Monday, March 23, 2009

The savant view.

It's hard to think how to start on this subject. I don't want to overload you with huge incomprehensible texts and I also need to be easily clear with these sets of thoughts currently in my mind and not drive you away. I will start with some examples that have something to do with the primary subject.

Have you ever heard of autistic savants? People who are able to do calculations instantly as if they were computers or solving hard mathematical problems in a very short time that you would think it's impossible. Many times we think of their abilities as magic or intuition (or for some few of you like an accession to quantum parallel universes or a psychic gift and such mambo-jambo but forget it, this is another story :P). We would never imagine ourselves being able to dwell so deep into learning such an ability in a so enormous level nor can we imagine how such an alien state of mind is processing data right this moment. Yet I assure you, all of us are owners of some savant abilities that we have mastered really really well but it never surprises us.

I have heard of another impressive example of two autistic savant who could instantly count a large amount of matches spilled randomly onto the floor. That might sound very impossible to you but pause your regular thought for a little and try to envision two of the most common savant abilities almost all of us hold. The visual recognition of our environment and our verbal fluency. I walk into the city while looking around in a big area full of people, cars, trees and other minor details. My brain filters excessive data and allows me to distinguish all sorts of shapes, colors, objects, connections and even ideas or emotions and even construct an overall view of all these and that for each tiny fraction of a second. I said he "my brain" but the most right thing to say is "my evolved neural nerves that learned to do exactly that". Forget that for the moment and try to imagine the whole immersive process (think of programming a so successful image recognition algorithm on a computer) required to achieve this result but how naturally it comes to us in tiny fractions of time. We never even feel any awe about such an ability because it seems something trivial to us. But if they ask us we can hardly explain how we do it in detail. Think language. Such a complex structure that comes so naturally out of our mind and mouths yet we don't usually see the inner process while we are doing it. It's not easy to imagine but try to, think of someone who lacks these natrual to us abilities. Try to perceive how startled would you look at him while he is trying to construct some words or bump onto objects in his environment. How would our common visual and linguistic abilities would look like to him? Exactly similar (if not even more impossible) to how we look at those twins instantly counting the spilled matches or the human calculator machines.

It's not just about our two most common abilities, but the talents many of us might have acquired but never gave much attention. Do you remember in your math classes some of those math quiz's or tricky exercises where you have to think of a method to follow but most of the methods lead to a dead end and you have to start all again? I mean, not regular math exercises (like regular calculations or follow the same rules stuff) but the ones where you have to think out of the box or else you loose. And you try, you try, you try and the genious of the class instantly comes with the right answer. And you wonder, how the fuck did he thought about it? (Unless if he had read the answer before :). I'll tell you one thing. I have been studying math and could never reach that level, in fact I am still very bad at finding the hard solutions (those who need out of the box thinking) in such a sort time as they do. And recently I discover that the talent of a math wiz that I can't explain is similar to the one I have with computer programming. I perceived this fact that I couldn't see (even if it was always in front of my eyes, maybe I just never gave it much attention) after some private programming lessons to a fellow student. He wondered, several times that we have looked at exercises, how the fuck did I instantly thought about using that method instead of this or how I can construct the correct algorithm so fast. Of course you would agree that he is just an ignorant student who can't understand much about programming and that it's natural that I can get the solutions to these stuff. But that's how me and you (if you are also into programming) perceive it because it feels natural to us. But under a deeper examination it is possible to perceive that there is a special ability (and that student could possibly look at us as we were true savants) that is evolved in such a great degree because we wake up and think of coding every day :)

And that's the point where another question is raised. Ok, so all of us are savants concerning an ability if this is what we concentrate on every day we wake up. Remember our visual recognition ability. We have mastered it so perfectly because opening our eyes and receiving tons of visual information is all we do every day from the beginning of our lives till today. Thinking about our surroundings is also another think we are doing and so we have very well learned to attribute definitions and ideas to all those objects we visual differentiate and using language to describe them and assign a meaning to them. It's all logical that we are so good at it and we even find it trivial and never think about it. The greater question is what creates the tendency to prefer one special ability than the other. I mean, why someone would be so absorbed into counting matches at a very early age to develop such a weird skill? Not going very far, this is a question for me, what drove my interest towards computers, science or philosophy but away from social interaction or casual human activities?

