Features, Free Speech, Neurodiversity

The Pragmatic Case for Understanding Neurodiversity

I live in a Himalayan village. Today, I woke up to a mountain dog chewing my shoes and pulling the strings of my bamboo chair. He was glad I was up early. He wanted to take me out to show me his friends in the valley. I wasn’t mad, but this is not because dogs are cute. If a cute girl had done this, I wouldn’t have seen this as a charming eccentricity. I don’t overestimate the cognitive sophistication of dogs. I know this is stereotyping, but sometimes stereotyping can make us tolerant.

I’m an Aspie. Hill people are unusually tolerant of my social ineptitude, unlike in the cities where I grew up and worked. They attribute my social faux pas to cultural differences. We tolerate the “social ineptitude” of foreigners because we know cultural differences are a great source of misunderstanding. We expect them to become culturally assimilated, but we won’t set the bar too high if they’ve limitations. I don’t expect my dog to be good at writing anytime soon. Similarly, I think people shouldn’t expect me to be good at telling lies anytime soon.

James Damore, author of the memo which argued against Google’s diversity policies, was fired and vilified in the media for the “perpetuation of gender stereotypes”. Yet Damore is largely right. Engineering is male-dominated, partly because of biological differences. But his critics find his honest observations offensive. What is so bad about stereotyping? In some ways, stereotyping might lead to a world where kindness is possible. We are often cruel, because we don’t understand how different we all are. We need informed generalizations to understand people in all their complexity.

Damore suspects that he maybe on the autism spectrum. So I believe him when he says he just wanted to fix the problems with Google’s culture. He was surprised when they called to fire him. His critics find all this implausible. My point is not that Damore is an Aspie, but that we vastly underestimate human heterogeneity. If his critics held accurate stereotypes about the neurodivergent, they would have had a more nuanced understanding of his motives.


For much of my life, I didn’t know people were offended by disagreement. I missed this universal human experience without even realizing it. Introspection had failed me. When people expressed anger, I thought they were joking. People often deny that they are actually offended by mere disagreement. I believed them.

A few years back, I found out that I’m on the autism spectrum. I see this as a neurological difference, not a disorder per se. Aspies don’t mince their words. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen thinks this is a sign of low empathy and he is not alone. Baron-Cohen thinks “empathizing is about effortlessly putting yourself into another’s shoes, sensitively negotiating an interaction with another person so as not to hurt or offend them in any way, caring about another’s feelings.” Baron-Cohen is one of the pioneers in the field of autism research. But it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that what Aspies have is a failure of introspection, not empathy.

Aspies have a blunt style of speech, because they mean well. If you’re nearly incapable of malice, it’s hard to imagine others may read malice into your remarks. It’s introspection which fails Aspies. Aspies excel at separating the idea and the person. Neurotypicals conflate ideological disagreement with personal conflict. So they find it exhausting when Aspies go too far in arguing their case. It is, again, lack of introspection that fails neurotypicals. The failure to understand each other is mutual. It’s more exhausting for Aspies to interpret indirect demands and defend ourselves against implicit accusations. Neurotypicals are unable to put themselves in our shoes and understand that disagreement isn’t personal. Does this mean neurotypicals have low cognitive empathy? They’re generally unable to be nice despite disagreements. Does this mean they have low affective empathy? Is it we who lack empathy?

Neurotypicals always think it’s about them. Tell them social media is not good for children, and they will say, “Don’t tell me how to raise my child.” Tell them intelligence is heritable, and they assume you just called them stupid. Tell them you disagree, and they think you just don’t like them. Tell them the gender salary gap is not because of patriarchy, and they will remove you from their Facebook friend list. Why do neurotypicals make a torture rack for themselves, and us, with their poor self-esteem? And they still think we don’t have empathy.

This is not surprising. We are all descended from paranoids. Always on the lookout for threats, our ancestors were eager to defend themselves against not only predators but accusations from people in our tribe. Even when neurotypical people disagree, they painstakingly avoid causing offence, because they fear being subject to negative accusations. Introspection helps people to not step on each other’s toes. They fear others may take generalizations personally, because they themselves take generalizations personally. But this is not a sign of remarkable empathy—this is a sign of a limited imagination.

It’s not rude to assume others can handle the truth. It’s not necessarily polite to modulate your tone, or give a compliment to soften the blow of what is to come after. Quite the contrary, it’s disrespectful to assume all people are so lacking in strength.

Aspies are not like the visually impaired who bump into lampposts for no fault of their own. It is perhaps more accurate to see Aspies as following better social norms than neurotypicals. Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen observes that only Westerners value direct speech, (even though the West doesn’t actually practice what it preaches). If the prosperous West values direct speech more, there should be a strong presumption in favor of directness. To borrow an analogy from the economist Bryan Caplan, trying too hard not to offend is a lot like standing up at a concert to see better. It is good for you, but not necessarily good for the world.

Baron-Cohen’s theorises that autism could be an extreme version of the male brain. Autistics are good at systemizing, at figuring out how things work. He suggests autism is linked to minds wired for science. This may explain why Aspies are so direct. You’re more likely to be direct if you care more about understanding reality than about what other people think. If you care too much about what others think, you’re going to be less likely to accept unpopular truths—communication styles are largely a reflection of cognitive styles.

It’s hardly surprising then, that Aspies and men are over-represented in engineering. People who are more interested in physical reality than in people flock to hard sciences, engineering and math. Not without some disapproval, Baron-Cohen observes that physicists are very arrogant, and bent on proving that they are right. But, if reality-oriented folk are more vocal about their beliefs, perhaps this is not such a bad thing?

If you’re easily offended, it’s hard to understand the world. To illustrate this, the economist Tyler Cowen offers the following advice: if you’re in a Sichuan restaurant, pretend you enjoy spicy food even if you don’t. If the waitstaff fears you can’t handle spicy food, they won’t bring you anything good—spicy or not. Conversations are a lot like this. If you’re easily offended, people are more likely to not be honest with you. You’ll probably never hear their most brilliant insights. You may never know how they actually think and feel. Clarity of thought is a choice between the cheap pleasure of feeling offended and the noble pleasure of being curious.

The neurodivergent are prone to violating social norms. But people are barely conscious of many social norms ’till somebody breaks them. Corporations often pay lip service to free expression, and James Damore took this baloney literally. All hell broke loose. People speak as if they value free expression, but they act as if they don’t. Damore didn’t violate any openly acknowledged norm. He violated norms which people are ashamed to say aloud.

Why are people so ashamed to say they fear disagreement? Isn’t it possible neurotypicals assume extreme honesty is a disease or a disorder? Isn’t it more humane to see Damore as an honest outlier than as a clueless autistic who needs a retraining in etiquette from a finishing school? We should be asking these questions that help us see where our blind spots lie.

Are laws that forbid gender and racial discrimination a result of the broadening of the circle of empathy? I doubt it. Unemployment is unusually high among Aspies, who are often male. They’re fired for quite trivial reasons, including asking their colleagues to be straightforward. They’re often quite good at their jobs. If empathy has been expanding gradually, it doesn’t make sense that it has leap-frogged over those who might be brilliant but gauche.

Neurotypicals think it’s necessary to discriminate against the neurodivergent to create psychologically safe spaces for themselves. This is one of the biggest moral issues of our time. The neurodivergent are everywhere. He is startup founder who said others couldn’t see what he could see, before he was fired for calling investors stupid. She is the young writer who was bullied and driven out by her boss and colleagues who thought she was too big for her britches. He is the young man whisked away to a mental asylum by his family eager to stigmatize him. He is the employee who cooperates with his manager, when all others refuse to. She is the editor who is demoted because she ran the risk of publishing something controversial. Who are we building safe spaces for again?

Libertarians want to live in a world without politics, but even a stateless society will have its political aspects. To mitigate political behavior, we need more directness, and a better understanding of neurodiversity. At present, indirect communication smothers every aspect of our lives.

Direct communication imposes huge personal costs, but this has to begin somewhere. When somebody breaks social norms, we can show empathy by listening calmly. People who defend true, unpopular positions may have high expressive needs, but this often hurts them more than it hurts others. Disagreeableness is the fountainhead of human progress. The triumph of the disagreeable over agreeable is what human progress is all about.


  1. I question your assumption that neuroatypicals have a monopoly on directness and honesty. If honesty is about expressing a (subjective) truth that may serve as a bridge to another mind why not deliver it in a way that makes it more inviting to walk across?

    • I think you miss his point. It isn’t that he wouldn’t make the bridge more inviting to walk across on purpose so much as that he doesn’t understand why reason and truth does not accomplish that in and of itself for most people.

      Or to speak a little more bluntly. Why do most people – I would say in the neighbourhood of 97% or higher – place more value on other considerations than what is true when confronted with disagreement?

    • 1) You assume there is nothing wrong with indirectness. If people can’t handle the truth as it is, there is something really wrong with this. 2) You assume that Aspies are always capable of seeing what offends people. The truth is it’s very hard for many Aspies to do this even for a short period of time. So, it’s neither desirable nor possible. 3) A culture of directness is good for everybody. The culture of indirectness is inherently costly. The culture of directness is not. More precisely, tolerance is good for everybody. 4) The fact you asked this question means you don’t see anything wrong with intolerance. I’m not necessarily against appeasing people, but I’d love to live in a world where I don’t have to.

  2. This is the most quotable thing I have ever read in a very long time. The author seems to be far more capable of introspection than he would be willing to admit; and it’s phenomenally insightful, describing a beautiful tapestry of human motivation.

    • EdMP, Thank you very much for your very well-written and insightful comment. I liked this, “The author seems to be far more capable of introspection than he would be willing to admit.”

  3. A fascinating piece, but I think it’s clear that the question of how far disagreement with others is considered or experienced as offensive, impolite, unempathic etc…is a cultural and historical one. It’s not something that can be reduced to biology (neuro-typicals, neuro-atypicals).

    Example: back in the 1990s I worked with an American (I’m British – we were working with Czechs in Prague). We were both, in all the areas that interested us, from cinema to politics, highly argumentative people. We spent a lot of time (enjoyably) disagreeing. For me, this was normal. I grew up in a very argumentative household, I went to a highly academic school where we were expected to express our views and debate robustly, and then a university where the tutorial teaching style is deliberately adversarial. For my friend from California it was not his previous “norm”, or rather, he said he liked it so much with me, or other English people, because back home it wasn’t considered polite or nice to disagree with others too strongly or too thoroughly and – precisely – people would take personal offence at strong disagreement even on a very non-personal issue. Meanwhile, among Czech friends and colleagues, it was still the case that forty years of totalitarian rule had effects – among them a certain reserve about opinions and disagreement with anyone of any prestige (a boss, a professor) – it was even well-known that you would get marked down by a professor for disagreeing with him…something more or less unknown at my university, where you would only be marked down for disagreeing if you disagreed badly – without proper use of evidence and argument, where mere agreement was not considered of any intellectual value, and where it really was possible to have a major row in a seminar with someone, and then to have the friendliest of drinks with them afterwards.

    These days, I (female, definitely not on any autism spectrum) find myself often somewhat in trouble even with other British people, for disagreeing and arguing too strongly on matters they clearly consider very important. Their sensitivities on this ( especially in any area of political correctness), make me feel like a dinosaur – I spent a childhood and early adulthood being taught to argue, and now it seriously ain’t in fashion. Taking offence, being outraged that anyone could disagree with some standard “virtuous” opinion, suggesting that having opposite views is a kind of awful violence, and even that only “empathic” kinds of opinion (a narrow selection, aimed at flattering others), are okay….this is the fashion…and so, whether “neuro-typical” or not, I would suggest that a well-brought-up young person today is far more sensitive about disagreement and likely to take it personally than a well brought-up young person several decades ago.

    • I am female too. Such a curse. *grin*

      I am sixty one this year. I came to the internet in my forties. I encountered a lot of what I would now see as Aspies–tho they were not even called that, back then. They appeared, to me, a much older person, as simply people who understood what they believed and spoke their minds as clearly as they could. They thought more deeply about a lot of things, not just science. I think deeply about a lot of things too. I try to understand the connections, relationships and context of things. It keeps me sane in our current culture of easy offense.

