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Is autism the result of human brains moving to the next step of neural connectivity? Is this evolution in action?

While watching the 60 Minutes show on the remarkable intellect of a young man who was, for a time, treated as autistic, I was struck with the idea that maybe the current epidemic of autism is due to selective breeding. Humans have evolved with a unique brain mass and neural connections that give them an intellect beyond that of other primates. To achieve our brains, there have no doubt been many instances of trial and error where greater intellect was selected for, and mistakes selected against.

Just as two tall people tend to have tall children, intelligent parents can have intelligent children. That intelligence can be considered to be both hard wired as well as acquired. Maybe the children of smart people with complex neural networks possess new nervous connections, pushing the evolution of the brain. The "mistakes" may be children for whom the nervous connections are not fortuitous while the new nervous connections that are good can create a child with a remarkable intellect....much like the profile on 60 Minutes.

Evolution means species are never static...this may be such an example.

  • Jan 23 2012: What level do you speak of? and....more spelling mistakes (*data and then a couple others)

    Causation does not always give an effect. Was the big bang the beginning of the universe or was it just a white hole caused by a black hole? Most science including the holographic universe is based upon observation and patterns as well as correlation. Oh and, it's not =O, it's an emoticon with =o) to show happiness.

    Evolution = survival rate, variations, does the human species survive? Technology. The neurotypicals and the aspies work together but the aspies are quite something and are an evolutionary step, without a doubt. Negative = some parents who both have aspergers syndrome at high or low functioning levels end up with autistic children who cannot fend for themselves....That's the only non-evolutionary piece of the puzzle I see but then again, variation does exist, for the human genome during conception equates to 40-60 new mutations in a newborn human.

    Anyway, don't be rude -- I will be reporting you very quickly.

    The biggest pieces in science are:
    - Correlations based upon multiple variables/MVT as well as machine learning connected to that which quantum computation only augments past what is given with Hadoop/Mapreduce algos, etc.
    - Thought experiments turning into mathematical formulae
    - Causation without external influences / controlled experiments whether non-blind, single-blind or double-blind studies
    - Observations and assumptions followed by theories of the observed and unobserved which dovetails with thought experiments
    - And, the most beloved....What If?....The crowning achievement in scientific and technological progress and the center of why we all have such passion and conviction.
    • Jan 23 2012: "It does not seem as though it is a syndrome, if kept in check and there IS a scale. Feel free to have a conversational debate with me (just be sure you are on the *same level* playing field as me, for I can overwhelm you with data in a VERY short period of time" This is the level I was referring to. Why can't you click reply?

      The big bang theory is just a world accepted theory and it can be wrong. It is not just correlation. A =O is the same as a =o) in the sense they are emotions that are not needed to convey a point. We are not talking about the benefits of having Aspergers. You need to actually have data to prove to me it is an actual evolutionary step. You know an increase over time of the condition and the adverse effects of the condition lessening over time with data verifying it.

      I should probably report you. "Don't be so emotional" which is basically mocking me. The faces is another thing that appears to mock me.

      " you have anything better to do, my friend? Causation is a means to an end and not everything has a cause and effect. Geek syndrome is generalized but look at the lists of people who had Aspergers Syndrome in the past. End of discussion." is just a rude paragraph.

      Passion and conviction go hand to hand, but conviction is the key to true science and passion is just the way to obtain this key.
      • Jan 24 2012: Very well put in the last sentence, the rest....stick with your crowdsourcing ideas
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      Jan 24 2012: I love meetings of the minds that truly sort out who's got the keener sense of intellect. And in true "survival of the fittest" fashion I award points to Miles for the cooler temperament and encourage him to continue expressing insightful verdicts on the human condition. I do actually agree more with you Miles. We can look at this objectively and point out advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes even the seemingly mistaken paths that mother nature takes fit in perfectly with the big picture. Maybe we as a species can't do anything right now to dramatically change the course of our evolution but one day technology will probably breech the gaps. I can't wait to hear more about this, but I hope it's not too far above my reading comprehension.

