Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
The date for Tony's psychiatric evaluation finally arrived. Everyone seemed to regard psychology with awe, and I saw no reason to question its validity. Much of what I'd read in the psychology books seemed silly, but the books were probably obsolete. Remembering Dr. Berger's insightful questions, I assumed the science had become more precise. Ideas expressed thirty years ago about the human psyche might have included absurdities, but I was confident modern psychologists were more scientific. Ike and I arrived at the clinic with Tony and sat in the waiting room. While retrieving Tony from crawling under or on top of the reception desk, I cautiously observed people in adjacent chairs, speculating about what mysterious cures and information they might be seeking from these modern technical experts. A young man came out and shyly introduced himself as Dr. Lavalle. I'd expected to see Dr. Berger, but Dr. Lavalle seemed to convey interested concern.
To our surprise, Dr. Lavalle asked Ike and me to take some tests ourselves, while he examined Tony. Ike complied with good-natured curiosity. Military families often obey without asking questions. However Tony apparently remembered that room full of children’s playthings from our first visit, and he still found it menacing. He showed no desire to go in that playroom and have his intelligence measured, and he objected when I tried to leave. I stood anxiously out in the hall listening to Tony cry. I later wondered if allowing him to cry for those few minutes might have been interpreted as “maternal rejection”. Actually, it was due to a misplaced “faith in psychologists”. These men were the latest authorities on what was good for children. I did want to trust such scientific experts, and I forced myself not to interfere. Nevertheless, knowing the type of emotional reactions of which Tony was capable, I was confident his stress at that time was minor. Finally Dr. Lavalle came out and asked me to remain in the playroom while he examined Tony.
Tony found some blocks and began to make a train. The psychologist sat silently and watched him. I sat silently and watched the psychologist. Awed by this mysterious, scientific process, I was impressed that he could apparently measure Tony's intelligence by just watching him play with blocks. Dr. Lavalle observed Tony for an hour, and then he asked us to return the next day. This time Ike stayed in the playroom with Tony, and I took the tests Ike had taken the day before, the details of which we had been asked not to discuss.
From a stack of cards with enigmatic phrases on them, I was told to pick twenty which applied to me, putting them in order with the most descriptive on top. From another stack of identical cards I picked twenty to describe Ike and Tony. Then I selected cards I wished applied to all of us. Most of the cards contained familiar words, but when presented out of context like that, I found their meanings elusive. "Modest", for instance, probably didn't mean "wearing enough clothes in public". Even after looking up the word in a dictionary I sometimes ponder its meaning. If a person has a "modest estimate of his abilities", but the abilities are even more modest than the estimate, does the term still apply? The whole thing seemed difficult to determine. In any case my recent genius psychosis hardly entitled me to claim that one, and still feeling some embarrassment over that painful episode, I ignored "modest".
Did being a Cub Scout Den Mother qualify me to use “leader”? Probably not. I wasn't even a very good Den Mother. Guy, usually cooperative, became as uncontrollable as the rest of those rowdy little nine-year-old boys. They spent more time on top of the house and up in trees than doing the projects suggested in the Cub Scout manual. “Warm” surely didn't mean temperature, but come to think of it, what did it mean? “Cold” must be the opposite, whatever it meant. “Hot” and “cool” seemed to be missing. The harder I tried to figure out exact meanings, the more uncertain I became. Maybe I should stop doing so much thinking. I'd let my subconscious make selections. Surely it was my subconscious that concerned these psychologists. I did it rather playfully, never dreaming those silly cards could affect my child's diagnosis. Dr. Berger had appeared to have a sense of humor, I remembered, and I could probably think of some explanation for any choice he might question.
