Episode 3: "Violins and Violas"
Hi everyone! This week, we give you episode three: “Violins and Violas.” You can find a transcript of the episode here. In this week’s episode, Joanna and I speak with the psychology researcher Tobi Abubakare about the bewildering history of psychology research connecting autism and theory of mind, as well as the harmful legacy of that research. “Violins and Violas” In the early 1980s, Simon Baron-Cohen, Uta Frith, and Alan Leslie conducted an experiment. They administered verbal false belief tests to a few autistic and non-autistic kids, and their results suggested that the autistic kids had a unique deficit in theory of mind. So they wrote up their results, and published a paper that would end up shaping autism research for decades. But here’s the catch: those early experimental results couldn’t be reliably replicated. And instead of giving up on the “theory of mind deficit” view of autism, researchers decided to go looking for new ways of measuring theory of mind in order to vindicate the “theory of mind deficit” idea. Tobi Abubakare (they/them), an autistic autism researcher and PhD candidate in clinical psychology, explains what caused those replication failures, why researchers clung to the “theory of mind deficit” view in spite of those failures, and how this type of research has affected autistic people. Plus, they have some important advice for researchers–with the help of a musical analogy. Topics Discussed * Baron-Cohen, Frith, and Leslie’s paper, “Does the autistic child have theory of mind?” (00:31) * Why researchers got so excited about the “theory of mind deficit” view of autism. (03:11) * The failures to replicate Baron-Cohen et al.’s results, and the “methodological arms race” to develop new measures of theory of mind that would vindicate the theory of mind deficit view of autism. (06:27) * Tobi’s introduction. (09:40) * Tobi’s first explanation for those replication failures: small sample sizes. (11:26) * Tobi’s second explanation for those replication failures: poorly characterized samples. (13:20) * Tobi’s explanation for why the theory of mind deficit view remained influential, in spite of those failures of replication: it confirmed what researchers already believed about autistic people. (16:48) * Value-laden assumptions in autism research, and in research on race. (18:55) * How scientists (including autism researchers) can end up performing “mental gymnastics” in order to hang on to their theories. (20:46) * The strange notion that autistic people who pass false belief tests are “cheating” on the tests. (21:33) * How the theory of mind deficit view of autism causes real-world harm. (23:13) * Tobi’s story about how the “theory of mind deficit” view of autism has impacted them personally. (23:54) * How the “theory of mind deficit” view of autism shapes many of our everyday interactions. (29:18) * Tobi’s recommendations for researchers: when you’re looking for a difference, ask yourself why you’re looking for that difference, and then interrogate your assumptions about that difference. (30:41) Sources Mentioned * Simon Baron-Cohen, Uta Frith, and Alan Leslie, “Does the autistic child have theory of mind?” Cognition, Vol. 21, Issue 1 (1985), 36-47. https://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/1985_BC_etal_ASChildTheoryOfMind.pdf * DSM-III (The American Psychiatric Association, 1980). https://aditpsiquiatriaypsicologia.es/images/CLASIFICACION%20DE%20ENFERMEDADES/DSM-III.pdf * Morton Ann Gernsbacher and M. Remi Yergeau, “Empirical Failures of the Claim that Autistic People Lack a Theory of Mind,” Archives of Scientific Psychology, Vol. 7, Issue 1 (2019), 102–118. https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2019-75285-001.html * Oluwatobi Abubakare, “An Unexpected Autistic,” Autism in Adulthood, Vol. 4, No. 4 (2022). https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/aut.2022.0004 * Press release about the first in-person meeting of the Black Empowerment in Autism Network (BEAM):...
