Joshua Soffer, Chicago,Il.
(comments and criticism welcome!)
This website introduces a new approach to psychology; a re-conceptualization of such psychological relationships as that between affect and cognition, perception and language, subjective awareness and empirical objectivity. Many who work at the leading edges of psychological research today may want to point out that such a re-envisioning of the sciences of mind and behavior is already in progress(click on each name below to read samples of their work). They would likely speak of the excitement that has been generated in recent years by innovative contributions to psychological thinking, such as what has been referred to as the 'second cognitive revolution' (Mark Johnson,
, Jerome Bruner),philosophy of mind(Galen Strawson, Thomas Metzinger, Jose Bermudez, Owen Flanagan and Andy Clark), evolutionary psychology(Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker), philosophy of psychology(Matthew Ratcliffe), dynamical self-organizing systems approaches (Tim Van Gelder, Humberto Maturana,
) and cultural psychology
(Michael Cole, Ed Hutchens, James Wertsch).
However, while I believe that these powerful ideas have indeed introduced significant conceptual advances to psychological theory and method in comparison with traditional approaches, I intend to show how it is possible to move further from these orientations. We can affirm the insights of the writers mentioned above while working our way beneath their presuppositions with the aim of uncovering a more mobile and less polarizing understanding of psychological experience.
Do Things Exist At the Same Time?Beyond Interactionism(Joshua Soffer,2006)
In order to make our way toward this radicalizing thinking, let us briefly examine key assumptions held in common by these representative contributors to contemporary
cognitive science .
The leading edge of psychological theorizing today, in dialogue with the results of researches in phenomenological philosophy(Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger), points to an important re-envisioning of the sciences of mind and behavior and the meaning of concepts such as objectivity, consciousness and the body. Any summary of shared tenets among current writers in an interdisciplinary arena encompassing psychology, neuroscience and phenomenology will naturally gloss over many points of methodological and theoretical disagreement within this diverse group. However, it is not the aim of this paper to strike a position within the dynamic boundaries of current debates in this field. Instead, I wish to target, in order to critique, certain fundamental philosophical commitments held in common by this group. These commitments include: 1)the notion of space as a frame of simultaneously co-existing entities 2)the concept of perception as adaptive interaction 3) Affect and cognition as partially independent.
I will begin this discussion with the first commitment mentioned above and proceed to show how the other two tenets unfold from the first.
Among the principle intellectual underpinnings serving to inform thinking in these disciplines, there is an important concept I would like to examine in this paper which seems to have been retained, albeit in modified form, from earlier philosophical traditions. It is the idea of the simultaneous spatial frame, within which a plurality of different things or relations exist at the same time. What do I mean by things existing at the same time? If spatial simultaneity is thought via a Cartesian rubric of geometric space as a formal topography of independently definable objects, or via a Kantian origination of space in Subjectivity, then certainly such perspectives cannot be attributed to those approaches today which recognize the indissociable relationality between objects, as they supposedly are in themselves, and the changing role that they play for the embodied subject who apprehends them. As Merleau-Ponty(1964) contends, "...spatial forms or distances are not so much relations between different points in objective space as they are relations between these points and a central perspective-our body"(1964,p.5). For these approaches, perceived reality already has a semiological or metaphoric character before the advent of specific human capacities for language use(1). The recognized incoherence of the idea of a subject-independent object or object-independent subject redetermines Cartesian space as contextualized regions of relations devoid of reference to a final originating signifier. Space is always situated by virtue of our interactions with the world. Heidegger(1962) affirms, pace Kant and Descartes:
Space is not in the subject, nor is the world in space. Space is rather "in" the world in so far as space has been disclosed by that Being-in-the-world which is constitutive for Dasein(1962,p.112).
Notice, however, that fields of mutually dependent relations still imply spaces of simultaneous presences. These presences are not independent entities in the Cartesian sense, but they are at least partially independent by virtue of their being able to co-exist at the same time. They are quasi-Cartesian entities. Lets take Varela's(1999b) neurophenomenological model as an example. Varela explains "...in brain and behavior there is never a stopping or dwelling cognitive state, but only permanent change punctuated by transient aggregates underlying a momentary act"(1999b,p.291). The intentional content of perceptual object-events are produced by trajectories which "the system never dwells on, but approaches, touches, and slips away in perpetual, self-propelled motion"(1999b,p.291). Varela makes it clear that even during formal states of thought, the underlying neural dynamics are still changing, but in a way that produces the illusion of absolute stability. That we are capable of deductive reasoning implies not that neural processes function according to rules of formal logic but that its messy distributed nonlinear functions can approximate states of relatively predictable stability for periods of time. Nevertheless, meaning is considered a function of semi-independent agents, with their own temporary properties, quasi-haphazardly coming into co-ordinated interrelation. That these ensembles are considered to function in parallel implies that the meaning of each individual ensemble is partially independent of the others. They may all interact constantly, but the very existence of each is not recognized as being intrinsically and immediately dependent on the others. Even if the meaning of elements in a network is said to be entirely relational and non-intrinsic, to assume the existence of relational gestalts occurring in parallel, that is, at the same time, is to presume, in some way, to think them at the same time. Even if we restrict our examination to the structure of a single gestalt and its internal architectonics, we will find that each part is only partly determined by the other members of the gestalt.
Let me explain. Patterns, frames, schemes, fields and gestalts uphold a certain logic of internal relation; the elements of a configuration mutually signify each other and the structure presents itself as a fleeting identity, a gathered field or relational procedure determined by its differential and contextual relation to other such fields, procedures or patterns. The particularity of the meaning of elements within a gestalt is not allowed to split the presumed (temporary) identity of the internal configuration; its framing is altered as a whole moment to moment(since a change in any part by definition changes the sense of the whole). The radical inseparability of each element from what is other than it is thus expressed as the endless reframing of a frame, the infinite shifting of paradigmatic shape. Take Mark C. Taylor's(1984,2001) example of a dynamic self-organizing system:
..it is never possible to define completely the relationship of a sign to all other signs that coexist within a particular framework at a specific time... The synchronic network of signification is simply too extensive and too intricate to be fully mastered.(1984,p.174)" "These relations entail both the reciprocity between and among parts and between parts and the whole. While parts are constituted through their mutual relations as well as their relation to the whole, the whole emerges from the interplay of the parts. This mutual implication of parts with parts and parts with whole generates the condition of complexity(2001,p.140).
Notice that even as each part is redefined by changes in any other part, at any given moment the field is understood as a unity of meaning. At any given moment it is this field of relations. To say that there is a gestalt or pattern, to say that each part is related to a whole, even a constantly shifting whole, is to imagine the ability to glimpse in a freeze-framed instant one and then another and then another member of the whole without destroying the idea that it is the same whole to which each part is linked in that same instant of time. If, on the other hand , we were to allow that the sense of what the whole is changes within the supposed freeze-frame instant of glimpsing the plurality of its members, then we would have to conclude that there in fact is no such thing as an instantaneous spatial gestalt, and that a spatial plurality is in fact no simultaneous whole, (even for an instant) but instead a mobile sequentiality of parts acting as their own wholes. It would be no good to suggest that while we couldn't think a plurality of parts as belonging to the same whole in a single instant, this is only due to a limitation in consciousness, and such a structuration nevertheless exists. But what reason would we have for claiming that a plurality cannot exist at once? Must not an event have a minimally configurational way or mode of being-in-relation in order to make any sense at all?
The idea of space as a unity of pluralities, the existence (whether conceived as residing in thought, in some objective 'outside', or their interaction) of many things at one time, depends on certain assumptions concerning the nature of memory. As we saw, in imagining an instantaneous snapshot of a schematic multiplicity, it is necessary to presuppose that what each part of the whole is supposed to belong to remains identical regardless of which part is being glimpsed. Ordinarily, it would be pointed out by any psychologist who had digested Merleau-Ponty's lessons concerning reflection that the attempt to return to an object of attention in order to preserve its identity hopelessly contaminates the purity of that identity with the sediments of new context.
However, in the case of the identity of a gestalt 'snapshot' as in our example, that same psychologist may insist that there is in fact no effect of contextual contamination since the snapshot is a single moment of time. Within the space of a frozen moment, the simple existence of each differential element of the totality is not considered to contribute a new contextual perspective but is instead already assumed 'at once' with all the other members, and thus the sense of the whole is not considered to be an act of reflection required to repeat itself with each part of the whole that is encountered (since it is assumed no particularizing sequential ENCOUNTER, no actual glimpsing, takes place within the instantaneous appearance of the spatial whole). Since the elements of the frozen frame all exist at one time and therefore prior to the effects of temporal sedimentation, their identification with the same identical frame can be assumed.
The assumption here is that with the concept of space as an instantaneous relational whole we have such a thing as an experience of multiple differences BEFORE time, WITHOUT reflection and thus protected from the distorting lens of memory. Let me make clear that in referring to the common supposition in psychology of the existence, within an instantaneous spatial frame, of differential elements protected from time and context I am not speaking of that aspect that would normally be considered the FUNCTIONING of elements, but rather their STATE. The belief that instantaneous states belong to entities gives license to language depicting parallel processes in the brain, of an unconscious operating concurrently with conscious processes, of co-existing organisms within a spatial frame, of Being in the world. In the mode of their functioning we think of these entities and processes as affected, transformed by each other in time. In the moment of their state, we think of them between time, outside of time, as forms which ARE (have a status) first as non-relational unities, if only for an instant, and THEN interact. Thusly conceived, we can only know that entities belong to stances , perspectives, frames, gestalts, fields and patterns by reference to other frames and patterns that they have been or will become. Within the frozen instant of a gestalt's state, there is nothing to inform us that the elements within its purview do in fact belong to a whole. While in the between-time state of spatial simultaneity, these 'parts' have no intrinsic connection one to another, not until they are set in motion.
These claims may yet strike readers as an inaccurate representation of current perspectives. I want to now present an alternative model of time that I hope will clarify, by comparison, how positions so notable for their unravelling of Cartesian dualisms retain features of reification in their view of space and time. I want to show how it is possible to claim on the one hand that that there is no such thing as a spatial gestalt, pattern or frame, but on the other hand insist that the reality of each supposed 'part' of a whole's being its OWN whole imbues the relationship between entities with a greater intrinsicality, intimacy and nonarbitrariness than is understood via the concept of space as frame. Let us return to our initial question. Is it the SAME moment that members of a space belong to? Let us think again of the image of a series of elements within a 'simultaneous' space. Let us imagine now that an entity is not something that resides IN space but IS a self-spacing. This is another way of saying that an entity is not a form that is transformed, not a presence that is changed, but a change that repeats itself differently. The suggestion here is that whenever we assume the idea of an element of meaning as a temporary presence we are missing a richer, more dynamic underlying process of sense creation.
This treatment of meaning as irreducibly transformative and temporal merits comparison with Derrida's deconstructive account of the structural dynamics of experience, which he has referred to in various works as differance, iterability. writing, the mark, trace, and hymen(2).(Not surprisingly, given the complexity of his texts, there are varied, conflicting readings of just who shares philosophical proximity with Derrida. For instance, John Caputo embraces Derrida as a religious author in the heretical spirit of Kierkegaard. Meanwhile Richard Rorty claims Derrida (at least in Derrida's later writings) as a radical relativist in the pragmatic tradition of Dewey. Geoffrey Bennington dissents with both the pragmatist and Kierkegaardian readings in favor of a Lyotardian approach. Other unique readings of Derrida include those by Marion Hobson, Richard Beardsworth, Rodolph Gasche, Christopher Norris and Jonathan Culler.)
. Derridean deconstruction draws from such sources as Saussurian structuralism, Husserl's account of idealization and Heidegger's Destruktion of metaphysics, while exposing the limitations of these approaches(3). Deconstructive dynamics show us that all events of sense and meaning are radically not present to themselves due to their absolute structural dependence on other events for their determination. What appears and passes away as a signifier is not the stand-in for an originating presence, but the repetition of an original undecidability, an indissociable play of repetition and alteration dubbed by Derrida(1978,1988) as iterability, the repetition which alters the idealization it reproduces.
an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element in an economy of traces"(1978, p.29). The iterability of an element divides its own identity a priori, even without taking into account that this identity can only determine or delimit itself through differential relations to other elements and hence that it bears the mark of this difference. It is because this iterability is differential, within each individual `element' as well as between `elements', because it splits each element while constituting it, because it marks it with an articulatory break, that the remainder, although indispensable, is never that of a full or fulfilling presence; it is a differential structure escaping the logic of presence(1988,p.53).
Let us examine two ways that the relation between a single element and other elements that Derrida discusses in this paragraph can be interpreted. According to one reading, he could be understood to be describing a gestalt structure wherein inter-element relations co-exist in a simultaneous space. Even as he holds the movement of experience to be non-recuperable, non-coincidental from one instantiation to the next, Derrida may nonetheless treat the heterogeneous contacts between instants of experience as transformations of fleeting forms, states, configurations, patterns, procedures. I would like to suggest a way to read Derrida (and perhaps read beyond Derrida) that supports the argument I have been building for a transformative concept of spacing . Rather than a single element of meaning co-existing within a plural space with other elements, the relation between elements would be limited to a single comparison repeated endlessly, always the same differently. According to this way of thinking, Derrida's differance refers simultaneously to a bifurcation within a single element and the relation between that element and a preceding element. This gesture marking the NOW as a differential always BETWEEN two singulars would then be the basis and the only basis of our experience of continuity through time. (It would also be the basis of affectivity, as we will see shortly). This 'quasi-transcendental' architecture is irreducibly binary; absence (the passing of a past present) and the presencing of the present together ARE the event of the now itself as passage. The here and now is motion itself. An element of meaning is not something merely juxtaposed or co-inciding with the retained trace (retentional phase) of what preceded it in the manner of two distinct elements. Neither side of the effacing- presencing hinge of nowness makes any sense outside of their pairing. To say that a present element becomes the effaced pole of a new element is not to suggest that it simply persists as itself. As the effaced pole of a new present its role is subtly changed over what it was when it was the now. Because each effaced pole of the past-presencing hinge that we are defining as a singular element is a NEW past of a NEW presencing, each new moment of comparison is being thrown into a slightly new world. Each repetition of a word , mark, gesture, event is both a new sense of itself and a new philosophy of the world, of myself, in some way. Meanwhile, the carryover of the present element, in becoming the past-effaced relative to a new element, creates the strange quasi or finite continuity which maintains from one moment to the next. To be 'right now' is to change, and to change is to always maintain a sense, no matter how surprising a new present appears, of continuity and belonging to what preceded it. There is no experience of memory, of reflective recollection, outside of this immediate experience of the now as this comparative binary. The past in its entirety only exists in immediately present context Recall is always transformative; there is no past available to us to retrieve as an archive of presumably preserved events of meaning, but only the relation between an immediately previous event and present event (this double unity is what an element is). There is no temporal extension in the sense of a taking of time or a lingering in time. An element of meaning is not a countable duration, it has no internality; it is transit pure and simple, an irreducibly double structuration. Temporalization is not a changing of countable durations and spacing is not an enclosure of co-present elements. There is nothing WITHIN space and time. The irreducible structure of temporality simply IS change of change of change. Context is not something which individual events are embedded WITHIN, in the sense of a spatial frame(4).
