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GMTA: Temple Grandin

[ by Charles Cameron — here’s today’s windfall apple from the tree of creative delight ]

On March 31st, 2012 (or very likely the evening of the day before, because the clock this blog runs on is always way ahead of me) I posted a graphic here:

The upper image illustrates Theodore von Kármán‘s mathematics of turbulent flow, the lower image Vincent van Gogh‘s view of the night sky, and I juxtaposed them using my “DoubleQuotes” format to illustrate the underlying unity of the arts and sciences, and the breathtaking beauty and insight we can derive when we recognize a “semblance” — a rich commonality that transcends our usual division of concepts into separate and un-mutually-communicative “disciplines” and “silos”.

Apparently, this kind of cognition — the basis of every DoubleQuote, and of every move in one of the Hipbone / Sembl games — has now been termed “pattern thinking”.


According to Amazon, Temple Grandin and Richard Panek‘s book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum was released April 30, 2013 although books are often available a couple of weeks ahead of release date, and galleys and proofs earlier still).

I read about it for the first time today, in Grandin & Panek’s piece, How an Entirely New, Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley in Wired. That article begins with a pull-quote from Grandin’s book:

I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.

Obviously, that’s something i’d want to find out more about, so I read on into the article, expecting good things. Imagine my surprise when I read this paragraph, though:

Vincent van Gogh’s later paintings had all sorts of swirling, churning patterns in the sky — clouds and stars that he painted as if they were whirlpools of air and light. And, it turns out, that’s what they were! In 2006, physicists compared van Gogh’s patterns of turbulence with the mathematical formula for turbulence in liquids. The paintings date to the 1880s. The mathematical formula dates to the 1930s. Yet van Gogh’s turbulence in the sky provided an almost identical match for turbulence in liquid.



Okay, I just received my review copy of Hofstadter and Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking — I guess I’ll have to review Grandin and Panke here, too.

16 Responses to “GMTA: Temple Grandin”

  1. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Fascinating post. I read the reviews of S&E at Amazon and they are mixed. Hofstadter is a tall drink of water. I read GEB and lived to tell the tale, and since GEB is written largely based on analogy, it would appear this book may be a part II (btw, Hofstadter’s Bach takes in GEB make total sense, some of the other analogies, not so much).  
    As you may recall, I did a brief on pattern language/cognition here.
    Will be interested in your take. 

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Scott:
    There’s also his Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought, a quote from which leads off m’friend Derek Robinson’s placing of my HipBone Games as a resource for AI researchers…  The HipBone Games, AI and the rest.

  3. Grurray Says:

    TG confuses synesthesia with autism


    Not everyone with autism has it and not everyone with it is autistic.
    She’s a remarkable women no doubt, but her advocacy, although well intentioned, is a bit misleading. The idea that autism is some kind of new evolution or that it is the specific condition that has fueled our creative innovation economy is a a big leap. 

    Autism is a neurodevelopmental affliction that is very possibly some kind of autoimmune disorder. It’s (in my humble amateur though informed opinion) a disease of civilization caused by our collective response to modern culture and civilization. I doubt more people in Silicon Valley have it than anywhere else.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Interesting, thanks.  My own concern is not particularly with autism — more with poetry, music, creativity — fugal, contrapuntal and analogical thinking. I’m about as far from a coder as one could get…
    I have a friend who had a similar response to yours, and will be sending me some materials critical of the supposed correlation between Silicon Valley and autism, so I’ll have something to quote if I get a review copy of Grandin’s book.

  5. Grurray Says:

    Charles,   I understand your point and your interest in cross correlations. I was engaged in a bit of a rant but didn’t mean to digress from your topic. I have actually always been a bit hesitant about tackling Hofstadter,  but after reading about your work I now see I should revisit him. Fluid Concepts certainly looks very interesting. 

  6. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Grurray,
    Hofstadter takes getting used to—at that was my experience. There were parts of GEB that were extraordinarily insightful, and others not so much.
    Synesthesia manifests in several ways. I’ve had it with the written word (color around words and letters) all my life, but didn’t know I how to explain and never mentioned it because I didn’t want to be considered weird. I confided in a friend about 15 years ago, and he saw a special on PBS, called me, and wa-la! 

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “It’s (in my humble amateur though informed opinion) a disease of civilization caused by our collective response to modern culture and civilization.”

    On the other hand, isn’t Silicon Valley itself a collective response to modern culture and civilization? I mean if it wasn’t collective there would be no need to be defined by an area. If wasn’t about civilization, it wouldn’t be an area of wealth connecting most of civilization.

    So I find no surprise that if these “diseases” are caused by our collective response to modern culture and civilization that their center of infestation would be located in Silicon Valley and not somewhere else, let’s say in a Red State as an example. 🙂 

  8. larrydunbar Says:

    ” I’ve had it with the written word (color around words and letters) all my life, but didn’t know I how to explain and never mentioned it because I didn’t want to be considered weird.”

    I had a similar response when I started having panic attacks. First of all, I am not sure I even believed in so-called “panic attacks” and second it was something that happened in movies and not in real life.  For me, I had to finally admit to myself that something was happening and confide in my doctor about said events. 

    He prescribed to me Imipramine , that, at least for awhile, was like a magic pill. It wasn’t until later, when I was forced to take a class in psychology as a requirement for an associates degree in mechanical engineering, that I learned how these attacks came to me. (it should be noted that it was during this class in psychology that I actually received the first perfect grade on a paper that I have written).  

