Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chapter 10: Asperger's and Rationality and Faith (Part 1)

Holy Cow. Chapter 10 already?

This post is an introduction to a 2 part series about the things mentioned in the title. This post's purpose is for me to air out some ideas and thoughts I had a few weeks ago, preparing your for my more focused ideas in the next post.

I often play with LEGOs with my younger brother; we come up with stories we call "episodes" with all the little minifigures and vehicles he builds. I can't remember exactly when we started - but I think it stretches all the way back to when we lived in England, somewhere between 2002-2005. As brothers do, we often clash on the plot, which in retrospect is silly - and we usually work through it.

So today we're making Camp Half-Blood - full of demigods, knights, wizards and Jedi - team up with all the non-Star Wars villains (the Romans, Death Eaters, and orcs) to besiege the Separatists. Mega Mordred accidentally created a black hole, and only the Green Mountain can be used to draw it into space and safely away from Earth. The Separatists, however, want to take the Green Mountain with them to a galaxy far, far away and use it to defeat the Republic, so all the other characters must unite against them to save the world.

We have very active imaginations. Of course, this intricate plot did not create itself. This is the brainchild of much innovation and heated argument.

The two Sith and General Grievous have just slain Ben Kenobi (that is, the Episode IV version - we couldn't kill the Clone Wars version because that would create a time paradox) and are planning to retreat with their droid army to the Green Mountain. Assajj Ventress calls for her troops to follow her -

"Wait," I say. This has to be the fifth time the episode has been interrupted today. "The Separatist base is surrounded. How can they flee?" My brother furrows his eyebrows.

"But you said the whole army would retreat," he says.

"No," I reply, "I said these three -" I point to the Sith and General Grievous - "could escape. It doesn't make sense for the droid army to escape if they're surrounded; these three could easily sneak out, though."

"But we agreed that they would all fall back," he says.

It usually goes back and forth like this, with us disagreeing on who said what, until I realize that I'm arguing about LEGOs and it's silly for me to worry too much about the plot making sense.

"Okay," I say, "the Separatists can fall back. But -" and here I revert to rationality - "they somehow have to create a hole in the good guy army." I don't mean this to shoot him down; now even I'm trying to figure out a way to make it happen. Then my brother grabs a minifigure -

Assajj Ventress suddenly has an idea and force pushes a Republic Cruiser away, creating an exit point for her droid troops -

"Wait," I say. "They can't do that." After all, if they could just force push Cruisers around, why didn't they do that before?

"Sam," my brother says quickly, "why do you always poke holes in my ideas?"

There's a pause.

"I..." I have no idea what to say. "I don't try to poke holes in your ideas," I say lamely.

"You always make holes," he says.

"I don't make holes," I respond quickly.

"But you always find them. Why do you have to mention them?"

"I find holes. That's the way I think." This is true. "I don't mean anything by it -"

"But why do you always mention them?" he asks, making me think. This throws me. Sometimes it's good to mention holes - but during our episodes, where we're breaking the laws of physics to create black holes and use magical mountains to pull them into space?

I reach down for a minifigure -

Assajj Ventress suddenly has an idea and force pushes a Republic Cruiser away, creating an exit point for her droid troops. She turns to General Greivous. "Why didn't we do that before?" she asks.

And so the episode continues, and the Separatists escape to fight another day, extending the Black Hole story arc for at least a few more episodes. And I'm left to wonder about this strange tendency of mine I never considered before - why do I seek to poke holes in things?

***

I don't know when I started my tendency of trying to find holes. I think at some point I developed a sense of skepticism, questioning most things I learned. This is especially true in math and physics, which I've mostly taught myself over the years. When I encounter a new idea that is not intuitive to me, I brush it aside and try to derive my own method or idea, usually only ending up back where I started, having learned why the nonintuitive is really the only way about it. I don't regret this tendency; I think I have a better understanding of math and physics than most other students my level, because I don't accept the what until I know the why and how.

There's almost certainly a dash of Asperger's hidden in this tendency - whether it's due to the nature of Aspies to be "logical" or due to our obsessiveness over small discrepancies, it plays a large role in the way I think. Anything that might be wrong becomes wrong in my mind until I can find a way to prove it - because I can't justify knowing something without understanding it.

Notice the wordplay - not mine, but from whoever put the word "understand" into our language. To stand beneath. To get under the surface and find out how it ticks. This is also why, when I find a classical song I particularly like, I try to play it on the piano, even if it's beyond my skill level - because when when I play the piece, become the sub-stance (Latin wordplay), I understand it better.

