Bollywood news items interest me a lot; but, as they are mostly about human emotions, they are far too complex for my limited intelligence. So, only when they flirt with science, I get a chance to comprehend them. With Mr. Roshan claiming that Ms. Ranaut has Asperger’s syndrome, I see a rare opportunity to discuss Bollywood in my column.
Mr. Roshan appears to have stated that Asperger’s is the reason behind Ms. Ranaut imagining things, a statement that has enraged the actress. But, as Asperger’s is my most favourite (dis)order of brain, I am keen to point out that Mr. Roshan could be probably right about, at least, the imagining aspect in a completely different way, and Ms. Ranaut, if at all she is blessed with Asperger’s, should actually be cherishing it.
Asperger’s syndrome is technically placed under the umbrella of autism, a brain state that is linked with certain functional and developmental deficits. What is most interesting about Asperger’s is that, though linked with autism, Aspies are individuals with higher than normal, some times exceptionally high IQ. But, one quality they share with autistic is their inability deal with people.
It is proposed that autistic people lack a fully-formed innate Theory or Mind (ToM) required to be able to hold another human being in mind. This makes autistic individuals incapable of seeing view point and emotions of other humans. Lack of ToM is akin to mind-blindness of fellow humans, a deficit extremely detrimental for a social animal like human.
It is clear that lack of ToM is an almost insurmountable handicap, but a curious possibility emerges when a brain with high IQ suffers lack of ToM, making Asperger’s a great gift, if not as much for the individual, but surely for the humanity.
It is now noticed that, unhindered by social and emotional interactions that occupy most human minds, Aspies develop intense focus and are able to engage in scientific pursuits using their almost genius intellect. Some studies suggest that many prominent scientists of past, including Einstein and Newton, showed symptoms of Asperger’s. And this doesn’t stop with science, as Asperger’s could be linked with arts too, in an even more interesting way.
The biggest problem faced by Aspies is social inaptness. So, to deal with the society, they are forced to develop their own solution using their own tools. Aspies could be using their high IQ to compensate for the lack of innate and natural ToM by forming an explicit and conscious ToM. Lacking natural ability to construct humans in brain, they construct humans using their intellect. As they need to define humans and emotions using abstraction, they naturally do what all artists do, i.e. convert people into abstract well defined characters.
If you are a non-Aspie, you would be instinctively aware that humans don’t come in well defined packages. Yet, when you read a book or watch a movie or look at any artistic depiction, you find all humans portrayed with well defined characters. This reduction of human beings doesn’t come easy to all. A non-Aspie equipped with natural ToM would not need to define people consciously, so he would not need the talent of creating characters, but, for an Aspie, it is an existential need, forcing him to excel at it and making art a natural by-product this process.
As we understand Asperger phenomenon in greater detail, it now appears that it could be a big contributing force in human progress. Once considered a deficit, today a leading psychologist Tony Attwood states that, “I see people with Asperger’s syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life”.