The Pattern Seekers – insights into how different brain structures have saved humanity

If you are looking for a well-referenced, very readable and intriguing but satisfying book which explores why difference in human brains is of value in our development as human beings, then you should read ‘The Pattern Seekers’, by Simon Baron Cohen. It was recommended to me by a very good friend a couple of months ago, but it took me until last weekend to read it … in fact, it only took a few hours, although it would have taken me a lot longer, had I followed up all the notes – many hours of reading and pursuing the topic remain, should I so wish!

The main premise of the book is that human beings have evolved, uniquely amongst other living species, to have systematising as well as empathising functions, and that we possess these in different degrees, probably passed on through our genes, to the extent that there exist now both hyper-empathisers and hyper-systematisers. These latter people – the pattern-seekers – who have a higher number of autistic traits than other human beings, and who are often underappreciated by society, are, the author argues, inordinately responsible for human inventions and technical progress. ‘If we want to nurture the inventors of the future … we are more likely to find them among autistic people, and among those who have a high number of autistic traits because they are hyper-systemizers, than among the general population’ (p.136).

‘Neurodiversity is simply a fact, just like biodiversity is a fact’, he writes on page 137, and uses the rest of the book to set out structures that would better support and enable autistic people in their life and work. ‘The Pattern Seekers’ does not answer every question one might have about the autistic, pattern-seeking brain; in fact, as many good theses do, it poses instead many more questions about how we translate this into steps forward. What I liked particularly, however was what it dares to promise, as it gives a glimpse into a future where we all genuinely appreciate and value difference.

As he says in his final words, however, this is up to us.

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