‘The Pattern Seekers’: How has autism driven human evolution?

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Unfortunately, “The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention” by Cambridge University professor Simon Baron-Cohen never really lives up to its thought-provoking title. Despite the best of intentions, it too often feels half-baked, like a pastiche of ideas from other books.

The traditional scientific hypothesis you learned back in high school can be characterized by its “if-then” structure: If you drop a ball, then it falls to the floor. Baron-Cohen proposes an innovation that he feels is magic: the addition of the word “and,” so it becomes “if-and-then.” Seriously. While he admits that the words may seem simple, he sees this update as representing how humans introduce variables into a hypothesis to look for patterns (if you put a tomato seed in the soil and the soil is moist, then a tomato plant will grow).

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It would be a much easier case to make if it stayed narrowly focused on the autistic traits found in successful inventors, but Baron-Cohen swings for the scientific fences. He identifies the systematizing mechanism as being responsible for an enormous array of developments.

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In this sense, his promotion of the idea that the systemization found in autistic brains is the driver of inventiveness can be seen as a forceful argument for why we should value those with autism.

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