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Neurodivergent verses and building a more complete reality

Words, all too often, fail me.

It is a bit ironic that I come to a programming platform to let out my innermost thoughts, but when I think about words as code, they materialize in front of me in a different way. I wonder if there’s ever been an academic study on the extent to which one’s word processing unit of choice impacts the way that they write. Sometimes, even words themselves are not enough.

Our reality is a delicate web of the stories that we tell, which in turn make up the lives that we lead. Those stories are comprised of words, pictures, the witness and testimony of others, emotions - at their very core, all designed to make it so that my brain neurons firing can be mirrored inside of a physically disconnected mind from my own.

Yesterday, I learned about the concept of gezellig, a word in Dutch that describes a collective emotion of sharing a warm, safe space, cozy with others. The idea of a shared emotion with so much specificity delights me. From my understanding, one cannot experience gezellig on their own - because the very nature of the feeling itself necessitates the presence of others who are in that state as well.

The concept of gezellig immediately came to me. I think of the way that I felt around the fire pit of my newly-purchased house, when my and my partner’s oldest friends gathered on my 30th birthday. I think of the delight that I had when I discovered a colleague was also experiencing the sensation of their body warming up when the gold-toned lights that dotted the trees turned on suddenly. Sharing an emotion - and knowing, deeply and comfortably - that the emotion is shared - is such an intimate and vulerable thing. In those moments, your views on the world are in sync, and your realities reflect a deep, mutual bond.

In the article “On Truth and Belief” from this month’s volume of the Communications of the ACM, Vinton Cerf, VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, opens with:

“I am certainly no philosopher, but as I observe the apparent erosion of agreement on factual evidence in our society, I have begun to wonder how this state of affairs has evolved and whether there is a path back to rational argument that starts with an agreement on the facts that should inform debate.”

The idea - as Cerf goes on to mention - that there is a ground truth to our reality is a misapplication of the field of science to the study of and understanding of the world around us. When we encounter places where our lived experiences deviate so far from someone else’s, we find ourselves in a fragmented universe where truth loses meaning, and we end up creating our own meaning to form our beliefs. What might one believe in, if they do not believe in ground truth?

Empathy, could therefore, be represented by the degree to which one is able to cast aside their version of the truth, or reality, in order to temporarily suspend their emotional state in order to get closer to someone else’s. This is, of course, assuming that there is an underlying connection between one’s reality and one’s emotional state, but that feels evident and worth exploring in a future writing. This interpretation of empathy necessitates that the giving party, does, in fact, want to be understood within their reality.

I have a theory that I hope to explore in the future that those individuals such as myself who identify as some form of ‘neurodivergent’ feel a greater draw towards metaverse technologies due to the control that they give someone to shape a reality with intention. I was bullied often as a child, and struggled to discover, foster, and maintain relationships with people my own age. If there was a clear hierarchy or defined relationship, it was easy to see how to mold myself into the proper shape for their reality, but with “friends”, all bets were off.

Put differently, my reality was often at odds with the realities of the people in the world around me, and I lacked the skills to resolve situations as they became more complicated.

Has there ever been such a fuzzily defined word as “friend”? How can the same word describe so many different types of relationships, all of which vary in frequency of communication, level of familiarity, depth of intimacy, and context in which you engage?

English, as a language, feels fraught with such words. Words are messy. You can have two people read exactly the same words, and walk away with very different meaning attached to them. All too often, I will apply my lens of reality to a situation and have my partner gently remind me of a more kind interpretation. The patterns that I learned in childhood - that people who I thought were friends ultimately ended up hurting me the most - still find ways to manipulate my reality today.

Without intentional dismantling of such lens and connections, my reality becomes smaller as I try to keep my reality to myself. Dismantling them, therefore, is of the utmost importance for me to connect with others. And yet, such a challenge it remains, especially if words are my only tool.

Luckily, they are not. With metaverse technologies, I’m able to build a museum to my gut-wrenching emotional pain when I break down from a traumatic experience and disassociate entirely. When conversing with an AI, I’m able to break through my existing thought patterns, which are modeled by what my reality has been, and replace them with ideas crwod-sourced by the Whole of Humanity… or at least scraped from a lot of webpages.

We all share a need to be understood, and believe we belong. To see the ability to simulate entire worlds to tell stories come to life is to give more nuance and vulnerability within the way we interact.