How do we recognize a mind that doesn’t think like other minds?
Is there great danger in destroying ingenuity and inspiration and depth of thought that doesn’t ever occur to other minds?
We have discussed before how mediocrity only recognizes mediocrity but how should we handle the Uncommon Mind if we are unable to recognize it on our own?
How do we naturally promote neural connections in others we may see as different and uncomfortable and unfamiliar and that we may not understand?
How can we begin to appreciate the ideas that make such a mind unique?


  1. Sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well, Dave. I hope you will be better tomorrow and be around tomorrow because I will need your help here tomorrow in your comment(s).
    Thanks your ideas, Dave. I’m uncertain if my mind is able to recognize your uncommon thoughts!

  2. Hi Chris!
    I like your take on the idea of an “Uncommon Mind” — that’s precisely the sort of angle I hoped to explore in today’s post. There are many sorts of minds out there — many ordinary — and lots of varieties of the uncommon.
    Asperger’s is a fascinating diagnosis. Who decides what makes a mind “normal” or “Autistic, but highly functioning?” “Healthy” minds? “Scientific” minds? “Mainstream” minds?
    It’s interesting which minds get to make what determinations about the sanctity of thought and the punishment of ideas that may not be mainstream or ordinary enough for acceptance.
    I hope the testing for your son gets you some answers. Knowing is always better than wondering.

  3. Sometimes it’s tempting to just say that my son learns in a different way and let’s work with him that way.
    The reality is that society wants people to conform and uncommon minds cause problems for those wanting uniformity in thought and actions.
    An uncommon mind that makes a corporation lots of money will be forgiven any idiosyncrasies, see Wired’s Geek Syndrome article, but woe to the uncommon mind in places where its owner is not appreciated.

    It’s a familiar joke in the industry that many of the hardcore programmers in IT strongholds like Intel, Adobe, and Silicon Graphics – coming to work early, leaving late, sucking down Big Gulps in their cubicles while they code for hours – are residing somewhere in Asperger’s domain.
    Kathryn Stewart, director of the Orion Academy, a high school for high-functioning kids in Moraga, California, calls Asperger’s syndrome “the engineers’ disorder.”
    Bill Gates is regularly diagnosed in the press: His single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice are all suggestive of an adult with some trace of the disorder.
    Dov’s father told me that his friends in the Valley say many of their coworkers “could be diagnosed with ODD – they’re odd.” In Microserfs, novelist Douglas Coupland observes, “I think all tech people are slightly autistic.”

    Anyone outside of the norm can become a target for bullies in our society since people with uncommmon minds, for whatever reason, are rarely appreciated by those with regular minds.

  4. Hi Chris —
    Thanks for the interesting quotes.
    I get extremely uneasy when I read articles where people are making medical diagnoses about people based on assumption and generalities.
    I think that kind of blanket pigeon-holing is dangerous. To even pretend to know what drives a person or a personality type without strict scientific study and subsequent medical interpretation serves a strange dynamic and selfish interest — usually to just be dramatic or make an point with opinion posing as fact.

  5. Hi David,
    Linking the syndrome to famous people also makes it easier to diagnose everyone who has an extraordinary focus on any particular subject as having Asperger Syndrome.
    In some ways, it helps by making it seem like it’s not such a bad thing.
    Here’s an interesting quote from the Wired article in the same vain from Dr. Asperger himself and someone diagnosing the authors of Pokemon video games:

    … (W)rote Asperger, (a boy) “came to be preoccupied with fantastic inventions, such as spaceships and the like.” Here he added, “one observes how remote from reality autistic interests really are” – a comment he qualified years later, when spaceships were no longer remote or fantastic, by joking that the inventors of spaceships might themselves be autistic. …
    Echoing Asperger, the director of the clinic in San Jose where I met Nick, Michelle Garcia Winner, suggests that “Pokémon must have been invented by a team of Japanese engineers with Asperger.”

  6. Who decides what makes a mind “normal” or “Autistic, but highly functioning?” “Healthy” minds? “Scientific” minds? “Mainstream” minds?
    This is a great question since shows that we make value judgments as a society. And, value judgments can change as society changes.
    If the majority of the minds making the value judgments are themselves “common,” does it discredit any determination regarding people with “uncommon minds” because the “common mind” cannot possibly understand the “uncommon mind?”

  7. Chris!
    The whole Pokemon attribution, while some might find funny, I find it unfortunate.
    Asperger’s is a medical diagnosis and to play around with medical determinations for fun or to make one feel better by the wishful application of those descriptions to famous people to make someone feel better is a dangerous idea because soon words have no meaning and soon everyone is a genius and soon everyone has Asperger’s and those who are truly suffering or living with the diagnosis are marginalized ever further into the recesses of society.

  8. Dave —
    Yes, by defining the uncommon is to give it a specific, existing meaning, which may undermine the uncommon functionality of that mind.
    That’s what I’m trying to get at today — there are ordinary minds we recognize — and then there are other minds that think and behave on an entirely different level.
    The impulse is to correct the aberration against the norm with conformity.
    Here’s an example from my own extended family. We had a large family gathering several years ago and we were all sitting around discussing colors of all things and one of the really young kids said “red sings to me” — which I found quite beautiful and pure – but before I could say anything, the parent, a well-educated, working middle-class mother I rarely see, said gently, but loud enough for the entire room to hear, “Red is a color, not a sound. You don’t hear colors with your ears. You see colors with your eyes.”
    And that was that!
    Inspiration was cured dead in its grave in the mind of a five year-old by his meandering mother.
    I wanted to be subversive and say in a voice that was louder than her correction, “Red smells like cinnamon to me,” but I knew I would also be corrected and shot down in similar manner by the entire familial group and that would have done more long term damage to the kids because in the Midwest the children pay for the sins of the outrageous by enforcing even more mannered and less nuanced behaviors and thinking.
    Life under a mother like that — repressing creative instinct and original thought — makes me sad and it concerns me when ordinary minds raise uncommon ones.

