Asperger’s Syndrome and “Emotional Vision”


The source of the term “emotional vision” is the same as the source of the image above: this New York Times article. This blog-post is my response, so I recommend reading the NYT article before you continue.

The story was written by, and about, a man on the autistic spectrum, and, if you’re on the autistic spectrum and get published in that newspaper, you’re high-functioning. High-fuctioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome were “merged” in the United States in 2013, shortly before I started figuring out that I am, myself, an Aspie. By the time I discussed the idea with my doctor, it was too late to get an “official” diagnosis. (Yes, that does mean no diagnosis for me, but that’s simply the way things happened, and I’m fine with that.)

Many in the Asperger’s community have a form of emotional blindness — an inability to “read” the emotions of others — and that described me accurately until, well, this week, when I awakened my own emotions, and also gained the ability to understand emotions of some other people. Which people? Only the ones I know well, generally by having contact with them for at least a year. Shortening this time is high on my mental “to-do” list.

In the article linked above, the author voluntarily had his emotional light-switch “turned on” in an experimental treatment designed by other people. That, I believe, is the key difference between his case and mine, for I made the decision to turn mine on myself, wrote the “mental software” behind it myself, and am testing it at every opportunity, in accordance with the way I think. This ability to reprogram my own brain’s software isn’t magic, nor a super-human ability power, but simply a project I have been working on, for, well, over thirty years.

The author of the article above has many regrets about accepting the experimental medical treatment he had to turn his emotions “on.” This treatment involved letting doctors mess around with his brain. My own doctor knows me well, and therefore does not try to force any sort of treatment on me, for he knows that my biggest compulsion involves an intense need to be free from control by other people. Not all Aspies have compulsions, but some of us do, and I am one of them.

Something most Aspies do have are “special interests,” as they are called, but they vary widely. My special interest is mathematics. I learned to speak, read, and write so that I could express my own mathematical ideas. My parents provided me with books about mathematics, one they realized the intensity of my need, driven by curiosity, to absorb mathematical ideas which were new, at the time, to me. I have never stopped wanting more.

My interest in science came later, but not much later, due to that same curiosity. Once I learned how linked the physical sciences and mathematics are, this was inevitable. The more mathematical a given subject was, the faster I could learn it. Without mathematics involved, however, learning was a chore, and deciphering the mysteries of human behavior has been, for this reason, very difficult. Why did people do such bizarre and confusing things? For a long time, I had no idea, and wasn’t willing to do the hard work of figuring it out, either. I puzzled other people, and they puzzled me right back. I made little progress, on this front, for many years.

Why did understanding anything about emotions come so much later in life, for me? That’s an easy question to answer: emotions are more complicated than anything else I have learned, in the sense that emotions are extremely difficult to understand, or express, mathematically. To do this in a way that would work well, I had to rewrite my “software” myself, and that took a lot of hard work, time, and thought. This is entirely unlike the case of the man who told his story in the New York Times, who was thrown into an emotional nightmare by an experimental treatment he willingly received, but did not design. He has my sympathy, and I hope his life gets better in the future. 

A Hypothesized Method for Washing Away Anger

washing away anger

This particular method is simple: sleep. Eight hours usually does it for me, >90% of the time the anger originated on the previous day. For others for whom this works, I expect the amount needed will vary from person to person.

Relevant medical research comes from many sources I have read, speculating on the (still unknown) complete list of the purposes of sleep, which includes (in lay terms) “washing away” junk the brain doesn’t need any longer. I am of the opinion that anger qualifies for that category.

My evidence: repeatedly observing this happening to me, hundreds of times.

Replication of experiments, and creation of new ones, to search for more evidence, is obviously needed. While this is a testable hypothesis, I certainly have not conducted a definitive test. For one thing, this lies outside the fields I have studied, formally, the most, and my sample size (one) was far too small to count for much.

An important point, in case anyone is wondering: no, I do not think this ability is limited to any one segment of the population, such as those with Asperger’s. If “Aspies,” like myself, have any advantage at all in this area, it’s limited (in my opinion) to the fact that many of us spend an unusually-high amount of time studying our own minds, and how they work. However, my hypothesis does not require that one know what the hypothesis states, which is no more than this: in a majority of the human population, the activity of sleep reduces levels of anger. Clearly, more reliable results could best be obtained by double-blind studies.

If I’m right, chronically sleep-deprived people, as a consequence, will be more likely to be angrier, on average, than is the case, overall, in the general population. This offers another avenue for testing.

Comments are welcome, especially regarding other research on this subject.

Also, please comment if you know of a good method for anger-elimination, or anger-reduction, which does not require sleep — for I may wish to try it myself.