An Outsiders Guide to Humans- how an autistic person makes sense of the rest of us
An Outsider's Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me about What We Do and Who We Are
Camilla Pang 2020
Camilla Pang was diagnosed with autism at age 8, and later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD) and generalized anxiety disorder, (GAD). With those strikes against her, this young woman has become a biologist, writer, and autism activist. Pang, in her mid-twenties, wrote this fascinating book that looks at life from the perspective of an autistic person and science nerd.
From her unique perspective, the author talks about how the world of math and science has given her models to help interact with the messy world of humans, most of whom she has a hard time understanding with their complex emotional behaviors. Challenged by her conditions, Pang has used models to help guide her, and it all makes sense even from a non-autistic perspective.
In eleven brief but science-laden chapters, Pang presents convincing evidence that much of our world can be understood from the perspective of tiny molecules, particle waves, and the laws of thermodynamics. It's not easy reading if you don't like science, (and even if you do), but if you take the trip with her it's a fascinating way to look at things. Here is a brief summary of the eleven scientific principles she expands to regular life.
1- Machine learning and artificial intelligence can help us build helpful models of the world that use decision trees and divergent thinking to come to better decisions. Thinking in boxes of certainty doesn't get you near as far.
2- Protein molecules are complex and diversified substances that cooperate with each other in many ways to create life. They serve as a good example of the many diverse and important variations of humans who make up a society.
3- Entropy is a basic law of physics that says that things tend to get more disordered unless outside forces are brought in. Perfectionism is a fear of disorder, and we need to accept entropy sometimes and choose wisely when to counteract it.
4- Prisms separate bright light into many different colored wavelengths. This is a good model of how to deal with anxiety- make yourself a prism and separate the different components of anxiety to make it more manageable and understandable.
5- Waves move in many ways all around us. To find harmony with others we need to be aware of their wavelengths and amplitudes, and to help ourselves with inevitable extremes, we need to find others to help balance them out.
6- Molecules are almost always in motion. Ergotic theory means that everything eventually moves with the universe's motions. Outliers are needed to refresh, challenge, and extend overall consensus or a bland homogeneity results- which is why we need individuality to survive.
7- There's something called the gradient descent algorithm that tells us how to find our paths using math, quantum physics, and network theory. I have no idea what I've just written, but it somehow shows a middle pathway between living in the now all the time and living for tomorrow and planning ahead.
8- Probability and estimates are a better way to navigate uncertain human relationships rather than making assumptions at the beginning. Observe people's behavior and adjust your assumptions about them as you go along, getting a clearer picture with every step.
9- Chemical bonds within molecules give us a model for how to make bonds between other humans. Sometimes people choose those who are just like themselves, (covalent bonding), and sometimes they choose people who are opposite but complement them (ionic bonding). Knowing why you choose people helps you understand their place in your life and when to let go if necessary.
10- Feedback loops, both positive and negative, are ways to use your neural networks to create desired outcomes or get rid of bad ones. Positive loops reinforce themselves with success, and negative ones extinguish bad behaviors before they can do real damage.
11- Etiquette, which is a minefield for autistic people, can be explained by game theory. Like in chess, you need to be able to anticipate reactions of other people and choices they might make in reaction to your own.
This is a tough read, but if you want to look at life from new perspectives, this book has plenty. The world of science is full of theories, algorithms, and logical explanations, while the world of people is chaotic, full of unwritten rules, and always changing. I applaud Ms. Pang for her brilliant takes on all of us at such a young age and unique position. She is an original thinker and we certainly need many more of those in these challenging times.
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The above information is provided courtesy of the author who has done his best to be factual. You are still responsible for interpreting and checking those facts elsewhere, and I make no representations that I am a mental health expert beyond what I presented. Thank you.