Treading Water

Strange times – partly Covid-measures-related – but between professional engagements and buried in domestic projects for a few weeks, I have dozens of bookmarked pieces for thinking and writing. Many dozens.

Just very briefly caught-up on two – The CSI Effect” from Dave Trott and Corpus Callosum Disrupted in Autism” from Jessica Wright. The latter prompted by a link to a talk by Mark Solms, pointing out that consciousness – the self-other-awareness kind – arises much lower down the brain structure – much further back in evolutionary time – than the high-functioning human hemispheres which contribute most mass to the encephalization view of human advancement.

All related of course. The CSI effect is a kind of social autism – a group behaviour (jury) dependence on objective (forensic-scientific) evidence whilst failing to recognise the value of available (and relevant) subjective testimony. (Whilst ignoring the fact that the forensic evidence presented will be full of value judgements and opinion anyway, albeit expert.)

Related because the lower integrating components of the brain being more important than either cortex is clear in both consciousness itself and in balanced decision-making. McGilchrist points to permissive control in the corpus callosum mediating the extremes of left-over-right dominant decision-making behaviours. Solms shows that consciousness springs – stems 😉 – from even lower down in the brain stem itself. New to me was that explicit autism-spectrum link with Corpus Callosum behaviour, and several other papers on that also linked from the Wright article.

Understanding consciousness in all its glory – from basic self-other awareness to the products of wilful human creativity- demands a systems-thinking approach to relating brain functions (neuroscience) with human behaviour (psychology). Taking a simplistic view of objective determinism is seriously degenerate to our human enterprise. Memetic habits – learned from media inputs – render our juries autistic.

The technical term autism needs reclaiming from individual human well-being on the spectrum. The concept of normality also need rehabilitating – so much high-quality knowledge comes from studying “abnormal” brains. (More on this PC minefield in notes below.)

(And even the gaming effects in play in the CSI effect. It’s all there.)

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Caveat Lector:
Some post notes on the autism / political correctness issues.

Autism (or autism spectrum disorder) is a feature seen these days as non-neurotypical or neuro-atypical. Typical is used here to avoid the normative & pejorative connotations of normal / abnormal, order / disorder. Even the word disorder is actually absent from most search returns on autism spectrum disorder. Spectrum is used to signify that the feature involves a range of properties, values and qualities, but there is no escaping that the distribution on that range is non-uniform. That “typical” does have some significance that atypical departs from a “normally expected” case.

A bit like any social spectra there need be no dogma asserting or demanding whole population conformance to normal cases, even (especially) where human rights for the atypical cases may deserve some special consideration or therapy to optimise their individual participation and contribution within wider human society. I say social / society, but like all such cases the psychological / behavioural patterns and spectra have some basis in the biological / physical layer, without necessarily being determined. There are learning and developmental dimensions as well as biological evolution. It’s complicated, and artificial simplicity distorts the true picture.

All individuals have the same human rights, but the value in atypical cases is in their departure from the typical, a typical that must exist in the population numbers. To use evolutionary language there can be no sustainable species if more than a few depart / mutate from the genetic norm to which most adhere most closely in most significant aspects. Exceptions being valued doesn’t mean more exceptions are necessarily more valuable. Archetypes are needed.

(Also related to binary classifications / good fences argument. Incredibly difficult to articulate sensitively – hence PC-ness. And hopefully obvious I could have written the whole of that around the sex & gender debate as much as the autism spectrum. Rules require exceptions, but not so many that there are effectively no rules.)

Try this: The population benefits from most members being closer to its norms. The population supports that individuals are free to depart from these (in physical & biological development or by psychological choice of will) in any number of dimensions. The population all benefits from those that depart from the norms – it’s where our evolutionary progress comes from. However the amount of population departure from norms in any given time period still requires that the mass of the population to remain close to these norms over multiple reproductive life-cycles. Too much mutation too fast is degenerate for the population.

Corollary, it’s why increasing speed of communication – memetic or genetic – is a problem for humanity.

Corollary, progress (without multi-generational population hindsight) is a value judgement. Individuals with power can make bad (eugenic / fascist) choices for the whole population unless value norms are conserved over multiple generations.

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