Returning to our example of a multiplicity of supposed 'parts' of a gestalt captured in an instant of time, the assumption that we THINK this parallel existence of differences at the same time must unravel with the knowledge that each differential singular is BORN OF and belongs irreducibly to, even as it is a transformation of, an immediately prior element . Two different elements cannot be presumed to exist at the same time because each single element is its own time(the hinged time of the pairing of a passed event with the presencing of a new event) as a change of place. Thus, whenever we think that we are theorizing two events at the same time, we are unknowingly engaging in a process of temporal enchainment and spatial recontextualization. The assumption of a spatial frame depends on the ability to return to a previous element without the contaminating effect of time. How can we know that elements of meaning are of the SAME spatial frame or gestalt unless each is assumed to refer BACK to the same 'pre-existing' frame? But if, as I am claiming, the past is not something that is returned to, then two elements never occupy the 'same' space. Because all meanings are referential, they don't appear out of thin air but from a prior context. On the other hand, we cannot return from the new to that which framed it without changing the meaning of that frame. The new becomes the `frame' for what framed it. Application and derivation must work both backwards and forwards, from source to target and from target to source. In sum , each new meaning is both target and source. Metaphor is its own access to itself(5). This notion of textuality is not on the order of a subjective mechanism of consciousness. Like the idea of the interpenetration of fact and value(See Putnam(1990)) informing current psychological perspectives, this is a quasi-transcendental(simultaneously subjective and empirical) claim concerning the irreducible nature of reality itself, and operates both as a pre-condition and a re-envisioning of consciousness, brains and bodies.
I would like to go along with Gallagher's(1997b) suggestion, arguing against Rorty, Dillon and Wood, that deconstruction need not be seen as a linguistic idealism, that for Derrida language acts to decenter the linearity of intentional consciousness. But I would need to clarify what it means for something to operate as 'pre-noetic', 'anterior to intentionality'. Gallagher expresses the view that the construction of reality via the linear sequentiality of narrative, and of intentional consciousness in general, forces experience into an ordering (sequential, continuous) which serves the purposes of conscious dynamics but misses the fuller picture. The spatially simultaneous interaction between diverse threads of experience is invoked as a means whereby self-referential formalisms of narrative seriality are interrupted and transformed. Gallagher(1998) says rather than simply being an "orderly successive flow", consciousness is a "hodgepodge of multiple serialities that often disrupt one another"(1998,p.194).
Simply in struggling to get through a single line of text on a page, we find ourselves experiencing in oh so subtle a fashion a whole universe of moods, gestures, distractions that intervene to interrupt the supposed thematic continuity of the writing. This we do in a shifting of attention in myriad ways from what is on a page to what is not and everything in between; in a transit from conceptualization to sensation to recollection to emotion to action to dreaming. But is this bouncing from mode to mode of awareness to be understood as the disruption of constituted threads? It is not in fact via its seriality per se that narrative consciousness purportedly resists novelty, but the assumption of its schematic organization, the belief that the transition from one to the next element of a narrative chain of meanings may continue to be governed by a thematic origin that can potentially be returned to by any of the unfolding elements of the 'flow'; members are linked not just referentially but systemically . Gallagher(1998) describes narrative seriality as "an already composed temporality..., under the rules of poetic construction(1998,p.197)". It is not, then, the temporal but the presumed spatial aspect of a seriality which connects it with formal reflective thematicity. As I have explained, the idea of the simultaneous spatial frame determines the meanings of different entities to be constrained, prior to the effect of time, by their linkage with a pre-existing scheme.
I have argued, instead, for the notion of a seriality whose self-consistency and ongoing organizational integrity cannot be measured by proximity to an originating theme (since the contextual sense of a thematic or syntactical rule never survives the instant of its invocation unaltered) but by the intricacy of its fresh transformations. Any belonging of a singular instance to a larger theme is not the already-spatial, simultaneous relation of a part to a whole but of differential temporalizing transformation from one referential whole to the next. A narrative, like any other sequence, never returns to itself instance to instance without altering both its past and its present; its syntax and its semantics are indissociably recontextualized via its transit. Each moment of its iteration is already its own space, and the concept of a linear narrative is transformed into the idea of a grouping or thematic work which, as Derrida(1995) says:
is at every moment in the process of undoing itself, expropriating itself, falling to pieces without ever collecting itself together in a signature... its consistency would be the repetition of not-collecting itself, its being the same differently or otherwise...Perhaps you will say that there is a way of not collecting oneself that is consistently recognizable, what used to be called a `style'(1995,p.354).
The apparent interruptedness and randomness of the multitude of apprehensions intervening in the attempt to read the words you see on this page is not quite the clashing of multiple "concurrently-constituted" serialities, but an integral temporal continuation of the already self-transforming thread which constitutes the wandering thematics of my thesis. To be distracted from the narrative text at hand is not to break with the peculiarly integral nature of moment to moment experience; so-called narrative text is already a distraction from itself in simply continuing to be itself mark after mark on the paper. Before intentionality ever gets a chance to reify itself into the governing schematisms attributed to it, it finds what it means to say thwarted by precisely the vehicle necessary to its preservation; time. In order to continue to be itself, an intention must repeat, or iterate, itself in thought. Derrida(1988) explains:
[This] iterability alters...leaves us no room but to mean (to say) something that is (already, always, also) other than what we mean (to say) (1988,p.61)... It is not necessary to imagine the death of the sender or of the receiver, to put the shopping list in one's pocket, or even to raise the pen above the paper in order to interrupt oneself for a moment. The break intervenes from the moment that there is a mark, at once. It is iterability itself, ..passing between the re- of the repeated and the re- of the repeating, traversing and transforming repetition(1988,p.53).
If interaction is conceived as the mutual contact, affecting or perceiving between entities, then contrary to current phenomenological and psychological perspectives, experience may more effectively be characterized as a self-transforming repetition(the self being already split with
in itself as transit in the instant of its appearance) than as an interaction.Gendlin(1992) explains:
Perception inherently involves a datum, clear or unclear, something that exists for someone, happens to someone, or is present before someone. If one begins with perception, then interaction seems to consist of two individual percepts. The percept is a kind of dividing screen.[A body] does not first exist and only then interact(1992,p.343)(6).
To unravel the model of entities-in-interaction is to discover what may be covered over by the idea of two entities reaching out to each other, each touching the other and being touched, each affecting and being affected by the other, causing and being caused, changing and being changed. Merleau-Ponty(1962) claims that the impossibility of the simultaneous awareness of touching and being touched destroys the concept of pure self-affection and the self-coincidence of consciousness, of a for-itself encountering an in-itself. However, he retains the idea that an entity is changed within itself by something outside of itself. Only the assumption of at least partial independence between two entities can justify this language . Something causes a change in something else. Such a description reveals itself as a derived abstraction once the basis of subject-object dynamics, `touching and being touched', affecting and being affected, is re-determined as primordial transit and transformation.
But we are then no longer speaking of a reflexivity or reflectivity. There is no backward glance to be made to a past, to a supposedly pre- or co-existing element, except as that supposed backward glance is recognized as a new presencing. This means that a `touching' and `being touched' , this changing of a thing by something else, can not be thought in terms of two discrete entities but must be re-figured as the divide within a single entity. The `changing-being changed' is only the two sides of the same entity or event. It is a simultaneity of activity-passivity(state and function) which is at the root of what passes for `touching-touched'. In this sense experience could just as much be said to be de-bodied (not dis-embodied) as em-bodied.
The encounter between two things is not of the order of a reciprocity or reflexivity. Only a peculiar transition such that we are never touched by the same thing that we touch. When my finger touches the table, how can it be that the object which touches me back is not the 'same' one which I touch? The first thing to remember is that entities are already interfaces simultaneously carrying forward and transforming prior contexts. Thus, not only are the finger and the table each contextual interfaces in themselves(many , many continually evolving situational interfaces) prior to their interaction, but the contact between them generates new objects(interfaces). The interaffecting from finger to table and vice-versa, their touching and being-touched, are not mutual reciprocations between the 'same' finger and table; each 'reversal' of perspective already belongs to a new experience of table and finger and generates new interfaces based on a transformation of the immediately prior contexts of interaction.
My present touches my past, affecting it. This is a single moment: the effacing or passing of the previous present, and the appearing of a new present. That the new touches, transforms the old is only to say that the fresh 'now' is inseparably co-incident with an immediately effaced past-present element. This past present is changed, 'touched' by the appearing present, and this changed-changing, touched-touching is what it means to 'be' a single entity of experience. A single element of meaning is at the same time a passing from and passing into, a subjectivity and an objectivity. The simultaneous structure of passing away from and passing into marks both the affective `pull' of the new and the radical belonging of this novelty to what it effaces or makes slip away in the instant of its appearing. Subjectivity (what is left of the notion of a self) locates itself as this conserving pole or aspect of each event; its belonging to, in the mode of a passing away from, what it transforms. Objectivity is the empirical pole of an entity, its aspect as a passing into new presence. What are today called first-person subjectivity and third-person science both originate in, and never leave, this binary. This binary is time's origin as both real and ideal.
On The Past and the Future:
Our analysis of perception has led us to a reformulation of the relation between what are called past, present and future.
Some of the most far-reaching analyses of these issues were conducted and crystallized by Husserl in his model of time-consciousness, the cornerstone of his phenomenological method. It united his formulation of experience as an undivided flow uniting past, present and future with the fact that we are able to extract structurally stable meanings from within this unending movement. Husserl argues, for instance, that an object of perception does not vanish the instant that it is no longer immediately present for us.
"Consider the begninning of a sentence: I often think of Julia...
When in uttering this sentence I reach the word 'Julia' I am no longer saying the previous words, but I still retain a sense of what I have just said. For a sentence to be meaningful, the sense of the earlier words must be kept in mind in some fashion when I am uttering the later words. Retention, or what cognitive scientists call working memory, keeps the intentional sense of the words available even after the words are no longer sounded."(p.23). (In "Self-Reference and Schizophrenia:A Cognitive Model of Immunity to Error thorugh Misidentification," (in Exploring the Self:Philosophical and Psychopathological Perspectives on Self-experience, ed. Dan Zahavi. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.)
Retention functions differently than memory. Varela argues that "memory and evocation have a mode of appearance that is qualitatively different from nowness"(279SP). He wants to uphold Husserl's distinction between impressional and representational consciousness. Impressional consciousness is where retention functions to stretch a prior moment and keep it alongside a present event, such as in the experience of successive notes of music. The prior note persists into the present, rather than being recollected from memory. What we think of as remembering, on the other hand, is a representative act, which is supposedly different from the experience of persistance of the immediate past in immediate nowness.
However, if, as we are arguing, recall is always transformative, then there is no past available to us to retrieve as an archive of presumedly preserved events of meaning, but only the relation between an immediately previous and present element. We deny that there is an experience of memory, of reflective recollection, outside of this immediate experience of the now as this comparitive binary. One experiences an element first as the present arising from a previously present element now experienced as the past or effaced pole of this new present. One experiences this present element a second time (although one couldn't really call this a SECOND time, since its sense has changed) as the effaced or past pole of a new present. But of course this `present' pole of the structure of an event is never present to itself in the sense of being able to turn back around to itself in order to repeat itself identically. It is this carryover of the present element, in becoming the past-effaced relative to a new element, which creates the strange quasi or finite continuity which maintains from one moment to the next. Of course to say that a present element becomes the effaced pole of a new element is not to suggest that it simply persists as itself. As the effaced pole of a new present its role is subtly changed over what it was when it was the NOW. We sympathize with Varela's observation that
"Retention is not a kind of holding on to the now by its edge; it is an active presentation of an absence that arises from the modifications and dynamic apprehension of the now"(282). At the same time, we do not hold the present-becoming-effaced function of retention as an intentional act. It is not a relational structure in itself but a moment or element of an articulated joint which cannot be pulled apart without both parts disappearing.
There is no temporal extension in the sense of a taking of time or a lingering IN time. An element of meaning is not a countable duration, it has no internality; it is transit pure and simple. Temporalization is not a changing of countable durations and spacing is not an enclosure of co-present elements.There is nothing WITHIN space and time. The irreducible structure of temporality simply IS change of change of change. The point is that each new moment of comparison is being thrown into a slightly new world. (Varela's attempt to experimentally verify phenomenological time-consciousness by measuring temporal durations of neural events misses this point. He attempts to force these events into the abstractive frame of a deterministic time even as he denies that the behavior of neurobiological objects obeys the constraints of linearity.)
There is nothing to get back to, retrieve. The remembered past is always reconstructed, always ahead of me. None of these elements can be extracted and compared separately or returned to. They only exist as themselves in the instant of their appearance.
It misses the nature of the structure of meaning to say that retention preserves a past element as present alongside a new element. An element of meaning is not something merely juxtaposed or co-inciding with what precedes it as two distinct and separable senses. It belongs to it even as it modifies it. Effacement and presencing are not two elements but what it means to have a SINGLE element. To have it is to change it and to change it is to change it in a way that always maintains a sense, no matter how surprising a new event is, of continuity and belonging to what preceded it. A single meaning is IN ITSELF these two poles. The past in its entirety only exists in immediately present context. Context is not something which individual events are embedded WITHIN, in the sense of a spatial frame. The continuity of history depends not on a supposed retieval of recorded items but on a radical dependency and similarity linking each moment of experience to the next. It is because each meaning only IS what it is as a carrying forward of and modification of what precedes and defines it as its substrate that we can speak of an ongoing history of personal and cultural experience.
This carrying forward is the origin of the sense that awareness is anticipatory.
But what is it we are understanding when we refer to a notion like the future , the not yet, possibility, choice, will, striving, the may be? The future seems always anxious, but isn't this anxiety, before anything else, the disappointment of returning to a present that doesn't clarify the images conjured in the future vision?
Before a future may not happen, it already happens, and only the 'not yet' experience of returning from image to the so-called present muddies the waters. This return makes one want to go to that future again to improve clarity. The image of a dog biting may be painful and anxious, but that future could also be of winning the lotto, so before that image is of joy or pain, it's of a discovery that only becomes confused with the 'return' to a new present that has no answers. The so-called return to the present is really a change of subject, a kind of forgetting. The future is fond before it is foul(or anything else).
Phenomenologists would agree that the future is a mode of the present, but they would see it as an irreducible protentional component of the specious present, alongside retention and the now. For instance, Gallagher adopts Husserl's concept of protention, which assumes that an experienced event projects into the future, that is, generates in addition to a presently experienced sense of meaning a projection or estimation of what is to follow, which may or may not be validated by what actually follows next in the temporal flow. In other words, Gallagher posits a primal impression of the now as an `inside' accompanied by a protentional moment serving as its `outside'. According to this thinking, the BEING of a meaning and the CHANGE from one meaning to another can be articulated separately.
