Friday, November 27, 2015

Autistic people are fully conscious

Sigmund Freud is famous for stressing the importance of the unconscious mind, while others say that there is no scientific merit to anything he said on this subject. Apparently there is no decisive proof that we even have an unconscious mind of the sort that Freud proposed. (Everyone agrees that there is unconscious mental activity that keeps our hearts beating, but that is not was Freud was talking about.)

Maybe some people have unconscious minds and some do not, as argued here:
As examples, Grandin cites personal experience and others’ observations to show that those with autism share a number of traits with animals that other people do not. Like animals, Grandin argues, she does not have an unconscious mind in the sense that other people do — that is, no subconscious area into which to push unpleasant images and associations so that they do not trouble the conscious mind. This is because the frontal lobe, which malfunctions in autistic people, is responsible for our verbal memory — our sense of our own past as a narrative. The frontal lobe blocks non-autistic people’s abilities to remember things visually — in terms of pictures, instead of words — meaning that without it, autistic people cannot get those unpleasant images out of their minds. Animals have similar problems — whereas most people are able to overcome traumatic experiences, for examples, most animals cannot, as those memories of trauma are so visually powerful that they cannot be “forgotten” the way we forget things by pushing them into our unconscious.

Another example is the way animals deal with pain. Numerous studies have shown that pain, in the sense that we typically experience it, is a function of the frontal lobes. Without complete frontal lobe function, the pain is still present, but it is the frontal lobe that makes non-autistic human beings care about pain so much, and without that function, pain is relegated to the background. Grandin recounts her own hysterectomy, and the fact that she was far less bothered by the pain of the operation than most patients, as evidence. In fact, Grandin argues that much of the concern with mistreatment of animals is misplaced — pain does not bother animals as much as fear, a sentiment shared by autistic people. For Grandin, fear and anxiety were the defining emotions of her childhood and teenage years. In autistic people and in animals, fear occupies the place in the mind that pain does in non-autistic people. She argues that humane treatment of animals must take fear into account, perhaps moreso even than pain.
I do not know how much her personal experience generalizes to others. Autistic people are usually much better grounded in reality, and are much less likely to delude themselves about living in some imaginary fantasy world.

Maybe the unconscious mind should be considered a mental illness, like schizophrenia. Maybe also for being highly bothered by pain.

I have heard people argue vigorously for a Freudian unconscious mind, with the main argument being that it is obvious from personal experience. Maybe those people really do lack a conscious awareness of some of what they are doing, and maybe they dislike people who are fully conscious.

On the subject of autism, some people accused a great physicist of having some sort of high-functioning autism based on anecdotes like this:
He only ever wore a three-piece suit, year round, rain or shine, morning and night. The non-logic of social interactions just didn’t interest him. When he was at Cambridge someone remarked to him, ‘It’s a bit rainy, isn’t it?’ He got up, walked to the window, came back, sat down again, and said: ‘It is not now raining.'”
I guess the point of this story is most neurotypical people have non-logical conversations, such as talking about the weather being rainy, without any concern for whether or not it is really raining. Paul Dirac was sufficiently grounded in reality that he would want to know whether it is raining in order to conduct a conversation on it being rainy. Maybe those controlled by unconscious minds do not care whether it is really raining.

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