AI and cognitive psychology rant (getting more and more OT - tell me if I should shut up)

Stephen Horne steve at
Tue Nov 4 01:56:19 CET 2003

On 3 Nov 2003 21:02:06 GMT, bokr at (Bengt Richter) wrote:

>but that is not what I was trying to get at ;-)

OK - I assume I've missed your point completely. Remarked it as unread
- I'll reread it more carefully as soon as I have time.

>If it is "nothing special," would you give it up?! (forever, I don't mean a nap ;-)

I'm not even sure I have it in the same sense that an NT
(neurotypical) has. One of the explanations for autism relates to
fragmented consciousness, and it is one of the few that has backing
from neurological evidence (mirror neurons and such).

For the record, I nearly did give it up. First seriously considered it
at around ten, never really fully ruled it out until I was in my early
twenties. But despite what some people say, autistics do care about
others and the impact our actions would have on them - even if we
process that caring different (less instinctive empathy, more rational
consideration of fairness and such).

Last time I checked, the suicide rate in people with AS was around 20%
- though I assume that was lifetime (it was hard enough to find the
figure at all - the source didn't explain much).

I'm near the end of that book 'consciousness' by Rita Carter, now, and
just read a bit about autism. There was a section where it mentioned
'never experiencing fear' or something similar, and this was in
relation to the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

At first I thought she didn't know what she was talking about - after
all, severe psychiatric illness (particularly anxiety disorders) is
extremely common in Asperger syndrome. My personal experience from
support groups and online is that about 80% of people with AS have all
the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder, for instance -
basically extreme social anxiety resulting from a childhood of total
rejection by peers and authorities and of continuous bullying. The
symptoms are much the same as post traumatic stress disorder, which is
unsurprising. The rate in the normal population for AvPD is between
0.5% and 1.0%.

But the thing is, as I've often tried to express to many people,
anxiety is not fear. It is generated by the unconscious limbic system,
the amygdala in particular, in response to conditioned sensory
stimuli. It does not require conscious awareness. Worrying, for
instance, is not normally a cause of anxiety but rather an effect -
the amygdala directs the prefrontal cortex to adopt a state
appropriate to handling emergencies, along with all the other effects
that are triggered.

In my case, I am rarely aware of being anxious and when I am it is
normally the physiology that clues me in. I also really don't worry in
general - that mental energy gets put into what you might call
displacement activities.

So maybe I really am not conscious of fear, and only have an abstract
concept that I label 'fear'?

Pain is another thing that is odd in autism. We tend not to feal pain
as much, though in some cases we feel a lot of pain from odd things.

But then again, maybe that is wrong.

Once again, I am not generally aware of pain. I *can* feel it when it
gets my attention, but it doesn't really seem important I suppose. I
actually made a habit of saying 'ouch' as a child (in common with many
AS people, I tend to be physically awkward and bump into things a lot)
purely because of the way people reacted when I didn't - I might, for
instance, get the stupid 'aren't you brave' speach for not crying or
whatever. The habit has stuck, but to be honest people look at me even
stranger when I don't think to say ouch until a few seconds later.

I have a few sensitivities too (though I've been pretty lucky on that
front), but to be honest I don't think of them as painful so much as
distracting, annoying and stress-inducing.

So maybe I really am not conscious of pain, and only have an abstract
concept that I label 'pain'?

Of course this is all very hard to be sure about - I don't know your
subjective experience of fear or pain any more than you know mine.

>I don't say that to be rude, or accuse you of any lack, I'm just trying to trace
>the failure of my attempted communication

Understood - it happens. Despite my frustration over another
misunderstanding recently, I don't really have a problem with
accepting that I often completely miss the point.

>I don't think the buck stops there. Certainly our senses are the first level of
>transducers, but I was proposing that the brain itself was a "transducer." I.e., in
>current experience, the brain is so far a sine-qua-non for conscious experience.
>But why? How? IMO talking about the brain as if that were then final zoom setting
>on attention to consciousness is like the beginning talk by the Greeks about atoms.
>We have to get to sub-atomic particles and waves etc., at least.

Ah yes - I think I see.

>Well, close again. I was trying to explore the notion of a distinction between
>the "thing" as physical shape holder, and something non-physical that could be given
>a particular shape as a consequence, like an electric or magnetic field in the
>neighborhood. (Or, what if consciousness is a peculiar dynamic thing like lasing,
>something that happens under certain conditions, which as evolution would have it,
>occurs in brains a lot).

For the moment, I am getting too much cognitive interference from the
concept of a soul to take this seriously.

Actually, I've just seen the time - I'll get back to this tomorrow.

The one thing that I will quickly drop in is that if such a 'field'
effect occurs, it seems odd that it occurs at the neuron level when
nothing we know about the interactions between molecules etc at the
next layer down hints at any such thing - but in principle, I'll
accept that such a thing *could* potentially exist.

Steve Horne

steve at ninereeds dot fsnet dot co dot uk

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