Mehhanistlikust ja mentalistlikust andekusest

Amar Annus


Recent advances in cognitive neurosciences compellingly suggest that the human brain does not have a single cognitive system, but two parallel cognitive systems. These two systems normally blend more or less perfectly in the human mind. Only the failure of one reveals the existence of the other in a way that would otherwise be difficult to discern. This research has established that “human beings have evolved two parallel ways of thinking. One, which you might call people-thinking, mentalistic cognition – or more simply mentalism – is wholly concerned with understanding human beings, their minds, motives, and emotions; the other, which by contrast you could call things-thinking or mechanistic cognition, is concerned with understanding and interacting with the physical, non-human universe of inert objects“.

In other words, the social brain works entirely differently from mechanistic thinking, using altogether different neural pathways. The current view in the cognitive sciences supports the dual process theory that distinguishes between analytical and intuitive styles of information processing. These two styles – analytical and intuitive – broadly correspond to mechanistic and mentalistic cognition modes. Analytical processing involves abstract, rule-based, logical and deliberate thought, whereas the intuitive style is implicit and contextualized, taking advantage of associations.These two styles can be viewed as the polar ends of a single continuum, best understood as processing modes which individuals move in and out of in a continuous manner, depending on the situational dynamics.However, these two cognitive styles can become the preferences for cognition and learning if one prevails over the other.

The general discussions on higher cognitive processes usually do not cite evidence from the studies of clinical population groups. In my view, such discussions are necessary. In a clinical condition, the cognitive preference inevitably becomes a bias, even a strong bias for thinking and behaviour. The clinical conditions have genetic and epigenetic causes, even if these are only partly known. According to the Extreme Male Brain theory explaining autism, the continuum of cognitive capabilities extends between the natural faculties of empathizing and systemizing in the human brain.In neuroscience studies, the term anti-correlated networks of the brain has been coined to describe the phenomenon of alternating activation, in which mechanical tasks were able to deactivate the regions associated with social reasoning, and social tasks deactivated the regions associated with mechanical reasoning.The first mode of thinking is mechanistic and operates in a more bottom-up manner, being highly sensitive to the type of stimulus. However, the mentalizing system is more top-down, and is influenced by the cognitive context and much less by the surface characteristics of stimuli.

The Imprinted Brain Theory describes the diametrical model of the social brain connecting the two cognition modes with mental illnesses. This model establishes a continuum of the intellectual capabilities of the social brain, extending from high mentalism in the psychotic spectrum to low mentalism in autistic spectrum conditions. Accordingly, human talents can be divided into two large groups – these with excellent people skills and those with elevated mechanistic skills. Because of anti-correlation, both groups have deficiencies in the respective opposite domain. Autistic savantism is an example of elevated mechanistic and less than average mentalistic capabilities. The imprinted brain theory suggests that a reversed pattern of elevated mentalistic talent with reduced mechanistic abilities is found in psychotic savantism, a previously unsuspected condition.

The mentalistic kind of knowledge tends to be ideological, contextual, holistic, top-down, centrally coherent and globally connected. Mechanistic thinking is wired to find insights and patterns on the local level, and tends to be non-contextual, reductionist, bottom-up, and noncentrally coherent. Numerous clinical studies have shown an increased local processing style in autistic spectrum conditions, whereas the psychotic spectrum exhibits an increased global processing bias. The global style has an advantage in social tasks and the local processing bias in mechanistic tasks. A genius is someone who has elevated levels of talent in both modes of thinking.


Imprinted Brain Theory; autism; psychosis; mentalism; epigenetics

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