28 March 2007

Autistics in translation

My work in progress, in Chapter 3, comments on the ‘virtuality’ of the human world—the way culture interposes itself between humans and nature, including their own nature. It's become problematic that we ‘rely so much on external artifacts for guidance. Now we are beginning to notice the unintended consequences of this turn of evolutionary events. In a sense, then, the burning question is how we can yank our heads out of those virtual clouds and get our feet back on the ground.’

According to Temple Grandin, in her (2005) book with Catherine Johnson, one way to escape the web of abstractions is to be autistic. Though there's a heavy social price to pay for being that way, it does short-circuit the tendency to dwell in abstractions and generalities. Grandin says that autistic people and animals tend to be ‘splitters’ where normal people are ‘lumpers.’ Following Snyder and Mitchell, she claims ‘that the reason autistic people see the pieces of things is that they have privileged access to lower levels of raw information’ (Grandin and Johnson 2005, 299). Therefore they pay close attention to details that the rest of us don't even notice.

Of course, any use of this new information would depend on someone's ability to generalize … otherwise we'd be overwhelmed by it, as autistics often are by the incoming flood of sensation.

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