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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conversational ADD

Ten days ago this blog had a post about the evolutionary benefits of Attention Deficit Disorder. It got me to thinking: almost all conversations are actually a testament to ADD, even if neither party has been officially diagnosed with it. Think of the way most conversations with your friends go: you just jump from one subject to another, with no discernible thread.

Your friend mentions something that sparks a thought you want to share. So you tell him, then your friend makes a joke about it. Laughing causes you to lose your train of thought, but then you think of something that happened earlier in the day which you think he would find amusing, so you recount that; he then tells you about a similar experience. His story reminds you of someone you detest, so you take the opportunity to vent about that person. Then he tells you about someone he knows who acted the same way, who used to cheat at his sport. Then the conversation turns to sports....and so it goes.

Whatever subject you started off discussing has long since been shrouded in the mists of time -- from five minutes ago.

Next time you get off the phone with a friend, try retracing the conversation. It's almost comical. If you were to draw a diagram of it, it would look like one of those crazy webs woven by a spider who had been given LSD. (And who was it, by the way, who came up with the idea for that experiment?)

Most conversations just meander along like a mountain stream, following a seemingly random path. The only consistent pattern is that a stream will always go downhill. (I'll make the obvious joke here: as do many conversations.)

This is why stream of consciousness monologues are funny -- it's reassuring to see that other peoples' thought patterns are as disorganized as our own. The brain is just a big labyrinth, from which there is no escape.

President Nixon once said that Mikhail Gorbachev was the most impressive head of state he'd ever met. (And Nixon had met a lot of them.) Nixon said that Gorbachev would never let a train of thought get away from him, and would always steer the conversation back in the direction he wanted it to go. The takeaway here is that even most world leaders can not keep their minds on one subject. So if heads of state cannot exhibit linear thinking even when meeting other heads of state, everyday people can hardly be blamed for letting their conversations wander.

Autistic people are different, of course. They have the ability to focus on just one thing -- like memorizing the telephone book.

In a way, having ADD-like symptoms could be viewed as the opposite of autism. Count your blessings, I guess.


Anonymous said...

So does this mean that autistic people don't flit from one topic to the next when you're talking to them? Do they prefer to stick to just the one topic?


John Craig said...

Gethin --
That's a good question; I honestly don't know the answer. When I think of the Aspies I've known, they do seem to be more inclined to stick to topics that interest them, which I guess could be interpreted as them flitting less.