In my last post, I had begun talking about brain evolution in preparation for talking about the problem of autism. I suppose I should say “autisms” because it has become clear that there is not just one such condition. Instead we are faced with a spectrum of conditions that have certain characteristics in common, principally failures in social connection.
Again we face the problem that humans think in categories. We want an autism category, and we want a cause category, and we want a cure category. But almost nothing in biology is that simple.
As I discussed in my August 9, 2007 post, What Is Autism Trying to Teach Us?, every characteristic we have is the result of complex genetic interactions producing complex chemical interactions within and around our cells. This is true of any autistic characteristic. So it is impossible that autism could be simple. This doesn’t mean we can’t figure it out. But it does mean figuring it out will take patience and persistent research.
And autisms seem to be conditions of the human brain, either primarily, or secondarily in response to some genetic or physiological causes. As I pointed out in my last post, the human brain is amazingly complex. It doesn’t work the way people thought it did. So whatever is wrong in autism is probably also complex and fairly unpredictable.
Scientific knowledge generally results from experiments. Experiments are about predictions. So in order to figure out autism, researchers will have to know a great deal more about how brains generate social connections.
There is so much exciting brain research going on today, I am sure the problems of autism will eventually be solved. But it’s hard to wait.