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MrXxx
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11 Aug 2011, 10:24 am

I did a search on this and found only two threads, both pertaining to eye movement, so I'm pretty sure the thoughts I'm bringing up here haven't been touched on yet in relation to the PBS show anyway.

A couple of nights ago I happened upon one segment of the Alan Alda series "The Human Spark" on PBS. In this segment the topic seemed to be focused on the "idle" mind. It was about what the brain is actually doing (or not doing) during those times when we might be asked, "What are you thinking about?" and answer, "Nothing."

They had some doctor on there (I forget his name) who did quite a bit of research on what the brain is really doing when we think of it as being "at rest." Not surprisingly, he discovered the brain is anything but "at rest" even when we think we're not thinking about anything at all. (Conundrum?)

The two aspects of what this doctor seemed to focus on, and conclude were the two mental activities people are most frequently engaged in when we "think" we're not really thinking at all, were "imagining what is going on in other people's minds," and, "imagining the future."

Now, the first one is pretty easy to relate to Autism. It's already theorized that Autistics don't spend much, if any, time at all thinking about what might be going on in other people's heads, so that connection isn't too hard to make whether you agree with the theory or not. It was the second idea though that sparked the idea in my own head that imagining the future might be just as difficult for us.

I'm very curious if that doctor, or anyone affiliated with him, has ever studied this "at rest" mental activity in Autistics. If we actually do have just as much trouble imagining the future as we do imagining other people's thoughts (they actually did call it "mind reading" in the show), it sure would explain a lot of common complaints coming from Autistics who have the capacity to articulate them.

Here's a [partial] list of consistencies in my own life that the inability to imagine the future would explain very well:

  • Long term financial difficulties.
  • Never been able to "honestly" answer questions like, "Where to you see yourself in five years?"
  • Never been able to hold a job for more than three years.
  • Loose track of friends because I can't maintain long term communication with them, so I've never had more than one or two at a time, and often none.
  • Have tried to "brainstorm" many different business ideas, but never got any of them past the idea stage, because I could never visualize and realize the steps to get from "here" to "there."
  • I have suffered from many very real physical health problems, but have never been able to follow through with getting any of them diagnosed or treated, partly due to the fact that I have never been able to hold a job long enough to receive benefits to make doing so easier, but I'm not so sure I ever would have followed through even if I could.


All of the stuff I mentioned in that list sounds pretty common from what I've heard here on the WP boards, as well as on other boards on the Web, so watching that Human Spark show got me thinking.

Maybe it's no coincidence that "normal" people spend there time thinking about these two things, but I don't remember EVER thinking much about what goes on in other people's minds, OR ever even being ABLE to clearly imagine my own future.

I would really like to find out if anyone has ever done the same observations they did in the studies shown on that show, on Autistics. I bet it would be extremely revealing. Do we have the same parts of our brains firing while at rest? I've seen quite a few studies done with brain scans while Autistics are engaged in communication type activities, but I've never seen one that studies what our brains do while "at rest."

I bet a lot could be learned from it. Has anyone ever heard of any studies like that?

Thoughts?

BTW: The show centers a lot around evolutionary theory, but I'd rather not get into that. Whether one agrees or disagrees with theories centered on evolution is really irrelevant to the point I'm focused on.

The question is specific. "Do we have problems imagining the future?" The answer, I don't think, will be dependent on whether one believes in evolution or not. I'm definitely NOT looking for a science/religion debate here.


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E27
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11 Aug 2011, 3:23 pm

I just finished watching The Human Spark for the second time and my thoughts about how I can imagine the future is that I can imagine the future to some extent, but just as I have trouble relating to other people I can't really relate to my self in the future are the past.



Callista
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11 Aug 2011, 4:11 pm

I don't have problems imagining the future or the past or hypothetical situations. I don't know whether other people with autism do.


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11 Aug 2011, 4:21 pm

I just try and focus on short term goals to compensate...then build up to something eventually.

Least that's the plan.


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11 Aug 2011, 5:27 pm

I think it's an interesting point. For myself, I always have been very bad at imagining my future. It's not here, not now, so it doesn't exist yet, and if I try to look toward it, all I can see is a vague fog. I have been incapable of making decisions that would influence or determine my future, and I have made bad ones because I was unable to see where they would lead.

