Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Nerds

So, there's this blog post that is making the rounds that purports to be a "nerd handbook", or advice on how to relate to the nerd in your life. Cyde points out, in his blog, how this article is way off base, filled with overgeneralizations and misfounded beliefs. Anyone who knows Cyde realizes that Cyde is pretty nerdish (although I think personally he's starting to disqualify for the term and is starting to move more solidly into geekdom, but that's aside the point here), and yet he doesn't, either on his own statements or in my evaluation of him based on what I know, come close to meeting most, or even any, of the nerdly characteristics that our blogging friend sets out in his article.

Indeed, as Cyde comments in his closing, our feckless author seems to be describing something more like autism than nerdism. Autistic people, including many Aspies and others in various places along the autistic spectrum, have a great deal of trouble relating with other people's emotions. The comments that I've heard from so-called "high functioning autistics" and Aspies is that they do not instinctively understand emotions and must cope using cognitive modelling strategies. As I understand it, more intelligent autistics are able to build and use more complex system models in their efforts to approximate the instinctive emotional intelligence that comes automatically and instinctively to nonautistic people. This modelling is exactly what our blogging friend is referring to when he talks about nerds seeing "the world as a system which, given enough time and effort, is completely knowable". It's therefore quite obvious to me, at least, that what he's writing about is the way high-functioning autistic people adjust to the world, and I said as much in a comment on his blog (you will have to scroll down quite a ways). Several of his other points also speak to autism, but I won't make that argument here -- I don't have to.

His response was to issue an ineptly conclusory denial of my point. Rather than presenting a coherent argument, he instead went through the core points of his argument, drawing razor-fine distinctions between autism and nerdism that, in his eyes, convince him that he's successfully distinguished nerdism from autism -- and just as likely convinced anyone not already invested in believing otherwise that there's a great deal in common if not a clear connection between the two. Cyde initially told me that I had been "fisk[ed] ... in a very inept manner" but really that's not what happened. He didn't fisk me; he fisked himself. How droll.

Of course, the observation that a lot of nerds (and geeks) are autistic, or at least somewhere on the autistic spectrum, is nothing new. A more interesting discussion can be had on the implications created by the high prevalence of people with emotional intelligence disabilities in online communities, but this post is not that discussion. And neither is the one on the Rands in Repose blog.