Insights need you to keep your nerve

This is a story I’ve occasionally told various friends when one of the subjects it touches comes up. I told it again last night, and it occurred to me that I ought to put in the blog. It’s about how, if you want to have productive insights, you need a certain kind of nerve or self-belief.

Many years ago – possibly as far back as the late 80s – I happened across a film of a roomful of Sufi dervishes performing a mystical/devotional exercise called “dhikr”. The film was very old, grainy B&W footage from the early 20th century. It showed a roomful of bearded, turbaned, be-robed men swaying, spinning, and chanting. Some were gazing at bright objects that might have been lamps, or polished metal or jewelry reflecting other lamps – it wasn’t easy to tell from the footage.

I can’t find the footage I saw, but the flavor was a bit like this. No unison movement in what I saw, though – individuals doing different things and ignoring each other, more inward-focused.

The text accompanying the film explained that the intention of “dhikr” is to shut out the imperfect sensory world so the dervish can focus on the pure and holy name of Allah. “Right,” I thought, already having had quite a bit of experience as an experimental mystic myself, “I get this. In Zen language, they’re shutting down the drunken monkeys. Autohypnosis inducing a serene mind, nothing surprising here.”

But there was something else. Something about the induction methods they were using. It all seemed oddly familiar, more than it ought to. I had seen behaviors like this before somewhere, from people who weren’t wearing pre-Kemalist Turkish garb. I watched the film…and it hit me. This was exactly like watching a roomful of people with serious autism!

The rocking. The droning. The fixated behavior, or in the Sufi case the behavior designed to induce fixation. Which immediately led to the next question: why? I think the least hypothesis in cases where you observe parallel behaviors is that they have parallel causation. We know what the Sufis tell us about what they’re doing; might it tell us what the autists are doing what they’re doing?

The Sufis are trying to shut out sense data. What if the autists are too? That would imply that the autists live in a state of what is, for them, perpetual sensory overload. Their dhikr-like behaviors are a coping mechanism, an attempt to turn down the gain on their sensors so they can have some peace inside their own skulls.

The first applications of nerve I want to talk about here are (a) the nerve to believe that autistic behaviors have an explanation more interesting than “uhhh…those people are randomly broken”, and (b) the nerve to believe that you can apply a heuristic like “parallel behavior, parallel causes” to humans when you picked it up from animal ethology.

Insights need creativity and mental flexibility, but they also need you to keep your nerve. I think there are some very common forms of failing to keep your nerve that people who would like to have good and novel ideas self-sabotage with. One is “If that were true, somebody would have noticed it years ago”. Another is “Only certified specialists in X are likely to have good novel ideas about X, and I’m not a specialist in X, so it’s a bad risk to try following through.”

You, dear reader, are almost certainly browsing this blog because I’m pretty good at not falling victim to those, and duly became famous by having a few good ideas that I didn’t drop on the floor. However, in this case, I failed to keep my nerve in another bog-standard way: I believed an expert who said my idea was silly.

That was decades ago. Nowadays, the idea that autists have a sensory-overload problem is not even controversial – in fact it’s well integrated into therapeutic recommendations. I don’t know when that changed, because I haven’t followed autism research closely enough. Might even be the case that somewhere in the research literature, someone other than me has noticed the similarity between semi-compulsive autistic behaviors and Sufi dhikr, or other similar autohypnotic practices associated with mystical schools.

But I got there before the experts did. And dropped the idea because my nerve failed.

Now, it can be argued that there were good reasons for me not to have pursued it. Getting a real hearing for a heterodox idea is difficult in fields where the experts all have their own theories they’re heavily invested in, and success is unlikely enough that perhaps it wasn’t an efficient use of my time to try. That’s a sad reason, but in principle a sound one.

But losing my nerve because an expert laughed at me, that was not sound. I think I wouldn’t make that mistake today; I’m tougher and more confident than I used to be, in part because I’ve had “crazy” ideas that I’ve lived to see become everyone’s conventional wisdom.

You can read this as a variation on a theme I developed in Eric and the Quantum Experts: A Cautionary Tale. But it bears repeating. If you want to be successfully creative, your insights need you to keep your nerve.

107 thoughts on “Insights need you to keep your nerve

  1. I spent hours upon hours every day of my childhood rocking, humming, and daydreaming. I don’t believe I’m on the autistic spectrum, as my social IQ is actually pretty high. But I was an extreme introvert in the energetic sense, finding social interaction beyond exhausting. Would take hours of my little ritual to get back to a state of calm after prolonged interaction. I definitely had mystical experiences in some of the trance like states it’d take me to. Later, I mostly listened to music while doing so. I had to break the habit in my early adult years to become a normal productive member of society.

  2. Did your nerve in fact fail?

    Hindsight is usually 20/20, and it’s easy enough to discover you had actually realized something well before most others had.

    So you have an insight. Chances are, you have many insights. There is one of you, you have two hands, and there are 24 hours in the day, some of which you must spend eating, sleeping and working on already realized insights.

    What determines what new insights you follow up on, and attempt to develop and communicate to others? Which fall into the “not worth my time to pursue this” or “I don’t deliberately fight battles I can’t win, and will reserve my efforts for things where I can have an effect” buckets?

    And ultimately, if you hadn’t backed off because an expert laughed at you, and you had pursued it, what do you think might have occurred?

    As you mention, the notion that autistics are trying to deal with sensory overload is now an accepted therapeutic assumption, but it took a few decades to reach that point. Do you think your weighing in early instead of dropping the notion would have changed that?

    >Dennis

    • Also, how many “insights” did Eric have and completely forget about that were in fact completely crackpot?

      • >Also, how many “insights” did Eric have and completely forget about that were in fact completely crackpot?

        I don’t think that happened to me a lot. Because I didn’t do drugs.

        Hmmm…I should expand on that. I spent a lot of time in the late ’70s and early 80s around people who would do drugs and have wacked-out “insights” they wanted to share. The psychological smell of those drugged out “insights” became as familiar as the physical smell of their drugs. And both repelled me.

        Also relevant that I hung out with witches and mystics. Some of them exceptionally sane people, some of them not.

        There’s a sort of learning-by-horrible-example way that these flake cases can teach you good mental hygiene. I benefitted from it.

    • >As you mention, the notion that autistics are trying to deal with sensory overload is now an accepted therapeutic assumption, but it took a few decades to reach that point. Do you think your weighing in early instead of dropping the notion would have changed that?

      I don’t know. But I don’t know because I didn’t try.

      The point of the essay is meant to be that while there can be good reasons to let an insight drop, many of the usual ones are terrible.

      • If you had tried, I doubt it would have made an overall difference. The ones whose minds need to change on stuff like this are the experts like the one that laughed at you when you proposed the connection.

        You are an acknowledged expert in several areas of computer technology. What new insights in those areas pop through your bullshit filters? And how many that do come from folks you know are not experts?

        The point of the essay is meant to be that while there are good reasons to let an insight drop, many of the usual ones are terrible.

        Indeed. But my question, What determines what new insights you follow up on, and do attempt to develop and communicate to others? stands.

        >Dennis

        • If you had tried, I doubt it would have made an overall difference. The ones whose minds need to change on stuff like this are the experts like the one that laughed at you when you proposed the connection.