I would never be able to be pragmatic enough to think: this man is not the one I want to marry, therefore I should dump him now and keep looking. Instead, I just want to throw my arms around him and pinch his cheeks because I am so fond of him, right now, and can't imagine that the future will not be rosy.

I have never been able to figure out how people choose a career. How do they know what they will find bearable after several years of studying? I honestly don't know.

I always have found myself unable to understand how some people are able to plan for their future. The choices that people make to build who they want to become are mysterious. I can never think of anything I'd do that would lead me to become someone I'd want to be. I discard possibilities too quickly and out of hand, but I can't seem to catch myself doing it.

So, yes, I would agree that thinking about and imagining the future is something I have always been very bad at. I don't know if it has to do with AS, but given the difference in thinking between myself and so many of the people around me, and how different it is, I might suspect that it does.



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11 Aug 2011, 5:53 pm

I have never understood why people would answer 'nothing' to "What are you thinking right now?". I cant even imagine what it's like to not think about anything. Is that even possible?

My mind is always racing through what seems like a thousand different subjects simultaneously. There is no rest state, except for when I really focus on some work very hard (hyperfocus). That is the only time I feel 'at rest', because it at least orders the thoughts I have.

This also makes it impossible for me to correctly answer that question in a meaningful way. All I can ever say respond with is 'everything'. Because that is what I am thinking about when someone asks: everything at the same time.

I can picture my past as a set of disparate images and sensations, but nothing more than that. Imagining my future is also something I find very difficult. It would require me to know what is going to happen to me and that is obviously impossible. Answering the question "Where do you see yourself in X years?" is therefor completely meaningless to me.


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11 Aug 2011, 6:42 pm

exch wrote:
I have never understood why people would answer 'nothing' to "What are you thinking right now?". I cant even imagine what it's like to not think about anything. Is that even possible?

My mind is always racing through what seems like a thousand different subjects simultaneously. There is no rest state, except for when I really focus on some work very hard (hyperfocus). That is the only time I feel 'at rest', because it at least orders the thoughts I have.

This also makes it impossible for me to correctly answer that question in a meaningful way. All I can ever say respond with is 'everything'. Because that is what I am thinking about when someone asks: everything at the same time.

I can picture my past as a set of disparate images and sensations, but nothing more than that. Imagining my future is also something I find very difficult. It would require me to know what is going to happen to me and that is obviously impossible. Answering the question "Where do you see yourself in X years?" is therefor completely meaningless to me.


Once interrupted with the question, many people will find it hard to remember what they were thinking at the point at which they were asked it, I'd have thought. Also, meditation demonstrates how much goes on in the mind that we're not normally fully aware of. To literally think of everything at once is ofcourse to be an all-seeing God or perfectly-enlightened Buddha, so that comment made me laugh.

But you must have a 'rest' state, exch, in order to sleep - A semi-consious transition between wakefulness and sleep is necessary.

Further on, you may be taking the idea of 'picturing' your past too literally - Memories are memories, be they feelings, images, or vague impressions formed from both. You may have misunderstood the classic job interview question too, as it's intended to ask you what job role you want to move on into once you've outgrown your immediate one.



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11 Aug 2011, 6:54 pm

E27 wrote:
just as I have trouble relating to other people I can't really relate to my self in the future are the past.

bee33 wrote:
I think it's an interesting point. For myself, I always have been very bad at imagining my future. It's not here, not now, so it doesn't exist yet, and if I try to look toward it, all I can see is a vague fog. I have been incapable of making decisions that would influence or determine my future, and I have made bad ones because I was unable to see where they would lead.
...
So, yes, I would agree that thinking about and imagining the future is something I have always been very bad at.

Same with me. I think it does have something to do with AS. It's hard for me to imagine myself at any other point in time. I also can't imagine what I will feel at any other point in time, so I have to deduce that logically. I think that's why I'm so bad at planning.


undefineable wrote:
Once interrupted with the question, many people will find it hard to remember what they were thinking at the point at which they were asked it, I'd have thought.

