5 Brain Disorders That Started as Evolutionary Advantages

#2. Dyslexia Is a Symptom of an Ancient Brain Superpower

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Dyslexia is one of those strangely specific disorders that make you wonder just who the hell designed the human brain, anyway. It's characterized by an inability to read despite normal intelligence, the brain jumbling up characters like one of those CAPTCHA text boxes.

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"Dammit, I can never figure out these damn things."

For these people, all sorts of mindless, everyday things you take for granted, from reading menus to browsing the Internet, become laborious chores. Luckily, most sufferers can eventually overcome the condition and excel. Or rather, turn their back on their evolutionary excellence.

How It May Have Helped Humanity:

When you look at the stats, something strange starts to jump out: According to some surveys, over 30 percent of entrepreneurs describe themselves as dyslexic, and tons of influential people -- from Albert Einstein to Steven Spielberg -- have struggled with the condition. People with dyslexia tend to be highly creative, artistic, and intelligent, and often kick ass at solving multidimensional problems.

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Things become trickier when it comes time to write the answer down.

Dr. Duncan Milne, a big name in the field of neuropsychology, says that this is not a coincidence; according to him, dyslexia is a telltale sign of exceptional brain badassitude. During our hunter-gatherer period over 200,000 years ago, there was no reading or writing; we were too busy wrestling bears and figuring out which mushrooms are edible and which ones make you visit the pink pumpkin god. Our life was all about clever ideas, efficient communication, and creative problem solving, which you may recognize as the exact damn things dyslexics tend to excel at.

When the kind of brain that is particularly talented in the unimportant act of staying alive in the most efficient way possible is suddenly facing reading and writing -- two fairly recent inventions that radically differ from the frantic survival shit it's spent countless millennia specializing in -- it tends to view them as unnatural acts. A dyslexic brain is not stupid or even malfunctioning -- it's just wondering why it has to make sense of all these stupid squiggles when it could be out punching tigers instead.

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Billy may have a reading disability, but he's already surviving at a Bear Grylls level.

Yes, according to this theory, dyslexia is really not a disorder at all: It was always there for the exceptional individuals whose brains had an extra edge. We just never realized it, so when someone came up with all that "reading" and "writing" poppycock, the people whose brains dared to object were looking at a ticket to Disorderville.

#1. Autism Made Hunter-Gatherers Hardcore Survival Machines

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Let's get the scary stuff out of the way first: Autism diagnosis is at an all-time high in the U.S. One in 88 kids is diagnosed with some form of the disorder, and it looks like the numbers are still on the rise. We have no clear idea about what causes it (no, it's not vaccines). In the face of those numbers, it's easy to assume that our genes have finally thrown their hands up in frustration and skulked in the corner to hug their favorite bottle of bathtub gin.

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Wait a minute, science -- Jenny McCarthy has an idea.

Well, that, or evolution is just doing its thing and providing humanity with a supply of badass motherfuckers.

How It May Have Helped Humanity:

Experts suggest that autism never had to sneak past the survival-of-the-fittest checkpoint to make it all the way to modern times. Instead, it proudly marched through the gates with a saber-toothed carcass in one hand, casually clubbing the guards over the head as it went.

While autistic people often have trouble interacting with others, the condition also provided unexpected advantages for a hunter-gatherer: Namely, it switched on the badass parts of their brain. While most of our ancestors were busy hunting and foraging in groups, the ones on the autism spectrum preferred a more solitary lifestyle. These people were able to efficiently operate alone; the time and effort that others spent socializing and drawing crappy stick figures on cave walls were instead channeled into things like tracking, getting to know the terrain, and other Rambo stuff.

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Being alone is a fair trade for not having to share your ribs.

Affected people are also known to engage in repetitive activities like stockpiling food and supplies, a useful talent in a world where your survival depended on those exact things. Since they were strong, skillful, and well-fed, their lack of social skills presumably wasn't much of a hindrance when it came to procreation, either. But once again, the world mutated into a less-friendly environment -- a densely populated land where every daily task requires a conversation and every workplace promotion requires skillful networking.

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Hence why showing your acorn stash is no longer a successful pick-up move.

But who knows -- you may find a world much more suitable to someone on the autism spectrum a few hundred years from now. Or possibly sooner.


Matt Moffitt has a blog here and a Twitter here. You can check out Himanshu's occasionally updated blog here, or join him on Twitter.

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Related Reading: Speaking of disorders, did you know our brains are programmed to support our crappy taste in products? Even something as simple as a baby can hack your brain with nightmarish results. And some movies reach the level of outright mind control. But hey, at least there are some ways to hack your brain for better performance.

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