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Albert Einstein: High Functioning Autistic

  1. Mar 17, 2010 #1


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    I thought this short 4 minute video was worthwhile, it presents a brief summary of Einstein's life and why some professional psychiatrists say that Einstein was a high functioning autistic.

    His own words seem to reinforce that view below: see http://www.aip.org/history/einstein/essay.htm":
    These words stood out to me as well, from the link, not the video:

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
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  3. Mar 17, 2010 #2


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    I don't see any form of autism in what he wrote. Why do people insist on trying to diagnose dead people? That could describe me.
  4. Mar 17, 2010 #3


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    The person in the video keeps saying Einstein had trouble "communicating his thoughts". I've read many of Einstein's essays and the clarity of his writing is exemplary.
  5. Mar 17, 2010 #4
    They're not talking about how he explains physical concepts. High functioning autism people are experts on their areas of interest. Mostly they have one area of interest (or 2), in which they devote all their time to mastering. And when asked to communicate this area of interest, their writings reflect their knowledge.

    High functioning autism people are basically normal, except what is the outside world for many people becomes their inside world. It doesn't affect the ability to think in any way, it just means that person's brain is different and so they have a different filter perceiving the outside world.

    There is a general criteria that is applied to people with high functioning autism, most of the following points are included in that criteria:
    - No/little need for social interaction
    - Expert, or close to it, in chosen field of interest (I guess the stupid ones couldn't do this, but it wouldn't stop them spending all their time on a select few interests.)
    - Trouble understanding sarcasm (some, not all)
    - Trouble understanding social situations (some, not all)

    Many other things come under high functioning autism. You can have high functioning autism by a psychologist's standard yet only fit 75% of the criteria.

    E.G. Einstein: "Einstein was also a fanatical slob, refusing to "dress properly" for anyone. Either people knew him or they didn't, he reasoned - so it didn't matter either way."
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2010
  6. Mar 17, 2010 #5
    so is there, or has there ever been, a human being who has not been high-functioning autistic or had a55 burgers or whatever? & what is the basis for those criteria?
  7. Mar 17, 2010 #6
    It seems to me that the definition of "autistic" continues to broaden over time. Before we know it, 90 % of humans will be labeled as "autistic".

    Take your pick of labels ...

    high functioning autistic
    no-symptom autistic
    emotionally cognizant autistic
    autistic with delusions of normalcy

    Whatever you want to call him, he was one of a kind, and I'd like to know where to apply to obtain this form of autism.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2010
  8. Mar 17, 2010 #7
    That's a very good question, and psychologists/psychiatrists have tried to answer it by creating a spectrum on which everyone lies.

    |'neurotypicals'| ------ |'aspergers'/high functioning autism|------------------------|autism|

    an autistic person would fit all critera to a very severe degree, to the point they can't communicate at all (not just a lack of desire to communicate).
  9. Mar 17, 2010 #8


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    I wasn't referring to his scientific writings alone. Einstein wrote on a very wide variety of subjects, including politics, religion, education, government, culture, philosophy etc. It seems kind of rediculous and almost farcical to say that he had trouble "communicating", since very few people can communicate so effectively about so many things. Just read some of his essays and you'll see.
  10. Mar 17, 2010 #9
    Everyones got a damn disease now-a-days. Hell if I ever went to one of those quacks they would diagnose me with everything possible.

    Bunch of bollocks.
  11. Mar 17, 2010 #10
    I totally agree.
    My question would be: "Why do people insist on misdiagnosing dead people?"

    The reason, as far as I can figure it out, is to make people with various conditions feel better about themselves, and also to get those around them to treat them more respectfully. "Hey, don't make fun of Joey! Einstein was autistic, too, and look what he accomplished!"

    I think this got started when it was realized that there are about 20 big names from history who had obvious seizures. There's some comfort in that for people with Epilepsy who happen to live in cultures where it's a shunned condition.

    That seems to have sent people picking through history with a fine toothed confirmation bias looking for famous people who might fit their condition of concern. The result has been a compendium of real stretches.