          No the people whose minds you need to change are the Autists and their parents. They sometimes listen to the official “experts” but not always. Hence why the official “experts” are always complaining about “science denying alternative medicine”.

        • >And how many that do come from folks you know are not experts?

          It depends on how broad an insight you mean. I see a lot of clever, insightful solutions to individual technical problems from people who are not experts, just very bright people capable of seeing what’s in front of their noses.

          I don’t see a lot of deep, generative insights about the whole field from non-experts, but then again those are so rare in people who are experts that I’m not certain expertise is useful as compared to just being really, really bright.

          >What determines what new insights you follow up on, and do attempt to develop and communicate to others?

          There are a couple filters. They have to have generative consequences, I have to have worked out a way to communicate them, and I have to believe it’s a good bet that doing so will result in useful change.

          • There’s something called the “invisible obvious” that experts easily miss. If you’re an expert, listening to the insights of non-experts is like buying an option. Most of the time, you lose a little(by wasting time), but when it pays off, it pays off big. There’s even a company that pays for outsider insight:

            https://www.innocentive.com/

            • >There’s something called the “invisible obvious” that experts easily miss.

              Noticing the invisible obvious is a recurring theme in my life as a thinker. I won’t say that watching the experts do an oh-shit-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that is my motivation, because it isn’t; I just like solving problems. But their reaction certainly adds spice to the game.

              I signed up on that site. Be interesting to see if I can monetize my knack.

      • Given that autism researchers often do not listen to reports by actual autistics about their experiences, I doubt you, a non-autistic non-expert with an interesting insight, would’ve had much effect.

        • >Given that autism researchers often do not listen to reports by actual autistics about their experiences

          I wish I didn’t believe you.

          The stupid, it burns!

          • >Given that autism researchers often do not listen to reports by actual autistics about their experiences, I doubt you, a non-autistic non-expert with an interesting insight, would’ve had much effect.

            In linguistics, self-analysis is generally considered to lack rigor: awareness of the analysis process changes the way you speak. There could be similar considerations in analyzing autism: while I think that the experiences of those of us on the spectrum are an important data point, I wouldn’t say that neurotypicals refusing to take them at face value is a problem *per se*.

            • That does seem to be the researchers’ justification; but the autistic community’s view seems to be that they don’t just “not take [self-reported autistic experiences] at face value”, but ignore them completely, out of a misplaced belief that the subjectivity of such self-reports makes them inherently ‘unscientific’.

              (And then they have the gall to accuse us of black-and-white thinking! ;-)

        • Fortunately actual autistics and their families return the favor by not listening to the “experts”.

  3. There are no experts. There are only self-indulgent narcissists who claim to know everything and dismiss any challenges to their orthodoxy with inane sobriquets like “the science is settled”.

    • There are experts, but they are far less likely than the people you describe to call themselves experts.

      A point I made during the recent political wrangles over here in the UK was that the British people aren’t “fed up of experts”, we’re fed up of self-declared and self-serving ‘experts’. Most of our political class do not comprehend the difference…

      • “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

        So the louder they talk of being ‘experts’…

      • > There are experts, but they are far less likely than the people you describe to call themselves experts.

        Exactly. Feynman, for example, would _never_ have dismissed as merely “silly” an attempted insight from someone ignorant in physics but sincerely interested in a given problem. He would have given an _explanation_ of some kind, “well there are these famous experiments which come out this way, which if your idea was right would have to go the other way; oh, and last year there were a couple of German guys that published such-and-such, so we are even more confident in that model now” etc etc. And if such examples _didn’t_ come readily to hand, he would gleefully admit that this was evidently something that “expert” physicists didn’t yet fully understand.

        I think this is a more general principle, independent of whether you have an insight for their consideration or not: someone claiming to be an “expert” who merely states “the way things are” as given, without even hinting at let alone attempting to explain the models or frameworks that justify those current beliefs… that someone is much more likely to be a self-proclaimed expert rather than an actual one.

        • I think one further stipulation is needed here – don’t be annoying. Experts are people too, and you’re asking something of them when you engage in this sort of conversation. If you look to them like a lunatic, a troll, or even like you’re merely exasperating, you can’t expect they’ll give you very much.

    • > inane sobriquets like “the science is settled”

      I just wanted to make it clear that by agreeing with Edward Cree above, I was most definitely _not_ intending to disagree with IGnatius T Foobar on this point.

      Anyone moronic enough to emit something as stupid as “the science is settled” is not only not a scientist, they are constitutionally incapable of understanding what the heck science is even for in the first place.

  4. Also … as you might suspect, autistic sensory load doesn’t max out on only one end. Many autists are hypersensitive to sensory stimulation, many are sensitive to sensory *underload* and will self-stimulate (or “stim”) by, for example, passing random objects in front of their faces. An autist in my household eventually taught himself to deal with overload after a lot of trial and error — and when underloaded he stims in a socially acceptable way, by watching videos of trains. I don’t think it’s coincidental that there are a lot of autists in the railfanning community. Something similar is likely to be true for hackers — the acceptable level of stimulation is a band that is often much narrower than it is for the neurotypical — but inside that band there is often sheer brilliance.

    • That is interesting, I was placing under-stimulation as the cause of schizophrenia, therefore the opposite end of a spectrum where autists are over-stimulated. Video games are a type of intense stimulation. If your observation about autism and understimulation pans out, then my neat “autism/schizophrenia” spectrum goes bye bye. Was nice while it lasted. Can anything be salvaged from it?

      • “The Spectrum” (a term I detest, although it is universally accepted) is not one dimensional. Every case of autism is different, as every brain is different. Some are sensitive to sensory overload, some are sensitive to sensory underload, some are sensitive to both.

        What I can tell you from twenty years living with someone who is sensitive to both, is that the responses are markedly different. Overload is a panic experience; as a child he would cry and become an emotional wreck, sometimes for hours. Underload presents as an inattentiveness that is easy to mistake for boredom or indifference. When he became old enough to be self-aware of his condition, he learned coping mechanisms for both extremes.

        • > Underload presents as an inattentiveness that is easy to mistake for boredom or indifference.

          Which sounds a lot like ADHD.

          • There is no such thing as ADHD. That’s just a blanket term used by lazy and/or incompetent doctors, teachers, and sometimes parents, to excuse giving psychoactive medications to children instead of working with them on their issues.

        • I suspect that what we label as “Autism”, “ADHD”, Schizophrenia etc. will turn out in the end to be collections or sets of genetic arrangements or narrow in utero developments. Once we know enough about genetics, fetal development and neural structures we won’t have such big buckets to put people into, and we’ll have better treatments or coping mechanisms.

      • Mycroft, you should read SSC’s posts on Predictive Processing, including its account of autism and schizophrenia as two different kinds of problems with probability modelling (in the form of two neurotransmitters that possibly represent terms in Bayes’ Theorem). TLDR: autism is overly narrow confidence intervals (aberrant precision), schizophrenia is overly tall ones (excessive confidence). Not exactly opposites, but may salvage something.

  5. I’m a semi-regular commenter here. I strongly suspect that I have Aspergers, but have no clinical diagnosis, so I don’t want to go on record as having it under my usual handle. I’ve had one relative of someone with Aspergers ask me randomly if I had it, and have had the father of another tell me that I presented as on the spectrum when I asked him.

