Monday, 5 December 2011

'Self Correcting' - a dynamic of conceptual processing within the Autistic Spectrum by David Rowan

Autism can be thought of as a spectrum, ranging from subtly mild at one end to full at the other; from mild dyslexia to full autism.

Different parts of the spectrum hold unique qualities and yet those further along the scale also hold some of the qualities of those from the earlier milder areas of the spectrum as well; these qualities may also vary in depth or strength; all of these conditions, from very mild dyslexia to full autism are a part of what is known as The Autistic Spectrum.

When had my first university Asperger's/Dyslexia assessment in Southampton in 2002, they discovered I had a  particular dynamic in my thought processing which they called 'Self Correcting'. This was considered to be so disadvantageous to my forthcoming work as a student, that I was awarded a support worker who would check all my work for grammatical errors and typos, like a university appointed proof reader. My tendency for self correcting prompted a great deal of concern ...

What is it ?

On the surface, 'Self Correcting' sounds like it describes a person proof reading themselves; typing some words, checking for errors, identifying errors, and then correcting the errors ...

However, it is not is much more

The first step to understanding Self Correcting is to identify the location of the correcting. What I mean is this;

In the above example of correcting errors, proof reading oneself, the correcting process is external. The brain coordinates the eyes and hands to produce text. The eye scans the text and the brain identifies parts of the text which are incongruous to remembered text-rules. The brain the navigates the hands to physically touch the keys of the physical external keyboard, so that the outer reality is adjusted to meet the remembered text-rules; spelling and grammar. The person has self-corrected the text.

The term, 'Self Correcting', describes a completely different process.

In Self Correcting, the correcting is located in the brain; within the neural processing itself.

Here, the brain coordinates the eyes and hands to produce text. The eye scans the text, and light from the page stimulates the optic nerve, as it does in the self-proof-reading example, however, the attention of the individual, what some might term, 'the mind's eye', is not focused upon the details of the external text. It is, instead, focussed upon the memory of what the individual has just written. the inner eye is not looking at the actuality of what has been written; it is looking at the memory of what the individual wanted to write.

The text just written may have errors, it may have no errors, but the individual cannot 'see' the text - they can only  'see' the memory of their intention. Think about that for a moment, they can only see their memory of their intention ...

All while the individual can remember their intended text, what they wanted to write, they cannot see it objectively; all they can  'see' is their subjective text.

What I find is that if I look at something I have just written, I cannot see the errors - they are invisible to me. However, if I leave the text for some time, or distract myself by thinking about something completely different, the resultant amnesia means that when I next look at whatI have written, I see the text through fresh, objective eyes - and I can the see the actual words my hands produced and the errors are plainly visible..

You may notice on here that I sometimes write a status post, and then delete it, replace it, delete it and replace it again - this happens when I have written something, got distracted and then blushed when I see the errors my dyspraxic hands have produced.

I can see the errors in other people's writing because i am not privy to the memory of their intention; in other words, because I am not aware of what they wanted to write, my inner eye is not beguiled by the memory - so my attention rests upon the physical page and sees what is actually there. This is then compared to the grammatical rules stored within my unconscious, and I am able to spot text which is incongruous to the rules of which I have knowledge.

I thought it would be interesting to post the following question on facebook:

'a question for those with Dyslexia: do you find you are able to spot typos and errors in the writings of other people ?'

Every reply confirmed the same; those with dyslexia who cannot see their own errors, can see them in the writings of other people. This suggests that those who replied are Self Correcting.

For me, this Self Correcting mechanism, or neural dynamic, has boarder implications.

If we stop thinking of the Self Correcting process as something related with writing, and instead view it as a neural process, then it becomes clear that the disparity between viewing the external world objectively for what it is, and attending to the mind's inner concept of 'what is', may have more general implications.

For example, if I expect the stairs to be a clearway of ascending steps which lead to the upper landing, all I 'see' is a 'clearway of ascending steps which lead to the upper landing'. If there is something placed  at the foot of the stairs, I literally do not  'see' it; really - even if I have to make an effort of climbing over it, or navigating around it, my inner vision is fixated on the memory of my intention - to arrive at the upper landing, and that is all I 'remember' afterwards; my ascending journey along clearway of  steps to the landing ...

If the TV screen is covered in dust, I do not see the dust; I see,  'that which I am looking for', which is the electrical picture emanating from the screen.

This Self Correcting processing can be useful in certain contexts; when I look at someone's face I rarely see their spots and blemishes ... (until they point them out). Navigating your way through a world of expectations, can be bewildering, entertaining, socially disadvantageous and even downright dangerous. Not seeing the car as you step into an expected clear road, not seeing the open manhole :) ...
Not seeing a friend's face as they pass you in a busy street is inconvenient - not seeing the temporary mess of a local roadwork's is convenient. Not being able to do your shopping because the supermarket has moved the shelves around and changed the colours of their packaging is very inconvenient - being able to clearly remember the circumstances of a difficulty and its associated feelings and thoughts, described by a client in a therapy session is very convenient. Forgetting someone's name but remembering their Moon sign is ...

I cannot read music, but I can play guitar because I learn the shapes of chords and the patterns of scales - though, I rarely have a clue what the names of the chords or notes are.

if you'd like a little technicality of the neuroscience of the 'inner vision', or, 'mind's eye' ...

In neuroscience, units of perceptions, such as the stimulation of the optic nerve when light touches the retina, are known as 'percepts' A percept is a component of a perception.

Percepts, such as the stimulated optic nerve, go to the rear of the brain and then loop around and around. If they have sufficient intensity an awareness of them emerges and they become 'concepts'. Concepts are units of consciousness.

When we look at a tomato, we  'know' the tomato is on the outside of ourselves; a real physical tomato in the real physical external world.

When we remember a tomato, we somehow 'know' we are not looking at one, on the 'outside'

How ?

The name given to the knowing of what we know, neurologically is 'Qualia'. Qualia is the way neuroscientists discuss how a brain distinguishes the difference between, for example,  various shades of blue. Qualia is a mystery, as is much of the brain, and although the  technologies of the last decade have produced a great deal of new understandings of the brain, we are still at the stage of formative investigation.
I’d like to paste an extract from one of my papers here ...

(This may get a little technical, but it’s absolutely fascinating ...)

' The Narrative Self:

Stephen Pinker attests that humans have an instinct for language; ‘Language is so tightly woven into human experience it is scarcely possible to imagine life without it’ (Pinker, 1994, p.17). Words are not merely symbolic conveyers of ideas or meaning; the phenomena of language is a construct of what may be considered to be that which defines being human; a complex and sophisticated consciousness of self (Dennet, 1991, p.191).  Consciousness does not appear to arise from any single region or neural network of the brain, but appears to be an emergent function which arises from the integration and synchrony of cycles of neural processing (Cozolino, 2002, p153). In The Feeling of What Happens, Domasio describes the emergence of narrative as a process which begins with a proto-conscious core self:

'…neural patterns which become images, images being the same fundamental currency in which the description of the consciousness-causing object is also car­ried out. Most importantly, the images that constitute this narrative are incorporated in the stream of thoughts. The images in the con­sciousness narrative flow like shadows along with the images of the object for which they are providing an unwitting, unsolicited com­ment. To come back to the metaphor of movie-in-the-brain, they are within the movie. There is no external spectator (Domasio, 1999, p171).'

Domasio asserts the autobiographical self is constituted by implicit memories of multiple instances of past experiences which grow continuously and may be partly remodelled to reflect new experiences. Sets of memories which describe identity and person can be reactivated as a neural pattern and made explicit as images (Domasio, 1999, p.174). Edelman and Tononi confer, describing the formation of the autobiographical self as, ‘the remembered present’, a higher-order of consciousness which can place itself in a scheme of the past, present and anticipated future, which, in its most developed form has a semantic and linguistic capability (Edelman and Tononi, 2000, p. 103).'

The architecture of the brain is not completely static and fixed. The term, ‘Neuro Plasticity’, is used to describe how the brain’s shape is changed when different cells are used, a bit like making a new path in a field of soft tall grass. The more the path is used, the more ingrained the pathway becomes. If it falls out of use it can disappear. Yes; a whole chain of thought, an idea, can literally vanish from your head. American neuroscientists have coined the phrase, ‘use it ... or lose it’.

So, the shape of our brain determines how easily we may, or may not, express facets of our character, including problem solving abilities and the options of thoughts we may have. Obviously, when faced with a challenge in life, the more choices we have through the soft ling grass, the easier it may be to find a way to overcome the challenge and thrive.

Less thought options = less choices = higher chance of failure or becoming stuck.

More choice options = more choices = higher chance of success ... finding new horizons ... and survival.

What creates the thought options ?

Brain activity

What stimulates brain activity ?

Our actions, the environment, and narrative; words.

What stimulates the brain with words while also providing us with new words, which are new thought choices, new pathways ?


Bibliography: the books mentioned above (and a few more you may enjoy ...):

Bowlby, J., 1979, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds, Tavistock Publications

Capra, F., 1996, The Web of Life, HarperCollins.

Cozolino, L., 2002, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, W.W. Norton and Company inc.

Domasio, A., 1999, The Feeling of What Happens, William Heinemann.

Edelman, G M, Tononi, G., 2000, Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Allen Lane The Penguin Press.

Grinder, J., Bandler, R., 1981, Trance-formations, Real People Press.

Guastello S, Koopmans M, Pincus D, 2009, Chaos and Complexity in Psychology, Cambridge University Press.

Jackendorff R, 2007, Language, Consciousness, Culture; Essays on Mental Structure, The MIT Press.

Kirkpatrick L A, 2005, Attachment, Evolution, And The Psychology of Religion, The Guildford  Press.

Pinker S, 1994, the Language Instinct, penguin Books.

Sacks O, 1995, An Anthropologist on Mars, Picador.

Schore A N, 2003, Affect Regulation And The Origin Of the Self, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Watson P, Ideas: 2005, A History from Fire To Freud, Weidenfield & Nicolson.

and I recently found ...

Autism and the Edges of the Known World: Sensitivities, Language and Constructed Reality - Bogdashina

Memory in Autism: Theory and Evidence - Boucher and Bowler

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain - Domasio

The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice - Fosha, Siegal and Solomon.

© David Rowan, November 2011

A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security’.

 Albert  Einstein