Saturday, July 6, 2013

Motion, Sound, and the Organism: Music over Language

Is the quavering cry of the Florida Loon comforting, sad, or spooky? That’s entirely a matter of subjective acculturation. I know this in the most direct way possible.

But, if music is the visceral response to sound, then even sounds that happen to strike one with horror could be called music. But, that so misses the point that there is no way back to the point by that route. Begin at the beginning, and as many times as it takes. It’s already here.

Music is not plays of photons on our retinas. Music is plays of vibrations of domestic fluids on our brains. The main and proper source of photons is far distant from our home. But, domestic vibrations...

...Hearing is the brain’s own special sense of vibration which is dedicated to ‘turning up the volume’ on the visceral sense of sound, and of otherwise locating oneself in reference to other valuable objects.

Music is the happy vibration of our brains, and, properly, by way of the fluids of our home. Fetal fluids, and, later, the fluid called air. Air is that proper fluid for human domesticity. The fetal variety is merely the training ground for a full domestic sense.

What, you may wonder, am I getting at. Or, perhaps, you think, I’ve already gotten at it: what I’ve said is all that really can be said about it (or, that I think can be said about it).

‘Music is vibration, so just assent to it, and forget about actually understanding what the heck such a statement even means.’ To what is it the proper reference?

‘Who cares’, says Moe, ‘It’s the truth, so it’s all you need to know! Music is music! It’s not my problem you’re tone deaf!’

...There’s a reason Moe is one of the Stooges.


In humans, the intellectual mediation of sounds typically takes the form of the habit we call ‘auditory language reception/delivery’: discrete, and often complex, intellectual mediation of sounds for the purpose of projecting or inferring discrete ideational usage of those sounds. Even in the written form, such as this introduction, language typically engages the linguistic instinct of those familiar with its meanings. So, the capable English reader does not typically treat this sentence as abstract visual art, but, rather, habitually as language

So, language already has the monopoly on general intellectual meaning. That leaves music and musicality the job of provoking emotions, and thus, among more artful or cognitively playful things, of making language more efficient and effective than language can be on its own.

So, music doesn’t need to be an intellectual language, else music would be competing with language rather than complementing language. No one needs a Department of Redundancy Department, much less a Department of Contentiousness Department. Unfortunately, some who are in some ways viscerally or kinesthetically feeble feebly think that music can be worth anything only if music can abide the drily intellectual strictures of language. As Steven Pinker puts it, ‘Music could vanish from humanity and the rest of our lifestyle would continue [on as it always has].” Pinker's view seems to be that things are valuable in terms only of how they may be used to crush competitors. If this is how Pinker thinks, then, naturally, he's going to fault music for being so cooperation- and play-minded. In any case, the point is, music isn't competing. It’s complementing. Only a feebly Vulcanist turn of mind would think that’s a waste.

As everyone knows (or, ought to know), play is a sign of health. Play is an expression of the joy of freedom to move about, and to create new learnings. Play is one of the most powerful, and most essential, ways the brain is stimulated to grow. In fact, the human brain seeks more stimuli—productive stimuli—than can be provided by just ‘thinking’. Even when a person is tired of the work of intellectualizing upon something, such that that work becomes a strain, his or her brain still seeks productive stimuli. Music is one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways of providing productive stimuli to the brain without requiring the brain to strain to obtain that stimuli. Music is, occasionally, among other occasional things, like a jungle gym for a happy child: a direct form of play for the brain.


Music is visceral response to sounds, regardless of language content. So, making music is the art of cooperating with sound to directly affect our biological selves. In fact, making music began by using sounds as avatars, to dance with other sounds, and thus reach across biological space to penetrate the core of another living being. As I shall explain later, music is the direct language of analogue. Music is SETI before there were such thoughts experiments as ‘extraterrestrials’: the fetus’s perception of the Great Wide Beyond.

So, the exquisite differences and relations between, respective advantages of, language and music cannot be discovered by trying to force music to fit the mold of language. These differences and advantages are discovered only by playfully asking language to try to fit the mold of music. “Meet me halfway...across the sky... I’m where the world belongs to only you and I.” Kenny Loggins - Meet Me Halfway

Music is harmony in disparity of voices. This kind of harmony is something which language, by definition, cannot achieve: language is that way with sounds which commands attention to one voice at a time, for the purpose of communicating specific, if complex, thoughts and wishes, and for guiding the mind to apprehend and maintain important ideational distinctions.

So, music is the opposite, and complementary, way with sounds from that of language. This allows the possibility of a harmony of disparate simultaneous voices: the sounds of different instruments are appreciated directly, and, thus, the hosts of their analogues come to play in our brain.

Imagine, then, an ‘orchestra’ of speakers, in which each person speaks a respectively different thought. The linguistic content of such an ‘orchestra’ cannot understood simply by letting it reach the ear, since the total ‘harmony’ is of mere sounds in which each voice is representing specific ideas far beyond the sounds themselves. A chorus of wolf howls isn’t linguistically complex, and so is not required to keep from ‘blinding’ the individual wolf to the ideational content of the individual chorus-ers. So,—to put it overly simply—human language is that human way with sounds requiring the audience to focus on the chronological details of one distinct voice, one voice at a time. If you want something on the spectrum of white noise, then an ‘orchestra’ of human speakers can do the job. It’s only when the rainforest jungle goes quite—as it rarely does—that you really sit up and listen.


