We are noticing a higher rate of Asperger’s, Autism and sociopathology in our population than ever before. These are conditions which can make it difficult (but not impossible) for those afflicted to understand social cues, understand or empathize with other people’s emotions (especially when they don’t seem logical), and make interpersonal connections on a deep level. Before I go any further, I want to make myself clear. We as a society often label people with these conditions as being impaired, or somehow broken. Why? Because they process situations differently than the norm? So do geniuses, and artists, and programmers. We all process differently. I don’t think we have to look at these conditions as damaging. There are benefits and challenges to everything. I think we can all agree that there are times when it would have been best for us not to get caught up in our own or another’s drama, and move along with the task at hand, which is easier for people with these labels.
Perhaps we are noticing higher numbers because there is a much higher population than before, or perhaps because more doctors are aware of these syndromes. But what if there are more people born with these conditions because our brain is adapting to a world where understanding emotions and social cues aren’t as necessary as before? When we think about physical evolution, we think about Darwin, and bodily adaptions that have occurred through thousands of years of existence. But we don’t give much thought to brain evolution in the larger sense. We know that our brain adapts. We know that we generate new connections on a daily basis, and we learn new things constantly. But do we really think about brain evolution for our species?
As a civilization, we have gone from pondering about the meaning of life in a toga, to technological revolutions by replicating the biological computer in our head to perfunctory computers outside of us. We are evolving from within ourselves to outward in the world. And the people who are advancing our society at the greatest speed? Those who are less relational than us (think Gates, Jobs). Emotions were necessary for survival in a land of threats: we needed fear of predators, and love to create alliances – but in today’s day and age, these threats are almost non-existent. Therefore, emotional bonds and interactions are not as necessary as they used to be. Our society is reflecting this evolution. We see this in the changing communication norms: people would rather text each other than talk face to face. We see it in the seeming lack of respect for human life with senseless crime and entrenchment in media and video games. We have a preference for Internet life versus intimate social interaction.I just finished reading “Confessions of a Sociopath” and found the book both fascinating and a bit repugnant. But I couldn’t discount the fact that in some cases a lack of cumbersome emotions could be advantageous – especially in progress and evolution. There is no denying the fact that our society at large is displaying more sociopathic tendencies, as mentioned above. Again – is it because of the floundering of family structure, where both parents work and kids raise themselves on smartphones and media? Or is it because brains are rewiring themselves to be less emotionally entangled?
I love that our current society is entrenched in symbols, lyricism, relationships and subjective meaning. Personally, the thought of a purely mechanistic creature driven by neurotransmitters and electrical impulses alone doesn’t seem as enriching as my current spiritual and technological mix of existence. But perhaps that is what is happening, and evolution will leave the dinosaurs like me behind who thrive in a world of semantics, subtlety and nuance, in favor of an impersonal technological utopia where everyone is connected on a completely different level.