Tag Archives: autism

Autism continues to puzzle the brain

Cross-posted from: https://autismethics.com/

Recent phenomenological research (Hens & Langenberg, forthcoming) has found that receiving a diagnosis can be very helpful for autistic individuals. One of the significant elements is a coming to terms with the nature of autism as, at least in part, neurological diversity. As discussed in an Autism Ethics Network event in Utrecht, it makes a difference what type of neurological explanation is taken; as the explanation not only impacts the self-perception of autistic individuals but also the way in which autistic people are seen by society.

Sometimes it seems like there is a definitive consensus in cognitive science about autism. This is most definitely not the case. In a recent cognitive science paper (1) autism theories have been grouped as “social first and nonsocial” based on which facts are considered to be the primary cause of the behavior giving rise to an autism diagnosis. Recent cognitive research is taking the heterogeneity of symptoms and co-morbidities associated to autism as an occasion for developing novel theories. Below, that research is systemized somewhat inviting the reader to keep an open mind on autism research as well as on the very real ethical implications of going for one or another type of theory.

Our classification groups theories in the categories ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’. This can be taken literally: some theories start from facts at a higher social or cognitive level where others start from facts at a lower sensory, perception, motor or predictive coding level.

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The looping parable

I write this inspired by the work of Ian Hacking on looping effects, human kinds and so on. My sympathies are with Hacking on this. Still, I believe there’s something that needs to be added: the social looping effect needs a binding effect in reality to remain stable. This has consequences: it is too easy to reduce a specific kind of humans out of the human kind just because they are confronted with a reality that happens to be out of the social norm.

Let me make up a story, a parable of sorts, about an imaginary civilization in which an evil both real and socially constructed exists. A parable has the virtue of edification because it illustrates a point without risking the muddle of prejudice which will inevitably surround any actual real and/or socially constructed concept or behavior.

Mountains, social exclusion and initiation rituals ahead:

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Proud to be Aut

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m autistic. I’m 48 years old. My diagnosis was confirmed last week. I have been labeled with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a little over a week but the label means that I have been autistic all my life. That feels right given I’ve always felt a little off. When you live your life feeling out of phase with the world you can do two things: change the world or change yourself. I did both. I defined being normal and tried to live up to the standards. Any remaining awkwardness I compensated by controlling the context. It is not a strategy exclusive to autistic people, if you read attentively it is a common strategy for strangers to cope with and compensate for a world which is not (yet) theirs. In my case, I don’t look like a stranger and I don’t have a world which is self-evidently mine.

I’m writing this not as a complaint against the world nor as a frustration about myself. I’m writing this in the hope you might come to appreciate what it is to be different. Continue reading

Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading