Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett

Short-sighted science, intellectual fatuousness, a simpleton’s atheism—who needs to believe in a Hell’s afterlife when we have the tortures themselves right here?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Choosing Up Sides

My stand is always with the autistic individual, never with the relative of any autistic individual.

That is not to say a parent of an autistic child cannot win me over. The ones who argue doggedly for their child’s abilities, who fight and scrap for environments always affirmative, who celebrate autism along with every other feature—my stand is also with them, not because of their status as parent, but because they have chosen the constructive course.

And those parents who make themselves heard by disparaging their autistic child? Who clamor ad nauseum for their child’s limitations, and insist limitations alone be heard? I oppose these with bitter force, not because I have ignored their standing as parent, but because I am resolved to human decency—it is there I draw the line.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Prerequisites of Language

Nearly all animal species have sufficient biological equipment for producing an abstract language—they can make sounds, they can gesture, they can rub against one another. With access to some mud, most organisms could write things down.

Almost any physical artifact can serve the purpose of conveying a language, as we humans have by now so ably demonstrated. What the other animals lack is what language represents. For what good is an abstract language when one’s entire world is already present, always in the here and now?

And we humans too—we had nothing to talk about until just so recently.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Evidence Against the Flynn Effect

In this era of Google maps and GPS systems, it seems most delivery drivers still need to call and ask for directions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Control Group

For clinical trials of various autism treatment options, why does no researcher ever think to make use of the most obvious control group—the autistic children who have escaped diagnosis? It should be a simple matter to round them up from the institutions, graveyards and other dumping grounds of irretrievably broken lives.

Or is it not that easy to track them down?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Two Forms of Human Logic

Humanity currently perceives its world with the aid of two distinct forms of logic.

The first logic derives from the evolutionary inheritance of our animal past. Its goal is survival and procreation of the species, and its impact has been to conceptualize the sensory world into food sources, danger, sex, shelter, and so on. Darwin’s genius was to expose the structure of this biological logic and to lay out its influence as seen from the outside and experienced from within. Non-autistics are born naturally into this form of logic—it is the other logic they must learn to acquire.

The second logic has been extremely recent in its genesis. Its goal remains unclear, but its impact has been to conceptualize the sensory world into pattern, shape, space, time, and the like. The genius of the Greeks and the fruit of the Renaissance was to expose the structure of this non-biological logic and to lay out its influence as seen from the outside and experienced from within. Autistics are born naturally into this form of logic—it is the other logic they must learn to acquire.

Neither form of logic by itself appears to have transcendent power, but combined, they have rapidly transformed a species and its world. Combined, they have transfigured individuals.

An Aside to the Two Forms of Human Logic

Wittgenstein would have employed the word grammar instead of the word logic, and in many ways, grammar is the more illuminating choice.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Printing Press and the Internet

Each quantum leap in language dissemination breaks the stranglehold of a fossilized institution—the Church formerly, academia now.

Medieval and mediocrity share a similar root.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Someone should take the time to perform an MRI study on personal computers—say Intel-based machines versus some Macs. Each comparison group could be resonance photographed while performing the same task, for instance the monthly payroll. I suspect there will be some differences.

Since the Intel-based machines are in more widespread use than the Macs, their images could be taken as the healthy ones. The areas of highest concentrated glow might be described as the presumptive location for a monthly payroll module, and the authors of the study could claim they have greatly advanced our insight into the concept of computing. By comparison, the electronic flows of the Macs could be described as disordered, and various treatment plans—such as battery boost, a well-placed bobby pin, or just a good shake—might be suggested.

What today’s brain imaging studies show most clearly is our own muddled thinking.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Phantom of the Pinker

Is our tool use mental? Do we toil with hammers, wrenches, knives and awls because we thought them up at one point? Is there a brain module for each tool—a saw module, a lathe module, etc.—or is there instead an all-purpose module for tool use?

Or does this talk of tool modules sound silly?

Then why do we treat language differently? Humans now have many different forms of language, but each form manifests as a physical and immediate fact—sound vibrations, movements of fingers, marks on a page, flips in computer memory, etc. I can imagine a spoken conversation, but only because there have been such conversations, they have actually existed in physical and immediate reality—just like hammers, wrenches and saws.

Mentalizing language distracts us from what language actually is. And dreaming up language modules for the brain sounds like the work of someone confused by what exists right before his eyes.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Crucial Importance of Early Diagnosis

It seems the world is now awash in paeans to the importance of early diagnosis of autism in young children, and I guess looking back on the experience with my own son, I would have to go along. In our case, early recognition kept our family from accidentally stumbling into such traps as ABA, Risperdal, or chelation therapy, and it is hard to imagine what horrors we might be dealing with around here had we inadvertently gone down one of those roads.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Autistic Children Grow Up

Harold Doherty has written recently about one of the irrepressible aspects of his autism reality—namely that autistic children grow up—and I would like to take a moment to wholly concur with that observation.

