Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thinking differently about different minds

Friends and families of special needs children and adults know that (soon to be obsolete) terms like "autism", Asperger's, and "mental retardation" cover an enormous spectrum of variation.

That variation requires a customized management program to make each person "the best they can be", but we don't have the science or the people to begin designing and implementing new approaches.

Maybe we can start by realizing that all minds are different ...

What if we could see the diversity of minds?

... human brains are actively evolving now. To quote Hawks (via Marginal Revolution):

We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals...

Active brain evolution means lots of variation. Most of the variations are mostly marginally harmful, some quite disabling, some both advantageous and problematic. They all mean that brains are less alike than the bodies we see.

The variation doesn't end there. Brains, among other things, run minds. Minds, among other things, run memes.

Brain, mind and meme give three platforms for variation and selection to play on. It's a recipe for combinatorial variation.

So it's plausible, that if we were able to see minds the way we see bodies, we'd find a very entertaining sidewalk. Some pedestrians would be twenty feet all and thin as posts, others ten feet wide with an extra limb and a tail. Some covered in fur, others green and yellow with antennae...

When we absorb the reality that the cosmetic diversity we dislike, celebrate or ignore is only a pale shadow of the diversity of minds, we'll start "thinking differently" about how to approach the development of all minds.

From that may come smarter, better, and, yes, cheaper, approaches to making special needs minds the best they can be.

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