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The Advantages of Autism, A Fable

Updated on September 18, 2014

A Thought Experiment

A Thought Experiment

Come with me down the rabbit hole of an alternate universe for a second. Let’s say you wake up one day, and it seems like the same world you were in yesterday. But then, as you sit in bed waking up, a strange feeling comes over you. Something is missing, and as you consider, you realize it’s the quiet. There are no buzzing and humming machines, no chatter of the radio or television, and no one in your typically bustling house is talking or yelling.

Entering the kitchen, no one greets you or even looks up from the activities in which they are engrossed. Did you do something wrong last night? It certainly doesn’t seem like anyone is upset: everyone appears to be lost in their own tasks. The lights are low, and the counter is unusually clean for morning. The typical smells of cooking food are gone. Everything feels strangely neutral: everyone in your family is wearing muted colors in what look like soft, natural, fabrics, and their clothes seem to fit more loosely than usual.

It’s also oddly difficult to get anyone’s attention. You have to actually come over and touch your partner before they will look at you. Instead of the usual play of thoughts and emotions across your partner’s face, it seems oddly clam. Answers to your typical round of morning questions are disconcertingly matter of fact, lacking intonation. “How did you sleep,” and “What are your plans for the day” elicit responses that are sincere, but unexpressive. Suddenly your teenage daughter is speaking in complete sentences, talking to you about what she learned in geometry, and then, without any transition, she stops talking and puts her headphones back on. “What a bunch of aliens,” you think, grabbing a juice box on your way out the door.

Again, on the highway something is subtly different. Instead of the usual vicious competition for lanes, folks are letting you merge. No one is beeping or revving into ten-foot gaps in the traffic. In fact, the highway also seems almost uncannily quiet. Everything moves forward in an ordered, steady way until you take your exit. You get to work in record time, and you also notice that the parked cars aren’t all clustered as close as possible to the building’s entrance.

For the first time in a year, you park two spaces away from the doors. In the office, you feel like you are the last one there, even though you are fifteen minutes early. Everyone is quietly working; no one is putting things off by hanging out around the snack table. You notice that no one is wearing a tie, or any formal clothing, for that matter. Is today casual dress day? The head receptionist hardly smiles at you in greeting and doesn’t respond to your loudly out of place “Good morning!” In fact, hardly anyone is talking at all, and no one is greeting you unless you come right up to them, just like at home. Going over to get your morning caffeine fix, you are surprised to see only water and juice, no coffee, but there is a huge pile of sweets arranged neatly on plates.

When lunch rolls around, no one leaves. In fact, you’ve hardly seen anyone move. You go through your usual routine, wasting as much time as possible at the copier and texting with your friends, although it’s kind of depressing not having anyone in the office to joke around with, and no one is replying to your messages either. Your day is unusually productive, but not nearly as interesting as it normally is. None of the usual whit is on display: your office mates only exchange brief sentences without the usual long elaborations, and no one complains about how much work they have to do. You notice that some of your colleagues are working collaboratively in the conference room. There are sheets of paper with scribbles on them, the whiteboard is covered with shapes and arrows, and there are, of all things, building blocks all over the table. But they also seem to be getting a lot done, mumbling to each other as they jot down what looks like only a few notes in a private code that you can’t make out. Just as you are wondering how they are going to retain all their ideas, you notice that everyone is packing up to leave. It’s only two o’clock, but it’s undeniable that the workday is ending.

As everyone is preparing to leave, your boss, who is wearing a loose-fitting button down linen shirt, comes over to you for the first time that day and tells you in long, complete sentences what she expects from you over the next week. Gone are the usual passive-aggressive threats about deadlines and endless layered meanings referencing old office politics that you have come to associate with authority figures throughout your career. You find this irritating nonetheless, because her words are coming in a steady stream; she doesn’t pause for you to interject, nor does she smile at any point or trail off so that you can explain that some of the projects will have to be delayed because you hadn’t heard back from the city on a couple of things. She talks all the way through and then leaves without even saying goodbye, and what normally is an uncomfortable twenty-minute meeting is over in three minutes. Checking your inbox one last time before you head out, you see that the information from the city that you’ve been waiting on for weeks has finally arrived. That means you’re going to have to catch up on your end, and you start thinking about how to find the extra hours to get the work done as you walk toward the main entrance.

