Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?

Pondering the pediatrician's strange behavior, I drove home. My blue jeans might have been more casual than most army mothers dressed in those days, but it surely wasn't unusual enough to suggest abnormality. People told me I had a nice smile, but I knew there was nothing dramatic about my looks that might cause doctors to develop a sudden, romantic interest. Besides, I could recognize flirting, and I sensed that doctor was definitely not flirting. What on earth could explain his strange fascination with me? I'd taken my little boy for a check-up, but instead of examining Tony, the doctor acted as if I were the patient - as though he suspected something might be wrong with me, Tony’s mother. He even seemed to have questions about Tony's father, far away in Greenland.

A light spring rain was falling when we arrived home to our big old three-story, shingled house. On our way up the brick walk some drops of water fell from the redwood trees and hit Tony on the face. He looked up at the dripping leaves and laughed, his big beautiful eyes sparkling with delight. His laughter was happy and infectious, and I laughed too. At nearly four, Tony was the healthiest and most handsome of our three children. He even looked boyishly adorable wearing his stained, faded old sweater. This scruffy looking garment had to be treated with care. In spite of constant mending, there always seemed to be holes other than the sleeves through which he could put his arms. He didn't wear his sweater for warmth; he was comfortable outside on the coldest days in nothing but a diaper. However Tony was a determined child and he refused to go anywhere without this cherished, shabby looking bunch of yarn. He was also a mischievous little rascal with an active imagination and uncontrollable curiosity. One day as we walked along a street, Tony suddenly squatted down and peeked up under a lady's skirt. She squealed in alarm and jumped back.

"Tony!" I exclaimed in shock.

The woman noticed Tony's puzzled expression and seemed to regain some of her composure. "I suppose he thought one good peek was better than guessing," she conceded.  A few days later I noticed Tony start toward two nuns in long black habits. Would nuns react as casually to Tony's peaking up under their flowing, black robes? I decided not to risk finding out. I ran and caught him by the hand. The nuns smiled indulgently, unaware of what Tony may have had in mind. At times Tony's curiosity could lure him into frightening situations. One morning I awoke to see him walking along the narrow roof overhang outside our third-floor, bedroom window. If he fell, he would land on a concrete walk below. Struggling not to panic, I crept up to the window, silently, so as not to startle him. I reached carefully out and got a firm grip on his diaper. Then I snatched him back into the safety of the room. Tony laughed, as we both collapsed on the floor by the open window, for he loved to roughhouse. We nailed heavy screens over all the windows that allowed access to the roof, but Tony discovered other ways, such as climbing from the balustrade of an upstairs porch. However he never harmed himself by any of his dangerous stunts. My two older children arrived home from school soon after Tony and I returned from the doctor. Guy was in the third grade. A quiet, reflective little boy by nature, he had recently begun to express a dislike for school. His answer to my question, "What happened in class today?" was the usual bored, "nothing". Sherry, my little six-year-old, was breathlessly bubbling with excitement. "I told Guy ghost stories on the way home," she said.

"Did you frighten him?"

"No, but I sure scared myself."

My mind still on the pediatrician, I smiled absently.  The children ate bananas for after-school snacks. Tony's broke, and he erupted into angry sobs. He furiously tried to stick the two pieces back together, mashing them into a gooey pulp. His temper was like a small tornado. It could subside in an instant, and he'd be all smiles and sparkling eyes again. Some trivial annoyance might cause such a storm. Recently we were eating corn on the cob for dinner. Maybe some of it stuck between Tony's teeth.  He hurled the corn across the room, followed by his plate of food, and his glass of milk flew over our heads and spattered against the wall. By the time we had recovered from our shock and captured him, Tony had turned into a little whirlwind, furiously slinging food in all directions. A few minutes later, while we were still wiping up the mashed potatoes, Tony laughed, his rage having evaporated. Guy and Sherry never had temper tantrums, and I hadn't yet figured out how to handle Tony's. I took the banana he was angrily trying to repair and gave him another. He consumed it contentedly, tears of fury still glimmering on his beautiful long lashes.

All afternoon I remained preoccupied over my strange visit to the pediatrician. When I called the children to dinner that evening, Tony came in from the yard walking backwards. He backed through the house and up to the table. He tried to sit in his highchair backwards, but found that impractical, and turned around to await his dinner. The week before Tony had draped a towel over his head so he couldn't see and spent the day groping his way around the house and yard. Such solitary activities were the type of games he played. He also spent hours creating beautiful, intricate designs with a set of multi-shaped, colored blocks. He seemed indifferent to our admiration of his creations, but apparently got some personal satisfaction from the designs he produced. He was always busy, and when we came across a banana skin, a pencil and a toothpaste cap arranged on the floor in the shape of an airplane, we'd smile and recognize it as Tony's work. His latest stunt was redesigning a neighbor's garden. He pulled up all the flowers she had planted the day before, and left them lying there with their roots exposed. My neighbor angrily showed me what Tony had done. My children were generally well-behaved, and I didn't usually have to endure such embarrassment apologizing for them. I sympathized with my neighbor’s outrage and punished Tony when I caught him next door, giving him several swats on the diaper, and scolding him with a loud show of anger. He seemed to expect my scolding, and submitted to my paddling, but it didn't keep him out of the neighbor's yard. Actually, he appeared to become more determined. After watching my futile efforts for a couple of days, my neighbor's anger subsided somewhat.