    Anyways, a data point:

    In my experience, there’s no sense of being overwhelmed by sensory data, or that things like rocking or humming a tune shut out sensory data. There *is* a sense of the conscious mind decoupling from the senses. Everything is still there, but some code somewhere has executed a CLI and interrupts aren’t getting serviced (or maybe they are being serviced, but userspace processes are looping on a while (true) that doesn’t check the event queue anywhere). This happens automatically, especially when I have something to think about.

    Meanwhile, there is a correlation (but no causation that I’m conscious of) with stereotyped behaviors. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, but if there’s a drunken monkey involved, I’m more inclined to say that the zookeeper has gone to clean the chimpanzee enclosure, and, to keep the chimps out of his hair, has left the inebriated apes in charge of the ticket booth while he works (more accurate might be to say that the zoo staff is in a meeting and has left the chimps in charge of the ticket booth, but the first story is funnier). Or maybe it’s just that whatever code has executed CLI is still producing output, but isn’t checking input to get feedback on the appropriateness of the output.

    >many are sensitive to sensory *underload* and will self-stimulate (or “stim”) by, for example, passing random objects in front of their faces.

    In my case at least (being likely on the spectrum, but more in the Asperger zone than the classical autism zone), this kind of behavior isn’t so much associated with sensory underload as mental underload, I stop servicing interrupts, but keep polling input in order to have something to process while I’m CLI’d.

    >I was placing under-stimulation as the cause of schizophrenia, therefore the opposite end of a spectrum where autists are over-stimulated.

    As I recall, autism was originally called schizoid something or other, so it’s not really on the opposite end of anything from schizophrenia. It’s enough like it to be called schizoid. At least from my analysis of my experience of (likely) being on the spectrum, over/understimulation is orthogonal to the real issue, which is a tendency to decouple from the outside world.

    >Video games are a type of intense stimulation.

    The video games that hook me the hardest are those that concretize things I’m thinking about and allow me to run experiments. They allow me offload simulation of the things I’m thinking about from slow and unreliable wetware to fast, precise silicon. It’s not the physical experience / sights / sounds that gets me, it’s the answered questions.

    • Sensory processing issues don’t always manifest the same away.

      Imagine an extrovert whose sensory issues cause them to calibrate to always talking very loudly.

      Imagine that extrovert in the same house as an introvert who at times finds even normal volume speech difficult to tolerate and filter out.

      I could be convinced that there are a lot more ways sensory issues can manifest than that, even sticking to just hearing.

      • “Imagine that extrovert in the same house as an introvert who at times finds even normal volume speech difficult to tolerate and filter out”

        You’ve just described me in every open plan office I’ve had to work in. I am loving working from home for the first time.

          • >Open plan isn’t necessarily great for extroverts either: conversation lures one away from work.

            Open plan is a productivity disaster. Workers who need to maintain a flow state should have offices with doors that can close, control of their air conditioning, and mutes on the ringers of their phones. This has been known since the 1980s, yet office planners keep making the same mistakes over and over, trading pennies in up-front savings for dollars in downstream costs.

            It’s not news that corporate America is full of teh stupid, but this is one of its most conspicuous bad habits.

  6. So side question. How many good insights on the pandemic do you think are being stomped on and blocked by the “experts”?

    • >So side question. How many good insights on the pandemic do you think are being stomped on and blocked by the “experts”?

      No thanks. I don’t want arguments about the pandemic to jack this thread, so I’m declaring it off topic.

      • Honestly I was assuming this post was a prelude for a subsequent post with an insight about the pandemic.

  7. I think part of the problem of formal education is that it teaches us theories or axioms, and then instinctively we try to fit everything we find new into a known or existing theory/axiom. We have been conditioned to believe that existing theories cannot be challenged easily. We suppress our creative instincts.
    h
    Plus the fear of ridicule of course: the fear of being pointed out that somebody else thought of that idea first and rejected it because it was so obviously stupid…

    Anther reason I feel is that, there is a strong feeling that all the “easy problems” of human intellect have already been solved, and that the ones that are left to be solved are beyond the scope of a “non-expert” in that particular field.

  8. Not sure if it fits in but it reminds me of a Wegener’s continental drift theory and how it got rejected by geologist as not fitting to their current state of knowledge. And, huh, how a meteorologist dare to invade our holy land of rocks and minerals?
    Indeed, if wiki is to be believed, he kept his nerve and pushed into detailed research, but his theory was widely accepted decades after his death.
    Can’t think of more popular example when bright idea of an outsider was rejected due to rejection by steadfast experts in the field.

  9. I suppose that, in the spirit of keeping one’s nerve, I should share with y’all the insight of mine that led to having a conversation about autism with Eric yesterday.

    It starts with my existing theory that Aspies like me are the way we are because the part of our brains that’s supposed to be a kind of ‘hardware co-processor’ for social interaction (by modelling other humans in order to predict their behaviour) is missing or defective, so we have to run the same function in software, meaning it has to be learned and is slow and lossy even when learned. (This is similar to but distinct from the ‘mirror neuron system’ model of autism; I’ll call it the ‘GPU theory’.)

    Then add to that Eric’s notion of model-seekers, that some people instinctively search for generative theories to explain observed data, while others don’t (Eric doesn’t specify what they do instead, but I’m guessing it’s vaguely Occasionalist), and his contention that model-seekers are far better-suited to CS/programming.

    Now consider: You’re born without a social GPU, you’ve spent your first year of life learning things like object permanency (like any other baby), but then people start trying to interact with you, and you have no idea what is going on. If you’re a model-seeker, your instinctive reaction is to try to build a model of other people, which eventually turns into the “software emulation” and Asperger’s is the result. (Note that when aspies are asked to explain their answer to the standard theory-of-mind test, a common theme is “Mummy often knows stuff without me knowing how she could have known it, so I guessed she’d somehow know what was in the box”: they do have a theory of mind, it’s just not the same as NTs’.)

    But if you’re not a model seeker, you don’t attempt to impose order on this chaos; you just passively suffer it, and never develop social behaviour at all. Voilà: classic low-functioning/nonverbal autism! I’m not sure where HFA fits in to this, but I have one piece of anecdata: when I was about sixteen the school I was at had me give remedial maths lessons to a younger boy who was on the autistic spectrum; the idea was that as I thought like him I might be able to get through where his teachers couldn’t. Though we established a rapport, it was not a success academically as I couldn’t seem to get him to understand anything, and crucially when he gave a wrong answer to a sum I could never get him to explain why he thought that was the answer. I now interpret this as him lacking model-seeking behaviour; and a lot that previously puzzled me about him makes a lot more sense when I bucket him as HFA rather than Aspergers.

    One thing this theory immediately explains is why aspies are so overrepresented in programming whereas classic autists don’t seem to be: aspies are overrepresented in precisely the same way that model-seekers in general are, but model-seeking doesn’t normally have a readily observable feature (other than ‘is a programmer’ ;-) for programming to correlate with.