      The internet had no ‘tone of voice’ back then. It was wonderful. I learned a lot. I think that’s why I have such a different use for the internet than a lot of people.

      That is how I was raised. I never saw it as a liability to seek the truth.

      I was never into politics until I heard of Donald Trump. It is not a good time, right now, to be able to see context and speak your mind and speak it simply. Hard to find places to set down and just breathe out.

      I wonder how we got here.

      Good article. Thank you.

  4. Santoculto says

    ”Yet Damore is largely right. Engineering is male-dominated, partly because of biological differences.”

    What are the involved environmental reasons*
    Causes = origins, when we are talking about a big correlation [and also about any magnitude] we are not talking about ”partialities” but ”totalities” at least about this scenario: men are over-represent in STEM, namely in engineering exclusively because their bio-cognitive advantage, ON AVG.
    It’s can be called ”selective confound”.
    When people, specially the insufferably stupid ones [over-sensitive about this specific issues], hear this statement: men have a natural bio-cognitive advantage, they tend to think it’s a fixed for ever, it’s absolutely intrinsic in space/time, while it’s a SELECTIVE CONFOUND.
    We have a GENETIC CONFOUND, when we attribute to the so-called environment what have genetic origins/causes. We also have a SELECTIVE CONFOUND, when we believe that ”be a man, make people naturally good on STEM stuff”. But it’s not true, it’s a SELECTIVE confound, because men, on avg, has been selected to be better in this specialities, even because we have a lot of men who are not good on this stuff as well women who are.

  5. Santoculto says

    But introspection is not think about your own thoughts**

    I think, based on this concept, autists would be excessively introspective. They differentiate from psychotic people and broader adherents, not because their lack of introspection, but their lack of empathy/shared introspection, namely about interpersonal issues. They, on avg, don’t put in the other shoes, usually, because they over-put in their own shoes or over-introspection [and generally without that savage psychopathic impetus]… They are introspathic.

    They, on avg, think ‘excessively’ or mostly about their own thoughts but not simulate other thoughts/impressions/behavior, of course, i’m talking about people–patterns.

  6. I have always believed that the “neurotypical” (as I guess they’re now called) are in fact mentally ill. Or at the very least, they are not suited to the kind of rationality that a species with access to rapid communication and technological and philosophical change demands for its sustainability. That is, what we call “being human” is a defect.

  7. I had a friend in high school who I suspected was an Aspie. When he visited me at home – we’d known each other for a week or so – the first thing he said was: “You have a mess on this shelf, it looks ugly”. He didn’t mean anything by it, it was just an observation 😀

    In many ways he was the most enlightened person I’ve known. He seemed to never feel the need to have the last word, emotions hardly clouded his judgement. It was disconcerting. Every conversation with him was a bit of a shock for me, cause he always said what he thought and never what I expected.

    He taught me exactly this: that you won’t go anywhere if you try to please everyone around you.

    It’s funny – isn’t it what our parents often tell us? Isn’t it what every book on personal growth holds as its mantra? But then our parents, if they’re neurotypicals, often take it as an offence if we don’t try to please *them*, to live how *they* taught us, to honor *their* worldview. And the book authors themselves do everything they can to attract as many readers as possible.

    Sometimes it takes the people who really don’t see why they wouldn’t tell the truth – or why we wouldn’t, for that matter – for us to consider that maybe someone even wants to hear it.

    Awesome article, I’m sure I’ll come back to it. Thanks!

    • Saying what you think is not the same as telling the truth since the truth is difficult to know. I assure you that telling ugly people that they are ugly or stupid people that they are stupid is not a habit that wants to be encouraged. Especially if it is the truth.

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  9. I get the sentiment but I think you’re being a bit moralistic about this. A good rule of thumb is that if you see behavior that looks irrational, you are most likely wrong about its purpose or are working with different information. This goes double for social behavior.

    Most people use argument and (dis)agreement to establish/signal group membership, status, rivalry, etc. It’s not so much about self esteem per se. It’s rational to consider the crass, practical social value of ideas. A skilled disingenuous argument can make people who disagree with you nonetheless work toward your goals, without the substantial risk of lying. You can also use argument to discredit people and weaken their position, and agreement to strengthen it.