"Have you taken him to a doctor?" she asked.

"What on earth could a doctor do about it?" I asked in exasperation.

She stood watching Tony without answering. There was no medical treatment for mischievousness, independence and determination, and those would be silly reasons to take a kid to a doctor. Besides, I wasn't worried because Tony was slow to talk and toilet-train. My older son had been slow to mature and was now a delightful little nine-year-old. Nevertheless friends had sometimes appeared shocked by some of Tony's antics. Maybe everyone would be more tolerant of him if I could inform them that the medical profession had pronounced him normal. I called a nearby military hospital and made an appointment. Five hours had passed now since that appointment. An uneasy, murky fear was beginning to gnaw at me as I stood at the kitchen sink washing the dinner dishes. Tony had a number of fears. We became aware of his reaction to loud noises when we rented a floor-sander. Tony didn't cry when we turned it on; he butted the screen door open with his head and left home. He was barely a year old and couldn't walk, but was speeding away on his hands and knees when we caught up with him. Tony was also terrified of barbers. He was a masculine appearing child, and no one would have mistaken him for a girl. Nevertheless long hair would have been unacceptable on a boy before the 1960's, so I bought clippers and tried to cut his hair myself. I would sneak up on him but never managed to do more than a partial job before he escaped, leaving him with a ragged, ever-changing hair style. New clothes, especially new shoes, frightened him. Recently I had bought him a pair in a department store. His loud protests embarrassed me, but even in his tattered old sweater Tony looked cute and evoked sympathy.

"Poor little boy," someone commented.

"What's wrong with the little fellow?"

"Don't you like those pretty new shoes, dear?" asked a saleslady, kneeling in front of him.

Tony shoved her away and kicked over a display rack, scattering shoes all over the floor. I apologized, and then followed as Tony stormed out of the store, wailing with rage and still clutching his old shoes in his little fists. The new shoes disappeared that night. My neighbor found them a few days later, hidden in her hedge. Guy had many of the same fears and outgrew them, I reminded myself, and loud noises had always bothered me. That day in April of 1961 was the most significant day in my life. For as long as I lived, I would date events as happening before or after 1961. So far it hadn't seemed all that different from other days, a little puzzling perhaps, as I pondered the strange doctor, but not a day that would cause me to feel alienated from humanity. Then, sometime after dinner on that April evening, perhaps about nine o'clock, the obscure uneasiness lurking in the recesses of my mind exploded into consciousness. The doctor had said my child was not normal! 

I was not a young, new mother, I was forty years old, and this was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me. For five hours I'd managed to ignore it - completely block it out of my mind. The children were in bed, and I was alone. My husband was the one person with whom I could discuss things, but Ike was in Greenland, and I'd never felt so alone. I began to cry. Vaguely aware that children might have something known as emotional problems, I didn’t really know what the term meant. Emotional problems must surely have some connection with unhappiness. I remembered Tony's laughter. He was obviously a happy child, and his trouble couldn't be emotional. The pediatrician must have meant Tony was mentally retarded! It might seem strange that I had no immediate reaction to the doctor's declaration, but I‘d never doubted that any of my children were normal. If they weren't always average, well, there were ways in which I didn't consider myself average. I hadn't challenged the doctor, but I wasn’t accustomed to challenging any authority - and certainly not a doctor. I usually kept differences of opinion to myself. I have come to realize my emotional reactions are often delayed. If someone insults me for instance, I might not feel offended until a week later. There is no denying that when in shock my mind sometimes works in slow motion. My judgment seems reliable enough, but my brain apparently requires time to ponder things. I'd never succeeded in speeding up my reactions, but I did acknowledge the fault, and I‘d learned to be skeptical of first impressions. I would change; I would become less intimidated by professionals. (And I would learn more about biology. In fact I would learn more about all sorts of things, as I struggled to understand what was happening to us.) Maybe none of us would really change and grow very much unless circumstances stimulated us to do so. However, as I mulled over my conversation with that strange pediatrician, I had no premonition of the painful, personal growth that awaited me.

