Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is understood as a congenitally formed mindset devoid-of “Theory of Mind” (ToM). It is expressed as severe incapability in comprehending “other” minds and mind-states leading to interpersonal and social inaptness. Recent research links AS with higher-than-normal IQ levels, creativity and artistic abilities.
ToM is the implicit understanding that normal humans develop regarding existence and responses of “other” minds. Thus, lack of ToM can lead to a very stressful social existence, as such a person will fail to generate appropriate social responses and fail to form critical emotional and social bonds. Clinical signs of AS include acute inability to have proper social behavior, severe face agnosia, tendency for strange and repetitive behavior or communication deficit. An AS affected person will avoid eye-contact, will not be able to understand facial expressions or body language cues and will converse in a one sided way on few subjects of his/her interest without relating to the response or boredom of the other.
One key element of this deficit is inability to recognize faces, which is a highly critical aspect of social interactions. Faces hold a special place in human brain that prefers to capture and store most faces that it encounters. The recollection process of a stored face is heavily dependent on emotional importance of the person. Speed and possibility of recollection of a face will depend on the potential of emotional response it evokes. This emotion based protocol makes it possible for us to deal with complex image recollection for a huge number of images.
Similar to the face recollection is human response to social context. Behavioral protocols are leaden with emotional potential and are evoked based on the strength of emotional response. Appropriately form natural ToM helps a normal person cognize existence of “other” persons within emotional context. Emotions act as catalysts ensuring mind to respond “naturally” and immediately to “other” human beings.
Even if a mind can “store” faces or can “learn” appropriate social behavior; it requires emotional response to “others” to access and use stored or learned information. A lack of this very “natural” feature of human mind-function could hold the key for understanding uniqueness of AS affected mind and its possible role in formation of Artistic expression.
It is proposed here that higher intelligence affected by AS in need to resolve this deficit moves to an alternate path of mind development that forms a “Conscious pseudo-ToM” unlike the “Natural ToM” that exists in “normal” individuals.
An AS affected mind will be forced to develop a methodical and formal way for describing people, emotions and other social structures for its functional needs. A possible face-recollection method it can develop will be a conscious “tying” of abstract attributes to the stored image and create a new neural pathway to compensate for the missing “natural” emotional path way. Similarly, it can also form formal protocols of responses to social cues based on a “learned” understanding to how “humans” naturally respond. Such a mind will also need to find working handles for emotions and find an intellectual comprehension of emotions that helps it “work” with them.
This process will actually be formation of a working ToM that such minds will develop and use for functioning within the social context. It is entirely possible that, due to higher intellect, such minds can form a pseudo-ToM that will be hard to differentiate from a natural ToM in terms of its out-put. A well-honed AS affected mind can adapt to function in a seemingly natural way using a completely different set of neural pathways by using conscious intellectual process.
The development of this pseudo-ToM will also mean that AS affected mind has a “different” and “creative” way of comprehending people and society, that when expressed, can become Artistic expression. Art appears to be “forced” by the processes used by an AS affected mind.
It is interesting to look at Arts also from the perspective of this altered “explanation”. Most Arts appear “complex” and “rich” due to possible hidden meanings or strange associations or creative linkages it forms between the “real” and the “communicated”; but if looked at closely, all Arts are actually “limited abstractions”. When a writer creates a character, he/she is actually “reducing” a person to few attributes. When an emotion is communicated through, it is also an intellectual process that is not actually “required” in “feeling” the emotion naturally. Art is forever trying to convert emotions into intellectually “manageable” abstractions. So, those with a force need to do so (such as minds affected by AS) are placed in an advantageous position to exploit the situation.
It is no surprise that most of our emotions are glorified and exaggerated by Artists. Even when, in reality, each person could a jumbled up mind-state of confusion; Art chooses to give well-defined attributes to people and situations. The romantic perception of human emotions could well be a “forced intellectualization” of an “unfelt” natural response by a mind with deficit for instinctive comprehension.
Though, this reduction-based understanding of Arts takes it down from the pedestal humanity has provided to it, in reality, Art holds a very special place for all, those with or without AS. The reason behind this could be existence of common mechanism and strength that all minds possess regardless of having natural ToM or not. Those using natural ToM may also have neural pathways that relate to and respond to the one’s used by AS affected minds. This would ensure that an Artistic expression may spring from and be comprehended by either mind-set.
The advantage AS affected minds may have could be the pre-disposition to neural pathways developed out of a sheer need to compensate a survival threatening deficit. This will make “Art” come “naturally” to them. Art could be a very strange tool Minds have developed to process emotions.