Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Not Brain Surgery

Among the concepts that have taken a lot of damage this election cycle is the notion that brain surgery is a uniquely challenging intellectual task. Thanks for that, Dr. Carson. I don't think that there is much doubt that surgery on the brain is tough test of hand and eye as well as requiring a lot of knowledge about the complexities of neuroanatomy, but if Carson is any kind of exemplar, its pretty clear that that kind of intellectual accomplishment is pretty well compartmentalized from understanding the rest of reality.

The idiot savant is a standard caricature in popular art and also a pretty familiar figure in science departments everywhere. The kind of narrow focus that may help one master the esoterica of a demanding field often seems to leave no energy or interest for the rest of the intellectual universe.

Michael Burry, the real-life neurosurgeon turned hedge fund manager who is one of the central characters of the The Big Short, despite his thorough medical training did not recognize his own place on the autism spectrum until his son received the Asperger's diagnosis in school. Only at that point did he realize that his son, very like himself, fit the diagnostic criteria almost precisely.

Is Carson another autism spectrum character? I have no idea, but he sure does seem to have a brain that deviates from the standard issue.