    One thing that bothers me about this theory is that it conflicts with the Predictive Processing model’s theory of autism — overfitting, narrow confidence intervals and thus constant surprisal — which I’ve previously found very convincing (e.g. the constant surprisal explains the sensory overload Eric talks about in the OP). I’ve made an attempt to synthesise them, as follows, but I wouldn’t say I’m confident in it:

    Suppose that the autist does have a GPU, and the his only neurological abnormality is the overly precise predictions. Humans are the most unpredictable thing in the autistic baby’s environment. Most other things, his overfitting mind can at least get some kind of a handle on, and outperform chance, especially in certain things of a mechanical nature where precision is an asset. But the overfitting GPU produces output that’s no better than white noise, so the developing brain learns to ignore it — all of its Bayesian weights go to epsilon, and because the brain can’t represent epsilon (hence the well-established poor calibration of probabilities close to zero) it just uses zero and unplugs the GPU entirely. So even if, later in life, the GPU would be able to make useful predictions with the better data that the brain has available… it never gets the chance because it’s not being listened to.

    • Single model might be the wrong approach to autism.

      With cancer, is is plausible that there are a bunch of different mechanisms, effectively different diseases, but we just lump them together under the same label because historically the differences have not been apparent. Autism might be the same; brain has a lot of complexity, different problems might result in dysfunction of the same system, and who knows how it all really works?

      Consider the analogy of the sensory nerve strand feeding into the brain with a electrical sensor and a hardware (or even software) processing chain. Like the up/down chain on a transceiver, but one way. The optical nerve may be doing some filtering and processing, or at least if it isn’t, only the experts know.

      A filter with two defects would explain some of the issues. a) significant amounts of information is randomly lost b) down stream of the filter, there is bandwidth for the amount of information that would normally be passed, and it is filled to capacity by selecting some of the retained information to repeat.

      So, touch signals don’t go away, you hear people on the other side of the room who aren’t talking to you, and you miss stuff that matters to others.

      • Single model might be the wrong approach to autism.

        Agreed. (Same goes for a lot of other psychiatric diagnoses, like depression.) Which suggests that we shouldn’t reject a model just because we already have one, at least if there are any cases that the new model seems to fit better to — they could be models of two different autisms. OTOH it’s worth looking for syntheses if, by doing so, we can capture both models’ predictions more parsimoniously.

        Your filtering and winnowing model sounds like it could be plausible too — in what ways would people with that behave differently to people with PP-autism or GPU-autism? Do those differences allow us to make any sense of previously-confusing variation in autistic traits?

      • b) down stream of the filter, there is bandwidth for the amount of information that would normally be passed, and it is filled to capacity by selecting some of the retained information to repeat.

        I think a better version of this theory would be: there isn’t bandwidth for all the information, so there’s a compression stage (at this point it’s worth mentioning that a number of cognitive functions, like ‘learning’, can be conceptualised as a kind of compression). When the filter is defective, there’s less data going through, so it compresses it less (uses higher-fidelity models). And that’s in turn kinda-sorta analogous to the overfitting that goes on in the PP theory; we might be on to something here…

    • I think your analysis is pretty reasonable, except in one detail. I think *everyone* has to learn to model other peoples’ behaviors for social interactions. The issue is *when* it’s learned. Like many other skills, if it’s learned young enough, and practiced well enough, it becomes second nature. If you learn it a little bit later, you remember the learning process, and are aware that you are employing the skill to model others. That isn’t to say it’s entirely environmental, as like other skills, natural aptitude plays a large part in how quickly and how easily a skill is learned. Essentially, rather than a dedicated co-processor which some people are physically missing, it’s more like a library written into the firmware.

      There’s two reasons I think this. First is that children who spend their first 2 years in a minimal care orphanage (get nearly 0 physical or social interaction) are incredibly likely to exhibit autistic behavior. Likewise, children with un-diagnosed serious vision trouble. Second is that children who are just starting to exhibit autistic behavior, and are then given intensive one on one coaching often cease the autistic behavior and then develop normally.

      • I think *everyone* has to learn to model other peoples’ behaviors for social interactions. The issue is *when* it’s learned.

        That’s not necessarily inconsistent with there being a hardware accelerator for it. GPUs still have to be programmed before they’ll draw pretty pictures. And developing a graphics library will take longer if the GPU you’re testing it on is flaky. (Is that what you meant by “natural aptitude”?)

        First is that children who spend their first 2 years in a minimal care orphanage (get nearly 0 physical or social interaction) are incredibly likely to exhibit autistic behavior.

        Interesting, I didn’t know that. It could also be somewhat explained by the “brain learns to ignore the social-predictor module if it’s useless” part of my synthesis, though I’m not sure whether that’s explaining or just explaining away. Certainly I didn’t predict it!

        • >That’s not necessarily inconsistent with there being a hardware accelerator for it. GPUs still have to be programmed before they’ll draw pretty pictures.

          Agreed. And it’s not just behavior-modeling that’s in question here- look at the (in)ability to read non-verbal and physical cues. Think body language. There the difference between get-it and don’t-get-it is distinct and profound.

          Children who receive little stimulation and contact in their first 2 years exhibit all manner of problems, up and and including ‘stop eating and die’. Hard to pick out specific things from such system-wide failure, I think.

        • Ugh, not a fan of the forum software… I accidentally clicked the downvote button reaching for the upvote button, and it won’t let me retract or replace the vote… Sigh…

          Anyway, I can’t really think of a clear test to determine hardware/firmware, but I’m also not sure how much it matters… I know that I remember learning the skill, but I’m a bit of an odd case. I was deaf from an unknown time (probably around 3-6 months) until I was a bit over 18 months old. I then recovered most of my hearing (hearing tests say I’m 100%, but I *know* I struggle processing audio sometimes, it’s not the binary is-there-a-sound test, it’s the what-does-this-sound-mean test which I’d ‘fail’). Because of this delay in both learning to understand people and learning to speak, I *remember* learning both.

          A good friend of my family adopted a young girl out of Romania about 20 years ago. The orphanage had a staff of about 4 people, and took care of 50+ infants. You can do the math on the amount of one-on-one contact they *could* give; it’s not good. Most of the children coming out of that sort of environment exhibit some degree of autistic behavior, and most of them recover to *some* degree, depending on how old they are when they get adopted and probably uncountably many other factors.

      • First is that children who spend their first 2 years in a minimal care orphanage (get nearly 0 physical or social interaction) are incredibly likely to exhibit autistic behavior. Likewise, children with un-diagnosed serious vision trouble. Second is that children who are just starting to exhibit autistic behavior, and are then given intensive one on one coaching often cease the autistic behavior and then develop normally.

        Do you have references for this? I’d be curious to see more details.

        • There’s the Romanian orphans, so-called wolf children and severely abused children such as the famous (in linguistics anyway) case of Genie. Part of the problem here is a) different definitions of autism (which have changed a lot in my lifetime) and b) the fact that such comprehensive neglect/abuse can cause general system failure as another commenter put it.

          If you were requesting a reference for the bit about coaching, I only have a vague one. I remember reading a case study in the Reader’s Digest, back in the 70s or 80s, of a couple curing/ameliorating their daughter of autism with intense coaching. It involved a lot of operant conditioning.

    • Slight drift here, but it’s something I’ve always wondered.

      How effectively can model-seeking behavior be *taught*?

    • One thing this theory immediately explains is why aspies are so overrepresented in programming whereas classic autists don’t seem to be: aspies are overrepresented in precisely the same way that model-seekers in general are, but model-seeking doesn’t normally have a readily observable feature (other than ‘is a programmer’ ;-) for programming to correlate with.

