Right.. Verbally was too narrow a term. The free hugs sticker seems perfectly in line, actually. If there's an explicit option to opt-in, then there's an implicit option to opt OUT. Just having the option to opt out that makes it feel a whole lot safer to let people into your personal space.

Some autistic conventions have gone with a system of colored badges: a green badge means that the person is actively seeking communication; they have trouble initiating, but want to be approached by people. A yellow badge means they might approach strangers to talk, but unless you have already met the person face-to-face, you should not approach them to talk. A red badge means that the person probably does not want to talk to anyone, or only wants to talk to a few people.

The quote about the hug is an exceedingly typical narrative, in the sense that it's a narrative written in a very typical way. There's no context for her boyfriend's mental state, what he was doing or what kind of day he's had so far. How do I describe how huge an oversight that is? The only comparison I can think of is to sex, because people acknowledge the way abusing such an intense experience can wreak havoc on your mind.

What if people around you thought it was normal and okay to force sex on you at any moment, and more so that you were being difficult or uncaring if you rejected a bit of harmless surprise sex? If every meeting might escalate too-much-too-fast, if you were left breathless and raw multiple times a day with no time to recuperate or make sense of it? It would be easy to decide that you point-blank hated sex. You know that your reactions are completely out of proportion by any normal standard, but the confusion and terror just keep building until you want nothing to do with sex. You make excuses where you can and think of England when you can't. You try to keep iron control over which people have sex with you and when. You find sexual variations to propose that you like better, or that at least trigger you less. You leave behind many sad, bewildered loved ones as you stumble your way through life.

You find others who seem unusually deliberate about sex also. When they talk about its many beneficial and underrated effects, it resonates with your subjective experience that sex is a powerful, intense thing. It occurs to you that you do share mostly the same brain chemistry as the rest of the human race, and there's a good chance that you will like and benefit from sex if you can break down your averse reaction to it. Might as well try it, eh?

Having stickers about whether one is open to be approached is a quite different level to having stickers about hugging.

The quote about the hug is an exceedingly typical narrative, in the sense that it's a narrative written in a very typical way. There's no context for her boyfriend's mental state, what he was doing or what kind of day he's had so far. How do I describe how huge an oversight that is?

If a person had a bad day, hugging them to comfort them is a normal social action. If I have a good relationship with a person than I don't have a problem... (read more)

Autism, or early isolation?

by JonahS 2 min read17th Jun 201562 comments


I've often heard LWers describe themselves as having autism, or Asperger's Syndrome (which is no longer considered a valid construct, and was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders two years ago.) This is given as an explanation for various forms of social dysfunction. The suggestion is that such people have a genetic disorder.

I've come to think that the issues are seldom genetic in origin. There's a simpler explanation. LWers are often intellectually gifted. This is conducive to early isolation. In The Outsiders Grady Towers writes:

The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the intellectually gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity. Hollingworth points out that the exceptionally gifted do not deliberately choose isolation, but are forced into it against their wills. These children are not unfriendly or ungregarious by nature. Typically they strive to play with others but their efforts are defeated by the difficulties of the case... Other children do not share their interests, their vocabulary, or their desire to organize activities. [...] Forms of solitary play develop, and these, becoming fixed as habits, may explain the fact that many highly intellectual adults are shy, ungregarious, and unmindful of human relationships, or even misanthropic and uncomfortable in ordinary social intercourse.

Most people pick up a huge amount of tacit social knowledge as children and adolescents, through very frequent interaction with many peers. This is often not true of intellectually gifted people, who usually grew up in relative isolation on account of lack of peers who shared their interests.

They often have the chance to meet others similar to themselves later on in life. One might think that this would resolve the issue. But in many cases intellectually gifted people simply never learn how beneficial it can be to interact with others. For example, the great mathematician Robert Langlands wrote:

Bochner pointed out my existence to Selberg and he invited me over to speak with him at the Institute. I have known Selberg for more than 40 years. We are on cordial terms and our offices have been essentially adjacent for more than 20 years.This is nevertheless the only mathematical conversation I ever had with him. It was a revelation.

At first blush, this seems very strange: much of Langlands' work involves generalizations of Selberg's trace formula. It seems obvious that it would be fruitful for Langlands to have spoken with Selberg about math more than once, especially given that the one conversation that he had was very fruitful! But if one thinks about what their early life experiences must have been like, as a couple of the most brilliant people in the world, it sort of makes sense: they plausibly had essentially nobody to talk to about their interests for many years, and if you go for many years without having substantive conversations with people, you might never get into the habit.

When intellectually gifted people do interact, one often sees cultural clashes, because such people created their own cultures as a substitute for usual cultural acclimation, and share no common background culture. From the inside, one sees other intellectually gifted people, recognizes that they're very odd by mainstream standards, and thinks "these people are freaks!" But at the same time, the people who one sees as freaks see one in the same light, and one is often blind to how unusual one's own behavior is, only in different ways. Thus, one gets trainwreck scenarios, as when I inadvertently offended dozens of people when I made strong criticisms of MIRI and Eliezer back in 2010, just after I joined the LW community.

Grady Towers concludes the essay by writing:

The tragedy is that none of the super high IQ societies created thus far have been able to meet those needs, and the reason for this is simple. None of these groups is willing to acknowledge or come to terms with the fact that much of their membership belong to the psychological walking wounded. This alone is enough to explain the constant schisms that develop, the frequent vendettas, and the mediocre level of their publications. But those are not immutable facts; they can be changed. And the first step in doing so is to see ourselves as we are.