    Some of the google memo fiasco is easier to understand in this context. The vitriolic response to Damore is not a response to what he said in itself, but rather a response to an *ulterior social motive* (debasing the status of women as workers) which is inferred from the perception that his argument serves the same purpose. Specifically, most people will assume that differential mean aptitudes or preferences will favor guys in proportion to the nerdiness of the job, which is a proxy for its value. Also, people who slept through statistics (ie most) will assume that mean differences translate to uneven subsamples, like google hirees. You can see how someone might think accepting uneven representation as fair is an attack on the competence of female vs male employees within that occupation.

    This is all the more salient because tech has a lot of social stock right now. So not only is it the most important battleground for workplace feminism, it’s also got a ton of cultural and intellectual influence. If you have a well-regarded employee in a decent position working at the top company and he appears to attack important social interests, of course it means war.

    • A couple relevant things I’ll note while I’m on the subject:

      -The practical value of argument means that rational people should operate on inferred, rather than stated, motives in others. In this context it’s not really appropriate to think of communicated ideas within the science-y framework of falsification and convergence toward truth. Instead you might think of them as tools that can be picked up, discarded, and traded as the situation warrants.

      -Naturally, people or groups with powerful tools (social stock and verbal ability), who can build coalitions, grow movements, and discredit opponents, become lightning rods for conflict. High influence impels competing interests and thereby polarization. Think tech CEOs or Milo Yiannopoulos.

      -Similarly, the idea that Damore is an aloof nerd who unwittingly walked into a firestorm actually gives him social currency. To some, it makes him seem relatable, good-natured, and honest. So, perversely, it becomes more important for progressives to discredit him. Note how much attention was devoted to him and his history, as opposed to what he explicitly wrote.

      -I don’t think he’s oblivious. Clearly he didn’t expect the memo to snowball into a nationwide cultural brawl, but failing to predict politics doesn’t exactly mark him out as heedless. However, the memo itself is delicately constructed to simultaneously maintain multiple social alliances. He is aware of the potential offense and hedges toward progressivism by invoking equality and rejecting bias. His appeal to pure science aligns with modern liberalism’s claim on intellectual honesty and education. Traditionally conservative but deeply American ideas of individual worth, meritocracy, etc, are also employed.

      -He can clearly navigate the social environment, which is why it doesn’t shock me that many were unimpressed by the ‘artless near-autistic fired and crucified for being impolitic’ story. Personally, his saying ‘women might be better at front-end aesthetics and men at back-end engineering’ was hard for me to interpret as anything other than ‘men tend to be better at real tech.’ Which isn’t sexist per se, but since he was already over-extrapolating it reflects poorly on his motives. If others picked up on this, implicitly or explicitly, I could see how this whole thing was sparked.

      • Exquisite summaries. My wife had a vitriolic response to the content. My daughter is applying to engineering programs, although not computer science even though programing was major factor in interest, this fall. Her extreme interest in engineering emerged at 16, out the blue, explained mostly by love of science problem solving, math ease, and revulsion to college future full of reading and writing. Not socialized to be an engineer. Dyslexic/ADHD.

  10. I say this having read and (hopefully) understood the article: the first word of the last paragraph should be “direct”. Overall, well written and well thought out. Thanks for taking the time to write this and sharing this Shanu.

  11. Conrad says

    According to the CDC about 1% of the human population has autism spectrum disorder. That leaves the other 99% of all human beings, I suppose, which the author refers to as neurotypicals, e.g. “Neurotypicals think it’s necessary to discriminate against the neurodivergent to create psychologically safe spaces for themselves.” “Neurotypicals think it’s always about them.” “Neurotypicals conflate ideological disagreement with personal conflict.”

    Any proof for any of these sweeping generalizations about 99% of the human population? I appreciate the sentiment of this article but the reasoning seems a bit thin.

    • Bill says

      Something to consider. CDC says 1% is on the autism spectrum but that does not mean 99% are neurotypical. If you have one side, the autism spectrum, is it not logical to assume there is an opposing spectrum (not yet explicitly quantified) that is also neuro-atypical?

