The Symmetry of Savantism

Autistic savants may have previously unsuspected psychotic equivalents.

Posted Aug 21, 2009

Christopher Badcock
Source: Christopher Badcock

According to the imprinted brain theory, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are the mirror image of psychotic spectrum disorders (PSDs) like paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. ASD is characterized by deficits in mentalism:  our innate ability to relate to ourselves and others as mental beings, with feelings, motives, beliefs, knowledge, and conscious, sovereign selves. However, mentalism is only one of two modes of cognition distinctive to human beings. The other is mechanistic cognition: our parallel ability to relate to objects in the material world by means of manual, mechanical, mathematical and spatial skills. The former, mentalistic skills are basis of the so-called humanities and the latter, mechanistic ones, those of what today we could call STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and maths.

The two modes of cognition are often in conflict because one is proper to the world of mental meaning and the other to that of physical fact—for example Creationism versus Darwinism, free will versus determinism, or nurture versus nature. In each case the first term is mentalistic whereas the second is mechanistic. Furthermore, deficits in one can often go with compensations in the other. The most striking example is autistic savantism illustrated by people like Kim Peek, who has a computer-like mind which has word-for-word memory of 9000 books, note-for-note recall of classical music, along with encyclopaedic knowledge of US zip and radio station codes, roads in the US and Canada, Mormonism, history, the space program and much else.

However, the symmetry of ASD and PSD and the genes that underlie them suggests that if there are autistic savants, so there ought also to be psychotic savants. These should show the exact opposite cognitive configuration to their autistic counterparts: outstanding, if isolated, mentalistic skills with merely normal or even sub-normal mechanistic cognitive ability. Areas of psychotic savant expertise might be religious and political evangelism; literary and theatrical culture; litigation and the law; hypnosis, faith-healing, and psychotherapy; fashion, advertising, and public-relations; commerce, confidence-trickery, and fraud of all kinds.

Such individuals would be expected to have superb social, political, and inter-personal skills which would explain why, despite their severely distorted cognitive profiles, they have escaped clinical attention and diagnosis. Autistic savants like Kim Peek stand out instantly thanks to their symptomatic mentalistic deficits and child-like, eccentric behaviour. Psychotic savants, by contrast, use their corresponding mentalistic skills to become central players in important social groups and are masters in the art of winning friends and influencing people as a result. Thanks to their supreme skills in managing and manipulating people they are seldom short of money, friends, or influence in high places, and they are probably to be found at the core of many critical social networks and at the heart of key social institutions. Psychotherapy is one area of obvious application of psychotic savantism, and Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and—and the more demented end of the range—Wilhelm Reich are certainly examples.

As yet, no one has begun to think about the consequences of applying the concept of psychotic savantism in other areas, but it is not hard to see that here may lie an astonishingly powerful weapon with which to unmask much of the mentalistic mayhem that passes for normality in the modern world and to mount a devastating attack on the collective psychoses and mass delusions that such savantism can sometimes foment.

A particularly worrying detail is the prediction that psychotic savants can be expected to possess no more than average mechanistic cognitive skills, and might in many cases actually have sub-normal ones. If this impacted on their ability to understand and judge the significance of key scientific, technological and engineering issues, psychotic savants in high places with access to critical political and economic power might be as maladroit in handling such issues as autistic savants like Kim Peek are were mentalistic skills are concerned. The consequences for society could be significant and you only have to think back to Freud’s belief in telepathy, Life and Death Instincts, or the Jew’s racial inheritance of their guilt in murdering Moses—not to mention Jung’s religious delusions and Reich’s “orgone energy”—to see the point. Although such savants’ so-called expertise was limited to psychotherapy, it did enormous damage to psychiatry and society as a whole—for example setting back the understanding and treatment of autism for forty years thanks to career of another psychotic psychotherapeutic savant, Bruno Bettelheim, and his disastrous foray into the subject. In a world dominated by apocalyptic predictions of catastrophic climate change and with world-wide wars being waged against imagined global terrorist conspiracies the time for such a critique has certainly come.

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