Brain Science Podcast discussion

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum
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2013 > BSP 98/99: The Autistic Brain/Temple Grandin

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Ginger Campbell (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
I have just posted Episode 98 of the Brain Science Podcast. It is a discussion of The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin. Hopefully, I will be able to do a follow up interview with Dr. Grandin in the near future.

Listen to BSP 98

Read free episode transcript.

BSP 98 Show notes


Ginger Campbell (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Here are the links to the followup interview with Temple Grandin:

Listen to Temple Grandin (BSP 99)

BSP 99 Show Notes with FREE episode transcript


message 3: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments What comes to mind from this episode is "learned helplessness". Your guest is diametrically opposed to it. She represents a need for people to have expectations, to expect something in an active way, and values. I like how she takes skills obtained in one discipline and applies to another discipline, doing a good job of it. Also I like her utterly subjective approach. We all benefit from her subjectivity and first hand personal experience. If as a culture we could adopt use of the word "intersubjective" in place of the word "objective", we would be much better off and impose less dualism upon ourselves. If I do it, if I observe, if I am empirical, I do it personally regardless who I am or what position I hold in society and that is subjective.

Having overcome severe stuttering and anxiety attacks which I had through my early twenties, I did a quick internet search on "speech delay" mentioned in the podcast. Very interesting. The description of autism was very enlightening.


Ginger Campbell (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
David wrote: "What comes to mind from this episode is "learned helplessness". Your guest is diametrically opposed to it. She represents a need for people to have expectations, to expect something in an active wa..."

Thanks for the feedback. Your comments support my gut feeling that Temple's experience would speak to people facing a wide variety of challenges.


message 5: by Andriuskulikauskas (last edited Jan 03, 2014 09:36AM) (new)

Andriuskulikauskas | 8 comments Ginger, I wonder what you and Temple Grandin might think of looking at autism as the total or partial lack of our physical sense of synchronizing with other people.

I once heard of a video anthropologist who spent three months studying a 90 second clip of a family in a kitchen. As he looked at their interaction in slow motion, they seemed to be dancing. They synchronize faster than they could do it consciously. It's easy to imagine this - as one person leans to open a cupboard, another person will adjust themselves in small ways. It reminds me of the extended physical maps where you can literally feel the end of a hammer as it pounds a nail. It also reminds me of mirror neurons. Look around you and you will see that people do not place themselves haphazardly, but form compositions. This is why some art (painting, theatre...) is convincing and a lot of is not.

Now imagine if a person didn't have this "sixth sense". Or imagine that it was diminished. That is what I believe autism is. It is as if they were blind or poor-of-sight. They are missing a "sixth sense" that we take for granted. Unfortunately, it is a sense that we are practically unaware of.

If you don't have this sense, then you will feel completely isolated. You will live in your own world. You may construct your own rhythms, as the most severely autistic children do. Or you may compensate in other ways. Temple Grandin explained in a Fresh Air interview that she has to learn consciously what we do unconsciously. It's much like an adult learner of a foreign language.

If one lacks this sense, then the areas in the cerebral cortex which are normally devoted to it could be shifted to other senses, including sight, sound and touch. This would explain the different kinds of autism. It would also explain the uneven level in the senses.

It may also be that for some autistic people the "sixth sense" is too strong, too rich and so they have to shut it out. They can't digest it.

I can't find the name of the original anthropologist, but here are some articles regarding that "sixth sense":
* "Settling Into and Moving in a Climate of Care: Styles and Patterns of Interaction Between Nurse Psychotherapists and Clients", Bonnie Jean Raingruber http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10...
* "Behavior matching in multimodal communication is synchronized." Louwerse MM, Dale R, Bard EG, Jeuniaux P. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22...
* "Monkeys Unconsciously Synchronize Their Behavior, Just Like Humans" http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/monk...

I'm curious if this sense has a separate region for it in the cerebral cortex and/or if there is a center in the brain where the different senses come together and this synchronization may be taking place, which may get disrupted in the case of autism.

Also, I think this sixth sense is related to architect Christopher Alexander's theory of "pattern languages" in his classic book "The Timeless Way of Building". He writes about what makes us feel that buildings are "alive" or not, and notes how the living buildings are built by patterns, rules of thumbs that are optimized onsite, whereby recurrent activity evokes structure, and structure channels activity. I think that such environments support our "sixth sense". We enter a room and we know how we should feel, and we can also choose how we want to feel. We can latch onto different scales in the building and feel big by looking at the big arches or feel small by looking at a crack in the wood. This is why ornamentation is important. When we interact with others, we can be equals or larger or smaller, accordingly. We can even imagine engaging God. It is like having mirror neurons for "nobody". Whereas it must be hard to have an intimate conversation in an airplane hanger.

Imagine not having this "sixth sense". That's what I think autism is like. It's much like lacking any other sense, such as being blind or deaf, being nearsighted or hard of hearing. This explains the range of autism.

The autistic people I've spoken to have encouraged me that this is a good description of what they feel. I recognized this in a rather intelligent neighbor of mine in Lithuania who simply had no clue about how conversations work, when a person wanted to start them or stop them.

Please, if you think this is a worthwhile idea, forward it to Temple Grandin and others who might be interested to think about it.

I learn a lot from your wonderful podcasts. Thank you!


Ginger Campbell (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
Andriuskulikauskas wrote: "Ginger, I wonder what you and Temple Grandin might think of looking at autism as the total or partial lack of our physical sense of synchronizing with other people.

I once heard of a video anthro..."


Several of my guests have written about the importance of the way the brain "binds" sensory information together. The association areas of the cortex seem to be vital here, and Synesthesia as an example of what happens when things get bound together in unusual ways.


Andriuskulikauskas | 8 comments Ginger, That's an interesting point, thank you. But it seems that the neurological explanations of synesthesia have to do with links between two different domains in the cortex, such as for letters and colors. There don't seem to be any examples related to synchronicity of movement. I wonder if there is a separate domain in the cortex for such a "sixth sense" which we obviously seem to have. I suppose the question is whether it is a distinct sense or simply the fusion of senses, as your response implies. But I think that any damage to the fusion of senses would leave a person physically uncoordinated. This is not the case with autistic people. Their physical coordination is, I presume, fine, but they seem to lack all or part of the capability to tune their own physical movements to those of other people. I think that the association areas that you mention have to do with higher level cognitions. Instead, this seems more like an almost completely unconscious capacity which might have its own sensory area in the cortex, although apparently none such has ever been noted. Also, I expect it would relate to the mental maps of our physical surroundings which may be rooted in the older brain. It is perhaps the way that we quickly update those maps, especially with regard to their social actors, typically humans.


Andriuskulikauskas | 8 comments I note that most of us are unconsciously magnificent at synchronizing with each other. But that doesn't seem to carry over directly to any ability to synchronize with inanimate objects such as machines. Most of us are highly tuned to face others, move with others, adjust to others as if we were participating in a social unit with its own "center of mass". We may project that onto pets or other animals that engage us. But we don't have that relationship with the nonsocial world. But autistic people seem to lack all or part of this faculty, as if they were blind to it.


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