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I'm amazed by the improbability of this guy's life. He had an abusive father and a schizophrenic mother dropped out of school at 15 then worked as a sound engineer for a famous rock band, built a successful high-end auto repair business and then became a best selling author. I have to admit I was skeptical reading the article but his story seems to check out (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Elder_Robison).

I wonder how relevant his experiences with autism and TMS would be though to those of us with less extraordinary lives. I mean I'm guessing that having a life like this would tend to suggest that someone's internal mental makeup is somehow rather non-mainstream as well.

I work with John's son, Jack, on LBRY (http://lbry.io). The whole Robison family is full of people with interesting stories:

- Jack went to trial as a teenager, facing 60 years (!) in prison for chemistry experiments (http://www.masslive.com/localbuzz/index.ssf/2009/06/actionre...)

- Here is John showcasing guitar for Kiss, built by whole family (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXZi4UZjiiI&t=10)

- John's brother is Augusten Burroughs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusten_Burroughs)

(this is a reposted comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11313452, but people found it interesting last time and I butter my toast with karma)

Eric Raymond had an interesting take on the link between autism and exceptional achievement (if you can get past his ego).


In short, the time and energy normally spent on social interaction instead is spent on other aspects of life.

Yes, I agree with what esr says here but I would add along the same lines that it seems like a necessary condition for success in difficult fields is devoting a great deal of time and energy to that field and the problems one is working on. One of the defining characteristics of autism aside from social difficulties seems to be having narrow intense interests. This seems to match very well what is needed for success, so it doesn't seem surprising that autistic people, at least the high functioning kind (ie. those with what used to be called Asperger's) would be more likely to succeed in these fields than others. But where is the line between normal and autistic then ? I think that to be a good mathematician you need an intense interest in mathematics (an interest that could be considered idiosyncratic since it is somewhat rare are in the general population). Does that mean that all good mathematicians are "autistic" at some level or is it just a manifestation of normal neuroplasticity ? I think that if you spend a career doing mathematics, or writing programs and little time dealing with monkey social rituals because you don't see the value in it you will end up exhibiting behavior that could be considered at least autistic-like.

Of course the danger is that if you ignore these rituals and you don't become wildly successful, either because your intelligence, though significantly above normal, is a bit below that needed for making world changing discoveries, or maybe even because of bad luck, then you risk personal catastrophe because you will have cut yourself off from the primary mechanisms society provides for maintaining one's livelihood.

In the end though I guess I believe that a person should try to be who they fundamentally are, rather than what society wants us to be. If you do that as life progresses you become ever more strongly who you authentically are. The risk of ultimate disaster is one that must be faced with courage.

Perhaps one day society will evolve to the point where it will allow each of us a little more affordance for following our true path. Unfortunately that isn't the world in which I have lived.

(ie. those with what used to be called Asperger's)

Has Asperger's been homogenized with Autism? I know asp has always been classed as an ASD but I thought it was still possible to obtain a distinct diagnosis.

The diagnosis of Asperger's was removed in the 2013 fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and people with these symptoms are now included within the autism spectrum disorder along with autism and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome

>if you can get past his ego

Sorry, I can't.

>I was thought to be a child prodigy with exceptional mathematical gifts; in 1975 I was the first high-school student in the institution’s memory to present original research at the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society. Unusually large working memory, check. I’m pretty sure the authors would consider me a genius, unless they know a lot of people who have been all of: A-list software architects, New York Times bestselling authors also nominated for a Campbell Award, musicians good enough to do session work on two albums, world-championship-level players of strategy games, speakers who’ve drawn packed crowds on six continents, martial-arts instructors, sought-after advisors to investment bankers, and founders of successful reform movements that arguably changed history.

If that's not enough for you, there's other articles in which he fancies himself a skilled pick up artist.

Raymond reminds me of Aleksey Vayner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_Is_Nothing_(video_r...

A mix of middling competence, unremarkable anecdotes, half truths, and apparent lies. None of which is reason for such arrogance.

Anyway, I don't find his hypothesis very convincing. Not caring what others think of you gives you plenty of time to read novels, play video games, and watch television.

Apologies to everyone for the ad-hominem flame-fest I seem to have triggered. I would have preferred this to stay on topic.

jere, you do make a good point that there is more to it than just having free time and energy. e.g. There is also the "systemising" impulse often seen in high-functioning autistic individuals that seems suited to success in modern times.

Do you have evidence that the claims he made here are inaccurate ?

I don't necessarily think accurately presenting one's accomplishments for the purpose of explaining the life basis for one's views constitutes arrogance, and even if it does a little arrogance in extraordinary individuals seems like a very minor fault compared against the spectrum of human defects responsible for the state of the world today. That isn't to say that arrogance can't lead to dangerous thought leadership but I think if you take harmless displays such as this as a signal to reject a person's entire viewpoint you will miss out on some ideas that are worth considering. What if everyone had shunned Linus Torvalds because of some of his personality traits ?

>founders of successful reform movements that arguably changed history

I have no idea what he's on about here, but just by making this kind of grandiose claim he makes me skeptical.

>New York Times bestselling authors also nominated for a Campbell Award

I can't find any evidence he has a New York Times Bestseller and would be rather surprised to see that TCATB was one.

>world-championship-level players of strategy game

This is more the level of half truth. From what I can find, he says once he placed top 5 in Power Grid at a convention with 2000 participants and 100 games in Lancaster PA. http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=6125

All you have left after that is his genius programming ability (which to my understanding isn't widely agreed upon).

>I don't necessarily think accurately presenting one's accomplishments for the purpose of explaining the life basis for one's views constitutes arrogance

I would agree with you if that kind of self congratulation wasn't endemic to his writing (in this post and others). And anyway I did consider his viewpoint and don't find it convincing.

I have no idea what he's on about here, but just by making this kind of grandiose claim he makes me skeptical.

I think he's referring to the free software movement.

EDIT: Or maybe the open source movement, I don't recall which of the two he is most associated with.

Oh brother.

I consider myself very smart but wouldn't write this kind of arrogant drivel :)

Agreed, I have added a brief summary so others can avoid reading it if it's too much for their stomach :)

Well, I -know- I'm smart... ;) (Stanford-Binet, blah blah). But it is just a number, and the value of a person is not (or rather, shouldn't be) based on such things. Emotional intelligence (EQ) seems to be more of an important factor in determining one's "success" in life, so I'd say it is more significant than IQ - and even those things such as one's accomplishments are not entirely sufficient measures of one's value.

At this point in my life, I'm realizing one's value ought to include the impact on one's social environment, your ethics, your integrity, liberal fuzzy wuzzy things. ESR certainly has had some impact on society in a beneficial sense, but how does he treat the people around him? I don't know... Jobs had an impact, but he was difficult. Gates... well, don't get me started.

Humanity needs to move beyond the hierarchical monkey social structure thought patterns and behaviors. Glorifying the 'great and good' does not serve this.

I find a lot of irony in this comment.


He was a subject on a superb documentary on the BBC about the brain presented by David Eagleman. It was quite moving to see how he was then, and watch him talk openly on camera now about it.

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