Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/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?
Ike tried to discuss with Colonel Mann what Dr. Zircon had said to me.
"Your wife was mistaken," the colonel told Ike. "Dr. Zircon would never have said such things. And I can assure you he wouldn't get angry." How could he be so certain Dr. Zircon never experienced anger? Did he consider psychologists immune from such human emotions? (Col. Mann would soon demonstrate that he was equally capable of anger when his theories weren't taken seriously.)
It had been a year since I first took Tony to the pediatrician. His unexpected behavior had always seemed funny to us. One reason was probably Tony's attitude. Our other two children became offended and cried if we laughed at them too much, but Tony seemed to enjoy it. Full of fun himself, Tony loved to tease. He would sometimes hide in the bushes when I called him from the yard. When I found him, he would laugh with delight at his cleverness. During the time I was attending group therapy, I still tried to find humor in Tony's mischief, but I was often on the verge of tears. He had again broken the glass out of the door when he couldn't get it open. Again, Ike had replaced it. We tried to discipline him, but were unable to find effective punishments. We had to be careful not to punish him to relieve our fear and frustration, or to satisfy people who considered him spoiled. How does one cope with children who don’t respond to conventional discipline? The origin of a myth that child abuse can cause retardation is understandable. Undoubtedly retardation can cause parental frustration, and might have sometimes led to excessive punishment.
My mother had knit Tony a pillow which looked like a big bug. Tony, nearly five, was still in diapers. He would run and get his pillow and lie on the floor with it under his head while I changed his diapers.
"Will you expect me to change your diapers after you start riding your first motorcycle, you rascal?" I sometimes exclaimed.
Tony, his head on his pillow, would smile impishly. He also slept with his pillow.
"Find piddow," Tony said one night at bedtime. I searched the house. Tony followed me repeating "find piddow" more insistently.
"Everyone help find Tony's pillow," I urged, and we began looking in the yard. It was getting dark and we couldn't find a flashlight. (Flashlights were one of the things Tony kept dismantled.) By this time Tony was in tears and screaming, "Find piddow! Find piddow!"
"Maybe we can use candles," I suggested. "If that pillow comforts Tony at night, we must find it."
Insecure was not a way I would have described Tony. Nevertheless it was one of child psychology's favorite themes. I was determined to do everything possible to avoid any accusation of causing Tony to be insecure. Keeping candles lit while walking around the yard was difficult. We improvised cardboard windbreaks and searched for more than an hour. Tony began to enjoy us all stumbling around by candlelight and he stopped crying. Although we didn't find the pillow, he finally went to bed without it. We found it the next morning, in plain sight up in a tree, where Tony spent much of his time playing.
The next evening at bedtime Tony asked for his pillow, and I took it from a closet where I'd kept it safely hidden all day.
"No!" he objected as he grabbed it from me and ran and threw it out the door. "Find piddow," he repeated.
"No, Tony, no candles tonight," I told him. "Go out and get your pillow if you want to sleep with it." Tony went to bed without his pillow and seemed indifferent about sleeping with it after that.
Tony used to stop up the toilet by flushing down his blocks. We'd call the Roto-Rooter man to dislodge them. One evening we were in the bathroom watching the Roto-Rooter machine and heard a noise in the living room. Rushing out we found Tony with a hack saw from the Roto-Rooter man's tool box, enthusiastically sawing on a table leg. In that moment of confusion the Rotor-Roter man decided he couldn't do the job this time. We'd have to call a plumber. He said he wouldn't charge for his unsuccessful efforts.
"If you don't want money, we might give you Tony," we joked.
Tony was so cute and bright looking no one could resist laughing, and the Roto-Rooter man laughed too. He retreated in mock alarm, declaring, "The only people who might have use for that young man would be some demolition company."
Tony was rarely sick. His few childhood illnesses were so mild as to be almost unnoticeable. However he got a bad cold that spring, and I took him to the pediatric clinic. While we were waiting, he investigated the scales by the reception desk. After a couple of minutes he came and handed me a piece of it. I tried to replace the piece of metal but couldn't find where it fit. I gave it to the nurse and apologized. She tried to replace it on the scales but decided a screw must be missing. Surely Tony hadn't been near those scales long enough to unscrew anything. Sometimes though mechanical devices seemed to disintegrate spontaneously whenever Tony approached!
We went in to see the doctor. When she tried to look down Tony's throat, he bit the tongue depressor in two and kicked the doctor in the face.
"He shouldn't act like this at his age," she exclaimed.
"We go to psychologists every week," I said.