To believe in the idea of intrinsic quality inhering in objects is to have an inside and an outside, a before and an after, stasis and change, space and time. This is irreducibly tripartate: past quality, change, present quality. Non transcendental qualities are real but fleeting; transcendental(or quasi-transcendental) categories like retention, present and protention(and negation and affirmation) have an infinity of ways of being themselves, but
are categorically irreducible.
As we have seen, Past is real for phenomenologists not just because it sits alongside present but because it can be referred 'back' to. An order of before and after is presumed to have transcendent meaning due to the presumed qualitiative inherence and simple unity of meanings. And this 'before' and 'after' , being dimensions of change rather than inhering quality, are perhaps the origins of the affective(and the temporal) for phenomenologists , while the moment of the past and the moment of the present may be the origin of the concept(and the spatial) for phenomenologists. So, the specious present is a conceptual-affective spatial-temporal complex of contentful presentings(past and present) and affective changes(before and after).
Future is the affective moment of 'after'. That's why the future tense uses affective terms like 'will'. The notion of future is the feeling of willing, striving, changing or finding oneself changed. Protention has to be structurally slightly different from the 'after' between past and present besides simply offering a new variation of the affect of 'after'. Otherwise it couldn't be claimed as an irreducible component of the specious present.
But if there is no such thing as status, stasis, state, space; if there is no intrinsic quality inhering in objects, then the phenomenological distinction between inside and outside, being and change, space and time, concept and affect, becomes incoherent.
To the extent that we can say that a present event is anticipatory, this is because it is already in ITSELF transformation or movement. If it seems that experience is anticipatory, it is not because an incipient sense of a new presencing precedes a fully-formed realization (or invalidation) of that prior specular gaze. It is the radical intimacy that links one moment to the next, regardless of situation, which secures the impression that awareness has built into it some special capability called anticipation or protention, which allows a glimpse into what, within this circle of mutually determined terms , is dubbed the ‘future’. The sense of anticipatory movement is not ADDED to the experience of now, but IS the experience of now as intimate change from there to here. There is never a sense or object of meaning which is simply and immediately present (inside) in the way that is defined by Husserl via its coupling with his notion of an anticipatory protention(outside).
It should be clear by now that I am not merely arguing that the current psychological sicences are founded upon a more fundamental organizing principle that they depend on even as they do not overtly recognize this dependence. I am suggesting that the current empirical approaches are lacking as scientific explanatory systems to the extent that they fail to understand a more fundamental `mechanism' underlying apparent spatial simultaneity. It remains necessary to explain the considerable value of the historical advent and evolution of empirical science not in terms of any first-person third-person parallelism but as a temporalizing enrichment and acceleration of the movement of experiencing which is neither first nor third person, neither conscious nor unconscious, but a more primordial approach to experiencing revealing these categories as inadequate abstractions in the extent to which they presuppose the idea of co-interaction between temporarily existing presences, schemes, patterns, spaces. The point of view I am advocating assumes future modalities of scientific research which, while distinguishable in their methods and point of focus from the more philosophical style of articulation presented here, share its central concepts.Gendlin (1991,1992,1997), for instance, offers a model consistent with many of the general ideas argued here, even as it is expressed via a pragmatic vocabulary that owes as much to empirical traditions as to philosophy(8). Of course it will always be fruitful to move back and forth between different modalities of description, from the biochemical and neurophysiological to more abstractive levels of psychological and philosophical analysis. But it should be expected that the theoretical underpinnings of the more `hard science' or so-called `subpersonal' levels of description must undergo revision responsively with innovations in comprehensive psychological and philosophical theory. Furthermore, the move from what cognitivists would call the phenomenal to what has been deemed the empirical or third-person level is not the uncovering of underlying mechanisms in the sense of a spatial shift of focus from an outside to an inside, or vice-versa, but the temporalizing transition from one style of language to another. This shift of style is but one temporally extended example, and not a special one, of the shift from one event to another (and within each event) that characterizes all relations of meaning.
Notice that the abandonment of a spatial vocabulary is not a jettisoning of all constraints, dooming us to an `anything goes' attitude. The radically temporal chain of meaning which contextualizes itself is not an arbitrary textualization. On the contrary, it obeys highly sensitive constraints, but these constraints are not to be conceived as originating in a supposed pre-existing schematic structure of concepts-frames. The perceived continuity of history depends not on the supposed persistence of a sedimented record of culture and biology but on a radical dependency and similarity linking each moment of experience to the next. It is because each meaning only is what it is as a carrying forward of and modification of what precedes and defines it as its substrate that we can speak of an ongoing history of personal and cultural experience. The constraints on the direction and coherence that meaning can take at any moment are provided from within its own resources each instant as a vector and momentum of transformation. A meaning implies its own next steps, as Gendlin(1991) says. It is already a form of transit, but it implies, it carries with it the (always changing) residue of its own history. This semblance of our history which current experience carries with it gives our sciences and technologies their precision, and allows our cultural experiences to be normally characterized by a reasonable degree of mutual intelligibility. A certain ongoing style or thematic is implicated, carried forward, but also subtly transformed, by each new contextual moment. How do we make sense of a world without the stable orienting syntax of a retrievable past, a self-coinciding present and an anticipated future? First, we have to make clear that it is not as if such concepts simply vanish, but instead are rethought via a vantage which in a certain respect does not profoundly change the sense of these terms. The world will still appear as a multiplicity of changing textures, regions, valences, coherences and disorganizations; we will still be able to locate something resembling a past which we seem to recover over our shoulder, there will still seem to be integral boundaries and bodies at various distances from each other', but the moment to moment experience of such a world will be understood to originate in an intimate, continuous unfolding of a transit which makes available to us an ethical comportment of belonging to `ourselves' and to `others' which is unavailable to the articulations of other positions.
The uncovering of `immediate ethical coping' Varela(1999a)and others point to as the accomplishment of the newer thinking in cognitive science and phenomenology is shown to have retained from the western philosophical tradition a remnant of dualistic arbitrariness as its core. The duality between presence and change which has wound its way in one form or another (body-mind, animal-human, consciousness-unconsciousness) throughout philosophical history shows up most recently, courtesy of phenomenology and related cognitive sciences, via the interacting adaptive bits of embodied agency. It would seem that, for all their valuable corrections of theories based on transcendent subjects and immanent objects, their notion of interactivity finds itself fixated on belief in a presencing which really has presence, if only very briefly, which carves out co-existent space, making its transformation an extrication and a conditioning by a foreign outside. The interactionist impetus always comes too late, burying intricate movements of meaning creation under static, semi-independent spatial presences which are only allowed to come to life as semi-arbitrary encounters.What this thinking misses is a gentleness and immediacy born of the intimacy of implicative belonging linking each moment to the next. The movement of the sense of the world from one instant to the next is of a vibratory immediacy, dynamism and relational intricacy that may be obscured by the clumsy, constraining tropes of spatially co-existent relations and their transformations. In sum, the crucial effect of the distinction between the approach I have advocated here and leading ideas in contemporary cognitive psychology and related disciplines is paradoxical:the former thinks a world that is at the same more immediately and constantly in transformation, and a world that expresses a greater continuity and intimacy in its movement, than is realized within these models.
Notes on where I depart from Gendlin's model of time, space and pattern:
The most radical implication of this model of time puts into question the very possibility of the notion of the spatial frame, the ‘many at once’ . Thus far we have contrasted Gendlin’s concept of the space of the body as an unseparated multiplicity of original interaffectings with the cognitivist concept of space as temporary presences in interaction. Now I want to show why perhaps even Gendlin’s view of space may be too abstractive. On the one hand, Gendlin’s model accomplishes something very close to what my concept of spacing as temporal transformation does. For Gendlin, each part of a multiplicity responds exquisitely to each of the others, so that, moment to moment, there is no undisturbed content, no region which is not already at the very edge of experience; meanwhile, coming-into-the-new maintains a radical continuity and intimacy with its entire history.
But now we must ask, what is it we are doing when we think ‘all of this at once’? To say that each part belongs to a whole, even a constantly shifting whole, is to imagine the ability to glimpse in a freeze-framed instant one and then another and then another member of the whole without destroying the idea that it is the same whole to which each part is linked in that same instant of time. If, on the other hand , we were to allow that the sense of what the whole is changes within the supposed freeze-frame instant of glimpsing the plurality of its members, then we would have to conclude that there in fact is no such thing as an instantaneous spatial frame, and that a spatial multiplicity is in fact no simultaneous whole, (even for an instant) but instead a contingent succession of parts acting as their own wholes.
The assumption that we think the parallel existence of entities or aspects at the same time, even Gendlin’s originally interaffecting differences which do not occur separately, must unravel with the knowledge that each differential singular is born of and belongs irreducibly to, even as it is a transformation of, an immediately prior element . A multitude of different elements cannot be presumed to contribute at the same time because each single aspect is its own time(the hinged time of the pairing of a passed event with the presencing of a new event) as a change of place. Thus, whenever we think that we are experiencing a multiplicity of events, objects, differences at the same time, we are unknowingly engaging in a process of temporal enchainment and spatial recontextualization. The assumption of a spatial frame of co-existing entities, whether depicted as a phenomenally sensed gestalt, parallel processes in the brain, an unconscious operating concurrently with conscious processes, co-existing organisms within an ecological space, Being in the world or Gendlin’s undivided whole of multiple aspects, depends on the ability to return to a previous element without the IMMEDIATELY contaminating effect of time. How can we know that elements of meaning are of the same spatial time unless each is assumed to refer back to the same ‘pre-existing’space-time frame? If, as I am claiming, the past is not something that is returned to, not even momentarily, then two elements never occupy the ‘same’ space.
In suggesting that each part of Gendlin’s ‘unseparated multiplicity of original interaffectings’ is already its own TIME, I am speaking not of a cognitivist time of separated units, but of a time which determines each part as already being inextricably OF all of the others. However, this of-all-the-others redetermines Gendlin’s organization of MUTUAL implicatory dependency as a contingent order of SINGULAR dependency. In other words, this radical belonging is no longer envisioned as multiple differences ‘together-at-once’ as THIS whole, but as a sequentially unfolding history of temporalizing spacings, experienced one differential whole at a time.
Gendlin says interaction and interaffectivity precedes existence. But doesn’t this notion of pattern assume that elements of a pattern exist as themselves FIRST within a pattern and only THEN interact? Yes, Gendlin seems to need to make a distinction between an occurrence and an implying. He imagines a network of mutually relating elements , each defined by differences , kind of a Saussurian space. And Gendlin sees this as a kind of passive, because simultaneous, interaffecting. It is a state to him. Implying , perhaps one could say, is a state, and occurring a change of state (”eveving (the crossing of all the differences) takes no time...Occurring changes implying into a new implying”). The state is out of or before time:”If we want to imagine this happening in linear time (differences occurring one after the other) I can tell a story: When I was in the Navy, I learned to repair and tune ...[tells story of adjusting radio frequency by reciprocal adjustments].The point is that there is a result. All differences having made their differences, the result is what it is. It is the result of everything interaffected by everything ("evev"). But in our model the differences do not occur. Only the result occurs.”
One could say that, like me, Gendlin has the definition of an experienced meaning be split as past and presenting together, but that the past pole is multiple(eveving) rather than singular(He says “...what participates in eveving does not occur. Many past experiences function in shaping one present; these past experiences don’t occur(p.82)”. This multiple past pole can’t really be said to constitute a space in any traditional sense, as Gendlin points out. In a traditional space, interaction spreads in a causal fashion from point to point, whereas for Gendlin, each point knows equally about all others; each point somehow belongs to and depends on each other point. So he calls the eveving a non-temporal, nonseparated multiplicity. It ‘does not occur’ in the same sense that the past pole in my model does not occur by itself, but only in tandem with a present pole.
For Gendlin, on the one hand, a whole body and a part of the body each imply each other. But nevertheless, a part is somehow less than a whole. How? Apparently, not only is the past which links with the present in one event multiple, but it is multiple in a way which can vary, from more to less partial. I’ve already said that Gendlin buys richness, intricacy and precision in experience through spatial multiplicity as well as temporal density, so it only makes sense that he posits variations in spatial density of the past or eveving pole of an event; a partial multiplicity paired with a present pole isn’t as novel as a whole multiplicity.
I suspect Gendlin would think the intricacy is lost if all there is is sequential time, since intricacy for Gendlin depends on having everything as close together as possible and to him, simultaneous proximity is closer than temporal proximity(“Implying is always more intricately organized and in that sense more precise than any environmental occurring can ever be”).
For Gendlin the intricacy is to be found in spatial density and richness. For me it is to be found in temporal density. What Gendlin finds as categorical difference (space and time), I find as relative change within temporality. Perhaps, like Derrida, he longs for presence but knows presence dies without change. In longing for presence, he is really longing for density, richness, intricacy.
How does his account differ form Derrida’s? Note: Change this:”While on the one hand it seems Derrida also begins from simultaneous pattern, Derrida seems to adhere to a strictly temporal notion of organization. His patterns don’t appear to have any internal structuration to them other than the mutual determinacy of elements. Gendlin, on the other hand, divides spatial patterns into various sub- and super wholes. “ This was written when I believed that Derrida had moved beyond Gendlin’s approach, but I now agree with Gendlin that Derrida maintains the homuncular concept of meaning.
Clearly Gendlin’s approach to pattern is an improvement over Gallagher, Varela,Derrida and Ratcliffe. But how? For Gendlin everything is changed by everything and this isn’t true for the cognitivists.
Rorty's(1998)linguistic pragmatism remains one of the stronger articulations of this position.
Derrida's textual theory has often been attacked as a form of semiological idealism. For instance, Martin Dillon(1997) writes "Infra-referentiality for Derrida is finally reducible to the play of differences in a process of substitution that takes place entirely within the chain of signifiers"(1997,p.6). Dillon, who refers to deconstruction as 'semiological reductionism', treats differance as a Saussurian frame, an inherently conservative structure of non-generative internal reference dependent on originating meanings coming from a perceptual outside. Dillon's own quasi-structuralist understanding of language forces him to uphold a distinction between what he calls intra-and extra-referential meaning, between a linguistic mode which for him is little more than an unconscious carrier of tokens, and a realm of originally positive foundational perceptions which language symbolizes. The latter naturally is privileged over the former, lest one be left with a solipsistic unconscious self('sheer diacriticality, groundlessness, total absence of foundations'(1997,p.14)).
Derrida's oft-quoted reminder that `there is nothing outside the text' does not mean that there is nothing outside of formal sign-systems, but rather that no object of meaning appears apart from a local and non-repeatable con-text of signification. This is a deconstruction of the idea that signifier-to-signifier relations are empty stand-ins for originating, context-resistant presences rather than creative (non-originary) origins in themselves.See Gasche(1986) for an account of the philosophical differences between Derridean and literary deconstruction.
Gendlin(1997) proffers a similar argument concerning the nature of metaphor.