      (*v*) (fatheaded emotionless emoticon) (or is it the ever-wise night-visioned pointy-beaked owl emoticon)?
      • Jan 25 2012: lol it's more on the level of being happy / being kind of unknowing -- my Thai gf uses the ^^^ (*v*) ^^^ emoticon for happy lol although I can't really follow hers. Feel free to message me and yes -- TED is ALL about meeting of the minds.
  • Jan 22 2012: *There are no winners

    *than analytical

    and grammatical errors in regard to your whole bigger role last phase of statement

    Don't be so emotional =o)
    And read of the classic examples of the past and the present -- the man who can calculate numbers faster than a calculator even by using combined algorithmic equations in his head. The man who can visualize the insides of sophisticated electronic components. The man whose son was diagnosed with aspergers and he was an elite stock trader and he was then diagnosed as well

    It does not seem as though it is a syndrome, if kept in check and there IS a scale. Feel free to have a conversational debate with me (just be sure you are on the same level playing field as me, for I can overwhelm you with data in a VERY short period of time)

    Also, as for people who have interest in these topics, I will be lying out an outline of Aspergers syndrome as a radical step in internuronal connections being of a higher capacity and if reinforced through support can lead to highly developed technological builds for our civilization (civilization and society relies upon high functioning Aspergers individuals to be made of dreamers and doers; when people work with their own "gifts" after they understand that the rules do not apply to them and that they are special (the largest forum for people with Aspergers syndrome is after all)...You can see how the modern and future worlds are built by us but neurotypicals' tools allow us to make science fiction simply reality =o) It's a balance and don't confuse autism with Aspergers. Read books by Sascha Baron Cohen's brother, they are excellent reads and watch documentaries to learn of extras and augment the scientific field by shifting paradigms. Lastly, Autism and High-Functioning ASD (Aspergers) are a blessing and a curse; Many of us feel as though we do not have a place, but that's just due to a lack of self respect.

    • Jan 23 2012: Well, I am probably at your level or above it because I do not have to use faces such as =O to convey a point or mark not so obvious errors in "spelling". Overwhelming me with date will not make you correct because they have to prove there is a causation and not just a correlation. We are not talking about the benefits of having Aspergers, we are talking about if it is a evolutionary step.
  • Jan 20 2012: Matthieu, you are a classical evolutionist, shift the paradigm a bit -- also, check the facts regarding aspergers syndrome -- look at the list of people and look at their children and how many -- some don't have children but most either have one or many...Now, look at the accomplishments

    Also, classical evolution is about survival; Our human race survives due to tools which of course can be considered now as technology

    Now...classical evolution is bogus in the sense that there are too many missing links and second in the fact that it's about "physical" survival -- Humans are not the dominant species of the land on earth by means of physical survival....We build technologies and...focus on something. Think of the technologies which were built and which make up our modern world...Who were the inventors or the architects of our modern world and the world of our future? ...

    Aspergers Syndrome = evolution by means of technological progress. A horse, giraffe, etc -- they walk immediately after birth, why do humans need to be nurtured so much by their family?

    We build tools, we imagine things and most science fiction becomes so primitive after inventions are made by people with aspergers syndrome...

    Think of your world -- your computer, the languages of programming from Alan Turing and his creation of the Enigma machine to the machine language constructs to object oriented programming as it is today, your car (Ford obsessed with assembly lines and production and numbers), your phone, GPS (Arthur C Clarke/Clarke orbits), the internet, the WWW based upon easier scripting, every single electronic....Aspies make our world, so who's to say that they are socially inept? Many of them were actually very Very social but choose to be social with people who are of their caliber

    Really...Tesla? Turing? Bill Gates? -- the spectrum also holds many people in the arena.

    Overall: Change your paradigms of dogma...think a bit more like Einstein, Feynman, Jobs, Brin & Page, ETC ETC
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      Jan 25 2012: "Many of them were actually very Very social but choose to be social with people who are of their caliber"


      That was the sound of my head exploding.

      Seriously, what is with this irritating trend to ascribe high intelligence to the Autism spectrum? I have the unfortunate tendency to "hit a wall" with most people. On the phone it's about 2 minutes (apparently - former office-mate commented on it). There are a couple of people who make it to the 4 minute mark, and I have one friend with whom I can spend hours on the phone.

      I have the same unfortunate tendency in person, though the walls are further out, the shortest wall is at the 15 minute point. It's a point my brain reaches where there are just too many words, and not enough content. I.E. people are blathering. Unfortunately, I'm one of those "get to the point" people.

      I get people asking if I might have Asperger's ALL THE TIME because apparently, I'm not very good at hiding my lost interest. But I don't have an issue with being touched and I can read people's cues just fine. Most people are just boring.

      The average person thinks there is this giant gap between average and developmentally delayed, and that's about 20 IQ points. Now imagine that you spend a goodly chunk of your life dealing with people with double, triple that gap or more.

      I swear one day I am going to get a T-shirt that says, "I don't have Asperger's, you're just boring."

      No, I'm really not, but it makes me giggle.
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    Jan 19 2012: There were actually some interesting conversations about this in the media not too long ago. Some people in the autism community refer to non-autistic individuals as "neurotypicals" and they claim that autism is a type of "neurodiversity".

    I don't know if I buy the evolution angle - for most people with autism, they are not necessarily smarter than average people and for those people with aspergers, they often find it very difficult to cope with the world, make friends, etc many of the traits that are important to human survival and continue to be important to human survival.

    I think that it is great that there is a better understanding of autism and spectrum disorders. But I believe that it is a stretch to call it a genetic adaptation.
  • Jan 25 2012: Thank you as well Daniel
  • Jan 22 2012: Wish I could hit reply on that post --

    @Zared......Oy, you've gotta talk by voice....not much can be said by typing. That's what separates true science from bad science =o) -- it's called a conversation and a debate...if you can't speak with words, you're just not tough enough on your data (tear)

    This is what separates the winners of science from those who are very disinformed -- Read the DSM-IV for ASD - Aspergers Syndrome and also about the 12 year old with aspergers, etc.

    I said, just give me a ring -- I'd love to learn a thing or two from someone with empty science ;o)
    • Jan 22 2012: Aspergers syndrome is not a beneficial condition. It is a development disorder. True science is logic, not emotional. Emotions corrupt judgement. This is the base for bad science. There is no winners of science because true science is about getting accurate facts, not about being competitive or tough. Passion does play a role in science, but it does not play a bigger role then analytical skills. Empty science is emotional without logic.

      Here is the definition of autism.
  • Jan 21 2012: you have anything better to do, my friend? Causation is a means to an end and not everything has a cause and effect. Geek syndrome is generalized but look at the lists of people who had Aspergers Syndrome in the past.

    End of discussion
    • Jan 22 2012: Do you have anything better to do than actually think about what you are saying? If it is not a causation, then you cannot say what you are saying. You can only say that there is a correlation from the stance of what you are saying. You should probably watch to understand my argument.

      Ending the discussion with an argument of people who had Aspergers Syndrome in the past is just not good enough. The list is automatically bias because they are recognized people with the condition.
      • Jan 22 2012: I already said my dues. Please read my message. Thank you.
        • Jan 22 2012: Your message describes nothing but irrational emotions that prove nothing.
  • Jan 20 2012: Autism: The Eusocial Hominid Hypothesis


    ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are hypothesized as one of many adaptive human cognitive variations that have been maintained in modern populations via multiple genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Introgression from "archaic" hominids (adapted for less demanding social environments) is conjectured as the source of initial intraspecific heterogeneity because strict inclusive fitness does not adequately model the evolution of distinct, copy-number sensitive phenotypes within a freely reproducing population.

    Evidence is given of divergent encephalization and brain organization in the Neanderthal (including a ~1520 cc cranial capacity, larger than that of modern humans) to explain the origin of the autism subgroup characterized by abnormal brain growth.

    Autism and immune dysfunction are frequently comorbid. This supports an admixture model in light of the recent discovery that MHC alleles (genes linked to immune function, mate selection, neuronal "pruning," etc.) found in most modern human populations come from "archaic" hominids.

    Mitochondrial dysfunction, differential fetal androgen exposure, lung abnormalities, and hypomethylation/CNV due to hybridization are also presented as evidence.
  • Jan 20 2012: Yes to geek syndrome / Aspergers Syndrome correlation --

    Read between the lines:
    • Jan 21 2012: Correlation is relationship but not cause. In other words, you are likely to have geek syndrome if you have Aspergers Syndrome, but once again, it is not a definite cause. There are many geeks out that do not have Aspergers and there are many people with Aspergers that do not suffer from geek syndrome. In fact, highly intelligent people tend to not have emotional or social issues; regardless of the stereotype that portrays them which means not all intelligent people have geek syndrome and the correlation mentioned earlier is weakened.
  • Jan 20 2012: It is a blessing and a curse unless projected properly
    • Jan 20 2012: It is a development disorder. The analytic intelligence that is usually gained by the condition is outweighed by the usual decrease in creativity, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. It is not a blessing. It is not a curse. It is a development disorder and should be treated appropriately to help the person to outgrow the condition.
  • Jan 20 2012: And Daniel...that's the key... some aspies on the higher parts of the spectrum of ASD don't have the guidance they require.

    Many have to learn the true social skills. Syndrome? having aspergers is difficult, but you run circles around others and it's fun especially when you gain the confidence to speak up and control the speed of your mind (It's All about the training)
    • Jan 20 2012: Having autism is not beneficial. Inadequate social intelligence, empathy, short attention span, and dysphonia are some components in autism, so I repeat autism is not beneficial.
      • Jan 20 2012: Empathy = not feeling other's unnecessary pains they bring upon themselves, it does not mean we don't care about other's emotions who we deem kind -- other people which many aspies call "mortals" are just people who can't shift their paradigms (it's also well documented that we despise authority =o) ). Short attention span = hey, there's Adderall and CBT and of course anxiety reduction tactics and medications. Dysphonia? How do so many people on the spectrum not have that impairment? We do have that issue when we are children and make up our own languages (I spoke my own language until I was 4 because I thought English was too formatted and didn't feel right)

        Overall: How did Einstein become famous, did he have social intelligence? and how were computers made? especially in regard to the transistors and the CPU made of transistors, etc? How were space shuttles and the rockets made as well as the highest theories of cosmology constructed?....Relativity :)

        Autism is not good because it is too much data to comprehend (and most parents are not equipped and get frustrated), Aspies though (when aspies are given training, changes do occur rapidly)....

        Why is it that some call it the geek syndrome? Why is it so prevalent in Silicon Valley? ... I don't think anything good came from Silicon Valley ;), do you think the legends of silicon valley and the builders of SV? or most students of MIT don't make many contributions? Did Newton make contributions? Did Tesla (he did after all invent the radio....and AC electricity =o) ). What about Galileo? I can keep on going =o)
        • Jan 20 2012: Do you seriously think having autism means geek syndrome?
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    Jan 19 2012: I can assure you that it is. If we selected the right genotypes of autism and supported their unique social needs, they could flourish. Think about those who do math like my excel spreadsheets. There is no reason why these people can't have awesome jobs, but no one accomodates them for their mind's other needs. There does seem to be a trade off of types of intelligences, but I really wonder if it has to be a trade off to the larger gene pool. It really depends on the types of genes that are passed on. Could hybridized progeny eventually overcome social dysfunctionality if it was given a chance to concentrate instead of dilute in the pool? A lot of hyper-smart people are socially challenged as a result of their gifts, but then again some really aren't because of other gifts nature has bestowed upon their minds. Evolution can work based on some genes that put you in a separate niche where you can grow strong and then... you evolve again take back all those niches you passed up on before. It would take patience and deliberateness because if it's recessive in a minority with its social short comings, it won't take off very easily at all. So it could become a case of guided evolution. Just have to find the right genetic of autism, play match maker a little, a la specially engineered online dating, and have the government give them what they and their offspring will need to truly be happy. Be nice to them society. We'll need them to break through the next dimension. Is that just crazy? Really smart people should think about these things if they exist within the realm of possibility.
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    Jan 18 2012: Autistic individuals (I am assuming here you mean those with Aspergers rather than a disabling type of autism) don't reproduce more than other individuals. It is also a mistake to think that the trivial differences in intelligence between humans (people with low IQ would presumably still remain smarter than animals from other species) would undergo varying levels of selection. There is no environmental pressure today that would lead marginally smarter (marginally in term of a species) individuals to have more reproductive fitness. Furthermore, high intelligence does not equate autism. Two intelligent parents aren't more likely to get a child with autism than two parents of average intelligence. (not to mention that intelligence itself does not owe all to genes)

    Evolution remains an unguided, rough process. Traits that we deem desirable but confer no immediate selective advantage will not come to dominate our gene pool.

    Your choice of related talks is ironic.
    • Jan 19 2012: All forms of autism is a disabling type because it is a development disorder. Aspergers is autism without speech difficulties. Autism is genetics, so yeah, intelligence of the parents do not guaranteed the likelihood of autism How "are" my choice of related talks ironic?
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        Jan 19 2012: Disabling sounds so damning for milder cases. The one friend of mine who has Aspergers doesn't always pick up on certain social cues, but otherwise he's pretty standard, most people don't know he has it. I'd consider autism disabling from the moment it leads to serious social reclusion or violence.

        I'm talking about John Weis' choice of related talk which is Ben Goldacre's Bad Science.
  • Jan 18 2012: Autism is a development disorder that disrupts normal communication and social skills. It is not an evolution in action.