"Clinging vine" didn't appeal to me, but "independent” and “self-reliant” sounded fine, and I put them on top of descriptions of each of us. I rarely disliked anyone, but to be honest some people bore me. I’m not sure what causes boredom, but I do know that my husband and children never bored me. We always found each other's company stimulating. I chose "can be indifferent to others" for all of us. It certainly described Tony, and I felt an impulse to defend my child's personality. Twenty cards for each stack were hard to find. Many sounded unflattering, such as "stern but fair", "believes everything they are told" and "generous to a fault". I would never have thought extreme generosity might be considered a fault. However if these psychologists saw it that way, I was willing to go along with the idea, and was careful not to choose that one. Then I tried to pick cards I wished applied. I wasn't actually dissatisfied with any of us. Everyone, including Tony, was entitled to respect for their individual nature. But thinking of it as a sort of game, maybe I should try to upgrade us all a little. I wished Tony were more precocious, but there was no card for that. None of those cards felt like an improvement! Finally I threw in one called "smug and self-satisfied". We all seemed content with who we were, but perhaps we had more self-esteem than was justified, I speculated. However, if I threw “smug and self-satisfied" in with traits I wished applied, that might have puzzled the psychologists, I suppose.
Incredible as it now seems, I didn't question the scientific validity of those tests, never doubting that they mysteriously allowed psychologists to measure our innermost natures. Today I'd be more skeptical about any such test. Psychologists can only determine average. If a majority of people, 67% for instance, answer a question in a certain way, of what possible significance could such knowledge have for any individual? What about the 33% who choose an untypical answer? Should psychologists declare them abnormal? People have changed over the centuries, and all new traits originate as a minority of one. At what point should psychologists cease to call them abnormalities?
When we finished the tests Dr. Lavalle promised someone would phone when they reached a conclusion about Tony. When we got home I told Tony to go wash his face. Tony often paid no attention when we told him to do things, but this time he startled us.
"Go bye-bye car?" Tony asked, always eager to go somewhere.
"Why no, dear! We are just going to eat dinner."
"Tony talk," he coaxed. "One, two, free, four, five. Tony talk."
"Did you hear that, everyone?" I exclaimed, grabbing Tony up in a gleeful hug,
"Maybe he's thinking he would have talked all along if he'd known it was all this important to us," Ike suggested. Guy and Sherry laughed with us. Tony seemed to tolerate our jubilation indulgently, but the rest of us remained in a festive mood all evening.
More than a week passed before someone called from the psychiatric clinic. “Could you come in tomorrow and talk to Dr. Zircon?”
"Shall we bring Tony?" I asked, wondering who Dr. Zircon was.
"No. The appointment is just for you."
"Do you mean my husband shouldn't come either?"
I was to return to the clinic alone? Was there something more than merely telling us there was nothing wrong with Tony? But if something was wrong, why had they sent for me to come alone? And why wasn't Dr. Berger or Dr. Lavalle to reveal the results of the examination? I must have fouled up those damned cards! Damn! Damn! Damn! I should have taken them more seriously. Why did I always take such a playful approach to everything! Surely it was time I learned life consisted of more than just having fun! I'd expected my nightmare to end when the medical profession finally examined Tony and pronounced him normal. I shed some tears of fear, frustration and disappointment.
With foreboding I met Dr. Zircon at the psychiatric clinic the next day. He turned out to be a chubby, cheerful looking young man in his twenties with a round face and a smooth, pink-cheek complexion - an adult sized cherub. I followed him down the hall to his office and seated myself uneasily across the desk from him. He explained he was organizing a group of women who would meet once a week for a year. While their children were receiving therapy, the mothers would discuss their similar family problems.
“Family problems!” I exclaimed. “I don't have any family problems I want to discuss with anyone.”
"Well then, you aren't yet aware of your problems." (Did that ever turn out to be true!)
“But what's wrong with Tony?” I asked.
"We don't know."
Oh hell! He wasn't going to tell me Tony was one of those highly intelligent, “withdrawn” children I'd read about in the psychology books, I realized with a feeling of panic. “Then how do you know something is wrong with him?” I argued. “I've heard of several children who didn't talk until they were four and grew up to be fine people.”
"It isn't only that Tony doesn't talk. His symptoms are globular." He probably meant global. It sounded pompous to me.
"Tony's older brother was slow to talk, and he is a very intelligent child."
"Now, there is no denying Tony is a very bright little boy," the psychologist said. "But intelligence has ab-so-lutely nothing to do with this." He had just declared that Tony was “very bright”, I realized with relief! Apparently Tony's IQ test had confirmed that he wasn't retarded, and retardation was what I had feared. “If you think some problem in our family is causing Tony to be the way he is,” I argued, “you are ab-so-lutely wrong.”
