I adore Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen’s and Alex Tabarroc’s blog. Which put me among one of very very many. But, my introduction to TC wasn’t through this blog, it was most likely through Russ Robert’s EconTalk (go listen, it is great, made me think completely differently about economy), and very clearly through his Ted talk on narratives. Oh, I adored that. His suspicion of it. Why don’t people say their lives are bits and pieces of disjoint stuff, but instead long narratives, journeys with goals, etc? Mine has certainly been disjoint and surprising, and certainly never fitting any of the standard story-lines (other than I age in roughly the normal manner of our species). Reminds me of a Robert Louis Stevenson quotation that I got from another EconTalk (this time with Frank Rose, on story telling and immersion). In his response to Henry James (Williams brother, of course)
“life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing and emasculate.”
The first book of Cowen’s I’ver read is “Create your own economy”.
There are two messages in this book that I enjoy. The first is a powerful refutation against the handwringers of the decline the online world is bringing to humanity and social life, and a beautiful celebration and understanding for all of us who have flourished with the advent of the net. An end to loneliness, a connection to interesting minds that earlier were too far away, or walled away against the intensity of face-to-face sociality for some of us. The ability to create your own enjoyment from i-tunes songs, you-tube snippets, IM, facebook, texting encounters and blog-worlds. The nice, low-level sociality this affords those who are mildly to grossly off-center and outliers, without hurt accusations of haughtiness or stuck-up-ness or oddity when one needs to just hang quietly in the corner without having to interact, because interacting can be freaky and exhausting in big doses, but necessary and invigorating in small.
The other is the highlighting of the cognitive strength of people on the autism spectrum – in fact he openly suggests that the rest of us would do well to find our inner autist, or at the very least on occasion emulate those cognitive strengths. And, the narratives come in here – or the danger of narratives as stereotyping stories, especially about diagnoses. To let our narratives of the neurologically different get molded into stories of deficit and incapacity and focusing on the impairments, rather than to look at the interesting strengths and capabilities.
Reminds me of a job-talk I heard way back by a very very senior clinical scientist. He thought it very problematic that one looked mostly at the deficits and problems in diagnosis of various psychological ailments, roughly classifying all as having problems that needed to be fixed, rather than also looking at the strengths or capabilities. It becomes one-sided and in the end not very illuminating. I have a great deal of sympathy for this argument.
Cowen’s point is really the second message, the strengths and advantages of the autistic neurology, which runs through each chapter in the book, although in the intro he claims he wants to celebrate the creativity of the individual. Much seems to have started with an e-mail from a woman suggesting to him that maybe he was on the autism spectrum. And, although he says he was not immediately open to the idea, he turns around and recognizes that, yes, some parts of his cognitive style has similarities to (as well as differences from) the autistic cognitive style. In fact he embraces those part. And, more than that, turns around and writes this book! How can you not just adore such a person (as indeed millions do, enough that he is on this years FP 100 top global thinkers).
He shows, throughout the book, the value for the individual, but also for humanity of the diverse neurology. It is immensely uplifting. I felt cheered and excited for days after finishing the book, excited over the possibilities the net have given me to encounter so many interesting minds (his is but one. I have many many more, some of whom I also interact with). Also cheered, because although I don’t think I am on that spectrum, I recognize the problems with being the slightly odd in a small place, and the relief at being able to shape a life that fits more to my preferences, and knowing I’m far from the only one.
And, maybe this has little to do with narratives, except, of course, the creating your own narrative, fitting your own neuro-diverse mind, and perhaps those surrounding you, so why did I get here? In my professional capacity I advised a student I was rather fond of. He did a thesis work that fit within my own research (I used to say he collected data for me, but of course, he collected it for himself), and perhaps because of this we ended up spending a lot of time talking, mainly about his/our project. But, I can’t help myself, I ended up talking about all sorts of things connected to psychology as a science, as is my wont, and he humored me. Or, perhaps encouraged me, because he would ask questions and I could not help but answer, and he seemed interested enough that I would not stop. (Either that, or he is a damned good psychologist – of the kind that I’m not). For some reason we got onto narratives, and I mentioned TC’s TED-talk, and prefaced it with that he probably was a bit Aspie, at which point my student indicated he was too. And, because I have no social skills, and was so into my own story about TC’s narrative suspicion, I never followed up on this piece of disclosure – but have thought about it ever since. So, I got the book, perhaps to find out something more. Because asking directly is not something this other kind of psychologist is good at.