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August 18, 2008 9:43 PM   Subscribe

One Pill Makes You Autistic -- And One Pill Changes You Back. It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects.

Other future oriented science and tech stories about innovations with the potential to impact culture and politics by the same author,Annalee Newitz, mentioned previously.
Radio-Controlled, Implantable Sperm Valve is New Vasectomy
The First Child to Have Three Genetic Parents
A "Morning Before" Pill to Prevent HIV Infection
And thrown in for fun, Scariest Special Effect Ever Created (NSFW)
posted by nickyskye (67 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been in situations where I've been programming all day and feel like I've become autistic by the end of it.
posted by grouse at 9:51 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


I want to be a Shaper.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


It might also lead to recreational autism,

And THX 1138.
posted by XMLicious at 10:07 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's Gawker, so I'm pretty sure they're being smartasses about recreational autism.
posted by liketitanic at 10:11 PM on August 18, 2008


I think it's pretty clear when you read more about what the scientists are doing that io9 is dramatically overstating the facts, here.
posted by chimaera at 10:14 PM on August 18, 2008


Also -

The First Child to Have Three Genetic Parents

That's probably not truly the first, due to the possibility of tetragametic chimerism.
posted by XMLicious at 10:21 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Have you ever seen the back of a $20 bill... with autism?
posted by Poolio at 10:24 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


that last link is a real winner.
posted by CitizenD at 10:25 PM on August 18, 2008


Sign me up!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:38 PM on August 18, 2008


I doubt that this will ever be a very safe thing to do. I'm gonna have to agree with chimaera.
posted by azarbayejani at 10:41 PM on August 18, 2008


Would go well with my planned overclocked heart.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:42 PM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm afraid I would abuse this pill if it were commercially available. But so would others, and thus I would lose any edge I ever had from actually forcing myself to finish projects/assignments/commitments even when I really didn't feel like it, as opposed to just blowing it off.

Plus the probably unknown long term effects are sort of scary to contemplate. It'd get regulated to hell and back anyway, so it's not like contemplations of keeping a private stash and shooting to the top of all my classes/jobs is exactly realistic.

(not selfish at all, no, why do you ask?)
posted by Phire at 10:43 PM on August 18, 2008


As the commenters at io9 point out, there are no pills involved. They've found a way to consistantly breed mice that will allow exploration of the complex neurobiological disorders related to autism.

The BBC report pertains only to Fragile-X syndrome, which accounts for a relatively small portion of autistic disorders.

Move along, nothing to see but attention-seeking websites.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:45 PM on August 18, 2008


next phase: big business starts putting this in the coffee supply at work, and they don't care if you remember to take the bottled water with the antidote before you head home at night... very Brave New World, indeed!
posted by sagar13d at 10:58 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, of course, thought of "focusing", though about commenting, and then RTFA.
posted by flaterik at 11:21 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if they came up with a pill or treatment that turned off my emotions and made me able to hyperfocus, I'd take it in a heartbeat. Hell, if I was told that it'd kill me in five years, I'd still do it, and pay for the privilege with a smile on my face. I would sell my grandmother to a cabal of fetishists with foot-long black spiked metal dildos if I thought it'd get me past the screening process for the treatment.

Because, I'll tell ya, it'd sure as shit beat having no concentration and being unable to control my emotional reactions half the time. It's like the Perfect Antidepressant. Put it in the fuckin' water supply. Shove that needle through my sternum and push.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:25 PM on August 18, 2008 [12 favorites]


...and the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:39 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, of course, thought of "focusing", though about commenting, and then RTFA.

Heh. Me too.
posted by Artw at 11:47 PM on August 18, 2008


I would sell my grandmother to a cabal of fetishists with foot-long black spiked metal dildos if...

Um, I wouldn't go quite that far, but if it seemed reversible I'd try it at least once.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:24 AM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


The autism thing, not the selling grandma thing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:25 AM on August 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Um, I wouldn't go quite that far, but if it seemed reversible I'd try it at least once.

Would anyone actually bother to reverse the effect, though? Suppose you take the treatment, and you're now a hyper-focused individual who is indifferent to emotional concerns--what exactly motivates you to go all squishy again?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:35 AM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects.

