Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/How did the laws of nature originate?

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Question 3

I kept trying to think of Tony as mentally retarded.  Rutledge, Grandmother's adopted son, was the only retarded person I knew.  In those days mentally retarded people lived in institutions. Schools and other services for retarded people were rare, and private care was beyond the financial resources of most families.   Many parents saw no alternative to institutionalizing their retarded child at a young age.  I'm sure they felt it was in the child's interest to find a safe life with other handicapped children, but it must have been a painful, heart-wrenching experience for everyone. Grandmother was actually Grandfather's second wife.  Rutledge, her adopted son, had been born into a wealthy family.  Instead of an institution, his parents chose to leave him, along with a trust-fund, with their doctor's wife. Grandmother was much younger than her husband. They had no children, and I'm sure Rutledge was the comfort and purpose her husband hoped he might be during her years as a widow. Rutledge and Grandmother’s love enriched both of their lives.  Tony was born at a moment in history when we were just beginning to accept retarded people into society, and alternatives to institutionalization were still rare.  If Tony were in a State Hospital for the retarded, I wondered if it might relieve some of this pain. My little boy would no longer be a part of my life, but I might eventually escape from this relentless grief. The thought of abandoning Tony to an institution was fleeting, but it couldn't add to the anguish I was suffering.

Nothing could have. 

After Sherry and Guy left for school that morning, I called the pediatric clinic.  “I spoke with a doctor there yesterday, a pediatrician. I don't remember his name," I said to the woman who answered. "Maybe he had brown hair and wore glasses."

"What did you talk to him about?"

"My little boy. The doctor said - well - I guess he said Tony was mentally retarded." I began to cry again. "Somehow I didn't realize what the doctor meant yesterday." "Try not to worry," she said sympathetically. "Give me your name. I'll find out which doctor and have him call you."

I hung up the phone and looked out the window at Tony playing in the yard.  He was climbing a tree - one of his favorite activities. Oh Tony, please do something clever, I thought unhappily. These past few hours must surely be a nightmare from which I will awaken. Tragedies like this happened to other people, not to us!  I can't explain why I thought we should be exempt.  After a while Tony came in and emptied two pockets of dirt out of his little trousers onto the floor. "Oh Tony," I scolded helplessly.

Tony picked up the edge of the rug, kicked the dirt under it, and then looked up at me inquiringly. Ever since rugs were invented people have thought it clever to sweep dirt under them, but Tony's ingenuity dispelled none of my despair, and I hugged him to me unhappily. Finally the pediatrician phoned. "When you said yesterday Tony wasn't normal the meaning didn't seem to register. I'm sorry," I apologized.

"But I didn't say he was mentally retarded," the doctor objected.

"You didn't?"

"No. Actually, I suspect his trouble might be something quite different."

"If you mean some emotional problem, I wish I could believe that. It's not true of Tony. He's a happy child."

"Don't feel too discouraged yet," the doctor said. "Come in again next week. We'll try to get your little boy an appointment at a psychiatric clinic."

A psychiatric clinic? Where psychiatrists do whatever they do?  I vaguely imagined those mysterious, specialists sitting silently, listening to a patient stretched out on a couch describing dreams. From a few obscure clues, such experts could scientifically detect people's deepest, subconscious thoughts. They also had methods to measure a child's intelligence more accurately than any fallible human judgment could.  Didn't they? Although a few things existed that science hadn't yet learned to measure, those of us who believed in science knew anything "real" was measurable. I was also aware that psychiatrists delved into people's past. Tony didn't have much of a past, but I thought over the few years of his life.

