inherit some terrible curse, which they have to live with. The hero’s actual powers and achievments are normally a sideshow for the real drama, which is the facing of the curse.

Autistic people are often drawn to such myths because they reflect a truth about our own lives. As a price for this enhanced look at the now, we lose our ability to see into the fourth dimension - time. If you cannot see the blur, you cannot see the future.

It’s hard for a normal person to imagine being short-sighted in the fourth dimension. Perhaps you once played a game or a sport with a serious professional. They seem to see further into the future than you. They’re not moving to where you are, but to where you’ll be in a moment.

If you’ve ever had such a meeting, you’ll know why normal people can seem simply awesome to us. You talk like you have a team of writers feeding you dialogue through an earphone. Your bodies move by themselves, not walking into stuff when you stop concentrating.

To you, the autistic person appears short-sighted. You can see the next moment coming down the road. We can only see it when it’s right on top of us and it’s suddenly the NOW.

NOW - NOW - NOW! is the pulse of the autistic brain. With no time to work out how one NOW connects with another. While the world of facts and logic stands beautifully still for us, we experience the twists and turns of the human world like a speed-freak long-distance truck driver, caffienated beyond jibberish, desperately scanning the highway ahead as he grips the steering wheel. Many autistics avert their eyes from the human world, afraid of what they’ll bump into next. Some of us develop piercing, scary stares as we focus our weak 4D eyesight, trying to make out what is coming a few seconds from now.

Should you be plunged into an autistic state, it would feel like a horrible acid trip gone wrong. The world would be a zillion tiny fragments, held together by nothing. People would be a frantic dance of noise and movement. And, not being able to understand the unblurred point of view, they might get even more frantic at what you were describing.

Let’s face it, autistic people freak others out. We do come from the same planet as you. But given the way our brains perceive it, it might as well be the dimension of the squidgy purple goblins. You get uneasy being around somebody whose head chops reality up into such alien forms.

Multiply “uneasy” by decades, and thousands of acquaintances, and you see some of the fallout of the condition. We are a pain in the arse. We hobble here and there, groping for some clue as to what the next two seconds will look like. We knock stuff over. We poop parties. We talk about the spectacular 3D detail that only we can see, on and on, while everyone is praying for us to shut up. And worst of all, we smash into the mechanism of the soul itself, ruining moments and spoiling feelings.

I once saw a film of a rotating saw, filmed under strobe light so it looked like it was standing still. Then someone put a block of wood against this “motionless” blade, and sawed the block in half. And yet, under the strobe lighting, the blade had seemed perfectly safe and still. You might have put your fingers on it, with horrible results.

Such is the interaction between the strobing autistic mind and the blurred reality of normal people. We have no way of telling which bits of your souls, or ours, are moving like that sawblade. Every now and then, there’s a nasty ouch! as you and I make contact with some bit of each other that was actually moving at 5000 RPM. I’d only know this if I could see it as a movie. Like everybody else can. Jeez, they’ll say. How could you not notice that? What planet are you from?

So we make every effort to fit in. We build an artificial personality, culled from thousands of hours of TV, movies and real conversations. But it never blurs into smooth life. We’re literally living in stop motion like an old monster movie. We jerk from one step to the next, looking graceless and faintly ridiculous.

In trying to keep up with normal people, we will try taking more and more photographs of what’s going on, faster and faster, in the hope they might run together into a crude movie that reveals what we’re supposed to be noticing. The result is often a “meltdown”. The mind gets out of breath and has to take it easy for a while. Worse still, any rapport which the effort has gained for you is lost in the inevitable storm of outrage your meltdown created.

Say we’ve been taking and studying all these photos, trying to fit them together. In the heat of a meltdown, we ignore one tiny fact about somebody’s Aunt Agatha. A tiny fact, but it leads a few seconds later to a mistake that no normal human being could make. The illusion glitches. Mouths fall open. People stop talking and look. It’s about that time that somebody - often the girl we were trying to impress - whispers in our ear “she’s been eaten, you insensitive moron!”

We sift through our mental photos, and sure enough there’s a post-it note saying Aunt Agatha - eaten by bears - three weeks ago. We shuffle off, humiliated. Only a poor excuse for a human being could sift through those piles of data and forget to put Aunt Agatha on the front burner.

I’m the first to admit, it must be mortifying for you too. Like someone yawning in your face - you just can’t believe something like that could have been an accident. You thought you were talking to a normal person. Now you see you’ve actually been conversing with a human voicemail machine. I’ve been talking not because I’m engaging with you at an emotional level, but simply because you seem to need it like a cat needs to be stroked. Kinda makes your fists itch, doesn’t it?

