Autism is just confusing.

I’m sliding off the blog prompt just this once. Maybe.

Autism is confusing. I’m starting to refuse to use the term just because of my concerns about labeling. Mark Haddon’s blog about Curious Incident not being a novel about autism or Asperger’s is something I enjoyed. I refuse to consider anyone anything until a reasonable explanation on autism is answered in the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how.

A TedTalk I watched recently addresses the importance of intelligence, education, and also the stigma against anyone who seems to be considered different because of the slightest detour in the neuro-typical world.

Ken Robinson says: “We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain,as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.”

He tells an interesting story of a conversation with Gillian Lynne, choreographer of “Cats”and “Phantom of the Opera.”

“Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, ‘How did you get to be a dancer?’ It was interesting. When she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the ’30s, wrote to her parents and said, ‘We think Gillian has a learning disorder.’ She couldn’t concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn’t been invented at this point. It wasn’t an available condition.she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother,and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about the problems Gillian was having at school. Because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight. In the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian, and said, ‘“I’ve listened to all these things your mother’s told me, I need to speak to her privately. Wait here. We’ll be back; we won’t be very long,’ and they went and left her.But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch her.’ And the minute they left the room, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said,’“Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘She did. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.’ Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary.She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School, founded the Gillian Lynne Dance Company, met Andrew Lloyd Webber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, she’s given pleasure to millions, and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”

It’s interesting how we try to get into other people’s minds. We are so caught up in these movements that speak about our external selves but the main engine for this external self is what is internal. I had a conversation with my friend the other day and she writes in a journal/diary but has not the slightest taste of the arts. She said that it’s hard for her to come up with a creative or fictional idea because she’s so embedded in speaking academically and needing a prompt before she can start writing. I found this interesting because I can type or write constantly and this writing forms a stream-of-consciousness where I think scenario after scenario in my writing process.

I had a conversation with my friend the other day and she writes in a journal/diary but has not the slightest taste of the arts. She said that it’s hard for her to come up with a creative or fictional idea because she’s so embedded in speaking academically and needing a prompt before she can start writing. I found this interesting because I can type or write constantly and this writing forms a stream-of-consciousness where I think scenario after scenario in my writing process. It just had me thinking that no matter how hard I tried to get her to see where the creativity process comes from, she isn’t going to understand it because she isn’t experiencing it.

Well, my post is just to open up a discussion and bring in new information. I enjoyed the reviews and I see the mixed feelings of the novel and theatrical representation but overall I think it’s just too hard to talk about autism. There is no limit to one’s mind.

When a childhood game becomes a college paper strategy.

Mark Gaipa’s 8 Strategies for Critically Engaging Secondary Sources is the list that should be handed out at the start of any class that has a student conduct a research paper. Gaipa’s visual aids and different perspectives to consider can guide a student on what to look out for when reading other scholarly articles when thinking about ideas relating to their topic of interest.

We can see Stuart Murray use “Strategy 4: Leapfrogging, or Biting the Hand that Feeds You – Agree with a scholar (i.e., kiss ass), then identify and solve a problem in the scholar’s work – for example, an oversight, inconsistency, or contradiction” in his book Representing Autism.

After discussing Mitchell and Snyder’s ideas in their book Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse, Murray agrees and finds some of their findings to be  ‘understandable’ and sees ‘relations’ to his book’s subject. Praising them for a couple of other instances later, Murray suddenly stops (Leapfrog moment) to write a contradictory statement, “At the same time, however,” and then write what it is he’s disagreeing with, “it would be wrong to say that imaginative accounts of autism are regularly ‘productively parasitic.”  Murray then states that the increase in autism narratives “has arguably not led to a profitable revision of public knowledge about what autism is. Rather, we might feel that such narratives have overlaid the condition not with understanding but with the complex desires of a society that wishes to be fascinated with a topic that seems precisely to elude comprehension.”

Murray uses this technique as a rhetorical style that is a good transition technique that leads up to his claim. He first acknowledges Mitchell and Synder’s points and then leapfrogs over to a contradiction about how their claim can be argued against. He follows up the argument by saying ‘rather’ and stating ‘we,’ the public, ‘might feel’ and then lays out his (or speaking for the public) stance on how their claims can be argued against and then gets to his claims that will be discussed in his book (since it’s the introduction). This strategy develops a certain chronological order: Introduce source; share their ideas; agree with their perspectives on some ideas; then disagree with an idea; have that disagreement lead up to your own claim. I don’t see the leapfrogging strategy as too much of a derogatory stance towards other scholars because it allows and opens up a deeper understanding of the overall topic.

