Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?

"Tell me about yourself," suggested the young pediatrician.

What a strange request for a pediatrician to make! Especially a pediatrician at a busy Army clinic, where no one had time for idle social-chatter. Wearing a starched white coat over his Army uniform, the doctor sat behind his desk regarding me gravely through horn-rimmed glasses. I stared back, baffled. What did he expect me to respond? That I was an Army wife? But that was obvious, wasn’t it, since this was an Army hospital? It sounded like something a psychiatrist might say, not a pediatrician. I had never even met a psychiatrist, much less a mentally ill person.  (The mentally ill were usually confined to institutions in those days).  The silence became uncomfortable. The partitions of the clinic were flimsy, and I could hear a buzz of activity out in the crowded waiting room.   I had only vague ideas about psychiatry, but while uncertain about what psychiatrists actually did, I was pretty sure I had no need for one.   My father had been an automobile mechanic, and during my childhood, Daddy maintained the doctor’s car in exchanged for our family’s medical treatment. We tried not to abuse the arrangement. So I often felt compelled to convince everyone (including myself) that my medical problem was sufficiently grave. However on this particular occasion no one was sick, and I hadn't arrived at the pediatrician's office in my usual state of anxiety.  I did feel a little self-conscious about my reason for consulting a doctor. I'd brought Tony to the clinic, not because I thought something was wrong with him.  My handsome, independent little three-year-old was actually in excellent health.  I was here because a neighbor had suggested it. I would have felt foolish admitting I'd consulted a doctor just because a neighbor disapproved of him, so I explained Tony didn't talk much, was still in diapers, and maybe he should have a check-up.  But to my bewilderment, instead of examining Tony, the doctor kept trying to initiate personal conversation.

"How do you like the new administration in Washington?" he asked. "It's exciting, isn't it?" I responded.

"Society will be in trouble unless people start taking responsibility for their own lives," the doctor said disapprovingly. "People expect the government to do everything for them."

I was a political liberal who believed some of mankind's most magnificent accomplishments were achieved democratically, through government action. The abolition of slavery and the end of segregation were bitterly contested at the time, but most of us are proud of such achievements today. Establishment of an education system and Social Security were less controversial, but nostalgia for a simpler, more primitive society seems to ensure that all innovation faces some opposition. So I admired Kennedy, our new, liberal, young president, but I also realized some conservatives appear to feel a near religious reverence for "private-enterprise" and believe government should never interfere with the survival-of-the-fittest. (And a Nazi-like eradication of the less fit, I presume.) Apparently this doctor and I would disagree on politics, I decided, but a doctor's office didn't seem an appropriate place for such a discussion. I sat waiting for him to begin examining Tony. “So now, why don’t you tell me about yourself,” the doctor again suggested, with a self-conscious little smile. He spoke rather tentatively, as though he realized his request was somewhat unusual for a pediatrician.

I had never encountered a doctor with such a desire for social conversation! I looked at Tony, busy examining the contents of the wastebasket. "Tony sometimes has a rather violent temper," I finally managed to offer, hoping to return the doctor's attention to his patient. Maybe one of Tony's glands needed adjusting or something. (My understanding of biology was obviously limited.)

“Does he understand what you say to him?”

“I'm never sure. He rarely does what I tell him but he's independent and stubborn.”

Tony was on his knees, his little blue-jean-clad rear-end up in the air and his head on the floor, trying to see under a partition into the next office. If anyone were on the other side of that partition, they'd probably feel uncomfortable to see his bright, inquisitive little face peering up at them. I picked him up and held him on my lap.

"How does he get along with other children?"

I thought a moment. “I don't think I've noticed him play with other children,” I finally said, as I realized Tony usually played by himself.

"Does he have opportunities to be around them?"

“Off and on, I suppose. Actually, he doesn't play with his brother and sister very much.” I admitted.

"Where do you live?"

"In a big old house on a hill overlooking San Rafael."

"You own your home?" I nodded. "You are lucky to own property in such a valuable area," he continued.

He seemed to expect a response, so I tried to think of one. "The house is a hundred years old and has termites," I said. "In the coming depression it probably won't be worth what we paid for it."

"We don't have depressions anymore," the doctor scoffed. 

Many of us who grew up during the thirties, sometimes accused of having depression mentalities, didn't really trust prosperity, but the doctor's comment seemed condescending.  "You are probably too young to know what a depression is," I said.    The doctor frowned. I was startled by my own impertinence. I didn’t usually come out with such retorts. Suffering from shyness, I was rarely rude or impudent. Perhaps the doctor was just making an effort to be friendly. Army doctors were not known for their bedside manner though, and I'd never encountered one with time or inclination for this kind of personal conversation. 

"Tell me about your husband," he suggested, ignoring my comment.

