I’ve going back through some draft posts which I never published. Here’s one from way back last year some time. I should note that I don’t really believe I have Asperger’s or anything like that. I also now believe that “breadth of ideas” is a natural consequence of the parallel nature of the brain. But, being the hoarder and preservationist of digital information that I am, I couldn’t just delete this… so here it is.
In the past I’ve read about aspects of Asperger’s syndrome and in the past have wondered if I’ve got some small inclination towards it. I function reasonably well now though, but this is only through years of practice and working on the things the are traditionally deficient in someone with the syndrome. On deeper reading of the wikipedia article, it’s more likely that they are simply surface similarities. I certainly learnt a lot from being in intimate relationships and am constantly trying to improve (and maintain) my social abilities, but the fact is that I taught myself to look people in the eye while holding a conversation, to exhibit confidence instead of trepidation and to use my empathy to feel what others feel (instead of shutting it out of my head due to it being overwhelming).
Certain characteristics I’ve noticed… and that others have commented on in the past, that match what I’ve heard people talking about Autism being similar to, is a high sensitivity to stimulus and being unusually observant. People have discussed the idea that Autism isn’t an inability to interact or perceive the world, but that it’s the mind shutting down interaction channels due to an Autistic persons perception of the world being extremely intense. More than the mind can handle.
I find that in social situations of more than a couple of people draining after a while. I have difficulty in public speaking, not because I’m particular fearful of public speaking, but because I’m trying to process the entire crowds reaction. I get caught up in every subtle nuance of peoples motion and expression, and when you’re trying to track 200 people’s expressions, it’s hard to keep your mind focussed on what your talking about.
This inability to focus, or the high sensitivity to distraction, becomes a burden when trying to work on projects. Instead of a depth first search and actually getting to the end of chain of reasoning or the total completion of a concept, my mind will do a breadth first search. Scanning multiple possibilities, inundating me with numerous possibilities, and sticking me in a frozen position where I find it difficult to move forward (although perhaps it’s just that spreading attention over 100 different ideas makes it look like no progress is being made!). In some sense, this might be why I’m in research and seem to be doing pretty well at it, I can see the different possibilities (my thesis had to be chopped back a fair amount because there was a lot of POTENTIAL ideas in it, that although interesting, were distractions from the actual real experimental work I did).
In the past I’ve found the use of of stimulants such as caffeine to be beneficial in making my focus narrower. Such that the thinking is better for getting work done once an idea exists, rather than for creating novel thought. Another substance which is mostly for promoting wakefulness and combating narcolepsy is Modafinil, which also has the ability to cause me to be more motivated to make progress but doesn’t make that focus quite as narrow.
Ironically, I’m working on attention allocation in the open-source artificial intelligence system OpenCog, so perhaps we should have a caffeine mode in the attention allocation system (this is doable, in a narrowing of focus sense, since the attentional focus boundary is an adjustable level that indicates the cutoff for when items are in the attentional focus of the digital mind).