Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Question 4

By the time I went for my next appointment with the pediatrician, I was even more confused and frightened. In addition to the authority doctors are accustomed to exercising over patients, what happened with the doctor that day may have also been partly due to the snobbery of Army rank, which extended to wives in those days. Captain's wives outranked lieutenant's wives, and the general's wife could tell us all what to do. Fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel was discouraged. Doctors were officers, and I was an enlisted wife. In my emotional turmoil I had probably shown up dressed somewhat like a migrant farm worker. If the doctor seemed to bully me, well, that was how some officers felt entitled to treat the troops in those days. Nevertheless I suspect I would have resisted such an invasion of my privacy, no matter how tactful and skillful the doctor had been.

I took Castor Oil and Quinine, the book about Tony's great grandfather. I suppose I hoped it might give credence to my vague belief that Tony was unusual because he would grow up to have some mysterious quality like those attributed to the legendary Dr. Vandegrift. Tony was not precocious, but I'd decided precocious children don't necessarily grow up to be the most capable adults. My other son hadn't talked until he was three, and he was growing up to be a great kid.  It might be difficult to determine a correlation between precocity and creativity. By the time creativity is recognized in an adult, the age at which that individual said his first words would usually be lost in a forgotten past. However I'd read of a couple of highly creative people, such as Edison and Einstein, who were reportedly slow to mature as children. Furthermore Tony's great grandfather was quoted in the book Ike's father wrote as recommending children not start school until the age of eight in order to guard against early intellectual development. Perhaps such distrust of precocity suggested that late bloomers might have been common in my husband's family.

The pediatrician's hair was indeed dark and he wore glasses, I noticed. His words remained stark in my memory, but details of the doctor's appearance had been blasted out of my mind.  He greeted me briefly, as though impatient to begin, with only a glance at Tony. He didn't mention the psychiatric appointment he spoke of on the phone. Instead he tenaciously continued with the same menacing demand of the previous week,

"Well now, tell me about yourself."

Weren't we going to even make a pretense of discussing Tony? I wondered with dismay.  I wanted to answer him, but somehow I couldn't. I'd always found doctors intimidating, but I'd never encountered one so threateningly intrusive.

"If you have some wild idea you are going to get to know me, forget it! No one knows me as intimately as you seem to have in mind," I said. Then I fell back in my chair with a resigned sigh. "But for some reason I don't understand, this is supposedly for Tony. So go ahead. What do you want to know?"

"Just tell me anything you can think of."

The doctor apparently wanted me to just say whatever popped into my head. I had no hidden, shameful secrets; I considered myself quite open and well adjusted.  However even my husband seemed to respect my privacy more than this doctor with his hostile demand that I "tell him about myself".  If I started rattling on about myself, as the doctor apparently wanted, I'd probably blurt out something inane. Was that what he hoped I would do?  Say something so ridiculous that he could then diagnose me as abnormal?  I just couldn't bring myself to cooperate. In 1961 in the United States, the validity of this new scientific treatment, psychotherapy, was rarely challenged.  A psychiatrist's couch was prescribed for many ailments of unknown cause.  Anyone who resisted such personal intrusion was contemptuously accused of "refusing help".  The doctor was certainly suggesting an intimate discussion in which I was reluctant to participate.  I've heard that women sometimes “fall in love” with their analyst, and I suspect sexual feelings are sometimes an aspect of psychoanalysis.  There was actually no hint of sex in this doctor's manner, but I suddenly felt I knew what being raped by a stranger must feel like.  We spent some time verbally sparring, and I managed not to tell him much of anything.  Tony, probably sensing my distress, stood and watched the doctor instead of pursuing his usual explorations, but like the previous week, the pediatrician ignored him. Finally the despair on my face must have convinced the doctor I wasn't being intentionally difficult.  He stopped and tried a fresh approach.

"Was your husband a sergeant when Tony was born?"

"No. He was a major. He was 'reduced in rank' a couple of years ago, but that did not cause us any terrible unhappiness. There are even advantages for me - such as not having to attend officers' wives' luncheons."

"You don't like officers' wives' luncheons?"

"No. Would you?" He hesitated, and I detected a trace of smile at the corners of his mouth. Maybe I could distract him from tormenting me for a moment. "Well? How would you like to attend women's luncheons?”

His grin finally materialized.  "I can't picture myself wearing an appropriate hat," he admitted with amusement. (In those days women wore really fancy hats, often decorated with artificial fruit and flowers, to luncheons.)  The doctor didn't stay distracted for long though, and he soon resumed to his relentless interrogation.  

Everyone has their peculiarities," I said.  Which of mine was this doctor so determined to expose?  I would willingly confess to something, anything, if it would end this inquisition. "Maybe Tony is just going to grow up to be peculiar like his great grandfather."  I indicated the book I'd brought about Dr. Vandegrift.  That Tony might grow up to be exceptional because of his great grandfather was not a rational thought, but there was nothing rational about my thinking at that moment.

"What was peculiar about him?"

I faltered, not even sure what I meant. I didn't really understand why Dr. Vandegrift was regarded with such awe by everyone in the family, but it would seem immodest to come right out and admit I thought my child might grow up to be such an exceptional person. I finally blurted out,

"Well, he was clairvoyant."

Tony's great grandfather was said to have once jumped up from the dinner table in New York and declared his barn in Maryland was on fire. It was. We know how radio and television are transmitted over long distance. I don't dismiss the possibility that, under exceptional stress, individual minds might also occasionally communicate by some means that we don't presently understand. Such a phenomenon might be difficult to demonstrate scientifically, though. Terror, or some other violent emotion, often seems to be a part of it, and how could such feelings be simulated in a science laboratory?  Nevertheless I was aware that extra sensory perception was not a respectable notion in our 20th Century, scientific society, and I certainly wasn’t one of those ignorant people who question science. I usually avoided thinking about Dr. Vandergrift’s reported psychic abilities by deciding he was probably highly perceptive and had somehow convinced everyone he was clairvoyant. To my relief the pediatrician ignored my suggestion and didn't ask me to explain. He seemed preoccupied with something else I'd said.

"Peculiar," he muttered to himself. "Peculiar. . ."

He stood up and walked over to the window. He stood for a moment in silent thought.  Then he turned and resumed his interrogation more purposefully, as though seeking specific information.

"Where did you grow up?"

"In Ukiah, a small town a couple of hundred miles north of here."

"And your husband?"

"He's from New York."

"We were married by a one-armed preacher in Alaska." I wasn't trying to be flippant. I merely thought this miserable ordeal might become less grim if we could inject a little levity into it.   Mentioning irrelevant fact that the preacher only had one arm was just part of my frantic search for a diversion. "Where were you married?"

"Alaska! What were you doing up there?"

"I don't know. Got restless, I guess."

"Restless," he repeated. "Restless...hmm.  What type of work did you do in Alaska?"

"I've done lots of things. The first money I ever earned was selling acorns to Indians. In Alaska I carved totem poles for the Indians."

"Totem poles!!  What did they do with them?"

"Burned them."

"Burned them??"

"Oh," I explained, exasperated at how seriously he took my attempts at humor, "I worked in a store. I carved some totem poles out of candles, and lots of people bought them, including some Indians."

He stood looming over me. I wondered how he'd react if I told him about getting into a poker game, down in the engine room with the crew of the SS North Sea. When the ship reached Sitka, I didn't have enough money to return home if I had wanted.

"Architecture is what I studied in college," I said, sensing this was what he was trying to find out.

The doctor moved back toward his desk and was silent for a moment. "Got pretty good grades, didn't you." It was a statement rather than a question. He sounded less contentious, almost sympathetic.

"My grades were all right." They weren't quite as good as the doctor was making them sound.

"What is your religion? I mean - ah - do you have any religious affiliations?" A moment ago he had arrogantly badgered me to tell him details of my private life.  Now suddenly, he seemed hesitant to ask my religion.


"Agnostic or atheist?"

"Agnostic I guess, but I send the children to Sunday school."

