Regina Saphier: Elementary

Regina Saphier: Elementary

If you don’t know, let me tell you that many US TV series have some excellent writers and advisors and the content is often effortlessly educational. The series “Elementary” is a perfect example of the popular being educational as well. Former medical doctor Joan Watson, the first ever female Watson in a TV series, phenomenally played by Lucy Liu, is first the guidance counselor of addict Aspie Sherlock Holmes, exceptionally portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller. Dr. Watson becomes Holmes’s highly appreciated associate during the first season. I have to say their dynamic on screen is really entertaining and completely believable, plus I really enjoy the atmosphere, the spaces used in the series, that unfolds in New York. Romantic interest in not part of their interaction, it is purely intellectual and collegial. Their libido is perfectly normal, but between them it is about solving crimes and finding criminals. We constantly witness how Mr. Holmes struggles with the neurotypical environment, how he stands out with his sharp observations and painful lack of social skills. Ms. Watson on the other hand is the mostly well adjusted female Aspie, passing as “normal” (mostly, but at some point her friends begin to assume that it is not “normal” to be fascinated by criminology on Holmes’s side), while exhibiting many of the observational and synthesizing abilities as Holmes…

Ms. Watson and Mr. Holmes in Elementary

In season 2, at the end of episode 9 (“On the Line”) Holmes explains to Ms. Watson that he is not a nice man, and he is making an exceptional effort to accommodate her, because she is exceptional:

I transcribed the dialogue (intentionally skipped a few lines here and there):

Sherlock Holmes: There is unquestionably a certain social utility to being polite. To maintaining an awareness of other people’s sensitivities, to exhibiting all the traits that might commonly be grouped under the heading “nice”.
Joan Watson: I think you would be surprised how easy it is to earn that designation.
Holmes: No. I am not a nice man. It’s important that you understand that. … There is not a warmer, kinder me waiting to be coaxed out into the light. I am acerbic. I can be cruel. So I am. … I am neither proud of this, nor ashamed of it. … And in my work my nature has been an advantage far more often than it has been a hinderance. I am not gonna change.
Watson: You have. You are not the same person I met a year and a half ago. You are…
Holmes: Good to you? Yeah… For the most part. I consider you to be exceptional. So I make an exceptional effort to accommodate you. But you must accept that for as long as you choose to be in my life there will occasionally be fallout from my behaviour. That must be a part of our understanding.
Watson: No one can accept something like that forever.
Holmes: To thine own self… Watson…
He means to say: know thyself or know yourself. Basically know who you are and be yourself. In full, the last sentence is (originally): “To thine own self be true“… it is from Hamlet. Sherlock wants Watson to understand that he finds his professional performance more important, but because she is instrumental in his professional efforts, he sacrifices parts of his automatic behaviors and uses mental energy and concentration to accommodate her. In his asocial mind this is a rational decision, he needs her so he accommodates her perceived needs. He gives up something cognitive to gain much more, because it is logical. She on the other hand has an emotional reaction to his words. You can see it on her face. She feels that Sherlock is developing as a person. He rationalizes his own growth, while she perceives emotional development in him. In a way both are right.
Here the writers show us how Holmes believes that he only changes to accommodate an exceptional person for purely rational reasons. What he is unable to consciously realize is that she cares about him, unlike most others, and he unconsciously appreciates that. At the same time we regularly witness how Watson’s presence and more developed social awareness often helps to balance Holmes’s asocial behavior. Note: I really dislike when people mix up the meaning of asocial and antisocial. Aspies are asocial, not antisocial. If they are not pushed and bullied over the edge by their neurotypical and ignorant peers, and when they grow up in an accepting and loving environment, they are as unlikely to become antisocial as any of the neurotypicals.
I am listing some other films for you if you are interested in Asperger’s (or in Autism):
  • The first major film on Autism: Dustin Hoffman as Raymond, an autistic savant… in “Rain Man”. This is NOT a film about Asperger’s!
  • Also by the writer of “Rain Man” (by Ronald Bass), an Asperger’s movie (the characters are in different places on the Asperger’s spectrum and are highly asocial): “Mozart and the Whale” (not as well directed as “Rain Man”, but still entertaining and educational).
  • Claire Danes in “Temple Grandin“, very well portrayed, and Claire’s spouse
  • Hugh Dancy in “Adam“, also a very good movie (about a lonely Aspie who develops a unique relationship with his neighbor: Beth).

