Thursday, September 24, 2009

Autism Diaries XIV: The Wikipedia Entry Thought Experiment

Last night, J informed me that he'd managed to hack through the firewall blocking our household computers' IP-addresses from Wikipedia--a ban that resulted from J's repeated "Wiki-vandalism" of their pages over the last school year. (No sooner had I shown him Wikipedia as a great source on black holes, time travel, and the Grandfather Paradox than he figured out he could edit it, thereby entering a whole new arena for mischief--and earning us a 6-month ban).

Once again able to edit Wikipedia articles--at least temporarily--he cautiously added a line or two to the ceiling fan entry about ceiling fan chains (if you pull them too hard, they might break), to the beach house entry (some beach houses have ceiling fans), and to the restaurant entry (some restaurants have ceiling fans).

I'd be surprised if any of J's edits are still there--we've seen how alacritous Wikipedia's established editors are about damage-control. But what is surprising is that J would be surprised as well.

I know this because of the Wikipedia Thought Experiment I conducted on him during the long hikes we took on our summer vacation. One of the things he'd carry on about was his Wiki-vandalism, and after dozens of conversations about this it finally occurred to me to ask him about which of his proposed Wikipedia edits would survive Wikipedia's administrators. For edits like "I am going to kill you," he already knew the answer; but right away he also realized that obvious entries ("some fans are on fast"), trivial entries ("some fans have five blades"), or entries that aren't of general interest ("Ari's house has 10 ceiling fans") also wouldn't endure.

So here's yet another Theory of Mind/perspective-taking exercise for children on the autistic spectrum: along with the Sally-Ann and Smarties Tests, the Wikipedia Entry Thought Experiment.

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