Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?

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Question 25

All Living organisms have some limited ability to change and adapt. But what does the adapting? Is it the environmentally sensitive organism? Or its genome? Perhaps the genome might merely be where the organism records well-established adaptations in order to pass them on to descendants. The individual organism has an innate ability to correct most random mutations (genetic accidents). “Natural section” might play a role in the expansion or contraction of populations, but I can’t imagine how biologists can believe random mutations, genetic accidents, could mindlessly organize themselves into complex biological adaptations. If we think we take a medication, even though it may be nothing more than a sugar pill, our bodies sometimes purposefully heal themselves. It’s called a placebo effect, and is an intelligent, purposeful process. Wouldn’t such an innate organizing intelligence be a more reasonable explanation of biological adaptations than the Darwinian notion of "natural selection" somehow turning genetic accidents into complex biological systems? I realize that proponents of mechanistic science might fear that any recognition of an innate intelligence in Nature might give credence to religion. Personally, I could acknowledge the existence of intelligence as a natural aspect of Nature without thinking of it as a God. Certainly not as a God that expects people to worship it.

  • -*-*

Some autistic children grow up to function in society, but I finally realized Tony was not going to be one of them. My older children continued to grow, but Tony's development was agonizingly slow. There were many such painful moments, for it was not a sudden realization. Admission that Tony was not going to lead a normal life came upon me gradually. Raising a handicapped child should never diminish anyone's life, and while coping was a challenge during Tony’s childhood, we also experienced fun and laughter. In fact Tony's imaginative mischief was often a delightful spark that guaranteed our lives would never become dull. Tony added purpose to my life. It was not a purpose I would have chosen; no one would choose for their child to be handicapped. But if life has some purpose other than just existing, I suspect it is to do what life has always done, to grow. Conflict and dealing with adversity contributes to growth. It surely contributes more than existing in a state of blissful contentment would. If creatures were allowed to choose the life they lead, maybe evolution would not have progressed beyond the complexity of bacteria. Certainly if people were allowed to choose the life we think we want to live, none of us would choose stressful conflict. So I am indebted to fate for the challenges life bestowed upon me. I survived and I know I am more of a person than I would have been leading a less challenging life.

  • -*-*
Buenos dias (photo)[1]

For most of his life, including the years of Tony's childhood, my husband was reasonably happy. Dealing with Tony and living on the salary of an Army sergeant, while providing the children with the activities of their up-scale, suburban friends, wasn't always easy. Our social life was mostly doing things with the children. After he retired from the Army, Ike got a civilian job on an Army post, where he wrote and published a one-man, monthly newspaper. I know he enjoyed that. However his last few months were difficult. His health deteriorated. Ike blamed his drinking, about which he had always felt a little guilty. He developed emphysema, but was unable to stop smoking. I think Tony's retardation eventually became too much for him. Feeling defeated, Ike seemed to lose interest in everything. He died after surgery on an ulcer. I lost the one person with whom I was most able to share my thoughts and feelings. I'd have to wait for my children to grow up before I again found adults with whom I experienced such close understanding.

About a year after my husband’s death, I got around to thinking about what Tony and I might do with our lives. It had become obvious that, even with special-education, Tony would never achieve much independence. I decided to go live in Mexico, where Tony and I could live together, and inexpensive help might give me some freedom. I sold my house, and we drove leisurely down to Guadalajara. It was several weeks before the start of school, and Sherry and one of her college roommates decided to come with us. I'd never seen Tony have so much fun.

“He doesn't have any worries, does he?” one Mexican exclaimed with a laugh of admiration, as he watched Tony’s delight at new sights and experiences, and saw how eagerly he interacted with people. Today Tony looks retarded, but at the age of fifteen, he still appeared bright, mischievous and fun-loving. The number of things Tony feared was not yet great, and he still had an appetite for adventure (which, like many people, he lost as he grew older). Near a motel in Mazatlan, where we stopped for a few days, workmen were digging a well. They would lower a bucket into the hole and fill it with dirt. Then one of them would walk out into a field with the end of the rope, pulling up the bucket. One day we heard cheering at the well. We looked out and saw Tony pulling up the bucket as the Mexicans applauded. When we left, they all came and waved goodbye to him.

At that time Tony was fascinated by profanity. I couldn't imagine where he heard some of the words he repeated. When he realized everyone was speaking another language, he begged us to tell him some dirty words in Spanish. Finally, with exaggerated reluctance we agreed, warning him to never repeat them. Tony promised, with his mischievous little grin and impish sparkle in his eyes.