Wondering if there’s a holiday you forgot, you come to the parking lot, only to find that no one has lingered to say goodbye. The place is completely empty, and you are starting to feel like the last survivor when all of a sudden your phone explodes with texts. Everyone is communicating with you at once. No one seems to bother with excuses for why they were out of touch all day, but your message center is suddenly crammed with all kinds of links to articles and sincere discussions about the day’s events.

Trying to keep up with the long, detailed exchanges going on, you glance at your news ap and notice that the headlines seem different. Rather than the typical, endless round of international woe, miraculously today the headlines are only about positive things for the first time in as long as you can remember. There’s no mention of the interminable tribal conflicts in the Middle East; not a peep about the drug cartels in Mexico; not even a hint about the race conflicts or fundamentalisms throughout the world. Instead, you find numerous short, densely written articles about new discoveries in the sciences, and a great deal about the ongoing climate change negotiations. Glancing at one of these articles, you are surprised to find that the talks are moving ahead quickly: apparently, summit leaders are frankly discussing their nation’s needs and coming up with the best mutual solutions. Wryly noting what a dramatic change these talks represent over the usual strategy of obfuscating goals to win advantages over your “opponents,” you wonder if politics is finally turning into a useful aspect of social life. At the same time, it’s frustrating not to have received a single gif of cats opening the microwave or falling off the sofa.

Checking all your favorite aps in the car, you also notice that they aren’t as cluttered with information as they usually are. No flashing ads, no pop ups, no sidebars with vaguely labeled links to other pages. The pages are clear and crisp, with small amounts of text and lots of diagrams and images. Every ap also has a search button that pulls up an amazing tool with all kinds of options for honing your searches. Poking around on the web, you again notice an absence of the usual media pessimism. Many pages function like Reddit, with crowd-monitoring and upvoting, and the comments are unusually sincere and detailed, although figures and illustrations seem much more popular than text, and many posts are voice recordings or short videos.

Your partner has texted with plans for tonight: dinner at home, then a movie in an outdoor amphitheater. You need to stop by the supermarket, so you decide to get going. Enjoying your holiday mood, you decide to skip the highways. At road level, you notice that electric cars have exploded in popularity. The cars around you move quietly along, but they are driving much faster than usual. It’s a good thing there is almost no one on the street, but you also see that a number of pedestrian overpasses have been built where there used to be crosswalks. “That makes sense,” you think, as you move through one green light after another without stop. Maybe they’ve finally put in those computerized systems for monitoring traffic.

There are no billboards on this rout, no litter on the street, and the houses are all well kept. You promise yourself to take this way more often, but just then your enjoyment is diminished by the sight of a teenager texting while driving. “That idiot is barely looking at the road,” you say out loud as you try to honk your horn. No sound comes out, and you make a mental note to have that fixed when you suddenly realize that almost everyone is using a device while they are driving, but it seems like the cars are directing themselves. “Have those self-driving cars come out already?” you wonder, and then you realize you are talking to yourself out loud again. “I haven’t spoken fifty words all day,” you say again out loud, and then you reflect that almost no one has spoken to you. “This is weird,” you say; “Did I do something to offend everyone around me?”

Pulling into the supermarket parking lot, you again spot a vacancy just by the doors. “Well, at least that’s going my way,” you say, beginning to feel a little off in this lonely silence. Entering the grocery store, something again feels subtly different. Walking through the isles, you are struck by the lack of advertising. The packaging seems much simpler and duller than the last time you were here, and each item has a little placard with nutrition and manufacture information on it, mostly in symbols that you can read at a glance. Shoppers are moving quickly through the isles, taking items without consulting a list. “Where’s the variety,” you almost say out loud. There are only a few types of cereal, and the chips section takes up half its usual space. At least the bulk foods section has expanded, and the variety of produce is much larger than you recall. “What’s a rutabaga, anyway?” you say to someone next to you, who just looks at you as he grabs a bunch of parsnips and moves on. The meat section is also larger, as well as the bakery. “This store is improving,” you say to no one in particular. In the check out line, nobody is chatting, but the line moves much more quickly than usual. The customers are helping to bag their groceries and most people seem to be using some kind of thumbprint system to pay. You note the absence of magazines, breath-mints and gum in your isle, but the candy bar rack has expanded, and there are a number of baked goods and sweets there as well.

