The evolutionary mind

Thursday, 9 March 2017  by Christine MacKay

Stunning new genetic evidence is propelling us towards an apparent evolutionary shift and it comes from the most unexpected places. New studies suggest that the increase in autism and Aspergers may   Actually  be a sign of a shift in human genetics to accommodate a higher level of human understanding. How you may ask is this even possible that a condition of perceived severe developmental delays can actually be the human road to higher intelligence? In a recent article from IFLScience writer Josh Davis describes that the genes responsible for  cognitive ability were found in much higher numbers in those diagnosed with ASD. More importantly Davis’s co writer Joel Gelernter explains that variations of human genetics normally weed out genetic anomalies as part of evolution but just the opposite has occurred and a rise in rates of ASD seem to prove that the changing genetic structure is part of a molecular functions that effect creation of new neurons. Gelernter explains that those inheriting these genes are beneficial to our species as a whole as it appears they may help in ” intellectual achievement ”

It’s now turned the perception of these disorders upside down, where ASD subjects who  be experiencing several levels of severe developmental delays, these individuals may indeed be practising skills at an elitist skillful level  with new cognitive neurological links attributed to higher  intelligence. Magnificent and yet bizarre it invites a completely different conversation not only about the  individuals that are effected by the disorders and about the evolutionary travel of our  brains.
To put it in perspective looking back at the last hundred years  even lay person can think about the genetic shifts that were necessary to push the human mind to where we are today. Studies in the 70’s confirmed that the great apes were similar in community and social skills as those of  differences-proved the apes were very limited. One such example apes were fascinated by their reflections in the mirror, exploring themselves while watching the reflection , but they went on to behave as though the reflection was another ape with whom they were interacting.

The human brain has evolved to a place of such complexity and adapted to such incredible environmental changes  we are now barely comparable to primates. Thus the new genetic theory of ASD is proposed, but to common man how is this combination of facts and suggestions supposed to be perceived? Well a great example would be looking backwards in time to the early 1900’s when revolutionary ‘s in society would be responsible for incredible inventions such as the vacuum   cleaner, the electric washer, the toaster( specifically heating element), and the football’s first ever forward pass. Imagine that!

A quirky 26 year old revolutionary scientist/prodigy would create four papers that would revolutionize thousands of years of human understanding of space, time, light and the sub atomic world. This scientist would go on to publish work on the Brownian motion, and and the ultimate head scratcher the theory of special relativity or E=mc2.

Einstein was said to have cured himself of childhood autism, and although he remained socially awkward he managed to create positive loving relationships with his family and friends.  By 26 this  brilliant scientist would accept his Nobel peace prize for developing the theory for which solar  energy is created.  In that same era, Lee Deforest   accepts a nomination for inventing the pathway to radio, but Deforest  was a bit of a social recluse  and would spend most of his time working on invention  after invention  but spending less time with people .

Two  years prior another masterful inventor Nicolas Tesla would invest time  in the  coil that would be used in fluorescent lighting, tv and radio for the next-forty years. Tesla was widely perceived and eccentric , erratic, and mentally challenged. This genius-engineer was considered “the mad scientist” for claims he made that he  could split the earth like an apple, or that he could  destroy 10,000 airplanes at a distance of 250  miles. Tesla would make some very poor  personal and  business choices that would see the brilliant inventor nearly penniless when he died.

Between the  year 1900 and 1920’s a cluster of prodigy would create countless mind boggling inventions that would pave the way for modernized thought. If we were to try to explain the internet to someone in 1910 it is questionable whether they would have the ability to comprehend it! That being said the personality traits of many of these revolutionaries would resemble behaviours true of ASD.

This takes us to the conversation  about the transformation of the genius code. Is the selective movement of genes responsible for the ultimate reorganization of molecules helping to create new neurons responsible for elevating higher thought?

In  Kristine Barnett’s ” The Spark” Barnett describes when she first noticed her son  at 2 years old  became reclusive, stopped talking and became fascinated with numbers and books. Jake initially was social but as he reached the age of two he seemed to completely regress.  By five with the ASD diagnoses the family reached out for non traditional therapies to foster her son Jake’s exceptional talents. By 9 young Jake was deciphering university level physics and as this 9 year old coaches an adult class through a complex physics problems,  his professor confides in Kristine “I’m not sure I will be able to keep up with him” .

The amazing story of Temple Grandin who was initially diagnosed with ASD and went on to become a researcher in 2016 for the University of Colorado in animal studies. She has now become the face of adult autism. Grandin ‘s  genius was behind stalls for cattle for everything from feeding and production her system revolutionized the livestock  industry . More importantly, Grandin has been credited for changing the stigma associated with the Autistic stigma.  Before Grandin ‘s  advocacy many persons on the spectrum were encouraged into institutions   and those  who weren’t were often harassed and bullied into seclusion.

Grandin continues to be the strongest voice for those on the spectrum and has  written several very informative books that enlighten people to the autistic mind . Time magazine gave Temple Grandin top honours in 2010  ,giving her the award in the ” Hero’s category” and in 2015 she was named an honorary member from the Society of Technical Communication. Grandin has also achieved two Bachelor of Arts degrees , written dozens of world renowned  citations and has written half a dozen books dedicated to the understanding of Autism .
Tim Burton, Stephen Spielberg, Bill Gates and former presidential candidate and now environmental spokesman ,  Al Gore  identify with the social skill deficits often associated with Autism. Burton a  renowned movie director and animator, with the help of his wife Actress Helena Bonham Carter  noticed very specific obsessive behaviours they eventually learned were Autism when Burton was  eventually diagnosed in adulthood. Burton explained he remembered early on being engrossed in drawing and painting but felt out of place in school or with peers.
Burton explained he rarely felt inspired in the school environment and it often was the place of ridicule   or exclusion.

The question is are we sitting on yet another revolution of the mind and are these newly diagnosed ASD kiddos actually reconfiguring the neurons for the future of higher intelligence. It would seem that very recent genetic testing and diagnostic discussion have lead to some astounding evidence that   autism is more  pioneering than we could possibly imagine.  Before genetic study, people with the diagnoses of autism were considered dysfunctional and these studies suggest that the genius is in their  newly reformed Genes .

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