Book Corner 2021.36

by Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen is a psychology professor and author of six hundred scientific articles and four books. He is proposing a theory of Systemizing vs. Empathizing brain types, with the former associated with both autism (well established) and inventiveness (his new theory). Chapters were most interesting when discussing the brain types, and autistic and intensively systemizing people in particular and in general. There were less interesting chapters about how early we can date true inventiveness on the part of homo sapiens; and whether animals can invent. These things did not seem relevant to the theory to me. Baron-Cohen passionately calls out for better accommodations in society for autistic people – they need remunerative work, and to feel valued, and to have friends. These passages made me want to go out and befriend an autistic person. I guess that proves I have an Empathic side of my brain after all. That’s just a joke – he emphasizes that the “empathy” skills that autistic people lack are not those of “affective empathy” – feeling compassion and a sense of justice for others; but “cognitive empathy” – able to put oneself in another’s shoes, commonly called “emotional intelligence”. There are tests you can take in the appendices to see whether you rate as a Systemizer, an Empath, or a “Balance” of the two. I think there was an error reversing the legends of the axes of the graph in Appendix A, however, so I am not sure if I am something of a “Systemizer” (though I am definitely not an extreme one) or a “Balanced” individual. Another appendix lets you quiz yourself to see how many autistic traits you have. I rate about six; so does my husband; this puts us on the “low” end of being “high” in autistic traits.

I was originally mildly surprised that he wasn’t rating more “systemic” or more “autistic” than me; but upon further reflection, I buy it – I think we are both true Systemizers, but in different ways. He has some spot-on spectrum traits – zeroing in on the details all the time, seeing flaws, seeing how things are constructed. Me… my favorite thing in the world is to apply a system and see how it turns out. I am that person who “follows recipes slavishly”. I love cooking and have tried to study those books who teach you how not to need recipes anymore; but, I LIKE following recipes. I do them to the letter as well as I can, and I don’t peek at the ending. Likewise I follow knitting patterns slavishly. I don’t try to adjust my recipes or patterns as I go along; I am totally non-intuitive, because that is what I LIKE. I want to apply the system, apply the rules, see what I get. Something I used to do when I was a kid was come up with a wacky system for coloring a picture: all the things that begin with “A” will be this color, “B” will be this color, etc. I would end up with something nutty, but the point was not to end up with a beautiful picture – though it would be awesome if that happened – but just to see what would happen. I also used to pick colors at random a lot. I still like randomizing my life. Can’t describe it any better – I just like to see what happens – and the more I think about all the aspects of my life, the more this seems to apply: I like to have systems and apply them.

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