Albert Einstein: High Functioning Autistic

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  • #1
rhody
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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":
My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude...

These words stood out to me as well, from the link, not the video:
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.
Enjoy...

Rhody...
 
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  • #2
Evo
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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.
 
  • #3
dx
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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.
 
  • #4
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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.

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."
 
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  • #5
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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?
 
  • #6
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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.
 
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  • #7
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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?

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).
 
  • #8
dx
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They're not talking about how he explains physical concepts.

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.
 
  • #9
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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.
 
  • #10
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I don't see any form of autism in what he wrote.
I totally agree.
Why do people insist on trying to diagnose dead people?

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.
 
  • #11
JesseM
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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)
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?
imiyakawa said:
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."
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!)
 
  • #12
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It seems kind of rediculous and almost farcical to say that he had trouble "communicating".

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.
 
  • #13
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That isn't a lack of understanding, it's a lack of caring.


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.
 
  • #14
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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.
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.
 
  • #15
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Here's the DSM on Autism:

The following criterion are from the 2000 Revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). See the DSM-IV-TR manual for details and examples.

1. A total of Six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3).

1. qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
1. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to development level
3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity

2. qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alterative modes of communication such as gesture or mine)
2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

3. restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
3. stereotypes and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

2. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.

3. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintergrative Disorder

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Fourth edition---text revision (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 75.
Click here to return to the IRCA Articles Topic Menu

http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/generalinfo/diagnost.html
 
  • #16
apeiron
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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.
 
  • #17
ideasrule
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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.

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

THAT RHYMES!
 
  • #19
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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.
 
  • #20
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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".

90% of man. Females seems not affected, save for extremely low percentages.
 
  • #21
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Savants are those who can automate basic skills to a high level. So music, counting, drawing, memorising. Structured activities that can be mastered.

And high level athletes. Elite performance comes with intrinsic motivation, total immersion, lack of self-evaluation and when automaticites match behavioral demands. Pretty much what Csikszentmihalyi defined as "flow".
 
  • #22
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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.

yes, and the other part of it is: Pick out a well known person and write (or do) something sensational about that person, whether it can be proved or not, or something 'noticeable', and there will be some interest generated.

I remember about two years ago, some mediocre artist started painting portraits of Greenspan and got some national attention--the portraits were a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10 to me, yet somehow they got the interest and attention far more than what they deserved, in my eyes.

Just about anyone who 'does something' has to devote an amount of time to the area, and will 'appear' to be different from someone else who didn't or doesn't allot the same amount of time to the area. Maybe a lot of people on this forum wouldn't consider Einstein strange for that reason, while others (who may want to gain some attention to write about that 'strangeness') may want to make some money off of people writing another new aspect of a famous person (Einstein).
 
  • #23
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To debate if some one has autism or not is to debate if he was a cat-person or not, it's not a hard category and if some one falls into it is a matter of opinion, not fact; the reason psychiatry has thusfar failed in finding a hard neurological cause for it is probably because they rely on the—probably erroneous—assumption that for any such category which appears as 'similar' to human perception it is always caused by the same cause, and it is one cause. I find that quite debatable.

For all we know, autism can be caused by a thousand different things which are unrelated which merely produce symptoms which are similar to human beings, and most likely it's also a collection of causes. Also, that autism appears more in silicon valley is a strong indication that it's not a hard discrete category as much as simply a vague 'type of person'.

If you're technically able and introverted you're just a Geek, if you're technically able and introverted but have trouble reading facial expressions, you're suddenly HFA, however if you have trouble reading facial expressions but extroverted and not that smart, you're just a normal working class schmo. There is no indication whatsoever I have ever seen that all those three properties do not come from three completely separate and often different causes.
 
  • #24
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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.

Autism does not necessarily show in essays, it is impromptu man-to-man interaction where it would most likely show. For example, I doubt how we act on PF necessarily reflects our personality in physical contact.
 
  • #25
apeiron
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There is no indication whatsoever I have ever seen that all those three properties do not come from three completely separate and often different causes.

And I'm sure you are speaking from a deep familiarity with the neuroscience literature here.
 
  • #26
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And I'm sure you are speaking from a deep familiarity with the neuroscience literature here.
My cousin is a neuroscientist, and he couldn't find it. Also, I've searched, it's not that hard to search for it, I'm quite capable of understanding most neuroscience papers. There hasn't been any evidence for that supposedly aspies have different brains. There are some parallels, but other aspies lack it altogether.

Of course, once whether you're an aspie or not depends on the 'professional opinion' of some one having spent 9 years learning a pseudoscience that diagnoses people based on conversations rather than X-rays it's quite easy to say that those were never truly aspies to begin with. In fact, whether or not asperger is caused by a neurological state, be it one or many cannot be answer at the moment because there is no hard definition of asperger to begin with.
 
