Jonah Lehrer, Autism, and Surfing

Lynne Kiesling

I’ve been reading a lot of neuroscience-related books this summer (more on that later …), and I’ve really been enjoying Jonah Lehrer’s blog The Frontal Cortex. If you are interested in the connections between the brain and human action and human decision-making, you will get a lot out of it. I will have more to say in a few days on Lehrer’s books …

One of Lehrer’s recent posts struck me, because it combines three things that I love: economics, economics-related neuroscience, and water sports. It’s a post about an article he’s got in the current issue of Outside profiling Clay Marzo, a young surfing phenom who can read waves brilliantly, can focus narrowly and wait patiently for hours for the right waves, and can bend his body with his board in the water in ways that would strike fear into pretty much all other surfers.

Clay Marzo has autism; in particular, he’s got Asperger’s syndrome. Lehrer’s post and article focus on how his Asperger’s is a crucial factor in his success as a surfer, although it predictably makes him awkward and uncomfortable with the associated media interaction. Among other things discussed in the article, his Asperger’s enables him to focus on the waves at a very deep and narrow level that enables him to learn their physics and to remember specific details about them.

I really, really recommend reading Lehrer’s blog and this Outside article, especially if you have read or are planning to read Tyler Cowen’s new book, which also discusses autism and how it affects human action and human decision-making. They will all make you think differently about the relationship between our cognitive processes and living together in civil society.

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