Am I Autistic? Would It Matter?

Since the beginning of the new year I have realized that I might have high-functioning autism.[1] I am currently unclear about two things: how I would find out if I do and whether it would matter if I do.

This isn’t the first time I considered the possibility that I might be on the autism spectrum. When I was in undergrad I realized that certain of my traits–discomfort with eye contact, inability to interpret physical touch, minor social awkwardness, occasional bluntness and tone deafness, intellectual obsessions–were typical of autism or resembled symptoms of autism. But whenever I researched it I found that I didn’t have certain traits you would expect of someone who was autistic: not only did I pretend play a lot as a child, it was neither repetitive nor focused on a consistent topic; I am more than capable of interpreting tone of voice and reading implied content in speech; I am about average at interpreting body language; my verbal communication skills are better than usual. By my best understanding of autism at the time, I did not qualify, so I stopped looking into it and stopped thinking about it.

However, I’ve learned a bit more since then. One of the things I’ve learned is that autism is still poorly understood and that what traits are required for a diagnosis is up for (some) debate. Moreover, I’ve learned that adults have often found ways of compensating for symptoms of autism; if they learned these techniques unconsciously, they might not be aware that they are using work-arounds. This discrepancy between an ideal case of autism and what autism might actually look like prompted a particular Twitter user to create a list of traits common to people with autism that don’t appear in most diagnostic lists. It was her opinion that a person who exhibited half or more of those traits was autistic; indeed, there was one trait that she considered properly diagnostic, such that anyone who exhibits it is autistic regardless of how they answer the other items on her list.

I won’t be coy. I answered yes to the diagnostic question. When I first saw it I was very skeptical that the question was really diagnostic–indeed, I’m still skeptical[2]–but I took it seriously enough that I worked through her list. I answered for how I act right now and got exactly 50/50; if I answered for childhood, I would probably have had just over 50/50, but distributed differently. That was high enough that I started to take it seriously. Continue reading

Monthly Marvel: Ammit

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I’d like to introduce you to Ammit, an ancient Egyptian figure for entropic forces.


Ammit

This week’s fantastic being is Ammit.

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Source: Wikipedia, cropped by me.

Her name means devourer or soul-eater in ancient Egyptian; her titles are Devourer of the Dead, Eater of Hearts, and Great of Death. (The English translation of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings calls her Eater of the Dead.) She was a female demon with the head of a crocodile, the mane, front legs, and forebody of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.
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Kegan-Chapman Developmental Model

One of my various hobbies is collecting models of human development, either on an individual psychological basis or a social civilization basis. In particular, I’m interested in the move between what I once would have identified as modernism (or absolutism) and postmodernism (or pluralism). I very recently stumbled on another example at David Chapman’s “Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence,” written in October 2015. I’m not wholly convinced by it, but it does seem intriguing. Moreover, it seems to mirror, with significant differences, various ideas I’ve had on this subject; for instance, a while ago I was worried about academia’s ability to shepherd people into the final ideal stage of personal epistemology.

I am writing this post mostly to a) mark that it came into my attention and b) share it with you, in case you want to follow along with my stumbling attempts at improving my epistemology, ethical philosophy, and political philosophy.

Related topics:

Selves as systems
Categories as patterns (and, using Chapman’s terms, nebulous ones)
Ethics as ungrounded

Magnanimity

[Content warning: abuse]

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Source: C.K. Tse at flic.kr/p/6i5qfs

Alas, when I lent I Am a Strange Loop to Voltaire Panda, I had not first recorded Hofstadter’s chapter on magnanimity, the particular virtue besides paradox-friendliness that he celebrates in the book. This means that I must proceed by memory, which is never reliable. Nonetheless, as I struggle with boredom over the “Clouds, Daffodils, and Jam that Will Not Come Together Again” series that I was planning to continue, I thought I might write about fun portions rather than just the next portions to keep everyone’s interest up, and I think magnanimity is what I’d most enjoy discussing.