“We'll see," he muttered.
I was confident I didn't have any emotional problems that needed the attention of a psychologist. "You don't believe me?" I managed to ask.
“Yes, we believe you.” (He obviously didn't.) “Nevertheless, I urge you to try the group for a few weeks.” Then he mumbled under his breath, “We'll see if we can't get a little transference going here.” I had come across that word in the psychology books. Psychiatric patients often transfer their feelings of love or hatred from their parents to the therapist, and female patients "fall in love" with their analyst. Did therapists come right out and suggest such a bizarre thing? I stared at the young psychologist in horror, unable to imagine ever feeling a romantic attraction toward him.
"I mean, it's about time we get Tony to show some emotion," Dr. Zircon added hastily.
I'd read the term also might refer to the transference, at a certain age, of a child's affection from his mother to his father. Maybe that's what he meant, I thought, giving him the benefit of doubt. But what was that mysterious diagnosis Dr. Berger seemed to have in mind when he said, “It might be interesting to see exactly what kind of a child we have here”? I tried to repeat some of the things I'd told the other psychologist, probably sounding more desperate than coherent.
"But the things he took apart?"
"Tony takes things apart?"
"And drinking out of the gutter."
"He drinks out of the gutter??"
"And bashing in the back door, I mean, and the other children, ignoring them, that is, and pulling up the neighbor's flowers. It was like the things he makes with blocks. Besides! I just remembered! Tony talks. He told us so. One, two, free, four, five. Tony talk. . . ."
The psychologist was eyeing me dubiously.
Oh Hell! I must stop raving and try to regain some composure! I realized.
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," I said, falling back in my chair and trying to relax. "By offering me therapy you are trying to do me a service. I appreciate your concern. But--"
"Bring Tony in next week to get acquainted with Dr. Lavalle. He's the psychologist who will work with Tony." Dr. Zircon's face dimpled with a smile, as he got up to open the door for me. "You'll be surprised at the progress Tony will make with our help."
I hadn't meant I was so grateful for his good intentions that I wanted some psychotherapy. However the psychologist seemed determined to administer a dose of it - whether I wanted it or not. I left his office, dazed, and with a premonition that something disastrous had just happened. As I walked down the hall I met Dr. Berger, the first psychologist who had interviewed me.
"Hi," he greeted me. "Was your little boy ever evaluated?"
"Yes," I answered glumly.
"How is everything?"
I shot him an unhappy look but didn't answer. I figured he was in a better position than I to know “how everything is” around this crazy place. Doubts about these professionals, and their scientific tests, were beginning to creep into my mind. However science was the “religion” of our time, and expressing doubts would have constituted heresy. In 1961 I was still somewhat a captive of our 20th century materialistic philosophy, and I didn’t question authorities. I would eventually decide that life is not a mechanical process and cannot be completely explained by the laws of chemistry and physics. Life is unpredictably responsive. Each particle seems to have some limited ability to respond purposefully, intelligently and creatively. Such creativity is what defines life, as distinguished from inanimate matter. If responsive creativity is actually an aspect of living processes, then the following materialistic (Neo-Darwinist) assertion (presently imposed upon school children by court order) is not true:
“all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; . . . the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms”. Mechanistic explanations would not be “completely sufficient” to explain any non-mechanical process. If creativity isn't mechanical (and materialism is a philosophical assumption - not a scientific fact) "naturalistic" mechanisms won't explain it. Philosophical materialists regarded intelligence as a uniquely human ability. They did consider man-made devices such as computers to be intelligent. However any intelligent appearing behavior by animals was at that time attributed to instinct – some mysterious, undefined, automatic process. That is changing now, and intelligent behavior has been attributed to other mammals, birds, fish and even insects.
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 unites them all, along with our cells, to form a functioning organism. I’ve never even heard a speculation about what that force might be. Science also has no understanding of the details of the relationship between a physical brain and immaterial, abstract thoughts. Reality is probably connected by many forces we don’t presently understand. Personally, I find unknowns easier to live with than some obviously contrived mechanical explanation.
- The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.
Current page: If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
- 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?
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