A subtle change occurred in our evolutionary history 100,000 years ago which allowed people who thought and behaved differently – such as individuals with autism – to be integrated into society, academics from the University of York have concluded.
The change happened with the emergence of collaborative morality – an investment in the well-being of everyone in the group – and meant people who displayed autistic traits would not only have been accepted but possibly respected for their unique skills.
It is likely our ancestors would have had autism, with genetics suggesting the condition has a long evolutionary history.
Okay, so morality emerged and people who were different were not just cast out. But…
Many people with autism have exceptional memory skills, heightened perception in realms of vision, taste and smell and enhanced understanding of natural systems such as animal behaviour.
The incorporation of some of these skills into a community would play a vital role in the development of specialists, the authors of the report, which is published in Time and Mind, suggest. Paper. (public access) – Penny Spikins, Barry Wright, Derek Hodgson. Are there alternative adaptive strategies to human pro-sociality? The role of collaborative morality in the emergence of personality variation and autistic traits. Time and Mind, 2016; 9 (4): 289 DOI: 10.1080/1751696X.2016.1244949 More.
It’s true that some autists might help the tribe by becoming specialists. But many autists do not possess even normal life skills. Morality would, however, mean that even they were not murdered or exiled. As the authors admit, we don’t know much about autism 100 kya ago. We really don’t know anything like what we should about it today.
Question: What was the moral change that enabled the survival of people who don’t help others survive physically? Were they recognized as helping others survive spiritually? Bill Dembski gives some sense of this when he writes,
Another thing that has put things in perspective for me is the autism of my son John. My good wife and I have been dealing with this for well over a decade now. We are still working on getting him well, but there’s a lot that has to change for that to happen. My son is now 15, not fully potty trained, needs to be showered and dressed, and still doesn’t speak (though he continues to try). I’ve never had a conversation with him and don’t know if I ever will, this side of eternity.
See also: from the world of useless answers that sound like science:
Controversial study links atheism to autism
“Natural selection selects for autism” thesis revisited
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