Writing about Hofstadter’s sense of magnanimity most appeals to me after reading Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, in which (among other things) she discusses the qualities of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that she’d like to see churches pick up: namely, the way AA members begin with a leveling introduction of their struggles and weakness. Being open and honest in this way creates a strength of relationship which most churches seem to lack. I probably won’t mention Evans again in this post, but you should know that it’s in the back of my mind.

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Moral Error Theist

When I wrote about my personal myth, I was combining three ideas that had independently attracted me: emergent phenomenon, etc.; tzimtzum and a weak/limited God creating order from chaos; inherent vice and information studies as a long defeat against entropy. After this I want to be able to talk about ethics, but as before I’m really combining what I’ve built up already with other insights (this time, ethical philosophy) and I think, in order to talk about that synthesis, I first have to introduce you to some of the ethical ideas I’ve been considering. This will thus be a bit of a detour, but hopefully it is more scenic route than summer construction.

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Source: More Good Foundation at flic.kr/p/8PRxuY

If you’ve spoken with me about moral philosophy or seen my commenting on certain blogs, you might be familiar with my most recent former position on morality. For those who haven’t and for those who have forgotten, I’ll summarize that position below:

One of the following propositions is true: a) there are such things as objective moral facts, but we have no reliable way of knowing them with sufficient certainty; or b) a position called moral error theory is true and therefore there are no objective moral facts. Both handle equally well the evidence I have available to me. Lacking any objective metric to distinguish between the two, I lean toward the former position because the consequences of falsely rejecting it are worse than the consequences of falsely rejecting moral error theory and because, for me personally, it is easier to psychologically survive in a world of uncertain moral significance than in a world with no moral significance.

I bring this up because I have been changing my mind; specifically, I am now leaning more toward moral error theory, but with a twist.

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Tzimtzum and Inherent Vice: A Personal Myth of Pattern

The last time I wrote about the pattern-based worldview I’m trying to work out, I got on the topic of afterlives and religion, in a way very brief, casual, and personally unsatisfying way. I do not have a strong sense of my audience yet, so I can’t say whether that’s something that would bore or bother you; nonetheless, I’m going to be talking about my personal religious attitudes for at least a few more posts while I talk about living and thinking in this world I’m working out. For this post I’m going to pick up where I left off when I was talking about digital phylacteries: if resurrection is “easy,” why would Christianity suggest that it is difficult for God to effect?

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“Order. Chaos. Order.” Source: Mike Mahaffie at flic.kr/p/q37UpB

But first I want to make something clear: what follows is on the order of myth. I do not mean to offer it as a complete, literal cosmology, not even of a highly speculative variety. Certainly it is no replacement for physics as a description of the cosmos. Moreover, I am open to correction on how compatible this myth is with other bodies of knowledge; if you see problems, let me know.

A second thing I should make clear is that this account is stitched together from Richard Beck’s “Warfare and Weakness,” a series of posts on his blog Experimental Theology, in which Beck looks to combine the insights of John D. Caputo’s The Weakness of God and Greg Boyd’s God at War to create an invigorating, enabling warfare theology that will rescue progressive theology from its doldrums.1 In particular, I am drawing on “Part 5, The Weakness of God,” “Part 6, Let There Be Light,” and “Part 7, The Victory of the Lamb.” I have also layered it with my own views on emergence, reality-as-reliability, and other pattern-based worldview work, which don’t appear in Beck’s version nor, as far as I know, in Caputo’s and Boyd’s books.

