There’s a really weird cliche present in the media relating to HFAs. In both Sherlock, who is unofficial, and Community, whose representative Abed makes so many clear comments that he’s definitely official, the protagonists have the ability to form intense mental pictures using data available to them and their imaginations. This is, of course, a superpower and as I’ve noted, I hate the myth of autism superpowers.
So why do I have to concede truth here?
The truth is this one isn’t inaccurate weirdly enough. I thought about this as I was doing research for my forthcoming, sure to be unpublished book. I haven’t been back to Houston, TX in 19 years and to select parts of it in 20+ years. I needed to look at places there to get at least a decent picture in my head to write my book. I’m broke and have obligations so I chose to use the good old cheap option called Google Earth. I typed in a few locations. An hour later I felt certain I’d been there while I was on my couch.
Now sure, I don’t get credit for noticing a 360 degree online photo of an area gives me an accurate mental picture of an area. That’s just obvious. But what isn’t is the intensity of the sensation. It was borderline supernatural. I knew I was sitting on my couch in Little Rock, but I truly felt the sensations in my head that I’d been there.
Much of this stems from a real truth about us: we have excellent long term memory. Highly detailed, intense abilities to recall minute details. I’ve looked at pictures on CinemaTour of theaters from my past, I can describe tiny little details of the locations from my childhood. I can tell you what was where. Looking at the photos of Houston, I’m acutely aware of every change.
And even if we can’t use memories, we can form a picture that’s inaccurate but vivid just from absorbing data. I’ve been to Victoria, TX once and Port Lavaca, TX twice, but from reading page after page of the Victoria Advocate, I can form a complex picture of it in the 1980s. It’s inaccurate but it feels like a real place to me.
Why is this? I think it stems from the way our minds work. True, we’re rightly knocked on our lack of imagination but we can fill in the gaps using information like nobody’s business. We notice details others don’t but that’s not really a superpower. And in fact 99% of the ones we notice are completely useless. I mean, I know where video stores used to be 20 years after visiting the place I grew up. That’s pointless.
But the mindscape is real. What purpose does it serve for me? Abed gets it most accurately. It’s a shield. I was stressed on Tuesday after some of the worst weather and a set of stressors. I first tapped into this place in 1997-98 after, well, read my book I raced there after Lauren died. It’s a comforting thing to escape into your mind.
The healthiest thing to do with it is to try to describe it in print. To make clear the nature of our mindscape in words. So it is I return to working on my lost cause.