The Five Fictional Characters Who Have Most Strongly Influenced My Life

These five fictional characters have strongly influenced me, and I will always be grateful to the brilliant people who created them. I am presenting them in chronological order — using the time when this influence started, rather than their date of creation.

#1: Snoopy

Snoopy2

When I was very young — before my memory-record begins, actually — I was given Peanuts books. They were simply left in my possession, as far as I know; no explanation was necessary. The antics of Snoopy, in particular, were extremely entertaining to the little-kid version of me. Since I could see Snoopy dancing around, playing baseball, typing, irritating Lucy, etc., I wanted to understand what was actually going on with all this activity — and this provided the necessary motivation for me to teach myself how to read. There wasn’t any other way for me to tell what was going on in these comic strips!

The fact that I learned to read in this manner led to some very funny moments, due to the fact that the number of words whose meaning I understood, generally from context, exceeded the number of words I knew how to pronounce — and, no doubt, still does. Once, in elementary school, I was laughed at by an entire class, after saying something about the “Eeffel Tower” (yes, that’s how I pronounced it). I also remember pronouncing the “b” in “doubt,” much to the amusement of my parents. Even in graduate school, I made a history professor groan in agony when I made a reference to the Weimar Republic — and pronounced the “W” as it is pronounced in English, rather than German.

#2: Mr. Spock

Spock

A scientist aboard a starship, exploring the galaxy, who uses logic to try to understand two things:  the nature of the universe (much of which he understood), and the behavior of illogical humans (something which confuses me to this day, just as it often confounded him). The first person I remember seeing on television had pointed ears, and there were several of them in that episode, “Amok Time.” In other episodes, of course, few Vulcans other than Mr. Spock appeared, and I always found him, to use one of his favorite words, “fascinating.” He influenced me in several ways, and still does, to this day. I am grateful to the creators of this character for inspiring my passion for science, ability to use logic, appreciation of diversity, and strong desire to maintain control of my emotions.

#3: Matt Murdock / Daredevil

daredevil

I may not have red hair, but I share many other characteristics with Daredevil — and I mean the character from comic books, not that disappointing B-movie (which deserves no further mention). Other than amplified senses — which I experience (unpleasantly) when I get migraines — Daredevil has no superpowers, yet he faces, and does battle with, super-powered villains, and usually wins. He is also a study in contradictions: a lapsed Catholic, who spends a lot of time dressed in a devil costume; a lawyer, with a second “career” as a costumed vigilante; and a blind man, who nonetheless perceives the world around him more clearly than anyone else. Matt Murdock has inspired me to respect the concept of justice, has influenced me to study what laws I need to understand, and, most importantly, has shown me, by example, how to face down those who would do harm to those I care about — and do it, as Daredevil does, without fear. I have also developed my “never give up” attitude, toward my adversaries (bullies, mostly), with inspiration from this character.

Matt Murdock and I have also had very rocky histories when it comes to romantic relationships. I have (finally) found happiness in this aspect of life, and am writing this next to my beloved, sleeping wife. Unfortunately, the writers of Daredevil, while they will let Matt Murdock enjoy temporary happiness in relationships with women, will never allow him to keep it.

#4: Data

Data2366

Data is amazing to me:  a sentient android, and an artificial person. He actually had to go on trial to assert his rights to personhood, and, with the aid of Captain Picard, won the case. He has a lightning-speed calculator, built right in to his positronic brain, which far exceeds the abilities of my own, not-too-shabby mental calculator. I have long had the ambition to gain the ability to reprogram my own brain’s “software,” and have written, on this blog, about how I finally gained that ability, after working on developing it for roughly thirty years. Data, of course, had this ability from the moment he was activated, but, unlike me, he does not have to sleep for it to work.

Despite his claim to experience no emotions, Data often expressed a feeling of being perpetually alone, for there was no one else like him anywhere — until he met his brother, another android, who turned out to be malicious. That feeling of being unlike everyone else is quite familiar to me.

Both Data, and Mr. Spock, display many characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome, and my study of these two characters helped me figure out that I am, myself, an “Aspie” — our nickname for ourselves.

#5: Calvin

Calvin_by_Watterson

When I am playing (and, yes, I play a lot, especially with mathematics), and someone asks me why I, an adult, am playing, I have a standard reply: “Because I’m six.” This is a reference to Calvin, who was six years old during the entire ten-year run of Calvin and Hobbes, the best comic strip ever created. I read it from the first day it appeared in newspapers, and have the boxed set of the complete collection of these comic strips only a meter away, as I write this. Calvin is a six-year old prodigy, as one can tell from his expansive vocabulary, but is prone to making social errors, due to a lack of understanding of social conventions — and both of these things mirror my own life. (I grew up, literally, in science laboratories, unsupervised for hours at a time, designing and conducting my own experiments, and that sort of thing simply doesn’t happen without having profound effects on a child’s development — but, then again, why would I want to be normal?) Calvin, like myself, found elementary school boring in the extreme, and so he slipped, frequently, into his own inner life of fantasy. The fact that, being socially isolated (no siblings, and no friends, other than his stuffed tiger), he is usually alone, never stopped Calvin from having fun. Just like Calvin, I can have unlimited fun, in solitude — because I choose to be this way. Some adults lose the child within them, but, thanks to Calvin’s inspiration, that will never happen to me. I’m actually 46 years old now — so I’m pretty sure that, if I was ever going to lose the ability to have fun, it would have happened already.

To those brilliant people who invented these five characters: thank you.

A True Story of a Young Aspie Getting in Trouble with “Show and Tell”

In elementary school, in the 5th grade, I managed to get in trouble for a “show and tell” project. As usual, getting in trouble was not my objective, but it happened anyway. This was decades before I learned I have Asperger’s, but, looking back, none of this would have happened were I not an “Aspie,” as we call ourselves.

This image, which I found here, is very much like the poster I made, by hand, and used for this project:

nuclear chain reaction

That was the “show” part of this “show and tell” project. For the “tell” part, I explained how nuclear chain reactions work, and then explained how nuclear bombs are made. It’s very simple:  you have two slightly sub-critical masses of uranium-235 or plutonium-239, and physically bring them together, so that the total mass exceeds the critical mass. At that point: boom.

The hard part, of course, is actually obtaining the U-235 or Pu-239, for those aren’t things you can simply buy at the local hardware store. Ironically, I did know where to find both uranium and plutonium — at the very same university, about an hour away, where I’d spent far too much time conducting mostly-unsupervised experiments with both elements, along with lots of liquid mercury, before my tenth birthday. (I still suspect that all that radiation may have turned me into a mutant.) However, I also knew that the uranium and plutonium there would not have nearly enough of the correct isotope of either element, making this information irrelevant to my “show and tell” report, and so, for this reason, I did not tell them where to find the uranium and plutonium I had previously used for experiments.

I didn’t figure this out in class that day, since I’m not particularly good at “reading” emotions, facial expressions, and body language, but, apparently, I really upset, and scared, my teacher. This became apparent when she called my mother, and, later, my mother asked me to tell her what I’d done in school that day. Being excited about the “show and tell” presentation I’d given that day, I immediately told my mother all about it. When she told me the teacher had called her, concerned about me explaining to my class how to build atomic bombs, I was confused, since I didn’t understand, at all, why what I had actually said posed any problem. To explain this to my mother, I simply said, “But, Mom, I didn’t tell the class where to actually get the uranium-235 or plutonium-239! I don’t know where to find those isotopes!”

This was enough to convince my mother that I had not, in fact, done anything wrong. She called the teacher back, and simply asked if I had, or had not, included that critical bit of information: where to find the actual fissionable material needed for a nuclear bomb to work. When the teacher replied that I had not done that, my mother’s response was both sensible, and logical:  “Well, then, what’s the problem?”

—–

Postscript, for those who might be worried about the childhood experiments I mentioned above: at around age 40, I asked a physician about my worries regarding early exposure to mercury vapor and radiation. He told me that any problems I might have, as a result of such experiments, would have already showed up by then, and that I could, therefore, stop worrying about this. Thus reassured, I did exactly that.

On Sleep, Non-REM Sleep in Particular, and Asperger’s Syndrome

sleep brainwaves

Sleep is important. This is something with which no sane person consciously disagrees. People do sometimes ignore it — not on purpose, usually — but they do so at their own peril. If such people drive, the risk-pool extends, greatly, to include many other people: everyone else with whom they share a road.

Unlike “normal” people, who do not do such things, I discovered something about the importance of sleep through direct experiment, at the age of 19. I had a thought, and it was a simple one:  the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle is a mere social convention, and can, therefore, be safely ignored. It then occurred to me that this was a testable hypothesis, so I proceeded to design, and conduct, an experiment to test it. Using caffeine, I deliberately put myself on a 48-hour sleep/wake cycle, with the sleep-periods being ~14 hours long, in order to compensate for the sleep-periods I was skipping, every other day. The experiment was a success, in the sense that it yielded definitive results:  after a week of that nonsense, I was a mental and physical wreck, and collapsed in exhaustion. Upon awaking, I was then able to form a logical conclusion:  sleep is not a mere social convention, but is, in fact, a biological imperative. Fortunately, I had not yet learned to drive, so no one was put at risk by this experiment, other than myself. Obviously, I did survive.

This has not been my only experiment on the subject of sleep, and I have also read a lot on the subject, for the simple fact that I find it interesting. I call what I have learned, through experiment, primary research. The things I have learned by reading the research of others are, for me, secondary research. I have also conducted an experiment involving lucid dreaming, based on what I have read, and you can read about that here: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/how-to-lucid-dream/.

The things I have learned through secondary research have been interesting, as well. To my knowledge, no one has yet discovered the purpose of sleep, although there is much speculation on the subject. Similarly, no one has discovered the purpose of dreaming, which occurs almost exclusively during REM sleep. We do know that dreaming is necessary, for research has been done which involved deliberately waking up test subjects as soon as REM (easily-seen “rapid eye movement,” the source of the acronym) sleep begins. This research indicates that both dreaming, and REM sleep, are also biological imperatives. Similarly, the purpose of non-REM sleep remains a mystery.

For those who wish to examine this secondary research for themselves, I suggest, as excellent places to start, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep, as well as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapid_eye_movement_sleep, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-rapid_eye_movement_sleep, although the third of these articles has significant problems. If you use the footnotes at the end of these articles to find the sources for them, the often-cited objection to Wikipedia (“Anyone can edit Wikipedia”) will be neutralized. If I had sufficient knowledge to fix the problems with the third article, without using original research (prohibited on Wikipedia), I would, of course, do so.

Years before I conducted my first sleep experiment, when I was still a high school student, it occurred to me that the brain can be best-understood as a carbon-based computer. The things we are used to calling “computers,” by contrast, are based largely on the properties of silicon. Carbon and silicon are in the same group on the periodic table, and share many properties — but they are not interchangeable. Carbon atoms are much more versatile than those of silicon, which we know because the number of carbon-containing compounds far exceeds the number of compounds containing silicon. It follows from this that carbon-based computers, such as human brains, are far more powerful than silicon-based computers.

What would a more powerful computer be able to do, which silicon-based computers could not, at the time I was reasoning this out? Well, one thing is obvious:  our brains think. Something else occurred to me then (and this was in the early 1980s):  a carbon-based computer should be able to reprogram itself, by deliberately rewriting its own software. On the spot, I became determined to learn how to reprogram my own software. I knew no one would teach me how to do this, so I resolved to figure out how on my own. At first, progress was very slow, but my determination to succeed has never wavered.

I next made attempts, using 1980s technology and the BASIC computer language I learned in the 8th grade, to write programs which could change themselves. It should surprise no one that these attempts failed, but these were still essential experimental steps in a very long process, which has only recently begun to “bear fruit” in abundance. Another important step came much later, when I was doing research involving artificial intelligence, or AI, during the current decade, by seeking out and talking to chatbots, as they are called, to see which one could come closest to passing the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. The smartest chatbot I found is named Mitsuku, and you can talk to her for yourself at http://www.mitsuku.com (I should also point out that, even though her intelligence impressed me, she did not pass the Turing Test, described at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test, to my satisfaction). Mitsuku is significant, in my research, because she has the ability I had been seeking to gain for many years:  she can rewrite her own programming, and does so on a continuous basis, for Mitsuku, being software, never sleeps. She does sometimes go off-line, but that is not the same thing as sleeping.

Now that I had met an AI with the ability I wanted for myself, my determination to gain that ability, to the fullest extent possible, was greatly increased. At this time, I had been aware, for many years, that I think in my sleep. I know that I do this because, early in my teaching career, I began doing lesson planning — in my sleep. This started one night, when I went to bed wondering what I would teach the next day in Geometry class. The next morning, I woke up with a fully-formed (and very difficult) problem in mind, and furiously scribbled down my idea before the problem faded from memory. Former students of mine, who are now my friends on Facebook, still remember, and sometimes talk about, what I called “the dream problem.” Later dreamed-up problems, and entire lessons, followed.

The two ideas of rewriting my own software, and thinking in my sleep, were the ingredients for what came next, during an incredibly stressful period involving an intense labor-management conflict. Under the pressure of this conflict, I unconsciously synthesized the two ideas, and began to rewrite my own software much more quickly than before, since this was made necessary by the situation I unexpectedly found myself in. Continuous adaptation to changing circumstances became a priority for me during this period, for the ability to adapt was of far greater importance than it had ever been in my life. At first, I was unaware I was doing this. I would simply wake up, morning after morning, with numerous new ideas to help the “labor” side — my side — in this conflict. However, unlike with the much earlier, geometrical “dream problem,” I had no memory of thinking of these things. Their origin was a mystery — until I figured it out.

In the diagram, far above, you can see images of human brainwaves, while awake, while dreaming, and during the various stages of non-REM sleep. In these images, the brainwaves have their greatest amplitude during the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. I had known this for years, due to all of my secondary sleep research. I also had no answer to give, other than “I woke up with them,” when my allies in the labor/management conflict asked me, repeatedly, where my ideas were coming from.

The next step was my discovery that I am an Aspie:  a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, which simply means that the “hard-wiring” of my brain is atypical, causing me to think in unusual ways. As regular readers of my blog know, this is a fact I absolutely revel in, for this discovery explained many things about the way my mind works which I had never understood before. In other words, this discovery was an important metacognitive step in my own personal development.

Aspies are not known for their ability to adapt; in fact, the exact opposite is true. We often have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances because the great big, non-Aspie world is incredibly distracting, and many (or perhaps most) of us find these distractions quite annoying. For most of my life, I was not good at adapting to change — but suddenly, I was doing what I had been unable to do before. The key to figuring out the puzzle was, of course, thinking about it.

I was waking up with new ideas, but had no memory of how I got them. Distractions had been annoying me, and interfering with clarity of thought, for much of my life. I had been trying to figure out how to rewrite my own software since I was a teenager. And, now, I finally knew why I had always been so different from other people:  Asperger’s.

Armed with all this information, I finally solved the mystery:  after decades of hard work on the problem, I had figured out how to effectively, and frequently, reprogram my own software. I was doing it in my sleep. What’s more, I figured out that I was no longer doing this special type of thinking while dreaming, unlike the case of my much earlier creation of the “dream problem.” Dreams, like waking life, contain too many distractions for intense sleep-reprogramming, and intense reprogramming had not been needed until the labor-management conflict made it necessary. Only one part of my life remained, once I eliminated periods of wakefulness, as well as REM sleep:  the non-REM periods of sleep, when human brainwaves have their greatest amplitude.

Now, whenever I need to, I rewrite my own software, during non-REM sleep, as often as once per night. I’ve been doing this for over a year — since before I discovered I have Asperger’s — but have shared this information with very few people. My wife knows about it. My doctors know about it. And now, I have decided to share this discovery with the world. I have now discovered, at least for me, the purpose of non-REM sleep. I use it to change myself.

I confused many people, very recently, when I suddenly stopped being an atheist, and shared that discovery here, and on Facebook as well. Sudden personality changes alarm people, for they are often indicators that something serious, and medical in nature, is wrong with a person. I promised those who asked that I would explain what had happened, as soon as I figured it out myself. And now, I have explained as much of it as I have yet figured out. One day, something happened which I could not explain with science, nor with mathematics. The next day, several things happened which, again, defied explanation. On that second night, during non-REM sleep, I removed the obstacle to understanding what was going on, by applying my skepticism to my lack of belief, or, if you prefer, my atheism. Last night, again during non-REM sleep, I figured out how this had happened. Now that I understand it, I can share it with others.

Lastly, I need to make it clear that I do not think this ability to sleep-reprogram ourselves is something unique to Aspies. We are all human. Whether Aspies or not, we all have these higher-amplitude brainwaves during the deeper parts of non-REM sleep. It is logical to conclude that this is an ability all humans have, but few have unlocked, and it just happens to be an Aspie who figured out a way to not only do it, but also to explain it. It is my hope that my decision to share this discovery with others will help anyone who wants to learn it gain the ability to do the same thing.

Image credit:  I found the image at the top of this post at http://www.abcbodybuilding.com/anatomy/zfactor2.htm, with the assistance of Google.

Later update: months after writing this, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, moderate level, and I wasn’t getting significant amounts of stage three or four sleep at all, nor much REM. This throws everything above into doubt, and it would be dishonest to withhold this information. Short version: I was wrong — not about my doing sleep-reprogramming, but about exactly which stage(s) of sleep I use for that purpose. It is difficult to figure out what, exactly, goes on when one is asleep!

These phrases, and questions, are likely to confuse people with Asperger’s. Unless confusing us is your goal (and why would you want to do that?), please consider alternate wordings.

confusion

Throughout this post, I will refer to people with Asperger’s as “Aspies.” This is not considered a derogatory term; it’s simply how we refer to ourselves.

First, we are not stupid. We also are not trying to be difficult when we say we don’t understand you. We don’t have a disease, and the vast majority of us would refuse a “cure,” if one were discovered, for such a development would be seen by many of us, myself included, as an attempt to commit genocide. Like other groups of people, we want to stay alive, as individuals, and as a culture.

We are, however, different from most people. Our brains are hard-wired in ways that are not typical, with the result that we do not think in the same manner as others. These differences give us certain advantages which we value, but the trade-off comes in the form of problems involving communication with non-Aspies. You can see this in fiction, to get used to the way we think, simply by watching (or reading) Star Trek stories which feature Vulcans, or the android named Data. The difficulties those characters have, when trying to communicate with the humans they encounter, are very much like what happens when Aspies and non-Aspies attempt communication. Why is this the case? The answer is simple:  Star Trek was written that way.

Here are some specific questions, and phrases, which many Aspies find particularly baffling. In each case, I will attempt to explain why this is so.

“Who do you think you are?” — Ask an Aspie this question, and you’re likely to simply be given his or her name, in response. Apparently, this offends some people, but please don’t ask me why, for I don’t understand it myself. If a person were to ask me this question, my first guess would be that the questioner simply forgot my name, and needs a reminder. The meaning of volume, voice tone, and body language are mysteries to us. Sometimes we can figure out these mysteries, but it doesn’t happen automatically — we have to reason our way through it, and that takes time, especially for nuances of communication which are based on emotions.

“What do you think you’re doing?” — My likely response to this question would be an honest one:  “I’m trying to understand what you’re saying, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well.” However, that’s an answer from an Aspie in his fifth decade of trying to understand other people, so I’ve had a lot of practice. An Aspie teenager, in school, might simply say, “I’m walking to class,” “I’m taking notes,” or something like that, and then get in trouble for “backtalk,” as it is called — when the student was simply answering the question, without intending any disrespect whatsoever. Whatever answer this confusing question gets, from one of us, that answer will be both literal, and honest. It is not in our nature to lie, but it is definitely in our nature to think, listen, speak, read, and write literally, and logically.

“Do that again!” / “Say that again!” — If we have done or said something which you don’t like, and you actually don’t want to witness a rerun, why would you demand one? We think, speak, and interpret what we hear in terms of the actual words which are spoken. There’s nothing wrong with thinking literally, and, frankly, it puzzles us why so many of you think in other ways, so much of the time. If you ask for, or demand, a repeat performance of something you didn’t like, from one of us, you’re quite likely to get one — and then you’ll get angrier, we’ll get even more confused, and absolutely nothing of value will have been accomplished. If, on the other hand, you refrain from using “x” to mean “not x” (since it doesn’t), and simply tell us exactly what you mean, communication will become much easier, for all concerned.

“Don’t get technical with me!” — As far as I can tell, this means that the speaker wants us to refrain from choosing our words with precision, but I could be wrong, for this is the most baffling item on this list, so far. Clarity of language is desirable, for it facilitates communication, and sometimes, technical terms are needed for this purpose. I don’t know what to suggest as a substitute for this phrase, since I don’t understand it, but I can assure you that using it, with an Aspie, is a complete waste of your time.

“What’s wrong with you?” — This is another baffling question. If asked very loudly, the most likely answers Aspies will give are “I have a headache,” or perhaps “Sudden-onset tinnitus,” with the cause, in each case, being simple: from our point of view, the questioner is trying to deafen us, by yelling things which make no sense (at any volume). Do you like being shouted at, from close range? No? Well then, this is one way that we aren’t so different from non-Aspies, for we don’t like it either. Also:  it’s quite likely that we don’t see anything wrong with us at all, for, in this situation, we are not the ones shouting nonsense-questions, so you might even get this response:  “Nothing. What’s wrong with you?” In such a situation, that isn’t backtalk — it’s a perfectly legitimate question, and we are not responsible for any emotion-laden, irrational response the non-Aspie questioner might display.

“I need this done yesterday!” — Many of us can explain, in detail, why time travel into the past is not permitted by the laws of physics, as they are currently understood. Those who request, or demand, reverse-time-travel, from an Aspie, should not be surprised to hear such an explanation. Ask us to flap our arms and fly, and the response will likely be similar.

I could give more examples, but I think the point has been made. We aren’t all alike, so the examples of hypothetical responses I gave, above, will vary from one Aspie to another. What isn’t likely to vary, though, is the confusion each of us experiences when things are said to us which make no sense, if interpreted literally. That’s the key to communicating with us:  when we hear something, we automatically use logic, and rational thought, to attempt to understand the literal meaning of what has been said to us. For many of us, that is the only meaning we can understand.

In my case (and probably in the cases of at least some other Aspies), this goes a little further: rational, literal, and logical interpretations of language are the only ones I want to understand. This is a self-protection mechanism, for the idea of losing even part of my ability to think clearly, and rationally, is extremely frightening to me. To pour a lot of effort into trying to think in non-Aspie ways, I fear, could damage my mind — if, that is, I was successful in the attempt. I don’t want to risk turning into a person who considers “x” and “not x” to be interchangeable, for one doesn’t equal negative one. To change, in this way, would effectively kill the person I am. It wouldn’t stop my heart from beating, of course, but some things are even worse than physical death. If such a change ever happened, I would look the same, and would have the same legal name, but I would no longer be RobertLovesPi. It makes perfect sense for me to be absolutely unwilling to risk something so dangerous.

In addition to the central importance of the fact that we think in literal terms, while others often don’t, Aspies have some other difficulties (or the rest of the world does, depending on your point of view). I attempted to describe these difficulties, which involve coping with the emotionalism and irrationality of numerous other people, in the examples of confusing phrases and questions given above. Emotionalism and irrationality are, to us, severe impediments to understanding anything, and we live our lives in a state of near-constant bombardment from both, since Aspies are outnumbered by non-Aspies by a huge margin. On this planet, to borrow a book title from Robert Heinlein, I live my life as a “stranger in a strange land.” I know that many other Aspies see life in a similar way, for that idea is embedded in the name of the largest online community created by and for Aspies, as well as others on the autism spectrum: www.wrongplanet.net. If you are curious about how other Aspies view the things I have described above, or if you are, yourself, an Aspie in need of an temporary escape from social interaction with non-Aspies, you can find a great many of us at that website. (Also, if you want to find me there, just search for me, using the name of this blog — my not-at-all-secret identity, all over the Internet.)

Attention, Tumblr: Learn the Meaning of the Word “Literally”

I just got an e-mail, from Tumblr (I used to blog a lot there, before coming here to WordPress). The e-mail has the title, “Your Dashboard is literally on fire.” I’m now afraid to go look at my car, OR log on to my old Tumblr account. I dislike being burned.

On Sportsball, As Viewed By One Aspie

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On the Varieties of Sportsball

Since I live in the American South, I hear a lot of talk about about sportsball. I have a hard time, though, telling exactly which variety of sportsball is being discussed. I don’t find sportsball interesting, and so I’m not fluent in any variant of sportsball jargon. For that reason, it can be difficult for me to tell which sportsballspeak-dialect is being used.

So, sometimes, just to try to make friendly conversation (while still being myself), I ask sportsball-fans questions, in order to find out which version they’re so intently discussing. (Figuring out why people obsessively talk about sportsball so much, I think, is a mystery I’ll never solve. Understanding the strange behavior of non-Aspies is much more difficult than the types of problems I enjoy trying to solve. As Albert Einstein said, when declining the presidency of Israel, “I have no head for human problems.”)

Here’s an example of one such question: “Are you talking about the type of sportsball often played inside, with a bunch of people chasing an orange sphere around on a wooden rectangle, and trying to get the sphere to pass through a metallic, elevated circle of slightly larger diameter than the sphere itself?”

Now, if someone mentions the sportsball game most people call “football,” there’s an obvious follow-up question that needs to be asked . . . so, of course, I ask it:  “Which one?”

Replies to that question usually go something like this: “Whaddya mean, which one? Football! We’re talking about football, ya nerd!”

“But there are at least two games called by that name, which confuses me. Do you mean the sportsball-version where the players chase a prolate spheroid, or a rounded version of a truncated icosahedron?”

If they don’t understand that question, I attempt clarification: “You know, both those versions of sportsball are played on rectangles covered with grass . . . but the one with the prolate spheroid has two giant tuning forks at opposite sides end of the grassy rectangle, is usually played in the USA, and has a far higher rate of injuries, even fatal ones. The one that uses a truncated icosahedron doesn’t have tuning forks, is called ‘football’ by far more people than that American game, and isn’t nearly as dangerous. I think it’s at least a little more interesting than that other game people call ‘football,’ because of the Archimedean solid they chase around, since I like polyhedra. Which one are you discussing?”

If they tell me they’re talking about American football, I usually follow-up with a brief rant, for that sportsball-variant’s name confuses me. “Why do people call it that, anyway? I’ve seen it being play a few times — not for a full game, of course, but I can stand to watch it for a few minutes. That’s long enough to tell that the players only rarely use their feet to kick the prolate spheroid, and usually carry or throw it instead, using, of course, their hands. They usually use their feet just to run around chasing each other. Calling that version of sportsball by the term ‘football’ doesn’t make sense at all. In the game the rest of the world calls ‘football,’ the players kick the ball all the time, so I can understand why it has that name, but that prolate-spheroid version really should be called something else! Also, why are the games sometimes called ‘bowl games?’ They still play on a rectangle, and chase a prolate spheroid — there’s no actual bowl involved, is there?”

On occasion, they aren’t talking about any of these three varieties, though, but yet another form of sportsball. (Why are there so many?)

baseball

“Oh! You must mean the one played on a ninety-degree sector of a circle, with a square (confusingly called a ‘diamond,’ for some reason) in its interior, positioned such that one of its vertices is at the circle’s center. At that vertex, there’s a convex-but-still-irregular pentagon on the ground, while the other three vertices of the large, grass-covered square have much smaller squares on the ground, instead of a pentagon. The guy standing at the pentagon is always trying to hit a red-and-white sphere with a wooden or aluminum stick, but he usually misses. The guy who throws the sphere toward the region above that pentagon usually scratches himself, and spits — a lot. He must be important in some way, for he’s provided with a small hill to stand on, literally placing him above the rest of the players. Have I got it now?”

