Sunday, December 21, 2008

Have we given up trying to keep a count of the different types of synaesthesia?

"First cases of touch-emotion synaesthesia discovered"
by Ewen Callaway

December 18th 2008
New Scientist.

I'll bet this isn't a rare phenomenon at all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lili Marlene's Christmas tip for parents of teen and pre-teen kids - make an early Christmas gift of a new address book before the end of the school year, if your teen does not already have one. I like those address books and diaries that have the fancy gold edging (or silver seems to be the colour in fashion at the moment) and contain all manner of useless information, such as the telephone area code for Caracas and the metric conversion from pennyweights to grams. There's no such thing as too much information!

And here's another Christmas tip for edible gift-giving in Australia - give marzipan instead of boring old chocolates. Marzipan doesn't melt and the almond meal is good for the bowels.

And here's another Christmas tip for Australians living in new or decrepit suburbs - plan for the possibility that the power supply infrastructure will fail at some time during the Christmas break, especially if there is a heat wave or a storm.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Who really has the problem with "reading" people? The autist or the "empathizer"?

Tonight I watched a most compelling documentary on the telly, it was broadcast on that religious show that is on the ABC on Sunday nights - Compass. It was about a very dangerous and sinister Australian cult that was headed by some horrible old bloke named Ken. It was quite depressing viewing because it is a scenario that has been seen countless times all over the world. These evil and exploitative cults, and their leaders, all seem to follow a very obvious set formula. It's like some disease or syndrome that is dead easy to diagnose. Why do people keep falling for this same trap over and over again? There should be something in schools to educate people about this stuff.

The thing that I think is interesting about this vile, vile man is that people described him with terms like "charismatic" etc, and obviously many people must have felt some form of attraction towards this man, who was apparently a paedophile many times over. So why did this guy leave me feeling as cold as a dead fish? Why do I feel that there is no way in the world that I would ever have viewed this man as anything but a self-serving arsehole? According to the results of various tests and questionnaires I have the psychology of a person who has Asperger syndrome. That is supposed to mean that I am socially blind; organically unable to tell a con artiste from a true friend. I'm supposed to have no sense at all when it comes to people. I'm supposed to be unable to understand the good and bad intentions of others. Then why did I find this man, and all of the many people of his type, to be basically yuckity-yuk-yuk? When I meet people like this I just can't get away from them fast enough, because I know, and I'm sure they know just as well, that we are just wasting each other's time, as we can get nothing that we need or desire from each other.

Another thing that strikes me as odd about the way that members of his "herd" felt about him is that they must have thought he was something really special; an exceptional human being with a special message for all humanity (as all psychopathic cult leaders are). Well crikey, I think creepy old codgers like this guy are a dime a dozen. Every upper-class suburb in Australia is full of men like this one. They seem to believe that they deserve their wealth and that the poor deserve their lot too, even though they are basically parasites in nice suits. Manipulating others, creating a social heirarchy that you can make a good living off, and exploiting women is just basic capitalism, let's face it. What is so special about this type of person? Only their bank balances.

Am I just kidding myself that I'm so smart? Well, I've never been a member of any group that is anything like a cult. I've been an atheist since late in my religious childhood. But according to all the theories about AS and autism I'm supposed to be ripe for exploitation and as naive as a young child. Perhaps that is true of some autistic people, I don't know. According to the "extreme male brain" theory of autism, men are supposed to have less "social skills" than women, with autists possessing even less social sense than "normal" average males. Then I wonder how Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is the champion of this theory, would explain why it appeared that females greatly outnumbered males as members of this truly harmful and exploitative Australian cult? Shouldn't these very feminine-looking women with supposedly superior "mind-reading"abilities have had the inborn people-skills to read what was on this dirty old bastard's mind? It appeared that this creep molested stacks of women and girls, and did such a fine job of conning them that some appeared to feel most grateful for the experience. Maybe if the "victim" is too dim to realize that they have been exploited, then it really isn't molestation? That's one for the philosophers to consider.

At one point in the documentary a loyal young female member of the cult showed the interviewer some framed photos of the cult leader with text printed below. She explained that the brightly-coloured, weird fog above his head was an aura, or some such nonsense. The text under the photo explained the profound meaning of the "aura". I just don't understand how or why some people come to believe this type of rubbish. Why am I not a believer in auras, even though I'm a synaesthete who experiences letters and days of the week and music as being colourful? Some people even think the whole idea of auras may have started with some of the synaesthetes who "see" emotions as colours that surround people. Shouldn't I, of all people, naturally be a believer in auras? I believe the type of situation shown in this documentary, in which the members of exploitative cults choose to subscribe to belief sets that consist of new-age mumbo-jumbo, highlight a problem with Prof. Baron-Cohen's grand theory of autism. I don't believe in auras or astrology or any of the paraphernalia of the new age movement because I am by nature a systemizer, and in addition to that I have had the benefit of an education and access to excellent reading matter. I know this stuff is rot, and I also know that people who promote this stuff are either soft in the head or a crooks. This makes me suspicious of people who push new age nonsense and psuedo-science management fad nonsense (which is just as bad). Even though this is the type of thinking that Professor Baron-Cohen would categorize as "systemizing", it is a valuable aid in detecting con artists and wackos, which is a task that one would think is a social task. So being a systemizer can aid in social reasoning. Well, of course it can. Systemizing is really the same thing as the scientific method in it's most simplified form. Scientists are systemizers. Psychology is supposed to be a science. Therefore all qualified psychologists are supposed to be systemizers. But isn't psychology all about figuring out and predicting human behaviour? Shouldn't that be done by "empathizers" rather than by "systemizers"? As far as I can tell, Baron-Cohen appears to regard systemizing and empathizing as quite seperate ways of understanding the world, although he does acknowledge that autistic people generally do systemize our way through the social jungle, with some degree of success. But at the same time, he really pushes the idea that empathizing is the best way to understand social situations. I think this is a very odd viewpoint for a man who is supposed to have professional qualifications in the science of psychology. I think he greatly under--estimates the utility of the systemizing type of thinking with regard to understanding the social world. I think it is also worth considering how much use the empathizing way of thinking might be when applied to the natural, non-social, world of "mindless" but complex systems. I think it has very little to offer. You can read a whole year of issues of Women's Weekly and a whole shelf of novels, but it wont make any type of scientist out of you. The recipes in the magazines don't even explain the science behind cookery. I'd much rather start life as a systemizer.

I think I've come up with at least one good explanation for the puzzling behaviour of the women who freely choose to join exploitative cults; Professor Baron-Cohen very badly needs to take off his rose-coloured glasses when it comes to looking at the skills and abilities of the type of person that he categorizes as "empathizers" (which is apparently made up of mainly females), because a lot of them also have more blind spots than a one-eyed truck driver with cataracts.

December 7th 2008