In the lower, or non-human, animals, there is little or no wholesale distinction made between visceral vocal sounds and more ideationally discrete vocal sounds. Grunts and squawks do the job of both, as there is little of the kind of intelligence either to perceive or care about finer or more complex distinctions within, and between, the visceral and the intellectual. Animals feel that they get by fine without the thorough and sharp distinctions, and, I suppose, they have trouble keeping track anyway. So, to be trained somehow to make a thorough distinction would, for them, be the useless redundancy. They already have both sides of the coin, and their experience usually has been with the presupposition that neither side is all that good by itself. Of course, the animals do play with sounds; and, so, if viscerally pleasant playing with sounds is music, then they have music.
But, the non-human animals don’t have the kind of refined or extensive intelligence that allows the production of complex ordered, hierarchically sensitive musics. By definition, those complex musics reflect the extent to which the organism which produces it can reflect upon their own biological complexities in the complex world.

And, that reflection suggests the idea that, given that music is the viscerally pleasant response to vibration, the living organism is a musical instrument. The non-human animals already know that much. It’s humans who, for a pedantic love of pendantry, lose sight of that simple, but profound, fact, as well as others equally simple-and-profound:

In so far as music is defined as more-or-less viscerally pleasant response to sound, music is, in sum, the ‘love language’ of intelligence. Given that humans are the most self-reflective organisms, the most complex and acoustically self-identifying musics are human musics. (By ‘acoustic self-identification’ I mean such things as phrase repetition, tonal harmonies, etc.)

So, sounds have visceral power over biology and, hence, psychology (even a lone note can be 'felt' in the musical sense, that is, in the sound itself without respect to its source or 'original intent'). Based on this, music is the direct, kinesthetic-visceral language of analogue to anything and everything, even to every dynamic and detail in the cosmos.

Part of what distinguishes acoustic language from music is that language, in any medium, is mainly the intellectual gymnastics of being sure to have communicated often complex discrete facts, typically with a minimum of the alarmingly excited actions that would get your civilized audience so #@#! excited or afraid that they fail to quite get all of the important details you intend by your language. And, since only humans have both the ability and the interest even to expand, refine, and develop their personal and collective sets of facts, only humans have the wholesale habit of mediating vocal sounds with these complex intellectual gymnastics. This means language, to be efficient, tends be, among other things, a reduction both of possible vocal viscerality and of the number of possible vocal forms which comprise the language. Babies start out with what may be called a ‘universal’ accent, and, only after sufficient time being exposed to a mother tongue, learn to focus almost exclusively on the vocal forms of that mother tongue. But, the universality of music is left intact, such that only by an elitist restriction of musical exposure does a child learn to fail to appreciate sounds as such.

So, in contrast to music (the refined and unrefined visceral appreciation of sound), language in the acoustic medium (the use of sound for expressing and communicating more-or-less disinterested logical exploration/observation) tends to be non-viscerally refined, that is, mainly arbitrary in its forms. Moreover, since language, in any medium, is concerned with keeping track of thoughts about the vastly variable world and the creaturely mind, the set of forms used by a language must be constrained to an efficient minimum of varieties of basic functional form. This constraint on language, combined with raw vocal variability of acoustical language in terms of the unique conditions of geographic and chronological location, is what produces dialect or accent in vocal language, and, in many cases, allows for divergence into a distinct vocal language.

Music, on the other hand, is freedom in the use of sounds for the more-or-less direct visceral/kinesthetic effect of sounds on the hearer. And, the proper point of sounds is not negativity or unpleasantness, but positive and pleasant. After all, the negative, to be worth anything, must be in defense of the positive. Even a cathartic kind of sadness, such as what drives some to sing the inspirational Blues, is positive: Positive of the fact that the human organism is a musical instrument, and, properly, a fully domestic one.


Acoustic language is the human mode of sound dedicated to expressing and communicating more-or-less abstract ideas about the world and about the self. Therefore, language, acoustic and otherwise, is the mode of expression which is carefully mediated by the intellect. But, the distinction between music and (acoustic) language isn’t quite as simple as that between the raw visceral perception of sound and the intellectually mediated perception/production of sound. This is because the intelligently complex ordering of sounds for raw visceral effect is itself a kind of intellectual mediation of sounds.

But, if music is itself an intellectual mediation of sounds, then, what, exactly, is music in the normal human sense of complex intelligently ordered visceral sound? Consider the fact that bats use eco-location to orient themselves with respect to their environment. Most human music is, literally, the ‘eco-location’ of the most reflectively intelligent organism’s sense of self in the world, including of its self-reflective intellect. So, music is visceral ‘eco-location’ of the mind with respect to either or both actual physical or abstracted objects. Musical perception is, therefore, at least three things:

One, musical perception is the organism’s intelligently complex acoustic sense of space and external objects. In this sense, music is the architecture of sound: that most omnipresent of solids; the ethereal sense of everything external to the self.

Two, musical perception is the organism’s intelligently complex acoustic sense of its own body. This is perhaps especially in regard to kinesthesis: the organism’s sense of the mass and motion of its various parts in space and with respect to one another. Equine kinesthesis, for example, develops so quickly that a newborn horse acquires the ability to stand, walk, and run in a matter of a few days. Of course, compared to a human, horses have little intellectual or general practical potential. So, a newborn horse’s brain is occupied with such a narrow set of practical objectives that the rate of development toward those objectives is comparatively quick.