      What has always baffled me is the labeling of the Aspie but no comparative label for the extreme on the otherside — perhaps because they align, naturally, with the acceptable politically correct practice that their over-correctness to the point of irrationality is acceptable?

  12. Personally, I, too, would prefer a society that accepts directness and prizes truth above all else.

    But the harsh truth is that we live in a society that accepts and, in some instances, celebrates the tyranny of the majority (like democracy).

    ‘Neurotypicals’ are wired to be both rational and emotional. Hence the undeniable fact is that changing their minds will always entail changing their hearts as well.

    • Santoculto says

      ”But the harsh truth is that we live in a society that accepts and, in some instances, celebrates the tyranny of the majority (like democracy).”

      Majority don’t want massive ”immigration”… no we don’t live directly speaking in this type of tyranny.

      But neurotypicals usually react in emotional response when they should react in ”rational” or, at priori, logical, and when they should react in ”rational” response, they tend to react in logical.

      • I don’t get what you’re saying linking majority to immigration. The majority I’m referencing here is the ‘neurotypical’. People in the autistic spectrum are the minority in the world and in most democratic societies, rules (whether legal or implicit social rules) are set up with the majority in mind.

        And of course democracy is a type id tyranny because the wishes of one party (the majority) trumps the wishes of the smaller party (the minority) — and in some cases at their expense (like in the article).

        This isn’t something I made up. It’s politics 101: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyranny_of_the_majority

        • On the ‘should react in a rational response’, bit, my point is they DON’T. ‘Should’ is an ideal, not a reality. For any theory to work, you need have a realistic view of the world first — then you can fix the problems. And the realistic view is: most people are emotional beings.

          So to effect change, the pertinent question should not be on why we’re not living up to our ideals. The pertinent question is how do you help people become more truthful and direct.

          Don’t forget, just as neurodiverse people are not wired to read social cues as easily, neurotypicals are not wired to be 100% rational all the time. You simply can’t change someone’s biology.

          But you can change perception — and the requires tapping on neurotypicals’ emotions.

          • Santoculto says

            I interpret your statement showing that we don’t live in (direct) democracy. It’s a oligarchy that pretend to be democratic. Elites use propaganda namely in capitalistic vias to spread, blackmail and convince populace to embrace their goals and not the demos who decide their own destiny.

          • Santoculto says

            I don’t get that autistics are on avg super rational and neurotypicals are monkeys with human appearance. I think it’s a modern myth of super differentiation of autistic humanity as if you were completely different than neurotypicals. I think you are on avg similar with neurotypicals even in apophenia vulnerability. Many autists are on the left and seems often on the extreme left, a kingdom of apophenias as well those of any political side. It’s mean autists also tend to operate via instincts and/or self preservation. Because the right tend to be hostile with neurodiversity movement seems majority of autists became leftists even also there is similarities on both thinking for example social equality and sustainability.

            Emotion is a way our organisms react to recognized pattern. So it’s unlikely that artists will be non-emotional or very less emotional because emotion is a very basic mechanism of pattern-judgment. And yes we are super emotional or sescient.

        • Santoculto says

          I understood the type of majority or the perspective you are looking for but again even there is a tyranny of majority it’s doesn’t mean it’s work for all perspectives. Indeed also there is a tyranny of clever selfish ones who win the social game and put the cards.

  13. The problem with the term ’empathy’ is that it is morally loaded.

    If I said I was dyslexic most people would understand that I have a difficulty with a certain type of reading but wouldn’t see that with a moral failing.

    Having difficulty reading people, on the other hand, is seen as a moral failing as much as a cognitive one.

    Baron-Cohen distinguishes between ‘cognitive empathy’ (what we are talking about here) and ‘affective empathy’ (a lack of feeling rather than understanding: what distinguishes a psychopath from an aspie).

    I prefer Daniel Dennett’s term ‘intentionality’ which is less morally loaded. Intentionality can be first order (I know what you are thinking), second order (I know what you think I am thinking), etc.

    Where Aspies often fall down is on higher orders of intentionality. We don’t understand what others think we are thinking.

    That seems to be why Damore had no idea what was going to hit him: he didn’t realise people would falsely attribute beliefs to him.

