issue #13

Neurotypicality and Ethics

Neurotypicality and Ethics

Empathy and morality

It was with great interest that I read an article in the New York Review of Books, Psychologists Take Power (February 24, 2016), which discussed morality and empathy in psychological terms. As a high-functioning visual autistic I have an atypical take on these intersecting topics. For me morality is a transactional social construct – relative, fluid and changeable, dependent on the match (mismatch) of human capacity and available resources, and also on circumstances like proximity and number. Morality simply encodes the balance a society idealizes between freedoms from and freedoms to. Not a spiritual reckoning, but a contract made after assessment of personal and aggregate capacity in facing survival challenges. The author and I are in agreement that moral principles – minimal or otherwise – should not be presumed by scientists. But I think he discounts psychological science too much. Morality is a frame appropriate for study by psychologists, and also by neuroscientists, given the innate differences I represent.

In my opinion moral codes exist on a spectrum between strictly and rigidly communal options for associations with the most challenged members, and libertarian characteristics for those having the greatest capacity. These two end-member contracts are equally benign, for the interdependence of those with commensurate capacity puts no one at a disadvantage. Conflicts arise, however, when capacities differ and there is no mutually advantageous balance, no easy win-win. What benefits low capacity costs high, and vice versa. Moral discussions are simply political discussions then, and concepts like empathy and compassion political weapons, as are the ideas of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.

Empathy and compassion are tools useful for navigating societies composed of individuals very dependent on each other and consequently very tightly bound – they mediate the proximity required for survival and facilitate cooperation. But if you need others hardly at all, and can abstract mutually beneficial functionality to commercial and governmental exchanges, empathy is vestigial. Here etiquette codes suffice to maintain balanced give and take.

In environments of unequal capacity challenged individuals (and their advocates) must sweeten the pot for high capacity individuals in order to induce their participation in a disadvantageous contract. One strategy is to reframe unequal exchange in terms of enlightened self-interest. This scaling up of benefit assignment is often reasonable, and can result in mature political associations as in the democratic welfare states of Scandanavia.

Two other strategies are the normalization of low-capacity values, and the proffer of compensation. General evidence for the first is the community meme enmeshed in public life, and the academic flattery paid to the lifestyles of the poor and unknown (extending even to particulars like diet). The second strategy includes bestowed intangibles like grace, afterlives or other eternal rewards, and more real currencies – status and acceptance, for example – that are awarded for self-sacrifice and authenticated by a bedazzling variety of badges.

For me, meritocratic, irreligious, and rational by temperament and neurobiology, mostly indifferent to association, and empathetic mainly with children and animals, these charms have no appeal or merit. Any behavior that requires persuasion, needs trumpeting or a stamp of approval is suspect to a critical thinker. ‘Spiritual’ enticements are nothing more than the siren calls of advertisers, who wish me to act against my interest. Caveat emptor!

Of course, my take on these issues is nothing if not rational, and so in no small way presumes my values. But I am not arguing here for the greater validity of my preferred code, rather that the differences between me and neurotypicals are real, and extend to the moral sphere. They beg questions. Why do people value dependency rather than capacity? Why are some people persuaded and others not? Why are some religious and others not? What makes people prefer hierarchy or nepotism to meritocracy? Why do people switch/change moral codes? Why do people act against their own interests? Who needs outside validation, and why? Investigations into these differences are worthy, for everyone’s sake. Not because they can ascertain appropriate moral structure, but because they can provide a foundation for those discussions.
With more knowledge, better politics.


 

Hypotheosis II

Hypotheosis II

One distinct and prominent feature of human language (and so human thought) is that of recursion – which is simply understood as a nesting of ideas, one within another. Recursion is expressed in language by subordinate clauses, which can be constructed ad infinitum, by definition.

Here is one such construction that builds sentences within sentences:
•  Mary helped George.
•  Cathy knew that Mary helped George.
•  John believed that Cathy knew that Mary helped George.

Recursive thought is part and parcel of many other human faculties and activities, like mathematics, computer programming, and social structures. The questions in this new edition of Hypotheosis all concern recursion, directly or indirectly.

