Sunday, November 4, 2007

Opening Up

This week’s reading primarily focused on autism, a continuation of the themes of last week. However, both weeks have also emphasized emotions: to what extent someone on the autistic spectrum can experience emotions, how we live with the choices our emotions seem to make for us, and, in the case of the LeDoux reading, what the nature of emotions really is.

I don’t know about anyone else’s take on the assigned reading of this week, but I feel as though emotions are an even grayer area than before I started the reading! True, the reading explores human connectivity and emotions in new and deep ways. But it seems to get so tangled when it all comes together. LeDoux talks about how a “pattern of inputs…biases us more toward an open and accepting mode of processing…” He tells us that, “The net result in working memory is the feeling of love.” While there is surely no elegant way to describe love in technical terms, I feel as though I’d much rather leave it nebulous than have it become a bias that is a result of “a pattern of inputs.”

All of this week’s LeDoux reading was interesting. From the credibility problem and the idea of finding a way around it, to his description of a processing approach for studying emotions, to the studies of people with damage to their amygdalae, to the discussion of wanting to study voles because they mate for life—all of these things fascinated me. And perhaps in a technical sense they help approximate where our emotions, conscious and unconscious, come from. But in a purely visceral way (and I know, here I am calling upon the visceral in a discussion of the visceral!), they seem to fall short of the important aspects of emotions. He tells us that, “Emotions…amplify memories,” but this sidesteps a discussion of the amazing feeling that nostalgia brings. I know that emotions are probably one of the most interesting things to study about the mind. This is because they present the greatest mystery. But personally, I rather think that mystery is what makes life interesting, and I wouldn’t want to solve this one even if I could.

Lyde Sizer speaks in-depth about the need for contact that all of her children—including Ryland, her autistic son—share. This would seem to go against most definitions of autism. So here I am, fuzzier than when I began. Here, her child clearly shows a need for physical contact, which implies a certain amount of emotional response in a child who, by nature of his condition, should not really be driven to such personal interactions. I suppose we must come to understand that individualism is no less prevalent simply because a child is on the autistic spectrum. Humans have a bent for uniqueness that no syndrome could take away. We are all so different in subtle ways that it seems to me that even our idea of a “spectrum” for autism is flawed. Someone could fall in one place mentally, in terms of IQ, and then another place entirely in terms of how well they interact with people. Should we accept some arbitrary quantization of terms into an aggregate total? Or should we rather love and respect people for who they are?

The issues explored involving emotions are issues that we all deal with, autistic or not. They are issues of opening up, letting go, feeling relaxed in our own bodies. In reading the Developmental Psychology article that was assigned, a curious question came into my head: Do autistic children really have more trouble coming up with an introspective response, or are “typically developing” children just better at making something up? The main difference between the two types of children seemed to be that typically developing children were more prone to telling stories. This simply made my mind jump back to our discussion of confabulation. Do we really know what we feel any better than an autistic person does? Or do we pretend we know? Do we tell a story, finding our feelings only after the story has been told? Emotions are more than words. So, is a measure of our ability to give words to our emotions really an accurate measure of whether we have complex emotions? I would say no.

1 comment:

Emmy P. said...

After reading both the passages from Sizer and LeDoux I found the "emotional processing" that occurs quite interesting. The fact that stimuli presented to us subliminally can ignite the same reactions (feelings) within us had they been done on a more concious level was truly fascinating.

People who are guided by their feelings are often considered impulsive. I know now it is because they are operating on a more subconscious level then others. As I was reading about Sizer, a woman who begins to resent her son in a sense because his autistic condition "robbed" her of the life she thought she was entitled to. Lizer becomes aware of these feelings and her loss, attaching her grief to her son's condition.

I often wonder how accurate our ability to attach our feelings to actual experiences is. I also wonder what the purpose of feelings are, I can understand fear is necessary to protect us, but what is exactly jealousy for? Or even anger? On the one hand anger can protect us, in a high pressure situation where we are being physically attacked we need anger to drive us as a self defense mechanism, but when anger is triggered by something else-- something under the radar, it can become detrimental to us.

I also question whether, as we become more advanced and have a better understanding of how are brain triggers emotion, if we will be able to call our emotions to our conscious and perhaps even have control over them. Or if it is absolutely necessary for them to be under our "radar" because we need to react quickly as a species and our more conscious cognitive processes slow us down.