Leaving the store, you feel like you are starting to put your finger on what seems so unusual today: everyone around you, from your family to your colleagues to these strangers, is on some kind of mission; they are moving with purpose and focused on what they are doing. No one hangs around; no one chats; you are minus the random conversations that usually get you through the day. It feels oddly lonely, and a little feeling of sadness travels up your spine. Suddenly, you hear someone screaming and hitting his head against a car in the parking lot. A few people come over and, without saying a word, putting their hands on his shoulder. You’ve never seen anything like it, and it shocks you out of your reverie for a moment. “Unusual that those strangers would care,” you mutter to yourself as you get into your own car. By now a small white van with a low, monotone siren sounding like a foghorn has pulled up and two people, a man and woman, having gotten out. As you drive away, you see in your rearview that they are leading the man who flipped out into the back of the van, which looks like a small, dark padded room. “That’s creepy… Shades of 1984,” you say to yourself as you make a right turn onto the road.

You know the last part of the drive all too well, but even here things seem off. There are no protestors in front of Planned Parenthood, and it looks like your local Baptist church has been converted into some kind of local market. The electronic billboard in front of the church that used to flash messages like “You will burn for your sins” or “Jesus loves you” has been replaced with a simple marquee that uses images to indicate what is sold inside. You make out the symbols for what look like handmade furniture before you drive by. Not much of a believer yourself, you started going to church again after you had kids because you thought it would give them an ethical background. Even though this Baptist church was instrumental in organizing voters against the recent countywide proposal to give homosexual couples the same access to health care as heterosexual families, you feel a bit sad to see it replaced with something so practical. “What is happening to our spiritual values in the country?” you ask yourself.

Your concerns are confirmed when you pass a head shop. You see people, both young and older coming out of the shop and it even looks like some people out front are taking some kind of drug. Then you recall one of the articles you glanced through earlier today, referring to the legalization of some drugs and the continuing fall in addiction rates around the world. New research was showing that addiction was only prevalent among a group called “NTs” that made up about 1% of the population. The article didn’t explain what made someone NT, but it seemed to be some kind of cognitive disability that made a person frequently behave in self-contradictory ways, holding onto feelings of hatred, anger, fear, jealousy and other thoughts until they became overwhelming. This, the article theorized, was the root cause of addiction in most cases. You also recall the article saying that lawmakers were moving to make sweeping changes in a variety of regulations from the prison system to the distribution and manufacture of drugs related to drop in addiction and related crimes. “Have those laws already gone into effect?” you ask yourself as the head shop passes out of sight.

Passing by your son’s school, you remember that you can pick him up since you finished work early. Even though it has been a while since you visited your son at Evergreen Middle School, you are surprised by all the changes in the design and layout of the space. As you walk through the large, bright, open corridors, you see a number of small, dark, padded rooms that look very similar to the one you saw in the small white van at the supermarket earlier. Following the corridor, you come out to an enclosed garden. Students are sitting with teachers in the grass or around circular tables. All the groups are small, and many of the students are using some kind of technology at the same time that their teachers are talking. “Kids and their devices,” you mumble irritably. But it seems that the teachers don’t mind, and some of the students are sitting by themselves, engrossed in these devices without any problem.

Your son is listening to a story being read aloud by his favorite teacher, a quirky young man with dark spikey hair and thick glasses. The teacher’s unkempt appearance always bothered you, but he seems to be able to reach your son, who has been having difficulties in school, even though he is obviously intelligent. The story the students are listening to seems very complex, full of detail and very sophisticated for his age group, you think. No one is taking notes, though; they are simply engrossed in the story. You stand back to observe your son for a moment. When the story is soon over, no one raises their hand or calls out; instead, the teacher picks one student at a time to ask what appear to you to be advanced questions about the plot structure and particular details of the story. Your son answers well, but falters over details about the relationship between characters.

“Why does the love between the principle characters matter,” your son asks, “when it doesn’t change how the action of the plot moves forward?”

