Conscious Will

Karey Perkins karey at
Wed May 1 12:31:21 EDT 2002

Did anyone read this week's cover story in Time Magazine on Autism?
Apparently, autism is treated by intense language and speech therapy, which
alters cognitive processes, so far as I could understand.

But related to the comment below, there was also a personal viewpoint of
Temple Grandin, who has been diagnosed with autism since two years old, who
says she can't think in terms of language as symbol.  She says (p. 56, May 6
issue):  "Autistics have trouble learning things that cannot be thought
about in pictures," and that while intensive speech therapy helped pull her
out of the autistic world, "words are like a foreign language to me,"  and
"spatial words such as 'under' and 'over' had no meaning for me until I had
a visual image to fix them in my memory.  Even now, when I hear the word
'under' by itself, I automatically picture getting under the cafeteria
tables in an air-raid drill..."

She says earlier in the article, "Not being able to communicate in words was
a great frustration," and  "As a child, I was like an animal with no
instincts to guide me.  I was always observing, trying to work out the best
ways to behave, yet I never fit in...even today, personal relationships are
something I don't understand."

She also says things that makes one think language is not the key to
conceptualization.  "Teachers who work with autistic children need to
understand associative thought patterns.  But visual thinking is more than
just associations.  Concepts can also be formed visually.  When I was
little, I had to figure out that small dogs were not cats. After looking at
both large and small dogs I realized that they all had the same nose."

She also says she identifies with how animals think and see the world,
because of her handicap with language.  She is a professor of animal science
at Colorado State University who redesigned feedlots as a result.  "Because
I think in pictures, I assume animals do too.  I can imagine the sensations
the animals feel.  Today half the cattle in the U.S. are handled in
equipment I have designed."

Anyway, the whole article was interesting in light of this Percy/Pierce
discussion.  I don't think language gives consciousness or makes you "human"
but it does something.  (Whatever that is!)

Woodhouse's monism had a scale of consciousness (think Renaissance Great
Chain of Being)  humans have "more" consciousness than animals,
animals have more than plants, and plants have more than rocks, and so on.


The problem of consciousness existing in the absence of the power to
symbolize was one that intrigued WP and the book group generally. My side
favored the notion that animal consciousness definitely existed and was a
reality for those organisms who did not symbolize. It has always been my
hunch that animals communicate without symbols and are not quite the
windowless monads that McDonalds would have us believe. Walker felt
otherwise. The argument tended to crystalize around the Chomsky notion that
animals, particularly the higher primates do in fact have the power to
symbolize. Walker detested this notion along with a good deal of the kindred
collateral conception collection of Carl Sagan. There is much in both of
those sacks that we simply don't know and I was always willing to say so but
retain an open mind and a willingness to observe animal behaviour (including
our own) but Walker tended toward a narrower view influenced by the
Magesterium conception of the soul as a uniquely human cosa nostra.

Nikki --
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