Autistic children do indeed grow up. In the case of my son, I find him fast approaching a milestone I can only describe as filling me with a type of very real fear. You see, he is nearly 48 inches tall now, and around these parts that means he can soon ride on the biggest rollercoasters—accompanied by an adult, I am sorry to say. Up to this point, I have managed to control this rollercoaster riding behavior through the use of many carefully arranged discrete trials, dutifully noting all the height restriction signs around the amusement park and accurately pointing out the clear difference between the top of Brian’s head and the bottom of the delimiting line. But that clear difference is not so clear anymore, and besides, my rapidly aging arm can only take so many more tugs upon its fast lengthening sleeve, so I am afraid I must face up to the obvious fact—that inevitable day is about to arrive. Then up up up we must ruthlessly go, and if I dare to look I know I will see Brian there on the seat beside me—hands clasped, rubbing and flapping, his laughs much like a kind of madness, the shrieks a little too loud, his giggles far too inappropriate (well, how can they be described as anything but inappropriate when I myself have a death grip on the restraining bar and mouth formed into the shape of a giant O?)—and then down down down, rushing, twisting and bashing about, the perfect metaphor for those chaotic experiences we as parents of autistic children know all too well. And then the briefest interlude near the very end, the tiniest respite before the terror-inducing words are spoken once more—“I want to go again.”

But perhaps Mr. Doherty would rather I wax more serious on his chosen topic, for indeed, as he has rightly noted, autistic children do grow up. So let me speak of another reality my son will soon be facing, that of entering school—entering school, that is, if my wife and I can ever come to a decision about where that experience should best be had. On the one hand, the possibilities seem far too numerous—public school, private school, home school, special needs, Montessori—but on the other hand the choices seem not nearly adequate enough, for what educational setting can possibly meet our son’s many divergent needs? What school system is going to remain flexible enough to accept him pacing the halls when the urge so urgently strikes, and also allow him to drill deeply into a set of encyclopedias when a particular topic has caught his fancy? And how to avoid the bullies? And how to encourage the making of friends? Heck, how to trick him into eating a cafeteria lunch, considering how stark his diet currently is? The challenges are certainly going to be many. The potential problems will undoubtedly be troubling. The world is a daunting place, my wife and I well know it, and launching our son onto life’s expansive path fills us both with a kind of awe and dread. But then we recall how our young traveler is of the category autistic—and thus how his potential is endlessly surprising and creative—and then we relax and smile just a little, for really, how can we ask for anything more?

But I suspect that vision will remain much too short-sighted for Mr. Doherty’s taste, who having perceived that autistic children grow up, has contemplated the consequences all the way to their very end—all the way to the doors of institutions. Well, why not? We too have institutions hereabouts, some of them particularly well suited for handling the troubles of a child such as my own. After all, what else can I be expected to do with a son endlessly obsessed with ceiling fans, a son constantly fussing about with knobs and buttons and switches? Unless experts recommend otherwise and insist he be committed to a more specialized place of residence—such as M.I.T.—then I will have to make the call to Purdue, I think, it is there I will have him placed. (My wife, however, focused on the issues of Brian’s perfect pitch and rhythmic singing, suggests the wards of Juilliard would make a better home.) It is possible I am being much too pessimistic, of course—perhaps Brian will surprise us all and defy our most carefully crafted expectations, striving first to do some simple, honest work and only later discovering his more expanded calling (such as Ms. Dawson and Ms. Harp seem to have so ably done). What fills me with the greatest emotion, however—and here I think Mr. Doherty could hasten to agree—is thinking about what might happen if I were not there to help Brian make the most difficult decisions. What would happen if, God forbid, both I and my wife were irretrievably gone? What if Brian were somehow forced to rely upon his own unique perspective—along with whatever meager tools his parents had managed to instill? What if he had to decide for himself what indelible marks to cast upon his world? What if he had to go forth as an individual? Have I fully considered those possibilities, have I contemplated the consequences all the way to their very end?

Yes, Mr. Doherty, autistic children grow up—what an inspiring thought that is! What incredible terror, awe and joy!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fresh Air

When nearly everyone has become lost examining the details on the barks of all the trees, the one who maps the forest performs a great and thankless task. And the one who charts the country surrounding the forest—he does an even greater and still more thankless service. And the one who suggests that insight is to be gained in the forest and in the country—and not on the barks of all the trees—he gets to play the role of today’s pariah, and tomorrow’s savior.

As always, when the problem has become intractable, the way out is to examine the context. Forever digging deeper into details only clouds the landscape with dust.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


The modern scientist, with a hint of superiority, will often extol the steady and methodical pace of scientific progress. But consider the work of Newton, Darwin and Einstein—what was steady and methodical about that?

The systematic advance of science is the smell of science gone bad.