“That’s exactly right,” the teacher says in an even voice. “The logic of the interactions is what matters, not necessarily the feelings behind them. In a story like this, the author wants to distract you with these unspoken thoughts – I’m going to use a technical word here and call them “emotions” – but we know that the actions are the most real part of the narrative movement. It’s the same in our daily lives. What’s more significant: what someone says, or what they do?”

“What they do,” your son says, “but I don’t understand why they talk so much about their love for each other. I mean, I get it if they have relationship issues, but it’s the external circumstances that messes up their ability to be together, not their love, so why are they so worried about whether or not she has the baby?”

“That’s a good point,” the teacher responds in a monotone that’s beginning to irritate you.

“Why can’t he put a little more enthusiasm into his teaching, be more encouraging,” you think to yourself. But the students don’t seem to mind, and they are all completely engaged in the conversation.

“I mean,” your son continues, “it’s like the man in the story knows what the situation is, with the war and the pregnancy and all, but he still feels contradictory things about it.”

“What does the baby symbolize?” the teacher asks.

“Hope for the future,” one of the other students says. “But the man doesn’t feel hopeful. He thinks the war is going to destroy everything. How come he wants to have a baby when he feels hopeless. Wouldn’t that be like knowing the earth is going to end tomorrow, but still wanting it to go on anyway?”

“That’s an excellent point, Matthew,” the teacher says. “What’s our international position on population today?”

“That the calculations for sustainability have to correspond to the population’s birth rate,” your son says. “We are learning about this in social studies right now.”

“So what if I told you that just a short time ago, the entire planet was on the brink of catastrophe because people who seemed just like us were guided by powerful contradictions – what I am calling emotions – just like the man in this story? They knew very well what they should do, but they nonetheless went ahead having children and using resources in an unsustainable way.”

The students met this idea with uncomprehending silence.

“Well, that’s it for today,” the teacher said, getting up. “Don’t forget to log your image-catalogue onto the database. Next week, we’ll be looking at an early story from the early period of the Great Mutation entitled “The Soul Is Not a Smithy.”

Seeing you, your son comes over and touches your arm in greeting. He is glowing from the intensity of his engagement, and your heart swells painfully for a second.

“Come on, sweetheart, let’s get home.” He looks you in the eyes for the first time that day with a piercing concentration, but says simply “OK.”

During the short drive home, you try to engage him, but he is withdrawn, staring out the window. Home is just as eerily quiet as it was during breakfast. Assuming no one is home, you turn on the bright overhead light, only to find your partner and your daughter blinking at you uncomfortably. Turning the light off again, you go upstairs for a quick shower. Coming down, you join everyone at the dinner table. It’s times like this, when the house feels too quiet, that you wish the family had agreed to get a pet. Even a cockatoo would have been nice, but no one seemed interested, and so you dropped it.

At least there is some conversation around the table. Everyone is talking intently about a recent incident, a boy’s violent episode in Northern California. Apparently four or five people were murdered in a sudden outbreak, a violent fit that ended in suicide. “That’s the fourth time this year,” your partner says in consternation. “Why aren’t we better at identifying those schizes in time to help these young men?”

Her tone is oddly flat in contrast to the vehemence of her words. You find the contrast off-putting. “Schiz – you mean like schizophrenic break?” you ask over the potatoes being passed to you. The dinner is good, but bland and a little simple. Lately it feels like every dinner is the same at the house.

Everyone at the table looks at you for a moment. “A schiz is a break, dad,” your daughter says. “You know, like when someone loses it. What’s schizophre…”

“Schizophrenia is the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality,” you say, taking on your educated, parental tone. “So a schiz is different?” you ask, turning to your partner for help.

“I’m not really sure what you mean by schizophrenia either,” she says, “but a schiz is, to use the jargon, a non-linear cortical process. A feeling becomes overwhelming and the normal, healthy, linear directionality of thought is disrupted in a break, a schiz, that sends the person off in a random direction. I mean, it happens every day. That’s what the pods are for.”

“The padded rooms?”

“I’ve never heard them called that before,” your partner says, laughing. “The point is that we all need a reset occasionally. You might be a little insensitive to it since you don’t seem to ever have a schiz.”

“My biology teacher says that the schiz is not just negative; it’s also our source of creativity,” your daughter says. “She showed us articles last week by some of the greatest inventors of the decade who argue that non-linear thinking is key to growth and exploration.”

“That’s easy to say until you include incidents like this boy in California,” your partner exclaims with sincere vehemence.

Throughout this exchange, you are surprised by the attentive, thoughtful responses of your children. The conversation is serious and engaged, but everyone’s emotions seem muted. In the calming light of the candles it’s difficult to make out your partner’s expression, but their voice remains almost disconcertingly even.

“Well, maybe we can agree to disagree on this one,” you chime in, hoping to lighten things, but everyone looks at you for a moment in a manner that you are starting to recognize. It’s as though you’ve said something that isn’t computing, and you feel a sudden flash of annoyance at finding yourself on the outside of your own family again.

“But isn’t the schiz a dangerous thing?” your son asks. “The news reports are always talking about it like it’s the cause of violence. We just watched a documentary on the Great Mutation – you know, the famous one for our standard form history – and it talks about all of this: the replacement of ritual with routine, the onset of linear thinking, the relationship between the schiz and intelligibility.”

“I know,” your partner says, reaching across to touch your son’s hand. “Some of this isn’t going to make sense until you get older. I still remember seeing that one when I was your age. As it turns out, the documentary is only partially right. It’s true that there’s a negative relationship between the schiz and intelligibility, but intelligibility isn’t always the goal. Do you understand?”

“But when I lose intelligibility, I can’t think. I don’t know what’s going on, and then I usually wake up in a pod,” your son says.

“I had the same experience when I was your age. It’s confusing, I know, and in many ways it is true that routine is our only religion, as some people say. But intelligibility has something more fundamental at it’s core: pattern recognition. As you get older, you will start to understand the schiz as part of a larger, more complex pattern that moves in outward circles. You can develop into larger series of pattern recognition that change the way you experience both intelligibility and the schiz, so it’s not just a contrast between the two, but more like a complex symbiosis, like a back and forth exchange between living organisms.”

“You sound like my critical theory teacher,” your daughter says with a note of superiority. “We’re talking about Plato’s cave right now, and the problem of truth. The cave theory of knowledge is different from pattern recognition. It was static.”

“I don’t know it,” your son says simply.

“Ok, so it’s like a story. Imagine that we’re supposed to only see the shadows of things as they pass in front of a flame. We are slaves chained to floor, facing in one direction, so we don’t realize there is something more real than the shadows. But then one day a slave escapes and sees the flame and the shapes creating the shadows. He realizes it’s a sham, and goes out of the cave to find the real world (that’s what philosophy supposedly shows us). It’s amazing, and beautiful, so he wants to share it with his friends, but when he goes back in, they freak out and murder him.

“Why?” your son asks, mesmerized.

“Because of this thing called emotion. It’s like an overwhelming feeling that goes on and on and can’t be stopped. They are frightened by the possibility that there’s something much bigger out there.”

“We were talking about emotion today,” your son says. “It made the character in our story act strangely, in ways that didn’t make sense. So why don’t the slaves go into a pod until they feel safe again?”

“Imagine a time when there are no pods, because this feeling is always inside of you, ready to come out at any moment,” your daughter says with a hint of judgment in her voice. “My teacher says that the slaves will never be free because they are dominated by these internal fears that control their actions. Everyone used to read Plato’s allegory as a description of the philosopher, but you can just as easily think of it as an exploration of how destructive emotions can be.”

“That’s a little too simple,” your partner says disapprovingly. “Today people with NT disorder are said to have emotions similar to what Plato described, and they are mostly normal, healthy members of society.”

“Aren’t they the ones who form gangs and steal things?” your son asks.

“Those are only the cases you read about,” your partner corrects gently. “Remember your course in confirmation bias last year? It’s normal at this stage in your development to mistake pattern recognition for confirmation bias, but it’s something you will grow out of naturally. Be careful not to take one instance for the rule, or you may end up hurting someone by assuming they are something they aren’t.”

“Ok,” you son answers simply.

