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Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Aspergers ... Science ...

A few days ago I wrote an entry here about “socio-Aspergers Syndrome”, using Wittgenstein’s concept of “family resemblance” as used to describe the approximate way that most words are defined in our language. I contrasted this to “clinical autism” (the classical “Kanner Syndrome” version of autism, with its effects on communication skills, learning achievement, socialization, etc.). I believed that “core autism” had a more strict, scientific definition.

But a few days later I read an article on the Scientific American web site about continuing research into autism and its genetic markers. Well, it turns out that there is no one “smoking gun” in the genes that determines autism. The genetic factors are in fact all over the place, with certain overlapping trends that cover maybe 20 to 30% of all autistics, but never a definitive set of genetic conditions common to all autistic people. So, even in the DNA realm, autism is a mixed-up fruit salad, a “family resemblance” thing. Oh well, just shows how wrong we all can be!

[Unless the study was “polluted” by the “spectrum” concept – i.e., if the researchers are not focusing on the “clear cut” cases, but instead are embracing the mish-mosh that autism has become under the spectrum ideal. If that is the case . . . then perhaps this just shows that I was correct!! I.e., that even on the genetic level, Aspergers Syndrome has a tenuous relationship to those “core autistics” who cannot sustain themselves because of under-developed communication, intellectual and social coping skills. Maybe the geneticists need to stop listening to the therapists who want to sell the world on the notion that they can help every child with social interaction handicaps. I suspect that’s where all the fashionable “spectrum” thinking has come from.]

NEXT OBSERVATION: I also read an article the other day about rapamycin, the drug that is being hailed as the basis for a possible fountain of youth, a pill to slow the aging process. There have been animal studies that show that regular doses of rapamycin extend the average life-span of various critters. Some writers anticipate that this research will lead to drugs allowing us humans to live longer without all the fuss and bother of diet and exercise regimens.

Well, I have my doubts. Rapamycin is used to suppress the body’s immune response in situations like organ transplants or autoimmune conditions. It makes sense that there would be less wear and tear on the body by turning down the immune system, which uses a lot of energy and does some damage to the cells in trying to protect the overall organism from external threats (and internal ones too, like mutations leading to cancer). The problem is, what happens when you need the immune system to stop a nasty virus or bacteria or a carcinogenic mutating chemical in your body. Those animals in the studies lived in clean labs, not out in the wild. I don’t think that rapamycin will lead to a fountain of youth after all; germs and other bad stuff running unchecked would most likely rob us of the extra years that an immuno-suppressant would otherwise allow. Can rapamycin research lead to a life-extending drug without the side-effect? Take away the immune suppression effect, and I’ll bet that you also take away the life-extension effect.

There’s one other option being talked up for long life; but once again, there are undesirable consequences. That option is the near-starvation diet (or eventually, a pill that nearly starves the cells even if you gobble food down like a pig). Again, animal studies prove that eating just the bare minimum necessary for survival does something to the cells in the body that extends life span. The cost is the obvious need to severely discipline your eating habits; but again, maybe a pill will come along to make the cells believe they are short of nutrients even on a full stomach. Nonetheless, I suspect there would be another side-effect. When the body experiences food shortages, it would be trained by evolutionary programming to reduce its reproduction activity and increase cell maintenance, as to survive the bad times and have babies later on. If you do this all your life, you may live into your 90’s or whatever. But guess what? You probably won’t have the energy or desire to have sex. Bye bye, libido.

And if the converse holds true – then living a life with much sexual gratification might encourage the cells to decay faster. Now that would be an interesting quandary, if it turned out to be true; lots of sexual pleasure tends to shortens your life, while going without sex helps to lengthen your life. So what will it be? Live longer or live sexier?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, First, I would like to call attention to the fact that no researchers have considered the fact that some people may adopt autistic/Asperger behaviors as a means of coping with particular issues in their lives. I would like to see some research on the difference between those who are “wired” autistic and those who have adopted autistic/Asperger behavioral mannerisms as coping mechanisms that then become habitual. I think there is a big difference in the two. I have a grand-nephew labeled (how I hate that word “labeled”) as either autistic and/or having an Asperger-like syndrome; his parents are a wreck over the situation. My observation of the child at a family get together was that the child could not possibly be autistic. He was too loving with his parents. No consideration was given to his adopting the behavioral mannerisms of the autistic or the “Aspie” to cope with social situations.

    I’d like to see some research done in regard to the difference between those who are *wired* for autism and those who adopt its mannerisms as a coping mechanism for social situations they find difficult to manage.

    Second, as regards the “fountain of youth”: All I can say is “puhleeze”! It seems the baby boomers just a) can’t face the fact that they *will* get old and b) can’t face the fact that they *will* die at some point. In the whole discussion of living longer and/or living, never to die, one never hears a discussion of the *quality* of life that the individual lives. At some point I think (and being only too close to 80, I think I speak with some authority here) one gets to the point where the quality of life becomes an issue in the question of how long one might want to live. Believe me, quality of life, the older one gets, becomes a seriously important issue—at least from my standpoint. Living past a certain point and/or forever does *not* interest me in the slightest. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 15, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

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