25 March 2010

Reflections on maths and autism

Copy of a letter to an academic

One of the last times I saw you I remember saying that ____ who got a First in maths was very unaware of her social surroundings, calling herself asocial, and that I supposed this was necessary to get a First in maths. You seemed to be indicating agreement with this idea, so I wondered if I had supported an implication which I did not intend. Actually I meant that people needed very specific psychological insulation to do abstract intellectual activities, particularly maths, successfully in the social environment of the modern ‘educational’ system, because that system is so inimical to high IQ. I think, in general, that doing anything in that context of social hostility is by no means the same thing as doing it in other contexts.

I know there is a wish to associate ‘abstract’ intellectual activities requiring a high IQ, such as maths and theoretical physics, with autism and introversion. I have seen this explained as due to a habituated concentration of emotional energy towards abstractions, at the (supposedly unnatural and unhealthy) expense of extraverted social interactions.

It is not that individuals with an exceptional aptitude for high-IQ activities are any more incapable of dealing with other people than anyone else, but that it is difficult (if not impossible) to be sufficiently focused on such activities to be able to do them well, while simultaneously having to maintain awareness of the complex conventions and other intricacies of ‘successful’ social interaction. This, I suspect, is realised by those hostile to high IQ and exploited, both to make life difficult for individuals with a strong drive to do intellectual things, and to belittle them as ‘socially inadequate’ or (in more recent lingo) ‘autistic’.

I saw at the Woodford County High School that the psychological hostility of the teachers and headmistress was directed at all and sundry. Not only at me but at anyone who wished to work harder in order to improve their performance in some area.

Everyone was to be made to feel inadequate, out of control, and at the mercy of the judgements of their ability, which were hinted at critically by the teachers. Apart, that is, from one girl with a moderately high but unthreatening IQ (130-140) who constantly demonstrated her total devotion to doing the right thing on social terms.

There are many similar examples of ideology on which critical analyses could be being published by Oxford Forum if it were provided with adequate funding to do so. Meanwhile, ideas such as the supposed link between high IQ and autism are likely to receive further reinforcement from pseudo-research published by the universities.