      If that was the case, autists+aspies, wouldn’t be overrepresented among programmers, and I’m pretty sure they are.

      • Yeah, fair point, this has to also be combined with something like “the overfitting as per the PP model is less of a handicap in CS than elsewhere, so aspies are concentrated in programming whereas non-autistic model-seekers are spread out across the sciences generally”.

        The point is that it’s not necessary for overfitting to be a positive benefit in CS in order to produce overrepresentation either of aspies or of aspies+autists. Getting there by concentrating all fields of employment down to CS purely on cost-of-overfitting would require a much bigger difference between CS and everything else, than having model-seeking do part of the work.

  10. Like many here on this blog, I am slightly autistic as well, but my symptoms are mild and I do not present as an outlier to the world at large. And with respect to social interaction, my interface with others is largely the libertarian “Live and Let Live” model. I am me, you are you, and we each do our own thing. In practice (and with regard to this OP), I don’t really experience much impact from the opinions of others (other than to note them as data). As such, when I have an original idea (and say someone else disagrees), I note it and move on. It doesn’t change my mindset, attitude, or behavior. In essence, you’re just another Homo sapien with an opinion. No big deal.

  11. > That would imply that the autists live in a state of what is, for them, perpetual sensory overload.

    You didn’t know this already? Wow.

    I thought everyone knew this. Everyday life presents the brain with so much data it’s like sucking on a firehose. Too much. To cope with that, we have to learn to replace the flood of sensory data with conceptual units (like “grass” instead of the sensory details of each surface of each blade thereof). This is probably why people on the Spectrum tend to be good with computers, dealing with structured data rather than unstructured information, writing functions and subroutines and designing more efficient data structures, to ruthlessly reduce complexity out of sheer survival drive.

    Why do you think people on the Spectrum tend not to want to be touched? Millions of sensory nerves in the skin firing up, on top of all the rest. JUST MAKE IT STOP PLEASE!

    • Guess you didn’t read as far as the bit where Eric says

      That was decades ago. Nowadays, the idea that autists have a sensory-overload problem is not even controversial

      Actually, I should mention as a datum that I, a diagnosed aspie, don’t suffer from sensory overload and don’t recall ever having done. Cognitive overload, yes — sometimes there are just too many things to think about, which leads to a kind of catatonic shutdown and not thinking about any of them, or anything else — but not sensory. Like most ASD traits, this one doesn’t seem to be universal.

      Why do you think people on the Spectrum tend not to want to be touched?

      This of course is one of the reasons that working with autists is so heart-rending. If you have any capability at all to empathise with them, and feel their emotional pain, you desperately want to hug them — but you know that that’s the worst thing you could do.

      • That also depends on the individual. For some, firm, unmoving contact can serve as a focusing point and actually help block out other input. This requires a great deal of trust, since they’re relying on the hugger to watch for anything potentially dangerous.

      • That the so-called “experts” didn’t know this back then is even worse than ESR not knowing it.

        Sensory overload doesn’t necessarily lead to cognitive overload, if we have those “subroutines” or “graphics co-processors” functioning to filter the raw sensory data down to tolerable percepts and concepts.

      • I should mention as a datum that I, a diagnosed aspie, don’t suffer from sensory overload and don’t recall ever having done.

        I retract that. I was unusually sensitive to loud noises during childhood, and I’d somehow managed to totally forget that fact. Not full-on sensory overload, but I definitely did have some sensory autistic traits. (I also have the hates-clothing-labels thing, btw.)

  12. Speaking of people with nerve, have you seen Wolfram’s new theory? He believes he has developed a new framework which can explain physics. Except it’s more complicated than that; it’s a framework for developing ANY kind of physics from simple rules – apparently the idea is to make it available and see if anyone can come up with our universes physics. I don’t have nearly the mathematics necessary to even come close to understanding or evaluating it, but if you want nerve, he just threw it up on the web yesterday.

    Here’s the main website:

    https://www.wolframphysics.org/

    and here’s his introduction to what he’s up to:

    https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2020/04/finally-we-may-have-a-path-to-the-fundamental-theory-of-physics-and-its-beautiful/

    I’d be really curious what anyone thought of it.

    • >I’d be really curious what anyone thought of it.

      It’s very cute, but I’m not yet seeing a satisfactory account of how you get from it to something resembling actual physics. The fact that you can get a lot of emergent structure out of iteration of simple production rules is not really breaking news.

      • My math skills lasted about half-way through the intruduction, and the idea I got (very heavily simplified) was that someone with the proper knowledge could “fill in the variables,” run a gigantic simulation, and see what kind of physics it produced. Beyond that, I think you’d have to read the whole 440-some page paper to know how it works, and I have no idea whether it’s worth the time.

        On the other hand, it’s probably top-grade ammunition to a working science-fiction author, and while I have no idea about the physics, I can see it generating a successful science-fiction series. (If your math produces a graph which resembles a tardigrade, you’ve probably violated someone’s copyright!)

        • Wolfram’s been banging this drum for a while, hasn’t he? Is this the cellular automata thing?

          One problem that any sort of “cellular-automata” based physics will have to somehow overcome to be directly relevant to our physics is Lorenz invariance. You can sort of come up with grids that are disordered enough to behave isotropically under rotations (isotropic to some limit), but under Lorenz transformations, any grid is eventually going to distort until you run into anisotropy at some speed.

          Another problem is that (if the universe is really doing quantum mechanics, and we’re not all staring cross-eyed at some sort of statistical mechanics over wave mechanics, then you’ve got an exponentially huge amount of state to represent. In QM, the universe doesn’t really live in our 4d space-time-as-we-understand-it, but something that looks a lot like a configuration space.)

            • >Nevermind, this is apparently something new.

              Nevertheless, I think your objection still applies. Wolfram’s productions generally yield graphs that are fractally self-similar but with a distinguishable origin point – the universe has a navel. It’s not easy to see how you get even simple isotropy out of structure like that, much less Lorentz-invariance.

          • >One problem that any sort of “cellular-automata” based physics will have to somehow overcome to be directly relevant to our physics is Lorenz invariance.

            *headdesk*

            I should have noticed that. Why didn’t I notice that?

            I salute you, sir. That is a brilliant and incisive point.

          • I know I’m misusing the term, but my brain went, “Configuration space?” Then spit this out:

            #FORCES
            Strong
            Weak
            Electromagnetism
            # Magic
            Gravity

            #PARTICLES
            proton
            neutron
            electron
            quark
            # bozon
            # bobyon

            #QUARK_TYPES
            up
            down
            charm
            strange
            # normal…

    • You know Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory? I used to think he was supposed to be a parody, specifically, of Stephen Wolfram.

      The major difference being, Sheldon actually did valuable physics recently.

  13. I am a diagnosed sperg. I find it very hard to meditate. Tried a lot, really. Did not work too well. Actually the basic Zen type worked to a certain extent but it requires sitting in half lotus to which my knees said nope. The more interesting Tibetan type with visualization and mantras, did nearly nothing to me. Eventually I gave up. I am just amusical to meditation. So in my case the theory does not hold.

