Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge?

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Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?

Question 19

Tony had his sixth birthday. Summer passed, and Colonel Mann had transferred away from the clinic before arrangements were made for us to again resume weekly talks, this time with Dr. Lavalle, Tony's psychologist. Dr. Lavalle seemed a little less manipulative than the other psychologists, but like the others, he was also waiting for me to confess some pathological attitude toward my child that might explain his slow development.

"I believe...Tony is of at least...average intelligence," he said at our first meeting, and beginning our third year of therapy. He spoke slowly and deliberately, weighing each word and continuing to convey the impression of reticence we'd felt for the past two years. "And I feel certain that within a couple of years..." He seemed to be searching for words.

"That Tony will catch up with children his age?" I finished impatiently for him.

Dr. Lavalle nodded thoughtfully.

"I disagree with your theory that Tony's slow development is caused by something in his environment," I said apologetically. Dr. Lavalle had always seemed pleasant, and feeling no dislike toward him, I hoped to achieve some kind of honest relationship.

"You don't know what my beliefs are," he corrected me agreeably.

This nice young man didn’t seem any more eager to put such an awful accusation as "maternal rejection" into words than the others had been, and still wary of more confrontations, I remained silent. But if Dr. Lavalle was going to keep his views to himself, I wondered how we could have honest discussion?

Tony's play therapy had been cut short earlier that day when Dr. Lavalle phoned Ike to come for him. The psychologist reported that Tony had refused, for the past few weeks, to go into the playroom. He preferred to play out in the busy waiting room.

“I can't keep up with him out there,” the psychologist said. “He's all over the place and into everything. Today I put my foot down. I sent him home.”

“It's hard to keep up with Tony,” I agreed. Tony sometimes appeared to be in pain, and I wondered if he might have cavities in his baby teeth. I explained my concerns to the psychologist.

“You might ask a dentist about it,” he said. “Today I told Tony he could go into the playroom, stay out in the hall - or even go outside if he wanted. But I can't explore his emotions in that waiting room among all those people.”

Explore Tony's emotions! They'd always called whatever Tony did at the clinic "play therapy".

"One has to be firm with Tony," I said. "I try not to give him orders I can't enforce. About Tony's teeth though, I don't think a dentist could get his hand in Tony's mouth."

“He'd never get it back out with all five fingers attached,” Ike commented.

You might mention the problem to a dentist," the psychologist continued. "Today I explained to Tony exactly what I expect of him. I believe he desperately needs this direction in his life."

"Reasoning isn't effective with Tony yet," Ike said. "You have our permission to paddle him, if you think that might help."

I was startled at Ike giving the psychologist permission to spank Tony. I couldn’t remember Ike having spanked any of the children. But Dr. Lavalle seemed a gentle person, and his spanking surely wouldn't be more than the swat on the diaper, such as I used to try to discipline him. “I'm concerned about Tony's teeth,” I continued. "He sometimes screams for no apparent reason. Or knocks his head against a wall. I suppose his screams might be in anger or frustration, but Tony would be unable to tell us if he were in pain.”

"It would probably be a good idea to get his teeth fixed," the psychologist agreed. "I don't disapprove of spanking. I even spank my own children. But Tony is old enough to reason with. Today I explained to him, reasonably and simply, how he must behave if he wants to continue coming to the clinic. He craves this structure in his life."

If play therapy was beginning to bore Tony, I doubted Dr. Lavalle would get him into the playroom by reasoning. Tony knew what he wanted, and I'd never been able to talk him into much of anything. The psychologist seemed uninterested in any of our real problems, and I gave up trying to discuss Tony's teeth.

The next week when I brought Tony to the clinic, I waited to see whether he would go into the playroom, or if the psychologist would send him home again. Tony had a contented little smile on his face, for he now felt at home around the clinic. He took Dr. Lavalle's hand and walked down the hall with him. Tony was wearing his cherished, old, tattered sweater, but he still looked cute and mischievous. When they reached the playroom door, Tony stopped. The psychologist bent over and spoke to him. Tony laughed and stamped his little foot rebelliously. He turned and ran back up the hall, glancing over his shoulder to see if Dr. Lavalle followed.

"Unless you go into the playroom like a good boy, you'll have to go home," the psychologist warned sternly, as he followed Tony back to the waiting room.

Tony gave a squeal of laughter and darted behind the reception counter. He stood peeking impishly out at the psychologist, with a crooked little grin on his face. His eyes sparkled and he obviously hoped the psychologist would chase him. Dr. Lavalle sent him home. Tony was still smiling enigmatically as we left, causing me to wonder about his "craving for structure". Maybe Tony didn't enjoy therapy any more than I did.

That afternoon Ike and I went for our appointment with Dr. Lavalle. "I was startled last week to hear you speak of trying to explore Tony's emotions," I said. "I can't believe he talks enough to discuss anything that complicated."

"Tony has definite emotions," Dr. Lavalle insisted. He hesitated, and then continued cautiously. "Tony has strong feelings. . . about both of you. . . One day I gave him a mama doll and a daddy doll . . ." I had read enough psychology books to know a common method of diagnosing a child's hostility toward his parents was to hand him a mama doll, a daddy doll and a baseball bat, all of which were apparently standard equipment at child-psychiatry clinics. "Tony threw the dolls on the floor . . ." the psychologist continued gravely.

Dr. Lavalle's pause hung heavy in the silence.

"Then he took a baseball bat . . ."

I tried to conceal my horror. Get on with it, I thought. What did Tony actually do?

"...then ...Tony beat on a chair with the baseball bat," Dr. Lavalle finished in a hushed tone.