"That's good," she said, and continued to examine Tony while keeping out of range of his feet. "How do you like the Child Guidance Clinic?"
"I hate it."
"You should be grateful for such help," she scolded.
"I can force myself to go; I can't make myself like it," I protested. Then I exclaimed in exasperation, "I always thought one should be frank and open when dealing with psychiatry. But that psychologist goes into a big old purple funk whenever I try to start a candid discussion. He acts like he's about to hide under his desk!"
The doctor laughed at my vehemence and obvious exaggeration. It was refreshing to see a doctor laugh. There wasn't much gaiety around the psychiatric clinic. Everyone, doctors and patients, were grimly taking themselves and their emotions so very, very seriously.
"They've said Tony is extremely bright and he isn't psychotic," I said. "Do you know of anything else that might be wrong with him?
"Well, childhood schizophrenia."
"But they said he isn't psychotic."
"The psychiatrists would know more about that than I would," she said, turning her attention back to Tony. The doctor treated Tony's cold without further comment. As we went out through the waiting room, several people were on their hands and knees around the scales, presumably still searching for that missing screw. I'd already done all the apologizing I could stomach for one day, and I took Tony's hand and hurried out the door with him.
Food was an important item in Tony's life, and cookies were near the top of his list. He could enter any kitchen and spot the cookie jar, regardless of its disguise. Once at the psychiatric clinic, a doctor walked across the waiting room with a big cookie in his hand down by his side. Suddenly he stopped and stared at his empty hand. Tony had managed to dart up and unobtrusively snatch the cookie. He was back climbing into my lap before either the doctor or I realized what was happening. Tony had seen only the cookie. He gave no thought to the human attached to it. This particular human happened to be a psychologist. As a grown man in a dispute with a four-year-old over a cookie, he did seem a little embarrassed by the whole thing, but in the spirit of teaching boys a lesson, I suppose, the doctor insisted upon having his cookie returned. Searching for cookies may have been what Tony had in mind the day he got into more serious trouble. For me it was a last straw.
On this particular afternoon I couldn't find him in the yard. I ran up the hill behind the house calling him and met a man leading him down the road by the hand. Tony was crying. The man declared indignantly,
"He scared me to death! I thought he was a burglar. He walked right into my house. I had a gun. I almost shot him!"
I apologized and took Tony home. In a few minutes a policeman knocked on the door.
“Do you have a boy named Anthony here?” he asked. I nodded, shocked speechless at the thought of a policeman coming for Tony. “An escapee from juvenile hall?” he continued.
Tony, traces of tears still on his dusty little cheeks, stamped his foot and made threatening motions at the policeman. "Get out a here," Tony warned, as he advanced menacingly. He stopped just out of the policeman's reach and stamped his little foot again. "Bad man! Get out a here!"
"He's only four years old! How could he have escaped from juvenile hall?" I asked exasperatedly.
The policeman stood in the door with a look of disapproval on his face, watching Tony's efforts to drive him away. I doubt he was really searching for an escapee from juvenile hall. Surely four-year-olds would be incapable of such break-outs. Perhaps the man whose house Tony entered had called the police before discovering how small his "burglar" was. Maybe the policeman was trying to emphasize that housebreaking was a serious offense, and was trying to impress upon mother that she should do something about her young delinquent - or he might end up in juvenile hall.
"That young man needs a good spanking," the policeman said, as he turned and left. Psychologists apparently weren't the only ones who felt I should do something about Tony. I tried to laugh about the predicaments my four year old could get himself into, but found myself crying again. What did the psychologists think might happen to Tony? He was a notorious cookie snatcher. Did they think he might grow up to be a criminal, for heaven's sake? Surely somewhere I could find a doctor who would discuss this mysterious thing doctors seemed to think might be wrong with my little boy. A friend recommended a civilian pediatrician. As I met the new doctor in his office, I tried to explain that the psychologists claimed my child was extremely bright and wasn't psychotic. By this time I was unable to talk about Tony without crying.
"What else might be wrong with him when he grows up?" I asked, struggling with tears.
"Well, he might not get married - or something like that," the doctor said. He seemed puzzled at the bitterness with which I spoke of Dr. Zircon. "If you are undergoing therapy somewhere and are angry at a psychologist, you should tell him," he said. "In therapy feelings of anger must be brought into the open."
The pediatrician didn't feel qualified to discuss Tony's diagnosis and obtained an appointment for me with a well-known child-psychiatrist. I rather hoped Tony would get married when he grew up. But if he didn't? Well, people could surely suffer worse tragedies than not getting married. In any case, it seemed a silly thing to worry about while he was only four years old.