The chronology reminds me of how I’m writing this post. If I were to put my 3rd paragraph where my 4th paragraph was, what kind of effect would that have on my blog? The way you design your paragraphs can be the kick start to a stream-of-consciousness that will keep your reader engaged.

Curious Geo…Charlie and the mysterious circular eye protectors

Flashing back to our readings of Damasio, he explained that the relationship between the organism and object develop consciousness. This theory can branch with socio-culturalism whose factors are a major aspect to We Love You, Charlie Freeman.

In Charlie Freeman, we are first introduced to Charlie in his room which “was full of plants–house ferns…” because Dr. Paulsen believed they were able to “simulate the natural world” (20). But, like Charlotte says, “Charlie had never known any forests and yet Dr. Paulsen assumed some essential part of him pined for them” (20). This example sits beside Damasio’s claim of the interaction between organism and object. We see his reactions towards plants when Max and Charlie are playing and Charlie “[shakes] his head at the leaves but stayed doggedly focused on tonguing Max’s glasses” (21). The organism is Charlie and the two objects are the house ferns and Max’s glasses. Charlie has no preconceived experience with nature so his reaction to the leaves is dull but, being around Max a majority of his time, Charlie looks at Max’s eyes, the area which animals first notice one another, and sees the glasses and becomes more fascinated with them. This part of the novel is allegorical to an animal’s environment and the effects it has on what it’s known for and how it can be altered. Grabbing Max’s glasses is a representation of  how Charlie was raised and how it affects his choices – to decide on the material world rather than nature.

 

Another sociocultural instance is Callie’s relationship with Charlie. Callie notices that she and her sister Charlotte are drifting apart ever since Charlotte met Adia. Charlotte apologizes for having a friend, then a controversial argument rises when Callie says “I have friends, too. . .Charlie is my friend.” (150-151). Charlotte doesn’t think Charlie counts as a friend because he’s not human, but Callie calls him a “hominid,”  a Homosapien humans derived from if following Darwinism (151). We later see Callie’s attempts to befriend Charlie by purchasing the Magick book that is supposed to help the relationship between the two. At the end of the book, Callie tells us she decided to go to Africa to volunteer with an ape sanctuary. These events seem chronological if only looking at the relationship between Callie and Charlie: they meet one another, Callie tries to befriend him, studies on how to build the relationship, and then goes to Africa to study his species. This ties in a bit with Damasio’s organism and object theory, but I felt like throwing this bit into my blog to put some extra juice on socio-culturalism.

 

Here are some questions that are floating in my head:

If Charlie was given a natural environment with trees and a grass field etc, do you think the sign language test could’ve been more efficient or a complete failure?

Do you believe that Callie was affected more by Charlie because she’s a younger age than Charlotte? Does this critical/sensitive learning juxtaposition exist?

My brain is like the Bermuda Triangle. Information goes in and then it’s never found again.

Reading Ellison’s Invisible Man through the magnifying glass of mind and consciousness can follow his (unconscious?) rhetorical style towards those subjects. After the explosion scene that left our narrator hospitalized, we come across two doctors who decide to play mind games (both physically and verbally) with the protagonist. They use a machine that will perform just like a prefrontal lobotomy: a “surgical procedure in which the nerve pathways in a lobe or lobes of the brain are severed from those in other areas. The procedure formerly was used as a radical therapeutic measure to help grossly disturbed patients with schizophrenia, manic depression and mania (bipolar disorder), and othermental illnesses” (Encyclopedia Britannica). The following source from Live Science explains how Dr. Barron Lerner, a medical historian, and professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, explained that “The behaviors [doctors] were trying to fix, they thought, were set down in neurological connections. The idea was, if you could damage those connections, you could stop the bad behaviors.”

 frontal-lobe

After taking a brutal hit from an explosion and having been around chemicals that cause skin irritation, the narrator wakes up with what seems to be a migraine and says “My head–that burning eye . . . ” (232). I wasn’t sure if the narrator was talking about his eye burning specifically or it was a literary technique used by Ellison to refer to the “third eye” in terms of the pineal gland. I’m no doctor, but I don’t think a lobotomy-like procedure is necessary for a patient who just regained consciousness after a brutal life-threatening explosion. I take this scene as an allusion to white supremacy and its attempt to control sociocultural consciousness (definition: the awareness that a person’s worldview is not universal but is profoundly influenced by life experiences, as mediated by a variety of factors, including race, ethnicity, gender, and social class).

