Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Peek At The Man Behind The Curtain

One of the really weird things about being very high functioning autistic is that people say things like "but you seem so normal". Well ... maybe not normal normal, but not so weird that people make their children hide in a safe place, close and lock the doors and peer out the window as I walk by. I am obviously eccentric, with more than a dollop of quirkiness on top of it all. What isn't at all evident is that the quirky eccentricity (redundancy deliberate) is really just about the best I can pull off. It is a the social equivalent of a Mohammed Ali rope-a-dope. What you see on the surface is simply me bobbing and weaving through daily interactions that "normal" people take in stride, naturally flowing with the give and take of general conversation.

What follows below is a little peek at what goes on "behind the scenes", as it were. What is REALLY going on in my head much of the time.

If you were sitting around a table eating lunch with your coworkers, what would you talk about? Lots of stuff like your children, football, shopping - a whole host of different topics. What remains of this blog post relates one such lunch conversation. Both what was being said by everyone at the table, but more importantly, what was really going in my head at the time. This last part is important because this "other world" is really closer to where I exist as a sentient being. It's that part covered up by the rope-a-dope, bob and weave of my external "personality". It is the part I don't share with people. Well ... until now at least.
Yesterday during lunch (our office is small and we tend to eat together) everyone got to talking about school lunches and the kids buying junk food with their lunch accounts. Apparently the local school district requires all students have an account that can be charged if the kid forgets lunch money and such. The conversation rolls back and forth and they talk about how it works and how kids can get around the rules and how in the end its a good way to do things. Part of the issue is that the school is required by law to serve a lunch even if the student does not have money. So the district uses these accounts to recoup money from parents whose kids regularly do not bring, or have already spent, money.

Anyway, while they are talking back and forth my pattern thing starts kicking in and the underlying information flow starts to come together. Then the thing sort of blows up like a rapidly blooming flower and a complete pattern unfolds in my head. And at that point the pattern is telling me that the program is fundamentally flawed because the amount of "overhead" to manage the information exceeds any cost savings. At the heart is the informational analogy to entropy. The program appears to work because the local system has decreased local entropy by virtue of the organization of the local information flows. This is reflected in actual financial statements of the school system. But the "cost" of increasing localized informational organization is an increase in the disorganization of global information. So while the balance sheets and income statements of the school system may reflect a localize net positive, the actual information cost is simply shifted to the larger economic system as a whole. I am certain this is the case.

Now here is the epiphany.

There is no way I would have been able to convince the anyone at the table that this is true. Not because they aren't smart enough, but rather because their entire knowledge/information systems are fully localized. All of their data is coming from the local system that from a localized frame of reference is actually being optimized. Their point of observation is within the system. It would be entirely pointless to offer any information that contradicts the perception of optimization because it does not even exist within that system.

What is important is that this pattern that flowers in my head exists in many places. Large multi-nationals are assiduously working at localized increases in informational organization vis-a-vis team and department level changes in information structures, but the efforts simply push the disorganization to places outside the localized reference frame. Attempts to increase local organization of ANY information/knowledge system increases global/universal information disorganization.

The pattern goes deeper, but you get the idea.

So what is the point to all this? Well, I suppose I could go off on some information system thingy and lose anybody still reading. But the real point is that what you see on the outside is not even close to what is happening on the inside.

The man behind the current isn't standing at a control panel twiddling some knobs and levers.

He's running free in a giant universe.

I'm betting this is true for a lot of people on the autism spectrum.We hide our true nature and we LEARN to adopt behaviors that are not obviously autistic. We learn through rote repetition, trial and error, and the pain of many mistakes. Social behaviors that normal people learn by 5, 10 or 20 years of age we are still learning late into life. And so many of us cling to quirky eccentricity, attenuating our weirdness to a level that isn't immediately rejected, but quite often the recipient of those odd "WTF?" glances we are so familiar with.

So next time you are eating lunch with me and my eyes take on a far away look, it isn't because I'm not listening, but because what I am listening too is taking me to a completely different place. Instead of thinking I'm rude and disinterested, I am just letting the conversation flow through me in a different way. Take a chance. Ask me what I am REALLY thinking. Then hold on for the ride.

1 comment:

  1. YES! YES! YES! This is exactly the type of thing that occurs in my head, too! While the conversation is still devoted to one place, my brain is already working on a different place further down the line!

    You've got it. You get it. Thank you!