Keep that theme in mind; it may become important later.

Now, there's a few exceptions to this rule of proof- much to my discomfort. Firstly, there's the areas that I don't have enough obsessive interest in to worry about proving. I love history, but not that much. And literature is more like music, in that there isn't much to prove, but much to understand.

Then there's God. You may have seen this coming due to the title, but I'll have to ask you to wait till the next post before I deal with it.

And finally, there's imagination. Because at times you just have to make an assumption or two to get anywhere, in writing and reading and playing/listening to music and even in math and physics. Albert Einstein's favorite words, with which he began many groundbreaking thought experiments, were, "Now let us imagine..." I try to harness my creative power as much as possible in coming up with explanations for things, or in figuring out ways to accomplish a goal.

All of this comes back, though, to my brother's question - when I find something foolish or full of holes, why do I feel the need to point out the holes? I didn't even know I had this tendency until my brother mentioned it. In fact, I think I mostly have this tendency around family, because I usually try to be very sensitive to others' ideas. For some reason my family gets the short end of the stick in that respect. Perhaps that's only natural; perhaps someone has to get the short end. But I think I can find a way to balance it out, if I try.

The funniest thing is - to both close this post and begin the next one - as pious as I try to be about my rationality, even to the little extent I apply it to imagination, God, and other less interesting subjects, I'm horribly irrational in other ways. This is a trademark of Asperger's that we aren't always aware of: we tend to pride ourselves on our logic (to compensate for our lacking in social skills, likely), but we forget those times that we are very illogical in our obsessions. And I'll tell you more about those next.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chapter 9: Giving Forward

Just a cool moment that I decided to share. I can't think of any connection to Asperger's, but hey, a blog is a blog is a blog.

Today

"Oooh!"

T recoiled from the blow of the soccer ball to his nose, covering his face with his hands. It's never fun to watch a seven-year old get nailed in the head, and I immediately rushed up to him, along with my fellow babysitters and a number of the kids we were babysitting. Perhaps soccer wasn't the best idea, I thought.

"You okay?" I asked T, kneeling down to his level. I saw him shake his head, but his hands remained firmly clenched on his face. "Do you want to go sit down?" I couldn't interpret his response.

"T," his brother said, walking up and holding his shoulders. "You need to let us see your face, so we can see if you're bleeding." I hadn't thought of that. T moved his hands just enough so his brother could see him. "OK, you're fine," he said, patting T on the shoulder. I repeated my question.

"Do you want to go sit down?"

"I think he should go sit by the church," my fellow babysitter J (not J from Chapter 4) said, which seemed reasonable to me.

"Do you want to go sit by the church?" I asked. T shook his head.

"I wanna sit on the curb," he said. His hands were slowly spreading apart.

"Okay," I said. I started to lead him to the curb, which was a challenge as he couldn't see through his hands. I set him down on the curb, and then decided to just stay there and keep him company. There was about half a minute of awkward silence in which I wondered if he just wanted some space. Then he started to speak, lowering his hands and mumbling something about how he's gotten hit in other games before, but never in the face.

"And people say, it's just hitting you on the nose, but it hits you in the whole face," he said. I nodded and told him of some times I've been hit in the face in games before. I thought by relating I could cheer him up, but he didn't seem to be any happier for it.

J walked over and joined us and asked T how he was. T recapped what he told me and began to talk about a lot of insecurities he has when it comes to sports, particularly soccer. I related very well to this, but decided not to share all of those stories. As the tears clear up, he looked up at the sky.

"I saw the first star tonight," he said, pointing. "That one."

Digression: All throughout my childhood I met kids who said "Hey! I just saw the first star tonight!" What in tarnation do they mean by that? Sure, it's the first star you saw. Doesn't mean that there's not another star over there, or over there. Maybe you just have bad eyes. Goodness.

But this was not the time to digress, so I went along with it.

"That one?" I asked.

"No, that one."

"That one?"

"The one in between," said J.

"Oh, that one."

"Yes."

Well, that went nowhere. If anything, he was only more frustrated now. T then turned and looked at the moon, which was very bright.

"Did you know that the moon is bright because the sun is behind it?" he asked. "That's what my friend told me." I looked at J, and we decided to tell him the truth about Santa Claus - I mean, the moon.