It should be noted that Gendlin(1985) reads Derrida as placing elements of meaning within conceptual configurations. Gendlin believes deconstruction has word-use schematically governed by conceptual oppositions; the originating conceptual context a word brings with it is not itself changed in word-use. Gendlin says
"...for Derrida words are governed only by concepts, distinctions. So he rejects and retains the distinctions. When Derrida rejects a conceptual distinction, he misses the texture of life and usage which the rejection opens...he sees only the old distinction destroying itself with its opposite (1985,p.395)."
7.)See Robert Solomon's(1977) work for a representative cognitivist account of emotion.
Although Gendlin's approach retains a certain notion of spatial co-existence, his model of space as an unseparated multiplicity accomplishes something very close to what my concept of a self-effacing present does. Each participant of a multiplicity responds exquisitely to each of the others, so that there is no undisturbed content, no region which is not already at the very edge of experience; meanwhile, coming-into-the-new maintains a radical continuity and intimacy with its entire history.
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NOTES ON A CRITIQUE OF COGNITIVE THEORIES OF AUTISM (Simon Baron-Cohen, Gallagher, Frith, Damasio) SAVANTS, THE UNCONSCIOUS, LANGUAGE, AFFECT, BLINDSIGHT:(with quotes from Donna Williams, Temple Grandin, Amanda Baggs, Claudia Osborn, P.J. Long, Jim Sinclair, Jane Meyerding)
What is being referred to when memory is spoken of as a psychological function, associated with specific structures of the brain? Memory is established as a recall-forgetting edge, the success or failure of the retrieval of `what was'. Other psychologists may speak of memory as reconstruction, a processing of data. Memory is then a measure of a kind of concentration or focus. In this case success or failure is not so much a matter of retrieval as it is of a certain smoothness of forward movement. Memory disorders are introduced by this way of thinking as a fragmented processing, in contrast to the goal of integrated meaning. Empirical psychological and other thinking which posits meaning as subject to loss, speak of failure to attend, to relate, to synthesize, to integrate.
Some approaches argue that autistic deficits reflect a lack of incentive to form social associations. Other see it as a failure of attentional focus. What does it mean to say that an autistic cannot attend effectively to novel or unpredictable stimulation? What is it about an experience which makes it novel or unpredictable? How exactly does an attentional mechanism or process decide what is salient and what isn't? The answer most current theorists must give is that the qualities of the stimulus dictate at least to some extent both whether it is perceived as new and in what manner it is attended to.
When cognitive models propose that autistics have difficulty in comprehending events which are novel and unpredictable, they treat these features of meaning as qualities which somehow adhere in patterns of stimulation encountered by the autistic.
To be pathological, impaired, is to suffer the loss of content.
Sensory pleasures and pains, fracturings and divisions associated with hearing, touch and sight are not that of memory, nor are affective pains and pleasures of abstract meaning. Memory would be a space of interest-disinterest, involvement-apathy, confusion-clarity, disorientation-orientation. A space defined as a particular fracturing of conceptual thought, a between-perceptual and conceptual feeling, somehow more than sensation and on the way to abstract meaning, would locate memory.
What would be the difference between a question of movement determined as a pain-pleasure affectivity versus a remembrance-forgetting polarity? This is like asking what the difference is between sight and hearing. It brings us again to the issue of a developmental order between modes of awareness. What would be the meaning of a site or mode of awareness referred to as post-sensory and pre-conceptual awareness?
What is it to be memory-impaired? If memory is a focusing or concentrating, then we can find an infinity of levels of impairment associated with an equal infinity of types of memory. Dyslexia is a kind of perceptual concentration impairment, schizophrenia is a kind of language concentration impairment.
Symptoms are described as including: sensitivity to distraction, difficulty in abstract conceptual processing, an apathy and affective bluntness, difficulty in accessing and maintaining concepts and emotions.
The effect of marijuana speaks of a realm between perception and conception. The autistic-like state of marijuana intoxication includes an apathy and irreality, that is, a feeling of being distanced from one's thoughts as if watching a movie in which perceptual experience is normal but heightened in relation to an impeded access to conceptual-intuitive reflection. Memory and concentration are impaired. Unlike the experience of alcohol intoxication, we sense that our conceptual capacities are intact, but that some sort of barrier or filter has been placed between the perceptual world which we see so vividly in front of us and the contents of our intellectual faculties. The distancing of ourselves from our own concepts can be described affectively as emotional blunting or autistic-like.
So-called high functioning autistics describe experiences not unlike the memory-impaired, those who have acquired brain injuries affecting the temporal lobe or temporal-frontal connections, involving limbic structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala. A large population of individuals deal with such problems, caused by auto accidents ans other concussive and shearing events, chemotherapy and heart bypass surgery, drug abuse, stroke, MS, Lyme disease. The general features of `autistic' individuals are described by researchers as the need for sameness in the physical and perceptual environment, change that is considered enormously conservative and restrictive by the standards of `non-autistic' functioning, the narrow or non-existent use of language and inability to `read', anticipate and predict emotional behavior of others, the reversion to perceptual creativity as a dominant mode of interaction with the world (experimentation with repetitive movement, visual, auditory and tactile patterns), perceptual hypersensitivity involving both painful reaction to intense sensation and an obsessive interest in sensory patterns.
Certain self-described `high-functioning autistics' have great difficulty in deciphering social-affective cues ("Love and kindness, affection and sympathy were my greatest fears"p.218,"I rejected all contact because it robbed me of the security I found in my ability to lose myself through color, sound, pattern, and rhythm. This was no great paradise, but it was my sanctuary from the fear of death that feeling good emotion gave me."p.206, Donna Williams,N.N.,"Autism cuts me off from thoughts and curiosity, so I believe I think nothing or am interested in nothing."S.S.,p.237. Compare this to Claudia Osborn's experience of 'flooding' after having strong emotions. In both cases, being cut off from a world beyond simple perception is perceived as meaningless, devoid not only of a sense of social significance but of sense of self. This inability to derive meaning from symbolic experience extends also to perceptual signals, such as deciphering the meaning of heat, cold, pain, hunger, the urge to eliminate, and the inability to use proprioceptive feedback to feel the body as a whole ( "Even when physical sensation was present I was generally unable to tell cold from hunger or fear or needing to go to the toilet anyway. Generally they all felt the same, so I ignored the lot."S.S.,p.154... I experienced having an outer-body sense by seeing and hearing where my body was. My inner-body sense, like everything else, was mostly mono. If I touched my leg I would feel it on my hand or on my leg but not both at the same time. My perception of a whole body was in bits. I was an arm or a leg or a nose. Sometimes one part would be very much there but the bit it was joined to felt as wooden as a table leg and just as dead. The only difference was the texture and the temperature.'N.N.,p.232) .
To the extent that high-functioning autistics succeed in piercing the barrier separating them from the abstract world of conceptual-social experience that `normal' people (and intelligent animals) inhabit, it is because this `piercing' consists of the same gesture that characterizes memory universally.
Memory, as a relative level of density of meaning acceleration situated midway between perceptual and conceptual levels of density, can be understood as functioning at a less reliable consistency in autistics than it does in non-autistics. Autistic author Donna Williams has described entry into the social-conceptual world as coming in bursts separated by periods of `shutdown' wherein socially meaningful cues which she could at other times comprehend became incoherent to her. All of us can identify with the experience of autistic `shutdown'.
Shutdown is an exacerbation of the experience of forgetting, losing our train of thought, becoming distracted. In the instant of forgetting or distraction, stress or intense emotion, we join the autistic in the `thought devoid' world of perception. While the severity of shutdown or distraction is much less for those of us with `normal' memory, the cyclical rhythm of the experience of remembrance and clarity, confusion and forgetting in our daily lives is something we have in common with the autistic. For me, the equivalent of austitic shutdown or tbi flooding is the attempt to maintain focus on a difficult bit of theorizing or fictional writing; too much effort leads to a mental exhaustion in which the rarified heights of thought are lost and one is forced back down upon more mundane territories of experience. For 'normals'' that means the loss of the highest level of abstract thought but a preservation of effectively oriented perceptual and conceptual-social processing , but for autistics and tbi'ers it means the temporary loss of ALL conceptual and even integrated perceptual capacities.
The impairment of the autistic relative to the unimpaired would be that the autistic isn't able to maintain activity at the conceptual level long enough to become accustomed to the terrain, to bring things into clear focus. The terrain of intuitive thought has as its landmarks emotions and ideas, and also the interpretation of perceptions like pain and touch. The autistic only gets brief glimpses at the conceptual world before being cycled back into the simple sensory stratum, whereas normals are able to remain in the rarified environment of conceptual thought for a longer time between downward cycles of distraction. The autistic experiences feelings and ideas whenever he pops his head above the perceptual cloud, but can't sustain himself there long enough to embellish the delicate strands of incipient feeling which greet him in order to categorize and identify them intellectually, nor does he have the luxury most of us take for granted of quickly communicating the partially formed ideas and impressionistic observations which make small talk and casual socializing possible, because without the ability that normal memory gives to strengthen and expand those ideas enough for them to withstand the distracting task of communicating them, they will fade and be forgotten in a fog.
Memory deficits due to normal aging are more severe when it comes to the recall of `newly learned' information than when retrieving old memories. This may be explained by the fact that what we refer to as an `old' recollection is likely to be what we `know well'. Old memories are thus like areas of expertise or concepts of great familiarity to us. Thinking about that which we know well is thinking which makes few demands of memory.
Thinking about things we know well defines the meaning of something like conceptual thought. Put otherwise, intraconceptual navigation, the sense of moving through familiar, 'well-learned' territory, conjured by the image of a complex web of interconnected information, can be understood alternately as a temporal movement of great intimacy. If recall is not a 'going back' to something stored, if there is nothing actually stored, then recollection and memory is a kind of moving forward, a constructive process, that carries forward the old , transforming it in subtle ways at the same time. We don't retrieve the old from storage but rather shape it out of our present context. So-called well-learned or expert information is information that is carried with us in such a rich form that it can be molded out of present context very easily; it is so diverse as to be immediately relevant to, accessible from, a huge variety of current contexts. The difference between having to 'remember' a thing effortfully versus having it come to us as a member of a flowing series of images is the difference I am suggesting between what is termed memory (interconceptual) processes and intra-conceptual functioning, the navigating through a well-learned stratum of meaning. So in this case, we seem to be suggesting that autistics do well both with lower-level sensory processing and intra-conceptual activity, that is, the most complex and synthetic realms of experiencing, and that is a mid-level stratum, a kind of bottleneck of limited capacity between the perceptual and the conceptual, called 'memory', where they are weak. This would explain why Asperger's do poorly with small talk, and auties generally cannot move back and forth among a group of symbolic ideas as in sequential-type reasoning tasks. So it is not the having of an abstract idea which is difficult for them , it is the initial BUILDING OF IT up from the perceptual stratum which is difficult. The having of abstract meaning feels instantaneous, unified, simultaneous, whereas the multiple widgets of theoretical structures typically have a sequential character to them.
Joel of 'NTs are Weird' writes in his blog :
'When I'm communicating with people, I'm finding that sometimes I leave key points out or forget to connect two disjoint points together. I'll talk about Point A and then talk about Point B, but then I seem to just assume people will be able to connect them to form Point C, or I'll assume that they already know Point B and thus don't need to be told...
Other times (probably more common) rather than intentionally leaving something out when constructing an argument or explaining something, I'll simply forget to include it. I might think through the connections in my brain, see the 'schematic' of what I want to express, but then have a problem in the 'translation' process. I can't write what is in my brain without translating it. I think in terms 'things' and 'connections', sort of like a map or a schematic. I certainly don't think linearly like speech or writing demands - there is no temporal order with the things or connections. I know this is a confusing explanation, but it's the best I can do right now. So, putting things down in temporal order (writing or speech requires that some things come before others) is very, very difficult for me.
Sure, I've learned to hide that difficulty pretty well and I have a lot of practice translating my thoughts. But this will always be a second language, and I'll always have the problems that come with speaking and writing in a second language.
One of the problems with this translation - besides the obvious one of not being as skilled at speech or writing as a 'native' - is that it requires a lot of working memory. I have to pull things out of the schematic and stick them in the working memory, while reordering things in the working memory so that I can express it in a temporally linear way. The problem is that I have an extremely poor working memory - so things inevitably fall out of it. Then, when I write or speak, I don't know what I forgot so I don't mention those things.'(April 15,2007).
Fledchen commented on April 15th, 2007:
'I have this problem too, but it is more severe with speech than with writing. With speech, once I've said a word, it's like it's not there anymore, and it's hard to remember how I have to connect it to the other words. With writing, I can look back over what I've 'said' and make the necessary connections.' Compare this with Claudia Osborn's comments about her language deficits.
I suspect that the learning and REMEMBERING of language is so difficult for autistics because language is a mid-range momentum of processing. It requires a halting constructive rhythm of incremental building of a whole out of pieces. Using language requires 'keeping something in mind' long enough to see it in front of you and use it. But this act of seeing and using is, contrary to how it might seem, is not a low-effort, smooth and automatic form of thinking. It is artificial(artifice, craft, construction), because the purpose of using a word is to communicate a meaning to someone(and that someone can be yourself) who has to build up that context from somewhere outside of it.
Word (and numeric) symbols are slower processes of construction, and thus are more hesitant and less dense than intuitive intra-conceptual thought. They are bridges to this fluid, rapid effortless realm of 'expert' thought. Autistics are lousy bridge builders, but once they arrive at the territory of intuition, they can be superb. Donna Williams recognizes that the key to having a self, to having access to intelligence and social meaning, is to rely on what is commonly called long-term memory or expert information. Ironically it is this abstract 'theoretical' source of knowing that many researchers consider deficient in autistics (TOM approaches). Donna Williams recognizes the vital importance of relying on information from 'long-term memory' in compensating for the weakness in what has been called short-term memory.
'My grasp on a direct, in-context, in-company, inner experience of whole life would probably always be transient, but my emotions and my thoughts and the connections between the two would be a consistent thread to hold it all together. My talents and the knowledge I accumulated would always be my plaything in a void of fluctuating inner-meaning silence and inner-meaning darkness. My skills and knowledge would be the bridges by which I could make connections and live a full life in spite of a hidden disability'(232).
In other words, the inability to reliably, 'on-the-fly' and in-context , construct conceptual meanings out of the verbal, gestural and expressive interchanges of social interaction can be compensated for by relying on those aspects of the situational context(so-called well-learned information from long-term memory) which are rich enough to provide a general grounding of understanding. It is a vital error to consider this richer information to be non-contextual theory. Theory of any sort is always generated freshly , a new version of what was previously used in earlier contexts. When someone is accused of applying meaning which is out of context, what is really happening is that this fresh, in-context knowledge unfolds and modifies itself as changing context only very gradually. It may not satisfy normals' criteria of being relevant to a particular situation, but from the autistic's perspective, it IS the immediate context. Even in a situation where an autistic resorts to random snippets of remembered language instead of directly responding to another person's intent , the 'inappropriate' character of the communication still belongs fully to the immediate context of the autistic's experience.