    First, I am only shutting out sensory data whenever I am lost deep in my thoughts. Second, when I am not, I am super good at noticing sensory data other people do not. That might be because I am also diagnosed with ADHD – but it is generally understood that the sperg and ADHD are closely related stuff, hard to tell apart. Third, even if I shut out sensory data, the inner dialogue, the train of thoughts just takes over. Which is why I cannot meditate. I either think, or get sleepy. The not-sleepy, vibrantly aware yet “empty” state of mind I reached maybe twice in maybe 300 hours of trying, which is not a good ROI.

    No, I think you are an a wrong track if you think experimental mysticism is about reproducing autistic states of mind.

    • >I either think

      In words! Not because that is the best way to figure things out, but because I rarely have to deal with hard technical problems to solve, almost everything I think about, and I think almost everything I think about involve an aspect of telling about it to other people and usually it is the biggest aspect, hence verbal thinking. You say you only think verbally when you are planning to communicate things, I am saying for most of us who are not dealing with super hard technical things, to communicate something is the whole reason to think about it. All our thoughts are speech or writing drafts.

      • We use words because those words are tags for concepts. We use concepts because they are more economical than countless percepts or bits of sensory data.

        None of us here would do
        for X in 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
        when we could do
        for X in {1..10}
        That’s what integrating sensory data into percepts into concepts into higher-level concepts does. It unloads that complexity. And the process of conceptualization requires that tag to represent the concept. We literally can’t conceptualize without language. This is not necessarily “words” in a natural language; we can construct technical languages with symbols that aren’t “words” per se, but even then we come up with words to describe those symbols. The Jargon File is full of them.

        • Yes, but ESR blogged just a while ago that he only thinks in words if he is planning to speak or write them. (I replied that planning to speak or write is the whole reason most people, including me, think, because we are not in the business of solving hard technical problems all the time. I write technically simple programs, but they involve a lot of communication both before and after.)

          I have also wrote a while ago in a comment here, that once I got a brutal bacteria + virus combo that made me so exhausted I couldn’t even walk really, and in this state of mind, when part of my brain was apparently too tired to work but other parts worked, I was dreaming/hallucinating in abstract concepts, without the usual verbal or visual narration.

          It was remarkably like the control structures of a programming language decoupled from data. One was like “we must / must be done / imperative tone” + “copy this object, possibly to infinite copies” without any idea what that object would be. The other one was like, “imperative tone” + “take these objects apart”, again without a reference to what they are, at that point it felt like everything including humans, so that made the experience badly nightmarish.

          • >It was remarkably like the control structures of a programming language decoupled from data.

            Yeah, this is me when I’m not planning communication.

    • >No, I think you are an a wrong track if you think experimental mysticism is about reproducing autistic states of mind.

      I’m not sure it’s as inconsistent with the data as you think.

      Hypothesis:

      The autistic state of mind in general isolates the conscious mind from the senses.

      In normal people and classical autists, it also isolates the conscious mind from the intellectual processing bits. Normal social/emotional function requires being out of the autistic state.

      Normal people do not normally enter the state, but have mystical experiences when they do.

      Classical autists have sensory overload issues that force them to learn to access, and spend most of their time, in the autistic state of mind. Keeping sensory overload under control requires so much time spent in the autistic state that it impairs their social skills.

      Aspergers cases do not have sensory overload issues, but are able to access the autistic state of mind with less effort than others, to the point of having difficulty staying out of it (basically, hardware/firmware trouble with the switching circuitry, rather than overload consciously driving them into it in software, as with classical autists). Moreover, the intellectual processing bits are not isolated from the conscious mind in the autistic state and follow it into the sensory shutout cage. Defaulting to the autistic state impairs social skills, and Aspergers cases don’t see it as a mystical state like neurotypicals do because it’s our default (or at least a large portion of their waking life) and our intellectual faculties are in there with us, so things are never entirely quiet.

      I think the above paragraph is a fairly good summary of my experience with Aspergers or whatever I have.

    • >No, I think you are an a wrong track if you think experimental mysticism is about reproducing autistic states of mind.

      Speaking as an experimental mystic, so do I. “Autistic states of mind” is too narrow a filter.

      An experimental mystic is interested in learning how to replicate at will any states of altered consciousness that are instructive or useful. Whether or not these states coincide with what’s experientially normal for an autist.

  14. Something to keep in mind when considering if your theory is right and the experts are wrong: The experts are pretty much always wrong about *something*. Also, when they’re wrong, they’re often spectacularly wrong.

    I used to have a much longer list committed to memory, because I used to discuss this more often, but off the top of my head, here are a handful.

    The Earth rotates around Sol.
    Evolution happens.
    DNA and not amino acids are the genetic material.
    Biogenesis.

    Here is an example which the biologists still haven’t corrected, but which any physicist can point out *must* be wrong: transpiration (on this one, I actually have a data point which I think explains what’s really going on).

    And here’s an explanation of *why* these sorts of errors are so common in the sciences, starting with a couple anecdotes.

    I was sitting in physics 204, listening to what was mostly a rehash from my much higher level chemistry (300 and 400 level) classes on the Boltzmann model when the professor dropped this nugget: “There is a very small, but non-zero probability of all the air in the room moving to one side of the room [without work being done on the room]”. That *is* what the Boltzmann model indicates, but it is simply false. The professor was conflating the model we use to make the math tractable with the physical reality of the room.

    In my physical chemistry class, we were using mathematical models to explore properties of various exotic systems. The professor walked us through a fairly complicated system, then asked “what would happen to the system if [x property] were greater than [y property]?” As we students started scribbling away trying to find the answer, he stopped us and asked “what would the density of such a configuration have to be, roughly?” Turns out the initial question he asked was nonsensical, since it would have required a system with a density about 10 times that of mercury. He then hammered home his point: remember, your model is just a model, you have to keep an eye on how well it matches reality.

    Most of our understanding of the world is based on models. Those models have limitations, relevant ranges, underlying assumptions, and approximations. We often go down deep rabbit holes when we miss a limitation of a model. Unfortunately, when we teach the models we use to others, we often have internalized the limitations of the model enough that we don’t think to pass on those limits explicitly to others. A couple generations of this and you have people, so called “experts”, who totally forgot what limitations a model has, and assume anything it calculates *must* be true.

    • Models are abstractions; all abstractions are leaky. Treating models as reality is map/territory confusion, and will eventually, inevitably result in someone following the map right over a cliff.

      An expert is someone who has experiential knowledge of territory. An “expert” is someone with a handful of maps.

      (aside: an intellectual is someone who draws his own fantasy maps and demands the territory change to fit)

      • I think that’s a pretty good summary. I think my training as a chemist led me to spotting these “leaky” abstractions, as in chemistry, all the models we use are truly rather terrible (but are the best we have). Once you get used to “how do I pick the least bad abstraction for the given application?” you start asking that sort of question everywhere.

    • the professor dropped this nugget: “There is a very small, but non-zero probability of all the air in the room moving to one side of the room [without work being done on the room]”

      I have a similar experience when I see people claiming that there is a small but non-zero probability that they will quantum tunnel through a wall, because Brian Greene said in one of his TV specials that that’s what quantum mechanics predicts.

      • Yup, that’s exactly the same class of error. The underlying error in the model is assuming that the particles in the system are non-interacting. Thing is that in both cases (the air particles moving to one side of the room, or the electrons and nuclei in your body quantum tunneling), the first particle moving costs energy, which actually decreases the probability of another particle doing the same within a tiny amount of time. This means there’s a practical limit which the abstract model doesn’t take into account.