Three, musical perception is the organism’s abstract sense(s) of itself dancing with itself and with its abstract sense(s) of the world. This means that musical perception is the ‘expressway’ or ‘dedicated internet server’ between different cognitive locations: directly stimulating the cognitive networks by bypassing the consciously abstract filters which pertain to language perception/production. Music thus exercises the brain without the organism having to make special effort to causing the exercise to occur. Music is a little like the direct electrical contractive stimulation of the muscles for a person whose broken bones are still too much in the process of healing to bear a load commensurate to that by which the muscles (and bones) need to be maintained. Complex musical perception/production is thus the language of high general visceral and, or, abstract intelligence.

These three together mean that music is the viscerally direct language of analogue: analogue for anything and everything.

So, music is the especially human (but by no means exclusively human) mode of raw expression of, and, or, appreciation for, sound. This includes, but is not limited to, the intelligently complex ordering of sounds which most commonly are understood among humans by the term ‘music’ or its non-English equivalents. Music, especially in the sense of the complex intelligent ordering of sound, is cognitively holistic: the perception/production of sound for direct pleasure in the sounds necessarily is more-or-less unmediated by those intellectual filters which are invoked for the production or reception of acoustic language (i.e., the acoustic expression of, and assistant to, complex ideational discretion).

Of course, acoustic language is capable of being perceived ‘in the raw’ by humans, that is, without regard for intellectual/linguistic content. But, the structure of language is the product of the purposes of language as distinct from those of merely visceral reactions to sounds. So, by habit, it is difficult for many humans to attend to common instances of language without being taken up with concerns as to what the ideational content either may be or seems to be. Nevertheless, two prime examples of the raw visceral perception of acoustic language is in the ‘pre-linguistic’ infant’s visceral perception of his mother tongue, and in the adult speaker’s visceral perception of an acoustic language which is foreign to him (i.e., the specific ideational content of which he has not yet really begun to learn), perhaps especially as may be heard on ‘foreign language’ radio talk programming.
But, unlike music, language (acoustic and otherwise) is the device of attaining someone’s undivided attention to ideational discretion (as I hope you notice in reading this). So, the structure, and elements, of a language, especially acoustic language contra music, is a function of the concern for the interplay of maximum effect, and maximum production efficiency, of communicating the intended discretions.

On the side of production efficiency is mono-tonality and mono-rhythm-ality. An example of this production efficiency is the prosody of ‘Computer’ of the original Star Trek TV series. Of course, engineering such a voice requires much less trouble, because there are no variables of tone and rhythm to program into the computer.

But, in so far as a natural living organism is a complex and dynamic hierarchy of functions, the organism most effectively expresses, and, thus, is most effectively communicated with by, variable tones and rhythms. 

A Vulcan abstractionism is like a slug’s defensively shrinking into itself, because, as the non-redundant Maria Montessori showed us, the very ability to acquire and refine abstractions, including mistaken abstractions, is based on actual, variable, visceral experience.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Better (and worse) Autism, through Social Intelligence


Social intelligence is the most important kind of intelligence.

The most important part of social intelligence is empathy. Empathy underlies all social ability. Empathy is the primary way people connect with others. Connecting with others    even if only with fictional people, or with people seen merely on TV    is the primary way people’s inner lives are enriched.

People have feelings and thoughts, and they wish for others to relate to them. They want others to know how they think, what they feel, and where they live. Social intelligence is therefore the most directly attractive form of intelligence to those receiving the attentions of anyone blessed with its possession (which means anyone at all).

Since social intelligence is so attractive to others, it potentially connects its possessor to the entire collective resources of humanity (personal, material, and infrastructural resources). In fact, no other form of intelligence has as much connective potential.

So, people are compelled not only to wish to connect with individuals who have a high level of empathic responsiveness, people most admire such individuals. People see such individuals not only as promising an especially enriching inter-personal connection with themselves, but as promising an especially strong connection to (the) collective (resources of) humanity.

The value of social intelligence, and of its underlying empathy, is therefore incalculable, both to the interests of its possessor, and to the wider interests of the world.

But, all this means that social intelligence is the most advanced, most complex, form of intelligence. And, this, in turn, makes social intelligence the most demanding kind of intelligence on the brain. So, given its potential benefits to its possessor, social intelligence tends to win out over all other forms of intelligence in terms of what the brain actually does. In short, social intelligence is largely how the brain works: its underlyng empathy is a central biological imperative.

And, the cognitive structures and functions of empathy are where autism enters the world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Is Autism?, or, Who Was Marylin Monroe?

In a normal person, debilitating stage fright is effectively a part of the disability that drives autistic behavior. I'm referring not only to the behaviors of those with developmental autism, but to your own potential behaviors as a normal person.

Autism is a behavior, typically driven by a disability. But, the behavior can be produced merely as an 'act' without any disability. Likewise, the disability can exist without there being any autistic behavior (such as when you find you are able to strain against the stage fright and give your whole world what it wants from you).

So, the behavior, and the disability, of autism are distinct from each other, both essentially and causally. And, they are distinct from, and independent of, a given developmental status.