Tony slid off my lap to examine the scales. Again, I was baffled. I couldn't imagine why our personal lives might be of concern to this pediatrician. Surely he wasn't interested in Ike's vital statistics, such as height, weight or eye-color. "He's stationed in Greenland at the moment," I finally offered. "Uh-oh! That's bad." It seemed another strange reaction for an Army doctor. There was nothing unusual about overseas duty for military families. Again, I couldn't think of anything to say, and the doctor continued. "How do you feel about your husband's absence?"

"Well he'll be home in a couple of months."

The doctor glanced at Tony. After trying to turn the valves under the sink, Tony had crawled onto a bookcase. With a self-satisfied smile, he crouched on the bottom shelf like a life-sized bookend. We talked some more, and the doctor continued to try to discuss everything except Tony. "Ever since you came your little boy has been running around the office examining the equipment," he finally said, as he watched Tony leave the bookcase and crawl under the desk. "He's paid no attention to me. Why he's hardly aware I'm in the room!" Why should Tony pay attention to you, I wondered.  The Doctor hadn’t done anything but talk, and Tony wouldn't understand much of that.  The doctor seemed strange to me, but Tony, with no understanding what the doctor was saying, paid no attention to him. I wasn't accustomed to challenging doctors though, and I nodded.  "Your child is not normal”, the doctor said.

"You really think so?" I murmured.

His words seemed to have no impact upon me. After all, he hadn't paid much attention to Tony. He hadn't even examined him. For some reason, that pediatrician acted as though his purpose was to indulge in personal conversation with me, Tony's mother! I listened to the doctor make another appointment for us, but I was busy puzzling over what on earth this peculiar doctor had been up to for the past half-hour. I wondered what we could accomplish at another appointment that we couldn't do now? Ask a silly question and you get a silly answer, I thought as I left the doctor's office. Whatever that pediatrician had been doing, that's what I got for taking my child to a doctor when there was nothing wrong with him, I mused with chagrin. I always dreaded talking to doctors. Like many people, I felt intimidated by the medical profession. I had never heard of autism, and the doctor’s declaration that Tony wasn’t normal was too bizarre for me to take seriously. Tony obviously had more imagination than most children. And his curiosity was monumental. Tony was slow to mature, but my other son had also been a “late bloomer”. I realized that psychiatric evaluations are not a pediatrician's specialty, and this doctor's manner may have been a little clumsy. But whatever a psyche consisted of, I was confident there was nothing wrong with mine. Today some scientists are pondering the complex nature of consciousness, but even without defining it, the psychiatric profession had already divided human consciousness up into imaginary ids, egos and superegos, and declared their ability to repair them. And if we laymen didn't understand the details – well, we didn't understand lots of modern technology, such as the atom bomb - or how penicillin worked.

Tony loved to tease (photo)[1]


Evolution is where philosophical materialism has been most often debated.  As a non-materialist, I believe that purposeful volition, free-will, is an aspect of all reality.  

Life seems to have some limited ability to intentionally change and adapt.  A materialist philosophy, on the other hand, would regard the brain as “fixed”, something that only changes by accident. The precise number of required “random mutations” would just happened to accidentally accumulate in one brain. We are far from understand the details of life's complexity, but what science has been able to learn about the process fills many, many volumes.  Can anyone imagine a new biological feature appearing in one of those biology books as the result of a series of typographical errors - random mutations?  Considering the complexity of biology, that would be too many fortuitous accidents for me to accept.  If biological change occurs as purposeful adaptation, rather than accidentally, there is no reason that an organism couldn't also incorporate such information into its own genome.  After all, the genome has a known ability to repair itself.  However survival-of-the-fittest, "random mutation and natural selection", was eagerly accepted by 19th Century scientists as a complete explanation of evolution.  Probably because the materialists feared any form creation might validate religion, and scientists of that time had spent years fighting the authority of church doctrines. A rigid, materialistic orthodoxy, which denied the possibility of any purpose to life, had replaced religion for many scientists. People are beginning to express skepticism about the creative power of "natural selection", but they are often scornfully denounced as "ignorant, religious creationists" by the philosophical materialists.  Many of us view our own volition and ability to adapt as real, and I see no reason to assume such an ability would be confined to human consciousness? Whatever the organizing force in living systems is labeled - biocentrism, self-organization, epigenetics, intelligent design, James A Shapiro’s genetic engineering, or a phrase that encompasses them all: cognitive biology - they are all closer to Lamarck's inheritance of acquired characteristics than to Darwin's RM&NS.  And Lamarck would be a more appropriate “father of evolution” than Darwin.

(Lamarck had been considered discredited by Lysenko, a Russian biologist whose Lamarckian thinking caused a disastrous Russian crop failure.  Actually all Lysenko proved was that that he couldn't cause wheat adapt to cold in one generation by soaking it in cold water.  However everyone was happy for any discredited Russian science to stay discredited during the cold war, and random mutation and natural selection was universally accepted as completely explaining biodiversity.)

Questions edit

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

Current page: Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?

  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: Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
  1. The photos used by Berthajane can be found by linking a copy on the pdf file. Click "photo" to reach the appropriate page.