Rereading / (2007-01-07/11)

"There is no great genius without some touch of madness. "--Seneca, Moral Essays. On Tranquility of the Mind, 17, 10
"'Without effective therapy, widely available and used, we wouldn't be able to support the dataflow economy we have today.'"--Greg Bear, / (Slant)

Several science fiction authors explore the relationship between sanity and society. In Xenocide and Children of the Mind, Orson Scott Card imagines a society which regards obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as possession by the gods. In A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge imagines a far-future society which uses hyperfocus--which my society regards as a symptom of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism--for enslavement. In /, Greg Bear imagines a near-future society which stresses its best and brightest into unhappiness--until technological therapy restores them. / adds Tourette syndrome alongside OCD and ADHD to the list of disorders with subplots in science fiction.

I read again my autographed copy of / in Seattle. In this city my programming work and play, in business and hobby projects, have brought me into contact with "neurodiversity." In former subconsultants and friends I have observed these traits: preoccupation with a single subject, repetitive rituals, idiosyncratic speech, inability to express empathy, impaired ability to perceive nonverbal cues, perfectionism, perfect alignment of objects, echolalia, self-injury, social avoidance, fidgeting, poor impulse control, unusual reluctance to take risks, sexual preference uncertainty, substance habits, and a subvocalization behavior I don't know how to classify. One could regard these traits as symptoms of Aspberger syndrome, OCD, high-functioning autism, Tourette syndrome, borderline personality disorder, social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, ADHD, or a comorbid combination of these.

One could also regard these traits as personality weaknesses associated with expert knowledge, technical thought, humor, helpfulness, attention to detail, organization, problem-solving, cognitive motor control, artistic temperament, or shyness. Hacker culture certainly has some skepticism about Aspberger syndrome and ADHD:
After all, people in authority will always be inconvenienced by schoolchildren or workers or citizens who are prickly, intelligent individualists — thus, any social system that depends on authority relationships will tend to helpfully ostracize and therapize and drug such ‘abnormal’ people until they are properly docile and stupid and ‘well-socialized’.
Whether disorder or personality, I am intrigued by the range of experience, and curious about the requirements of excellence.


Just Me said...

I find your thoughts interesting. I think you may be reaching, though, and/or maybe you're misinformed about borderline personality disorder.

That's where I come in. :) It's my self-assigned role to respond to misinformation about the subject.

Of the traits you have observed among subconsultants and friends, only self injury really has anything to do with BPD. In fact, many of the other symptoms you list are characteristics that are opposite of the traits of those with this personality disorder: Most have an exquisite sense of empathy and express it well; we are huge risktakers (as in self-injury); are usually very social (vs. what I understand about Aspbergers and social avoidance). Oh, I should give you substance habits, that goes with BPD.

I added the books you mentioned to my "must read" list. Thanks for the ideas.

William said...

just me:

Thanks for the comment! I don't have the expertise to diagnose any of the eight disorders or syndromes I mentioned. (As my quoting of the Jargon File suggests, I also don't know if a diagnosis would help any of the half-dozen people I saw with the traits I mentioned.) My most convenient reference is Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article on BPD is another location where response to misinformation is welcome. There is much discussion and a section in dispute.

According to that article, however, anxiety disorders (which include OCD), social anxiety, and ADHD commonly co-occur with BPD. (These disorders are in a different "cluster", though.) In addition to the self-injury ("cutting") and substance habits you mention, the article suggests "uncertainty about... internal preferences (including sexual)" and poor impulse control as BPD traits.

Of the science fiction authors I mentioned, I would recommend Orson Scott Card to an emotionally sensitive person. Empathy is the primary trait of his protagonist Ender Wiggins. However, I would start at the beginning of the Ender Wiggins Saga, reading Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead before Xenocide and Children of the Mind. Ender's empathy is most profound in Speaker for the Dead. I hope you enjoy your reading!

Shoshana said...

Your comment about the 'inconvenience' people in authority feel about those who have behaviors that don't easily fit in with social norms is, I think, a good observation.

Like MLK's comment about the 'arc of justice' being long, I think the arc of enlightenment & understanding about human personality and intellect expession & styles is even longer. The good news is that enlightenment happens and I think will continue to happen . . . and I think Sci Fi has a wonderful & notable history for exploring the subject.

It wasn't until the early 60s or mid-70s that homosexuality was taken OFF the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a disorder. Definitions of borderline and other disorders are in a constant state of flux. In the early part of the last century, schizophrenia was blamed on poor mothering, today it is known to be completely based in the physical structures of the brain.

The newer categories of 'personality disorders' are, I think, an effort to make a distinction between psychotic illness and all these other variances of personality. Someone with a personality disorder would not be considered insane by any currently schooled mental health provider -- and many would say that for some of the so-called disorders, medication is not called for, but life adjustments and choices should be carefully considered.

The disorder I'm most familiar with is bi-polar (bp) syndrome -- and it is going though major redefinition in the medical community. It is no longer seen as straight-forward 'manic-depression' cycling, but can be more subtle; cycling between different kinds of depession and a kind of high-energy anxiety that can or cannot be focused is now also considered to be bp. BP also often has 'overlays' of vaious other disorders (e.g., ADD). (The whole thing seems to be a bit of an inexact science to me.)

Compliation of data from families with bp show a high tendancy for high intelligence (usually creative and/or in the arts), often with the highest output of creativity when the person is depressed.

Guess I've gotten off topic from William's oiginal post, but for those this blog who might be interested in bp, I recommend the following 2 books: "Why and I Still Depressed" by Jim Phelps M.D. and "The Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redfield Jamison. The later, particularly, is incredibly beautiful, part memoir and part clinical. The author leads the Psychiatric Department at Johns Hopkins and is herself dp.

Shoshana said...

. . .OK, looks like I need to proof my postings better. . .(I'm new to this.