 

Another allusion I came across was the narrator’s mention of ice throughout the night at Mary’s. The page consists of “. . . emotion-freezing ice . . . A remote explosion…had caused the ice cap to melt and shift the slightest bit. But that bit, that fraction, was irrevocable. Coming to New York had perhaps been an unconscious attempt to keep the old freezing unit going . . . I was wild with resentment but too much under “self-control,” that frozen virtue, that freezing vice. . . And while the ice was melting to form a flood in which I threatened to drown” (page 259-260). I considered this passage to be a reference to Freud’s mental iceberg image. The lobotomy-like procedure damaged certain levels of the mind of our narrator. Although he is still able to communicate in some forms, he lost his identity and a few memories. The ice cap is still stable but like he mentions, it started to melt and shift in ways that were “irrevocable.”

 

freuds-iceberg-2

Duality

Hustvedt’s attempt to write an autobiography about an incident that took place during a tree dedication for her father ends up turning into a sort of research project about the scientific findings of multiple mind/body disorders – it’s successes, fraud claims and how it tries and aims her towards her own diagnosis. Placing the book besides Neurocomic tends to complicate the ideas in both since more factors are to be taken into consideration. Neurocomic looks into the biological aspects of the brain whereas The Shaking Woman gives insight on the effects different socioeconomic variables and life experiences have on a person.

Neurocomic does a great job portraying visually and textually where certain parts of the brain are located, their functions, how they function, their correlations, disputes and so on. It’s ending, though, leaves us with the ultimatum that we have only gotten so far with the workings of our brain. With The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt takes us further past the brain and on the path of dualism and its plausibilities as she sheds light on scientific experiments that have yet to be considered “organic” or definitive. In Neurocomic, Ros and Farinella write “The idea of yourself as ‘someone’ inhabiting your brain is nothing but an illusion; a reflection that the brain has of its own body and actions. . . We have the power to deceive ourselves and see things that do not even exist” (124-125). But, do we have the power to do this? It depends if we’re talking about our conscious or unconscious self.  Hustvedt supports the idea of dualism indeed holding a place in our brains as she brings up the Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry, “Each disconnected hemisphere behaved as if it were not conscious of the cognitive events in the partner hemisphere . . . . Each brain half, in other words, appeared to have its own, largely separate cognitive domain with its own private perceptual learning and memory experiences” (51). This is a claim that highly supports the idea of an unconscious. She continues this claim with the emergence of people having a “demon” or “alien” hand (or body part), one that would contradict and fight against the other part of the body that is out of the conscious person’s control.

Ultimately, it’s tough to argue between the two. Scientific research helps us try and come to a conclusive decision about a certain thing, but when that thing is barely visible yet at the same time is visible, the topic becomes more and more complex.

Eco-biological synaptic networks and limbic resonance – possibilities?

Hogwarts126

 

After watching the Wachowski’s Sense 8, I couldn’t help but get the term eco-biological synaptic network out of my head and onto this blog. Farinella and Ros’ Neurocomic gives a great explanation of the synapse in our brain and its functions. They write that “. . . an axon and dendrite come into close contact and information is transmitted from one to the other. They do this without actually touching each other . . . ” (38, emphasis mine). What struck me was that the axon and dendrite can deposit the information without coming in contact which got me thinking about the characters in Sense 8. All are in different areas and time zones yet, at times, each receives the same neurological  senses. Although this isn’t close-contact, it got me thinking about monozygotic twins – and I personally am good friends with 3 sets of twins. Twins claim to share a telepathic connection, saying that they know what the other is feeling and thinking. Surprisingly, most of the time this turns out to be quite true. The other twin is indeed having some sort of emotional or thoughtful distress that the other twin is able to pick up. I know this seems far-fetched since many people claim to have this sort of connection despite being genetically identical – best friends, family members, or a person one hangs out with for a very very long period of time are sometimes able to do things like finish one another’s sentences. This reminds me of the movie Stuck on You featuring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear and the novella “The Corsican Brothers” by Alexandre Dumas. Both include the idea that twins – in this case, conjoined twins – share telepathic powers and are still able to mentally, sometimes physically, feel one another after being surgically separated. But do you think this is actually possible?

