Individualism is an atheist lie / from a “Progressive Christian”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2011/10/19/individualism-is-an-atheist-lie/

October 19, 2011 by Morgan Guyton

We meditated on this quotation from Jesus yesterday at our Virginia Methodist provisional clergy mentor covenant group retreat. On the side, I have been reading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, which has caused me to see the implications of Jesus’ statement in a completely new light. Zizioulas writes that God is the only authentic person in the universe because God is the source of His own being. As creatures, we are completely contingent upon God for our being.

If we really believe that God is the source of every instant of our consciousness, then Jesus’ statement is a lot more all-encompassing than we might have previously thought. He is not simply talking about the relationship that followers have to their leader or students have to their teacher. He is not just talking about any kind of lifestyle or community we choose to enter into. He is talking about the relationship He has as Creator to all of His creatures who are branches on His vine whether we accept this reality or not. Nothing in the universe exists independent from Christ, who is not solely the man Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago but also the very Word of God, the creative agency which articulates and implements the Father’s will as John 1:3 describes: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

On the vine of our creator Christ, those whose hearts are opened to communion and intimacy with their Creator “bear fruit.” Those who pretend to “be like gods” themselves (Gen 3:5) and cling to the delusion of their own self-sufficiency are “like a branch that is thrown away and withers… [before it is] picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6). Individualism describes the atheist delusion that we are the source of our own being, which is having the naivete of a branch that thinks it does not need God’s vine to be fed and survive. You can be an individualist and talk about God all day, but God is not truly God to you if you think you’re a self-made person. Unfortunately, individualism is the default perspective with which people in our age view life, including many who never stop blabbering about Jesus.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Written by Rene Descartes in 1637, this is perhaps the most definitive declaration of independence from God in the course of Western history. (How about Nietzsche / “God is Dead” ?) It is the origin of secular thinking, because it sets as a foundational premise that our minds in effect “create” our existence, i.e. we are the source of our own identity (rather than God). Descartes’ premise is a choice to view the world with the assumption that the boundaries of reality are determined by our perception of it. I think; therefore I am” applied to the world outside my brain becomes “I see it; therefore it is,” which is the foundational premise of modern science.

Truth becomes that which has been observed and measured by multiple persons coming to the same conclusions instead of what our ancestors tell us that God told their ancestors to pass down to us. Rather than being a tribe in which our identity is given to us by our family, humanity is redefined by the Western secular tradition of Descartes and Enlightenment thinkers as a race of individuals who are the source of their own identity and subsequently form families and societies through social contracts with other individuals.

To view the world in this “I-centered” way which is ubiquitous to Western culture means living as if God doesn’t exist, at least not the God who Christians for centuries considered to be the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Rather than being understood as the source of our being, God becomes just another infinitely bigger and more powerful being who’s a constant threat to our freedom. God is the one who started the world, who intervenes occasionally in certain spectacular supernatural moments, and who will ultimately end the world, instead of being the One from whom creation is constantly emanating. God is seen as Someone outside of everything to whom we call to intervene rather than Someone inside of everything to whom we seek a purer connection. (That persistent NT insistence of inside / outside human isolation from Nature!) Paul’s declaration that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) sounds like pious poetry to us, but we don’t take this at all seriously as an ontological claim, because what we really believe in modernity is that “in science nature holds together” and, most problematically, “in our theological system God holds together.”

I understand that there are many positives to the legacy of Descartes and the Enlightenment. I just think it’s completely wrong to say Cogito ergo sum when we should be saying Cogitat Deus ergo sum (God thinks; therefore I am). Cogito ergo sum isn’t just Descartes’ delusion; it’s the delusion of all in our society who are taught to see themselves as self-made individuals. People don’t make themselves. Individualism is an atheist lie. Christ is our Creator. In Him all things hold together. All things are created through Him and for Him. He is the vine and we are the branches.

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Okay, this may seem an odd piece to post, but it does contribute to the topic of recent posts on the concept of SELF. It demonstrates the ongoing conflict between so-called ‘secular thinking’ and ‘religious thinking’ and also the failure to recognize that philosophical points of view, and definitions of specific terms, pass into popular cultural as  strange and distorted “thingies”. We can also detect the influence of psychology and the social sciences, which, with traditional Biblical sources, create a fine mish-mash of assertions. Science, the method, is completely misunderstood.