This view of autism is about as insightful as asking a really tall person how the weather is "up there"
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:36 AM on August 19, 2008 [9 favorites]


I can't imagine that pharmacologically-induced autism would be at all useful or desirable. I hope some clinicians or family members come along with data and anecdotes to corroborate that -- the vibe I'm getting (from both the i09 entry and the comments here) regarding autism-spectrum disorders is "you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." My own anecdotes are second-hand (from friends who have worked with children along the spectrum), but none of them are nearly as cut and dry as they're presented here, and none sound particularly advantageous.

It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects.

There are plenty of compounds that facilitate social detachment. You don't need to achieve the blog author's unqualified and facile perception of autism to blunt your emotional experience. We have the technology!

I don't understand what was so pressing seven months ago (!) that the io9 blogger couldn't be bothered to, say, skim the Wikipedia article to get a sense of the wide variety of symptoms that the autism-spectrum disorders can involve. It's supposition, and not particularly well-researched supposition at that.

On preview: what billyfleetwood said, and what CheeseDigestsAll said besides.
posted by lumensimus at 12:42 AM on August 19, 2008


Yeah it seems like the io9 post is interpreting autism to mean some kind of hyper-focused savant power, which isn't the case at all. It's pretty intellectually insulting, but what else can we expect from Gawker Media stuff? Research? Insight beyond pop culture-influenced conjecture?

The post's author at one point said:

“We don’t see it as a niche entertainment site. We see it as a pop culture site. So much of our mainstream culture is now talked about and thought about in science-fictional terms. I think that’s why people like William Gibson and Brian Aldiss are saying there’s no more science fiction because we are now living in the future. The present is thinking of itself in science-fictional terms. You get things like George Bush taking stem cell policy from reading parts of Brave New World. That’s part of what we are playing with. We are living in world that now thinks of itself in terms of sci-fi and in terms of the future.”


I can only speak for myself, but I try to stay grounded in science-fact and go from there. I guess I'm not living in the future. And I don't mean to put down Ms. Newitz, but maybe they should stick to being a niche entertainment site. Plus I have massive amounts of [probably irrational] hate for Gawker Media.
posted by palidor at 1:08 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it would become like steroids for smart people and the world would advance at an astonishing rate.
posted by Mr_Zero at 1:24 AM on August 19, 2008



Um, I wouldn't go quite that far, but if it seemed reversible I'd try it at least once.

Would anyone actually bother to reverse the effect, though? Suppose you take the treatment, and you're now a hyper-focused individual who is indifferent to emotional concerns--what exactly motivates you to go all squishy again?


Sociopathy
posted by ZaneJ. at 2:24 AM on August 19, 2008


All sites with that damn Gawker template exist within a sort of uncanney valley for me. I recognize them as real websites, and yet I'm also incapable of recognizing them as real websites. Usually I just reflexively hit the back button like I was trying to get a spider off my shoulder.
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:25 AM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I really like the remote-control sperm valve idea. In practice, it would be less like a vasectomy and more like internal contraception that you could control manually. Certainly provides an appealing middle ground between condom and El Snippo.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:34 AM on August 19, 2008


That's the worst pop-science article I've ever read in my life.
posted by Benjy at 2:55 AM on August 19, 2008


Temporary autism is but one small step away from a range of recreational diseases for fun and profit.

"I was planning a trip to India, and really wanted the full native experience. And the money I made begging meant that my temporary leprosy totally paid for itself."
--Johnny, 34, Sacramento.

"I never would have got the lead role in the South Philly Dramatics Society production of Rent without some serious method acting. Now my temporary AIDS means I can look the audience of junkies and fags in the eye and say: 'Hey. For a four-week season, I am one of you.'"
--Brent, 26, Philadelphia.

"My boyfriend was, like, sleeping with another Cheerleader, so I got temporary syphillis and went over to his house. Memo to Brad: that burning pain in your dick? That's called revenge."
--Jaylee, 16, Dayton.

"I had two weeks off work, and my wife was nagging me to do some work on the garden. But I also took a two-week paralysis, and now that I'm in a wheelchair the stupid old cow HAS to push me around."
--Asshole, 43, Dallas.