"Actually, it's backwards," J said. "The sun is behind the Earth, and its light shines on the moon." T looks confused.

"Like, right now, the sun is up in China," I said, "and its light comes all the way around the earth to the moon, to light it up." Sorta. Comprehension began to dawn on his face.

"It's like..." J stood up and stepped in between T and I. "I'm the Earth, and you're the Moon, and Sam's the sun." I struck a glorious pose as T giggled. "His light comes around me and shines on you."

"Oh, I get it now," T said, whether in truth or just to get these two strange people to stop trying to explain science. We all laughed and T decided to join in the soccer game again. I look up at the star T pointed out and see it flickering.

***

Childhood

"And you can see a planet because it doesn't flicker," my Dad said. This happened so long ago, all I can remember are his words. I want to say we were inside or in a car, because I wanted to apply this new knowledge soon, but couldn't at that time. Later, though, I would point out different stars that seemed to flicker less than others and ask if they were planets.

"That one?" I'd ask.

"No, it's flickering a little bit," my Dad would say.

"See? Watch it," said one of my grandfathers, who I think was there.

I remember being a little awestruck at having the ability to tell a star from a planet. After all, there were some pretty bright stars out there, and some dim planets, so brightness alone doesn't account for "planetness." I can't remember if I'd ever seen a planet with my own eyes before - I think my Dad had pointed it out to me once or twice. I wondered if I'd ever see a planet close-up with my own eyes.

There's not much that I remember about that entire incident, except what was said and the effect it had on me, one of many that planted seeds in me which would later grow into a love of astronomy and science. It's always been a treasured moment to me, and almost every time I look up at the stars I check to see if they're flickering.

***

Today

About ten minutes afterward, I noticed T sitting on the curb, outside of the game. He looked a little down, so I went to go sit next to him.

"What's up?" I asked, and he sighed.

"I keep trying to be the guy who throws the ball back in when it goes out of bounds," he said, "but they never call it out of bounds." Well, of course not. They're just trying to have fun.

"Well, it's all a part of having fun to them," I said. "They're not worried so much about it, though they do want to win."

"But I can't ever get the ball," he said.

"I'm never able to get the ball either," I said. True story.

"You got the ball, like, three times today!" he said.

"Well, today's a good day," I said, as someone else passing by interjected, "More like one!" Thanks for that. We talked a little bit more about soccer, occasionally interrupted by people asking if he's okay, and telling him to get back in the game. I looked up at the sky and saw a star that didn't flicker. I had an idea, but I wasn't sure how well it'd work. It could be either helpful or disappointing.

"Wanna see something cool?" I asked. He turned to me.

"What?"

"Look at that star right there," I said, pointing towards a random star. He found it quicker than I found his earlier. "Look at it. Can you see it flickering?"

"Yah," he said, sounding a little disappointed with this "cool thing." Well, I had more up my sleeve.

"Now look at that one," I said, pointing at the planet. "It isn't flickering, is it?" I decided to use the power of suggestion to my full advantage, as I didn't know how good his eyesight was.

"No," he said, his curiosity a little piqued. Maybe this would work.

"Why do you think that is?" I asked. He pondered.

"Is it because it's brighter?" he asked.

"No," I said. I could give him a few more guesses or go straight to the punchline. I decided not to waste what attention I currently had. "It's a planet." A moment of anticipating silence.

"Cool," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen a planet before." He looked at it for a few more seconds.

"And you can always tell," I said, "by whether or not it flickers."

"Cool." And he sounded like he meant it. That probably did more for me than my little factoid had done for him - that I had interested him, perhaps cheered him up a little bit, with something I myself hold dear. It was a splendid payoff.

"You wanna get back in the game?" I asked, as another barrage of kids arrived to pull us back into the game.

"Sure," T said, finally relenting.

***

Eighth Grade

"And now," the observatory director said, stepping out of the way of the telescope, "this is Neptune." He mentioned some tidbits of information about where the individual planets were at that point, then allowed us to start stepping up to look.

When it was my turn, I was not surprised by what I saw - more by how it affected me. A great blue orb, hovering in empty space. That blackness behind it - it's not just a convenient background; that's truly the emptiness of the cosmos. And this planet, like a shining blue ornament, hovers there, alone but not alone.

As we drove home, I learned something even more surprising.

"Neptune was my favorite part," my dad said. "I've always wanted to see it with my own eyes, but I never have."

That's another treasured memory.