The “point” of the piece seems to be the instructive metaphor, “He is the vine, and we are the branches”. This seems a sufficient illustration of belief. Why all the  unnecessary flailing around over misrepresentations of historical contributions to “Western Thought”? This, to me, weakens the “message.” “Stand by your man…”

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INDIVIDUALISM / 1.The habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. ‘a culture that celebrates individualism and wealth’ 1.1 Self-centered feeling or conduct; egoism. 2. A social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. ‘encouragement has been given to individualism, free enterprise, and the pursuit of profit’

Hmmmmm  …. If Individualism is an atheist lie, then The United States was founded by atheists, and no “true” Christian can participate in the U.S. Capitalist economy, and in fact, a “true” Christian believes in Communism / Socialism  and not in Democracy, as a form of governance.    

The fundamental “bottom line” of science. 

No “true” Christian should purchase or use any product of “computer science” (including the Internet) unless Jesus Christ can be proven to have invented it.  

 

 

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Consciousness / A Damaged Word – plus other important terms

Language has a problem: words, even those meant to have specific definitions and uses, gather extra meanings once “let loose” in different environments, including academia, popular conversation, and ethnic, religious, and social groups. Words can become so degraded that they no longer have a specific (or even consistent) meaning and must be re-evaluated.

Conscious(ness) is one of those words.

Human beings are severe hoarders – any and every idea is saved, whether valid, nonsensical, or incomprehensible. Archaic ideas are held to be as true or accurate as modern knowledge. The result is that human thoughts, from the confused and valueless, to the sublime and revolutionary, are a tangle of debris, like that of a  Tsunami that collects everything in its path. And now that we have the Internet, no one is cleaning up the clogged beaches.

Any discussion of “being conscious” must first define what “being conscious” is, but few writers bother to do this. I think that an individual animal (human) is either conscious or not. Qualifiers such as “partially conscious” or “levels of consciousness” demonstrate that we don’t have a clear definition or understanding of being conscious.

If we want to make progress in the study of human behavior, we must strip away the overburden of “supernatural and archaic” deposits that murkify the idea of a “conscious state.” There needs to be a valid intellectual scaffold on which to arrange concrete evidence. I don’t care how in love with psycho-babble our culture is, consciousness must be rooted in physical reality.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that no have no purpose other than screwing up our lives.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that clutter and devalue our thinking.

A short list of terms that I use in evaluating information.

Natural: Having a real or physical existence as opposed to one that is supernatural, spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious.

Supernatural: A being, object, location, concept or event that exists outside physical law: a dimension that exists solely in the human mind. 

Religion: The ritual presentation of the culture myth that includes the —-“isms” Patriotism, Consumerism, Nazism, Militarism, Capitalism etc. (From Joseph Campbell)

Mind: The sum of an organism’s or group’s reactions to the environment. Instinct is the source of automatic reactions; other reactions may be learned. So-called “emotion” is a physiologic response to the environment and belongs to mind.

Culture: The sum of an organism’s or group’s interactions with the environment. These interactions may be instinctual, learned or invented.

Mind and culture are not exclusive to Humans. Bacteria react to, and interact with the environment.

The criteria that I use to define mind and culture removes the “supernatural” barrier between our species and what is referred to as “lower animals” or “the rest of life” or plants, and all that “alien” stuff such as fungus, which do react and interact with the environment in amazing ways and therefore possess mind and culture.

Consciousness is the use of verbal language to process and communicate information. (Not limited to other humans; we talk to anything alive or dead.)

This definition recognizes consciousness as a process; it is not a “thing” – not a bump on the brain nor a nebulous supernatural fog. This definition frees us to talk about the characteristics of human consciousness, without having to project our type of verbal consciousness onto other life forms. It also recognizes nonverbal communication and the ALTERNATE states produced by using other languages –  music / mathematics / visual-spatial and other languages of which we are unaware.  These other brain processes require new definitions and terms. Individuals whose primary communication is by means of mathematics / music surely experience brain states not available to concrete visual thinkers like me.

Conscious does not = self aware. Animals such as apes or dolphins are self aware as demonstrated by the mirror trick, but as to what subjective state occurs when they use their languages, we are not in a position to know. Their languages surely convey information, but their subjective experience is outside our knowing.

The Amygdala Is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center

Separating findings from conclusions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/i-got-mind-tell-you/201508/the-amygdala-is-not-the-brains-fear-center

by Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., directs the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. He is author of Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.