At Tempitis Inc., we pride ourselves on delivering the right disease solution for your busy lifestyle. And, for one week only, double amputations are 50% off. So call us now on 555-GETSICK.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:01 AM on August 19, 2008 [23 favorites]


"My boyfriend was, like, sleeping with another Cheerleader, so I got temporary syphillis and went over to his house. Memo to Brad: that burning pain in your dick? That's called revenge."

Perhaps you mean Chlamydia?
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:13 AM on August 19, 2008


I fully support any method of inducing full-blown autism, on the condition that it be forcibly administered to every sweaty Livejournal-using fanboy who has self-diagnosed themselves with "Asperger's Syndrome" after reading the Wikipedia entry for it once, and likes to talk at length about their "disorder" and how unique and special it makes them. If they believe that "Asperger's Syndrome" is a trait of the descendants of the inhabitants of Atlantis (no, really), they get a double dose with a side of Parkinson's. Just so they can see how cool and special an actual, non-made-up neurological disorder is.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:18 AM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


I agree: Annalee Newitz is the best (or even "only good") part of io9.
posted by DU at 4:32 AM on August 19, 2008


I wasn't under the impression you got to pick where your fantastic mental focus went, when you were autistic (unless you were 'highly functional', and even then, this was part of why it's a handicap not a super power), so if this were plausible wouldn't you spend a week screaming at loud noises and quietly being fascinated by the texture of the carpet?

I mean, just observing the Aspie traits of my family (I have an official mental health diagnosis, as do my half siblings), the intense focus tends to be on trivial things like making your own fantasy world, and not on something useful, like higher math.

Beyond that, I don't get the 'Autistic people are emotionless robots' thing, and I'm tired of people extrapolating that I am some sort of robot from my disorder. Pro tip: inability to provide the expected emotional reaction does not equal a lack of emotion.
posted by Phalene at 5:07 AM on August 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


This is pretty ridiculous... recreational autism? Anyone willing to try it is a fool...
posted by wangarific at 5:17 AM on August 19, 2008


This is beyond stupid. Autism is a developmental disorder-- this means that what goes wrong progressively unfolds as a child grows up/the brain develops. One cannot induce and reverse a developmental disorder in an adult.

And the two articles linked were about completely different causal paths to autism so one could not reverse the other. Nor could they be made into pills.
posted by Maias at 5:20 AM on August 19, 2008


Vernor Vinge had an interesting SF novel, A Deepness in the Sky, with this idea at its core; a thoroughly evil human civilization had figured out how to induce a form of autism, and control, to some degree, the mind of the person involved. They essentially became supercomputers, able to focus on a single task with endless intensity.

Such people make, as you might imagine, extremely good surveillance operators for a police state. Was a good book.

Anyway, if this sort of thing works and is reversible, which granted is a big stretch, there's another potential problem. I can't find the quote in a quick search, but I believe it was Lewis Carroll who observed (approximately), "If I hide my keys when I am drunk, I must be drunk again to find them." Insights you have and mental work you do while pseudo-autistic might not be accessible to your conscious mind when you return to normal.
posted by Malor at 5:36 AM on August 19, 2008


every sweaty Livejournal-using fanboy who has self-diagnosed themselves with "Asperger's Syndrome" after reading the Wikipedia entry for it once, and likes to talk at length about their "disorder" and how unique and special it makes them.

Yer sweaty fanboys are mistaken. They have Assburgers, not Asperger's.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:37 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, I missed this: Suppose you take the treatment, and you're now a hyper-focused individual who is indifferent to emotional concerns--what exactly motivates you to go all squishy again?

That was one of the issues in Vinge's book. One of the characters was Focused without her knowledge or permission... so if she doesn't want to switch back, is it fair to force it on her? Even if it will do more damage than the original process did?
posted by Malor at 5:39 AM on August 19, 2008


Scanners Live in Vain? Not any more. Or perhaps more accurately, only if they want to.
posted by tommasz at 5:51 AM on August 19, 2008


Do the ones that mother give you do anything?
posted by autodidact at 5:51 AM on August 19, 2008


I love how every journalist, in fact every person alive who has not taken five minutes to sort it out, thinks that Autism = Obsessive Genius, thanks to that stupid movie Rain Man.
posted by autodidact at 5:52 AM on August 19, 2008


Yeh, so personal and professional experience with Autism Spectrum Disorders talking here.

