Re: Evolving Geeks?

From: Alex Ramonsky (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 03:41:30 MST

Is there any evidence to suggest a link between autism and birth / early
parenting methods? I read some while ago that this was the case but have
been unable to find any reference to it.
Of course I realise that such things as birth methods and parenting methods
are not necessarily genetic, but most parents do tend to copy their own
parents to some extent in childrearing, so the effect would run in families.
I do believe that 'autism' is something rather special and that the
'benefits' of such a condition may come to outweigh the disadvantages.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Chen Yixiong, Eric" <>
To: "Extropians" <>;
Cc: "private_autismlist" <>
Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2002 08:49
Subject: Fwd: Evolving Geeks?

> Argument For Autism as a Genetic 'Epidemic'
> "Have the airplane and the computer changed the architecture of the
> mind? And is that why autism is on the increase?"
> By Simon Baron-Cohen
> People with autism can be affected to varying degrees, but their
> principal mental characteristics are that they have difficulty in fitting
> with other people or figuring out people's feelings and perspectives (a
> disability) whilst they have a natural flair for analysing the non-social
> world in fine detail, and in understanding non-social systems (a talent).
> whilst they may appear socially odd to their peer-group within their own
> culture, their long hours focused on understanding a system like
> or calendars, car engines or music, navigation or computer-programming,
> grammar and vocabulary, can lead them to high levels of expertise within
> narrow domains of knowledge.
> People with autism are usually male, and these men would
> have not competed well in the competition for mates, as appearing socially
> odd might have either put off prospective females from choosing them, or
> off prospective parents-in-law from arranging such a marriage for their
> daughters.
> And then two massive changes hit the planet: the airplane and the
> computer.
> The airplane has allowed unprecedented opportunities for changing
> culture. And when you go from your native culture into another one, your
> social oddness may be far less obvious. "Oh, he behaves like that because
> he's English", a Brazilian might say, or vice-versa.
> Social oddity can be minimised to some extent by moving cultures
> because we are all experts in knowing the subtle body language and
> intonation of our own cultures but might just mistakenly assume that a
> foreigner's different body language or intonation is due to their
> culture. We might overlook what to people in their culture would appear
> and off-putting. So someone with autism might find it far easier to be
> accepted, even by the opposite sex, when they are abroad, compared to when
> they are in their native country.
> The computer has penetrated every work-place. In just 50 short years,
> there is now no office in the developed world where computers are not
> essential, and we need those people with the cool, razor-sharp logic to
> them, reconfigure them, develop them, adapt them, program them. The
> mind was sitting around for centuries, even millennia, under-employed,
> because how many jobs were there for mathematicians and scientists, who
> needed this style of thinking? Drops in the ocean. And then the market
> opened up for computer-scientists - the most in-demand of workers in the
> modern age. Tidal waves in the ocean.
> Computer-scientists, irrespective of their social skills, could now
> hop on a plane and find a job, get rich, and have something to offer a
> social status, a salary, a niche in which they fit, and even be accepted
> normal for a foreigner - for who of us can judge what is normal for a
> foreigner? Or even if they just stayed in their own culture, they were now
> more valued and accepted than before.
> This is not to say that all computer-scientists lack social skill.
> from it. We all know computer-scientists who are good socializers. Nor is
> to say that those severely affected by autism could suddenly shift and
> become a successful programmer. But those who had a dash of autism could.
> No longer the socially isolated, unemployed, "weird" guy who could
> list every prime number up to 10,000 in minutes, but who couldn't have
> a semblance of a conversation with a girl at a party. Now the successful
> computer scientist, well-paid, whose talent at "systemising" has enabled
> to learn a foreign language and be accepted, and even find a date and a
> mate.
> Autism is genetic: it runs in families. But whereas in 1970 the rate
> of autism was 4 in 10,000 people, today it is 1 in 200 people. The rate
> gone up more than twelve-fold.
> Twelve-fold? Is this an epidemic? Some have rashly thought this might
> be because of some pollutant or even vaccine damage, but the evidence for
> this is thin. Certainly, the increase in autism is in part because of
> detection and awareness, thanks to the tireless work of autism charities
> throughout the world.
> But could it also be that this has also been a result of the most
> rapid evolutionary change to the human brain that we have witnessed? A
> recent issue of Wired Magazine in December 2001 reported that the rate of
> autism was hitting record rates in Silicon Valley, where a new
> niche was opening up for people to fly in from around the planet, sell
> mathematical and systemising talent, and find reproductive success which
> would otherwise have remained beyond reach. Our experimental research is
> consistent with this interpretation, and warrants further testing.
> If this evolutionary change is real, should we fear it? On the
> contrary, we should welcome and celebrate it. Good socializers have always
> found it easy to survive and reproduce, but we need our good systemisers
> too, for the benefit of the planet. These are the guys (men and women) who
> are going to push science and technology forward, and create our future.
> Thank Darwin that life is now a bit easier for them too.
> ***
> Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and
> Co-Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. He is
> also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
> His research spans the developmental neuropsychology of autism, early
> diagnosis, psychological intervention and neuroimaging in autism. He
> previously held a senior academic post at London University (at the
> Institute of Psychiatry). He was awarded the British Psychological
> Spearman Medal, and the American Psychological Association's McAndless
> Award, for outstanding contributions to research.
> He is author of numerous articles in scientific journals on the
> subject of autism, including Autism: The Facts, 1993 The Maladapted Mind:
> Classic Readings in Evolutionary Psychopathology; and Mindblindness : An
> Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Learning, Development and Conceptual
> Change).
> * * *

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