  • #27
apeiron
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My cousin is a neuroscientist, and he couldn't find it. Also, I've searched,

Maybe if your cousin really is a neuroscientist he means he knows of the work of Courchesne and many others, but he just does not think their studies to be methodologically sound, adequately replicated, etc. In many cases, this would be a valid criticism.

But if you read what I wrote you would also realise that I was suggesting the brain differences would be very fine-grained. At the dendritic connectivity or cortical column level. So I personally would not expect to see obvious differences in brain scans. And they would be difficult to even see in post-mortem tissue samples unless we really knew the circuit patterns to be looking for.

As I said, my own argument follows from carefully listening to the accounts of those with autism spectrum disorders and then matching that to what is known about brain organisation, brain development, and perceptual processing.
 
  • #28
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Maybe if your cousin really is a neuroscientist he means he knows of the work of Courchesne and many others, but he just does not think their studies to be methodologically sound, adequately replicated, etc. In many cases, this would be a valid criticism.
Maybe, maybe not, the name doesn't ring a bell to me, but I am really bad at remembering names when it comes to this. He did show me some things which he criticized as assuming too much and colouring and having some systematic biases, and I agreed.

Note that I also find that famous test where you get some electrodes on you and some machine anticipate your decisions a split second before you make them often having conclusions drawn from it which can't be made, even though those conclusions fit my reductionist view. The evidence is shallow, for one, the situation cannot be ruled out that they indeed had the conscious decision before the image flipped, but later on they changed their own memories. I would find it probable that this happens all the time really.

But if you read what I wrote you would also realise that I was suggesting the brain differences would be very fine-grained. At the dendritic connectivity or cortical column level. So I personally would not expect to see obvious differences in brain scans. And they would be difficult to even see in post-mortem tissue samples unless we really knew the circuit patterns to be looking for.

As I said, my own argument follows from carefully listening to the accounts of those with autism spectrum disorders and then matching that to what is known about brain organisation, brain development, and perceptual processing.
Well, my first criticism was mainly that all seems to rely on the assumption that autism spectrum disorder is one category simply because naïvely to humans it appears as such. You really have to demonstrate that first before you can even begin to use your approach.

I mean, it's all about perception, just because two things appear as similar to human perception doesn't mean they are. There could be two completely unrelated 'disorders' around which both manifest similarly in the symptoms that humans pay attention to which are grouped together under 'autism' with psychologists and neurologists alike failing to see a difference when they could be completely unrelated. I mean, an average person probably won't see any difference between trance and techno, but lump them together in the face of a fan and he will promptly tell you they are completely not alike.

From what I saw when I was institutionalized myself (yap, forced, I'm sure you will not hold this against me) is that psychiatrists were unable to see the difference between anger, aggression, hatred and annoyance and proceeded to treat all as the same. Now these come from completely different sources and a key difference is that hatred and anger are directed at some object, usually a person, while aggression and annoyance are not directed, I believe they require completely different treatments, but they hardly recognised any difference between them. Also, people have the awkward pattern of putting things like self-loathing / insecurity together or happiness / excitement / joy, or more such things, while I'm pretty convinced they have completely different causes.

Likewise, I've seen a lot of people who are diagnosed with aspie who have little to do with each other except that they don't really move that well socially. In some cases they lack empathy, in other cases confidence, in other cases simply desire. Also, 'thas come to my observation that as long as you're really extroverted, people have a tendency to completely not notice the fact that you are completely incapable of not reading facial expressions or having the empathy to see what goes on in another's mind, which I find quite interesting. Aspies are generally known as introverts, however say for sake of argument that my observation is correct, and people fail to notice if extroverted people aren't that good at reading people's mood and all?
 
  • #29
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From what I saw when I was institutionalized myself (yap, forced, I'm sure you will not hold this against me) is that psychiatrists were unable to see the difference between anger, aggression, hatred and annoyance and proceeded to treat all as the same. Now these come from completely different sources and a key difference is that hatred and anger are directed at some object, usually a person, while aggression and annoyance are not directed, I believe they require completely different treatments, but they hardly recognised any difference between them.

Aggression is usually defined as "behavior intended to hurt another person" and it's directed.
It's further classified as emotional (doing harm for it's own sake) and instrumental (doing harm in order to obtain advantages) and the type of aggression you manifest is generally a factor in diagnosis.

Annoyance (better described as frustration) is a factor which often (but not always) lead to increased possibility to manifest aggressive behavior.

Usually all factors are correlated when a diagnosis is done.
 
  • #30
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Also, 'thas come to my observation that as long as you're really extroverted, people have a tendency to completely not notice the fact that you are completely incapable of not reading facial expressions or having the empathy to see what goes on in another's mind, which I find quite interesting. Aspies are generally known as introverts, however say for sake of argument that my observation is correct, and people fail to notice if extroverted people aren't that good at reading people's mood and all?

Most of the "extroverts" I know are pretty good at perceiving social cues, and do manifest normal levels of social interaction. In Asperger the ability to carry social interaction is impaired significantly.
 

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