by Yuval Levental
I am a person on the autism spectrum who critically analyzes autism advocacy. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from ESIEE Paris. Other hobbies of mine include recreationally solving complex math puzzles, traveling, eating new foods, and learning about different cultures.
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize in Physics Winner (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein)
“I’m not even that successful.” – Grigori Perelman, Fields Medalist (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8585407.stm)
“Does one have to be a genius to do mathematics? The answer is an emphatic no.” – Terry Tao, Fields Medalist (https://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/does-one-have-to-be-a-genius-to-do-maths/)
“Perhaps I could best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of entering a dark mansion.” – Andrew Wiles, Abel Prize Winner (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/andrew-wiles-fermat.html)
From the above quotes, it would seem that it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a prominent figure in mathematics or physics that is truly aware of his/her talent. Having been interested in human intelligence my whole life, I often wondered how those individuals think about their interests and about the world.
Initially, I thought autism was the key factor in their achievements, but learning about how even high-functioning autistic individuals face many challenges, I figured it wouldn’t be appropriate to claim that they are autistic (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2017/04/03/the-challenges-and-myths-of-high-functioning-autistics/). Following this, I became more interested in pursuing medical treatments for my autism.
I initially tried Botox injections in my forehead to relieve what I perceived to be excessive muscle tension, which I assumed caused some of my symptoms. As a result, over time, I started to see learning less in terms of awards and academic prestige, and more in terms of the joy of discovery, being that infinite knowledge is most likely impossible. This is because the relative lack of tension gave my mind the opportunity to go beyond positive reinforcement as a reward structure (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2016/10/17/yuval-levental-autism-and-the-pursuit-of-knowledge/). However, I still perceived the aforementioned geniuses as being above me.
Later, I learned that I was severely deficient in Vitamin D, which according to research, was far more likely to be a prime cause of my autism (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2018/06/11/yuval-levental-vitamin-d-and-autism/). I started taking one 50,000 IU pill of Vitamin D per week, but still felt that something was off. I later learned that too much Vitamin D could cause severe dehydration and constipation, and realized that lowering the daily dose of Vitamin D made me feel far better.
After I lowered my daily dose of Vitamin D, my stomach was more relaxed and I could think about ideas even better. I started to think less and less about the cognitive abilities of the aforementioned geniuses, only focusing on aiming beyond my current range in the fields I am interested in, and on enjoying my work. Seeing my interest in awards, prestige, and famous geniuses suddenly vanish reminded me of a field of study called quantum cognition, and I wondered if the logic behind quantum theory could explain this abrupt change in thought.
Quantum cognition is a research field that uses the logic of quantum theory to study human cognition (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_cognition). One principle of quantum theory is
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which states that given two properties of a particle, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other property is known (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle). For instance, knowing the particle’s position would make it nearly impossible to know its momentum, and knowing its momentum would make it nearly impossible to know its position.
Following from my experiences, my assumption is that just like the two exact properties of a particle cannot be known at the same time, a person may find it very hard to be aware of his/her level of intelligence and be successful in an academic field at the same time. Part of this assumption is also based off the initial quotes, which imply that those geniuses seemingly don’t consider or even understand how intelligent they are.
It seems that overall, what I discovered is that the secret to being a genius is not thinking of oneself as a genius, but advancing forward in your field of choice and enjoying your work. It would be hard to measure one’s intelligence from this point of view as verification of this statement, but it seems that based on empirical evidence, wanting to measure one’s own intelligence is not possible for a genius.
“Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise or blame.” – Buddhist Proverb (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dhammapada)
Addendum (10/03/2020): I have noticed a similar effect while following my new diet (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2020/07/27/the-best-diet-plan-for-autistic-people-and-for-everyone-else/). I haven’t worried about calories at all, and have lost enough weight to the point where I have no excess fat. This is because instead of trying to measure how many calories I am consuming, all the effort goes to improving the nutritional quality of what I eat.
In fact, most people are inaccurate at estimating their daily calorie count to the point where they “underestimate how much they eat by up to 45% and can underreport their calorie intake by as much as 2,000 calories per day” (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-calorie-counting-work#difficulty-losing-weight-when-counting-calories). It is also interesting that while the Chinese diet is much healthier, they don’t have an ancient word for “calorie” (https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/use-your-noodle-the-real-chinese-diet-is-so-healthy-it-could-solve-the-wests-obesity-crisis-873651.html).