Autism, Reposition to Shine [Writing]

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about consciousness and language. Every day I wonder at our ability to manipulate and share information. I’m a piece of the universe thinking about thinking, tossing sounds and keystrokes at other pieces of the whole.

Last year I decided to write a post on Autism in order to focus my arm-chair research on the subject. I never finished my investigation. There were too many conflicting theories, too many platitudes.

Some of the ideas I came across challenged the idea that Autism was a disorder. Autism and Computing (A&C) is “a non-profit group, whose aim is to explore ways of minimizing the effects of a disabling society on people disposed to Monotropism”.

Rather than classifying Monotropism (Autism) as a curable disease or a mental dysfunction, they hypothesis that our society is intolerant (or ignorant) to the wide spectrum of possible mind types. What follows are the notes I gathered while exploring their ideas. The majority of quotes are from the A&C website. There’s no thesis statement here, just personal sepculation. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, personal experience with Autism, or if you’d like to respectfully disagree with me, please leave a comment.


When it comes to the mind, we are told by the medical/pharma community that there exists a normal mind type, composed of a normal balance of brain chemicals, along with a normal way to interact with the world. Although physical deviations (appearance, eye colour, height, etc) between humans are understood as natural, mental deviations are presented as ‘flawed’ or ‘repairable’. This is what I call the myth of uniform consciousness.

What is Autism?

“Autism is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself in markedly abnormal social interaction, communication ability, patterns of interests, and patterns of behavior.” -Wikipedia Entry

Autism and Computing claim instead that “the Autistic spectrum of behaviours is evidence of one extreme of the normal distribution of types of mind that we would expect to find, given the environment in which the human race has evolved”.

This distribution can be seen as a spectrum of minds, with the Monotropic (Autistic) and Polytropic tendencies on either end.

  • Monotropic/Autistic tendency: Few interests highly aroused;
    Evolutionary Advantage: Promotes physical survival in a harsh environment through focused attention.

  • Polytropic tendency: Many interests less highly aroused;
    Evolutionary Advantage: Promotes social interaction, and the shifting of attention.

“When many interests are aroused, multiple, complex, behaviours emerge. When few interests are aroused then a few, intensely motivated, behaviours are engendered.”

Interests Compete for Attention

Attention is a limited resource —and a tool— that we use to model our environment. Interests continually compete for our attention. Our focus on, and processing of, these interests allow us to interaction with the world, while exercising our reasoning faculties.

If we continue with the optical metaphor (focus), a Montropic mind studies the world through an interest spotlight, or an attention tunnel. The Polytropic mind does its share of problem-solving by multi-tasking; optically, think fly eyes. ;)

Inner Dialogue

Polytropic individuals sculpt their inner dialogues using their native language, which in turn, strengthens their social dialogue skills. The Monotropic thought process has been described as visually focused, image based even. As such, the Monotropic mind may have little talent for (or interest in) spoken-language.

Autism through Evolution

In our evolutionary past the Monotropic mind held great advantage.

“[The Monotropic mind is] optimised for searching for sustenance in a dangerous environment in which resources are scarce. The attention tunnel which links the unarmed hunter to the prey must be optimised for the immediate high gain high risk opportunity. It must have a propensity to accept what is seen, even when this contradicts what was formerly thought to be known. “

“Such a mind must have a propensity for actual rather than literal information. Such a mind seems to have the will to error, but is in fact the only sort of mind capable of discoveries that go beyond the known and transform situations. Only error making leads to metamorphic discovery.

Is it any surprise that a large number of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are said to be “higher-functioning autistics”, (Asperger’s Syndrome)?

Immunity to Mind Viruses

A Meme consists of a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution having a resemblance to the gene (the unit of genetics). Examples might include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods in addition to concepts such as race. -Wikipedia Entry

In Andrew Walker’s paper What is the point of Autism? he hypothesizes that the Monotropic mind is immune to these mind viruses (Memes). He reasons that “Autistic phenotypes do not [communicate by means of memes], because they perceive their universe in terms of the strictly physical and thus memes are cognitively ‘invisible’.”

If this is true, the Monotropic mind lost its evolutionary advantage as we formed ever larger social units. Beginning with large packs of humans, and later with villages, and cities, the Monotropic attention tunnel proved too narrow to process all the nuances of social interactions: words strung into sentences; audible stress, accent, and tone; body language; situation specific cultural rules; &c. Thus, the Monotropic mind was “shut-out” of the social discourse, unable to process the Memes on which our societies/cultures are based.

Flow: Moments of Monotropy

What I call “the zone”, and others label Flow, is well known and much sought-after in the coding and artistic communities.

