Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions

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A few impertinent questions


Berthajane Vandegrift[1]

A Few Autistic Questions about Freud, Marx and Darwin

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Psychotherapy, trying to talk people out of their psychosis, was the only treatment of mental illness during most of the twentieth century.  Emotional trauma was assumed to be the cause of all mental illness, and if therapy could eradicate those damaging, traumatic thoughts from people’s “ids”, “egos”, “super-egos” and “psyches”, it was assumed that psychotic people would regain their mental health, and become "normal".  My encounter with psychotherapy occurred when my three-year-son was diagnosed autistic.  At that time Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist at the University of Chicago was promoting a theory that autism was caused by “maternal rejection”, and psychotherapy for mother was the treatment.  Supposedly if mother could be persuaded during therapy to acknowledge her pathological attitude, her rejection would disappear, and her child would stop being autistic.  

 I also suspect we were unknowingly involved in a "scientific study".  During the early 20th Century, the height of scientific materialism, just about anything scientists wanted to do was considered ethical - after all, they were the priests of our modern religion, materialism, and whatever they did was supposedly for the good of mankind.  In 1961, Kennedy, with a mentally disabled sister (who had been scientifically lobotomized), was our new President, and money was available for research on defective children.  A generation of enthusiastic, young therapists had just completed training and were eager to display their wondrous, modern, scientific power to cure.  Some therapists were bullies, convinced that their scientific truths justified coercion. However even the most benign therapists faced a problem.  Most of them were men in those days (as were most doctors), and some of those nice young men were reluctant to be explicit.  Maternal rejection is a pretty offensive concept, and how could they convince women it was nothing more serious than a mild, easily cured infection?  How could they slip Mother a dose of psychotherapy without explaining exactly what they were doing?  Awful as the experience was, I often managed to see humor in it.  And hopefully the medical establishment has learned to view psychologists promoting scientific theories with more caution.  

My distaste for therapy drew me into the debate over philosophical materialism.  I recognize that life consists of an inherited physical reality. However free will is also part of life, and free will, or volition, is not always predictable. We seem to have some limited ability to change and adapt. So I don’t be believe Nature is just a mechanical device, in which adaptations occur as genetic accidents (random mutations).  I’m also skeptical that people consist of ids, egos, super-egos and psyches, which can be manipulated by therapists.  It has sometimes been suggested that mental illness and creativity occurs in the same families, and mental illness is often regarded as a stigma. Perhaps creativity is not consistent with excessive stability.  Some of us are more stable than others, and some of us are more open to change. The stigma of mental illness might lessen if it were recognized it as being a part of the evolutionary process. The most stable individuals might not be the most creative, and the most stable families might not be the most adaptive.  Certainly, if I had any choice (which I don’t), I might prefer being born into a family that was participating in the progress of the human race – even if some of those innovations are sometimes less than perfect.

No therapist ever succeeded in convincing me I rejected my children, and psychotherapy is no longer used for a treatment of autism.  It has been replaced by drugs, which doesn't seem to have any more power to cure than psychotherapy did.

This story is true. The names of the professionals have been changed to protect the well-intentioned. There are no authoritative answers to most of the questions.  Answers proposed by professional philosophers to such religious and philosophical concepts would be no more scientific than anyone else's speculations. 

Revised as of October 6, 2016 

Questions[edit | edit source]

The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.

Current page: A few impertinent questions

  1. Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
  2. Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
  3. How did the laws of nature originate?
  4. Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
  5. Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
  6. Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
  7. If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
  8. Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
  9. Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
  10. Should "normal" be equated with average?
  11. What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
  12. Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
  13. Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)? Or do other forces play a role, such as mind, consciousness, judgment and volition - most of which we presently have only have limited understanding?
  14. Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
  15. Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
  16. How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
  17. What is faith? If belief that God organized the universe is a matter of faith, why isn't the materialist belief that the universe came together by some accidental, mechanical process also a matter of faith? (Or, the Buddhist belief in self-organization.)
  18. Are living creatures constantly evolving as they strive to grow and adapt? Or must evolutionary adaptations passively wait around for a random mutation to accidentally pop up in someone's genome?
  19. Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge? Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?
  20. Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
  21. Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
  22. What is racism?
  23. Does free-will exist?
  24. Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
  25. Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
  26. What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
  27. Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
  28. Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
  29. Can we do other people's growing for them?
  30. Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
  31. Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
  32. Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
  33. Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
Current page: A few impertinent questions

About the author[edit | edit source]

  1. Berthajane Vandegrift, was born in California on September 16, 1920, and passed away on October 9, 2016 at the age of 96. Her son, Anthony Edward Vandegrift was born on July 14, 1957, and probably had autism. It seems certain that his personality is associated somewhere on the autism spectrum, but back then such diagnostics were not common. We called him Tony, and my mother, Berthajane, asked me to preserve her book for posterity. My brother Tony and sister Sharon currently resides in San Fransisco, California.

    To verify that my mother was right and all the experts were wrong about the causes and treatment of autism back in the 1960s, see Wikipedia:Bruno Bettelheim. Though most would agree that the ideas of Freud and Marx were highly flawed, I hold the position (taken by most scientists) that Darwin was essentially correct (though I do believe that the evolutionary "algorithm" is far more complex that any model understood so far) --Guy vandegrift (discusscontribs)