When you, a normally developed person, walk stiffly off stage after having utterly failed to perform to the palpably expectant crowd, you are behaving autistically, even though your debility is the result of a specialized social context. Developmental autism is, in large part, driven by some of that same sort of debility, but in regard to a normal social context.

Up on stage you had faced what could be thought of as a 'million pounds of social pressure'. You collapsed under it precisely because you were so in mind of it. And, you were so in mind of it because you felt it. You found yourself caught up in it, and it compounded itself like a cruel echo.

When you talk with people face-to-face, they are part of your environment, specifically the social half of your environment. You have a sense of them as conscious beings, and you sense that they sense that you, too, are a conscious being. And, they really do sense that you sense that they sense that you are a conscious being. So, they expect you to act like it. And, if their intentions are friendly, then they most naturally initially assume that their actions will effect you agreeably.

So, imagine, if you can, that no one in that huge, oppressively expectant crowd had any concept of stage fright. If you then failed to act within the range of their expectations, they would find your behavior horribly alien. It is, therefore, fortunate for you that real audiences, made up of normal people, do  have a concept of stage fright. Which is why, when you stiffly stand there as if facing a firing squad, you're not seen as a freak, nor as a malevolently non-responsive monster.

But, sometimes, when faced with an audience that does refuse to grant that you may have debilitating stage fright, a possible course of action is to respond as best you can, in whatever ways that you think they demand of you. But, if you succeed, then a possible outcome is that you become their captive, made to perform every trick for them just so they can continue in the delusion that you are their shining star. In that case, you would be better off if, instead of having this immediate social disability, you looked like the elephant man. At least then they wouldn't be so eager to breath down your neck.

But, as a normal person, think of the difference between that huge pressure of the crowd from on stage, and the pressure you would usually feel from speaking to just one person, in an informal setting in which he does not require a 'performance' from you. The pressure from that one lone person would be so slight that you might not even notice it. And, if you don't notice it, then it isn't there.

Because, when it is there in overwhelming force, its essence is easily seen to be in cruelly ironic contrast to its common name. For the burdensome kind of 'self-consciousness', the stronger it is, the more it obliterates your dynamic and complex sense-of-self in all the most important ways: you can’t think, you can’t remember your lines, and you may even not be able to read a simple note that's been passed to you from side-stage. Then, you're like a deer in the fog lights of a freight train that's all too happy to meet you. Then, Bam! you're flattened into a vertical pancake, and held there by the near-omnipotently accelerating engine car.

So, that's essentially the disability that most naturally drives autistic behavior: such a lack of a sufficiently dynamic sense-of-self, in face of pressures from a given environment, that the promising performer is, in effect, pushed right off the stage. Only, for developmental autism, the stage in question is the one which normal persons take for granted as inherently manageable: an innocent set of railroad tracks in a quiet middle-of-nowhere. The more merciful option is to avoid the tracks like the plague; because, if you meet that train head-on, then you're stuck on stage. Good Bye, Norma Jean.


Autism as Counting
Imagine the debilitating effect of having someone whisper random numbers in your ear while you try to count a large pile of pennies one-by-one. Struggling to keep track of your count is the essence of the disability of developmental autism. Locking yourself in a room alone in order to complete your count is the essence of genuinely driven autistic behavior. The person whispering random numbers in your ear is what so much of the normal world is to those who have developmental autism. The pile of pennies is your soul, and you must count them all over again every #@! time someone is so #@! pleased with themselves for having made you lose your count---or when, God forbid, they add to, or subtract from, that pile.


The Organics of Autism

The living organism is made up of things from its environment. But, the living organism is not its environment. The distinction here is singularly pivotal to all dysfunctional conditions, perhaps to none more importantly than to autism.

The environment is that from which the living organism obtains the things it needs in order to maintain, and build upon, its integrity as distinct from its environment. Part of an organism's integrity is its ability to opt out of specific kinds or instances of interaction with its environment when those interactions would produce a net loss to the integrity of the organism. If some part of the environment chronically does not allow it to withdraw from such interactions, then the organism becomes dysfunctional. Because, its ability to selectively opt out is what distinguishes it from its environment. This ability may be called General Dynamic Autonomy, the merely cognitive manifestation of which is known as 'Central Coherence': the ability to perceive the 'bigger picture' rather than being stuck on the level of the 'pressing details'. What underlies this ability is a general, dynamic, sense-of-self (in both cognitive and biological terms) that's at least as strong as the pressures of the environment. People with developmental autism are simply those whose general central coherence is weak.

Disease and dysfunction might be defined as conditions in which the organism fails to sufficiently opt out. These conditions then require the organism to opt out in abnormal ways in order to recover, or, failing that, to thrive on a sub-normal level of overall function.

Autism is a way of thriving on a sub-normal level, motivated by a shortage of the ability to selectively opt out. So, autism is not just a dysfunction, it is the most profound act of self-preservation.

For an individual of a social species, others of its kind are an especially dynamic part of its environment. Its social feeling is not by choice. Like having stage fright while being force-ably held on stage: you can't opt in, or opt out, at a given moment, for a given reason. To borrow a line from the fictional Johnny Rambo in 'First Blood', "You don't just turn it off." It's usually there whether you like it or not, sometimes especially when you don't.

