Sunday, 2 November 2014

On Intelligence And Feeling Not Quite Human

Often 'feeling human' appears to be synonymous with 'being like everyone else'. In a way this makes sense since a society is supposed to be composed out of more or less like-minded individuals, with the more deviation from what's considered 'normal', the less cohesion you'd find. Society is order. This also implies that relatively small issues can tear a society apart, even if it's on issues such as food, drink and entertainment.

Inversely this means that for an individual to be considered part of a society they have to 'fit in', i.e. they need to have sufficient overlap in all areas considered relevant by a society. This is the source of a great deal of strife for many individuals. Sadly also for myself. Even ignoring the chaos surrounding my intersex condition there are plenty of reasons why I'd have trouble fitting in.

There are small details, such as me not smoking cigarettes, not drinking alcohol or coffee, not eating meat and fish, these because the way I experience things like taste and smell in a very different way from what is considered 'normal'. I found out that I'm at least in the relatively small group of so-called 'super-tasters', which are people for whom the experience of especially 'bitter' and related taste is far more pronounced, making ethanol, coffee and such to be decidedly unpleasant to taste. The social impact of this is relatively minor, but can make situations slightly awkward when everyone around you is drinking alcohol and you settle for some soda or fruit juice.

There are also other physical differences, such as me being ambidextrous, meaning that my brain doesn't make any difference between my right and left hand in terms of capabilities. Being able to use a mouse, pen, (power) tools, etc. equally well with either hand is a proper asset in my view. It's also fun to freak out north-paws (right-handed people) by configuring your desktop setup in a south-paw setup. It's a great party trick and socially more of an asset, really.

If it was just that I'd be doing okay, I guess. Unfortunately, even long before my intersex condition became such a hugely negative thing in my life, something else I was born with was overshadowing my life already. It's the kind of thing which nobody who doesn't have it truly understands and which is decidedly both a blessing and a terrible curse. This is largely because in a society where everything is more or less based around average or slightly-below average intelligence, being highly intelligent (gifted) puts you right outside of what people can deal with. Worse, it leaves you in a situation where neither you nor your environment knows what to do about it.

The positive part about me being gifted has been an uncanny ability to absorb knowledge and skills, also thanks to the photographic memory I was blessed with. I can scan through a text on any subject and give a perfect summary. I'm also in a quite rare group of gifted people, too, as I'm a visual-spatial learner as it's called. This means that I do not think in 'words', like most people but in visual impressions. To me anything spoken and anything audible is just another 'image'. When I listen to a song I see the song: its structure and colouring. I can also link parts of its structure to other songs based on what it looks like to me.

Not being able to deal well with spoken language puts me at a distinct disadvantage, sadly. If I don't focus on a conversation so that I can convert it to a visual representation, it's gone. This makes one on one discussions quite tiring and something like a two-hour meeting at work into near-torture. It also means that I have a distinct preference for communicating with others in a non-auditory manner, such as via written messages on internet forums, IRC and the like. While I'm very much an extroverted personality, many mistake me for an introverted person for this reason.

There's also a thing like knowing and seeing too much. To a gifted person usually the world doesn't look black or white, but has so many greys and colours that it's often hard to exactly see all the different nuances. This also makes it hard to communicate with non-gifted people, as they tend to function in this 'black and white' world, with or without a few shades of grey mixed in. Sometimes it feels like you're trying to talk with a blind person about the wonderful colours and shapes one can see on this planet and in the universe. An uninterested blind person at that, who is more than content to stay that way.

It all leads to motivation or the lack thereof. School is very hard, especially for visual-learners like me, as without sufficient stimulation we tend to drift off with our thoughts and focus towards more interesting topics and projects, thus flunking the subject and getting punished for being 'bad' at something, while all that's the problem is merely a lack of motivation. I was supposedly doing 'poor' at mathematics during highschool, while I was merely bored and doing quantum mechanics instead, reading up on my M membranes, string theories and different approaches to the Theory of Everything (solving the contradictions in special relativity, gravity and other theories). I saw logarithmic equations and classical (Newtonian) physics merely as tools you read up on in a book when you needed them, not as a required skill to learn then and there.

Teachers of course don't understand this. Despite it being clear that I wasn't dumb due to the hundreds of books I had read at that point, not to mention winning the story contest the first year with a 'very mature' contribution according to the jury, they were frustrated with my seemingly inability to learn certain things. All of it led to things being dumbed down, resulting in me losing every more motivation until at the end I was mostly just reading print-outs from scientific articles, working on a concept for artificial, magnetically actuated muscles and reading books during classes while still acing most tests after scanning the textbook once. I didn't do homework either, yet the final year I easily made it through the final exams with relatively good scores. Imagine if I had actually been motivated.

Where I am today, when I ignore the intersex mess again, I still don't feel that I really belong in society due to my intersex condition. The more I go to the fringes of society, where I meet up with the other nerds and similar social outcasts, the more I come across like-minded people and the more I feel at home. Sadly that's not really where one can make a living in society. At work I notice that few of my colleagues can understand the way I think or work. They can just decide to do a task and embark on it right away. I first have to analyze it, then come up with an approach which is most optimal and implement the whole thing in less time than they took while preventing any bugs and other potential issues. Along the way I'll also come up with at least half a dozen related ideas to optimize other parts of the process and/or project.

To then have to work together with others who don't think like me nor understand or appreciate how this brain of mine works is then borderline impossible. It's frustrating for both sides and not very productive as most of the time we'll just be feeling lost about what the other is thinking. Communication suffers and ultimately the others give up on me while I become completely demotivated and try to find something to challenge me instead. Meanwhile I'll be feeling useless, incapable of doing anything useful, let alone capable of functioning in a team. So much for motivation.

It makes me feel like I'm some kind of alien in a human society at times. I don't think and function like a human. I don't even see, taste or smell things the way they do. My mind is constantly filled with the most wondrous ideas, concepts and prototypes for amazing technologies for robotics, AI and such, which I have to keep tearing myself away from to focus on some mundane task which I'm quite sure I could have automated or otherwise improved on if given a week to work out the details. No chance, of course, so I have to keep suppressing these thoughts.

All of it makes me wish I could just go home, to whatever planet I actually came from. I don't want to be 'human' if it means giving up being who and what I am. Not to mention what I wish to become, just so that I can 'fit in'.


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