    And while panic attacks and Synesthesia might be unrelated, I think there is something in the gap between synapses that may be similar, as is our attempt at being considered “normal”. 

  9. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Larry,
    Many thanks! Haven’t had a panic attack, and my knowledge of psychology is pretty slim beyond theories of cognition/judgement, as it were. I agree “there is something in the gap,” even gifts.
    For me certain authors elicit color around words, some music—not all, has similar affect. It is “normal” for me, and sometimes useful. 

  10. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    The weird thing about analogy, imo, is its connection to Plato’s concept of forms—only, as may often be the case, the perceived similarities between things and patterns come as rather vague impressions to those experiencing the effects of analogic thinking and not as definitive basic forms lying behind the things.  Nonetheless, the impression of these hidden “cross-sections” may be so strong for a person, they lead him to make the leap to believing in either:


    Primordial form — The idea of some ulterior reality hiding “behind” the two things being considered in analogy
    “Connection” — The idea that some fundamental, real (physical), connection exists between the two things.


    I am prone to believe that the connective tissue, or the “ulterior reality” or form, if there is one, is the human brain rather than some objective aspect of the exterior (non-human) universe.  The problem is:  We only ever see the surfaces.  Perhaps this deficiency leads us to posit interiors via analogy; or, to develop wholes on the basis of partial empirical observations.  But too often, because this occurs in the interior that is our mental analysis of partially observed phenomena, we are drawn toward believing in “realities” taking shape in that interior observation—and we therefore too easily posit either a real connection between disparate objective phenomena or we begin to suspect an actual exterior, objective phenomenon that matches up perfectly with the reality we have created in our minds…when we compare the interior observation of one phenomenon (our concept of it) with other interior observations of other phenomena.


    For example.  I was delighted to read in Nietzsche’s notes from 1888 this statement which fits the subject at hand:


    “Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying “there are only facts,” I should say:  no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations…”


    I was delighted by reading that, because it correlated well with much of my own thinking before I even started reading Nietzsche.  However, the question arises:  Should I therefore posit either a) an actual objective reality that inspired or informed both Nietzsche & myself, or b) some sort of actual connection between  Nietzsche and myself?   I could even posit an objective reality that both Nietzsche and I observed and say that he and I are connected by that objective reality, that real world.  But perhaps I happen to have the type of brain that he had, and similar life experiences, which would draw the same sort of picture, or interpretation, when studying human specimens who themselves study phenomena and react to that phenomena.  I.e., he and I could have a similar interpretive faculty, but this is no proof that our interpretations are accurate (founded upon an objective reality that he and I have observed without error) nor that he and I have some sort of mystical connection between us.


    Another question might be whether we are far more prone to err — or even. less prone to err — when accepting analogy as valuable indicator of objective phenomena.

  11. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    I would add, for Charles’ sake at least, that this process of feeling connections might as easily address the strong connections people feel to Muhammad, Jesus, celebrities (especially pop artists, poets, politicians), and others.  Reality, so-called, may be constructed socially; or, the feeling that I or you may have to another human being may arise because of our need for exterior confirmation of observations.  That two or more may “see” the same ulterior realities as another sees — especially when this occurs across centuries, also — can seem like a strong indicator that we are on the right track.


    I would align this notion w/ performativity:  an evolutionary “save” for humans prone to intellectual error.    

  12. Grurray Says:

    Larry,   modernism in a simplified nutshell was the centralized mass mechanization of culture, art, science, politics, etc imposed by a detached elite in the pursuit of the better good (as defined by them). It was a transition period which sought to marshall the wealth,  knowledge,  and power that was being abandoned by aristocracies and noble clans in order to, among other things, control the populace. The best intentioned were interested in protecting the populace. The worst were suppressing them. All were in agreement that the people couldn’t be trusted on their own.

    As such, that makes Silicon Valley a sanctuary from modernism not a tool of it.

    Scott,   I have always had the number form and spatial sequence synesthesia. It’s something I just became aware of recently. It never really registered as something out of the ordinary until I connected with others with it. It’s my suspicion that it’s more common than realized, and it’s something that’s been around for a long time.

  13. larrydunbar Says:

    ” I agree “there is something in the gap,” even gifts.”

    So did you find some pattern that gave you an advantage, in what you observed, in other words, how your mind worked, or was your “gift” the gift of sight (vision)?

  14. larrydunbar Says:

    “As such, that makes Silicon Valley a sanctuary from modernism not a tool of it.”

    Are you kidding? I mean, I agree that Silicon Valley is not a tool of modernism, but it is not a sanctuary “from” modernism. Silicon Valley is a modernism sanctuary, if we where to believe Grurray in his amateur analysis. I just don’t believe you can get anymore “mechanization of culture, art, science, politics, etc imposed by a detached elite” than in Silicon Valley.

    I mean, they are “gamers”, right? Gamers, such as the Comanches of the Great Plains States (Empire of the Summer Moon, S.C. Gwynne), where the elite. It was the bands outward, who were not. 

    After all, doesn’t the environment write the first source-code (TPMB), and not the culture? 

  15. larrydunbar Says:

    “were the elite”, sorry (sp).

  16. Grurray Says:


     Centralized,  controlling, permanence,  peripatetic

    Silicon Valley:

    Decentralized,  antifragile,  post modern, post normal, bridge to the new era

    When I say elites, that is societal hierarchical elites.
    The moneyed tech elite is as far from detached as you can imagine. 

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