I can joke about this, but when it happens with somebody you love and care about, it can be heartbreaking. You really do just want to die sometimes, when somebody’s toes crunch under your clumsy autistic boots. You feel deformed. You want to sleep and never feel anything again. If you want to survive, you have to get thick-skinned about being called insensitive, uncaring, arrogant, and without feelings. It’s hardest when it comes from your own family, the people you know as friends, the person you fall in love with.

So how did this terrible handicap survive?

By not being one. For most of history, those with milder autism were regarded as just plain folks. Their oddness was seen as an irrelevant side effect of their talent. Imagine a child, barely a toddler, who could recite the myths and knowledge of an entire tribe, or the pharmacology of every plant in the forest. The fact that he seemed withdrawn or could not hunt well would be a small thing compared to the benefits he could bring. It would be like turning down a suitcase full of cash because the leather was scuffed.

Of course, there are plenty of autistic people with no special talent. And yes, even the talented ones must have pissed people off from time to time. But even as late as Victorian times, there were popular cultural heroes such as Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg who showed traits that we would now label as autistic, ADHD or some other pathology. The absent-minded scientist was in the papers more often than the actress. People with autistic traits found roles in a society that enjoyed the creation of wealth.

Nowadays, the postmodern society has little room for autistics. It is less about the creation of wealth and more about consuming wealth in ever sillier ways. There is no place at this party for the autistic person. He’ll ask irritating questions like “what will you do when the oil runs out?” He will feel no interest in a media culture that is heavily into blur-related skills like personal interaction, football, or decorative lifestyles.

He’d rather be at his books or his computer. If only because autism is such an expensive thing, you may as well make use of it. But more likely because he’s just happy. Seeing the world NOW - NOW - NOW! in perfect stillness - that’s happiness itself.



maldoror
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04 May 2007, 12:43 am

DeepBlueLake wrote:
STROBE MIND versus BLURRED MIND

NOW - NOW - NOW! is the pulse of the autistic brain. With no time to work out how one NOW connects with another.


I really identified with this part here. Just today I was thinking about how none of the events in my life make sense in the context of other events... The periods of my life seem quite chopped up and surreal, like, whoa, did that really happen to me?

One thing I might say is that you have to consider that problems caused by AS tend to manifest differently in different people. I say this because I've never had particular issues with stepping on people's toes, as you put it (at least not unintentionally :D ), but I like the general idea of what you are saying. Very abstract.



alexbeetle
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04 May 2007, 6:00 am

I really like this and relate to it. I think it is a good description that would be useful to share with NT people and would like with your permission to share it with my colleagues.


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richie
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04 May 2007, 5:03 pm

maldoror wrote:
DeepBlueLake wrote:
STROBE MIND versus BLURRED MIND

NOW - NOW - NOW! is the pulse of the autistic brain. With no time to work out how one NOW connects with another.


I really identified with this part here. Just today I was thinking about how none of the events in my life make sense in the context of other events... The periods of my life seem quite chopped up and surreal, like, whoa, did that really happen to me?

One thing I might say is that you have to consider that problems caused by AS tend to manifest differently in different people. I say this because I've never had particular issues with stepping on people's toes, as you put it (at least not unintentionally :D ), but I like the general idea of what you are saying. Very abstract.

A lot of this has to do with poor short term memory combined with sensory hypersensitivity and over-
stimulation. Trying to perform a complex task and deal with a torrent of information at the same time
had triggered many a "melt-down", "shut-down" and "lash-out" for me. Today I don't have to deal with
so many complexities as before. Being able to reduce stress without reducing my standard of living
is an added bonus.



marcus
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04 May 2007, 6:31 pm

I must say, that was one beautiful piece of work. I appreciate it's earnestness and artistry.



natty
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04 May 2007, 6:48 pm

Brilliant , should be a sticky , well done .



DeepBlueLake
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04 May 2007, 6:52 pm

Wow, thanks guys. Certainly you can use it as a handout as long as you don't pass it off as your own stuff.



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04 May 2007, 8:44 pm

Take the example of this young boy:

-Excellent student. Reads at an advanced level and enjoys books on archaeolgy, history, art and medicine.
-Not very skilled in athletics, by his own admission, except for running
-Very shy. Comes off a bit reserved to his classmates. Gets along better with headmasters and parents than kids his own age
-Likes to build things and enjoys movement
-Suffers from nervous headaches and nausea
-Today, this boy would be considered odd and likely diagnosed with high functioning AS. Grew up to become a physician and broke the four minute mile. The anniversary of his achievement is on Sunday.