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (film)

  • The director of “The Hours” (Stephen Daldry) created another wonderful film: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” … The director “… stated in an interview that the film is about “a special child who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum, trying to find his own logic – trying to make sense of something that literally doesn’t make sense to him.” When asked how much research was necessary to realistically portray a character with such a condition, he answered “we did a lot of research,” and that he “spent a lot of time with different experts of Asperger’s and talked to them.” In the film, Oskar reveals that he was tested for Asperger syndrome, but the results were inconclusive. As Daldry explained: “Every child is different on the autistic spectrum, so we created our own version of a child that was in some way – not heavily, but somewhere on that spectrum in terms of the fears and the phobias.” (
  • Lately Abed in the series “Community” provided a perfectly believable Aspie. It turns out, the creator, Dan Harmon discovered he has a form of Asperger’s while doing research for the Aspie character Abed. As Abed would say, Cool cool cool. :-)This brings me to my key point: Many writers, stand up comedians, actors, actresses and film directors have a form of Aspergers. And these people have exceptional observational capacity, and for that you need deep empathy, high level of cognition, and special analytical skills. I believe that many Aspies are deeply empathic and have a very creative fantasy world, and e.g.: writing helps to “defragment” their massive emotional content.

Neurodevelopmental differences are probably much more common than we like to think. What makes the differences less apparent is enormous social pressure. Just think of religious people. Have you ever listened to a religious person quoting the bible word by word again and again and have you ever observed people’s religious rituals or the rigid social structures they feel forced to maintain? Don’t you think that many of them would fit the criteria of Asperger‘s with OCD? Focus on a single topic, repetition, rigidity, rituals, inability to assume the point of view of other people of other religions, and so on… Today, as people are more and more educated, religion is less and less dominant, and individuals discover new beliefs online that fit their personalities better. The mass scale of need for social “shelterdness” goes online and becomes much more individualized and globally remixed. At the same time people learn faster and more than ever before in human history. At this rate we might as well become a more understanding and more compassionate species, especially if we are willing to admit our shortcomings and do everything in our power to change to the better.

I think that the title Elementary might come from Sir Ken Robinson’s book title and theme: “The Element” (How finding your passion changes everything). He says that in order to be in your element, you must discover what you are best at, what you enjoy doing the most, and you also have to find the people who are like you, who appreciate you, and they are in a way your tribe. It is a beautifully idealistic human goal to be in your element, and some people are able to achieve this. Holmes and Watson enjoy their two person tribe and they are in their element together. Their personalities are different, but their elementary process is the same and they participate with passion. Seeking your element and passionately being in your constructive and positive element is the ultimate human goal for men and women equally. Aspies are probably born with a higher sense of their element and it often annoys “the seekers” (and remember, being “a seeker” is already a higher level of consciousness). When they are forced to adjust to rigid social norms they are denied their freedom to be in their elements and it is enormously frustrating. I mean, imagine that you just woke up from a flying dream, and you find yourself hovering above your bed… and suddenly you would be told to stop it, because it is not polite to levitate. How would you feel? 😉 Many Aspies “levitate intellectually” and are constantly told to “land politely”… Shouldn’t more people learn “mental levitation”? Of course they should! It is in fact the only kind of levitation a human is able to do without any instruments at the time of real action. 

This post grew out of my previous blog post: Curb Your Testosterone!


Regina Saphier: Curb Your Testosterone!

Regina Saphier: Curb Your Testosterone!


Do Aspie Men Feel Less comfortable with Women?