I would have found it difficult to worry about Tony's sexual orientation, if that was what the pediatrician was questioning when he suggested Tony might not get married. Even at the age of four Tony's every movement and gesture seemed to indicate exaggerated masculinity. So far I'd only talked to psychologists and pediatricians. A psychiatrist was also a medical doctor, in addition to being an authority on what people think and feel. Perhaps a child psychiatrist would be more knowledgeable than mere psychologists. I hoped he would be able to tell me something that would make more sense.
I would have found it difficult to worry about Tony's sexual orientation, if that was what the pediatrician was questioning when he suggested Tony might not get married. Even at the age of four, Tony's every movement and gesture seemed to indicate exaggerated masculinity. So far I'd only talked to psychologists and pediatricians. A psychiatrist was also a medical doctor, in addition to being an authority on what people think and feel. Perhaps a child psychiatrist would be more knowledgeable than mere psychologists. I hoped he would be able to tell me something that would make more sense.
Was that doctor hinting at sexual deviation? I'd read Freud was the first to suggest a mother was responsible for her son's homosexuality. One way he made this discovery was by psychoanalyzing Leonardo da Vinci, who had been dead for some five hundred years and was reportedly homosexual. Leonardo didn't write an autobiography, but he apparently did leave one account of a dream. Dreams were Freud's specialty. There had been other dream-analyzers, but Freud claimed to be the first to do it scientifically. (Freud expressed disappointment that he never received a Nobel Prize for his scientific discoveries.) Leonardo reportedly dreamed a vulture came and flicked its tail on his lips. Freud had made the scientific discovery that a bird's tail, as well as a snake, a cigar and just about any other similarly shaped object, is a symbol for a penis. (Poor Freud must have felt threatened by penises from all directions.) In Egyptian hieroglyphics a vulture is also the symbol for mother. Leonardo was Italian, but Freud thought he might know Egyptian hieroglyphics. (Actually, the Rosetta Stone hadn't been translated, and no one knew Egyptian hieroglyphics in Leonardo's time.) Nevertheless according to Freud's analysis, Leonardo's dream indicated his mother had stolen his manhood, thus accounting for Mona Lisa's smug smile. Someone later discovered Freud had used a faulty translation, from Italian to German, of Leonardo's dream. The bird in Leonardo's dream wasn't even a vulture. It was a kite. In Egyptian hieroglyphics a kite is only a symbol for that species of bird, and not a symbol for mother. It was further asserted that Leonardo, who was illegitimate, spent his infancy and childhood with his father and stepmother, not his mother. However Freud found a painting by Leonardo with two Mona Lisa's, both sporting smug smiles. For many years the cause of homosexuality was stated as “a strong mother and a weak or absent father”. (I wonder what gives psychologists the ability to distinguish weak people from strong people. Which word would they use to describe me, for instance? If I was ever "weak", I was definitely "strong" after surviving all that traumatic psychotherapy.) Finally homosexuals rebelled and insisted their sexual preference was not an illness, and they were not seeking a cure. However mothers remained the official cause of most other conditions psychiatry defined as “mental illness”.
The human organism consists of 100 trillion cells, plus ten times that number of symbiotic microbes, which colonize our gastrointestinal tract and skin. Science has discovered that those microbes affect many aspects of human physiology, including immune cell development, digestion, metabolism and even regulation of memory, mood and well-being. They are a part of the human biota, essential to our functioning, and some force (or forces) unites them all, along with our cells, to form a subconscious, functioning organism. (In humans we've concluded it also includes conscious minds. (Do we know whether other forms of life include conscious minds?) If all that activity is dictated by the laws of physics and chemistry, no one has been specific about such laws. Reality probably includes many forces we don’t presently understand. We speculate, and psychiatric speculations are often the most elaborate. But any explanation of a relationship between a physical brain and a thought or emotion is pure speculation. Personally, I don't find mechanical guesses any more believable than religious ones, and I'm more comfortable acknowledging something is unknown than I am with some obviously contrived mechanistic explanation.
Questions[edit | edit source]
- The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.
Current page: Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)?
- Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
- Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
- How did the laws of nature originate?
- Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
- Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
- Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
- If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
- Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
- Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
- Should "normal" be equated with average?
- What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
- Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
- 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?
- Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
- Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
- How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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?
- Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
- Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
- What is racism?
- Does free-will exist?
- Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
- Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
- What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
- Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
- Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
- Can we do other people's growing for them?
- Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
- Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
- Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
- Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
- Current page: Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)?