        • I thought that quantum probabilities only actually went to *zero* at stuff like nodal planes, where two components cancel out through destructive interference.

          The effect you describe should merely take the probability from astronomically unlikely to mind-crogglingly unlikely (maybe add a couple more Knuth up-arrows to the odds), not zero it out completely.

          • Also, I don’t think there anything in the calculation that would push it up to the Knuth arrow scale. After all the wave function decays exponentially and particle interactions doesn’t change this. So this stuff is merely exponentially unlikely, not Knuth up-arrow unlikely.

            • the wave function decays exponentially

              For a single quantum next to a simple potential barrier, the wave function decays exponentially through the barrier, yes.

              But a human is not a single quantum and a wall is not a simple potential barrier. They’re not even close–like a factor of 10^25 not even close. The idea that there is some valid approximation scheme that will predict the same qualitative tunneling behavior for a human next to a wall as for a single quantum next to a simple potential barrier is, to put it mildly, going way beyond what our current knowledge can support.

              • But a human is not a single quantum

                So raise your probability to the number of particles in a human, which is equivalent to multiplying your exponent by that number. Still on the exponential scale.

                They’re not even close–like a factor of 10^25 not even close.

                10^25 is actually rather small by Knuth standards.

                • So raise your probability to the number of particles in a human

                  No, because in the words of Philip Anderson, “more is different”. To even ask the question “what is the probability for a human to tunnel through a wall”, you have to already have made the hugely extravagant assumption that 10^25 quanta is just like one quantum when it comes to tunneling, except for the number of quanta. That’s not the case.

                  • Is “particles obey the Schrödinger equation whether they’re in a human or not” a hugely extravagant assumption?

                    (You’re not one of those Filthy Copenhagenists™ who believes wavefunctions collapse when you look at them funny, are you?)

                    • “A human, as a unit, obeys the Schroedinger equation” almost certainly is, given that
                      m_human >> m_Planck.

                      The individual particles in your body might tunnel through the wall next to you (with an obscenely long half life). You, living and in one piece, won’t.

                    • s “particles obey the Schrödinger equation whether they’re in a human or not” a hugely extravagant assumption?

                      It might be, depending on whether you think QM is really a fundamental theory, but that isn’t the assumption I was talking about. The assumption I was talking about is that particles obey the Schrodinger Equation with the exact same Hamiltonian whether they are in a human body next to a wall or individual particles next to a simple potential barrier. That is obviously false.

                    • @A data point:
                      The individual particles in your body might tunnel through the wall next to you

                      No, they won’t, because they’re not individual free particles next to a simple potential barrier. They are bound inside your body. And the wall is not a simple potential barrier.

          • I thought that quantum probabilities only actually went to *zero* at stuff like nodal planes

            In a very simple model where you have just one quantum in a simple potential well, yes, that’s what happens.

            Assuming that the same qualitative behavior will still occur when you have a human made of something like 10^25 quanta with a horribly complicated set of interactions next to a wall also made of something like 10^25 quanta with a horribly complicated set of interactions is something else entirely.

            • More like 10**28, assuming you’re about 150 lbs. Each electron needs its own treatment. Oh, and it starts to get fun when you realize the trace amounts of heavy metals and the like have sufficient charge for their electrons to start exhibiting relativistic effects.

        • > The underlying error in the model is assuming that the particles in the system are non-interacting. Thing is that in both cases (the air particles moving to one side of the room, or the electrons and nuclei in your body quantum tunneling), the first particle moving costs energy, which actually decreases the probability of another particle doing the same within a tiny amount of time.

          Interaction or no interaction, for the “gas in a room” case, you begin with a measurement of the state of the gas made with limited-precision instruments (for example, the temperature and pressure in each cubic centimeter of the room) . This state can correspond to any one of a number of actual physical states (specified to the full precision that the laws of physics allow, such as a complete list of particles with a full position and velocity for each).

          If we ask what the probability is for the current limited-precision state to become some other limited-precision state (such as one with zero pressure in half of the room), we ask what fraction of full-precision states corresponding to the current limited-precision state, when time evolved to an arbitrary future time, will reach a full-precision state corresponding to the other limited-precision state. There *will* be pairs of limited-precision states, where one state has homogeneous temperature and pressure throughout the room, and the other has homogeneous temperature and pressure in half the room and vacuum in the other half, for which this fraction is nonzero (albeit vanishingly small).

          Proof: Start with a half-vacuum limited-precision state. Choose one of its corresponding full precision states, and time evolve it forward. The gas will spread out into the rest of the room. Wait until the corresponding limited-precision state has homogenous temperature and pressure in the entire room (in other words, until the reverberating sound waves die down into thermal noise). Now reverse the velocities of all the particles in the full-precision state. You have constructed a full-precision state corresponding to a homogenous limited-precision state that will evolve into a full-precision state that corresponds to a half-vacuum state. So it *is* possible. Now if your laws of physics are such that the full-precision states have infinite precision, such an evolution may actually be possible but have probability zero. If the full-precision states have finite precision, then the probability of such an evolution will be non-zero.

          • So, for an arbitrary room, yes, some of them may be able to spontaneously have all the air wind up on one side of the room. That’s a different claim than claiming a particular room, at roughly 1 atm and 293 kelvin can do it.

            Let’s continue with your example, start with a room with all the air on one side. The air rapidly expands to the other side, impacting the wall, and reverberating. Let’s assume the walls survive the ordeal. The walls still transfer a great deal of the free energy from the system (the room) to the surroundings. We wait while the reverberations die out. Then we magically reverse the velocity of each particle in the system… and it doesn’t go back to where it started. Why? The energy lost through the walls doesn’t come back. Without making the walls reverberate by striking them from the outside, the air particles lack the energy needed to overcome the electron-electron repulsion to end up all back on the one side of the room.

            Remember, that model is the model for an ideal gas. There are no ideal gasses, but any gas behaves mostly like an ideal gas at sufficiently low pressure and sufficiently high temperature. When you start considering particularly exotic systems, it rapidly breaks down.

            • >So, for an arbitrary room, yes, some of them may be able to spontaneously have all the air wind up on one side of the room. That’s a different claim than claiming a particular room, at roughly 1 atm and 293 kelvin can do it.

              For a particular room known to be in a particular microstate, either the time evolution of the room’s state will produce a future state that meets a given set of criteria, or it will not. For a particular room only known to be in a particular macrostate, the actual microstate will be some arbitrary state out of a large set consistent with the macrostate. As we only know the macrostate for any actual physical room, we cannot completely rule out the possibility that the microstate might actually be one that produces a half vacuum.

              >Let’s continue with your example, start with a room with all the air on one side. The air rapidly expands to the other side, impacting the wall, and reverberating. Let’s assume the walls survive the ordeal.

              As long as we consider the walls part of the system, whether they survive is irrelevant.

              >Then we magically reverse the velocity of each particle in the system… and it doesn’t go back to where it started.

              You’ve treated the surroundings as part of the system for the purposes of transferring energy, but not for the purposes of reversing velocities. Let’s be consistent.

              > Remember, that model is the model for an ideal gas. There are no ideal gasses, but any gas behaves mostly like an ideal gas at sufficiently low pressure and sufficiently high temperature. When you start considering particularly exotic systems, it rapidly breaks down.