The Big Bang Theory

If you are like me, you enjoy, lets say: classical music and well written US TV series as well… I mean you are not a snob, you have an open mind for the popular as well. If you know “The Big Bang Theory“, you know how awkward the nerdy science guys feel around women. I also like Star Trek, particularly “The Next Generation” and the “Voyager” seasons. In the futuristic “Voyager” story professional crew members enjoy gender equality, the captain is a woman (she takes command in over 300 years from now…) and everyone knows what their duty is. (I hope you appreciate the geeky female in me…) This is what I am going to talk about this time: men feeling awkward around women and how this will change in the future. If you don’t know these series, rest assured, the women who survive around the boys, the women who make it around men as equals are well equipped with tomboy features, it is not necessarily about how sexy a woman is. Ok, Seven of Nine is both smart and sexy, but she is also the most “Aspie” like female character in the “Voyager” series… you know, “Asperger’s Syndrome“, a neurological difference, that often comes with very high cognitive capacity and low social skills… Tuvok from Vulcan, the eternal believer in rationality and self control is probably more like male Aspies. In “The Big Bang Theory” Amy is the female Aspie, Sheldon is the male Aspie, and together they are the socially highly awkward “ShAmy”. Amy is typically much more aware of the social nuances compared to Sheldon, but even Amy experiences the social elements cognitively, not intuitively. It is not her social instinct that helps her, it is her cognitive skills, her powerful intellectual capacity. “The ShAmy” perfectly represents the differences between Aspie men and women and I keep believing based on my experiences with humans on this planet that this has to do with testosterone too (and with social expectations, and with the more effective corpus callosum in female brains, connecting the two hemispheres better, and with other structural differences, like men having more gray matter, causing them to be better at math, and women having more white matter, that makes them more skilled in social situations). Men and women come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of personalities and brains (with diverse hormonal, neurological, genetic and social profiles) in the world and we have to learn to live with that. I believe that cognitively powerful Aspies are key leaders of humanity, and sadly neurotypicals (people not on the Aspergers spectrum) find it really hard to understand them or accept them.

Voyager Crew of Star Trek Voyager

Voyager Crew of Star Trek Voyager

I am known for my interest in talented people with Aspergers (whatever it is), and I believe that many change-makers are part of the group… at the same time I keep thinking that the trouble is, many male Aspies feel really happy online, love technology and science, but have no social skills, particularly no abilities to connect with women (even Seven of Nine has to learn how to behave with men.. she is human, but having been a Borg Drone for too long did not help her social skills…). Some have social skills or are skilled at pretending and are obsessed with topics that fit the business world, banking and politics. I keep thinking that in fact women are not common in high leadership roles because Aspie men feel less comfortable with women (they are too demanding for them emotionally and in social terms), and because only one in four Aspies are women (or more specifically, four times more men get diagnosed because women are better at fitting in and pretending to be neurotypical… by the way this means that Aspie women often suffer in silence)… Women with Aspergers have equal or better social skills and empathy than neurotypical men (men without Aspergers)…

Here is a speaker from the second day of TED 2013: Mary Lou Jepsen, screen engineer. This is what I wrote about her talk (while as usual live blogging a TED conference). “She had a brain surgery many years ago. A key part of her brain was removed and she had to experiment with some powerful chemicals, hormones, in really small doses, and she felt how just a small amount of change impacted how she felt, who she was, her temper, her self, her intellect. This talk reminds me of a radio show on This American Life about testosterone. She is actually showing us technology that can tell what you see in your head. I have heard about this before, but now I must really face it, because it is coming…” What I did not emphasize in this quick summary of her talk (that actually contained two topics) is that she also explained how her hormonal imbalance changed her understanding of men. In fact she also explained, that it was impossible to recreate her original personality due to the delicate balance having been ruined by the surgery. But amid her drama she emerged with a much deeper understanding for men, because her new brain chemistry is now closer to the male hormonal mix. And in a men’s world, until the circumstances change, and leadership requirements expand to emotional intelligence, empathy and the like, today women like Mary Lou are more likely to make it professionally. This will hopefully change, but for now lets focus on the women who are most likely to find their ways into leadership positions in technology and business and meanwhile lets gradually change the definition and toolkit of leadership, for more women to be able to become high profile leaders.