    It's too bad because a lot of historical figures really did fit squarely into modern diagnoses, but the water is so muddied now the average reader can't sort it out.
  12. Mar 17, 2010 #11


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    I think the last two (and especially the last one) are really the most defining feature of autism, the first two may be characteristic of many intelligent introverts (though it's possible that there could be some relation between the neurological differences that make a person more likely to be an intelligent introvert and those that make a person autistic). Would anyone be diagnosed as "autistic" who has no trouble at all understanding social situations or implicit/emotional meanings in people's words? And is there any evidence that Einstein had trouble in these areas?
    That isn't a lack of understanding, it's a lack of caring. Compare with things like schizoid personality disorder or avoidant personality disorder both of which are considered separate from autistic spectrum disorders (I doubt Einstein could qualify as avoidant but schizoid seems just as likely as autistic...and of course, it's quite possible to just be a solitary eccentric who doesn't care much about social norms without qualifying as any of these!)
  13. Mar 17, 2010 #12
    Perhaps in the articles you read about him where they mentioned his aspergers, the author didn't know what they were talking about, and made a huge generalisation.
    For people with high functioning autism, the only communication issue that exists is verbal.
    For people with mild high functioning autism, verbal communication isn't really a problem, they just choose not to speak much.
    So (A) 0 impairment exists in their ability to communicate through writing.
    (B) Little impairment exists in their ability to communicate verbally, reducing as the mildness of the aspergers increases

    Although I'm just speaking from the psychoanalytical perspective.
  14. Mar 17, 2010 #13

    Yes I totally agree. I didn't bring up that example to give credence to the criterion I mentioned, it's just that many aspergers people I know are like this. I should have clarified why I quoted that.

    And I fully agree with your latter analyses. I also think it's highly likely that this label arose post-Einstein based on reports of him and his characteristics. Probably the 'diagnosis' is deficient.
  15. Mar 17, 2010 #14
    You're absolutely right. He wrote thoughtfully and sensitively on a very wide range of subjects.

    What's abundantly clear from his non-scientific writings, and also from many stories about him, is that he possessed that all important quality autistic/Asperger's people lack: Theory of Mind. He could listen to other people and put himself in their shoes, appreciate and discuss their perspective on things, figure out how they were thinking about matters.
  16. Mar 17, 2010 #15
    Here's the DSM on Autism:

  17. Mar 17, 2010 #16


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    If you want to talk about the core neuro deficit in autism, it would seem to be a low-level perceptual integration issue. A difficulty sorting the flood of sensory data into a coherent state. Which itself is likely due to developmental synaptic pruning - wiring the brain via experience so as to chunk and categorise the flow of events.

    Serious autism is about a world that seems fragmented, too loud, too busy. And the behaviours follow from that.

    There are many autobiographical accounts that atest to this.

    Savants are those who can automate basic skills to a high level. So music, counting, drawing, memorising. Structured activities that can be mastered.

    Autism is then a spectrum complaint. Asperger's would be where the perceptual integration difficulties are minor and so only show as an impairment of perceptual integration at the highest level, at the end of the chain - such as face processing or getting the double meaning of jokes and metaphors.

    Asperger's people describe how they just can't read the facial expressions that would tell them what people are really thinking, which makes people unpredictable, frightening, to them. And why they miss ordinary social cues.

    A bandwagon has certainly developed that wants to identify genius with autism. But genius is usually not too bothered with social norms and social interaction for quite other reasons.

    Einstein would seem like one of the least autistic geniuses as well. He seemed socially well-atuned.
  18. Mar 17, 2010 #17


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    What do you think about my writing? You'd be surprised at how much trouble I have communicating verbally.
  19. Mar 17, 2010 #18
    Why should I care what kind of diseases Einstein carried or whom he married.

  20. Mar 18, 2010 #19
    I doubt Einstein had trouble communicating. What's more, there is a difference between avoiding social contact, and being inept at it. As far as I know he acted normally in his social interactions.
  21. Mar 18, 2010 #20
    90% of man. Females seems not affected, save for extremely low percentages.
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