Where does the autism spectrum fit in?

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's fourth hypothesis - his neurological model for the bicameral mind.
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Joined: Tue Jul 11, 2023 3:12 pm

Where does the autism spectrum fit in?

Post by minnespectrum »

I’m on the autism spectrum (I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, back when that was still an official diagnosis, as a child). I’ve long wondered if it was an atavistic trait in some way, like maybe the reason people like me have a hard time fitting in nowadays is because our brains are more like those of people who lived further into the past.

That’s one of the things that got me interested in Jaynes’ theory, except that it doesn’t really seem to fit. Autism and schizophrenia are very different (indeed, some neuroscientists have tried describing them as opposites). Rather than hallucinating sounds that aren’t there, an autistic person would be more likely to express extreme discomfort with sounds they do hear (i.e., misophonia). Likewise, autistic people aren’t very socially comfortable, so bicamerality (which is an adaptation to functioning in large, conformist societies) wouldn’t seem to resemble ASD much at all.

That’s not to say I don’t see evidence of people with “proto-autistic” traits in the past. It’s just that it was never the norm, and such people usually lived outside mainstream society; for instance, I would guess that a lot of monks, nuns, and religious hermits throughout history might be considered to be on the spectrum today.

Autistic traits also seem to be independent of language; ASD neither implies, nor it mutually exclusive with, consciousness (in the Jaynesian sense). So a conscious human can be on the spectrum, but a pre-conscious human probably could have been, too. Among animals, if there are any species where autistic-like traits are the norm, these would probably all be solitary or near-solitary. (There was actually a children’s book I read once called All Cats Have Asperger’s, which used pictures of cats to make a humorous analogy. It would be impossible to imagine anyone saying the same thing about dogs).

In any event, during Jaynes’ lifetime, high-functioning autism was less well-known; he died in 1997 which was only two years after Asperger’s was added to the DSM. Before that, many people assumed autistic people were always nonverbal or severely intellectually impaired. So that may be why Jaynes didn’t discuss this topic in more detail.
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Re: Where does the autism spectrum fit in?

Post by benjamindavidsteele »

It's hard to say. Autism is a modern category.

But one might note that a defining feature of autism is deficiency of cognitive empathy that allows for theory of mind and mind-reading, though many high functioning autistics learn to develop greater capacity of cognitive empathy, if it's unlikely to ever come as naturally to them.

Jaynesian consciousness would seem to have much to do with cognitive empathy. If someone entirely lacked it, would Jaynesian consciousness be possible at all? I don't know.

But related to all of this, the nutritionist Mary Ruddick, in traveling across rural Africa, asked rural teachers about their students. The teachers said that, though they knew of the autistic diagnosis and what it was, they had never observed it in any of their students. Make of that what you will.
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