"Buenos dias (good day) is the most terrible thing anyone can say in Spanish," we confided.

Tony ran up and yelled “Buenos Dias!” at everyone. Most Mexicans reacted with surprise, and while it wasn't the shock his profanity usually evoked, it was apparently enough of a reaction to satisfy Tony. We pretended horror and outrage, scolding him and punishing him by denying him dessert when he said the forbidden words. Tony became fascinated with his new profanity and forgot all English swear words. I rented an apartment in Guadalajara, and Sherry and her friend returned to college in the States. I hired a Mexican woman to watch Tony. One of the first things I did was locate the local bridge club, which turned out to be only a few blocks from our apartment. Thus I acquired a group of instant new friends. One afternoon I suggested Maria take Tony shopping while I played bridge. Maria apparently thought I said Tony would take her shopping. Happy for someone to obediently follow him, Tony, led her all over Guadalajara - mischievously exclaiming "Buenos Dias" at people. I wondered who was watching whom. Always an optimist though, I didn't worry. Retarded people grow, and I assumed Tony would gradually become a little more responsible. He seemed to love Guadalajara - the music, the parks, the food, and shopping in the big colorful, crowded markets. Mexicans drive like rodeo cowboys, and the bus ride to town was sometimes wild and exciting. We joined a sports club and went swimming every morning. I took a painting class, held outdoors in a park where a karate class was also taking place. Tony laughed with delight as the karate students yelled and leaped. A willow tree in front of our apartment provided plenty of the limber sticks Tony liked to shake. A music group practiced in a nearby house. Tony, an enthralled listener, spent balmy evenings outside on the sidewalk, contentedly shaking his stick and listening to the music. Tony also made friends with some Mexican men who spent their days around a little shack on a vacant lot next door. Most Mexicans seem easy-going and non-judgmental. No one tried to make Tony talk in Guadalajara, and I'd never seen him happier.

Then, one day he seemed to become upset, unexpectedly, and for no apparent reason. That evening he refused to go to bed, staying up all night and laughing in a way that did not suggest humor. He lost his temper often and sometimes became defiant. One morning we were shopping in a big produce market. Persistent little Mexican boys aggressively competed to carry shopping baskets, jumping on cars several blocks from the market and fighting to be hired. I always gave one a few pesos to avoid harassment from the others. My little Mexican boy, in addition to carrying my basket, was busy fending off tough little competitors. As I was leaving the market, having paid off my little Mexican helper, I looked around for Tony and saw him surrounded by policemen. They seemed to be wrestling with him, bending his arm behind his back. I dropped my produce, spilling it all over the parking lot. I ran back to where Tony and the policemen were scuffling. I tried to persuade them to allow Tony to get into my car, and then tell me what he'd done. In my panic I lost my ability to speak Spanish. I couldn't remember the words to explain that Tony was retarded. One of the policemen kept insisting Tony was “a very dangerous fellow”. They finally allowed Tony to get in the car and stood guard over him, their hands hovering over their pistols. One of them took me to the police station, where someone spoke English. The police captain was apologetic when he learned Tony was retarded, but frantic to get back to Tony before one of those policemen shot him, I neglected to ask what he'd done. Perhaps something happened between him and one of the little Mexican boys. Tony was twice their size. He was bigger than the policemen.

Oh why did such a thing happen to Tony! I didn't want him to fear the police. It seemed important for handicapped people to look to the police for protection. But as was often the case, Tony's reaction was unexpected. He had no fear of those policemen. Tony was born lacking many of the fears that most children suffer. On the other hand, when he did decide something was dangerous, he couldn‘t be talked out of it. (He didn‘t realize airplanes might fall out of the sky until he was about forty, and there was no way anyone could have persuaded him to get on an airplane after that.) However Tony had never encountered anything but kindness from people. Close supervision had even spared him from normal conflicts with children his age, and to this day, it would never occur to Tony to fear another human being. In this instance he seemed to think the police were playing with him.

“Tell about the time Tony wrestled eight Mexican policemen," he would gleefully urge me to repeat the story for several years afterward.