Lets face it, there has to be a reason for the fact that even in Norway, where companies that were active on the stock market were forced to appoint 40% women onto their boards, this did not result in other entities suddenly or even slowly having 40% women at the top. So, I have to ask this controversial question: Is it possible that today, the natural thing would be to set a 25% – 30% goal for women in the highest positions and see what happens? I know that leadership skills can be developed, but for example it might be that women with Aspergers are more likely to become high profile leaders in politics, science, banking and in technology, and still the gender stereotypes hold them backThey don’t need to force themselves, leadership comes naturally to them, but it is not expected of them… They have to adjust to male behavior, while also must appear (pretend to be) neurotypical to be socially accepted. Now that is really confusing and draining.

In other fields women (not necessarily Aspies) are intelligent conformists, who are more likely to become successful leaders in education, community development, childcare, social services and the like. These women are less hindered by the stereotypes, especially when the prestige of their field is low (so men are less likely to compete for those positions and those women are more neurotypical, need less effort to appear “normal” to their environments).

I keep thinking that Aspergers and androgyny are linked, as are humor and androgyny…

There is an interesting marker that shows division between men and women, and that is humor. Men and women both prefer male humor. However, if you dig into the standup and entertainment world, you will find some hilariously funny women (often noticeably androgen types, many of them are lesbians). But wait, there are in fact fewer females in standup and that might be because: 1. women are expected to be less funny by both genders, and 2. because in fact humor has a lot to do with aggression and androgen hormones (like testosterone).

Whitney Cummings, stand up comedian, talk show host, actress and producer

Here is a key and revealing idea for you to understand the problem with 50-50 male and female leadership: No matter how much you want the standup shows to consist of 50% funny males and 50% equally funny females, if the 50-50 audience just won’t laugh 50-50, you would not be successful at reaching your 50-50 goal. You can not force it. Also, low testosterone women will just never be as funny as low testosterone men. And when high testosterone women attempt to be aggressively funny, gender stereotypes make it less acceptable, even when they are really really funny. As in many fields women have to fight harder to be accepted, and that fight goes against the visceral reactions of people. Keep in mind that the normal female testosterone range is below 2 nmol/L and the normal male range starts above 10 nmol/L! And you don’t want to mess with people’s hormones, believe me!

So while I am arguing that society needs to do something about the testosterone dominance of men and of course gender stereotypes need to be removed as roadblocks of healthy human development, I am also suspicious about the 40% rule in Norway and the 50% expectations of social scientists and politicians. It is true that those companies did not go under with the 40% female leadership in Norway, of course they did not, but: did they become supersonic and viral examples? No.

Competitiveness is also driven by aggression and testosterone (while cooperation and empathy has more to do with the female sex hormones). Testosterone plays a role in: leadership, competitiveness, humor, aggression, sexuality, motivation, and so it looks like testosterone has a major role in entrepreneurship, science, politics and sports as well… It is interesting to note that in the show about Testosterone on NPR’s “This American Life” (beyond bringing us interesting human stories about the impact of testosterone) the studio team had their testosterone levels tested, and guess what, the only homosexual male in the group had the highest testosterone level among the male colleagues (and among the women a pregnant and not at all shy female editor). Now, the fact that testosterone drives our societies today, does not make this fact ok for eternity. In fact it is this recognition that makes it possible to change this by conscious analysis and decision makingIf today’s leadership styles are running us into a deep canyon of darkness, perhaps we need to look at compassion, empathy, encouragement, vicariousness, and the like, that are not driven by testosterone, but are nevertheless important leadership skills and styles.

At the same time, I enjoy wit and humor, so please, don’t you assume that I have anything against testosterone. However, in a modern society its impact has to be balanced. I might say: Curb Your Testosterone!