This is a profile of the young Roger Gilbert Bannister. In a way, he was fortunate to grow up before AS was a diagnosis. Could someone like Roger excel today? I want to think nothing is impossible, but if Roger's traits were treated as a disability rather than an asset, I don't think he would have succeeded.



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04 May 2007, 9:15 pm

This is a very interesting theory, but I have some comments and, yes, a few criticisms as well.

An inability to predict and plan for the future, focusing instead on the present moment, is an indication of some disorder of impulse control or executive function rather than autism per se. Your description of "NOW" sounds more typical of ADHD than autism. For example, I am diagnosed with Asperger's, but I can plan ahead perfectly fine. I agree that autistic people break things down in their perception more, but this may apply to things other than time (sight, sound, perhaps people themselves—it probably varies by autistic/aspie individual).



DeepBlueLake
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04 May 2007, 11:30 pm

NeantHumain - thank you for your ideas. As a child I also had ADHD, so it may be influencing my point of view.

As to planning ahead - I too can plan ahead. I can use a diary or a timetable without any problem, and I can remember what I'm supposed to be doing at four o'clock today. But that's more of an mental, intellectual exercise, and deals with a further-off future.

What I was describing above was more the ability to anticipate the immediate future - say, five seconds from now. That's too short a time for linear thinking and planning. You have to use instinct. My belief is that a brain which categorises its experience into objects, more than events, will be handicapped in reacting at that timescale.

When I talk about the world of the NOW, I don't mean that you can't imagine a past or future. Right NOW you could be sitting planning your whole week's activities or thinking about your career. The contrast is with the SOON of time-blurred NT vision.

SOON - he'll stop and I can tell my joke at just the right moment.
SOON - the tennis ball will arrive three inches above my left shoulder, so I'll lift the racket there.
SOON - she'll get angry, so I'd better change the subject.



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05 May 2007, 9:30 am

A wonderfully written out theory.

With all theory however there are exceptions, I'm sure others feel the same way with the idea that we CANNOT see the future. This is untrue to some of us as some of us are future oriented.

I wrote this in my journal (and made reference here to your post as I think it is a wonderful read) that might explain how your theory can be used for those of us that CAN 'see the future'.

When you apply that to all AS/HFA including myself it makes sense. Also, adding in the fact that I am INTJ, a visual learner with a photographic memory it also makes sense why I jump to things faster than your typical INTJ. I see things in clear, high resolution photographs as stated in this theory. My mind quickly filters through the archive of other photographs that may link to the similar photograph I am looking at currently and thus through pattern analysis can see ahead in clear photographs - the possibilities and outcomes are in full blown absolute. However, as my judgment on the end result, on the "future" may be correct I miss crucial detail ( such as, so and so is acting this way because of these things and they are going to end up here. Yes, this is correct but are they happy about it? .. I don't know.. and being I'm a rational stubborn twat, I don't care. However this is besides the point, I still miss some very important detail) because I cannot see the blur. I only see the whole of the photograph and from there can break it down to create other photographs or discard it if seen unworthy of my time, useless or unfeasible in my world of all things.


Quote:
What I was describing above was more the ability to anticipate the immediate future - say, five seconds from now. That's too short a time for linear thinking and planning. You have to use instinct. My belief is that a brain which categorises its experience into objects, more than events, will be handicapped in reacting at that timescale.


You pegged it here. What is going to happen to [x] in [x]days? _____. Correct.
What is going to happen in two second?

I THINK I'M BREATHING!?

Quote:
A lot of this has to do with poor short term memory combined with sensory hypersensitivity and over-
stimulation. Trying to perform a complex task and deal with a torrent of information at the same time
had triggered many a "melt-down", "shut-down" and "lash-out" for me. Today I don't have to deal with
so many complexities as before. Being able to reduce stress without reducing my standard of living
is an added bonus.



Same. Okay, you want x amount of things done. Write down the GENERAL of it and let ME find a way to solve them, allow my my space and time for research. I cannot stand an overload of useless detail. If I must be in a fast paced environment tell me the precise demands clearly, no clutter, no ifs and butts. Simple clear rules, I will follow the system and if I find a more efficient way do so and bring it up to you. I don't want your overload of crap that I don't need to function.



Last edited by agentcyclosarin on 05 May 2007, 9:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

9CatMom
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05 May 2007, 9:32 am

I'm an obsessive planner, though not so much now as I used to be. I was governed by dates and schedules when I was in school, and was upset when I couldn't accomplish my goals. I'm still very much into goal-setting, but planning is no longer as much an obsession in itself for me.