I think that, for me, whenever I think, I kind of go into a trance, and while in that trance, I can understand huge concepts that can't be put into words or pictures. Once I lose my concentration, I still have pieces of my thoughts, but I can't understand them. It's like writing a sentence, then later forgetting the language you wrote the sentence in. You still have the sentence. You just can't understand it.



exch
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11 Aug 2011, 6:57 pm

Quote:
Once interrupted with the question, many people will find it hard to remember what they were thinking at the point at which they were asked it, I'd have thought. Also, meditation demonstrates how much goes on in the mind that we're not normally fully aware of. To literally think of everything at once is ofcourse to be an all-seeing God or perfectly-enlightened Buddha, so that comment made me laugh.


Yes, I can see how that can be a bit confusing. I should probably rephrase that to 'everything I know'. Even that would be overstating it a little. It feels like I am thinking about everything simultaneously. It's just a giant rumble and tumble of stuff without any apparent connection.

Quote:
But you must have a 'rest' state, exch, in order to sleep - A semi-consious transition between wakefulness and sleep is necessary.


I am not aware of my state of mind when I am asleep, so I can't really comment on that. But I guess you are right. it's just not something I can achieve while being awake. Except for the more-or-less similar state when I am in hyperfocus mode. I am still having a giant flood of thoughts, but they are mostly about the single subject I am focusing on.

Quote:
Further on, you may be taking the idea of 'picturing' your past too literally - Memories are memories, be they feelings, images, or vague impressions formed from both.


This is really how I remember stuff from my past. Just small sets of single images without much context. They can be conjured by different things though. Either by me forcefully thinking of a particular moment, or by some smell or taste I happen to come across. When I recall a moment, there is no sound or smell or taste or touch associated with the image. Just the image.

This is interesting to be honest. Obviously the connection between smell/sound/taste and image is there in my brain. I can use these senses to recall the imagery. It just does not seem to work the other way around. Remembering an image of some place or some object, does not give me any idea of what that place or object smelled like or felt like. If you ask me to picture an apple, I can do that but I couldn't tell you what it tasted like or smelled like. If I now smell an apple, I will immediately know it's an apple though.

Quote:
You may have misunderstood the classic job interview question too, as it's intended to ask you what job role you want to move on into once you've outgrown your immediate one.


Correct. The last time I was asked this at a job interview, I was unable to give them a satisfactory answer. It didn't cost me my job fortunately.


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11 Aug 2011, 8:12 pm

I imagine my future as a fantasy. It's usually me being successful but without me knowing how I got there.
I don't think about 10 minutes, 10 days or even 5 years into the future. I constantly worry about my future because I cannot see it. Sometimes when I worry about too far in the future I have to bring myself back to the present because it freaks me out so much.

If someone was to ask me what I was thinking about I wouldn't say 'nothing' because I never think of nothing, unless medicated. I'm always thinking about what's next to do, how that object I'm staring at was made, where that word originated from, or my own imagination land. And sometimes I just see my interests in my mind as short film clip. And I have arguments in my head. Those are great fun.

Sometimes when I want to get away from the thoughts I'll turn on music, but medication gives me this calmness and I only think about what I should focus on. I still have many thoughts but when I'm not on medication it's like I'm tuned into many radios at once. I never have a thought lasting more than 30 seconds.

undefineable wrote:
To literally think of everything at once is ofcourse to be an all-seeing God or perfectly-enlightened Buddha, so that comment made me laugh.

If God had as many thoughts as me he too would turn to punk rock and videogames in order to silence them.
I have had literally 10 seconds of no thought that wasn't because of medication or drug use and it doesn't happen often so it often disturbs me when it happens.

undefineable wrote:
But you must have a 'rest' state, exch, in order to sleep - A semi-consious transition between wakefulness and sleep is necessary.


The guy (or girl) used the word hyperfocus so he may have ADHD. The brainwaves are unregulated in ADHD. Some say they are mostly in delta or theta waves. Delta waves is what we have when we are in REM sleep so I don't really understand how that could be, unless or thoughts are our dreams.

The ADHD brain never stops thinking and in some people thoughts overlap other thoughts. Only in inattentive ADHD and SCT is there a lack of thought.
They also suffer a lot of insomnia.

I have a scent memory too. The autistic/ADHD brain is weird. Not one single brain experiences things the same as the other one.


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