Jim Sinclair writes that autism is centrally about difficulties in integrating simpler realms of meaning to form more complex wholes. Sensory modes such as sound and sight only connect to abstract symbols with great effort(turning raw sound into meaningful language, converting simple visual features into conceptual objects, recognizing that the sight and sound of an object are of the SAME object and being able to perceive theses modalities simultaneously, as different ASPECTS of a thing. This makes language processing very exhausting and baffling for them.). The same goes for proprioceptive information about the existence and location of body parts. Understandings the conceptual meaning of a body part is difficult enough for many autistics, but then having to keep track of all the parts at the same time in order to have a unified sense of physical 'body' is overwhelming.
He says::'Simple, basic skills such as recognizing people and things presuppose even simpler, more basic skills such as knowing how to attach meaning to visual stimuli. Understanding speech requires knowing how to process sounds--which first requires recognizing sounds as things that can be processed, and recognizing processing as a way to extract order from chaos. Producing speech (or producing any other kind of motor behavior) requires keeping track of all the body parts involved, and coordinating all their movements. Producing any behavior in response to any perception requires monitoring and coordinating all the inputs and outputs at once, and doing it fast enough to keep up with changing inputs that may call for changing outputs. Do you have to remember to plug in your eyes in order to make sense of what you're seeing? Do you have to find your legs before you can walk? Autistic children may be born not knowing how to eat. Are these normally skills that must be acquired through learning?'
These things aren't 'learned' in the sense of pieces of knowledge; they are an expression of RATE of integration of processing.
Ballastexistenz(Amanda Baggs), comparing 'normal' word construction with intuitive thought, writes of
'...the distortions that come into an action through the application of conscious effort/thought' and
'...the grace, smoothness, and accuracy of an action arrived at through triggering automatic words or movements without the interference of conscious/symbolic thought.' Compare this to the oveload and shutdown of Donna Williams, the flooding of Claudia Osborn. The strategies of autistics and tbi'ers, what they describe as language without feeling or meaning; automatic, mechanical, rote recall: this type of meaning is not the absence of contextual orientation but a less-quickly changing contextual processing. February 16, 2007:'If my brain were to cut out typing (and all pre-typing activities) as well as speech (something it's shown itself quite capable of doing in the short-term), many other skills would increase greatly. Typing may not be the extreme of a memory-hog as speech is, and may be far more comfortable and useful, but it's still pretty processing-intensive. If I were to cut out language and the idea-blocks that go with it, there are all kinds of things I could do (and do do, when that happens temporarily).
And yet you'd probably call me lower-functioning because I wouldn't even type at that point.
I don't understand this. This is foreign to my brain. If I am not having to process words and the majority of abstract concepts, there are all kinds of things I can do. I can read the social mood of an entire room and the pattern of each person's part in shaping it. I can sense dangerous situations and figure out what needs to be done to avoid them. I can feel my way through all kinds of survival-related tasks. I can draw on a vast reservoir of instinct and pattern-matching to navigate situations that words and abstract concept crap won't let me do. (And I have done all these things, in situations where other people saw me as not typing and not responding to them and started doing things like waving their hands in my face.)
So I see a bizarre pattern here: The more standard forms of language and speech we use, the less many of us can do, but the 'higher-functioning' everyone will claim we are (and will attribute all kinds of skills to us that don't exist). The idea that speech and language are both processing-intensive tasks that detract from our ability to do other things doesn't cross people's minds. The fact that for some people the more speech they use the more assistance they will need for other things, doesn't cross people's minds either.'
Are autistics bad at 'seeing the big picture' and instead go for the details? Or is it that autistics thrive on intuitive pictures but not on rapid comparisons between pictures? Autistics, like everyone else synthesize abstract meanings out of less complex experiences, but need to do it more deliberately and gradually. The 'mental widgets' of ideologies and theories are difficult for autistics to grasp not as synthetic and instantaneous wholes but as analytic pieces split off from the whole. It is as useful and necessary at times for the autistic to do this translating of an intuitive whole into derivative pieces, but does not take on the logical , systematic appearance of 'normal' analysis. When autistics write or speak to communicate meaningfully, they do so because they appreciate the need from time to time to descend from the land of intuitive flow into a more fragmented landscape, in order to bring others into the conversation. But they cannot bounce around quickly from one derived piece to the next and then back again to the whole.
Jim Sinclair writes:'Figuring things out and finding connections between different parts of a whole are what I do best, and I get a lot of practice because not many of the connections go into place by themselves. But I still have to know what all the parts are before I can find the connections between them.'
Ballastexistenz(Amanda Baggs) writes'I see all sorts of areas where the categories are imperfect, and this drives me nuts. I am horrible at categorizing things because of this. Not, as some autism 'experts' would have it, because I'm 'incapable of seeing the big picture.' But rather because my version of the 'seeing the big picture' does not involve cutting out the real information and substituting in an abstract thought for a whole variety of actual pieces of reality that may not, under closer examination, fit the abstract thought. (Which seems to me to be what autism 'experts' always mean by 'seeing the big picture', which might be why so many autism 'experts' are so clueless about autistic people.)'
'I'm not capable of holding a complex ideology ' what I call a set of abstract mental widgets all connected to each other in the sky ' in my head. If I try, it falls apart rapidly. While I'm clearly capable of using my brain, there's one particular kind of intellectual analysis that's totally beyond me and that seems to set me apart from most people I've known who are considered academically brilliant. And that is the one that gives people lots of shiny widgets to bat around in their heads. It's not just a matter of distaste, it's a matter of incompatibility with my brain structure or something.'
What does it mean to say that autistics lack 'empathy'? It's certainly true that false-belief tests composed by Baron-Cohen, and observations of many others as well, indicate a failure of autistics to read others' intentions(It has been claimed that by around age 4, normal children(but not autistics) are able to discern that others have their own beliefs which may differ from our own). Why is this? What kind of thinking does empathy require? What does reading others' intentions require? I suggest it demands an ability to quickly move back and forth among two or more points of view or meanings. It's not that autistics cannot develop an abstract concept expressing the idea that individuals have their own perspectives, their own minds, but they cannot easily determine what binds a person's behavior together from one day to the next such as to recognize a stable unified personality, even if they can accept 'theoretically' that this is the case. Theory of Mind advocates claim that humans normally develop an ability to interpret reality via a mental module designed for this task; autistics supposedly have a defective interpretive module and so do not perceive reality as filtered or interpreted, and do not realize that others perceive reality as interpreted. But human intentionality is not the function of a module; all reality is fundamentally interpretive for everyone, autistics and non-autistics alike, as well as all other animals. The distinction that TOM advocates articulate in terms of raw perception versus interpretive mentation need to be seen in terms of relative density of processing. Since all experience is interpretive, autistics not only see the world interpretively, but know others see the world interpretively.
The problem for autistics is not interpretation, it's that they cannot easily analyze particular interpretations, hold onto them, tease them apart, compare them with other interpretations. Analysis, dissection, comparison all tax memory due to their fragmenting and interruptive character. When autistics have to lose their train of thought, a relatively consistent flowing movement of referential consistency of meaning typical of right-brain experience, and have to reconstruct this train of thought, much more effort is required than with normals. Comparison, categorization, analysis all require such interruption and recovery. If one attempts to figure out how another person's current behavior differs from or is similar to previous behaviors, one must interrupt one's present experiencing and try to recall one's previous encounter, and then re-recall his current demeanor, and put this side by side in one's mind with the previous. All of this is very taxing on autistic memory, and the result is the autistic gives up attempting to learn a new superordinate concept of the other's personality. Even if the autistic succeeds in learning a stable abstract sense of the other's attitudes, a new encounter with them will force the autistic to compare this learned concept with yet a new context of encounter with the other, which will require modifying the old concept to some extent since no one duplicates their behavior from one context to the next. The new context will not immediately trigger the remembered concept of the person; this requires a process of incremental reconstructive recall, which is very slow going for the autistic. Unless the new behavior very closely matches previous encounters , it will not be recognized as familiar, and the autistic may have no recourse but to rely on his or her own mental attitudes, abilities and predispositions at the moment in order to guess at what the other will do.
Temple Grandin says 'Being deceptive while interacting with someone is extremely difficult unless I have fully rehearsed all possible responses. Lying is very anxiety -provoking because it requires rapid interpretations of subtle social cues to determine whether the other person is really being deceived. Some researchers don't believe autistics are capable of deception. They subscribe to Uta Frith's conception of autism, wherein people with the syndrome lack a 'theory of mind'....I have always understood deception.'(136).
In sum, what TOM advocates call 'mind-reading' is actually the ability to rapidly reconstruct, modify and update previously learned information about someone based on a new encounter with them. Since what is 'previously learned' is not actually stored(this is as true of 'normals' as it is of autistics) but relearned whenever it is recalled, autistics always are disadvantaged in situations of recall of complex social-emotive concepts, as well as language. 'Mind reading' is thus not an issue of tapping into a stored archive but of experiencing haphazardly and interruptively changing meaning quickly. It is an 'on the fly' process. Ironically, it is the instability of normal social meanings moment to moment that is the weakness of autistic thought rather than an inability to experience consistent and highly systematic and integrated meaning.
Amanda Baggs explains:
'I've been talking to someone else who has a weird memory this way, and we're figuring it's a retrieval thing, not a storage thing. I am pretty sure that if something triggers the retrieval of certain knowledge, then the knowledge would suddenly appear somewhere. And I know from experience that when you trigger the recall of knowledge, my recall is very good, better than most people's possibly. But without any trigger, it doesn't stick in any state where it can be retrieved easily, and deliberate recall is difficult if not impossible and likely to yield fuzzy or distorted results when it yields any at all. I have a ton of stored knowledge. I can't just call that stored knowledge up at random and get it to work for me. Even if I do manage to get that knowledge triggered, my brain may not be up to doing whatever it's trying to do. There's no consistency to this. Overload, shutdown, and differences in perception do not miraculously vanish the moment knowledge, motivation, and calm appear.
Jim Sinclair wrote in 1989:
I taught myself to read at three, and I had to learn it again at ten, and yet again at seventeen, and at twenty-one, and at twenty-six. The words that it took me twelve years to find have been lost again, and regained, and lost, and still have not come all the way back to where I can be reasonably confident they'll be there when I need them. It wasn't enough to figure out just once how to keep track of my eyes and ears and hands and feet all at the same time; I've lost track of them and had to find them over and over again.
Amanda says 'I don't know if xe is talking about the same thing or not, but xe might well be. I have learned to be cautious about saying that I have discovered something for the first time. Because at the time when I am discovering that thing, it certainly feels like the first time, and I can't remember having ever discovered it before. But then I can't remember very much at any given point in time. Right now I can't remember much that is outside the room I am in and the subject matter and knowledge that I am immediately dealing with and using, nor can I easily direct my memory outside of those bounds. I could discover something again for the first time right now that I've actually discovered twenty times before, and my subjective experience of discovering it would be exactly like those previous twenty times. I'm not blocking out the knowledge of the previous twenty times, I just can't remember it right then.
I suspect that whatever the mechanism is that is behind this, also explains why I have been unable to retain (in any functional sense) a lot of knowledge and skills that for most people are learned and retained forever, and also why I seem to do some things seemingly out of nowhere that are unprecedented by my usual apparent abilities in any given area. Rather than retaining conscious and deliberate access to certain knowledge, I seem to retain the tools to find that knowledge again.
In that respect I am like a person with no innate sense of direction, who can find something with extensive use of maps, compasses, GPS receivers, etc. (Which would actually be a fairly bizarre experience to me because my sense of direction, while not as infallible as it used to be ' and it used to be completely infallible including for places I'd only been to once ' is still better than 99% of people I've met.) The only difference being that, in that analogy, the person would, if somehow the knowledge of a location was triggered instead of deliberate, be able to walk to that location with no problem at all and no clue how they knew how to do it. But then if they tried to go there on purpose, they would need to use the map and compass, and they might forget that the place existed at all and keep stumbling across it and 'discovering it for the first time' even if they'd been there a hundred times before. But then they might keep going back there whenever something triggered their ability to do so, and they might 'discover' the location of the place after they'd been going there for a long time without noticing it.
I also have a suspicion (although it's only that, a suspicion) that an 'area of interest,' be that interest simple or complex, sensory or intellectual, represents not necessarily just an area of interest, but a window of easy flow of information and focus of all sorts of abilities that can't possibly focus on more than that area. For instance, finding words is difficult in any area, but finding words outside of a few specific areas can be impossible. What those areas are depends on the moment. CNN sent me a long list of pre-interview questions. All of the questions are hard. But some of them I answered like the following:
'What do you think about the war in Iraq?
I don't like it. I have never written about it before, so I don't have language built up to describe all the particular reasons I don't like it, but they do exist. (This is one thing that isn't always obvious if you get me talking about something I've already talked about before, is that there are entire areas that I have plenty of knowledge around and never figured out words for.)
But I think it's not just about not having talked about it much before. It is also that it does not coincide closely enough with my areas of interest to be able to come up with words for it. I am interested in the war in Iraq, and I hear a lot about it, have opinions about it, and can see patterns and stuff that relate to it. But neither that nor the vast majority of my knowledge or interest is within one of those windows. People who know me well know me as having a lot more breadth of knowledge and interest than people who know me only by my writing. At the same time, people who know me only by my writing in areas that I am good at, would probably be shocked at the things I know and care about that I am totally incapable of communicating most of the time. (How many people know that I cried yesterday when I found out someone shot one of the seven remaining female Amur leopards?)
This is why, while there is a difference between someone who can write at length but only about their area of interest and someone who cannot write at all, the difference is not necessarily anywhere near as vast as some people believe it to be, and it is a mistake to assume that a person's communication skills about one topic reflect an ability to communicate about anything else (or even a consistent ability to communicate about that topic).'
Its hard to distinguish another's perspective from my own if I have difficulty in determining both a stable perspective in me and in the other, which requires holding in mind one bit of datum while comparing it to another relatively quickly. Such assessments must be done on the fly, in context of actual behavior, and what one has already learned cannot simply be imposed or substituted for the current situation. It must be compared and modified, and this is what is difficult for autistics, not the accessing of an abstract concept like 'theory of mind' but the rapid modification of a concept.
Memory defines the conceptual, provides it contours, its borders. That which we forget or remember, that which we know rather than perceive sensorally, is what we call conceptual. By contrast, that which is not conceptual is in some way less: less familiar, less articulated, less complex, pre-emotive.
Affection implies conceptual meaning, that is to say, very densely processed bits of change. Emotional contact is abstract contact and makes `intense demands' on the concentration of the autistic person because it is very rapidly changing bits of experience.
The high-functioning autistic moves through gradually, indirectly, consistently presented experience. To say that there are certain affects that autistics are incapable of feeling is only to say that their `rhythm' of movement from perception to conception is slower, more gradual. The 'alien language' of emotional verbal, facial and gestural expression that baffles autistics is the language of intense momentum of meaning transformation moment to moment, more dense than perceptual transformations but less dense than conceptual. It's a midrange that flummoxes the autistic. Its not all affectivity, but affectivity associated with this midrange, that is the challenge for them.
So what sorts of affective experience would be expected to be the most difficult for autistics to experience and understand? Joel Smith says that grief , sadness and romatic love are puzzles for him.
'There are some emotions I have never felt at all. For instance, I've never felt "romantic love" or "grief". While I understand the logic of these emotions, I don't know what the feelings themselves are like. While I do not understand romantic love, I do understand familiarity, friendship, and comfort. But I don't feel the driving emotion to "couple," even though all of my unmarried acquaintances seem to be feeling this emotion. Even if my closest friend or a family member died, I would not grieve in the normal sense. This is not because I have no close relationships, but because this emotion simply does not seem to exist in my mind. In the last few years, I have begun to feel new emotions. The strongest is sadness. Before I entered college, I had never felt sadness. (note that sadness is not the same as depression or angst, both of which I felt before).'
What is it about grief , sadness and romantic love which make them a challenge for many autistics to process? I suggest that both romantic love and grief rely on the ability to benefit from temporally rich and intensive input from others in nurturing one's creativity.
KB wrote: " I liken our low tolerance for social contact with a dyslexic's easy fatigability with reading. It's hard for us to interact, and our neural machinery is lacking in this area. It's easy to overtax what we have. To put it simply: I just ain't wired for the social stuff."Jane Meyerding writes:'Interacting verbally requires near-instant shifts of focus, reacting to the other person's questions and answers quickly enough to keep the conversation alive and "normal."Understandably, friends don't like to be told, "Go away, I need to be alone." No one likes to feel she is a "drain" on someone else. But one inescapable fact about autism is that we lack the ability to interact with other people in ways that "fill" us rather than draining us. That is a large part of what autism is. '
If one must receive stimulation from others in a more moderated and gradual form, one replaces romantic passion with close friendship. If the friend dies, it is not as if there is no negative response to the loss of an individual who may potentially have been involved in a large part of an autistic's life. It's simply that sadness and grief involve taking in all at once the range of experiences that the deceased person participated in with the autistic. A more diffuse sense of emptiness, depression or loneliness expresses the quality of reflection on loss of the autistic rather than the intensity of grief. Grief is passionate love in reverse, a recollection of the love combined with the recognition of its loss. If there is no recollection of intense love to begin with, then there cannot be grief at the loss of that figure.
NOTES ON CLAUDIA OSBORN:
p.26:'I tried to focus, but even as I registered the meaning of each word, the import of the sentence as a whole disappeared'.'Every word was clear at the moment I read it, but the meaning of the sentences disappeared while I was reading the words.(32)'
'My thinking was on hold, my mind blank. I was 'flooding'. When it happens, my thinking becomes painfully slow, ineffectual, and I am easily confused. Trying to hear another person's words is akin to listening to a symphony with cotton plugging my ears-much is lost. In fact, I feel as though my whole brain is swathed in cotton batting that prevents my thoughts from moving, inhibiting the transmission of information. I become rigid, mentally and physically. Ideas do not come to mind. My mental switchboard is awash in strong emotions even though, at times, I am unaware of any emotion(62)'.Compare this to autistic overload and shutdown. Donna Williams writes:'Don't wake up the mind. Don't tell it what you are doing. Otherwise, the hand will not be allowed to grasp, the eyes will never be allowed to look. Do not show an expression or have a thought, or your mind will know you are there and send 'tidal waves' to drown you. Affect, when it brakes through mile-high walls, hits with the impact and devastation of a sudden 'tidal wave', an emotional fit.'(24).
All three of these terms may point to a falling back on low-level, fragmented perceptual experiencing devoid of symbolic meaning. What's important about the description of this sort of experience by autistics and brain injured patients is that it is subjectively experienced as affectively empty, meaningless, confused, a loss of self. Donna Williams says:'The meaning of everything before me had dropped out and I was surrounded by color and pattern and shape, with my sense of hearing heightened, my sensitivity to light increased, and my own nameless emotions washing over me'(130). Notice that meaning doesn't TOTALLY drop out for Williams during overload; she still experiences emotion, but its meaningfulness doesn't lend itself to the minimal stability necessary to hold onto and understand what it is in more than a fleeting, dissociated sense. The meaning is conscious but inarticulate.
This supports the idea that affectivity is a measure of the richness or density of movement of experiencing. In other words, that meaning is a function of rate of movement rather than static content. Content IS primarily a function of rate of movement of thought.
Claudia writes:'Since my injury, I found it difficult to recognize people by face, depending instead upon their voice and mannerisms(50).'
'I...was emotionally disassociated from my right hand. It felt like an artificial appendage. I didn't like to use it.(44)'. 'I could...focus on any part of my face, but it took considerable attention for me to see my face as a composite whole(145)'..
'I am not on friendly terms with spoken language. Words elude me and refuse to come to my aid. I am incredulous, not to mention irritated, by the poor quality of my conversation. Strangely, that is not the case with my previously acquired medical knowledge, which I can summon at will and regurgitate quite successfully(72).'Compare this with the claim of many autistics that symbolic language is a second language to them.
'When I was on emotionally, I was easily lost and awash with confusion. It was even harder to deal with because these feelings also left me mentally exhausted....When I feel, I don't think. When I think , I don't feel. I want control. I want to do both-together'(125).
'...I am running as fast as I can to stay in place and working to keep alert and energized, to follow their conversation, to consciously direct my mind using every strategy I possess just to do something that for them is automatic'(121). Compare this with Jane Meyerding's comment concerning the exhausting nature of social interaction, and Baron-Cohen's theory on autistics' intensive use of strategies.
Donna Williams wrote:'Verbal argument was a stored skill, but one I knew I couldn't use consciously as myself. It could be triggered but not used consciously.(p.25)' Compare this with Tbi'er P.J. Long's comment that 'I'm actually incapable of processing words quickly enough to argue.(p.43)'
TBI'ers , like autistics, need to fall back on elaborate systematic strategies in order to do what for normals is seemingly automatic and effortless. Simon Baron-Cohen proposed the theory that people with Autistic Syndrome tend to hyper-systematize; that they tend to seek to approach all spheres of life, including the social sphere, by developing systems or sets of laws to operate to. Baron-Cohen theorizes that this hyper-systematization as an extreme form of male brain-wiring , contrasted with a general female orientation toward empathetic thinking. I would suggest the opposite is the case; supposed normal strengths in visuo-spatial and mathematical reasoning involve a rapid, intuitive processing which avoids the need for deliberate sequential systematizing.
Deliberate, organized systematics is a crutch used when this more rapid avenue of processing fails. The goal of such strategies for the autistic or tbi'er is to throw up continuous memory cues in a graduated fashion under the control of the perceiver, so that she doesn't have to recall all at once and 'keep in mind' a range of different ideas or perceptions. If it feels deliberately systematized then it is not the sort of rapid, dense thinking that normals excel at. P.J. Long described her compensatory memory strategies as 'being so ultra-organized, non-spontaneous, and compulsively neat that a programmed robot could function successfully in your place. This is so unlike the 'old' me!(69).'
'Prior to my injury, I was no more likely to paint than I was to sing Carmen at the Met. While it numbed my response almost all other stimuli, [the injury] intensified my perception of color. Certainly I had always enjoyed color. Now I could see hues and tones I had never seen before. Everywhere I turned, I saw a dazzling intensity and diversity of color. I could walk through the gray drizzle of an overcast Manhattan day between the towering monochromatic stone structures and be fascinated by the richness and nuances of the color grey. Put me in a room of impressionist art and I was oblivious to the pictures' subjects but floored by their brilliant oils(115)".
What's the relation between autistics' difficulties with perceptual integration and their social-affective difficulties? Many autistics are extremely sensitive to light, color, taste, touch, sound. In addition many are not able to recognize pain, to differentiate hot from cold. Are they not all related by the fact that they represent a difficulty in constructing a more complex gestalt out of a stream of simpler sensations?
Notice that many tbi'ers also share hyper-sensitivity to sensations. I suggest the core of the difficulties these groups experience is in assigning conceptual-symbolic meaning to lower-level perception, which means to synthesize higher-order meanings from them. To ADAPT to intensities of sensation requires rapidly doing this constructive process of meaning assignment. These perceptual difficulties are ALREADY a form of language difficulty. Notice that perceptual hypersensitivities are not constant but wax and wane as a function of stress, fatigue, concentration, etc. In other words, factors which affect the ability to construct out of simpler perceptual patterns more complex syntheses directly affect the experience of hypersensitivity. Words are 'expert concepts', they are well-learned, rich blobs of meaning with many points of contextual access to them.
When one has difficulty in 'finding' a word, one is attempting to enlarge an incipient conceptual context of meaning, to elaboratively construct it quickly enough to be able to arrive at a context complex enough to satisfy the requirements necessary for regurgitating the specific word. The word is not simply recalled, but is an imaginative enlargement of the present context. The word that is remembered is not the same word that was learned or recalled previously; it is similar , but in each recollection it is constructed anew as an extension of current context. Very well-learned, 'expert' knowledge, such as very old memories, is easier for autistics and tbi'ers, because so much of it is already available , carried forward in current contexts from previous ones. Recall of words is no different than learning something new. Echolalia or repetition of random language without intent to communicate is easier than communicative language because it requires little effort expended on constructing new meaning. The words remembered are 'expert', they are already available in the current context for the most part and require very little in the way of further construction in order to be expressed.
'.. .my mind sees only the present tense. My immediate world has my undivided attention. I am not distracted by a past or future(Claudia Osborn,137)'.
Note; Temple Grandin apparently buys into the arousal theory of emotion, the view that affective processes can be treated independently from cognitive and sensory ones. She sees herself as 'Mr. Spock', and normals as being able to read emotional 'cues', these cues being non-semantic, arbitrary stimuli which often distort facts. She says 'According to Antonio Damasio, people who suddenly lose emotions because of strokes often make disastrous financial and social decisions. These patients have completely normal thoughts, and they respond normally when asked about hypothetical social situations. But their performance plummets when they have to make rapid decisions without emotional cues. It must be like suddenly becoming autistic. I can handle situations where stroke patients may fail because I never relied on emotional cues in the first place'(137).
According to this view, emotion acts as a secondary coloration surrounding thinking. It can either accompany or not accompany cognition, which is considered already in-itself meaningful, apart from its supposed connection with emotion systems. This way of thinking makes it impossible to connect the sensory and cognitive problems of autistics with their emotional ones. Only when the semantic meaningfulness of cognition, and perception is understood as a function of density of movement can it be recognized that emotion IS the measure of the momentum of this movement, and that sensation, perception, cognition and emotion are ALL semantic, intentional processes. Emotion IS the momentum of movement of perceptual or conceptual content, which are both intentional, metaphorical structures. Since Grandin believes that emotions consist of arbitrary sensory cues, she believes rationality can do without this extraneous, and often distorting, source of information.
What she doesn't recognize is that the 'emotional' deficit of individuals like Damasio's patient, and Grandin herself, is not a matter of failing to use certain contents(emotion cues) in the course of making rapid decisions, but of failing to make decisions(elaborate more complex and synthetic contexts out of simpler ones) as rapidly as normals. The emotion deficit IS the density of processing deficit, a deficit centered around a particular RANGE of density, a midrange located somewhere between low level perceptual and abstract conceptual functioning. Without realizing it, Grandin touches on the heart of her 'emotion' deficit in the following observation: 'Since people with autism require much more time than others to shift their attention between auditory and visual stimuli, they find it more difficult to follow rapidly changing, complex social interaction'(138).What she refers to as a 'physiological problem of attention shifting' originates in a difficulty in rapidly constructing complex meanings out of simpler ones. The simplest, least 'synthetic ' sorts of perceptual experiences are those devoid of a sense of unified objectness to things. When Donna Williams was in shutdown mode due to stress and over-stimulation, the symbolic, conceptual meaning was drained from the perceptual world, and '...there were no whole objects in that room, just shiny edges and things that jumped with the bouncing of light(94)'. In contrast, high-level conceptual meaning is emotively 'felt' meaning. The sorts of emotional experiences that are the most difficult or autistics and tbi'ers are those that require a sustained , temporally intensive concentration(joy, grief, romantic passion) rather than a more graduated pattern of activation(comfort, depression, etc.). Because communication that relies on an informationally dense pattern of (affective) meaning overloads autistic processing ability, Donna Williams asks her therapist,
'Can you take the dancing out of your voice [intonation] and not pull faces [facial expression] so you don't distract me from what it is you're saying?(98)'. The key point is that we cycle continuous between low level perceptual experience and higher level abstract meaning. Every time processing drops down from the heights of complex abstract meaning it has to be built back up to that level, and how much effort is involved depends on how gradual the process is allowed to be, as well as how rich(well-learned, expert) the higher-level contextual body of meaning is. The richer the context, the less effort is expended in refreshing and sustaining it throughout the cycling.
Letter to Donna Williams:'Symptoms of tbi include sleep disorders, hypersensitivity to light, sound and touch, ocd, apathy, a slowness in processing affectively intense stimuli, easy distractiblility and need to avoid direct eye contact, and difficulty in processing rapidly transpiring social situations. These symptoms are common to many with acquired brain injuries.
Autism and tbi may in many cases share common features. It may turn out to be the case that the difference between autistic experience and the symptoms of tbi is mainly the age of onset . An acquired brain injury (unless it is acquired in infancy) occurs after the point when an individual's brain has been able to effectively experience social affectivity, perceptual integration and an interpersonal concept of "self".
Thus, the memory of these concepts remain intact post-injury and can be accessed to aid in reconstructing or filling-in-for the fragmentary perceptual-cognitive processing following a tbi. TBI'ers typically say their old self "died" as a result of their injury and a new one replaced it, but I would argue that what is crucial is that they still remember this old self.
What I'm suggesting is that the difference between the autistic and the tbi'er is like the difference between someone born deaf and someone who became deaf later in life. There is an entire process of perceptual integration between the auditory , visual and movement cortices which has already occurred within the brain of the person who was born with hearing which was unavailable to the person born deaf. One the person born hearing acquires this information, these concepts, they never forget them , and even after they become deaf, they are able to draw on this information to sound out words on a page, etc. In the same way, the person with acquired brain injury is able, in social situations, to draw upon well-learned concepts concerning social-affective cues to use as a crutch when ongoing situations move to rapidly and intensely for them to keep up "on the fly". Has there ever been a documented case of autism in someone older than 8 or 9, who had, according to DETAILED and ACCURATE observations of family and friends, been without a trace of autistic behaviors prior to that age? I would suggest that autism is something that is not and cannot be "acquired" later in life precisely because it is a brain injury that is fundamentally defined by a tbi-syndrome that occurs before the individual has the chance to effectively process rapid, sequentially dense, multiple perceptual and social-affective input, and therefore has no store of such information to draw. '
Letter to Josh:
'I maintain that what we're dealing with here in the case of Daniel Tammet's talent with primes, and his other abilities, is connected with a profoundly increased salience that for him is associated with numbers , but not just numbers, also language, as evidenced by his learning of Islandic(Does he translate Islandic sounds into numeric figures as an aid to memory, just as he learned the chessboard spatial configration that way? I'm guessing no.) What the language and numeric feats have in common IS something related to autistic abilities, and that is a love of , or profound interest in, the minutia of a certain type of perceptual processing that all of us do, but autistic do in a much more intensive and extended fashion. I find myself involved in this sort of task when I draw and paint. One of the reasons that I don't do a lot of painting these days is that I find that it requires a type of thinking that disconnects me from the verbal-synthetic abstract mode which I depend on for my philosophic and psychological research.