    And this points to a typical neurotypical failing: they are so used to reading people just like themselves they are unable to recognise they are attributing false beliefs to people who think differently and express themselves bluntly.

    • Santoculto says

      Empathy is to put in other perspectives. I think there are different types of empathy.

      Interpersonal empathy


      A different way to see cognitive and affective empathy.

      Many people think in empathy concept as “compassion”, no, at priori empathy is just put in other perspectives, even to say empathy is only about personal interactions seems incorrect.

      So maybe there is a impersonal empathy too. We learn something via empathy when we put in other perspective trying to think as the subject. So we look for the patterns of the information and retain/internalize it. It’s just like look for the behavior of other person and synchronize with this patterns. We synchronize with patterns and may we internalize them.

      We also have partial and total (receptive) empathy. Partial empathy is to put in other place or shoes but still as yourself. You don’t try to think as other person or subject. You put in its perspective but think as yourself. When parents say to its shy son that schools is cool they are putting in your place but not in your skin or “body”, whatever, so they don’t understand why this boy dislike to go to school because they don’t simulate to think as him.

      Aspies et all maybe don’t synchronize better with other persons because they are primarily interested In their own (often intellectually) obsessive needs.

  14. C_Miner says

    Several years ago I underwent a prolonged coaching session at work. Part of the coaching involved a 360 review. Those I work with, and who (nominally) are responsible to me on aspects of their jobs, provided feedback about how I was at work. My bosses also provided feedback.

    The results surprised me. I’m likely an Aspie, though the term didn’t exist when I was growing up. Math and Physics (aren’t they the same thing?) were always my friends when I needed better grades. Those with whom I thought I was communicating well noted frustration in getting me to acknowledge when things weren’t going well and that I didn’t draw out the details needed to ascertain how things were going. My opinion had been to leave people alone to work, and that they would let me know if there were problems.

    I’m an engineer, so is my brother. This outlook is what I know. My dad could have been an engineer (he, and my mom, were teachers).

    Bad results from the mandatory coaching sessions could have ended my Engineering career. That is, I was notified that should the coaching not work, I was done at this company.

    Part of my change in approach as a result of the coaching was to attach a single line to the end of all of my responses. “Does this answer your question?” It’s amazing how powerful a few words can be. In the cases where the response was appropriate, it let me know that fact. In the cases it wasn’t, it usually lead to a specific list of what was required (that the original sender had thought I would infer from the original message, but communication is a two way street). Once the flaws (to everyone else with whom I deal) had been identified, I could deal with them. In the years since the coaching sessions were imposed I’ve had top marks in internal reviews in the field of communications.

    Largely because I now know what to look for. James Damore made the mistake of thinking that a request for input meant “be honest”. It wasn’t. Now that I know what my co-workers are looking for. I’m doing much better.

    I have a mandatory “understanding how the different sexes view at the world” session coming up with HR in a couple of months. I plan to say nothing. I have learned from James Damore’s example. Some things are not meant to be discussed in a business environment.

  15. Santoculto says

    I don’t believe most liberals can described as neurotypicals. The most neurotypicals of all are the conservatives, the oldest and commonest type of human being. Liberals are odds more common among northwestern whites and we even know if they born like that or if half of this pattern is due recent cultural Doomestication.

    Most social justice worriors are not neurotypicals. Indeed avg alt right people are not autist-leaning even there are plenty of autists among them.

    Liberal lean easily on hyper mentalism spectrum aka psychotic. They are hyper socializing, seems have a natural untalent to apophenic thinking style (just look for most of neo leftist academic works). So we are not talking exactly about neurotypicality if the uber-neurotypical ones tend to be biologically conservatives but some branches of hyper “socializing” (and not exactly “empathizing”) spectrum and also about general branch of tilt higher verbal IQ.

  16. I agree deeply and sincerely with your overall thesis; seeking to truly understand the diversity of human experience by the most practical means, rather than focusing on sub-culture specific virtue-signalling based on misplaces assumptions is deeply important and desperately needed. I also think the idea of leveraging the known limitations and strengths of the human tendency to leverage generalization and stereotyping in ways that are more nuanced and useful than how they are commonly used by many/most people is a fascinating approach.

