Imagination and Autism

It’s common to see autism linked to (a lack of) imagination, sense of humor, empathy and a host of other human qualities. That makes me wonder. After all, I feel ‘all too human’ to identify with robots or “very-large-brained” apes. I kid you not: these are analogies made by a leading autism researcher in a best-selling book. He might defend himself by saying it was an attempt at vulgarizing science. That does not change the fact such comparisons are, plainly and simply, vulgar.

Maybe it’s because since my diagnosis I finally form part of a minority (instead of merely feeling that way) that I’m more philosophically sensitive about generalization (instead of merely finding them bullshit). Denying human qualities to people is inhuman. It isn’t any less inhumane to qualify that such qualities are statistically less present in a certain set of people. We’re after all not talking about length or the ability to dance or dress well.

So, the problem has to lie in a confusion of how the word is understood. Clearing up such misunderstanding then has the double benefit of understanding better what such human qualities are not and taking away related false generalizations holding a minority down.

This is what I attempted to do in a (philosophical) way in this paper for one case: that of autism and imagination. I do not believe it is an easy read but if you want to check it out at the level of the abstract, you’ll find that below the fold as a (non-?)appetizer. Continue reading

Aixo era y no era

“Let us keep this notion of split reference in mind, as well as the wonderful ‘It was and it was not,’ which contains in nuce all that can be said about metaphorical truth.” P. Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, Routledge Classics, 2003, p. 265.

Being a logical kind of guy, I don’t particularly like fairy tales. Still, I think the law of non-contradiction is worse than a fairy tale. It is a hoax. Proven useful to open cans, it wound up opening one full of worms. Its next of kin are identity and the excluded middle. It’s the triumvirate of a logical tyranny that suffocates us to a point of becoming a prejudice against every prejudice.

I believe can-openers are useful tools, certainly if the can they open is critical thought. It is however not the case that critical thought has merit in and of itself. Critical thought is to the good life as food is to a healthy body, not less but at the same time not more. What it allows if taken in good measure is to find the middle; overconsumption though leads to becoming bloated and – full of it – using it as a stick to beat the life out of every argument.

The nice thing about stories is that, as Ricoeur rightly has it, they keep us in suspense and thereby create something new. They’re alive and as such infinitely closer to the good life than any artificial construct could ever be. I will believe in Artificial Intelligence if it can weave or listen to a good story, create a telling metaphor or be insulted by being likened to artifice. Call that the Bervoets-test.

Anyway, let’s make this political.

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The Degenerating Self

“Selves can only exist in definite relationships to other selves.”, G. H. Mead, Mind, Self & Society, The University of Chicago Press, p. 164.

I am in therapy. The question is: what makes me tick like a time bomb? The idea is that if we find the detonator we can defuse my self-destructive tendencies to so avoid my lights going on red. I feel the hand of therapists guided by society inside my mind carefully and meticulously disentangling the faulty wiring. Let’s hope they aren’t too nervous because I am. I can go from green to red and back again without ever giving off a warning orange.

I so should give them a helping hand. So let me explain my self (if even only to myself).

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Anti-Socrates

Do you know the mental torture known as “the Socratic method”? It is the watered down version of the origin of all mental torture: the method of Socrates. Despite the likeness of naming, their commonality is limited to one party in conversation passive-aggressively expressing his superiority over the other. In the latter this is done by a person in power asking questions for which no definite answer exists and in the former the questioner’s power derives from asking a question to which he already knows the answer. The result is the same: answering is like a mouse trying to escape from a cat.

Leszek Kolakowski said: “There is one man with whom all European philosophers identify themselves, even if they dismiss his ideas altogether. This is Socrates – a philosopher who is unable to identify himself with this archetypal figure does not belong to this civilization.” in Metaphysical Horror, p. 1, Basil Blackwell.

I don’t know whether this means I am not civilized, not European, not a philosopher or a combination thereof. Maybe Socrates would have thought it a question worth exploring – so let me explore.

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Anti-physics

“(..) who cannot reveal himself cannot love, who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. But you do this out of sheer obnoxiousness, you train yourself in the art to become a riddle for others.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, my translation from Dutch.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have a common cause in destroying the confusion that places us as an instrument of ultimate truth. They are seen as anti-metaphysical and adopted by many of this very (psycho)physical age – oh, the irony of it! – as evidence that these times, our times, are superior in having overcome that specific Hegelian disease of thinking.

That’s not true. We straightened some wrinkles to find injecting botox has just made us look more preposterous than ever. We now believe physics can solve anything and that it is just a matter of time to resolve the riddle of life. Deep down we believe there is eternal truth; we happen now to believe as well it is just a matter of time before we find it. Some even think that if they live long enough they’ll live forever and don’t stop to think what a ghastly thought that is.

The question in this evidence based world is: what counts as evidence?

Is it the increasingly complex models picking out specific observations designed to falsify it but somehow always winding up verifying something? Or is it the everyday meeting of minds where you make yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding?

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My eye for your ear, your ear for my eye

Look at the deer, it can be all ear.
Listening for what it can’t yet see.
The ear is noble. It does not fear.
It is original. First was the ear.

How dull’s the eye that cannot hear?
The bull it shits about “The Senses”,
a putsch of the eye enslaves the ear.
The common makes no sense to me.

Better blind than being deaf to you.
The eye may awe, the ear doth thaw.
The ear can hear, the eye just bites.

A brain without eyes is just blind to lies.
Sight deceives, hearing weaves tones
and tones that survive our bones. Continue reading

Job’s Metamorphosis

‘My dear parents,’ said the sister banging her hand on the table by way of an introduction, ‘things cannot go on any longer in this way. Maybe if you don’t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it. We have tried what is humanly possible to take care of it and to be patient. I believe that no one can criticize us in the slightest.’, F. Kafka, The Metamorphosis.

Only when you’re heard does it make sense to say something.

Job only wants one thing: to be heard. His friends listen to him. They do not hear what he is saying. Gregor wanted one thing: that his sister might develop herself. She does and so stops listening to him.

It’s all right. Both get what they want in the end. Not justice or wisdom or payback for the observation of their duties. They get want they want. They’re heard. Job’s tabernacle will be blessed and Gregor’s family fairs well as well.

You can read both as criticism. That is what happens if you try to hear what is being said. Still, think a little harder when you are trying to hear something. Or a little less. Because, you know, literally both stories end on the up and up. Gregor and Job get what they want, they literally and exactly get what they want.

If you think they don’t then you didn’t hear what they said. Maybe because you were too busy still listening to what you want for them. Probably because you only hear what you want.

Try again (warning: full-on atheism ahead): Continue reading