I can't answer this one perfectly. It's left to me as an exercise for the future. At the moment I stay at the recent valuable for me understanding that this is what has happened to me. I was always unhappy or furious (and reacted to it) with my feeling of being not normal or not social enough. Well, some people who have seen me at demoparties might say that I look social enough to them. And I wouldn't disagree with that because I just don't differ in an extreme rate. But there are some very characteristic situations where I am wondering about it. A girl came to me and said something (just to open the conversation) and I said "yeah, yeah, ok, ok". Where I was supposed to say something clever or at least something. I was stuck (not because of anxiety, not because she was a girl) for once again. Nothing clever or relevant could come up to those which she said. And this is just an example. I observe the people around me at social situations, how fluent they are in such kinds of conversations as if they always know how to reply after every taunt or joke they receive. And they can do it endlessly. Another great example to me is my inability to give directions when someone asks me in the city where he can find some road or place. I am actually getting quite overwhelmed when they stop and ask me and I usually answer that I don't know. You might say that because I am stressed I cannot think but it's not just that. I have observed that most people when asked, they instantly describe a way plan in such detail that makes me dazzle. When I try myself, it takes me 3 seconds to start even thinking where the hell am I right now and where the directions are. And it's impossible to visualize and make a perfect plan in an instant just like most. I just don't get it! For me, most people look like social savants.

The last one puzzled me a bit more than usual. Because it didn't make sense even with the savant theory at first. The question is how did they develop the ability to describe a direction plan so blindly and fast? I mean, did they fuckin walked the city all day and said to themselves "This is road A, this is road B, to go from road A to B, to go from road A to C you do this, there is a store, there is a, blablabla"? I mean, even if I have visited several places in the city with my friends, I never managed to keep such a record (except if I would stupidly do it in the parrot fashion with a map in my hand for a month). And what about if they change cities? I remember some of the new students at my Erasmus trip were good at that after a month in Karlsruhe. I never did in Thessaloniki where I live for more than ten or fifteen years.

The easy answer is that I never cared enough to remember all these data. A great clue might be given if I'll just describe to you what goes on through my mind for over ten years and what (as I speculated today) might goes for those people who are so good socially and also capable of telling you your path way in the city in nanoseconds. This might be particularly funny or curious for some :)

  • Me, every day I wake up and till I sleep: Mmm,. what can I do today that will be important? What do I like? A demo? I thought of a demo. Ahh, that demo idea, with the blobs, the polar plasmas, the spherical mapping, ahh.. the spherical mapping. I thought about normal calculations, I will use R as gradient of height and G,B,A as normal vector. Maybe I can do it easily with a pixel shader. I also remembered I have to also use those ARB extensions to make my demo work on older hardware, that would be cool. I'd like to see the performance. Fuck, one great idea for an effect has just come to my mind. How about blobby materials with normal shading and bump. Hahaha! Kinda funny name like my eggballs effect. I remember, eggballs, lompas used to joke about this. I like funny names. Now I remember funny names, I remembered an old effect on CPC. Oh, how I would like to make a wolfenstein engine on CPC. I can scale the vertical spans fast enough but how about the raycaster intersections? Too much math for the 8bit and too much work for assembly... [thinking of methods for half an hour]... I have to go to Breakpoint, it will be great, I'd love to see the scene again and drink my ass off, oh shit.. I have to go to the job seminars and then french lessons, I am bored, I have to stop thinking of my shaders now unfortunately....[when not thinking of coding, I am thinking of various philosophical thoughts like these, scientific or paranormal things, arguing with myself or any other thing that what the second group below would think most of the time]

  • Those people who socially outperform me: Hey, it's a nice day. What to do? I'll go to the bath. I feel nice with the bath. I feel fresh now. Let's wash my teeth. I have just washed my teeth. It makes me feel nicer. I look more beautiful. I like that girl. That girl I went out yesterday. We went to the cafeteria. She asked me that thing and I told her that because my friend have told that to his own and so when she joked about that I told her this and it went so good as I have been seen that on tv. The cafeteria was named La'Mer which means the sea in french and it was on that street,. oh wait, the sea, I remember the sea, we had nice holidays with george and philip, so great, there was a place, a great cafeteria with good coffee, wait.. where was I? Yes, the la'mer was at tsimiski street against the sea, there is another road there named blabla street, in an allay there is another cafeteria, I remember we went with Maria there, what a nice time and the coffee was hot and with Maria we went to the club which is at street tatata and she made a joke about this where I replied that which I have heard from Nick as a reference to what he told to his own girlfriend, and there is a pharmacy store in the other side and a gas station two squares to the right where we have walked and found a liquir store near the plaza. Wait, where I was? I have to get dressed and go to the job now, there is Peter there and Jim and we will go later to the bar at menemeni street where last time he went to the kiosk to buy some beer and we had some fun when he spilled it and hahaha, there was another guy who wanted to go to the hospital at lalalalala street, and there was another street in another alley where someone asked me where that street is and I gave him the wrong directions because he was smelly but the right ones were at the place where I first meet with Joane where near that there is a pattiserie and if you go far away there is a parking where I first met John who drove me to the restaurant at the alucard plaza where he order some gyros from the corner in castlevania street, etc, etc....blablabla lalalalalala.

