I read a very interesting post (to me, at least) on a website I check out quite often, My Aspergers Child, that proposed a rather interesting theory. It asked the question: Is the autistic brain a “malfunction” or a product of human evolution? (link) I wanted to share the part that caught my attention.
Human evolution is characterized by a rapid increase in brain size and complexity. Decades of research have made important strides in identifying the unique features of the human brain. But it has become possible only very recently to examine the genetic basis of human brain evolution. Through “genomics” (i.e., the study of the genomes of organisms), tantalizing insights regarding human brain evolution have emerged.
Metabolic changes responsible for the evolution of the human brain’s unique cognitive abilities indicate that it may have been pushed to the limit of its capabilities. Research adds weight to the theory that some neurological disorders are a costly by-product of human brain evolution.
The idea that certain neurological disorders are by-products of increases in metabolic capacity and brain size, which occur during human evolution, has been suggested before, but now researchers have access to new technical approaches to really put the theory to the test.
The human brain is unique among all species in its enormous metabolic demand. If researchers can explain how the human brain sustains such a tremendous metabolic flow, they will have a much better chance to understand how the brain works – and why it sometimes “malfunctions.” But is it truly a “malfunction” (i.e., functions badly)? Or is the human brain on its evolutionary path to “hyper-functioning” (i.e., functioning above and beyond the norm). Bolding is mine.
I am fascinated by the part that is bolded above. What if, instead of individuals on the autism spectrum being viewed a “below average” for the most part, they were actually operating on a higher level of brain functioning? It is possible, although I am not any type of scientist and have no scientific basis for that claim. Think about it. If, as is widely-believed, people like Albert Einstein and Bill Gates were/are autistic. Would anybody argue that those two operate on a higher level than a vast majority of the population? The gifts to society by those on the spectrum, and those thought to be on the spectrum, are some of the most ground-breaking and vital contributions to society as we know it. Add to the Einstein and Gates group people like Bobby Fischer (former World Chess Champion), Carl Jung, Emily Dickinson, Henry Ford, Isaac Newton, and Charles Schultz, the contributions cross a broad spectrum (there’s that word again) of amazing contributions. (For a more exhaustive list, click here.)
I am not smart enough to be the one that makes that ultimate discovery as to whether or not the autistic brain truly is a product of human evolution. But I am excited about the possibility that it very well could be.