“But here’s the most interesting part,” your daughter continues, “Plato’s notion of philosophy is static because he was trying to counteract this uncontrollable emotional world. It messed up his whole theory of knowledge because he needed a counterweight powerful enough to displace these emotions that he thought covered up our ability to reason. I don’t think that’s so simple; anyway, don’t philosophers today talk about becoming instead of being and all that?”

Throughout this exchange, you are amazed at the level of exchange. Shouldn’t your kids be sullenly poking at their food until the first opportunity to escape? Where did they learn all of these words: confirmation bias, pattern recognition, intelligibility, and all that about Plato’s cave in high school? The conversation has been unemotional, as though you were all wearing lab coats and talking about the most recent test results.

“I know you don’t like to leave things unresolved, but this is a big topic, and we have to get ready for the film,” your partner says. “Are you two coming?”

To your surprise, you son says he wants to stay home and read. You still can’t get over hearing your children speak in complete sentences. No one shrugs or nods or makes those long series of facial expressions that you associate with young adulthood. “You are going to stay home alone?” you ask, breaking a long, meditate silence that no one seems to have noted.

Your partner looks at you briefly, and says, “That’s not a problem, is it? No different from any other night. Are you worried about something?”

You shoot your partner a couple of looks, hoping to do a little of that silent parental communicating that you’ve learned to rely on over the years, but they practically ignore you. “Alright, well I’m going to get ready. Be sure to bring something warm: the film is about six hours long.”

“Six hours?” you exclaim incredulously. But no one notices and you again find yourself to be the last one after your family members quickly and efficiently clear the table and go to their rooms.

Your partner suggests taking the elevated, so you take the short walk to the entrance as you try to remember when they built a whole transportation system running through your neighborhood. When the train arrives in a few minutes, it has the strangest interior you’ve ever seen. All the seats are facing outward, away from each other. At first you think you’ll find this uncomfortable, not being able to look anyone in the eye, but then you realize that you always disliked having other people breathing in your face as you tried to avoid making eye contact or bumping into them. The cabin you are in spacious without all the seats arranged in those awkward squares, and you enjoy looking out on the city as you move quickly along. “I wonder why no one has thought of this before, you say out loud,” but no one, not even your partner, looks up. Everyone is engrossed in what they are doing. None of the sense of angsty boredom you associate with escalators and metros is in evidence.

Again, that strange quiet pervades the space, and you realize that the train doesn’t make the typical squeaks and grating noises. Very few people are talking either, although those who are carry on in as though they were unaware that they were in public. Still, no one seemed to mind either way, so you settle back for the rest of the ride, feeling more and more out of place in a subtle way that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Most people are using some kind of device, many with headphones. Almost no one is reading, though, and you don’t see any of the piles of newspapers and magazines that usually clutter up public transportation seats late in the day. You try a couple of times to engage your partner and your daughter, but neither wants to talk, so you close your eyes to reflect a little on how strange things feel.

When you get the amphitheater, you pause for a moment to appreciate its beauty. The ground rose and radiated out from the proscenium in even waves that seemed to rise at a pitch that allowed groups of people to comfortably arrange themselves at each tier without blocking those behind them. Small groups and a surprising number of single people are spaced out and facing the screen in anticipation of the film. Again, just like when you were driving today, there are lots of prime spots still available. At first, you begin to make your way to one of these, but the others seem more inclined to find a more secluded spot, so you follow along.

“My critical theory teacher says this is an important film,” your daughter says as she pulls a blanket out of a surprisingly small pouch that your partner has handed to her. “It’s supposed to be a remaking of an old book called Looking Backwards, or something like that.”

“Yes, Looking Backward, an early example of utopian writing before the long period of dystopian writing that followed. Let’s get the attention of that cadeauist over there. She’ll have a card for us.”

Your daughter gets up and walks over to a young woman wearing a reflective green hat and takes a small card from her. As she walks back, she inserts the card into a tablet and begins to look through it, stopping occasionally when she becomes too engrossed. You notice that many people are looking at their devices, and again a feeling of annoyed displacement washes over you.

When your daughter gets back, you ask to see what she’s been looking at. Sitting down beside you, she shows you what looks like a three-dimensional, navigable page with various symbols. Touching the screen, you hear a soft voice continue its narrative about Looking Backward and what it calls the “imperative structure of society.”

