Saturday, 20 December 2014

Noise

People often say I'm Aspie but I'm quite dubious about this.  In fact, I have done a couple of tests recently and have scored unusually low for that characteristic.  The trouble with that, of course, is that the person doing the test might not be the best judge.  One thing I do do is escape into what looks like Asperger-ish behaviour when I'm stressed, and since a lot of people have only ever seen me stressed, that might make it look as if I'm on the spectrum.

By the way, I don't think there's anything wrong with being on the spectrum.  It's not a lack or an absolute disability.  It just means that people might not get you some of the time, and in the end this can add up to a huge problem, but it's a problem they impose on you, not the other way round.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be about me this time.  Sort of.

As a Christian, I'm often tempted to believe in original sin, although the way I understand it is, everyone makes mistakes and those mistakes happen in parenting as much as anywhere else, and also in the damage to the environment in which pregnancy occurs, so that damage gets manifested in people whose circumstances and influences make it very hard to behave straightforwardly altruistically, and it's impossible to draw a line under that because a baby born into some sterile, mechanical capsule would just die, and also be the victim of sin.  I also think it's more important to see people as the victims of sin rather than its perpetrators.

I more or less equate sin with selfishness.  That is, it's a mistake concerning the nature of the division between oneself and the world, such that one inaccurately judges what's inside who one is and what's outside it, along the lines of nobody being an island.

It's often said that autism involves obliviousness to others, i.e. the absence of what psychologists rather awkwardly and simplistically refer to as Theory Of Mind, and which we philosophers call the Problem Of Other Minds.  That is, people on the spectrum are said to be sceptical about the existence of others, or unable to conceive of other people as fully as others can.  My view of this is constrained by my faith, because sin being selfishness, and believing that we're all sinners means that there can't be people who aren't aware of the existence of others as a fundamental starting point in their lives.  Such people would be incapable of sin and therefore wouldn't need saving from it.  I also recognise that this constraint is  very like the constraint some people feel which compels them to believe in Young Earth Creationism, and that bothers me more than a bit.  Nonetheless, the reason why I believe it doesn't stop it from necessarily being true, just as the fact that the Big Bang theory being thought up by a Catholic priest doesn't stop that being true, although of course the Big Bang never happened.

What do I think instead then?  Well, as I've said before, I think it's to do with finding it difficult to filter noise out from the Manifold.  By Manifold, I mean the sum total of all experience you get, so for me it currently includes Radio 4, this screen, the text, my fingers on the keyboard, a car driving past, the warmth from the radiator, my left breast brushing against my upper arm, a slight feeling of tremor in my right wrist, hair brushing against my right earlobe, the warmth and softness of my slippers, one of which is hanging off and slanted slightly to one side, an itch on the bridge of my nose, my right knee digging into my left popliteal fossa, a slight stinging sensation in my left ankle, a tingle in my left ring finger, the Buddleia swaying in the wind, the taste of coffee, the faint odour of burning dust and lipstick, I mean, I could go on, and somehow, through all of that, many people manage to pare all that down and focus on the relevant bits.  Even I do it sometimes.  If it's difficult to do that, it can also be difficult to realise which bits are people trying to relate to you and communicate with you and because you don't get the chance to exercise that, you don't get good at it.  Similar to differences of attention, commonly referred to as ADHD.

This is of course the noise of the title of this blog.  I used to have a problem.  Way back when I first qualified as a herbalist, I was asked to fill in a questionnaire assessing my strengths and weaknesses, and rather surprisingly, I realised for the first time that I had literally no idea what those were, and that this had been an ongoing problem.  It probably goes some way towards explaining my unemployability, although it's also claimed that the reason for that is that I don't "fit".  When I think about the kind of things I do, I might sit with a patient and listen to them, and I hope I listen effectively and empathetically but I don't know.  I might feel a pain in the same part of their body as they feel, but I don't know if that's a good guide to diagnosis.  I might come up with a list of herbs for the prescription, but maybe I could've come up with a better one.  I might measure someone's blood pressure and peak flow, but it might not be reliable or accurate.  How am I supposed to know any of this?  I just do what I do, and I'm so lost in the moment and self-doubt, and overthinking, that I have literally no idea if I'm a good herbalist or not.

Well, I think this may have changed.  I want to go back to the legendary and symbolic mirror we all stand in front of every morning of my life.  It needn't be a mirror actually.  It might be the awareness that I'm shouting at someone I love or that my arms are hairy, but let's talk about the mirror because it's simpler.  I have in the past seen a man standing looking at himself.  The incongruity and distress that carries with it was sufficient to shout louder than anything else about that person.  It was very noisy.  I needed to quieten down that particular stimulus, but it was too hard to filter out.  I needed to change it to something more neutral.  Well, I have now done that and as a result I now have a better idea of who the person in the mirror is.  I can tell you that she's left-handed!  No, but seriously, I now see someone who is kind of blue-stockingy, academic, intellectual, perhaps a writer or a doctor.  In other words, if I saw this person at a distance at a party or walking along the street, that's the kind of judgement I'd be making about her.  I can imagine her standing on a stage giving a lecture about philosophical aspects of grief, or giving a reading of her story about a family failing to visit a lighthouse while on holiday in the Outer Hebrides, or maybe looking at microscope slides of tissue samples in a path lab.  I can now see that person for who she is.  Unfortunately, she's now isolated from any academic community, has no reputation in that area and has gone off on a complete career tangent, plus she took two decades out to raise her children because she felt the need to compensate for not having a womb.

But never mind me, believe it or not.  When you look in a mirror, do you see someone too short, too tall, too skinny, too fat (I'm using insults deliberately here because of the paralysis of thought the hurt causes you - you can feel that if you believe you're in that list, can't you?), and does that noise blind you to the real signal of who you are apart from all those things?  Who are you really, when you filter out all that sometimes non-salient stuff?  What do you need to take away or add so that you're not distracted from who you are?