I get a kind of hangover after a few hours concentrating on the art. Why? I think its because the art requires me to disconnect my vision from my knowledge of what the visual patterns MEAN in terms of conceptual objects, and focus on them as pure pattern of texture and light and shadow. Of course the art also involves abstract and affective intuition, but this happens for me later and as a separate skill. I think the same can be said for numeric, auditory and other kinds of perceptual modes. One can focus on these with attention to simple pattern, or in terms of socially meaningful, intuitive concepts. Severe autistics spend most of their time in a world of simple patterns. I think that brain injury due to trauma, infection, congenital mutation is central to the 'abilities' of savants because one can only become obsessed with pattern to the extent that savants do if more abstract, synthetic functions are compromised.
Let me get back to the issue of memory and salience of meaning. Have you ever heard of the pegword method of memory training? It makes use of our superior visual memory to aid in recall of random words. Typically, one is asked to think of a routine path one travels daily. This could be what one does when one gets home. Lets say I first open my door with my key, then hang my coat on the inner knob, then put my keys on a table in living room... and so on. I can make this path remarkably detailed, involving hundreds of separate objects with their associated images. Now I take my random list of words to memorize, and associate each word in as colorful or outrageous a way as possible with each object-image on my pathway. The result is that I will be able to recall a much greater number of these words than if I had simply been given them separately.
I have tremendously increased the SALIENCE of these words by linking them with an already very richly learned terrain. I would say this is the key to what Daniel does with numbers, the difference being that for him the numbers themselves are already very richly linked with distinct colors, textures, even personalities. His recall of PI to 20,000 places was like a journey through the house. Could one tack on 20,000 words to this journey and remember them all? I don't think a non-savant could, but you or I COULD remember 20,000 images from a wellworn path of ours if allowed just to describe continuously everything we are recalling as we retrace the steps of that trip. See, the key thing here is that if something is incredibly well-learned, that means that it is like a huge interconnected web or tapestry. A big chunk of this tapestry can atrophy and enough will still be left over that when asked to "recall' this faded web via a name, we can do so. If Daniel absorbs numbers as huge webs, then even as they fade from his memory , there will be plenty left so that he will appear to flawless recall them.
Is he or is he not 'calculating' primes, then? Can we say for sure that he has not already calculated a long list of primes previous to his testing? Remember, for him the experience of generating Pi is not like effortful calculation, but it is still a process that requires passage through a series. There is some 'glue' which connects one member of the series with the next. When you or I count a series of numbers, we are also using a glue connecting one to the next. What if Daniel, in identifying primes, is drawing on recollection of a counting process he has done in the past many times, something which it seems he would likely have done since he adores everything about numbers and immerses himself in that world? So maybe without him really even thinking about it, he already is well enough acquainted with primes, at least up to a certain limit, that when asked randomly whether a particular number is a prime or not, he will instantly conjure up a shape and color that tells him yes or no. But I think you will agree with me that, like a transcendental number, a prime is nothing but a point in a history. Its meaning is its relation to a series, and without in some fashion experiencing that series forward in time, one cannot simply intuit a prime. At some point, in some way, there has to be a contextual 'counting', even if that counting feels like simply watching a movie or taking a journey and observing what one sees.
I still think that the price one pays for the attainment of these 'gifts' is the impoverishment of a mode of thinking that you and I would consider far more precious, and that is the synthetic-abstract mode of meaning.'
(Individuals who develop memory impairment in adulthood have had the opportunity not given to autistics to freely discover the intricacies of the social world prior to the onset of their dysfunction. They may experience just as much difficulty as autistics in concentrating on complex social events but unlike autistics they understand what it is they're missing. This may be analogous to the difference between those born deaf and hose whose deafness is acquired.)
Recent research in cognitive information-processing has focused on a level between perceptual and cognitive functioning as a strongly suspected locus for memory. Studies have cited the limbic system, an evolutionarily older structure than the cortex which is anatomically situated underneath its folds, as a particular area of suspicion. The limbic system, especially the amygdalar-hippocampal structures and their pathways, have previously been implicated in motivational, attentional and memory functions. The limbic area seems to have something to do with the ability of research animals to care about, pay attention to, see the salience in new events.
Anti-cholinergic drugs, particularly physostigmine, have been reported to cause similar autistic-like effects, as well as have injuries to the hippocampal and related areas of the limbic portion of the brain which contain large concentrations of acetylcholine. (If it turns out that a wide range of dysfunctions exclusively involving memory are proven to originate in limbic structures, this will buttress the hypothesis that the anatomical-functional evolution of the brain proceeded from sensation to memory to conception.)
When words, ideas, conversations that were understood yesterday are not understood today, one wonders what else one is not understanding. A `bad' memory viewed in this way seems to suggest a permanent loss of meanings, like a language no longer decipherable. An autistic may never have had the experience of fully penetrating the language of social interaction. What is he missing?
If feeling is arbitrary, then how whole is a person, and what is the failure of the ill person? What is it others recognize which the autistic or schizophrenic cannot? What is it to say that his capacity to feel is in some way limited with respect to other people, that they recognize affective colors in each other that he cannot?
NOTES ON THEORY THEORY, SIMULATION THEORY, INTERACTION THEORY AND DECONSTRUCTIVE THEORY OF AUTISM:
Shaun Gallagher doesn't seem to get the idea of construing, of intentionality, as free of conditioning. He says about narrative:
' Typically, [children] are provided with running commentaries on stories that teach them not only which actions are suited to particular situations but also which reasons for acting are acceptable and which are not. It is by absorbing such standards that we first learn how to judge an action's appropriateness (though, of course, in time such standards are sometimes questioned and overturned). Quite generally, stories ' real or fictional ' teach us what others can expect from us, but just as importantly, what we can expect from others in certain situations. This is not just coming to know what others ought to (and thus are likely to) do, but what they ought to (and thus are likely to) think and feel, as indexed to the sort of people they are. Narratives provide one important source of guidance for staking out the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. Through them we learn the norms associated with social roles that pervade our everyday environments ' shops, restaurants, homes and theatres.
Engaging with narratives is not a passive affair: it presupposes a wide range of emotive and interactive abilities. To appreciate such stories children must be initially capable, at least to some degree, of imaginative identification and of responding emotively, just as they do in basic social engagements. In this respect 'conversations about written and oral stories are natural extensions of children's earlier experiences with the sharing of event structures' (Guajardo & Watson 2002, p. 307). Through them children discover why characters act as they do in particular cases, becoming accustomed to standard scripts ' scenarios, characters, plots, etc.'(http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~gallaghr/gall&hutto06.html).
What seems to be missing here is the recognition that one never simply absorbs stories, narratives, meanings, but always transforms their meaning by integrating them into one's own system. However, Gallagher does realize that theory theory depends on a billiard ball form of causation to understand intentionality . Gallagher sees that actions are linguistic , they are relational symbols not just neutrally conveying a pre-existing sense but transforming that sense. To be fair, theory theory isn't exactly billiard ball causality, more likely static structuralism. Schemas, frames, rules, symbolic narratives, algorithms act as interpretive devices but assimilate without accommodating themselves to the novelty of what they encounter. They are not 'situational', 'worldly', 'contextual' enough.'Mentalism', then, is another word for static structuralism.
'In seeking a narrative understanding of the other it is not their 'inner' life ' if understood as a serious of causally efficacious mental states ' that we are attempting to access, but simply the other's life as it unfolds in response to worldly/situational contexts, and that is best captured in a narrative form. Of course, this may involve coming to understand their reasons, but these should not be understood as designating discrete 'mental states' but attitudes of the whole person. I encounter the other person, not abstracted from their circumstances, but in the middle of something that has a beginning and that is going somewhere. I see them in the framework of a story in which either I have a part to play or I don't. The narrative is not primarily about what is 'going on inside their heads'; it's about what is going on in their world and the way they understand and respond to it. Crucially, coming to appreciate the other's story ' to see why they are doing what they are doing ' does not require mentalistic inference or simulation. Our understanding of others is not based on attempts to get into their heads; typically we do not need to access a "landscape of consciousness" since we already have access to a "landscape of action" which is constituted by their embodied actions and the rich worldly contexts within which they act -- contexts that operate as scaffolds for the meaning and significance of actions and expressive movements.
Thus, there is no need to appeal to standard theory-of-mind and simulative explanations of how we understand others, even when it comes to making sense of them folk psychologically. '
Gallagher writes'...the self is the sum total of its narratives and includes within itself all of the equivocations, contradictions, struggles and hidden messages that find expression in personal life. In contrast to Dennett's center of narrative gravity, this extended self is decentered, distributed and multiplex. On a psychological level, this view allows for conflict, moral indecision and self-deception, in a way that would be difficult to work out in terms of an abstract point of intersection'(p.9,Philosophical Conceptions of the Self, internet).
The weakness of Gallagher's and others' approaches to enaction and narrativity is that it still depends on a notion of learning as habit and conditioning. People learn what is 'acceptable', they are shaped in conventional 'norms'. Like Shotter's approach, the person is constantly being shaped and reshaped contextually but there is a supposed universality or at least partial objectivity about what is being assimilated into the person's system of meaning. What is assimilated is, contrary to Gallagher, not a norm , object, habit, but an axis or pole of meaning. The object to be assimilated does not exist outside of the dual structure of linkage between the empirical and the formal, between the memory and the novel, between the aspect of the object that is new and contextual and the aspect of it which is already recognized by the system. An object is a WAY of being new that is similar or recognizable to the system.
'Reasons for acting, of different types and complexity, are as it were put on show time and time again in this way. By attending to enough of these exemplars, children come by an implicit practical understanding of how to make sense of persons as those who act for reasons. This is nothing like simply having or fashioning a core theory of the attitudes. Coming to understand what it is to act for a reason ' to understand folk psychologically ' requires engaging in a specific kind of narrative practice.
Furthermore, an understanding of the background norms that make this possible does not take the form of grasping a set of explicit generalizations about how others will act. Rather, a set of cultural norms is learned through practice such that these become second nature. By this means common expectations that are meant to apply to all, equally, are established. By learning how I ought to behave in such and such a circumstance, I learn how you ought to behave as well. And this supplies a ready guide to your behavior in so far as you do not behave abnormally. Such learning does not take the form of internalising explicit rules (at least not as a set of theoretical propositions), nor does it depend on applying ones that are somehow built-in subpersonally. It involves becoming accustomed to local norms, coming to embody them, as it were, through habit and practice. This, and not the wielding of theoretical generalizations; it is the crucial backdrop against which we make sense of actions via narratives of the folk psychological and other kinds.'
Gallagher's support of narrative approaches reflects his recognition that direct bodily responsivity to the environment forces the cognitive system to change more frequently than it would if it simply processed environmental input via rigid internal algorithms. But in preferring a 'landscape of action' to a landscape of consciousness', Gallagher still dichotomizes the relationship between external world and internal world. He doesn't realize that the internal world of consciousness, or of mental-bodily processes in general, is already the world. The mind doesn't exist and then interact with an outside , it IS interaction, simultaneously an inside and an outside. What's the difference between Gallagher's local norms learned through habit and practice, and internalized theoretical rules? Its just this difference between a template which assumes that environmental objects conform to long-term rule-bound patterns, and a habit which assumes environmental actions are temporary and fluctuating patterns. But Gallagher still relies on a notion of perception as dictated by objective features of the outside world(he says we all perceive the same environmental cues) and internal narrative frameworks forcing their meanings onto the external context(we also share the same narratives within a local milieu). But he doesn't see that it is impossible to tease out an objective perceptual component of experience and a narrative component. The perceptual, therefore, is never shared intersubjectively as a 'same' datum, and the narrative component, shaped as it is fresh context, is also never shared , even locally, as the 'same' norm.
Gallagher writes ,
'The basis for human interaction and for understanding others can be found already at work in early infancy in certain embodied practices that are emotional, sensory-motor, perceptual, and non-conceptual(Gallagher, S. 2004. Understanding interpersonal problems in autism: Interaction theory as an alternative to theory of mind. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 11 (3): 199-217)'. Note that Gallagher distinguishes between the perceptual-emotional and the conceptual, in a matter similar to Panksepp and Ratcliffe and critiqued by me .
For him, the so-called primary intersubjectivity characteristic of very young infants(before 12 to 18 months of age) takes place without the infant having to infer internal beliefs or desires on the part of the other. '...in pragmatic circumstances, we do not look beyond the actions of others to try to find the beliefs that motivate them'. But it does not come down to a choice between perceiving external actions in contextual circumstances versus inferring abstract internal beliefs or rules. ALL so-called perception IS already inferental, not in the sense of accessing templates, rules, schemas, but in that each present meaning is only what it is by implicitly referring to, and being partly composed of, an immediately previous meaning. There is never an interruption in this chain of experiencing that is at the same time equally intentional-referential and transformed by immediate context.
Gallagher seems to support, at least to an extent, Uta Frith's central coherence theory of autism, which states that autistics have difficulty in seeing things in context. It's basically an 'autistics only see the parts but not the whole, missing the forest for the trees' argument. Uta Frith says,'...cognitive processing is normally geared towards extracting overall meaning and overall Gestalt at the cost of surface detail. So when your memory is overloaded (e.g., by the details of a long speech) what you will later recall is just the main message the speaker wanted to convey, not necessarily the speaker's words. My hunch is that in autism the balance of processing both deep meaning and surface detail is tipped in favor of detail.' Frith's approach is information-processing cognitivism;she co-developed the TOM model with Baron-Cohen. Gallagher would likely read the significance of central coherence theory differently than Frith. But how? Frith's view implies a split between the existence of perceptual data and their relationship or interaction with each other. Not seeing the forest for the trees indicates that one first encounters trees and then creates a gestalt forest out of these trees as a separate and distinct act, the perceiving of trees and the creation of the gestalt forest are seen as two sorts of activities. One can succeed or fail at relating distinct items into a larger whole, and these two processes can be affected independently of each other, just as for Ratcliffe cognitive and affective processes can be manipulated independently of each other; even if these manipulations affect both processes, they affect them in two different ways. In my view, however, there is not existent content on the one hand and interaction on the other, content IS already at the same time interaction: ALL meaning is a relational gestalt, thus autistics move through gestalt contexts just as do normals. Its not a question of failing to relate disparate items, but of failing to move through a mid-range of momentum in elaborating more complex gestalt contexts out of simpler ones. The fact that autistics are capable of understanding highly complex abstract concepts indicates that they can understand the most sophisticated and complex gestalts. It's simple that they cannot do this complex constructive activity as rapidly as normals.
Autistics don't see things OUT of context, they move through a temporally unfolding context impoverished in its midrange . If, in Happe's example, an autistic kid labels a pillow a piece of ravioli, its not that he's failing to relate the meaning of the ravioli to any larger context; the perception of the ravioli is the continuation and modification of an already ongoing context of thought for the child. He, like anyone, begins from the most immediate context that he perceives, based on his immediately past context. To move from ' pillow as ravoili' to 'pillow as pillow' is to elaborate the initial context in a rapid fashion such as to transform it into a gestalt rich enough to include the concept of pillow . Notice that here the difficulty for the autistic is one that unites content and relation. It's not that he privileges separated content OVER gestalt relationality; the deficit of denser relationality in his processing is at the same time a deficit of content. Meaningfulness of content is a direct function of the density of processing. But notice that this does not mean that the details the autistic picks out are irrelevant or arbitrary. They are just as intentionally ordered and relevant as is normal perception and cognition. But of course the larger problem with central coherence theory is that it depicts not only autistic function but also normal thought as cobbled out of arbitrary interactions between existent contents.
The autistic disadvantage is for these theorists just an exacerbation of the arbitrariness already inherent in normal processing. Normal gestalt processing is arbitrarily guided by affective mechanisms, telling it when to relate and when not to relate items. The crucial point here is there is a danger inherent in the central coherence account. It assumes that, even more so than normals, there are contexts in which autistic experience can be unadaptive. Unlike earlier views, they wouldn't see autistic behavior as irrational or meaningless, but rather as a bit less purposeful than normals because removed from some of the mechanisms that are supposed to guide normals in organizing larger schemes of meaning out of details. Calling a pillow a piece of ravioli may give a child fewer options of understanding a situation in comparison with a child who identifies the contextual appearance of the object as 'pillow', but the contextual constructing of the autistic is every bit as relevant and purposeful as the normal's.
Does Gallagher agree with Frith's account? He seems to suggest that autistic dysfunction may originate in early infant 'sensory-motor' deficits preventing them from seeing the entire content of a perceptual context. There may be much in common between Gallagher's sensory-motor dysfunction theory of autism and Ratcliffe's model of affective dysfunction in Capgras and anosognosia. In both cases normal meaning processing is guided by an arbitrary device which , in the case of affectivity, reinforces one qualitative sense of meaning over another(it can steer cognition to relate items together as similar, or emphasize the discordanece between items), and in the case of normal interactivity, binds one's own outlook with that of another. Gallagher says 'There is good evidence that a subject's understanding of another person's actions depends to some extent on a mirrored reverberation in the subject's own motor system.'Is he attempting to explain intersubjective understanding on the basis of a conditioning mechanism: my ability to recognize the actions of another as being like my own is the result of an arbitrary sensory-motor mechanism which cobbles together my and their actions? He says that an innate body schema in the neonate that integrates sensory and motor systems allows the infant to translate, recognize and respond to facial expressions of others. Gopnick and Meltzoff say that 'we innately map visually perceived motions of others onto our own kinesthetic sensations'(1997,p.129). It doesn't seem that Gallagher wants to make the innate body schema into simply a rigidly reflexive mechanism. It seems to operate for him as a contextually sensitive interactive circuit.
Still, there are hints that he sees developmentally later, higher level cognitive processes as dependent on sensory -motor mechanisms as a kind of elaborated conditioning , much as cognitive-affective processes are for Damasio the result of the extension of innate emotion reinforcement circuits to larger and larger realms of experience. If this is the case, then the problem is that the sensory-motor system needs to be TOLD to relate one's own experiences and that of an observed other. This would imply that Gallagher reifies the distinction between self and other, between first and third person. Evidence for this comes from his support of the immunity from error hypothesis concerning the experience of the 'I', as well as his insistence that proprioception is not a perception.
All this would confirm sharply that Gallagher does not grasp that interaction PRECEDES any concept of separation of body and world. If one starts from body-world as a discrete divide between inside and outside, then one has to posit arbitrary mechanism that tell the body how to reach out to a world. For Gallagher, unlike earlier theorists, the body-world divide is a division that separates two sides of an indissociable interaction. Thus he is able to emphasize that the body is in continuous contact with the world and is always actively intertwined, exposed, and altered by this interaction. I believe this interaction is primary for him, yet the fact that he clings to the idea that it is an already organized existent body which is in interaction with an outside, a composed form , means that the body is a conservative subject-object which resists its own transformation, thus only changes in violent and arbitrary ways . As far as autism is concerned, he would not argue that autistics or any other organism, do not interact continuously with an outside, but that something is broken in them (he says 'it is as if the autistic child's mirror neurons are not working properly', (Between Ourselves, p.104)) which prevents them from effectively relating and distinguishing, in the proper ways , self and other. A key question for Gallagher is whether mirror neurons are missing from lower animals. I believe they have only been found in primates and humans, and my guess is Gallagher would conclude from this that lower animals do not have a range of capabilities involved in distinguishing self from other.
Furthermore, one could reasonably assume that what would be missing is not some level along a continuous spectrum of understanding , but a more or less discrete mechanism. The bottom line is that for Gallagher , exposure to an outside is not sufficient for a cognitive(or sensory-motor) system to change the direction of its interactive functioning. Sameness of interaction is a kind of stuckness in a subroutine which results in a kind of solipsism. Gallagher sees autistic contextual interactivity as partially self-perseverative, because somewhere in his system, a component that normally would provide the glue, the guidance, relating inside and outside, altering inside to accomodate outside, is dysfunctional. It may be he sees the origin of this interactive failure in self-image structures of the autistic, that is to say, the autistic's failure to effectively relate itself to and distinguish itself from others resides more fundamentally in a deficit relating itself to itself via normal body schematic mechanisms.
It's difficult to tell; he doesn't commit himself to a specific hypothesis here concerning autism, only a vague suggestion connecting the early childhood sensory-motor system of contextual social processing with autism.
Actually, Gallagher and Ratcliffe have come a significant distance from the TOM crowd. While it is true that they would distinguish between pre-linguistic and linguistic developmental stages, it's not as if they don't recognize the constructed nature of all perception. Their point concerning the contextual, pragmatic, perceptual nature of most experience is not that no interpretive features are utilized here. Just the opposite, the very claim that we can immediately know someone's intention's on the basis of their gesture or behavior come from the recognition that not only is the self-world relation one of continuous contextual modification of thought, but the internal milieu of mind-body is also integrated within itself such that one can say that it is the PERSON as a whole who interacts with his world. Still, they don't grasp the immediately ideological nature of all perception; they still allow for a certain arbitrary fragmentation within experiential processes like perception, between perception and conception, and between those domains and affectivity,etc. But they've taken a big step in recognizing autistic deficits as a function of deficits in contextual processing rather than the inability to grasp certain sorts of concepts or theories.
When I ask 'what's going on here' in a situation, I move through a flowing series of contextual understandings; I use a 'narrative' background understanding, that is, my own contextual background, to aid me in forming meanings, while the immediate context adjusts those narratives, etc.in an ongoing process. An autistic looks at someone new in the room, enlists a prior narrative which is bound to be thin and not very informative in terms of that person's more changeable personality traits, tries to adjust that framework in the light of the changing new context, and finds themselves in great difficulty in doing so such as to keep up with the fast changes in that person's actions and thoughts. But the autistic does the best he can, learning a few things in the new context. What the interactivist, anti-TOM crowd(Gallagher, Ratcliffe) needs to understand is that theory per se is not a bugaboo that resists exposure to new context. There simply is no such thing as canned theory. ALL conceptualization is constructed out of its immediate context. The interactionists are correct to attack the TOM crowd for BELIEVING that cognitive theories can exist as already stored and context-resistant modules, but it must be clarified that what we think of as theory, well-learned, systematized or expert information, is not only never canned, but represents the most valuable realm of contextual experiencing for us. In any 'on-the-fly' situation of dealing with others socially, and attempting to make assessments of others' attitudes or inclination, whether in a subway train full of strangers or in intimate discussion with friends, it is this so-called expert or well-learned background theory which is vital to guiding our interactions. Why? Because not only is this body of meaning not resistant to context, not only is it constructed anew in the NOW of the situation, but it represents the richest avenue of anticipatory movement through the situation. If autistics come up with theoretical formulas in place of intimate contextual readings of social cues of others, it just means that they have successfully accessed the only aspect of the situation which they can meaningfully understand, that is, the most stable and richest patterns of the situation. If it is true that they fail to recognize other more subtle and rapidly changing aspects of the encounter which are too fleeting for them to process, this cannot be a condemnation of their reliance on expert, well-learned theory. It simply shows us that 'normals' access-construct BOTH stable theoretical meanings of the situation AND adjust these stable patterns in nuanced ways on -the-fly. Both normals and autistics begin from theoretical structures of meaning, which are never static but always self-modifying themselves moment-to-moment, but the autistic must alter these theoretical structures more gradually, otherwise they cannot maintain focus on them, they fragment, and the autistic is reduced to more lower level perceptual distractions. Thus, the 'theory-dependent' autistic is doing the same thing normals are in contextual social situations, only more gradually.
NOTES ON BLINDSIGHT:
Laura Chivers writes 'Blindsight is seen clinically as a contrast between a lack of declarative knowledge about a stimulus and a high rate of correct answers to questions about the stimulus . People suffering from blindsight claim to see nothing, and are therefore unable to reach spontaneously for stimuli, cannot decide whether or not stimuli are present, and do not know what objects look like. In this sense, they are blind. However, they are able to give correct answers when asked to decide between given alternatives. Studies done with subjects who exhibit blindsight have shown that they are able to guess reliably only about certain features of stimuli having to do with motion, location and direction of stimuli. They are also able to discriminate simple forms, and can shape their hands in a way appropriate to grasping the object when asked to try. Some may show color discrimination as well . Subjects also show visual capacities, including reflexes (e.g. the pupil reacts to changes in light), implicit reactions and voluntary responses.
People suffering from blindsight are not "blind" because their eyes do not function. Rather they suffer from cortical blindness. People suffering from cortical blindness receive sensory information but do not process it correctly, usually due to damage in some part of the brain. The damage in blindsight patients has been shown to be in the striate cortex, which is part of the visual cortex. The striate cortex is often called the primary visual cortex , and is thought to be the primary locus of visual processing . Destruction or disconnection of the striate cortex produces a scotoma, or a region of blindness, in the part of the visual field that maps to the damaged area of the cortex . Depending on the extent of the lesion, vision can be absent in anywhere between a very small section of stimulus field and the entire field . The person is unable to process the sensory input to the striate cortex, and does not recognize having seen the object. '
Cognitive theorists conclude from clinical examples of blindsight that consciousness is only a part of what goes on in the brain, and that consciousness is not needed for behavior.
To argue that blindsightedness is not an example of unconscious processing (experience occuring in parallel with, but independent of conscious awareness) requires a new and different sensitivity to content of experience, and to the understanding of awareness. If there is no 'feeling of seeing' in blindsightedness, as is claimed, then there is feeling of a different sort, a quality of meaning that is overlooked by contemporary approaches to cognition and affect because of its subtlety. Familiarization with Gendlin's focusing techniques is one way to develop sensitivity to what for most is a world they have never articulated. This is the important point; phenomena such as blindsightedness evince not unconscious but inarticulate experience. One would need , of course, to analyze the aspects of the experience in blindsightedness. One has before one a task involving an intention to see, which implies the involvement of a certain concept of vision that the perceiver expects to encounter. If the claim for blindsightedness were simply that this experience involves a different aspect of what is involved in seeing than one normally expects of a visual situation, (for instance, if one expects contrast, color, perspective, one gets instead a vague or incipient meaning that is not recognizable as seeing even though it in fact is normally part of all visual experiences), then I would be in agreement. If, however, the claim is that whatever meaning or information is prompting the blindsighted behavior is independent of the conscious experience(conscious and unconscious events as independent, parallel meanings), then I disagree. My claim is that the experience mistakenly called blindsight is an incipient or intuitive feel that is consciously, intentionally-metaphorically continuous with the ongoing flow of awareness. Blindsightedness is not an illustration of the partial independence of psychological subsystems, but of the fact that the most primordial 'unit' of awareness is something other than , and more subtle, than either contentful cognitive or empty affective identities. Just because something is not articulated does not mean that it is not fully experienced.
The nature of the experience in blindsightedness would not be unlike the way that the 'same' object that one observes over the course of a few seconds or minutes continues to be the 'same' differently even though it is typically reported to be self-identical over that interval. A changing sense of a thing is not noticed until it becomes an intense affect, and then it is ossified as an abstract 'state'.
From the perspective of awareness, cognitivism seems to order experiences hierarchically, privileging what is considered conceptual content over affectivity by virtue of its supposed repeatability, and valuing both of these over other events that are labeled unconscious because they are assumed to be devoid of any conscious content.
So what is the difference between articulated and unarticulated meaning? The kinds of meanings that count for cognitivism as conscious require a temporal unfolding of a certain density and duration. Blindsight consists of a pattern of unfolding that lacks the temporal density of either a change in conceptual content, according to cognitivist standards of conceptuality, or what cognitivism would recognize as an affective change. In fact blindsight lies between the two poles of significantly negatively affective density and significantly positively affective change. It involves a barely discernable shift of sense in an ongoing experience of regularity. There would be not only blindsight, but deaf-hearing, numb-tactility and non-conceptual conceptuality. The interesting point is that blindsight involves experience that is more 'conscious' than negative affectivity. The test of consciousness of a thing:'Can one see that thing emerging from a field of perceived sameness?' is wrongheaded because it doesn't recognize that the field of supposed sameness is already a movement of changing meanings. The conscious-unconscious binary should be re-configured as a spectrum of meaningfulness. When one reports experiencing no change (a black screen, a sustained tone, a repeated word) one is really reporting experience less meaningful than conceptual, perceptual or positively affective content but more meaningful than negative affectivity.
NOTES ON BLUEPRINT FOR NEW MODEL OF THINKING MACHINES.
Current models: Recursive operations, loops of negative and positive feedback. Norbert Weiner and cybernetic systems. Von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam introduced Cellular Automata concept. A cellular automaton is 'a computer program or piece of hardware consisting of a regular lattice or array of cells. Each cell is assigned a set of instructions by means of an algorithm that tells it how to respond to the behavior of adjacent cells as the automaton advances from one discrete step to the next. Cellular automata are inherently parallel computing devices.' John Conway's 1968 'Game of Life' offered a simple graphic realization of the idea. Mark C. Taylor explains: 'The space of the game is a grid with each square forming a cell that is either occupied or empty. Every cell is governed by rules, which determine the parameters for responding to the state of surrounding cells.(Moment of Complexity,2001,p.144).'
It is understood by embodied cognitivists that the brain does not depend on fixed rules, at the psychologicdal level, and at the sub-personal, neural-biochemical level, it would have to be concluded that , although greater stability over longer periods of time would be the rule here, there would still be no ultimate fixity of properties, due both to the evolutionary nature of organic processes, and the non-transcendent basis of physical laws. But it is not the claim of ultimate transcendental foundations that needs to be targeted in today's accounts, it is the assumption of temporary stabilities that render parts of systems to be partially independent of each other; 'autonomously parallel'.