“This is fascinating,” your daughter says. “So an ‘imperative’ is what people used to call linearity back when they were dominated by emotions. It’s like something you use to try to force yourself to do something even when your emotions got in the way. This is related to what I was saying about Plato earlier, right?” your daughter asks turning to your partner.

“That’s a good connection,” your partner says with a calm smile. “I like the way you are picking this up so quickly and making the right associations. Let’s talk later about putting you on a critical theory track for post-minimum studies. What do you think is the relationship between linearity and Plato?”

“Well, for one thing, Plato’s philosophy works better with linearity, so maybe the imperative was an emotional person’s attempt to understand philosophy better.”

“Ok, but why call it an ‘imperative’ instead of simply referring to it as philosophy?” your partner asks with a cautious tone, as though wanting to go further without letting things get too confusing either.

You find yourself admiring this exchange at the same time that you begin to feel a little bored. It’s late, and you feel tired from your disorientation. Why not just relax and chat a little? Does everything have to be about big ideas and learning? You check your phone, but again, everyone you usually chat with in dull moments has disappeared.

Meanwhile, your daughter and your partner have moved on past your immediate comprehension in their conversation. You feel yourself beginning to doze just as the movie starts.

At first, you think something must be wrong. There’s no sound, and the images are very abstract. No one else seems surprised, though, and many are using devices in conjunction with the film. Looking at your daughter, you see that she is also plugged in, looking back and forth between her screen and her tablet. Asking to borrow an ear bud, you put it in to hear the same soft voice you heard earlier talking about the film now.

“Oh, it’s a running commentary” you say in surprise, but no one responds. It’s true that the narrative helps you make sense of the film, but you also feel irritated at this lengthy and complex exposition. Why watch a film that needs so much explanation to make sense, you wonder. An endless monologue in a dry voice about many things you don’t understand, but which everyone around you, including your family, seems to take for granted.

Touching your hand, your daughter then points to something on the screen, and the monologue changes. Now you hear the same dull voice talking about the history of the film, providing what sounds like a different interpretation.

“It’s amazing what they can do with technology these days,” you whisper to your partner, but she is deeply engrossed in the film.

Giving up, you settle down, but soon your eyes start to close. You feel heavy, and then light, and finally it feels good to just turn off for a little while.

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    • wilkaiser profile image
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      Wilson Kaiser 3 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

      Author's note: This story was as much an exploration for me as it was an attempt to describe my experiences by magnifying them to a global scale. Since I first encountered Kant's description of ethical behavior as an action that others could do as well, I've been curious about what a world would look like if it were on the spectrum.

      I also know that AS takes many different forms, many of which I don't understand, so in many ways a world on the spectrum would perhaps be just as disorienting for me as it would be for the NT in my story.

      I did, however, try to check my own extrapolations against some of the sociological research that has been done on AS, and many times I found that it corresponding to my own quirks. For instance, my lack of what some people call an "addictive personality" is a general characteristic. And some of my tendencies are practically cliches of AS behavior, such my overly rational approach to conversation, comfort with quiet and a frequent desire for quietude, an adult approach to children and a lack of childish fantasy, and many other small things.

      One of the most surprising generalizations about AS that was reinforced through my research was a lack of interest in spiritual or religious questions and issues. So many of the world's problems, political and social, stem from a powerful emotional belief system about God that I don't have access to or care about. It's not that I do or don't believe: rather, the question doesn't make any sense. Likewise, the drive to find group identity through religion has always made me deeply uncomfortable, mainly because it is based on complicated, mostly unspoken expectations that I can't read and don't understand. Along with religion, I found that the systems keeping gangs together were missing for me. Simply put, I don't like these kinds of group-think activities, and it seems that most AS adults feel the same way.

      Just these few facts make up most of the big changes in my imaginary AS world: the out of control population growth, the warring factions around the globe, the political fundamentalism in this country, and many more aspects of our daily life today would not exist.

      I wouldn't miss these destructive, irrational aspects of our world for a moment, but in my conversations with my NT friends and family, I have consistently found a sense of unease with a world without the emotional foundation that creates all of these problems.