Episode 2: "An Intellectualist Fossil"
Hello again, and welcome back! I bet you weren’t expecting one of the “four horsemen of New Atheism” (a) to have come up with the most famous way of measuring “theory of mind” and (b) to appear on a neurodivergent philosophy podcast to discuss his smoldering hatred of the very concept of “theory of mind”—but here we are. You can find a transcript of episode 2 here. “An Intellectualist Fossil” In 1964, Daniel Dennett (he/him) watched an Italian puppet show. And that puppet show gave him two ideas. Idea #1: scientists could (sort of, maybe) measure “theory of mind” by testing whether someone can track other people’s false beliefs. This idea led to the development of the most well-known way of measuring “theory of mind”: false belief tests. Idea #2: false belief tests should not rely on verbal questions, because that would make the test results impossible to interpret. Instead, false belief tests should look for certain types of spontaneous behavior, like laughter. Unfortunately, psychologists ran with Dennett’s first idea, while ignoring his second idea. And thus the ultimate autism mind-myth was born. Topics Discussed * The general concept of theory of mind (00:38) * The theory of mind deficit view of autism (02:08) * Joanna’s encounter with the theory of mind deficit view of autism “in the wild” (i.e., at a philosophy conference) (05:32) * How Daniel Dennett came up with the idea of using false belief tests to measure theory of mind (08:59) * Dennett goes to the Punch and Judy show (10:38) * Dennett writes his commentary “Beliefs about Beliefs” (13:06) * Heinz Wimmer and Josef Perner use Dennett’s idea to develop a false belief test for young children (14:38) * “Sally-Anne” false belief tests (15:11) * Psychologists’ big mistake when deploying false belief tests to measure theory of mind (15:54) * Dennett’s alternative to “theory of mind”: the intentional stance (18:05) * On Dennett’s view, maybe some autistic people “do” theory of mind more than non-autistic people? (21:58) * Different strategies for perspective-taking, and their respective trade-offs (24:33) * Baron-Cohen, Frith, and Leslie’s paper, “Does the autistic child have theory of mind?” (26:55) Sources Mentioned * Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance (MIT Press, 1989) and Breaking the Spell (Penguin, 2006). * David Premack and Guy Woodruff, “Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?” The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 1, Issue 4 (1978), 515-526. https://carta.anthropogeny.org/sites/default/files/file_fields/event/premack_and_woodruff_1978.pdf * Daniel Dennett, “Beliefs about Beliefs,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 1, Issue 4 (1978), 568-570. https://dl.tufts.edu/concern/pdfs/r207v163n * Jon Thursby's Punch and Judy Show (Punch and Judy Inc: https://punchandjudyinc.co.uk/) * Heinz Wimmer and Josef Perner, “Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception,” Cognition, Vol. 13, Issue 1 (1983), 103-128. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1983-27705-001 * Temple Grandin describes some of her experiences with perspective-taking (Dennett mentions her first-person account at 22:52): https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/social-problems-understanding-emotions-and-developing-talents.html * Simon Baron-Cohen, Uta Frith, and Alan Leslie, “Does the autistic child have theory of mind?” Cognition, Vol. 21, Issue 1 (1985), 36-47. https://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/1985_BC_etal_ASChildTheoryOfMind.pdf Credits Hosting, Research, Fact-Checking, Script-Editing: Amelia Hicks and Joanna Lawson Guest: Daniel Dennett Music and Audio Production: Amelia Hicks Additional Voicework: Rach Cosker-Rowland Thank-Yous Thank you to Rach Cosker-Rowland for lending us her voice to read some pieces of text for us! We’re also grateful for her editorial advice. Thanks to Daniel Dennett for speaking with us about the history of theory of mind. You can read more...
Episode 1: "A Productive Irritant"
My fellow neuro-divers, Joanna and I are thrilled to give you the first episode of NeuroDiving, "A Productive Irritant." You can find a transcript of the episode here. I know that you all are itching for that sweet, sweet "theory of mind" content. It's coming next week! But in this first episode, we give you some crucial background for what's to come. “A Productive Irritant” Dr. Chloe Farahar (she/they) is an Autistic academic, and an astute observer of current tensions in autism research. Along with many other Autistic people, Chloe is challenging the foundations of mainstream autism research--and she has a vision for how autism research could be so much better. Topics Discussed * The importance of focusing on the practical applications of research (00:45, 09:25) * Why Chloe thinks "autism" doesn't exist (but Autistic people definitely exist) (01:20) * The challenge of being autistic and disabled in academia (03:35) * The two main camps in autism research: mainstream and autistic-led (06:19) * Tensions between autism researchers and the Autistic community (10:14) * Spectrum 10K (12:26) * Why we can’t simply “follow the science” (16:06) * Why autism researchers need to be honest about their values (17:20) * Philosophy! (18:35) * Theory of mind look-ahead (19:04) * How autism research can improve (20:38) Resources Mentioned * For more about the OG productive irritant in the field of autism research, the late great Dinah Murray: https://monotropism.org/dinah/ * I love that Dinah Murray and Chloe Farahar refer to themselves as “productive irritants.” They’re real-life gadflies! * In Plato’s Apology, Socrates defends himself against the charges of the Athenian state using a gadfly analogy. From 30e-31a: “For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the divine; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which the divine has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, awakening and persuading and reproaching you. And as you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead, as Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless the divine in his care of you gives you another gadfly.” For a translation of the Apology, see: https://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html * Aucademy: https://aucademy.co.uk/ * The National Autism Trainer Program: https://www.annafreud.org/training/health-and-social-care/national-autism-trainer-programme/ * Example of autism research being described as "a field in crisis," featuring none other than Dr. Chloe! * Spectrum 10K: https://spectrum10k.org/ * Stop Spectrum 10K: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-cambridge-stop-spectrum-10k Credits Host: Amelia Hicks Guest: Dr. Chloe Farahar Research, Fact-Checking, and Script Editing: Amelia Hicks and Joanna Lawson Audio Production: Amelia Hicks Music: Amelia Hicks Even More Thank-Yous A huge thank-you to Chloe Farahar for speaking with me about the current state of “autism” research! And thanks to the Marc Sanders Foundation and the Templeton Foundation for their support of the show. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit neurodiving.substack.com
Welcome to NeuroDiving (Trailer)
Hi! I'm Amelia (she/her). I'm a philosophy professor, and I'm autistic. A couple years ago, I teamed up with Joanna (she/her)--another neurodivergent philosophy professor--to create NeuroDiving, a philosophy podcast about neurodivergence. A philosophy podcast about neurodivergence? Joanna and I think that philosophy can help all of us think critically about difficult, fundamental questions related to neurodivergence. We also think that good philosophy pays close attention to real people's experiences. So on NeuroDiving, you will hear neurodivergent people tell stories about their experiences, and talk about the deeper implications of those experiences. You'll hear neurodivergent researchers (and a few neurotypical ones, too) reflect on the conceptual foundations of their work. And you'll hear me and Joanna discuss a bunch of philosophical puzzles along the way. When can I hear some episodes? After two years of background research and interviews, we are very eager to serve up Season 1 of NeuroDiving: “Autism Mind-Myths.” You can listen to the Season 1 trailer right here, right now, and we'll begin dropping full episodes on Monday, November 13th, 2023. You can find a full transcript of the trailer here. If you want to be updated when new episodes are released, subscribe to this Substack! Or you can subscribe to the podcast using any of the standard podcast delivery services. Autism “Mind-Myths”? There are so many myths about autistic minds ("extreme male brain" theory, anyone?). But perhaps one of the most puzzling myths is the idea that autism is a "theory of mind" deficit. According to this view of autism, autistic people are extra bad at understanding minds---the minds of others, as well as our own minds. But this view of autism doesn't reflect what many autistic people report about their experiences, and many researchers now reject this view of autism. And yet, the theory of mind deficit view of autism won't go away. It's all over Google search results (go ahead, try Googling for yourself!). It's in psychology textbooks. It's still in many corners of autism research. It gets cited in criminal court cases. It's promoted by people who develop behavioral interventions for autistic children. And, as you’ll hear on the podcast, the "theory of mind" deficit view of autism has filtered down into our culture, contributing to the (false) notion that autistic people lack empathy. So on Season 1 of NeuroDiving, we're diving into the "theory of mind" deficit view of autism: what it is, where it came from, how it has affected autistic people, why it has persisted for so long in spite of all its problems, and how we can start doing better research by reflecting on the values that drive scientific practice. We'll also discuss the relationship between "theory of mind" and empathy, autistic experiences of empathy, and the relationship between empathy and morality. Til mid-November, Amelia Thanks to the Marc Sanders Foundation and the Templeton Foundation for their support of the show. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit neurodiving.substack.com