I fell back in my chair with relief, and let out the breath I'd been holding. The hostile children I'd read about beat on the dolls, not a chair. If the psychologist was convinced Tony had some secret desire to attack his parents with a baseball bat, I wasn‘t sure what I might say to dissuade him. I knew Tony's only interest in dolls would be trying to take them apart. He would enjoy whacking anything with a baseball bat. Tony never imitated people, and he was remarkably insusceptible to suggestion. Some children might respond to a psychologist encouraging them to beat on the dolls, but Tony might have been oblivious to such urging.

"Tony doesn't feel any suppressed hostility toward us," I assured Dr. Lavalle. "He's like a happy little two-year-old. All two-year-olds love their parents."

"Maybe you don't allow him to express his feelings openly," the psychologist suggested.

Tony was the most uninhibited child I knew. When displeased he threw an unrestrained tantrum. I dearly wished I could persuade him to be a little more inhibited. However, as usual, such comments never occurred to me until later.

If only Tony would start using the toilet," Ike said. "Those diapers bother me more than anything." Like me, Ike didn't seem concerned that Tony might have some secret desire to hit him over the head with a baseball bat.

"Our television broke last week," I said. "I didn't have the nerve to tell the repairman I'd caught Tony peeing into a hole in the back of it."

"And he did it while Dr. Kildare was on," Ike joked. "I wonder if that has any sinister significance." Ike had just made that up. The television wasn't even on when Tony peed into it. Ike was trying to tease the psychologist.

Dr. Lavalle frowned, apparently failing to find humor in Ike's suggestion. Maybe he was even a little offended. “It might indicate some of Tony's feelings toward doctors,” he said stiffly, trying to show he wouldn't be personally bothered by Tony’s alleged hostility.

"Tony didn't mean anything personal by it," I tried to assure the psychologist, but going along with Ike's attempted humor about Dr. Kildare. "Tony pees at everything these days if I don't watch him. Last week I caught him trying to extinguish the pilot light on the furnace.” I checked the pilot light often to make sure it was still lit.

Ike and I went home laughing about how seriously the psychologist seemed to take Ike's comment. Our sense of humor was wearing thin however. Before the evening was over we had another argument about psychiatry. Dr. Lavalle had tried to convince us we weren't strict enough with Tony. The next week he tried to convince us we disciplined him too much. Since child psychiatrists believed all deviant child-behavior was caused by parental abuse, they could only try to persuade parents to confess to some subconscious, pathological mistreatment. At that time it was psychiatry's one and only treatment – for children or adults. Such tactics had apparently convinced many psychiatric patients of some pretty bizarre Freudian concepts. But whatever therapy might consist of, Tony was no longer getting any. Dr. Lavalle sent him home each week without any treatment. Dr. Lavalle was apparently unable to make Tony do what he wanted, but he still hoped that if he could convince me to acknowledge some hostile attitude toward Tony, I would then be able to make Tony do as I wanted. I didn't have the choice of "sending him home" if he didn't cooperate! In any case, since Tony wasn't getting any therapy, I saw no reason for Ike and me to continue those tedious sessions at the clinic. Ike agreed.

The next week I took Tony to the clinic to give him one more chance. I watched as Dr. Lavalle told Tony "firmly and reasonably" he must go into the playroom. If I had wanted Tony in that playroom, I would have picked him up and put him there. However I was secretly on Tony's side in this particular contest of wills. I certainly sympathized with Tony's aversion to spending an hour in the room with a psychologist. I concealed my satisfaction at Tony's attempts to tease. I felt light headed with relief when Dr. Lavalle told Tony he must go home. I thanked the psychologist for being Tony's friend for the past two years. "We aren't coming to the clinic anymore," I told him.

A look of alarm flickered across the psychologist's face. Then he conceded, "This treatment is supposed to be voluntary."

"Yes," I agreed uneasily.

Taking Tony's hand, I turned to go. Would they actually allow us to leave? Fearful someone might call me back, I found myself walking faster, pulling Tony down the hall at a run. People in the waiting room stared as we rushed across the room and out the door of the clinic. With pounding heart, I dashed across the parking lot, shoved Tony into the car, and sped away. I didn't slow down until I noticed a police car. I could imagine a patrolman’s reaction, if as an excuse for speeding, I claimed I was making an escape from a psychiatric clinic.

Thus we “suddenly” quit the psychologists. When we first went to the clinic, therapy wasn't yet such a pervasive part of our culture as it later became, and Ike and I were rather ignorant about its nature and purpose. I've since decided many of the formulas of psychology were silly. Nevertheless, child psychiatry was an esteemed branch of the medical profession. Ike's father and grandfather had been doctors. Raised in a family of physicians, Ike had trouble believing the medical profession could be so wrong. I wanted to do everything possible to help Tony, and that included everything Ike thought might help. Those were some of the reasons we endured the ordeal for over two years. Nevertheless, for us, leaving the psychologists felt as though we had been suffering from a toothache and we weren't aware of how much it hurt until the pain ceased. In spite of our continued fear about Tony's future, I felt ten pounds lighter and ten years younger. Ike had some leave coming. In celebration, we took the children camping in Mexico. Feeling capable of anything now the psychologists were out of my life, I quit smoking.

  • -*-*

Do psychologists have some special comprehension of love, hate, jealousy and other human emotions that the rest of us don’t understand?

I doubt it! They may be familiar with some statistical studies about people’s self-reported feelings, but if they have some special ability to understand individuals, their discussions in the psychology books didn’t seem to reflect it. They definitely had no understanding of me.


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

Current page: Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge?

  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: Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge?