The last few weeks I spent in the Salon of a bunch of the World’s great thinkers. Scientists in a vast fields of knowledge; psychologists, physicists, professors of geography, computer scientists, neuroscientists, astrophysicists, physicists, philosophers, prominent journalists, evolutionary biologists, columnists of science magazines, sociologists, evolutionary psychologists and professors of astronomy, just to mention a few. All of which are authors of many great books,” spanning a wide range of topics-from string theory to education, from population growth to medicine, and even from global warming to the end of the world” as quoted by john Brockman, the editor of “What Are You Optimistic About?”
No, that was not a physical gathering, although I wish it was; It was a cyber gathering in a forum, organized by edge and gathered in two priceless books; ““What Are You Optimistic About?” , and “What We Believe But Cannot prove?”
I will go through the former book “What Are You Optimistic About?” in more detail. As for the latter, I would leave that out, for more or less it bears the same idea.
This book that was edited by John Brockman, and introduced by Daniel C. Dennett. With contribution of 150 scientists like; Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, Brian Green, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Walter Isaacson, and Lisa Randall, among many others. All of the topics introduced were fascinating, but some articles grabbed me more than others. And I found myself compelled to share those with my readers.
Surely, choosing between the articles was not an easy chore. All of them are simply mind-boggling and very educational to the point that tempted me to order other books in the same series. These books pose other questions asked by Edge to those intellectuals and scientists. And I can’t wait to get my hands on those.
And here is the article I chose to publish:
“The Rise of Autism and The Digital Age
By Simon Baron-Cohen
Whichever country I travel to, attending conferences on the subject of autism, I hear the same story: autism is on the increase.
Thus in 1978 the rate of autism was 4 in 10,000 children, but today (according to a Lancet article in 2006) it is 1%. No one quite knows what this increase is due to, though conservatively it is put down to better recognition, better services, and broadening the diagnostic category to include milder cases such as Asperger Syndrome. It is neither proven nor disproven that the increase might reflect other factors, such as genetic change or some environmental (e.g., hormonal) change. And for scientists to answer the question of what is driving this increase will require imaginative research comparing historical as well as cross-cultural data.
Some may throw up their hands at this increase in autism and feel despair and pessimism. They may feel that the future is bleak for all of these newly diagnosed cases of autism. But I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them, it has never been a better time to have autism.
Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age. The digital revolution brought us computers, but this age is remarkably recent. It was only in 1953 that IBM produced their first computer, but a mere 54 years later many children now have their own computer.
Computers operate on the basis of extreme precision, and so does the autistic mind. Computers deal in black and white binary code, and so does the autistic mind. Computers follow rules, and so does the autistic mind. Computers are systems, and the autistic mind is the ultimate systemizer. The autistic mind is only interested in data that is predictable and lawful. The inherently ambiguous and unpredictable world of people and emotions is a turn off for someone with autism, but a rapid series of clicks of the mouse that leads to the same result every time that sequence is performed is reassuringly attractive. Many children with autism develop an intuitive understanding of computers in the same way that other children develop an intuitive understanding of people.
So, why am I optimistic? For this new generation of children with autism, I anticipate that many of them will find ways to blossom, using their skills with digital technology to find employment, to find friends, and in some cases to innovate. When I think back to the destiny of children with autism some 50 years ago, I imagine there were relatively fewer opportunities for such children. When I think of today’s generation of children with autism, I do not despair. True, many of them will have a rocky time during their school years, whilst their peer group shuns them because they cannot socialize easily. But by adulthood, a good proportion of these individuals will have not only found a niche in the digital world, but will be exploiting that niche in ways that may bring economic security, respect from their peer group, and make the individual feel valued for the contribution they are able to make.
Of course, such opportunities may only be relevant to those individuals with autism who have language and otherwise normal intelligence, but this is no trivial subgroup. For those more severely affected, by language delay and learning difficulties, the digital age may offer less. Though even for this subgroup I remain optimistic that new computer-based teaching methods will have an appeal that can penetrate the wall that separates autism from the social world. The autistic mind — at any level of IQ — latches onto those aspects of the environment that provide predictability, and it is through such channels that we can reach in to help.”
To those readers who would like to read more articles from the book, you can find some online, ( Click here). And I highly recommend the list below, of which most you could find online on the same link:
1- The Decline in Violence
By Steven Pinker
2- War Will End
By JOHN HORGAN
3- We Are Making Moral Progress
By Sam Harris
4- Reliance on Evidence
By Clay Shirky
5- Evidence-Bases Decision Making Will Transform Society
By J. Craig Venter
6- Strangers in Our Midst
By Robert Shapiro
7-Physics Will Not Achieve a Theory of Everything
By Frank Wilczek
8-People Will Increasingly Value Truth (over Truthiness)
By Lisa Randall
9- What Lies Beyond Our Cosmic Horizon?
By Alexander Vilenkin
10- Coraggio, Domani Sarà Peggio!
(Courage, for Tomorrow Will be Worse!)
By George Smoot
11- The Zombie Concept of Identity
12-Neoroscience Will Improve our Society
By Marco Iacoboni
13- And Now the Good News
By Brian Eno
14-Science on the Agenda
By Adam Bly
15-Altruism on the Web
By Dan Sperber
16-Metacognition for Kids
By Gary F. Marcus
17-Humans Will Learn to Learn from Diversity
By Daniel L. Everett
18-When Men are Involved in the Care of Their Infants, the Cultures do not Make War
By John Gottman
19-Optimism on the Continuum Between Confidence and Hope
By Ray Kurzweil
20-Corrective Goggles for Our Conceptual Myopia
By Corey S. Powell