              It doesn’t matter if the gas is ideal. All that changes is the relation between the macrostate of the half vacuum and the homogenous macrostate that it time evolves to/from. If the gas is non-ideal, the half-vacuum corresponding to a given homogenous macrostate will be cooler if the intermolecular forces are repulsive, or hotter if they are attractive, and there will be some homogenous states that don’t have a corresponding half vacuum for repulsive forces, or half-vacuums that don’t have a corresponding homogenous state for attractive forces (in other words, expanding the gas to the full volume of the room causes some fraction of it to condense to a liquid, so it separates into liquid and gas regions and never becomes homogenous).

              But whether or not a particular homogenous room can become a half vacuum is determined by the macrostate (temperature, pressure) and the exact characteristics of the intermolecular forces in the gas. For any reasonable, human-scale room, the odds of a homogenous to half-vacuum transition are so long that we can be nearly certain that it hasn’t happened yet in the history of the universe, and likely won’t until the universe is many, many times older.

  15. @esr:

    In English, Austism = Autos (greek) = self. So might be simple there. In most other languages it is referred to by similar borrwed words (e.g. autisme in french. Autismus in German. Otizm in Turkish, Awetism in Persian). In Arabic, they have taken a completely different route in describing the condition which I find fascinating in light of your blog. The Arabic word for autism isn’t derived/borrowed from the Greek/English. It is not derived from any Arabic root (DH-A-T) related to “self” either. Instead it is derived from the root (W-H-D) which refers to one (oneness). The word for autism in Arabic is “Ta-WaH-HoD”. It literally means the excessive need to exist in a state of oneness (ie be by oneself) and shut off from all else. I never quite understood why they coined that particular term for the condition. But I and am now beginning wonder if those who coined the Arabic term have been influenced by ideas similar to yours and found a more fitting word to describe the condition. It would have been just as easy to borrow the more phonemically-efficient word (autism) as they commonly do with many other diseases. Or coin a term from another root that would more closely approximate the English word.

    Interestingly, the root (W-H-D) is also a mystical one. It is the same root that refers to the “one (true) God”, and the Sufi metaphysical principle of unity/oneness of existence (“WaHDat al-wujuud”). The exact same word used to describe autism in Arabic (“Tawahhod”) also refers to the Sufi transcendental mental state of achieving oneness/unity with God (“al-Tawahhod al-Sufi”). Being shut off from the worldly being a pre-requisite to achieving unity with the divine.

    As for Sufi Dhikr, your description is correct. The goal is achieving the ultimate state of inner peace and that can only be achieved if the purest state of Dhikr can be achieved. At the root of it is a simpler principle than flying monkeys: “Verily, it is through the “Dkhikr” of Allah (rememberance of God) that hearts can attain calm and peace (serenity)”.

    • >At the root of it is a simpler principle than flying monkeys: “Verily, it is through the “Dkhikr” of Allah (rememberance of God) that hearts can attain calm and peace (serenity)”.

      I don’t think you understand. In Zen language the goal of meditation is to shut up the drunken monkeys. They are a symbol of the both distractions of the phenomenal world and the chaos of the undisciplined mind. The goal of dhikr and sitting zazen is to achieve perfect serenity untroubled by attachment to the world.

      The differences between the goal of dhikr and a Zen state of serene mind can be analyzed on two levels: the induction method and the belief content. Both induction methods are autohypnotic, but while the Sufi method requires a lot of motion and props and excitement, the Zen method boils down to breath control and visualizations.

      Of course the belief content is different too, mainly in that Sufism drags in a boatload of unnecessary theistic horseshit that Zen almost (sadly, only “almost”) entirely avoids.

      • @esr:

        Just file “drunken monkies” under “the devil” category (monotheism). For the muslims, distractions (e.g. during prayer) are from the devil. The devil can “enter” (distract) via the sensory world. As it can via polluting thoughts of the undisciplined mind. The Dhikr (rememberance of God) that is calming and brings serenity isn’t possible so long as distractions of the devil are present.

        • >Just file “drunken monkies” under “the devil” category (monotheism). For the muslims, distractions (e.g. during prayer) are from the devil. The devil can “enter” (distract) via the sensory world. As it can via polluting thoughts of the undisciplined mind. The Dhikr (rememberance of God) that is calming and brings serenity isn’t possible so long as distractions of the devil are present.

          One is beginning to think like an experimental mystic when one begins to recognize isomorphisms like this; the language and belief content are different but the structure of the experience is the same. The next step is to study the language and practices of mystical traditions across time and cultures and notice that the agreement about that structure is as strong, or stronger, than the disagreements about language and surrounding religious beliefs.

          Then…you throw out all the stuff that these mystics have demonstrated is inessential by the fact that they disagree on it, strip mysticism to its phenomenological bones.

          The reason I admire Zen so much is that there are some versions of it that are very close to being properly cleaned out. Theism gone, supernaturalism gone, practice and rhetoric stripped to the running gears.

          • @esr

            Yes I agree. The structure and experience are the same. But the goals (Zen vs. Sufis) seem different to me. Also different is the quality of the final product (literature, universalist values etc). That is why disagreements about language or surrounding beliefs (theism, supernaturalism etc) cannot be easily overlooked. Important to note that orientalists (18th and 19century) considered Sufism a separate realm of human achievement (besides science and art).

            The goal of the Sufi is perhaps best illustrated by this this 800 years old Andalusian poem. The poem is by Abu al-Hasan al-Shushtari of Andalusian Spain. You can listen to it in the original Arabic and in music form on youtube here

            Cleaned up translation here:

            Layla has robbed me of my reason
            I said: O Layla, have mercy on those (you have) slain

            Her love is hidden
            embedded in me.. deep with-in
            O you who are entranced by her
            Humble yourself in her love

            I am a wanderer, who’s fallen madly in love
            and for her, I am but servant and slave
            O censurer, offering (only) blame and reproach
            (Would you) lay off me for a while
             
            I camped out on her doorstep
            and knocked at the door
            I asked the doorman,
            “Will I ever see union with her?”
            “Do I stand a chance for union with her?”

            He said to me, “My friend,
            Her dowry is your soul.
            Many a lover (before you)
            has come to the point of desiring death (for her)”

            O lover ..
            If (in your quest) you be truthful and sincere
            and with all else part your ways
            then union with her you shall win.

            PS: Layla – metaphor for divine love.

            • >PS: Layla – metaphor for divine love

              That was obvious by the end of the second stanza. I have read mystical poetry before. :-)

              What causes you to suppose that the experience of Sufi “divine love” is anything but the bog-standard bliss of enlightenment found across dozens of traditions? It comes in a theistic wrapper, yes, but that is far from unusual.

              • > That was obvious by the end of the second stanza. I have read mystical poetry before. :-)

                I actually put it for other readers who might find this stuff interesting

                > What causes you to suppose that the experience of Sufi “divine love” is anything but the bog-standard bliss of enlightenment found across dozens of traditions? It comes in a theistic wrapper, yes, but that is far from unusual.

                I don’t. First order effects are the same. Pronounced differences in degree/quality can only be attributable to higher order effects, nonlinearities, sharp optima, non-idealities, and the like. I file the theistic baggage under the non-idealities cateogry.

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