Saturday, November 10, 2007

"fall from social grace"

We seem to be working within a particular continuum. For the past two weeks we have been looking at, at scratching our heads over, Autism and the complex nuances of the vast spectrum. From out readings and discussions it seemed that we could contain the spectrum with in the poles of low-functioning (borderline mentally retarded) Autism and high-functioning Aspergers. However, this week we discover there is another closely related disorder, Capgras. The similarities between Capgras and Autism are striking in many respects. The dysfunctional workings of the amygdala, a more general defect in the orbitofrontal cortex, resulting in lack of theory of mind, disturbed face recognition or recognition of people in general, shortcomings in emotional processing, and a “fall from social grace.” This makes me wonder if the Autistic spectrum should be opened up a little more to include Capgras. Or is Capgrass an example of how we can break apart the Autistic spectrum and organize the continuum? This also makes me consider the usefulness of the spectrum. Should it stay in its ambiguous state or be shaped a bit better?

The Hirstein, Damasio, and Powers reading all spoke on the intricacies of theory of mind, emotion, and decision-making. I found the connections between these brain functions to be surprising at first yet in the obvious. Having theory of mind makes it possible for a person to understand the perspective of others. Knowing this from this weeks reading on Capgras and previous readings in Autism, it makes sense that without a theory of mind people have no social tact. We also see that dysfunction in emotional responses and recognition also plays into theory of mind and behavior. Apart of the inability to recognize people is because one cannot draw upon an emotional connection to that person. Because those with Capgas do not have this emotional connection, and do not understand the perspectives of others they live in this detached world. A lot like those with Autism. They confabulate the world around them, because they have faulty emotional ties, which make their actions in the real world inappropriate and wrong.

Mark, Gage, and Elliot, all had the fundamental aspects of brain functioning intact, however we see that this does no mean that they are fully intact people. Capgras eroded a huge part of their personalities and thereby altered their behavior by taking away particular higher brain functions. Thanks to Mark, Gage, and Elliot’s dissociation, we see how essential to survival it is to have ones personality in place. Because these men were not able to recognize their family members, have appropriate emotional responses, and confabulated much of their world, they had no feeling of self anymore. They knew about their live, were conscious of the fact they had families, jobs, etc, however they are described as not having emotional connection to their lives. Mark knows he has a sister, yet her does not recognize and feel connected to Karin. I believe, and as was touched in the reading, that this emotional connection to ones life and self is essential in ones personality. We also see in Elliot that with out his personality he made horrible business decisions where he ended up in bankruptcy. What the cases of Capgras boil down to is a debate about the core of a person. What really makes a person? Damasio asks the important question when talking about Gage, “Is it fair to say that his soul was diminished, or that he had lost his soul?”

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