Ike was a major in the Army, and we had two children. Army life appealed to our sense of adventure, and I actually enjoyed moving every couple of years to a new and different post. After a European tour of duty, we were stationed in Colorado.  The fishing was great, but after hectic days of pulling toddlers out of streams and rescuing them from falling down ravines, I left the fishing to Ike. We bought a small house, our first, and I tended a yard full of flowers. Planning to have two children, a boy and then a girl, I felt annoyed to find myself pregnant at the age of thirty seven. If abortions had been legal, I would have had one. Nevertheless, something (I've since read it was hormones) soon convinced me another child was a good idea, an unplanned bonus. By my fourth month I was eagerly looking forward to the new baby. Guy and Sherry came down with measles. I was sure I'd had them as a child, but the doctor gave me a shot of gamma globulin, which was supposed to lighten the illness in case I hadn't. There was nothing unusual about Tony's delivery. It was routine.  Bastille Day was probably an appropriate date to launch us upon our coming chaos, for Tony was born on July 14, 1957. He arrived several weeks early, on a Sunday, and Ike had gone fishing. Leaving the children with a neighbour, I took a taxi to the hospital, where I discovered my doctor had also gone fishing. The baby didn't wait for my doctor. Tony was born after a few hours, and my first question was the same one most mothers ask, "Is the baby all right?"    "A fine healthy boy," the substitute doctor said from behind a surgical mask. Such was my faith in medical science, I assumed the doctor had determined Tony's normalcy in that first glance. I never gave the matter another thought. Our optimistic culture seems to encourage such a self-confident attitude.  Materialistic philosophy regards people as either perfect or “broken”, and imperfections are thought of as preventable accidents, often scientifically repairable, that might otherwise interfere with our “normal” happiness.

When Tony was sixteen months old, Ike was sent to an artillery school in Oklahoma for a few months. After that he had orders for Korea. The children and I took the train to California to stay near my family. That train trip, confined to a compartment with three small children, was not a relaxing experience. The two older ones, missing their neighborhood playmates, became bored and bickered - while Tony jumped up and down on my lap. We ate in the compartment, instead of trying to go to the dining car.   Tony spilled a bottle of ketchup over all of us.  There was a tiny toilet in the compartment, to which I occasionally escaped with a cup of coffee. In California, I rented a house next door to my sister. Her husband's work kept him away from home much of the time. "My children resent their father being away," my sister said. "Yours will become unhappy too." Believing one of the obligations of a parent was to avoid unhappiness, I thought of ways to keep us busy.

"I don't understand it," she remarked after a few weeks. "Your children are eager for their father to get home, but they don't seem unhappy."

She probably meant I didn't appear unhappy. Her children seemed all right to me, and I suspect she was the one who resented her husband's absence.

My sister once took Tony to town to buy him a toy. Tony could not be talked into anything. He shook his head and responded a decisive "No!" to everything she offered. Awed by Tony's determination, she took him into a big toy store and playfully issued a challenge.  "I'll buy anything in the store that interests my nephew," she announced.   She spent an entertaining afternoon as the clerks exhibited their most expensive toys. Despite their enthusiastic demonstrations, Tony continued to shake his head and declare a determined "No!" My sister left the store without a purchase. We laughed when she told about it. As in Colorado, we lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. It was the baby boomer generation.  From morning till night our children were at the neighbors or the neighbor children were at our house. Tony was still too young to participate in their activities, but I assumed that "being part of the gang" kept him entertained. However as I remembered the doctor asking how Tony got along with other children, I realized he really never paid much attention to them. If the other children played in the sandbox, Tony played on the swings.  He would roam out of the yard. I would find him, scold him, and give him a swat on the diaper. Once we couldn't find him anywhere. After frantically searching the neighborhood we called the police.  Tony had apparently gone exploring on his own.  Someone several blocks away had found him, and two policemen brought Tony home, frightened, and sobbing, “Tony broke! Oh no, Tony broke!” Things often "broke" around Tony, and it was one of the few words in his vocabulary.   Like my older son, who didn’t talk until he was three, Tony had not babbled as a baby.  He was capable of speech, and occasionally said a few words, but mostly he was a silent observer. His first words were "see boat".  We had no idea how Tony happened to share Ike and my interest in boats, but we all joined his game and yelled, "See boat!" when we spotted a car pulling one along the freeway.  It was about this time he had his first real temper tantrum. I don't recall the cause of his fury, but I remember us all standing and staring in amazement at him lying on the floor kicking and screaming - a little bundle of violent rage. We laughed at him.  My family had always enjoyed differences in people, and we regarded children as fun?  Wasn't that the reason everyone wanted children?  Because they were fun?  I'd never known anyone with a temper, but surely Tony's tantrum wasn't any more cause for concern than Larry's imagination was.  My four-year-old nephew insisted he had a herd of colored goats which were invisible to the rest of us.  "You are sitting right on top of my green goat!" he would declare, causing startled visitors to jump up in alarm from wherever they were sitting.  At other times Larry claimed he was a robot and had to be wound up every morning.  We assumed that whatever our children did was normal, and often entertaining, and that included any differences we noticed in Tony.

