Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My "mystery potential theory"

Where I posit that we are all savants at something, whether we know it or not.

I was having a discussion with a colleague a few days ago, and we were talking about Asperger's Syndrome, among other things. Chief under discussion was the tendency of individuals with Aspergers (and with autism, to a greater degree) to be particularly skilled in some area. You see these people all the time in special interest news stories, movies "based on a true story," etc.

Then we started discussing child prodigies vs. children born within the autism spectrum. Long story short, I started just talking off the top of my head, and suddenly this concept started coming out of nowhere. To wit:

I posit that we are all born with an innate skill in some area, that far surpasses that of people around us. However, depending on our proximity to something that can help us cultivate that skill, we either achieve greatness in that area or we forever languish.

Take a piano virtuoso: Lil' Johnny's born to a family with a piano in the house. He sits at the piano at 12-18 months and starts banging on the keys. That "banging" becomes melodic form, and soon, at the age of 3, Johnny's fully capable of playing sonatas by ear. Okay, we've heard of the "Johnnies" of the world.

Now, take Johnny and put him in a barrio, where the family can barely scrape by. Or, put him with the same family, except the mother is a neurotic who still has her late mother's piano which "is never to be played or touched." Johnny, in the former, has no access to a piano, despite still having the skill inherent to play the piano extremely well; in the latter scenario, he's reprimanded harshly for attempting to play, therefore pushing him farther away from the chance to let his talent shine.

The "talent" under discussion can be anything, be it music, mathematics, sports, science, or just simple skills of human development - language usage, comprehension of definition, visual accuity, or sheer empathy.

Take my situation for a more practical example. I'm a therapist, and I happen to think that I'm pretty good at what I do. How would my life have developed up to this point, had I not been exposed to psych theory at a young age, had the interest to pursue further information, see enough in the field that I liked, applied some skills in practical settings, dated a lot in high school and college in order to gather info on the intricacies of human interactions and relationships, and then ultimately pursued this goal in an academic setting?

What if I'd listened to all the people around me growing up, who said that psychology was "crazy," or "no help to anyone," or "just talking real good?" Would I have pursued something else entirely, something I'm not as particularly skilled at? Would I have been miserable, or, as the "ignorance is bliss" mindset suggests, would "not knowing" have allowed me to live an incomplete existence, without the burden of knowing what I'd be missing?

But then, the question could be, is "therapy" my inherent skill, or did that just develop through hard work, and I'm inherently skilled in another area that has been untapped all this time due to lack of exposure to an outlet, e.g. spinning vinyl on the 1s & 2s?

Just some thoughts. There's probably something there for a paper or a book or some such, but I can't follow that right now. Too much on the plate, yo.


DAmnNearFonzie said...

Interesting write-up.

I've always thought you've had the talent to be some sorta creative genius. Especially in writing, and in many cases story telling(which kinda go hand in hand).

Hopefully you don't have too much on the plate to continue that thought...

Rev. Joshua said...

This is probably just nature vs. nurture type stuff, but I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that people have innate skills genetically encoded in ways similar to hair color. I would imagine that there are a small number of variable basic skills that translate into various branches, such as a musical prodigy being mathematically gifted in general given that music is very much mathematically driven.