Article... dumb. Wouldn't ask for anything other than that from Gawker (deadspin is excellent, dgmw)

As autodidact and others said, this plays off a common misconception about the 'tism that everyone who has it is some sort of closet card counting math genius. Although some folks with autism have very special capabilities, the vast majority do not. Autism doesn't exist in a vacuum and is often associated with other neurological and behavioral disorders like ADHD, retardation, speech delay, cognitive issues.

Additionally, to induce autism, as Gawker claims, would not bring about some kind of super-focus. That type of focus for many folks with autism is called obsession. They can't help it and it is a real problem. It's not just for math and there's no way to to train it to one skill set or interest over another. You get cought-up on whatever your brain demands.
I knew a kid who got hung up on straws. Plastic straws. He loved them more than life itself and would yank them out of stranger's cups at starbucks because to not do so was unfathomable to him.

Life can be unbearable for anyone with autism and their families. I wouldn't wish it on anyone for any reason. If you want temporary "super-focus." take some Adderall... just good ol' fashioned American speed will do the trick every time.
posted by willie11 at 6:22 AM on August 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Please forgive me, but...

"Hey, bro, you wanna go get stupid?"



I am ashamed.
posted by gc at 6:32 AM on August 19, 2008


Quick, before we all decide no one should speak unless they're as sensitive and nuanced in their use of language us, here is a 2003 NYT Magazine story called "Savant for a Day" -- about how transcranial magnetic stimulation can temporarily induce enhanced cognition or abilities:
The Medtronic was originally developed as a tool for brain surgery: by stimulating or slowing down specific regions of the brain, it allowed doctors to monitor the effects of surgery in real time. But it also produced, they noted, strange and unexpected effects on patients' mental functions: one minute they would lose the ability to speak, another minute they would speak easily but would make odd linguistic errors and so on. A number of researchers started to look into the possibilities, but one in particular intrigued Snyder: that people undergoing transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, could suddenly exhibit savant intelligence -- those isolated pockets of geniuslike mental ability that most often appear in autistic people.

Snyder is an impish presence, the very opposite of a venerable professor, let alone an internationally acclaimed scientist. There is a whiff of Woody Allen about him. Did I really want him, I couldn't help thinking, rewiring my hard drive? ''We're not changing your brain physically,'' he assured me. ''You'll only experience differences in your thought processes while you're actually on the machine.'' His assistant made a few final adjustments to the electrodes, and then, as everyone stood back, Snyder flicked the switch.
It's a good article -- one that deals more with evidence for and implications of brain function manipulation than commenters on this thread have managed.
posted by borborygmi at 6:33 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


just because autistic people have difficulty expressing emotions appropriately (or at all) does not mean they do not have them about other people - just because they can have obsessions doesn't mean they can channel them usefully or control them appropriately

a pill can't make you autistic anymore than a pill can make you intelligent - and the people who wrote this article are in a lot more need of intelligence than they are of autism
posted by pyramid termite at 6:42 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do the ones that mother give you do anything?

I hate to tell you this, but they don't do anything at all. Seriously. Go ask that freakishly tall chick, Alice. She'll totally agree with me.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:51 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding willie11. If you want hyperfocus and emotional detachment, get some adderall.
posted by fnerg at 8:02 AM on August 19, 2008


Well, leaving aside the asinine crap about inducing autism, the article does bring up some interesting (read: frightening) thoughts about possible futures.

Drugs to numb emotions could be quite handy for a police state, and would likely creep in via prisons. First it'd be for enemy combatants being held illegally, they don't have any rights anyway and since they're all evil Islamofascists you never know when they might do something bad, right? Then violent offenders in normal prisons, then for all prisoners to keep them docile. How about the screws? They get all upset because of how the prisoners are treated, so let's numb them down too. Or hell, the CIA would doubtless like such a possibility for their crack team of torturers, I mean we wouldn't want them getting mentally unstable because they torture confessions out of enemy combatants all day, right?

And the next thing you know its Equilibrium and cops are training in Gun-Fu [1].

But, potential abuse by powerful agencies to the side, it could be damn handy to be able to shut down your emotions for a while. Need a cool head, just use this handy inhaler. And mental performance enhancers, well, if they didn't have any really unpleasant side affects, that could be quite handy.

