Kindle talk, with touches of autism

So my son Peter and I were noodling back and forth by e-mail, as we do now and again when some vagrant idea catches our fancy, and along the way it occurred to me that there were some points that might be of
interest to onlookers. So, with his permission (and mine if he wants to
post it on his blog) is a slightly edited version [with comments in
brackets].

For background, Peter, now in his mid-30s, is autistic, but formally
diagnosed only a year or so ago. And his spouse Jesse Hajicek has
published (with a print-on-demand house called Lulu) a novel titled The
God Eaters,
which has sold passably well on Amazon.

Linda:
So I’m reading an article about Kindle and bookstores, and it occurs to
me to wonder, is God Eaters available on Kindle? Can Jesse organize
that, or does it have to be the publisher?

Peter:
I don’t know.
-s

Linda:
Erm, that was a speech act. It doesn’t mean “Do you know?”; it means
“You ought to check this out.”

Peter:
Oh.

… Yeah, that makes sense.

So, here’s a puzzle:

Why do languages form these patterns?  What’s the *benefit* of having
structures which have meaning other than their face-value meaning?

Linda:
I think the generally accepted answer is that primates (not only us, and
actually not only primates among mammals) are intensely status-conscious for reasons that are clearly connected to reproductive success, and the ability to signal and discern status is valuable. Being able to do both indirectly is an additional asset, because it allows everybody involved to save face, and thus avoid open conflict, which can lead to becoming dead.

Since you have some intuitive limitations in the indirectness dimension, you might find some of the work on speech acts, and on pragmatics more generally, of considerable practical use. For a start,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Searle

I can’t remember what text we used in Pragmatics, but that’s the general
subject heading under linguistics. I do remember writing my final exam
in the middle of the night from a hotel in New York, though not what I
said.

Peter:
Hmm.

I’m innately disposed to dislike [Searle], because the Chinese Box
is so stupid, but I’m fascinated by the topic anyway.

I don’t see how they save face, though.

Linda:
It’s like a vote of confidence in a parliamentary government. If a
high-status individual gives an explicit order, and it is openly
disobeyed, that precipitates a leadership challenge. But non-explicit
“orders” allow everyone concerned to pretend that there was no
disobedience, of course not, oh, no, just some plausible
misunderstanding, and we don’t need to fight/vote about that right now,
do we?

Peter:
Ohhhhh.
Man, you people are complicated.

Linda:
That was sort of my point.

Peter:
The more I study human communication, the more I conclude that most
people are MUCH more complicated internally than I am.

Linda:
I rather think we’re complicated in different ways. If humans had been
subjected to selection pressure in your ways, for say six million years,
and primates whose internal states resemble those of neurotypicals had
been existing on the fringes for all that time, and suddenly there were
environments where they could flourish differentially, what do you think
a) human society would be like now? and b) where would it be heading?

Peter:
No clue.  I suspect we’d have a lot less art, though.

So much art is rooted in internal conflict, and my internal conflicts are
pretty much consistently trivial.  Similarly, so much of it relies on
people being ashamed of their state, or afraid of it, or something, and…
I just don’t get it.

Linda:
By the way, Jane [Gmur] tells me there is Carnelli
[http://mpedia.dan.info/index.php?title=Carnelli] on the program for the
RG [Minnesota Mensa Regional Gathering in April]. Goody. I love
Carnelli. I beat Jon Evans once. He was usually the Carnelli master, but
for some reason he was playing, we were the last two in the circle and
the timer was down to five seconds. The key title word was “up” as in
“Up the Down Staircase,” or “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,”
and I said, “Up Yours.”

Which is not, so far as I know, the title of anything, but it was so
unlike me, as Jon knew, that he exploded in guffaws and the
(five-second) clock ran out.

Peter:
Brilliant.

Linda:
Brilliant? Maybe, if I’d had time to think about it, but I didn’t. It
was just the first thing that came into my head.

Peter:
That’s the brilliant part.  :)

Linda:
Also, I bluff a lot in Carnelli. That is, I lie; I make up stuff. You
have to do it fast, or be prepared to do it as if you were saying
something true spontaneously, because people who challenge you
incorrectly lose their place in the circle. (If challenged, you are not
allowed to lie.) People who’d played with me before knew I might be
bluffing, but they also knew it was risky to challenge, because I will
choose to say something true but improbable whenever I can.  At five
seconds, these things don’t matter, because there isn’t time to think
them through.

Puns are also highly valued. “Guns of Navarone” followed by “Never on
Sunday,” is canonical, and one I had never heard but found on MPedia is
“Tequila Sunrise” followed by “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Or maybe the
other way around.

I was in a game once where the prevailing key word was “thing” and I was
beside myself with anticipation hoping it would still be apposite when
my turn came, and it was, and I got to say, “Of Thee I Thing.” Jon was
the Carnelli Master in that game, I think.

Peter:
… And there’s where I get my mileage back off being so much simpler
than normal humans.  Five seconds is a LONG time to me.  In games timed at a few seconds, I have time to consider game theory.

My models are simplistic, but VERY fast.

[All this happened incidentally to whatever else we were doing, over five hours or so, but at this point, we switched to the telephone. Peter also lives in Northfield, about three miles from me, not that it matters. One more bit, later:]

Peter (after rereading the exchanges above):

This is the part that fascinates me still.  I can’t imagine how people can get anything done, given how long it apparently takes them.  And yet…

I think that’s the other reason ADHD wasn’t easy to spot when I was a kid. You check for it by seeing whether the kid can solve problems that take more than five seconds to solve, right?  If he can, that means he’s paying attention for more than five seconds… Right?

Oops.

Linda:
Oh, I’ve gotta put that bit in too.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
This entry was posted in Eclectic (nothing in particular), Linguistics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kindle talk, with touches of autism

  1. rajmohan says:

    umm.. as i get to writing comments, i am struck with the question; how did I get here. Oh, yes.. was looking if someone used Kindle to aid children with autism. So Kindle and Autism made google get me here. But there was no answer to that, but i enjoyed the play of words and our complicated life. I wonder where will be my kid at 30. If I can communicate this far with him, thats great !! Nice post

  2. there is no permanent cure for autism yet, most autism treatments are experimental-*;

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