Neurocomic goes on to explain through Bernard that “synaptic transmission is not continuous. Instead neurotransmitters are released in many little packs called ‘quanta’ enclosed in a vesicle” (42). So does this mean that the telepathic connection between each twin, or even in the case of Sense8’s characters, happen only in spurts depending on the experience or actions happening to each of them? For example, I started to think about the movie Lucy (2014) featuring Scarlett Johannson (bare with me with these movie references, I think I’m on to something). The beautiful voice of Morgan Freeman starts to emphasize on the estimation that humans only use 10% of their brains capacity and what would happen if we were able to control 100% of our brain. When Riley inhales the psychedelic chemical DMT during episode 1 at around 56:15, she is then able to, perhaps, for lack of a better term, control most of the neurological effects that have been happening within the show.

To wrap things up, I guess what I’m trying to aim towards is if humans were capable of controlling the functions in their brain, how far are we able to go with it? Does genetics play a role in our capabilities of synchronizing with one another through limbic resonance and an eco-biological synaptic network?

Thinking about Thinks

Lodge’s novel Thinks indeed capitulates to reductive and deterministic ideas about the brain. The novel simplifies these ideas by using Helen’s obliviousness to neuroscience as the gateway to readers’ gaining insight on the topic, or, as Ortega and Vidal put it, it is the “vehicle for conveying to the reader cutting-edge knowledge on cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and connectionism” (339). The tour that was given to Helen by Ralph once they reach the second floor of the Centre for Cognitive Science is also a tour given to us readers. Appearing quite early in the novel, the explanation of each thought experiment is a way for Lodge to make the rest of the novel more comprehensible for readers while also incorporating the fact that the science behind consciousness is a cup yet to be filled. Helen asks Ralph “What was the point of it?” when introduced to yet another complex thought experiment to which he replies “I forget. Another anti-functionalist argument, I think. Most of these thought experiments are” (52). We see another appearance of the scientific doubt when Douglas explains consciousness again to the oblivious, yet dumbfounded, Helen, “It’s been suggested that the phenomenon of consciousness is a series of continuous collapses of the wave function” (127). “Suggested” is a verb of uncertainty in which Lodge is letting his readers know that there have been multiple instances in which scholars or scientists attempted to learn and identify the mental states or consciousness of people or things through these experiments but have faced difficulties in doing so without complete evidence to support their assertions. This backs up Roth’s claim that “the neuronovel in its present form presents the experience of a cognitive defeat” and that “[w]e imagine science might get there, but it hasn’t yet.”

It’s hard to sustain the term “cerebral subject” in this novel because I’m not sure if we’re looking at Ralph, Helen, or Lodge as the subject since he is the creator of both (I really had a hard time comprehending this one. Comment your thoughts on this).

Roth writes that “McEwan’s neuronovels are of the hard variety” and that the other neuronovels he mentions are “soft[er].” In this case, I would consider Lodge’s novel Thinks as a soft neuronovel but also a psychological novel using Roth’s definition of it as a novel “about the workings of a mind.” Thinks acts as more of a guide into neuroscience than a full-on neurological novel itself. Although Ralph tries to record every detail of his mind, it is still limited to us since, in my opinion, thoughts and verbal speaking are two separate functions. But, we are still given a substantial amount of scientific information that is also brought up in the other works Roth refers to despite the amount of focus on characters with neurological deficits.

Neuro-nerds, welcome!

Throughout this blog, I will be discussing multiple associations and/or debates with the brain: how studies show the workings of it; how novels and other works of art portray it; and theoretical inferences. The overall discourse of the brain and mind is in a constant dispute. Here, I will try to emphasize, broaden, and underline instances in which I find are of special importance in expanding this, what seems to be, never-ending parley.

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