A Year Ago at Shift Journal

For all its charms, the weblog platform does also bury older content for no better reason than that newer material has come along.  While we all like to feel we’re improving, whether you are writing blog posts, delivering babies, or making them yourself, you are likely not only as good or as interesting as your most recent effort.  Neither are we.

In remedy, the entries linked below are accompanied by brief summaries of their content, as it appeared here a year ago this week.


•  Idea Drawing

Lamarck is the boogie man of biology circles. “This is what can happen to you if you don’t swim with contemporary theory, don’t make the right friends or if you think of things too soon,” suggests this story of the brilliant theorist ignored. Darwin was tormented by the possibility that his theory of natural selection would bring down scorn. He waited almost twenty years to publish. Then, Darwin was haunted by the possibility that his pluralistic inclinations embracing additional theories of evolution would not be understood. While distancing himself from contemporary Lamarckians, Darwin shared many of their beliefs. Even Darwin’s genius accompanied by the adulation of many of his peers was not enough to protect him from a sizeable portion of this work being rejected and ignored.

Dancing Theory

A couple entries ago, I proposed a predictable display of variation of the physical features in the children of a family over time as a mother’s testosterone level slowly rose with age. This prediction is in accord with a founding premise of this work, that our evolutionary past manifests in the present in more or less the degrees that a boy’s maturation rate is delayed and a girl’s maturation rate is accelerated, with timing also being important. The higher the mother’s testosterone levels, the more likely this manifestation will be the case.

I would additionally suggest that because social structure has political correlates, it would be likely that in a politically conservative family, if liberals would emerge, it would be with the youngest sons and daughters. In addition, the youngest kids would most likely evidence the features of matrifocal social structure. One statistic I would expect to see is higher incidence of divorce or serial monogamy with youngest children. I would even suggest that because social structure is correlated with testicle size in primates, youngest sons should show incrementally larger testes than oldest sons.

Minnesota Somali Autism

No single variable influences our evolution more powerfully than changes in the rate and timing of maturation. Neoteny, or the prolongation of infant features into the adult of descendants by the slowing down of maturation, is the single most influential factor in our divergence from chimpanzee-like progenitors. Variations in a mother’s testosterone levels while her child is in the womb adjust maturation rates, modifying the personality, physical features, strengths and interests of her child. For example, high testosterone levels in combination with other factors can lead to autism. An extremely powerful determinant of testosterone levels is the degree and duration of exposure to light.

Daily testosterone levels are influenced by diurnal light variations. In Africa and the Middle East, equatorial light patterns throughout the year are relatively constant and do not impact daily testosterone levels to variations of more than 30%. Those variations stay within a constant yearly range.

Africans made slaves and carried to America were forced to labor in the American South, a South subject to very different light cycles than their society of origin. With early 20th century migration to Northern cities, additional latitudinal differences came into play. Light varied seasonally and testosterone levels fluctuated wildly relative to the latitude of origin.

The Jewish Diaspora drew Semitic peoples away from regions near the middle of the earth to Europe, where light varies more radically, seasonally, the farther North one goes.

The pineal gland interprets summer as daytime and winter as nighttime, based upon a multimillion-year equatorial calibration in Africa. Africans in America, as well as Semitics in Europe and now in America, find themselves exposed to radically different light levels from their societies of origin. The result is fundamental change in maturation rates in both the directions of neoteny and acceleration because mothers’ testosterone levels are moving either up or down, depending on the season. Also influenced by the season would be when the mother’s parents were born, because they would be subject to the same light impact. Over generations, if relations are born in the same season, you can get multigenerational exaggerations of the pineal-influencing testosterone effects.

Autism Is As Autism Does

All of which is to restate Mr. Stillman’s premise that Everyone Has Autism, that everyone engages in behavior consistent with autism, as well as my reminder that the diagnostic criteria for autism are based entirely on behavior. To the autism clinician too then, including those working right now on the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, autism literally is as autism does.  And actually, an autism diagnosis doesn’t so much answer the question, “Is this person’s behavior autistic?” as it answers the question, “Is this person significantly impaired on a day-to-day basis by a full constellation of behaviors that we have deemed necessary for diagnosis with an autistic spectrum disorder?”

This, while it may not be apparent at first, leaves out a lot.  There is a certain amount of wiggle room, Chinese-menu style, in the diagnostic criteria but most every partial constellation of autistic behaviors which would otherwise be counted toward an autism diagnosis simply does not count as anything, not in the eyes of the DSM.  Behaviors count, they are recognized as “officially” autistic only when they add up within a handful of carefully chosen but ultimately arbitrary categories said to define impairment—these categories being periodically recalibrated, redefined, and re-jiggered with each new version of the DSM.  With all due respect to those involved, the entire undertaking as regards autism seems less like a scientific inquiry than an elaborate, high-stakes role-playing game.

on 10/25/10 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 1 Comment | Read More

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