“When you are in the flow, you concentrate only on what you are doing and you hold all the required details in your head, in the short and middle term memory. Because there are no disturbances inside your own head, all the details are readily accessible to the brain and the brain in general works like a well-oiled machine, the work progresses excellently and working is a pleasure.” -Cringe from crossing a concentrating coder.

Flow is pleasant (and addictive) state of mind that resembles the Monotropy problem-solving stratagem.

For me, Flow occurs when I’m working under constraint.

  • Coding: constraint through language, logic;
  • Visual Arts: constraint through media, form, colour;
  • Composing: constraint through harmony, melody, rhythm.

There is a marked absence of inner dialogue during these moments, which (without external distraction) can last for hours. The combination of constraint and focus lead to rapid processing of feedback, confidence in experimentation, and a motivation of action. When interrupted, not only can it take time to return to the flow state, but it also takes time to switch gears to re-engage the social world. If you disturb me while coding do not be surprised if I act distant, or even rude, my focus is elsewhere.


“Mass production culture may have deprived the deep minded of occasion to contribute to society as the pathfinders to physical resources, but it has opened a vast spectrum of new opportunities. It is the deep mind that has the capacity to read, understand and apply the technical manual, to enter into the intricate labyrinth of the logic of the integrated circuit and the computer program. It is the forager mind, insensitive to the way everybody knows things should be done, which creates the paradigm transforming technologies.”

Extra Quote - Ego and Language:

“Ego, ourselves to ourselves, is not the prime mover in our model. We believe that it is the alchemy of language which generates the apparently independent agent, transforming activity into transitive behaviour. We think that the idea of the doing and the done to is one way, just one amongst many ways, in which the world can be imagined. In our model, ego is the spontaneous emergence of a system of images of the imaginer in the imagination. Ego is an emergent property of language, far from the central machinery of mind.”


pupwalks [Writing]

donning a balaclava he thought of letters

to the editor supporting burqa bans

on the colder nights he saw diamonds in the snow

two chariot wheels [Meme Propagation]

The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five-dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way…

—Isaac Asimov thought that The Last Question was his best short story.

Tolkien recalls how he once saw the words Adeiladwyd 1887 cut on a stone-slab. It was a revelation of beauty. “It pierced my linguistic heart,” he recalls. “Most English-speaking people…will admit that cellar door is ‘beautiful’, especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.”

“Nobody believes me when I say that [Lord of the Rings] is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real”

Tolkien’s Not-So-Secret Vice [Related: Woody and Tinny Words & Beautiful words in English]

Meditation consists of two aspects or components. The first, called shamatha in Sanskrit, is the step by step development of mental and physical calmness (stopping). The second, vipashyana, is the step by step heightening of awareness, sensitivity and observation (seeing).

Stopping is the wholesome resource that nurtures the mind. Seeing is the marvelous art which fosters intuitive understanding.

How Meditation Works


Give me twenty [Writing]

Last weekend, Harold, Tania, and ChefQuix came to Amsterdam by train and ferry from London. Good times!

Although Harold and Tania have now returned to their cozy flat, ChefQuix will be living with us for one month. After his stay, he will be heading to Romania for 6 months, where he will be crafting a novel. As such, I have enrolled him in Wally Glutton’s Quixotic Boot Camp for Writers.

The purpose of this boot camp is to boost creativity while decreasing self-censorship, through constraints on time, word count, vocabulary, and subject matter.

The first warm-up exercise is now complete:

Task: Write the first sentence for 10 novels you would never write.

Constraints: Sentences must be under 25 words.


  • The still night broke with a death rattle that wandered through the hallways of the ancient mansion.

  • Sharlene always knew that she would die a lonely spinster; she just didn’t realize how sharp the emptiness would be.

  • Although the 42nd President was one of the most hated, he was also one of the most respected for his unwavering vision.

  • There are millions of births and deaths each day - maybe it’s hundreds - but on any day people are born and people die.

  • A chill breeze blew across the prairie, the first signs of winter on its gusty breath.

  • Booboo the bear bought a bunch of balloons for his beautiful wife, Belle.

  • The road seemed long ahead, but Charles knew he would finish the Tour de France ahead of Neil.

  • There are things in the night, things out of sight, things that crawl near in the depths of our fear.

  • Beatrice had never believed in love at first sight until he strolled in on a warm summer’s night.

  • High noon came and went, but Buckshot Benny was nowhere to be seen.

Gadsby is a wonderful example of constraint in writing —a story of over 50,000 words without using the letter “E”— not to be confused with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

The Quixotic Boot Camp webpage was created using PBWiki.

Consume [Writing]

The Word Consuming Thing

Gods made magic and gave a man, to aid his hay-eaters, a word-consuming thing. “Plant corn,” he would say, add the feed-words “I love you,” and the thing would suck the sounds in, smile, and carry corn seeds to the field. If he said “I thirst,” plus the feed words, the thing would march right off to fetch water. Directed properly, the thing cleaned house, chopped firewood, and cooked delicious meals. It was warm to sleep beside, and — given the feed words — offered joys of which the man had never dreamed. In a year’s time, it even made a miniature of him, attending to its many needs, while the man bragged to his friends.

Only the feed words troubled him. They gave no command, conveyed no data, yet produced results. At first, he had only to say them and the thing would drape itself on him and, even at midday, lead him to bed and open up its mysteries.

Much later, though the feed-words still got results, the thing would stare at him on hearing them, tugging the long hair that screened the twin hills on its chest. “I love you too,” it would sigh in its soft voice, then walk away to stare at a wildflower, sunset, bird, or other useless thing, and make vanishing jewels which it called “tears.”

— From Hot Popsicles, Charles Harper Webb [link - via]

Dad Will Dig [Meme Propagation]

From Language Is A Virus:


Last Saturday we went to an Electro party at the 301 Overtoom squat (or ex-squat?).

"Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building that the squatter does not own, rent, or otherwise have permission to use. Squatters often claim rights over the spaces they have squatted by virtue of occupation, rather than ownership; in this sense, squatting is similar to (and potentially a necessary condition of) adverse possession, by which a possessor of real property without title may eventually gain legal title to the real property. [...]

Besides places to live squats are often socially interesting places, hosting give-away shops, pirate radio stations, (often vegetarian or vegan) restaurants."

Squatting @ Wikipedia

There is a long history of squatting in The Netherlands, and throughout the rest of Europe. In Amsterdam their are squatted restaurants, bars, internet cafes, and of course apartments.

Despite political pressure and police evictions, there are a few remaining squats in Canada and the US.


On Thursday we'll take a train to Eindhoven and then fly to Dublin for the Oxegen festival.

Some of the acts I'm excited to see (in no particular order):

3.14159265[etc] [Writing]

My mom read Life of Pi again.

Netdigging for Yann Martel's boy and tiger on a boat tale:

I am not a very good book reviewer[, ...] these days I approach a new novel with the cynical gaze of an old card shark[. ...] I simply squint my eyes and ask, [...] "So - do you know any tricks I haven't learned yet?" — Nicholas Carvan reviews Life of Pi as a weathered writer wanting wonder. [his blog]

[...] Moacyr Scliar wrote "Max and the Cats" about a Jewish youth who survives a shipwreck and shares his life boat with a panther. [Yann Martel's] novel, "Life of Pi," [is] about an Indian youth who survives a shipwreck and shares his lifeboat with a tiger. — When is Something Plagiarism?


Mom also requested some non-commercial literary site:

Bookslut - Reviews and literary editorials. [They blog too.]

The Complete Review - 1408 book reviews and counting.

Galleycat - Nathalie Chicha's blog about books and publishing. [Pre-Galleycat, Nathalie's blog was very active.]

Moorishgirl - Laila Lalami's blog features literary news, commentary, book reviews and author interviews.


We've gathered together thirty of the best spoken word samples from some of the greatest books of all time and the finest actors around. Now they're yours to play with. — Remix Penguin


Update vrijdag 20 mei 22:08 - a Galleycat challenge:

We've listened to five mixes now, and so far we haven't heard one that makes a point of mixing texts, instead of mixing text & music. We want a text duet, a word collage, a mix that doesn't utilize recorded readings as lazily as drum loops. Readers, we know you can do it.

I am given [Writing]

My father's favourite poet, Robert Creeley, has passed away.

The words are a beautiful music. The words bounce like in water.

Water music,
loud in the clearing

off the boats,
birds, leaves.

They look for a place
to sit and eat--

no meaning,
no point.

-Robert Creeley

A collection of Creeley links from wood s lot.

I'm given to write poems. I cannot anticipate their occasion. I have used all the intelligence that I can muster to follow the possibilities that the poem "under hand," as Olson would say, is declaring, but I cannot anticipate the necessary conclusions of the activity, nor can I judge in any sense, in moments of writing, the significance of that writing more than to recognize that it is being permitted to continue. I'm trying to say that, in writing, at least as I have experienced it, one is in the activity, and that fact itself is what I feel so deeply the significance of anything that we call poetry.

- From, "I am given to write poems," a lecture delivered in Berlin, 1967 [source]

Emphasis theirs [Sticker]

The idea puzzled me. The execution more so.

Four cards were to be made.

The first -a poetic prequel- was to be related solely through the dimensions of the card stock, and the font.

figure parse

The remaining cards were to form the idea triage; the literal, symbolic, and fancy-full componets -all which I mistook to be equivalent.

figure muted

figure biz


()}{{})( "aren't ready for the Net yet", so they have no website.

Cucumber Cool [Meme Propagation]




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