From as early as I can remember there’s been a gap – Camus’ screen of glass – between the person I am and the world I’m in. This is different to being inauthentic, i.e. being one person in one’s mind and another in public. Camus in his excellent book “The Stranger” describes this state of mind as like looking at the world behind a soundproof glass, like watching someone in a glass telephone cabinet animated in conversation but unable to hear the sound. It’s an interesting metaphor but you have to think of the sound unheard as emotion unfelt – this is the isolation, if it’s extreme enough – you’re a presence in the story of your daily life but it’s not the same visceral experience most have.
The brain is an adaptive chameleon machine and it doesn’t take long for a child living out this disconnect to learn – by dint of a compensating early developed intelligence – what ought to be the norms of a human being going through the world. To extend Camus’ metaphor, the child (and the adult he becomes) develops an increasingly well-honed reconstruction technique that’s akin to lip-reading the sound that’s behind the glass, bridging the gap between experience and emotion in response. If the disconnection wasn’t too extreme, this reconstruction can become a seamless reconnection by adulthood, parsing lived experience so quickly it’s entirely unconscious. I suppose that’s the hope when giving medication to ADD and ADHD children. Help their focus, give their viscera a kick (through dopamine agonists and serotonin antagonists) and the child matures into a ‘normal’ adult. It probably works some of the time.
There price paid, in an everyday sense, for reconstruction emotional responses, is to “feel” the simple things of life with less fidelity – less intensity – less conviction. It may not be an isolation, if the reconstruction is all ‘under the hood’ but it’ll still manifest a range of corollary common situations: antagonism with mobs, baffled by jingo, degrees of sociopathy (that can be turned to the good or the bad or the merely self-serving).
The personal circumstances of the isolated child will have an inordinate impact on the happy function of the adult. Not so much because the reconstruction intelligence needs to be taught – the brain is going to work its best solutions regardless – but because the other side of the isolation disconnect develops early complex reconstruction techniques and this is fertile ground for prodigious talents in creative arts and critical problem solving. In truth it might be that every artist and thinker and creative mind begins with a child born on the spectrum of limbic/emotion disconnection. How an individual’s brain reconstructs the world may vary, not least according to how wide the disconnection happens to be, ends up making the difference between an adult artistic virtuoso and an adult sociopathic narcissist!
I’d speculate the so-called intelligence of the Ashkenazi Jews isn’t some phenotype consequence of centuries in the mercantile professions but more likely a mild genetic twist making the spectrum disconnection a norm, reconstruction brains commonplace and thus no surprise the illiterate Jews came up with their compelling spin on religion so early – reconstructing a world beyond real life – or that later generations of literate Jews continued to be born outsiders, manifesting as prodigious cultural affinity with science and the arts. And a wildly disproportionate number of great scientists, artists, writers, creative critical thinkers, etc.
The innocuous reality gap in brains on the spectrum is not an everyday handicap if it’s not too extreme. This may ultimately be a case of minor mutation (or epigenetic predisposition) that gets selected long-tern by dint of it forcing the brain to develop faster, more capable conscious intelligence to compensate.
Our brains want to experience the world in full colour but the slightly autistic mind is slightly disconnected from the viscera. This is like living in a black and white silent movie. The brain is preconditioned to feel the colours so it must use its innate biochemical tools to turn monochrome into technicolour. How this manifests is what matters: a heightened perception of the world that’s necessary for authentic intelligent description (even if unconscious). The descriptions are the catalyst for the reconnected emotional responses that fit the norms of brains not on the spectrum.
A corollary of this process, as its extended across countless deconstructions in all the diverse circumstances of everyday life, happens to be a toolset the mind can use (to varying degrees) on its own imagination and memory and lived experience. This is toolset we call creativity. All art, literature, science and philosophy are creations of this toolset. Truth is, a brain wholly in tune with its reality confidently living moment to moment full of feeling in colour, it’s a mind hypnotised by its own being, compelled to be. We love to see the natural absorption of animals and people unconsciously doing their thing in unquestioned sympathy with the environment. In human beings it’s what turns charm into charisma.
It’s ironic that what we consider culture and the enlightenment advances of science and the beautiful illuminating creations of art and invention are the pinnacle of human achievement, judged with hindsight, whereas the often ugly unpredictable struggle of those individuals forced to engage reality using learnt deconstruction techniques to intuit and describe the feeling of connection and compulsion, these individuals can be discordant, outliers, invariably complex, sometimes alien enough to be marginalized; or worse.