The TV series House MD first aired in 2004. I quickly developed a fascination with both the title character, and the show, and watched the entire run of the show, until it ended in the Spring of 2012. The following Fall, I began to seriously suspect — at age 44 — something that had occurred to me only as a possibility for a few years before that: I’ve been an “Aspie” my whole life, a hypothesis which I could tell had great explanatory power to explain my numerous peculiarities, as you can tell in this early blog-post on the subject, not long after I came to WordPress. By the time 2013 arrived, shortly before I turned 45, I had begun the necessary tests of this idea, which included, of course, discussions of the possibility with a psychiatrist, as documented in another blog-post, here.
This was a breakthrough for me, for it helped with a long-term project I begun in my teens: development of the ability to reprogram my brain’s own software, which I became aware was happening at night. I first wrote about this sleep-reprogramming here, just over a year ago, almost two months after getting married — to another math teacher. Thanks to my wife, the critical error in that sleep-related post (that I was reprogramming in the deep parts of non-REM sleep) was later discovered, for she noticed that I frequently stopping breathing while asleep. Sometimes she would have to shake me awake, urging me to resume breathing; other times she would be awakened, herself, by my own gasping for air, which it turns out I had been doing for years. At her urging, I discussed the possibility with my primary care physician, who immediately referred me to a specialist for a sleep study. This resulted in a definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea, revealing that I was only getting stage 1 and 2 sleep, but no significant quantities of stage 3 sleep, nor stage 4 sleep, nor REM sleep. This ruled out my “deep-sleep reprogramming” hypothesis.
I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years, and have more experience teaching science than any other subject. I started learning science very early in life, simply by hanging around in the science building of a university, as a little kid, where I could avoid interacting with children my own age (whom I did not understand), and communicate exclusively with professors and their college students, as described, along with a 5th-grade “sequel” involving “show and tell,” here. For these reasons, I don’t have to consciously employ the scientific method when empirical evidence shows a hypothesis to be flawed — it is automatically what I jump to. My deep-sleep hypothesis did not have to be thrown out completely, but only modified. The evidence prior to the sleep study did indicate this auto-reprogramming was happening in my sleep, but the sleep study proved that it could not be happening during deep non-REM sleep. What was not ruled out, though, was the only type of sleep I had been getting before I got the CPAP machine I use now: Stage 1 and 2 sleep. It is my current position, subject to further testing, that I sleep-reprogram in the shallow parts of non-REM sleep, most likely Stage 1, or in the “twilight” regions between wakefulness and sleep, hypnagogia (the “going to sleep” transition period), and/or hypnopompia, the “waking up” transition period. With my CPAP machine, I have now had the better part of a year to recover from the negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation. I now get the REM, stage 3, and stage 4 sleep needed for good physical and mental health. Of course, I still get Stage 1 and Stage 2 sleep, so I can still sleep-reprogram — and, for the last few months, I have been using sleep-reprogramming to seek ways to reduce the social-interaction difficulties involved with Asperger’s, while retaining the advantages.
One night, and I suspect it was last night, I used sleep-reprogramming to prepare myself to learn to do something I have not been able to do before: detect lies, and employ certain specific, related social skills, using alternative methods than those used by most non-Aspies. The program required watching House MD to activate it, however, as I discovered while watching it today, after a couple of episodes, while resting last night, before going to sleep — the first time I have watched the show in months. The changes that happened while I watched a single episode (season one, episode four, “Maternity”) were both rapid and dramatic; it was quite clear to me that an already-prepared unconscious subroutine was being activated.
Before this lie-detecting subroutine was activated, these had been long-term statements which accurately described me:
- I was rarely able to detect sarcasm in others — but could dish it out in large quantities.
- Although I sometimes made jokes (linguistic wordplay; made-up words, etc.), or even pulled pranks, I rarely recognized the same behavior for what it was when it was turned around, and aimed in my direction, by others, leading to numerous serious misunderstandings, in both childhood and adulthood.
- I could not “read” other people’s emotional states, and, for most of my life, would not even acknowledge that the ability to do so was a useful skill. Most people do this by analyzing such things as facial expressions and body language; analysis of sound is, for most people, secondary to this.
- I found it nearly impossible to detect dishonesty, and, while I can lie, I learned (as a teenager) that I could not do so effectively. If I try to lie, I figured out decades ago, there is a very good chance that another person will know I am lying. Under these conditions, having lies detected (and then experiencing the consequences of this) led me to consciously make the choice to be honest.
- I have often behaved in ways which unintentionally offended, angered, or irritated people, simply due to my lack of awareness of any emotions which are not my own, and, 99+% of the time, I was not even aware that I had done so, until later, when informed that I had. My usual reaction has been surprise and confusion, for my emotions are not like those of non-Aspies. When younger, I spent absurd amounts of time stuck in intensely angry states, for reasons connected to another condition I have, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I recognize anger; early exposure to far too much of it was involved in creating my PTSD in the first place. However, as I have recently learned, anger is not binary — most people experience a whole range of “shades of grey” related to, but less intense than, white-hot fury, such as simply being annoyed, or irritated. It was only recently that I became aware that other people experience such intermediate states between “angry” and “not angry,” although I know of no other person who made such a “discovery” in their 40s . . . and, without help from my wife, I might never have made it at all.
There is an important subgroup of the general population who form an exception to one of the common-among-Aspies characteristics above: not reading facial expressions or body language well. This group is the blind, and, to a lesser degree, the visually impaired. I wear glasses at work, and while driving, for mild-to-moderate myopia, but do not need them to function indoors, especially in familiar settings, such as home. Lately, I have simply stopped wearing my glasses while home. However, I certainly use my vision a lot, and think visually; the sheer volume of geometry (with apologies for the pun) on this blog is evidence enough of that. I have more familiarity with blindness than most sighted people, though, for three reasons: (1) I have read comic books since I was a kid (sometimes while hanging out in some science lab, although I was more likely to be found playing with a some dangerous chemical when very young), and my favorite title for most of my life has been Daredevil, the source of the lower-left part of the image above, (2) I have had close friends who were blind, and (3) I learned to read and write Braille as a college undergraduate, so that I could communicate with these friends by mail, and have not forgotten this skill, although it has lost speed — but I made the Braille lettering in the image above, which simply reads “everybody lies,” a line made famous by House MD.
There is also a fourth reason, unrelated to blindness, which is a common characteristic of those with Aspergers: periods of time when my senses become painfully over-sensitive, so that the sun, indoor lighting, etc., appear to be turned up extra-bright, everything is incredibly loud, etc. — except for my sense of smell, weakened by allergies, and exposure to chemical fumes. This used to happen during migraine headaches; now, I no longer get this state with headaches, but the amplified sensory perceptions are now so intense, at times, that this state is actually worse than a migraine headache, for at least those had pain to distract me, at least somewhat, from overwhelming sensory overload. When this happens, I blindfold myself to eliminate the visual overload, but I cannot silence the world, and you can read a description of what it sounds like, when I am in “Matt Murdock mode,” as I call it, in this blog-post. My perceptions don’t become so acute that I can hear the heartbeats of those around me (as the fictional Murdock can), and I’m fine with that; I don’t need, nor want, to have the volume turned up any further.
When House MD was airing new episodes, as I remember the show, Dr. Gregory House would be an incredible jerk to people at least six to ten times per episode, sometimes more, and I found it hilarious. Only tonight, while watching the episode mentioned above, “Maternity,” did I realize (after nearly everyone else on the planet who has seen even one episode of this show), that House is incredibly rude at a rate far closer to six to ten times per minute. I had no idea!
This made me quite surprised. I then suddenly noticed something else: Dr. Allison Cameron — lying. Next, Chase lied. Later, Foreman lied. A patient lied, but of course they always do — “everybody lies” is a recurring theme of the show, and the consequences of lying are the show’s most-used plot-device. While thinking about this, I caught House lying. And I knew about each and every one of these lies before House revealed them, as lies, later in the episode. How was I noticing these lies I had never heard, as lies, before?
Of course, I have seen every episode of House MD, so memory is definitely a factor, but had not watched season one in years. I began to focus on this puzzle. About ten detected-lies later, I figured it out: I was hearing not an increased volume, but tiny changes in pitch, no more than a half-step on the musical scale. Lying is a risky activity, and liars know this, so it causes increased anxiety when people lie — and, due to this anxiety, I reasoned, their airways constrict, at least slightly, at the end of a lie, causing an increase in the pitch and frequency of the sound of their voices at the end of a lie. House was the ideal tool for teaching this, for it allowed me to “calibrate” my internal lie-detector, by focusing on the voices intently, while using long-stored memories of Dr. House revealing lies to help me catch what I had never caught before.
Of course, House is a TV show. This needed to be tested — with something which did not involve actors, nor writers. And so, I devised a way to test it. I asked a scientifically-minded person I know to help me test a hypothesis, by choosing a random order for a true statement and a lie, and then simply telling both to me, and then see if I could accurately identify the true statement, as well as the lie.
The pitch of this person’s voice unexpectedly went down, slightly, at the end of one of the statements, but did not change when speaking the other statement. What was going on, I wondered? I then figured it out: I had chosen a scientifically-minded person — who was trying to outsmart my experimental test! I then noticed that one statement of the two — the lie — concerned the number of items in a box, and was therefore testable. The other statement was not testable. The other person, who is quite intelligent, had taken a minute or two to formulate both the true statement, and the lie — and clearly intended me to fail the test, and then be able to prove it had failed, by simply opening the box. Using logical reasoning (an old skill) and my new, sonic lie-detector, together, I can now even detect a lie that a police polygraph might not have been able to detect!
I then realized I was detecting more subtle emotions . . . catching more jokes . . . and generally doing, by rapidly analyzing sound, what other people do by somehow “reading” body language and facial expressions.
It is a myth that Aspies can’t do such things as understanding emotions. It is not a myth that Aspies think in different ways, however. Sometimes, individual Aspies simply have to figure out their own methods for doing something which comes naturally to non-Aspies — and that’s exactly what I did.
I could, presumably, use this new frequency-sensitivity to train myself to lie convincingly, by deliberately avoiding the “tell” of a slight pitch-increase at the end of a lie. However, I choose not to do that. The first week I went without telling a single lie, in my teens, was difficult, but the second week was much easier, and the third was easier still. Not having to try to keep track of previous lies began to give me a persistent, liberated feeling that can only be enjoyed by those who are honest — and that feeling would, of course, vanish if I chose to invest time, energy, and thought into becoming a skilled liar. To do that would be to move backwards in my life, rather than forwards, and I see no reason to do that. In other words, I’m still me . . . just the latest version of me, that’s all.