Walking stiffly off-stage, and into a back room, without having carried out the expected performance, on account of debilitating stage fright, is the essence of autism. So is fleeing back to Earth in the Space Shuttle after having found all of outer space suddenly monopolized by a race of very friendly aliens who are so advanced that they have long since forgotten how frail can be the spacecraft of any race that has only recently ventured outside its own atmosphere.

Compared to lower life forms, the human organism is normally highly complex in the ways it interacts with others of its kind. And, only humans have a social intelligence high enough to produce in the would-be speaker a stiflingly self-conscious sense of the collective expectation of the crowd.

In some ways, being autistic is like being an opossum. Except, that you look like a human. Trapped in a world of normal humans, all of whom think that you think-and-perceive just like them. And, you're the last one to know that they think so.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Autism: Deeper

Like normal people, autistic people can suffer many different problems. In fact, the kinds of problems typically felt by autistic people are the same as those felt by normal people. The main difference is severity. In fact, just like normal people, autistic people are not all the same in the things they suffer and the things they enjoy. For example, not all normal people are easily depressed; so, too, for autistic people.

As an autistic person working with my social service coordinator, the question often comes up, either expressly or implied, that I may be depressed, or become depressed, for some particular reason. I always have to say that I don’t get depressed.

I do sometimes get a soothing ‘blues’ feeling that makes me want to hum sweet Southern melodies, but this is an inspiring feeling, like the sight of sparkling water reflecting the sun. I suppose that my facial expression during those times might make my social worker depressed and thus make her think that that is what I’m feeling, too. But it’s just not so. The one thing that for me is unpleasant which I would call depression is when I hear certain pieces of music.

Years ago I was shocked to learn that some people actually get depressed by the sight of even a tiny cloud on the horizon. I had no idea that clouds of any sort or number could be depressive, because they are anything but unpleasant to me. I’m quite simply invigorated by any kind of weather at all. To me, clouds are to clear weather like meat is to potatoes; or like one inspiringly beautiful work of art is to another, very different, inspiringly beautiful work of art.

So, the term 'autism', like the term ‘normal’, is unfortunate: it suggests a single simple personal profile. What I mean is, if you take for granted that you are normal, and if you get depressed easily by just about anything 'negative', and if you’ve never had the thought that anyone could NOT be depressed by so many such things, then, to you, the very idea of ‘normal’ simply and inherently includes often being depressed. And, a look of sadness on someone's face may make you assume (in some cases mistakenly) that that person feels some particularly unpleasant feeling, specifically that which you typically feel and by which you know as 'depressed'.

But, more unfortunate than the term ‘normal’, the term ‘autism’ suggests that, as a rule, autistic persons have an excess of a sense-of-self. After all, autistic persons tend to act somewhat as if other persons don't exist, that they wish to keep mainly to themselves (like me), or that they noticably try-but-fail to connected with others. But, the reason the term ‘autism’ is unfortunate, for its suggestion that autistic persons have an excess of a sense-of-self, is because an adequately strong sense-of-self is exactly what so many autistic persons do not have. In fact, that’s what makes them autistic. It’s a matter of being unable to maintain effective personal boundaries, both in face of many normal social pressures and under various merely physical and chemical pressures. In short, for autistic people, the typical world outside their heads is, in some critical ways, simply too much to take.

So, autistic persons are those who, whether deliberately or automatically, shut out a normal, but, what is for them, an overwhelming, world. They shut out either or both the normal social and normal sensory worlds, either or both consciously and autonomically. In some instances, they may find that they must make special effort to maintain a basic functional integrity, that is, to be their own persons, in contrast to other persons or to non-personal physical forces. When they at all succeed in that effort, that’s when they are autistic: self-preserved in some way by being abnormally low in their interaction with the normal or typical world.

It’s when they fail in that effort that they are crushed, in pain or fear, forced into contorted, truly malfunctional ways. The 'mal' in 'malfunctional' is from the Latin word for evil, unpleasantness, destructiveness. But, what is normal for a normally healthy person can be a malfunction for someone who is too weak, or too injured, to simply behave as a normal person would. So, what may look like an improvement in a person's condition, by the way they act, may, in some cases, actually be an injurous contortion for them. For the simplest possible example, while it’s normal for an adult human to be Ok with a ten-pound cat on his chest, even a perfectly normal baby would not find the weight of the cat OK at all.

I can't wear some of what is considered normally-fit clothing, because the close fit while in articulated motion overwhelms my otherwise automatic sense of effecient motion, the result being extreme discomfort, strain from poor motion, and great mental/emotional distress comparible somewhat to clostrophobia, drowning, or getting helplessly beat up. Other people 'like me' (like me in terms merely of autism) can nevertheless have an opposite reaction to tightly fit clothing, the pressure it causes being relaxing to them. And, not all of them find it so without regard for variability in the amounts of pressure across their body. And, there are still more variables, and each possible variable can have an effect.

The Basis of Autism: Common Biology

The living biological organism is a set of elements which cohere over time, and in space, within a larger environment with which it interacts so as both to maintain its core coherence and to expand its interactive coherence. Together, these two kinds of coherence may better be referred to as biological autonomy.
   Biological autonomy may be defined as the set of core processes and outcomes that preserve both an organism's functional (autonomous) and interactional (dynamic) integrity while permitting normal engagement with its environment.

The integrity of the living biological organism depends on its ability to selectively opt out of, and also opt in to, all the possible interactions with its normal environment. It must opt out of interactions that would produce a net loss to its integrity; and it must opt in to interactions that maintain, if not develop, its integrity, but which the environment itself does not constantly impose.

The ability of a living organism to selectively opt out of its environment is what distinguishes it from either a dead organism or a non-organism. And, its ability to consistently select for its own integrity is what keeps it healthy.So, in order to live and thrive, the living organism must ‘dance’ with its environment in a certain coordinated, constant give-and-take way. The ability of the human organism just to walk properly is a matter of its sensing how to ‘dance’ with gravity: the brain’s ability to process all the stimuli of the body’s upright motion and mass, and in an efficient and proficient way, and in real time. The brain's task of processing merely the mechanical input that allows a toddler to proficiently negotiate a bipedal path from the back yard to the kitchen, around multiple party guests milling about, over toys and wrapping paper strewn everywhere, and through random strong gusts of wind, is so dynamic that the entire world of robotics engineers have spent decades figuring out how just to make a rather poor robotic copy. 

Autism: Profoundly Feeble

If your brain often lacked the force-of-processing sufficient to match the force of the stimuli caused by various normal stressors (gravity, atmospheric pressure, air movement in your ear canals, clothing, etc.), then you would have an unpleasant sense of being controlled or oppressed contrary to your basic wishes and needs to breath and to move about. If you had found these kinds of normal stressors oppressive as an infant, then you would have all but stopped moving.     And then there are the normal social stressors.

The normal physical and social environments each constitute a set of dynamic forces that impinge upon the brain's ongoing self-monitoring processes. This implies that in order for a person to learn and mature, the brain's act of self-identification must have a dynamic forcefulness sufficient to counterbalance these external forces.

Try counting a large pile of pennies one-by-one while someone whispers random numbers in your ear. If you struggle to keep your count, then you have some idea what the general external world can feel like to many persons diagnosed as ‘autistic’: they lose count of their very selves, mentally, physically, emotionally. They lose track even of their personal/social identity as distinct from the expressed emotions    and emotion-bearing opinions    of others.

In many, if not most, cases of autism, what drives the self-isolating behaviors is not a lack of social feeling, but precisely because the autistic person is so easily and overwhelmingly effected emotionally by other people. [see Adam Smith, 2009; The Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis; The Psychological Record]. As an autistic person, I experience my social identity as essentially a state of socio-emotional exhaustion, in which I am so drained from my past social interactions that I have no capacity for the kind of social feeling that drives a person to seek company with others.

So, there is triple irony here. First, there is the irony of the very term ‘autism’: it suggests to socially normal persons that the autistic person’s principle dysfunction is an excess of personal autonomy. After all, the ability of autistic persons to engage in lone activity is evident to any passerby.

Second, there is the irony that the supposed personal autonomy of autistic persons is a function necessarily of a core deficit of ‘fellow feeling’. After all, the normal person takes for granted that ‘fellow feeling’ is what drives persons to seek each other for companionship, and that, since autistic persons seem usually to lack either empathy or social behavior, the autistic person therefore must at all times lack empathy in both kind and degree.

Third, there is the irony that autism, in every case, is treatable primarily by behavioral means. After all, it is common among normal persons to experience a gain of emotional, and general cognitive, functions by being commanded (by self or other) to perform as if they already felt, or otherwise understood, the normative behavior being commanded. For example, if you are sad, then ‘Smile, and you’ll begin to feel happy.’ But, the proverbially exhausting, if not irritating, ‘perma-smile’ is not the special province of normal persons, but is entirely relative to the emotional capacities of a given person, normal or not.

Autism: Too Much of a Very Good Thing; Candle In The Wind 

According to many accounts, many persons with autism have an abnormally high, if infrequently expressed, sensitivity to the expressed feelings of others (Smith, 2009). In some cases, this sensitivity seems particularly focused on deliberate attempts by others to hide, or mask, their own negative feelings. In any case, the point is that many autistic persons are known to have an unusually strong sense of 'fellow feeling'; of emotional empathy; of deep, if uncomplicated, senses of companionship.

Emotional sensitivity to others is the most important element of social intelligence. This is because others have feelings: they have a sense of things, especially of themselves. They are happy, or sad; angry, or content. They see, hear, and touch. They feel the wind and the sun. They have hopes, wishes, and ideas. They think and know things.

But, rocks and clouds, and snow boots, do not have a sense of anything   any sense of anything    so these mere objects do value companionship, nor those who act companionly. They don't care whether you are a human, a horse, or a haybale; nor whether you are smart or dense. They are, quite simply, indifferent to any things or conditions whatever. They are non-persons.

Empathy underlies all social ability. And, social ability is the most advanced form of intelligence. But, social ability is not particularly 'intellectual'. Rather, it’s a kind of strength. For at least most people, a sense of others is what holds a person together, and what motivates the person. Even if there is little, or even no apparent, interaction. Just being with others, or even imagining being with others, so that, even in the back of their mkinds, they sense that others sense things. Even if only in watching people on TV.