I cried through that long, dark, lonely night. Why was I suffering like this? It couldn't be for Tony. Unaware anything was wrong, he was in bed sleeping as peacefully as the night before. The doctor's declaration that Tony wasn't normal hadn't changed my little boy in any respect. Tony hadn't paid any attention to the doctor's pronouncement, and it hadn't caused him unhappiness. At dinner he had been our same delightful, self-confident Tony. I was suddenly and unexpectedly finding myself the mother of a retarded child. Instead of someone who would share my life, Tony was being transformed into something alien and mysterious.  But why should being the mother of a retarded child cause such anguish?  Was all this misery just self-pity?  Surely self-pity couldn't be this painful!  Maybe I was in morning - grieving - not for Tony, but for some little boy who had never existed except in my imagination. That little boy would choose what he wanted to do with his life, and possibly grow up to achieve some of it. He would have the ability to face life's challenges, and – and do what?

What did I wish for my children?

Perhaps I had some vague hope Sherry would find a nice man to take care of her and provide her with material possessions, such as cars and swimming pools. Yet that wasn't what I had sought for myself. Maybe I had secret visions of my sons becoming rich and famous. Yet fame and fortune hadn't been my priority in life. Most parents claim they simply want their children to be happy. But what did that mean? Could anyone even recognize happiness without having experienced some unhappiness? In any case, retardation wouldn't necessarily cause Tony to be unhappy.

So why was I suffering like this, I wondered, as I continued to struggle with my despair.

After fifty years of pondering the question, I now think I know what I wish for my children (and grandchildren). I hope they all develop the strength, and become tough enough to deal with all the problems, frustrations, tragedies and disappointments that are a part of normal "happy" lives. I hope the challenges they encounter stimulate them to grow and adapt, rather than allowing themselves to feel “damaged“. However as I struggled to face the possibility that Tony might not lead a normal life, I continued to cry. Since the imaginary Tony was apparently gone, I tried to think of my little boy in bed asleep as a handicapped adult. My love for him surely wouldn't evaporate just because he was retarded. I remembered a retarded man my husband's grandmother had adopted and raised. Rutledge was his name, and he was usually cheerful. He was a competent farmhand and played the harmonica at local barn dances. When I knew Rutledge he was over sixty, and Ike's grandmother was past eighty. Living alone together, Grandmother and Rutledge shared an obvious love for each other. With his limited understanding, Rutledge often seemed to find the world more interesting and exciting than many people with greater ability did. We once heard him say to Ike's grandmother,

I have only school pictures, taken when Tony was actually nine or ten when they were taken. I don't have pictures of Tony when he was three. When he was younger, he seemed to regard a camera as a loaded weapon pointed at him, and he refused to have his picture taken (photo)[1]>

"Gee, Mama, it's going to be a lucky girl who gets me for a husband, isn't it, Mama? I don't drink, or stay out late, or waste my money - like Jim and those other boys do. Isn't that right, Mama? Isn't it going to be a lucky girl that gets me?" We all laughed with him. How could anyone feel sorry for such an enthusiastic sixty-year-old? I was still unable to think of Tony growing up to be retarded. I'd always had the feeling Tony might take after Ike's grandfather, a physician who seemed to have made a profound impression upon everyone he met. His patients regarded him with an awe that lasted long after his death. Ike's father wrote a book about him, and everyone in the family talked about him and quoted him. I'd never met Ike's grandfather, but the many anecdotes I'd heard made him seem like a mysterious, revered, legendary member of the family. Tony bore a physical resemblance to a baby picture I had of this esteemed doctor, but I wondered now if I'd believed Tony was like him from an unconscious realization that Tony himself was different.

Dawn brought an end to that long sleepless night. I looked out the window at the redwoods and bay trees growing on our ivy-covered hillside. Our yard and the neighbor’s garden, which Tony had redesigned, looked the same in the cold, misty, morning light. I shivered. My life seemed changed forever during that dark, bleak night alone in a rumpled bed. Yesterday morning I'd jumped out of it, ready for the day ahead. Would I ever again face life with the same cavalier attitude?

  • -*-*

Mathematics is not a Divine Revelation. It is a game, with rigid, complicated rules, invented by men. However scientists decided that the universe must have been created in accordance with their mathematical rules. They “prove” their theories (to each other’s satisfaction) mathematically. They also “disprove” them periodically, and challenge each other to think up new ones.  Surely the reason the public doesn’t laugh at some of these “theories”, (many of them really are no more plausible than religious myths), is because most laymen are too intimidated by all those obscure, complex mathematical rules to laugh at them.  However, if life is spontaneous and unpredictable, it will never be described by a human invention such as mathematics.  Formulas such as E=MC squared might express statistical probabilities, but they could never describe a biological interaction. No mathematical equation can ever express free-will. 


Questions edit

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

Current page: Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?

  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: Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
  1. The photos used by Berthajane can be found by linking a copy on the pdf file. Click "photo" to reach the appropriate page.