Most parents feel obligated to indoctrinate their children with their own theology. Resolving questions about one's personal philosophy, and finding meaning in twentieth century existence seemed to me the most difficult, significant accomplishment of anyone's life. Certainly children aren't capable of such philosophical insights. Even after becoming adults, many people seem content to adopt some ready-made religion or philosophy, rather than working out their own. However neither Ike nor I felt capable of such conformity, and we didn't want to usurp any of our children's options.

The doctor sat down at his desk and began writing in Tony's medical record.

"I'll try to get you an appointment at a psychiatric clinic as soon as possible, Mrs. Vandegrift," he said without looking up from the folder.  He appeared embarrassed - as though he'd been caught brow-beating the general's wife, for heaven's sake!  I remained in the chair. The doctor still didn't look up. He seemed to consider the appointment finished. Apparently he had finally learned some significant fact about me, some clue for which he had been probing. But what had I revealed?  Did the doctor expect me to get up and leave without ever discussing Tony?

"Isn't it possible Tony is merely slow growing up? I can't believe something is wrong with him. I've watched every move he made this week. He seems to spend his time playing, like any child does. For instance, he spent this morning taking a flashlight apart and trying to pu--"

"He likes to take things apart, does he?" The doctor turned to look at Tony.


During the past half-hour I had become so involved in the doctor's interrogation that I had forgotten Tony. I looked at him now. He was watching the doctor gravely. The doctor bent over and spun his pen on the floor like a top. Tony stood observing the doctor's performance suspiciously.

"Couldn't he just be taking longer to mature?" I asked again. "Such a thing is possible, isn't it?"

He stared at Tony a few moments. The spinning pen hadn't seemed to affect Tony as the doctor expected. He picked it up and pocketed it in apparent disappointment. “I wouldn't care to make a judgment on the matter,” he said, turning his attention back to Tony‘s medical folder. Apparently such slow development was a specific, normal possibility, but this pediatrician didn’t feel qualified to make the diagnosis. This was the first hint of some mysterious condition that doctors would refuse to discuss.  I got up and took Tony's hand. I was shaking. I felt as though I had fought off a physical assault. I managed to walk through the waiting room and out the door of the clinic with Tony. I hadn't understood the doctor, and he seemed to ignore my questions.  Never, had I felt such bewildering inability to communicate! This was the first of many incomprehensible experiences. I often felt more understanding of Tony than I did of the doctors I encountered. I should think everyone, including children who receive one of psychiatry's exotic diagnoses, would feel some of that same alienation. Autism was unheard of when my first son didn't talk until three, and Guy never had to cope with such a diagnosis.

  • -*-*

There are things science doesn’t yet understand.  I don't regard the notion that the laws of nature appear by accident much more believable than the idea that a god dictated them.  I do object to either view being imposed upon society as “scientific truth”.  During the 20th Century the Scopes trial was held to determine whether evolution could be discussed in schools. The evolutionists lost, but such censorship was wrong, and the ruling was eventually overturned.  A few years later another trial concerning evolution was held, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania, to determine which theory of evolution students should be permitted to discuss.  Evolution defined as descent with modification was already accepted by many people before Darwin. Darwin claimed to have discovered a law which states that adaptations originate as random mutations.  Philosophical materialists passionately defend the mechanistic formula, RM&NS, as an explanation of evolution. Nevertheless a growing minority of scientists have begun to question the creative power of “natural selection“, and argue that intelligent, responsive organization might be an essential aspect of living systems.  Proponents of Neo-Darwinism appealed to the courts for their "law" to be imposed upon school children, and at the trial in Pennsylvania, Judge Jones sided with the materialists.  Actually, the case didn't even involve classroom discussion. The Dover school had a policy of reading a statement informing students that a book in the school library, Of Pandas and People, was available to any student who wished to explore the concept of intelligent design on their own time. What Judge Jones questioned was the motives of the Dover school board. Intelligent design is compatible with theism.  Most members of the Dover school board were religious, and therefore the mention "Of Pandas and People" in the classroom was religiously motivated - and violated "separation of church and state".  (According to Judge Jones.)

Questions[edit | edit source]

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

Current page: Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?

  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: Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?