So, it is natural, even compulsory, that people admire those who, by a high level of empathic responsiveness, seem to possess social intelligence in abundance. As a consequence, a high general social intelligence potentially connects the possessor to the entire collective resources of humanity. The value of social intelligence, therefore, is incalculable, both to the self-interest of the possessor, and to the wider interest of the world.

But, when a person has a strong sense of others without having a commensurate sense-of-self, then that person's social intelligence becomes a burden to the person. If you had a particularly strong sense of others, but almost no sense of yourself, then either you would  be so captive to others' whims and needs that your health and sanity would suffer, or you would be so stricken with 'stage fright' that you would try to shrivel up inside yourself and hide.

Since a high general social intelligence potentially connects the possessor to the collective resources of humanity, the emotional part of high general social intelligence normally indicates great over-all competence in the world. Normally. In other words, a person who is known easily to relate to a wide variety of people, each of whom finds her most agreeable to their own person, is naturally assumed to have a ready ability to make her own way in the world. In fact, most people assume that such a person knows herself apart from others, and that she knows that others do not find obvious about her what she alone knows about herself short of having told them. And, they assume that she knows that each of them are as independent of each other as they assume that she knows that she is independent of them.

So, a person, by her behaviors of dynamic social empathy, normally is assumed to have a high general intelligence, period. This means she is assumed to be highly competent to obtain from others whatever she might ever wish or need for herself. But, contrary to all this admiration and envy which she receives, her social intelligence may be profoundly disabling. Despite its incalculable value, social intelligence not only can have drawbacks, but its drawbacks can likewise be incalculable. Goodbye, Norma Jean.

There are four basic concerns in social intelligence. And, the mutual interaction of these four concerns makes a given level and kind of social intelligence impossible for a lower level and kind of social intelligence to produce. An instinct is a function of the internal forms which it involves, and of the connections between the forms. And, the initial and end point of the feeling of an instinct is not an abstraction, but is a result of the forms. If you have neither a hand nor a pre-conditioning of the brain to a hand, then you’ll have no instinct of having a hand, nor to throwing a basketball into a hoop. The problem of over-analyzing, or over-calculating, is caused by an under-connectivity of the forms that are already tired of arbitrary repetition.

The first conern of social intelligence is that social activity requires more brain power than virtually any other activity. While a merely physical activity, such as walking, can more quickly exhaust the purely raw physicality of the organism, a worthwhile quality of social activity demands a far greater information-processing effort, including emotional information, commonly both during and after the social interaction. In other words, social activity is usually the most profound of all activities, in both numeric complexity and qualitative load. People 'chill out' after a day's work at the office not just because of the work's muscular demands, but because the value of the work depends on the qualities and quantities of interaction with other persons. The brain, as the most complex organ, and as the central organ for all social activity, requires by far the most complex means of recuperation in order to be ready for a future instance of social interaction conducted to a similarly high level of social productivity.

The second concern of social intelligence is that, in a social species, social feeling is not by choice. You can't opt in, or opt out, at a given moment, for a given reason. To borrow a line from 'the most resourceful man alive', the mythical 'Johnny Rambo' as played by Sylvester Stallone: "You don't just turn it off." It's usually there whether you like it or not    sometimes especially when you don't. Your best hope in a bad situation is that you burn out from it before anyone can do you any other kind of harm.

The third concern is that, as just suggested, the social world is imperfect: it is comprised not merely of social beings, but of social disharmonies of every kind, degree, and complexity. No two persons or groups are exactly complimentary in their respective sets of abilities, disabilities, needs, preferences, interests, repulsions, etc.    nor at a given moment. No two persons are alike in what they assume is socially normal, civil, etc.. In short, no one takes all the same things for granted.

The fourth, and final concern regarding social intelligence is the fact that the world includes greed: the chronically mis-qualified self-interest of others. There are all kinds of greed: greed for material things, greed for general economic power, greed for general or special kinds of social status, etc..

So, these four concerns, taken together, make social intelligence a profound problem. In fact, they make it a host of problems.


(Dis)Ability is Relative

Autism is considered a disability. But, if by 'autism' we mean the non-social tendencies to which the name is given, then autism is not a disability, but a behavior. The question is what is/are the disabilit(y)(ies) that drive(s) the behaviors? Before we can answer that, we must first ask a far more general question: what is a disability, per se? But, to properly answer this general question, we may first have to answer the opposite question: What is normal?

If you sprain your ankle, it's normal to feel pain. But, pain is normal only within the context of injury. Life sometimes includes getting injured; but, occasional injury is not normal, it's a consequence of life in an imperfect world. Certainly, if you never got injured     managed always to avoid getting hit painfully in the arm by a baseball, or avoid tripping and skinning your knee    then people might think you were oddly lucky. But, the commonality of injury in an imperfect world does not make any one of your injuries normal. While it is not always possible or practical to avoid injury, having an even lightly injured knee is not normal to your knee’s proper functioning.

The basic reality is that you and the world are not in perfect harmony. This is what 'life in an imperfect world' actually means. Such a reality necessarily results in injuries. Injury is not normal to the proper functioning of an organism, but, once injured, the nature of an organism as such implies that it has a basic ability to learn to avoid the same injury in the future.