Ok, I don't need to continue. Maybe it's exaggerated, maybe I am wrong, but that's how I think now that some people are so good at social situations (and also at the puzzling "describe pathway in city" to me). Because this is what possibly goes mostly through their minds since their youth. In the same way that coding or philosophical thoughts goes through my mind every fucking day. They never needed to memorize (at least some of them) what to reply in every possible social taunts or jokes or when they are asked for a pathway in the city or any other thing I luck and normally I would need to learn it the hard way. It just came naturally to them because it was all that they were (and still be) thinking every passing day. In that view, the answer is that I have overdeveloped a vast neural network concerning programming and computer graphics and the demoscene and other geeky stuff and was left with underdeveloped social skills. Most people, who would look like social savants compared to my bad skills, have overdeveloped neural networks in those things that I seem to lack.

I wouldn't blame myself. I won't say here that what I should have done earlier in my life should be to show more interest for social activities. It's wrong to do so because I have not chosen to evolve into this. In fact, I sort of like the way I think and the subjects that interest me, regardless that lacking the other skills leaves me overwhelmed in social situations. There is no fault, remember the question of why someone would chose to count matches early in his life? I have never chosen the fact that I will be mostly dragged to geeky stuff and find boring regular activities. I have no answer to this yet, whether it has to do with brain biology or psychology but the point is that I have came to this point because of that and I still can't show much interest about regular stuff. In the list above, when I first speculated of how a social person possibly thinks every day in his life, I doubted, I dazzled, I thought that it can't be, that it seems very very stupid, maybe I am wrong (I still don't know) but imagine those people reading my excerpt of my own example on thinking all day about coding or other stuff (which I didn't wrote here, because it would get huge). It's not that I am not thinking about those regular stuff, it's only that my thoughts goes to 30% code, 50% philosophical thoughts and like 3-5% of their stuff. And the secret word here is 'priority'. Socialization or even thinking about girls goes at 4th or 5th place or more. They are not very interesting (even if the last is kinda desirable) to gain my attention.

You can't just judge someone who is not doing very well socially. We look at you like you are true social savants. Your abilities are magic to us yet they can be explained. We have some hidden abilities too. There is a path that brought me just right here with my set of abilities and those social deficiencies that makes it hard for me to relate. I have followed this path because my brain was fascinated more from the mysteries of this cosmos than casual talk. Eventually I could learn your skills the hard way, although I don't know how it happens especially when I lack the primary interest for. I wrongly thought that the way my brain thinks is similar as the rest of us. You most probably have made the same assumption. I wish people would get more into this savant view and try to understand how different we really are.

p.s. I had all those thoughts and was inspired to write this after reading this article: inside the mind of an autistic savant.

p.p.s. Sorry for the size. I said it would be small, yet it is concerning all the more I would additionally like to write but didn't.

p.p.p.s. Now, what I am supposed to say to that girl again? Ah, fuck it..

1 comment:

Optimus said...

When rereading the article it seemed to me that it might seem to you that (what a funny sentence :) it's just about the common idea that if you are engaged very much into something at an early age then you can become naturally good at it but it's a bit more than that. They tell me that I should learn the social skills that I lack and it should be easy. As they didn't developed very well at an early age, today they look at me as magic savant abilities. Imagine what dedication would be required for a grown-up to say learn the counting matches trick. Who would invest into that? Social skills are more down to earth but since they are quite low in my priority list of things that fascinate me, I wouldn't expect much. As I wouldn't expect a grown-up to reach even a quarter of my programming abilities especially when he isn't interested or devoted enough.

I've just remembered of a story that is interesting to think about after several years. When I was eighteen and just watched my first demos I was talking to someone about my wish to learn assembly programming. She said that it's too late for me (after all the era was too late for assembly at all :) because people who are now good at assembly have started from a much earlier age when the mind starts developing. She was partially right. Only partially because I have actually managed to get used to it (although I am not as fluent as other people maybe) and even code big demos (mostly on CPC) with a lot of code and nasty automodification tricks. I really burned my mind there regardless the late age. Why? Because I really wanted and I was really dedicated to and I was really thinking about assembly each day I woke up.

That proves that it's possible for someone to learn those lacking social skills at a late age but only if it's really one of his very first priorities. If thinking like a social savant every hour of the day was my thing then I would not be here right now. The problem is that I am not even considering to care about it. And I can't JUST push my brain to start being interested about it..

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