The Social Coprocessor Model

Followup to: Do you have High-Functioning Asperger’s Syndrome?

LW reader Madbadger uses the metaphor of a GPU and a CPU in a desktop system to think about people with Asperger’s Syndrome: general intelligence is like a CPU, being universal but only mediocre at any particular task, whereas the “social coprocessor” brainware in a Neurotypical brain is like a GPU: highly specialized but great at what it does. Neurotypical people are like computers with measly Pentium IV processors, but expensive Radeon HD 4890 GPUs. A High-functioning AS person is an Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition—with on-board graphics!

This analogy also covers the spectrum view of social/​empathic abilities, you can think about having a weaker social coprocessor than average if you have some of the tendencies of AS but not others. You can even think of your score on the AQ Test as being like the Tom’s Hardware Rating of your Coprocessor. (Lower numbers are better!).

If you lack that powerful social coprocessor, what can you do? Well, you’ll have to run your social interactions “in software”, i.e. explicitly reason through the complex human social game that most people play without ever really understanding. There are several tricks that a High-functioning AS person can use in this situation:

  • (Most importantly) Find a community of others—who are trying to solve the same problem (Though be careful not to wind up with a group of people who have weaker social coprocessors and aren’t doing anything about it, as you will tend to conform to this behavior). Having even a few friends who are in a similar niche to you is worth a huge amount in terms of motivating social pressure, as a sounding board to bounce ideas off, and simply for the instinctive feel of support that having a group of people “in the same boat as you” gives.

  • Cached answers—you can precompute the “right” responses to social situations. Probably the best example of this is the answer to the “buy me a drink” problem: you approach an attractive NT person who you might like as a future partner. After a short time, they ask you to buy them a drink. The logical answer to this question is “what kind of drink would you like?”, because in most social situations where you want to build up a positive relationship with a person, it is best to comply with their requests; not creating explicit conflict is usually a safe heuristic. But this is the wrong answer in this context, and you can store in your cache of counter-intuitive answers.

  • Scientific theories of social games—including game theory and especially signaling games, information economics and evolutionary psychology. Building on the “buy me a drink” problem, instead of simply storing the answer as an exception, you can use evolutionary psychology and information economics to see the underlying pattern so that you can correctly answer the “drink” problem and many other similar problems. The NT is using the drink request to solve a cheap talk problem—they don’t really want the drink, they want to know if you have higher dating market value than them, for example higher social status, income, success with other partners, etc. This is because evolutionary psychology makes some people want high-status people as partners. If they just asked you directly for these facts about yourself, you would have a strong incentive to lie. So they make a request that is somewhat rude, where only a lower-status suitor who thought they were worth “sucking up to” would comply, and then reject suitors who comply. This is really a kind of screening, where ability to give the “right” answer plays the role of a credential. Neurotypicals play some devious games, and this is actually quite a tame example.

  • The wisdom of nature heuristic—the human social coprocessor is perfectly optimized for an environment that we are no longer in. The EEA has significant differences to the present environment: most prominently, we have police and laws so other humans mostly don’t act on their desire to kill you. This means that you can get away with things that you have an innate fear of, and you should strongly distrust your fear of other people’s disapproval. There are also some reliable proxies of fitness that are no longer reliable, for example height (can be modified by higher shoes—a trick that women have cottoned on to, but men are totally missing out on).

  • Neuroplasticity and desensitization—your brain is plastic: you can train it and you can desensitize yourself to situations that scare you. Desensitization relies most on objectifing and dis-identifying with your maladaptive gut fear of doing something scary, for example public speaking or attending a social function where you know almost no-one. Realize that your brain contains small, simple, dumb circuits that produce your emotions, and some of them are outright harmful to you. You need to ignore their output and expose yourself to the stimuli.

  • Realizing that your brain contains nonrational psychological variables—that can be reset, often through a process known as “self transformation”. Examples include general outlook on life, confidence, self-estimated status, self-esteem, sense of “fun” and rational irrationalities such as vengefulness, honor and pride. Approaches to self-transformation include eastern-style “spirituality”, “new age” positive psychology works such as Eckhard Tolle, and more mainstream self-help like Tony Robbins. Changing your use of self-talk and framing is critical to resetting these variables.