But oddly, once injured, the injury becomes, in some functional sense, part of the organism until a return to normal function is attained. During the injured state, the organism is in disharmony not only with the world, but with itself. This is why people have some tendency to assume that it is 'the other guy' who is in the wrong when injury occurs (their injury or yours, or both). But, if you could not heal from an injury, then that definitely would not be normal. An inability to heal would itself be an injury    a chronic disability. Even more disabling would be an inability to avoid injury in the first place.

   So, whether by the inability to heal, or the inability to avoid injury, you would be living a life of injury. That's not only abnormal, that's profoundly disabled. But, the question is, how could either disability arise? The answer is both simple and complex: you're alive not merely on the level of arms and knees, but on the level of your micro-biology. In fact, on the micro-biological level the distinction between the inability to heal and the inability to avoid injury is often quite blurred, if not absent.
   Normal, healthy function is thus not merely lack of injury, but of an ongoing ability to prevent injury in the first place on the most basic level of function. But, since we live in an imperfect world, we each possess this ability only imperfectly. In short, we each, and all, are disabled.

So, the question is not whether you are disabled, but whether your set of disabilities is disabling enough to prevent you from living a fairly normal, stable, healthy, balanced life in the typical human environment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


According to all available statistics, autism strikes roughly six times more boys than girls. At the risk of sounding contradictory, autism is not a disability that strikes more boys than girls. That's because autism is not a disability    at least, not in the strictest sense.
First, autism is a behavioral diagnosis; it is not a description of the disability that drives those behaviors.
   Imagine if blindness were defined as it's behaviors: it would be called something like 'Buumping-and-Groping-about Syndrome', or 'BUGS' for short. In fact, if no one had eyelids, then most sighted persons would never realize on their own as to what really drives the behaviors of this 'BUGS'.

   "But,", you may say, "autism most certainly is a disability, because those who have it are disabled. If autism isn't a disability, then what is it?" I'm glad you asked.

   To borrow a line from the cartoon ogre, Shreck, autism...
        "is like an onion: it has layers..."

   Try this: count a large pile of pennies one-by-one while two persons each whisper a different set of random numbers in your ears, each person to an ear. Did you struggle to keep track of your count? Did you lose count and have to start over? Were you unable to count all the pennies no matter how hard you tried? If you had enough trouble doing this, then imagine these two persons whispering their respective random numbers in your ears with the most emotionally persuasive voices they can manage. If you had any trouble at all with this, then imagine the whole world outside your head is like these whispers. In fact, it is. You just don't notice.

   Atmospheric pressure is a simple example of that 'whispering world'. You aren't aware of atmospheric pressure, but if you're properly educated you know it's there. The reason you aren't aware of it is because the pressure inside your body equals that outside you. In other words, your internal pressure is normalized to the external pressure. The reason you don't feel it is because your brain is normalized to it as well. Nevertheless, that pressure is a force which impinges upon your body's efforts to remain alive-and-functioning.

   An easy way for an air-pressure-normalized person to sense the pressure of the external air is to analyze his or her senses of breathing. For example, if you inhale deeply while simply sitting there reading this, you may actually feel the effort to breath. It is an effort of which you are not normally aware, because, just like to the atmospheric pressure, your brain is normalized to it.

   But, if you continue to analyze this breathing thing, you may find that it is not necessarily as simple as it seems. Just the location of the sense of the effort is complicated. Not only do your lung muscles make an effort, so do those of your rib cage, abdomen, and deep internal parts. In other words, breathing is a highly complex, coordinated effort. Of course, you might make your lungs take in and expel a little air by contracting and relaxing merely your belly muscles. But, that's far too much work for so little air! And, seemingly contrary to that exclaimed statement, you can breath without expanding your belly, but only by making an effort of contracting your belly muscles. As I said, it's complicated.

   Many people have the impression that their effort to breath is mainly in their throats. They have this impression for two reasons: One, their throats feel much more than their lungs, feeling not only the pressure when they hold their breath by closing their throats, but the movement, and the evaporative 'temperature', of the air as they breath; Two, they normally breath without making any special effort to do so, so that the only part of themselves which they have any sense is involved is their throats.

   This normalized sense that breathing is mainly in the throat is similar to how an experienced driver normally is aware only of what he sees as he drives, his other parts involved in the driving seeming to him not to exist. Fortunately for him, he is a competent human, not just a competent driver, because he never finds himself in a ditch for the occasional impulse to dance to the music on the radio. He has the ability somehow to keep track of his whole body despite that he is virtually unaware of it being there for the simple reason that he can't feel the bee which has just now begun trekking up his bare left calf. In fact, he can do all this while contriving an excuse to his boss for why he is late for work. When he finally sees the bee, and it just then stings him in the thigh seemingly out of spite, he still doesn't lose track of the fact that the traffic light has just turned green. Because, if he can make it at least to a certain morning meeting with the boss's boss, he might easily be awarded a huge raise for his outstanding research on the reputed nearsightedness of bees.

   That amazing driving is brought to you by the brain's ability to be selectively overwhelmed. But, the difficulty many people have in the task of counting that pile of pennies is brought to you by that same ability. The catch is that the brain is not a random collection of interests. There is nothing particularly random about living either in the world inside, or outside, your head. Things matter, and different things matter to different degrees, each thing even shifting in its importance depending on what really is going on. As a socially normal person, making an exact count of a pile of pennies normally isn't nearly as important to you as is a human voice, even if that voice is speaking meaninglessly random numbers in your ear.

[more later]