Nevertheless at the time I was terrified. I decided a foreign country was a dangerous place for a big, unpredictable young man who didn't look retarded. Frantic to return to the States, I packed the car. A fan belt broke. A mechanic patched it, but said I should install a new one before starting on the long journey to California. He phoned Laredo, Texas, and ordered it put on a bus, saying it would arrive mañana. According to a Spanish dictionary mañana means tomorrow, but in Mexico it apparently means "in the future". For two weeks I returned to the garage every morning with all my possessions in the car, and was again told, “mañana". Tony became more upset. I felt alone and helpless. Never sure what he might do next was like living with a ticking bomb. It was during this time that a Mexican woman with whom I'd played bridge told me that the shack next door to my apartment was actually a smuggler's station, and Tony's Mexican friends were probably smugglers - maybe even drug dealers. Could they have given Tony some drug? Perhaps. But the truth was, Tony sometimes had unpredictable episodes when no one gave him anything. In those days a long-distance phone call to California would have been difficult and complicated, and Guy and Sherry were unaware of our troubles. Sherry later said she had a dream in which she saw me sitting on the side of the bed crying. That was how I spent many of my nights during those two weeks. (That was the only example of what may have been telepathy that I remember in our immediate family.)

The part for the car finally came and we drove back to California, stopping by Disneyland on the way home. Tony returned to the same class for retarded children he'd been attending a year earlier. By that time he had recovered from his emotional upset. That broken fan belt and the amusement park, which gave him time to recover naturally, protected him from experimental, anti-psychotic drugs for three more years.

  • -*-*

During the next few years I managed to create a good life for Tony and me. He attended classes for trainable retarded children. The little yellow bus picked him up every morning. On weekends he participated in Easter Seals recreation-programs for the handicapped. He became so responsible that I occasionally left him alone in our apartment in the evening. I took courses at a community college. On days when Tony wasn't in school, he played on campus while waiting for me. Tony attended a camp for retarded children every summer, and I discovered a fascinating way to travel. I would go to a foreign country and enroll in a language school. I spent a wonderful summer with five other women from my community-college, French classes, living in a dormitory at the Cite Universitaire in Paris, and studying French at the Sorbonne. We were all housewives whose children had left home, and that summer in Paris was a lovely adventure. My roommate was a woman for whom I’d once ironed. The next summer I went alone to Vienna and studied German at the Goethe Institute. My classmates were European businessmen, diplomats, aspiring young opera singers, bright young priests, college professors and students from all over the world. The language classes were stimulating, but I was even more fascinated by my fellow students. Many of their lives were quite different from mine, and I loved talking to people with such diverse beliefs and experiences. The Goethe Institute didn't offer much organized social life, so I appointed myself an unofficial social director and arranged boat-trips on the Danube and picnics in the Vienna Woods. In the “wine gardens” of Grinzing we spent evenings at long tables laughing, drinking cheap wine and talking German. The young people appreciated the outings I organized, and we all became good friends. I didn't speak any English during that entire summer. As part of the language class, I once gave a talk in German about Freud, entitled, "Was Freud just a funny fad, or an ineffective fraud?" My talk was received with interest, but I didn't sense any indignation over my ridicule of Freud. The psychiatric practice of blaming mothers had never really gained the prevelence in Europe that it did in the United States. However I had gone to Vienna, Freud's home town, and denounced him in German, I mused with satisfaction. Since no one had shown any interest in publishing my book, I decided I'd have to be satisfied with that.

  • -*-*

Tony continued special education classes. Guy and Sherry no longer lived at home, they were busy pursuing their careers, but Tony and I saw them often. Then, just as I was again deciding we'd overcome all our problems, my world suddenly became unraveled once more. One day at school Tony was working in the garden. He lifted his rake and hit the boy next to him on the head, wounding him so seriously as to require stitches. Tony had never been aggressive. He had thrown rocks at windows and broken things but he had never struck anyone. When asked why he'd done such a thing, Tony replied,

"Because I was mad".

"Why were you mad?" we persisted.

Tony merely shook his head. It was a reason which he thought needed no further explanation - or perhaps the answer was too complex for him to even attempt. Tony was nineteen years old, beyond an age that the school system was obligated to provide an education program, and he had to stay home. He seemed to be going through a particularly bad time, losing his temper every few days. I was afraid to take him anywhere and I was afraid to leave him alone. We both stayed in the apartment. I couldn't think of ways to entertain him, and Tony had nothing to do but lie in bed - and eat. He gained a lot of weight. For years the threat of my baby in an institution had horrified me. I realized Tony would outlive me, and I hoped to eventually find a safe life for him. I'd planned to decide where he might live as an adult before he became too old to adjust easily. Tony was still childlike however, and I had postponed thinking about him becoming a man. Now I had to find a something for him, and no one had any suggestions except the state hospital for the mentally ill. I visited the hospital. The buildings and grounds were nice enough, and the people working there seemed kind, but being around so many handicapped people was depressing. I had managed to cope with Tony's problems for nineteen years. His commitment to the hospital seemed an admission of tragic failure.