Ike returned from the school in Oklahoma. In a month he would leave for Korea, and we plunged into a flurry of activities with the children, such as fishing, picnics, zoos and museums. However I could see Ike was troubled. He was a public information officer, and the school he had attended was an artillery school. It included mathematics and difficult, technical subjects. Ike acknowledged that the course had not gone well. One indication of my husband’s unease was his acquisition of a swagger stick. Some Army officers carried this ridiculous little six-inch piece of leather around, for no purpose as far as I could see, other than to prop up their egos. I wouldn't have thought Ike’s ego needed such a prop. His natural self-confidence was one of the traits that had attracted me to him.

Then, a couple of weeks before he was to leave for Korea, a letter arrived stating what Ike had secretly feared and dreaded. The armed forces were cutting back, and he received orders relieving him from active duty as an officer in the Army Reserves. His feeling of failure was one of the most painful things Ike ever had to endure, and my heart ached for him. However we had always led a more eventful, unconventional life than most people and we turned our attention to dealing with our altered circumstances.  With only five years until retirement, Ike could enlist as a sergeant to finish his twenty years.  Then he would retire as a major.  At least now he didn't have to go to Korea.  Although Ike and I were busy trying to adjust to a different future, the children were too young to pay much attention, and the event didn't have much effect upon them.  Tony, not yet two, wasn't even aware anything was happening.

Ike enlisted at the Presidio in San Francisco.  He received "mustering out pay" for leaving the Army as an officer, and we bought a big old triplex across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, with a couple of apartments to rent out.  I was reluctant to try to work while the children were so small, and I put an ad in the paper offering to do ironing at home. Today most fabrics don't even need ironing, but at that time it was a chore that required hours of tedious effort. Many housewives were relieved to hire someone to do it.  I rather enjoyed becoming proficient.  I was soon doing all that ironing in half the time as when I started.  It was a way I could help with the finances, but wouldn't have to leave the children with a baby sitter. We had lived a quiet, uneventful life until Ike was sent to Greenland eight months ago. Temporary separations were routine in the Army, and the children and I had gone on with our lives while awaiting Ike's return.

Tony (photo)[1]

I went for my next appointment with that strange doctor, expecting a quick answer to the question of whether there was something wrong with Tony. The medical profession had scientific ways to measure everything that was real, I assumed, and that included intelligence. Didn't it?

  • -*-*

I don't really expect to understand how the laws of nature originated – not through either science or religion. Theism claims a deity dictated them and suspends them when it suits His purpose. The Atheist concept seems to regard such laws as popping into existence, for no particular reason, and accidentally creating a deterministic contraption of infinite complexity, ticking away in perfect harmony - a mechanical reality in which adaptation occurs accidentally. There is supposed to be a third view, agnosticism, which insists such knowledge about ultimate origins is unknowable. However the human mind seems unable to resist speculating about such things. My own agnostic guess is that the entire universe is alive and conscious, and something similar to the same free-will I personally experience plays a subtle, undetectable role in all of reality.  The universe created itself, and the laws of nature are entrenched habits. In fact, the laws governing the inanimate universe have grown and developed so slowly, and have become so entrenched, that they appear fixed to us. Life, on the other hand, is still actively evolving, and free-will has evolved in humans to the point where most of us take it for granted. Thus, with a will of my own I feel like a participant in that creative process, rather than a passive observer in a mechanical reality. I might not have much power to effect significant change in most of the universe, but I do sense some participation in my own growth and development.

I didn't think up such ideas. Plato reportedly stated more than two thousand years ago, "The universe is a single living creature that encompasses all living creatures within it." Robert Lanza calls it biocentrism. Rupert Sheldrak - and some proponents of Intelligent Design - also indulge in similar speculations. Every learned philosopher is at some time disputed by some other learned philosopher, so I feel justified in picking and choosing which philosophy appeals to me.  Our understanding of life, creativity, consciousness and free-will is primitive, leaving us with much to wonder and speculate about.  Just as religion has proselytized, philosophical materialists present their speculations as established truth, insisting that anyone who disagrees is being deliberately ignorant.

Questions[edit | edit source]

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

Current page: How did the laws of nature originate?

  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: How did the laws of nature originate?
  1. The photos used by Berthajane can be found by linking a copy on the pdf file. Click "photo" to reach the appropriate page.