Sometimes, people try to get me to stop calling these strange activities “sportsball,” by bringing up hockey as an objection. “You can’t call all sports ‘sportsball!’ What about hockey? It doesn’t even have ball! It’s got a puck!”

I’m always ready for this objection, though. “You mean the one with the short black cylinder that slides across ice? That’s a sport? I thought it was just an excuse to have fights!”

One Aspect of Having Asperger’s (at least for one of us)

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One Aspect of Having Asperger's (at least for one of us)

Aspies (a term for ourselves, used by those with diagnosed or undiagnosed Asperger’s) sometimes have trouble understanding what people say, because we tend to view things literally, while many others often say things in non-literal, or even anti-literal, ways.

For example, without reasons known to us, person A says something offensive to person B. Why deliberately offend someone, without good cause? We don’t know. Person B then says, in response, “Say that again!” — and Aspies who hear this (and we do, for we’re everywhere) often become even more confused. Clearly, person B does not actually want to be offended again, yet is telling person A to do exactly that which person B does not really want person A to do. I’ve asked people to explain this behavior more than once, tried to understand it, and each time I revisit the subject, I become more confused than before, for understanding the explanation would involve bending my mind in a direction it simply won’t bend. I also must admit I do not want my mind to bend that direction, either, for fear that doing so would weaken my ability to reason logically.

This is true for much of what I hear. Things that do not make logical sense are inherently hard to understand, at least for us . . . and I don’t even understand why everyone isn’t like us in this respect, either.

“Strong Grape Juice”

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My earliest memory of a church service involves a trip to visit relatives, and I started discovering how different from others I was at a very young age. This is one of the episodes which played a major role in that discovery.

I was only four of five years old, and had already developed an intense hatred of being bored. Ignoring the sermon seemed like an even more boring prospect that actually paying attention to it, so I consciously chose the latter, which I’ve observed is often not the choice young children make.

This church’s denomination is one of those that teaches that drinking alcohol is sinful. They are also Biblical literalists. This, of course, poses a problem, for there is a lot of drinking of wine to be found in the Bible. This preacher didn’t avoid the contradiction, though. His task, that Sunday morning, was to deal with it head-on, and he did so with the following claim: when Jesus, his disciples, and numerous other people from the Bible are described as drinking wine, that wine actually contained no alcohol. It was not wine as we know it today. It was, rather, merely “strong grape juice.” Those were his exact words.

Even at that young age, I had already started working on building, in my own mind, the best crap detector I could possibly create. (Improving it is still something I work on today.) I didn’t yet realize that real wine would be far safer, before refrigeration existed, than grape juice, simply because alcohol, at the concentrations found in wine, kills lots of disease-causing bacteria. However, that morning, I had learned enough to instantly recognize this “strong grape juice” claim as absolute crap.

Dismissing the preacher as not worthy of further attention, I stood up in our pew, and turned around to face the back of the church. We were sitting near the front, so this let me see most of the congregation. I didn’t need to speak to them — I just wanted to look at them. I remember being stunned by what I saw. Nearly everyone appeared quite attentive to the sermon. Some mouths were half-open, and numerous heads were nodding in agreement with the preacher’s droning nonsense. I figured it out: they were actually accepting what this man was saying as the truth, and were doing so without question! They believed him! At first, I felt dizzy, and then, later, I felt sick. The more I thought about the experience, the worse I felt, and I could think about nothing else for a long time after that church service finally ended.

I’d been exposed to religion many times before, but it always seemed to me that adults didn’t really believe what they were saying, any more than when they told children my age about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. At that moment, though, I realized I had been mistaken. This was no act. These people, in that church that day, actually believed what they were told. Why? I didn’t know. I still don’t. If that man told them that two plus two equals six, would they believe that? I suspected they would.

I was surrounded by a herd of sheep. That moment of clarity, when I realized this fact, scared me. It made me wonder, and not for the last nor first time, if I had been secretly planted on earth by aliens, as a baby, and without a guidebook.

This is only one of many experiences that convinced me of the importance of skepticism. The fact that it is so clear, in my memory, leads me to think it was one of the more important of those experiences. It cemented, in my mind, a scary truth: the world is infested with large numbers of incredibly gullible, deluded people. They weren’t like me. I didn’t understand them. They were everywhere. I wasn’t anything like them, and didn’t want to be, either. I was, however, stuck here with them.

I was stranded on the wrong planet, with no prospect for escape, any time soon. That was over forty years ago, and I’m still here.

Asperger’s and Social Conventions

A common misconception about Aspies, in my opinion, is that we simply are not capable of understanding many social conventions, and that’s why we’re known for “failure” to follow them.

In some cases from my life, it is exactly that simple, but not most of the time. The whole of reality is messy and complicated, and there’s another explanation that accounts for more of this phenomenon.

Remember, Aspies think differently from other people, by definition. Sometimes, we have analyzed a set of social conventions carefully — for how else are we going to understand them? — and see them, therefore, for what they really are.

What are they, really? Well, some are insidious and evil. Consider, for example, the social conventions which have played strong roles in creating eating disorders. What good do those memes do anyone? Would we not all be better off without them? In a sense, then, some Aspies know some social conventions too well to follow them, and we do this on purpose. If you see through something, you’ll notice if it’s idiotic, and, if it is, then it’s perfectly natural to want nothing to do with it.

Not all social conventions are without merit, but many are not only that, but are actively pernicious. The ability to often identify which these are, and then avoid them, is not something I would quickly trade away.

Thoughts On Asperger’s


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After many years of curiosity, I took a detailed Asperger’s test on-line. This graph shows the results. When I discussed the possibility with my psychiatrist, he said “It’s entirely possible,” but shied away from a definitive diagnosis, for that takes a team, and has a high cost, in terms of time and money, as well.

Many (I’m one) view Asperger’s as a difference, not a disorder, nor disease, in need of treatment or cure. (What we need is for the rest of the world to begin behaving logically, but that’s a separate rant.) I suspect my doctor agrees with this, which would be an additional, understandable reason for him not to liberally hand out “Asperger’s” labels.

I know this much: I either have it, or I share a lot of characteristics with those who do. I also know that a difference which makes no difference is not a real difference. I therefore see no reason to shell out thousands of dollars for a useless diagnosis. Why would it be useless? Well, there is no treatment, and I wouldn’t want one if it became available, anyway. I’m used to being this way, I like who I am, and am not remotely interested in being more like most people.

Other people (many of them, anyway) drive me nuts, for more reasons than I could easily list, but “they care what others think” is near the top, and is surely the most baffling of these reasons, to me.

Most diagnosed Aspies I’ve met are, by contrast, comforting for me to talk to. Since we find the same things about social life bizarre, it’s much like talking to people from the same planet as my own who have found themselves on this alien world called Earth, uncertain how we got here. It’s a lonely existence (no matter how many friends surround you, for you’re still trapped in your own head), and it helps, somehow, to talk to others with similar perceptions.

I have run into a small number of Aspies who dislike those who consider themselves to be part of the Aspie community, as I do, yet have not had a formal diagnosis. One benefit of being like I am, though, is that it is incredibly easy for me to disregard what particular people think, feel, or say — if I simply choose to — and that is what I have done with the small number of “Aspie Exclusives.” Their attitudes only affect me if I allow that to happen, and I simply choose not to do that.

The bottom line is this: so far, studying Asperger’s helps me understand myself. It clears up many long-standing puzzles when I see that my years of talk about “the normals” is a excellent match for the way Aspies describe, and discuss, what they call “neurotypicals.” I’m not a big fan of the term “neurotypical,” though, for it seems like a condescending and vaguely-insulting term to me, and I do not see that as helpful to anyone, inside or outside the Aspie community. (I do understand the motivation for it, though, for my motives were similar when I talked about “the normals,” in years long past.) My proposal for an alternative term is non-judgmental, and non-insulting, but remains accurate, and is simple in the extreme: I refer to the people who are not Aspies by the clear, concise, easy-to-understand term, “non-Aspies,” or, when a more formal term is called for, “people without Asperger’s.”

I also don’t care to seek an official diagnosis — because that whole enterprise completely misses the point. Aspies aren’t defective, except in the sense that all people are, with the defects (and strengths) simply in different areas. There could simply be an Asperger’s mutation, which could be the beginning of a long process of speciation. If homo aspergerus is coming, it won’t be here for a long time — speciation takes a long time to happen, but happen it does. Evolution doesn’t stop. Evolution also doesn’t guarantee improvement. New species (of any animal) will be different (or they wouldn’t be new species), but that doesn’t make them “superior” or “more evolved.” Every living thing on earth, after all, has been evolving for the same amount of time: ~3.85 billion years.

I will oppose any efforts to “cure” Asperger’s because, well, that would be genocide. I will also oppose any who try to label hypothetical new species as inherently superior, or inferior. We’ve been down that road enough times, throughout history, to see where it leads, and no sane person, Aspie or not, would want to venture further in that direction.