Both Guy and Sherry were having problems. Guy, for some years near the head of his class at the university, was in graduate school, working for his PhD. Surrounded by some of the brightest young physicists in the country, he was feeling inadequate. Furthermore, he was a teaching assistant, trying to teach a class in which he'd had difficulty as an undergraduate. Some of his students knew as much about his subject matter as he did. Sherry was having difficulty in nursing training. She did well academically, but her superiors kept telling her she wasn't assertive enough to deal with doctors and become a nurse. I understood, for I had once feared doctors and been unassertive myself. It was the year of a severe drought in California, but it was a damp spring around our house. I shed tears about Tony; Sherry wept because she feared she might not become a nurse; Guy, with problems of his own, tried to console us.

In California parents can't apply for their child's admission to a state hospital; application must be made by a social worker. I was unable to move my social workers to action. They called meetings to discuss Tony, always coming to the conclusion the hospital was the best place for him. No one got around to filling out the papers. Instead, they called more meetings. Perhaps they were intentionally deliberate to prevent parents from making impulsive decisions, but I felt frustrated and was again reminded that psychologists and social workers felt their role was to manipulate people.

After several months Tony was finally admitted to a program for autistic boys held at the mental hospital, a special, experimental program that stressed academics. He lived in a separate cottage on the hospital grounds with about thirty young men. I brought him home on weekends and soon realized Tony enjoyed living there. Like any nineteen-year-old, he regarded a cottage full of young men more fun than living in an apartment with Mom! I visited Tony, and we went to the hospital snack-bar. A patient at a nearby table was talking to himself, gesturing and laughing out loud. Tony laughed too. I found such bizarre behavior depressing, but Tony seemed to regard it as entertaining.

One weekend I brought Tony home, and he asked if Guy and Sherry were coming to dinner. I said no. He asked if we were going to visit Grandmother. Again I said no, not this weekend.

"Then why did you bring me home?" he asked.

He wanted to return for a dance that evening, so I took him back. He ran into the cottage, laughing and yelling, "I'm here! I'm here!" (He did, somehow, finally learn the proper use of pronouns.)

Tony lived there for two years. The social workers and teachers seemed dedicated. Most professionals dealing with the handicapped are tolerant, caring, compassionate people. For a while Tony attended a special-education class at the local high school. One day he apparently became bored and activated all the fire alarms, causing fire engines with flashing lights and screeching sirens to appear from all directions. Tony seemed to regard fire alarms as irresistible invitations to such glorious pandemonium. They are often behind a glass and accompanied by a little hammer. Breaking the glass is the obvious purpose of that hammer, and Tony couldn't resist activating them. However those fire alarms convinced the high school that they couldn't handle Tony, and that ended his attendance in regular school. He didn't feel any particular desire to do things normal people do, and was just as happy attending a class held at the hospital.

After a couple of years the State began closing mental hospitals. Since Tony seemed happy there, I would have preferred the safety of an institution. Nevertheless Tony was placed in a group-home in San Francisco with five other retarded young men. The State provides activity-programs to occupy handicapped people during the daytime, and Tony had something to occupy his time. Bio babble was replacing psychobabble as a treatment of mental illness, and anti-psychotic drugs were supposed to control his disruptive behavior. When one medication didn't work, doctors seemed to just add another, until he was taking a big fist full of pills every day. However I no longer had any say about Tony's medical treatment. I realized Tony would be happy wherever he lives. Maybe he inherited my cheerful nature.

None of my children, including Tony, had much need for me anymore. Guy had finished his PhD. and Sherry had become a nurse. Suddenly, I had a choice of what to do with my life. It seemed a little late for me to start a career. Being wealthy might be defined as a lifestyle costing less than one’s income, and my lifestyle was modest. After buying Tony's shirts in thrift shops, I did much of my shopping there. (Buying something in a regular store might be a chore, but finding something in a thrift store is an adventurous achievement.) With my Army pension I had enough money to live as I always had. Some people apparently feel an urge to change the world, to think of ways to improve society, and I considered volunteer work. My problem was that I found the world fascinating the way it was, and I was rarely confident of specific changes that might improve things. Still, my late fifties seemed a little young to sit around waiting for old age. Having survived the psychologists, I was convinced I could accomplish anything to which I set my mind. I finally decided to try to live my favorite fantasy. I disposed of all my possessions, except for what would fit into a couple of suitcases, and set out to travel around the world as adventurously as I could manage.


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

Current page: Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?

  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: Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
  1. The photos used by Berthajane can be found by linking a copy on the pdf file. Click "photo" to reach the appropriate page.