  9. Or, a miracle cure could be developed, everyone would be diagnosed (a la ADD & ADHD), then the drug companies would make millions!

  10. Chris!
    Right! Mass diagnoses means millions of dollars for those who claim to cure us from ourselves!
    Did you see Bill Gates rocking on TV? Asperger’s! See that guy limping on the street? Asperger’s! Did you know the president plays video games? Asperger’s!

  11. Chris —
    Oh, and yes, you are right about how we were “told off” while growing up to sit down and shut up and to not freely think. We are told what to think and we “learn” by repeating it.
    I would have risked a quiet moment with the “Red” child if I knew I would reliably see him more than once every 5 years. Sometimes fleeting exposure to different ideas can be more confusing than helpful to a young mind.
    I was tempted to later tell the mother Stevie Wonder “sees” his songs in color notes. He can walk you through a song and instead of naming the notes he plays he’ll name the colors instead and sometimes he’ll sing the colors instead of the words.
    Stevie’s example is a fantastic way to learn how one question can have two correct answers. That example, however, would have been lost on the mother because I would have been told:
    A). “Stevie Wonder is blind so he cannot see red anyway.”
    B). “Stevie Wonder is a singer and her son isn’t going to be a performer.”

  12. Hi David,
    I think the “Red” child needs immediate help with his condition.
    From Wikipedia (what would I do without it!)

    Synaesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia, synesthesia); from the Greek (syn-) “union,” and (aesthesis) “sensation,” has been used to describe various phenomena. A person who experiences synaesthesia is called a synaesthete. Normally the term synaesthesia is used to indicate a condition in which the stimulation of one sensory modality gives rise to an experience in another modality. In an auditory synaesthete, for example, an auditory experience may give rise to an experience in the visual modality.

    All kidding aside, I probably would have thought about pulling the kid aside also if I was in regular contact with the part of the family. Sometimes all it takes to make someone realize they aren’t silly is for someone to let them know they understand what was being said.
    But I also can realize the problems that might have caused the kid within the family structure, so sometimes picking and choosing which battles to fight is important as well.
    I saw the examples of spirit killing statements when I lived and visited the South when I was younger.
    I think it was a reflection of the parents’ dashed hopes and dreams. Maybe they felt that it wasn’t worth setting up their children for failure by allowing them to dream of better things?
    Also, in some places, there is a sense that nobody should ever step out of line for any reason, and if someone does, then immediate punishment of some sort — whether it is a look, some comment, or something physical — should be the result. I observed this a lot with my classmates when I was attending middle school in New Jersey.

  13. Dave —
    I can’t imagine anything more natural than choosing which hand to use. Imagine the kids who really have a different way of thinking and how many times a day they’re told to pipe down and conform.

  14. Hi Chris —
    You’re right about dreaming. It is important for children. When those dreams reach beyond the family dynamic, however, those very dreams become dangerous.
    I plan to address this topic in a future post!

  15. America has done more justice to the Uncommon Mind than any other country on earth. Because, they are recognized as thinkers and geniuses. And the recognition of the Uncommon Mind has advanced the intellectual powers of America in the leadership of the world.
    In Nigeria, the Uncommon Mind is seen as a “problem child” and not as a “gifted child”.
    Peculiar people have more places of refuge to surive and even excel in America than anywhere else in the Nigeria.

    It is wonderful to hear from you again, my friend! I hope you are doing well.
    I appreciate your international take on today’s post and I take your point we are fortunate in America.

  17. I agree with Osinachi, 100%. Probably American kids are the luckiest one in the world to be recognized and appreciated as uncommon, even if at a smaller percentage.
    There is a discomfort to be branded as a parent/ sibling of an uncommon child per se, and no one wants to take that trouble. Not at least in my country.

  18. Hi Katha —
    You can’t just agree with the great Osinachi and get away with it here, Katha!
    Can you explain the branding in your country? How does it happen? Why does it happen? How does one get around it? What specifically do you see in America that convinces you the system of recognition is better here?

  19. I knew it was coming, 🙂
    Ok, I knew a kid back home, who can be called a child prodigy in Indian Classical Dancing. Whatever he used to see (remember, it’s a ‘he’) as a toddler, he used to imitate, flawlessly.
    But, having a male child as a classical dancer is not at all “common” in a middle class family there, so his parents tried their best to get him into some kind of outdoor game. I saw his struggle; couldn’t do anything.
    I know, ok…I guess, people would appreciate any special quality in their kid here instead of suppressing it.

  20. The saddest part is, back home these are no “stories” at all. These are ‘weird’.
    “My son will be a classical dancer ( That too it is not some form of gymnastics which will be understood/ adored by everybody, classical dancing???), when my neighbor’s son is going to be a teacher/ doctor/ engineer/ scientist…whatever god damn thing under the Sun? ” – this is the most ‘common’ reaction.
    I don’t think this will happen here even if some one shows inexplicable potential in some thing “weird”.

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