Without further ado, the myth:

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Digital Phylacteries and the Simulated Afterlife

If I’m right to endorse the Hofstatderean idea of the self (that is, that self is a pattern, and any instance of that pattern is an instance of the self), then I probably have to support the idea that if my pattern were replicated in a computer, it would also be a version of myself. Again, as always, it might be a poor-quality or imperfect version, but it would still be a version (instance? copy?). As a consequence, a person might want to extend their lives after death by uploading their consciousness to a hard-drive. If you believe in some sort of essential self that is not contained in any pattern, or if you require some historical continuity in order for identity to persist from one instance to the next,1 then you might not identify with a copy of your consciousness (and sub-consciousness, presumably) on a computer. But if you ultimately accept Hofstadter’s idea, then you should accept that the simulation on the computer really is you, to the extent that it is a faithful representation of your pattern.

So let’s talk about afterlives.

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Christian Hendriks 2015; detail of a diorama at the Field Museum

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On Santa Claus and Hofstadter’s Souls

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ear even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
“Of course it is happening inside you head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

—J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

I.

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Source: Chloe Blanchfield, flic.kr/p/9AZChS

Whatever else Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop might be, in its sixteenth chapter, “Grappling with the Deepest Mystery,” it becomes something like a spiritual memoire.

Strange Loop is Hofstadter’s attempt to explain human consciousness and personal identity through many elaborate analogies, the most pertinent being Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, showing that the mathematical language in Bertrand Russel and Albert Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica was capable of making self-referential statements despite the authors’ best attempts to prevent that from happening. His thesis is that human consciousness—or personal identity or what he calls a “soul”—is a self-referential pattern. A representational system that is capable of perception and categorization (in Hofstadter’s view, perception necessarily involves categorization) should be capable of perceiving and categorizing itself, and perceiving itself perceiving itself, and so on, and this self-perception will get “sucked into the [feedback] loop and cycle around and around, like a tree limb picked up by a tornado.” In other words, a soul is a pattern of thoughts that refers to itself, updating its model of itself as time goes by.

A consequence of Hofstadter’s view of the self—a consequence I happen to find convincing—is that a human brain contains more than one soul. Specifically, because I have representational models in my mind of everyone I know, I have a fragment of their pattern in my brain; if a person is their pattern, then in a very real, literal sense they inhabit my brain. His privileged example for this is a married couple, specifically he and his now-deceased wife Carol (content warning: in many cases Hofstadter seems flippant about serious mental disorders, in this case postpartum depression):

…Our oneness-in-twoness started to emerge clearly in my mind on several occasions during the first year of our marriage, right after we’d had several friends over for a dinner party and everyone had finally left and Carol and I started cleaning up together. We would carry the plates into the kitchen and then stand together at the sink, washing, rinsing, and drying, going over the whole evening together to the extent that we could replay it in our joint mind, laughing with delight at the spontaneous wit and re-savoring the unexpected interactions, commenting on who seemed happy and who seemed glum – and what was most striking in these post partyum decompressions was that the two of us almost always agreed with each other down the line. Something, some thing, was coming into being that was made out of both of us.

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Reliable, Therefore Real

[Content warning specific to section III: discussion of gender, sex which remains (I think) in the spirit of social justice culture but does disagree with specific prevalent ways of articulating that spirit]

 

I.

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Source: PhotoJeff at Flic.kr/p/3QwE7K

I have no interest in any definition of the word real which isn’t useful. If I cannot use the word real to distinguish between unicorns and horses, Conan the Barbarian and Conan O’Brien, Iceland and Dinotopia, then it is of no use to me. I want to say that Iceland is real while Dinotopia isn’t—or, more accurately, I want to say that I wish Dinotopia were as real as Iceland is. Therefore as I try to define this word—real—I want to make sure I can use it.

Usefulness may seem like a silly and fringe-case qualification, but it isn’t. An example that a friend recently provided for me: a physicist tried to convince him that the table they were talking over was not real. He did not tell me the details of the argument, but I can imagine them. The table is mostly empty space, with an arrangement of molecules filling out a tiny proportion of the “table”; there is no firm distinction, on the level of fundamental particles, between the table and the air around it. Even those particles are not “real,” being made up of—strings, I guess? I don’t really know.

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