Recently Lion of the Blogosphere blogged that the game Dungeons and Dragons is not “autistic” because it’s a social activity that requires imagination.
Autism is such a vaguely defined concept that it’s hard to say anything definitive.
A team of scientists gave members of the general population a bunch of questionnaires measuring how many autistic and schizotypal traits they had, and then performed a Principal Component Analysis.
PC Analysis takes a bunch of correlated variables and reduces them to a smaller number of hypothetical variables that can explain the data more parsimoniously. For example, if we had measurements of the human body (leg length, arm length, chest circumference, bicep circumference, neck length, cranial circumference, etc) a PC analysis might find that most of the variation in all these dozens of measurements could be explained by just three latent traits: 1) general body size, 2) general body length, and 3) general body width.
PC analysis of the the psychiatric questionaires found the following:
So even through the questionnaires had 12 subscales, The PC analysis found that 29% of the psychiatric variation in this general population non-clinical sample could be explained by the first principal component, while 15% can be explained by the second principal component. If you think of PC1 as a vertical dimension, and PC2 as a horizontal dimension, then you can see in 2-dimensional space how several important traits seem to cluster:
We don’t have to give these clusters names, but the higher and further to the left a trait is, the more “autistic” it’s considered to be. The higher and further to the right a trait is, the more “schizophrenic” it’s considered to be. Of course it’s important not to take this too seriously because none of these correlations are anywhere close to strong, so it’s unclear how meaningful these clusters are.
It’s also unclear how the bottom two quadrants should be labelled, but if I had to label all four, I would guess something like this:
As I’ve discussed before, because Social Genius is more closely related to Schizophrenia than it is to Autism, a lot of our most charismatic leaders encourage magical thinking in the masses. Muhammad gave us Islam, Jesus gave us Christianity, and Oprah helped give us The Secret.
Many would consider Donald Trump a social genius and he too is prone to magical thinking when he endorses fringe conspiracies or promotes the discredited claim that autism is caused by vaccines. This is diametrically opposed to the hyper-rational tech genius Bill Gates who not only supports vaccines but is on a mission to vaccinate the Third World.
I’ve also noticed striking differences between Social Geniuses and Math/Tech Geniuses in how they explain their success. Hyper-rational Gates and Buffett have a mathematical appreciation for randomness and credit their success to luck, while Oprah does not believe in luck, and credits her success to finding what she was put on this Earth to do. The more developed social brain has a tendency to anthropomorphize the universe (it has a plan) and has a greater sense of self (I have a purpose).