[1] A small and pointless digression. Am I the only one who was annoyed that they didn't just call their martial art Gun-Fu? I mean "Gun Kata", that just sounds dumb....
posted by sotonohito at 8:34 AM on August 19, 2008


Of all the things that were dumb about Equilibrium that's the one thing that bugs you?
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd rather put stock in a live dinosaur safari theme park opening next week.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:44 AM on August 19, 2008



It's a good article -- one that deals more with evidence for and implications of brain function manipulation than commenters on this thread have managed.


The post doesn't seem particularly to be about that--it's a bunch of Annalee Newitz stuff the OP likes. Which is fine and all, but nowhere does it pursue a thread about "evidence for and implications of brain function manipulation."
posted by liketitanic at 8:46 AM on August 19, 2008


The story the article references is very cool indeed. Not so much the article.
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on August 19, 2008


"implications of brain function manipulation."

Other future oriented science and tech stories about innovations with the potential to impact culture and politics.
posted by nickyskye at 8:57 AM on August 19, 2008


Artw I'm a word geek, what can I say?
posted by sotonohito at 9:10 AM on August 19, 2008


I can read, nickyskye, but thanks for the gratuitous bolding. I don't think "the potential to impact culture and politics" necessarily leads to the conversation borborygmi suggests, snarkily, that we should be having. Especially since the misleading quotation from io9 regarding "recreational autism" is not really a possible outcome.
posted by liketitanic at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2008


Io9 is like the new Boing Boing for me – just enough good links and the occasional interesting piece make it worth coming back to, but it’s sometimes breathlessly up itself in a disagreeable way, or simply just wrong. Still, it’s yet to choke itself to death like BB did.

(Also it’s way too obvious when they’re bunging out a cracked.com style list to fill out some kind of quota. )
posted by Artw at 9:31 AM on August 19, 2008


From the article:
Need to finish that work project, and wish you had the mental intensity to do it? Just take a synapse-regulating inhibitor, induce temporary autism, and you'll want to ignore your friends and do nothing but number-crunching for days.

From the paper:
Autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) are heritable conditions characterized by impaired reciprocal social interactions, deficits in language acquisition, and repetitive and restricted behaviors and interests.

It's lunacy to think that someone would recreationally induce autism in themselves for productivity's sake as io9 is suggesting. Autism is not the kind of mental state that would foster productivity at all.

Even if your work consisted of mere number-crunching or some other repetitive task - why would you even think that autism would keep you focused? It's certainly not going to give you super savant like abilities either.

Just as well, autism doesn't just "unplug" your emotions. It's not like persons afflicted are ignoring that half of reality. They're really, really frustrated by the fact that they cannot empathize or understand other individuals' relationship to themselves and it causes them torment.

I swear the Gawker journalists all have one-track minds.
posted by tybeet at 9:38 AM on August 19, 2008


Would anyone actually bother to reverse the effect, though? Suppose you take the treatment, and you're now a hyper-focused individual who is indifferent to emotional concerns--what exactly motivates you to go all squishy again?

The joy of being human? Seriously, I've known plenty of people who went on anti-depressants to stop being sad all the time, but eventually stopped taking them because they hated to feel emotionally dead inside.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2008


I have an official mental health diagnosis,...

Congrats!
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2008


One pill makes you autistic... and Kramer brings 'em back!
posted by knave at 11:05 AM on August 19, 2008


How much will these cost?

My guess is...about a hundred dollars. From K-Mart. Gotta go to K-Mart.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:40 PM on August 19, 2008


If you want hyperfocus and emotional detachment...

I'm more interested in the other drug. If I take that, will it take some of my focus away and make me really emotionally responsive to those around me?

Second question, the other pill is pot, isn't it?
posted by quin at 3:42 PM on August 19, 2008


If one pill makes you autistic, and then the other reverses that effect...that's basically a cure for autism, right? That's how science works, isn't it?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:34 PM on August 19, 2008


Temporary autism is retarded y'all!
posted by fuq at 5:31 PM on August 19, 2008


It is by pill alone I set my mind in motion.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2008


If anyone misunderstood my earlier comment. I'd want to try it so that I could understand autism from the inside. It's not very attractive from the outside, and I'm under no impression that it would give me some kind of super focus in the face of boredom.

For that I'd need the pill that makes one Swiss [NOT-SWISSIST].
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:10 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


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