Does recursion track with language age? Do languages ever reset to less recursive forms? Do languages alternate or fluctuate between more baroque and minimalist forms, as art and music styles/genres do historically? For example, new words are often born of acronymic contractions – goodbye, the (once heretical) benediction came from the devolution of the phrase “god be with you”; nowadays the adoption of text slang acronyms as outright words is common, usual. Does this simplifying tendency (or any other) correlate with changes in the frequency or complexity of language recursion? Does language recursion correlate with other cultural expression, like search engine design and preference, or categorization modes? (Bing/Google, drilldown/triangulation, linear/spatial, western/Chinese categories)

ii How are the capacity for recursive and spatial thinking skills related? Is recursive thought a left-brain or right-brain activity? Do highly developed recursive abilities allow/enable/engineer spatialized abstraction i.e. networked multidimensional configurational maps (like memory palaces)?
Or the inverse?

iii Is math thinking at its most developed recursive, abstract, and/or spatialized? Baroque (fugue-ish) or Modern (conceptual/parti)? Route/landmark or map or configurational? Cobbled together/hacked/Rube Goldberg or systematic? Inductive or deductive?

iv Do nicotine and substitute drugs like Chantix improve executive function? (Executive function to mean recursion linked/permitting/affording higher order cognitive faculties like managerial and planning abilities, as well as abstraction and others.)
If so would autistics’ executive function (and/or that of people with ADHD) improve on Chantix or niotine?
Would Piranyu people develop these capacities on Chantix or nicotine?1
Would animals?
Would creativity increase in anyone?
Is Buddhist practice a way to recover non-recursive thought structure/patterns/modes, i.e to exist outside of time or abstraction or modeling, like animals do?


 

Issue #13 – Atypical

Issue #13 – Atypical

ISSUE #13:  Atypical

This week – All about me – some candid revelations and reflections.


CONTENTS:

Selfie
Curiouser and Curiouser
Color Studies I
Emily and Me
Color Studies II
Neurotypicality and Ethics
Hypotheosis II


NEWS AND NOTES:

Recommended: There have been many new scientific studies correlating gut bacteria with an impaired immune system and consequent diseases. Here is a recent article about a similar relationship between gut health and schizophrenia, with implications for other mental illnesses and differences. Gastroenterology issues in schizophrenia: why the gut matters.

Cover image: The Autism Puzzle (google images)
Post Images: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, 2003, Published by Jonathan Cape, London.


 

Selfie

Selfie

I have had moments of self-recognition prompted by the sharing of someone else’s experience, just like Katherine May, the author of The Electricity of Every Living Thing. While hers came as she listened to an interview on the radio, mine came when reading an autobiography – Someone Somewhere, I think (by Donna Williams). But the recognition was the same, in that that we both identified with another who described their life and personhood as an autistic.

Continue → Read More

Curiouser and Curiouser

Curiouser and Curiouser

I am like Christopher (the main character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) in these ways:

I like puzzles. I am always looking for things to do that have (or can have) a puzzle to solve. Designing a garden or a building or furnishing rooms is puzzle-solving. So is writing a story. And figuring out a TV reality show winner before the finale.
I like murder mysteries,

Continue → Read More

Emily and Me

Emily and Me

For Mondays this October (those past and a few more to come) I am traveling to Washington, Connecticut with Bruce to attend a lecture series about Emily Dickinson. Washington is in Litchfield County, a rural and beautiful part of the state of Connecticut. We leave our city full of commotion, noise and rush, and slowly, gradually become of a piece with another place and time: northward and sensate, set apart and reposed. The drive is our portal.

Continue → Read More

Neurotypicality and Ethics

Neurotypicality and Ethics

Empathy and morality

It was with great interest that I read an article in the New York Review of Books, Psychologists Take Power (February 24, 2016), which discussed morality and empathy in psychological terms. As a high-functioning visual autistic I have an atypical take on these intersecting topics. For me morality is a transactional social construct – relative, fluid and changeable, dependent on the match (mismatch) of human capacity and available resources,

Continue → Read More

Hypotheosis II

Hypotheosis II

One distinct and prominent feature of human language (and so human thought) is that of recursion – which is simply understood as a nesting of ideas, one within another. Recursion is expressed in language by subordinate clauses, which can be constructed ad infinitum, by definition.

Here is one such construction that builds sentences within sentences:
•  Mary helped George.
•  Cathy knew that Mary helped George.

Continue → Read More

error: Content is protected !!