While reading the New Yorker article about Peter Thiel, I kept thinking, here is a clearly Aspie man, with lack of emotional maturity running a lot of business shows in his own way… and at the end of the article I was reinforced, he knows.

Peter Thiel

As cognitively brilliant but emotionally infantile Peter Thiel (venture capitalist) put it: “You can say the whole Internet has something very escapist to it. You have all these Internet companies over the past decade, and the people who run them are sort of autistic. These mild cases of Asperger’s seem to be quite rampant. There’s no need for sales—the companies themselves are weirdly nonsocial in nature.” But, he added, “In a society where things are not great and a lot of stuff is fairly dysfunctional, that may actually be the thing where you can add the most value. You can say that’s an escapist impulse of sorts, or an anti-political impulse, but maybe it is also the best way you can actually help things …”” Peter, you are good with numbers, strategy, logic, but that is only half of the human tool kit… Like Peter Arvai of Prezi or Tim Cook of Apple, Peter Thiel of PayPal is also an openly gay entrepreneur (there are many gay entrepreneurs who don’t want to risk their positions) and surrounds himself mostly with equally autistic men who think that everything is and has to be “rational” (as if there is anything rational about our existence in the universe). He is the most typical example of the problem, why women can not be part of the highest leadership. It’s because Peter and his friends (a boy’s club) feel uncomfortable around women. It is their own limitations, their values that make it impossible for women to be part of the leadership elites in technology and in science R&D, and also the limiting and distorted social values that women can not be leaders in these fields. Trust me, they can be, only the people who are part of the game must recognize their own limitation and counterproductive rejection of “the other”, the female, the more “emotional”, the “complicated”, the perceived “irrational”, the connected, the socially often more adept, the ones with more empathy and consideration for others (not all women are like this, and of course there are men who are like this). If you are blind, it does not mean that there is no visible space around you. If you are blind to the values of women, it does not mean that women don’t have real value in your field at your level.

Open your mind’s eyes cognitively: Aspie men (as well as Aspie women) have the ability to somewhat successfully substitute for lack of empathy, social skills or emotional intelligence (note: not all aspies lack empathy, social skills and EI) by using their enormous cognitive capacity to understand their own shortcomings and recognize new layers of human reality. Yes, you can! Trust me, I know men like this and those men were able to learn. At the same time women also must learn to speak “the male language” to finally meet in the middle and to go from there together.

Update from March 15., 2014: If you think that men and women have an equal opportunity as entrepreneurs in society, you are at least ignorant. If I consider the fact that VC money is mostly controlled by men, and if I add the results of the new MIT/Wharton study: Does it mean that male venture capitalists unconsciously and overwhelmingly prefer to invest in very handsome men? Does it mean that latent or undisclosed or open male homosexuality governs VC investments? Does it mean that the majority of women have no chance of making it as entrepreneurs due to this bias when competing against men in front of male investors? Is this happening in other fields, like science or politics as well? Obviously it is.

Let me recommend more posts on my TED and my Coursera blogs as well (I am dealing with a range of different topics):

On “My Coursera Blog” about Coursera:

What “The Digital Skeptic” of “The Street” Forgot to Mention in His Article

Gross National Income… “Developing” and “Developed” Countries… and Coursera

Coursera “re-Members” in Larger Numbers?

On My TED Blog about China, about our microbiomes and big data, and about the founder of TED: 

The United States of China

The United States of China (Part 2)

TEDMED or Your Gut Feeling and Big Data

The Smithsonian National Design “Lifetime Achievement” Award goes to Richard Saul Wurman

The Wurman Project

I wrote more about Asperger’s and gender differences in my next blog post on My “Virtual Humanism” Blog: Elementary

And I also have a post in Hungarian with English audio that I recorded for English speakers to give you a summary of my post: (A Nők meg a “Startup” Ápolás Művészete) Women and the Art of Startup Maintenance

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