The following blog is written by Yuval Levental, a reader and contributor to our blog site. At present Yuval, who is on the autism spectrum, completed a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and is interested in doing research on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). He started a job in Information Technology where he answers questions and repairs computer hardware and software. Yuval has previously written an essay at corticalchauvinism.com where he discussed his life, views on neurodiversity, and a couple of autism symptoms (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2015/01/14/visualizing-neurodiversity-breathing-for-treatment/).
I asked Yuval to describe himself so that the reader would get to know him better. This is what he said: I am a person on the autism spectrum who advocates for treatment or a cure, because the evidence for autism as being positive is meaningless in most cases. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from ESIEE Paris. Through researching the cause of my autism, I have developed interests in physiology, cellular biology, and neuroscience. In the quest for a cure, I have successfully progressed by attempting to introduce more potassium and less sodium in my diet, and have recently undergone Botox which mitigated my symptoms. Additionally, I like to spread awareness of arguments against Neurodiversity through social media and Wikipedia. Other hobbies of mine include recreationally solving complex math puzzles, traveling, eating new foods, and learning about different cultures.
For many years, I was a major neurodiversity advocate. I believed the old myths that Albert Einstein and Bill Gates were very similar to me, and that I would become one of them in the future. This was because I never got along well with people and wanted badly to make up for my social deficiencies.
After finding out that this might not be true, and reading up on the rather dismal outcomes of people on the spectrum, I decided to try botox as an experimental treatment for my autism (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/07/21/yuval-levental-plastic-surgery-and-autism/). I noticed that much of my obsessive routines faded or disappeared, and I was also more organized.
In the past month or so, I experienced an unexpected effect that seemed nightmarish at first. It dawned on me that even by the standards of Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, that we will never understand how most of this universe works, that even the smartest people have will have very limited knowledge compared to the infinite possibilities that exist. I realized that our brains are actually very limited in size, even for the smartest people alive.
Another way to describe how a top-ranked mind views the world is from Andrew Wiles, a famous mathematician that solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. (http://simonsingh.net/books/fermats-last-theorem/who-is-andrew-wiles/):
You enter the first room of the mansion and it’s completely dark. You stumble around bumping into the furniture but gradually you learn where each piece of furniture is. Finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch, you turn it on, and suddenly it’s all illuminated. You can see exactly where you were. Then you move into the next room and spend another six months in the dark. So each of these breakthroughs, while sometimes they’re momentary, sometimes over a period of a day or two, they are the culmination of, and couldn’t exist without, the many months of stumbling around in the dark that precede them.
Andrew Wiles attempted to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem since he was ten years old. He had to work seven (or more) straight years in his adult life to finish solving this problem! So even for the smartest people, continuous exerted effort is a must.
I now felt that even if I was to become a top ranked professor or researcher in a field, that I wouldn’t even think highly of myself because the main objective for me now wasn’t the ranking or the institution, nor was it the award or the money. The only objective for me became pure understanding. I felt like I was endlessly stumbling in that dark room with no end in sight. And I started to feel more hopeless because I suddenly felt this need to instantly understand absolutely everything and I knew that it was impossible, so I felt highly incapable.
However, I started to feel better when I realized that the true goal of producing research shouldn’t be to achieve a certain academic standing, but simply for the enjoyment of discovering unknown truths in this world. Albert Einstein once said “One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.” (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2011/01/an-interview-wi.html) Therefore, people shouldn’t take the knowledge we have too seriously, unless it is essential for life. Einstein was against examinations and rankings — but still claimed that people interested in science should still utilize maximum possible effort in discovery.
In the future, when doing research, we should still study how our brains work and improve their functioning. But we should also realize that this can only take us so much further, as we can only become so smart. Overall, passion, not competition, should be the ultimate goal in math and science.