    That said, I think your argument bears strengthening in ways that themselves recognize the differences of human beings, and the ways in which that limits our ability to communicate effectively on such topics.
    While it’s true that trying overly hard to “not offend” commonly enmires us in a downward spiral; communication-policing leads to “gotcha” politics, which ultimately pushes us away from truly understanding those who are different from us. However your sub-argument that this would be solved by completely direct communication is I think flawed in a few ways.

    It makes several philosophical assumptions and takes certain rhetorical approaches which may not be universally agreed on and may seem to undermine your thesis:
    1) That “Truth” is effectively discernible in a majority of situations by most people, and that most “reasonable people” would be able to agree on “facts” from which to approach a rational discussion. While this may be true of physics, social situations in and of themselves are attempts to navigate non-fact-based interpersonal experiences that involve emotions.
    2) That human experience can be reduced to biological influences. This ignores the interplay of human cultural diversity and sociological programming that affects each individual uniquely. The uniqueness of each of our individual upbringings, filtered by what cultural cues we pick up(or don’t) strengthens your overall thesis, but undermines the idea that absolute directness is even possible for most people.
    3) The argument gets side-tracked in talking about the guy at Google. Spending as much of the article with what is seemingly an attempt to justify his actions seems to have lead many of the other comentors here to focus on that element of the discussion. As you yourself seem to admit that discussion of his true motives after the fact is unprovable speculation, and only useful an example of your thesis. Ultimately though, in this case as in many, there are different cultural issues and baggage that a majority of readers of your piece will bring to the table when considering your arguments. Specifically I mean that the question of whether his analysis is correct or not is a moot-point, and taking a position that defends him as a person and argues against those who took umbrage at his analysis will be assumed by most people to be a defense of his statements, apart from him as a person and the hypocrisy of the discourse surrounding him.

    #1 is perhaps a pointless philosophical quible in the face of your fundamental argument.
    #2 is a standard limitation of scientific thinking when applied to human social interactions so I certainly don’t fault you for it, but I think adding more focus on the cultural influences involved would go far in rounding-out your argument for trying to take the blinders off ourselves in recognizing neuro-diversity; those blinders are largely based on assumptions we make due to the nature of language and culture.
    #3 is probably the most problematic in terms of persuasiveness. many of the responses you’re likely to get further to prove your point, but to some extent this will be at the cost of alienating the very people who you are trying to convince with your argument. At very least it’s likely to divert the focus of the people who perhaps most need to hear your words into quibbling about the parts of your argument that are the most divisive. In other words I think you’ve unintentionally made part of your argument into an unintentional red-herring for people who feel strongly about the political cultural impact of that particular example.

    As for whether or not completely open and direct communication would help solve social conflict, it seems almost in some ways as if you’re ignoring the truth of some of your own points. If everyone were capable of that sort of direct communication it might help, but ultimately that’s not possible. Neurotypical approaches are ingrained, via whatever method they are ingrained, and emotional appeal and non-fact-based argument must be leveraged to convince those who ultimately can’t avoid being caught up by those types of approaches. Many of those who most need to be encouraged to think outside their own mental spaces and develop true empathy will only be dissuaded if we attempt to convince them with brutal facts. This is where I think leveraging predispositions towards generalization and stereotyping may be very useful. I would like to see that explored more and I intend to think about it more and reread your article in the future.

    Regardless, thank you for your time and work on this unique, if perhaps provocative piece!

  17. Santoculto says

    Indeed alt right on pretty average hate neuro atypical people… expected coming from uber neurotypicals.

  18. Bill says

    I think your attempts (several of you) to label political views as neurotypical/atypical are underfitting the problem. Neurotypicality has nothing to do with political leanings. Nobody is “born” Left/Right. Personal politics are learned either directly passed down by family and friends, or indirectly passed down by educational curricula. It’s like saying all dyslexics are alt-right or all homosexuals are leftist Liberals (Milo would disagree). Just as all hispanics do NOT vote (D) nor do all Americans with dark skin pigmentation (I refuse to call them African American since my neighbor was utterly offended at a cul-de-sac party and put us in our place — he’s Jamaican).

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