Pattern Seeking in the Law

Are you a systemizer? In Patter Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention, Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen (Professor and Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University) discusses the significance of systemizing to inventions. He posits that humans have a special kind of engine in the brain.  They seek out if-and-then patterns. This way of thinking developed about 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, when the first humans began to make complex tools. 

Dr. Baron-Cohen categorizes the brain into 5 different types based on their balance between empathy and systemizing. Empathizers are very comfortable with people, chat easily, easily tune into how people are feeling, and gravitate towards caring professions. Whereas, systemizers are good at navigating patterns, seeing how patterns operate, and gravitate towards STEM fields and analytic fields (e.g. law).

The five categories are:

  • Extreme E (Extreme Empathizer)
  • Type E  (Empathizer – empathy is higher than systemizing)
  • Type B (Balanced – shows no difference between their empathy and their systemizing)
  • Type S (Systemizer – better at systemizing than empathizing)
  • Extreme S (Extreme Systemizer) 

It is incredibly rare for someone to be both an extreme systemizer and an extreme empathizer. “These 5 brain types are examples of neurodiversity – the varieties of brains we find in any school classroom or in any workplace, like the varieties of flowers or animals in nature”. 

Dr. Baron-Cohen argues that “the Systemizing Mechanism is tuned up super-high in the minds of inventors, those in the STEM fields, and those who strive to perfect any kind of system (like some lawyers…)”.  All these people have a mind hyper-focused on systemizing, which is central to creating any kind of invention. 

Through his research, Dr, Baron-Cohen has found that hyper-systemizers and the autistic mind share a commonality.  In fact, “expressed differently, some of the genes for hyper-systemizing and some of the genes for autism are the very same genes… If you are an extreme systemizer, your mind operates differently than most people… It has a different operating system”.  

Dr. Baron-Cohen states that hyper-systemizers learn differently.The broad curriculum about learning a little bit about a lot doesn’t work for some students. He argues that our schools should be teaching differently based on the brain type of the student. High systemizers need information in an if-then format. A narrow curriculum encourages high systemizer students to go much more in-depth. Ironically, in any event, “the generalist inevitably ends up specializing”.

Given that the legal system is often built on rules that follow an “if-then” basis, the law lends itself well to hyper-systemizers creating algorithms. Understanding the different ways people think can also help us identify better ways of teaching, training, and recruiting lawyers to ideal placements. 

(This article was originally posted on Slaw.ca. Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization. heatherdouglaslaw.com

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