Monday, 3 June 2013

Fear of Affect, "Mindblindness" & "Autism Spectrum"

"Mindblindness" is a term sometimes used by neuroscientists and psychologists. People are around who exhibit Mindblindness, which is to say that they are not able to attribute to others that they have minds. There is a large scientific enquiry going on into the physiology of mindblindness, and there is an idea that mind (or a "theory of mind module", for example) is contained in specific parts or part of the brain, which can be more or less developed, and more or less damaged. "Asperger's Syndrome" and "Autimsm Spectrum Disorders" are names given by psychologists to the structure of thinking and behaviour that exhibits mindblindness.

Is it possible for a person to become aware of their own mindblindness? I think so. And I think it is with extreme caution that any route to this is taken by looking at brains. I don't think it will be a good thing for people, one day, to observe their brain activity as a means to test their mind-sightedness.

What it means for one to be mindblind is a blindness to one's own mind as well as others' minds. It is a state that invites devaluing of oneself and others in their human-ness. It invites incompassion.

And it is characteristic, perhaps, to sub-consciously defend against awareness of one's limitedness in the mind department by, again sub-consciously, denying the existence of mind in others. I mean that something like Freudian ego-defences like denial may be necessary for the maintenance of self. How does this show itself?

I think one of the ways is in the lack of ego boundary that is associated with arrested states of development. It is possible for some people to be unable to conceive of others' states of mind as independent of their own. So a person might find themselves compelled to act in such a way that presumes the other to be in need of him, and will hold beliefs about the other to support this conviction. This thinking-behaviour is motivated by the need to maintain integrity of self-image, e.g. "powerful", "indispensable". The other may receive the "projections" and behave in a way that conforms to them, perhaps in order to cement an attachment or maintain a love relation. Mutual self-regard, impaired or fragile self-esteem, may drive these ways of relating. And here again, what is it to hold oneself in low regard? It is the same thing, in my view, as lacking self.

If lack of self is something we associate with disrupted parent-child attachments, it is also something we can be induced to experience (even with a jolting violence) when we interact with a "mindblind" person. There is an interesting distinction made between the lack of empathy displayed by a person on the Autism Spectrum Disorder and the lack of empathy displayed by a a person with a self-esteem disorder like narcissistic personality disorder, which is that the lack of empathy of the ASD person contains no ill-will. For the ASD person, the lack of empathy is a by-product, so to speak, of the drive to deal with matters of fact, to be fair, to be objective, to be honest, to be impartial, to be seen to be dealing with things even-handedly, justly, without prejudice, etc.. Underneath this, I believe, is the need, on the part of some benevolent ASD types, to feel that they can adequately deal with all questions, implicit in which is the idea (a belief) that all questions are reducible to simple terms. I think this is often borne out of a fear of affect, or a need to keep feelings familiar.
Problems arise when the strived-for objectivity strays into areas where awareness of self, a developed subjectivity and awareness of limitations, is the hoped-for qualification. Here the limitations are in qualities of, or complexity of, feeling.
The lack of empathy in narcissistic personality disorder is accompanied by envy and denigration of the other. There is a need (to compensate for hurt) to preserve an all-good or perfect or special self-image. But others have qualities one lacks, awareness of which shows one to be imperfect, invoking envy which is too painful to contain. So it is necessary to disparage the qualities of others to contain or eliminate the envy. Such envy is, I think, not present in ASD, I think, because a feeling of completeness is already present. The need is to reduce stimulation. Reduce affect. Keep feelings familiar.

It is interesting to consider these things alongside a work like "Absence of Mind" by Marilynne Robinson (2010), which looks at the ways in which style of expression and reasoning in what she calls "para-scientific" literature implicitly diminishes or devalues or degrades the qualities in ourselves that support understanding, that enable us to see ourselves (and our science) as human. I am tempted to

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