Autistic human interaction tips

Often, the autistic-spectrum folks in my life have the most interesting things to say about human interactions. Survivorship bias accounts for much of this. I’m only having these conversations with the autistic people who have not only learned how to socialize with neurotypicals, but to talk with them about people and emotions.

Anyway, such people tend to have incredibly astute and precise understandings of human behaviour. So I was thrilled to stumble upon this collection of Docs, which comprise a guide to neurotypicals for Autism-Spectrum Disorder people.

Some choice bits:

Anger at deities is almost always directed upwards, above a 45 degree angle, while thanks or prayer is usually directed downward and inward. In contrast, happiness at the self is directed outward randomly, while anger/fear/shame are shown by aiming all attention vectors together at a point roughly 2 feet in front of the person.

Curious what an ‘attention vector’ might be? Take the usual body-language idea that people turn to whoever they care most about, and break into down into component parts:

By pivoting your eyes, head, shoulders, hips, and feet, you can point them in different directions. These directions are three-dimensional for head and eyes, and mostly two-dimensional for shoulders, hips, and feet because it’s difficult to point those up or down while standing. Pointing your attention vectors at something is a signal that you’re paying attention to that thing


The reason I mentioned that there are five of them (eyes, head, shoulders, hips, feet), is that you can point them in different directions to indicate split attention. The reason I put them in that specific order isn’t just that it’s top-to-bottom, it’s that it indicates temporary-to-permanent attention…..The lower down on the body the attention vector, the more permanent its indication of attention.

Dewey likes Decimals

Systems often seem pre-ordained until you understand your origins. When you find out how something got started, it’s often hard to take it quite so seriously.

Case in point: library classification. The Dewey Decimal system exists, in part, because John Dewey just really liked the number ten:

In March 1873, when he was still an undergraduate, Dewey had his third big idea, inspired by an 1856 pamphlet titled “A Decimal System for the Arrangement and Administration of Libraries”, written by Nathaniel Shurtleff, who worked at the Boston Public Library. As Dewey wrote at the time, “My heart is open to anything that’s either decimal or about libraries”. In fact, fifty years ltaer, Dewey would attribute the idea to order topics by decimal numbers to an epiphany during a Sunday sermon. Dewey was already infatuated with decimals. He wrote a school essay on the metric system when he was sixteen. When he was twenty-five he founded the American Metric Bureau to lobby for the adoption of the metric system within the United States. He even arranged his travel so that he would arrive on the tenth, twentieth or thirtieth day of the month…rationalism crossing over into superstition

[David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous, p53-4]

Suggested music: The New Puritans yelling “what’s your favourite number” again and again. It’s like being accosted in the street by a gang of numerologists

The Act of Creation

The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, reshuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills

‘It is obvious’, says Hadamard, ‘that invention or discovery, be it in mathematics or anywhere else, takes place by combining ideas…The Latin verb cogito for “to think” etymologically means “to shake together”. St Augustine had already noticed that and also observed taht intelligo means “to select among”’ [Koestler, The Act of Creation, p119-120]

I’m slowly rereading The Act of Creation, one of the formative books of my teenage years. Arthur Koestler sets himself the task of describing creativity across art, science, and humour. The core is what he calls ‘bisociation’, which means thinking simultaneously in two frames of reference.

He goes way too far in attempting to reduce everything to his one system. The picture on the right, from the book’s frontispiece, is an example of this. But the book has more than enough insight to make it worth reading.

Frontispiece to *The Act of Creation*{:style=“float: right;margin-right: 7px;margin-top: 7px;”}