 

I’ve been studying the amygdala for more than 30 years. When I started this work, research on this brain region was a lonely field of inquiry. The hippocampus was all the rage, and I sometimes felt jealous of the attention lavished on this brain region because of its contribution to memory.  These days, though, it is the amygdala that is in the spotlight.  This little neural nugget has gone from an obscure area of the brain to practically a household word, one that has come to be synonymous with “fear.” And for many people, my name, too, is practically synonymous with “fear.”  I am often said to have identified the amygdala as the brain’s “fear” center.  But the fact is, I have not done this, nor has anyone else. The idea that the amygdala is the home of fear in the brain is just that—an idea. It is not a scientific finding but instead a conclusion based on an interpretation of a finding.  So what is the finding, what is the interpretation, and how did the interpretation come about?

The Finding:  When the amygdala is damaged, previously threatening stimuli come to be treated as benign.  The classic discovery was that monkeys with amygdala damage were “tamed;” snakes, for example, no longer elicited so-called fight-flight responses after amygdala damage.  Later studies in rats by me, and others, mapped out the amygdala’s role in a neural system that detects and responds to threats, and similar circuits were found to be operative when the human brain processes threats.

The Interpretation: Since damage to the amygdala eliminates behavioral responses to threats, feelings of “fear” are products of the amygdala. People are indeed less responsive to threats when the amygdala is damaged (in humans amygdala damage can occur as a result of epilepsy or other medical conditions or their surgical treatment). Yet, these people can still experience (feel) “fear.” In other words, the amygdala is an important part of the circuit that allows the brain to detect and respond to threats, but is not necessary to feel “fear.”

Brain imaging studies of healthy humans (people without brain damage) suggest something similar. When they are exposed to threats, neural activity in the amygdala increases and body responses (like sweating or increased heart rate) result. This is true even if the threatening stimuli are presented subliminally, such that the person is not consciously aware that the threat is present and does not consciously experience (feel) “fear.”  Amygdala activity does not mean that fear is experienced.

The conclusion that the amygdala is the brain’s fear center wrongly assumes that the feelings of “fear” and the responses elicited by threats are products of the same brain system. While amygdala circuits are directly responsible for behavioral/physiological responses elicited by threats, they are not directly responsible for feelings of “fear.”

How did the interpretation come to be?  We humans frequently feel afraid when we find ourselves freezing or fleeing when in harm’s way. In other words, these two things (the feeling and the body responses) tend to be tightly correlated in our conscious introspections. (The verbal “version” of what happened) These introspections are talked about and become shared experiences that are ingrained as natural truths. Most people thus believe that the feeling of fear is the reason an animal or person runs from danger; or that the classic facial expression we know as “fear” is driven by feeling afraid.  But when it comes to the brain, what is obvious is not always what is the case. The purpose of science is to go beyond the obvious to reveal the deeper truths that cannot be gleaned simply from observing nature.

Are fear and the myriad other “emotions” learned ? 

One of the first things a scientist learns is that a correlation does not necessarily reveal causation.  (Not really; this mistake is the bread and butter of psychology) The interpretation that the amygdala is the brain’s fear center confuses correlation and causation.

Actually, there are two confusions involved: (1) because we often feel afraid when we are responding to danger, (we assume that) fear is the reason we respond the way we do; and (2) because the amygdala is responsible for the response to danger, (we conclude that) it must also be responsible for the feeling of fear.

From the beginning, my research suggested that the amygdala contributes to non-conscious aspects of fear, by which I meant the detection of threats and the control of body responses that help cope with the threat. Conscious fear, I argued in my books The Emotional Brain (Simon and Schuster, 1996) and Synaptic Self (Viking, 2002), and most recently in Anxious (Viking, 2015), is a product of cognitive systems in the neocortex that operate in parallel with the amygdala circuit.  But that subtlety – (the distinction between conscious and non-conscious aspects of fear) – was lost on most people.

When one hears the word “fear,” the pull of the vernacular meaning is so strong that the mind is compelled to think of the feeling of being afraid.  For this reason, I eventually concluded that it is not helpful to talk about conscious and non-conscious aspects of fear.  A feeling like “fear” is a conscious experience. To use the word “fear” in any other way only leads to confusion.

The amygdala has a role in fear, but it is not the one that is popularly described. It’s role in fear is more fundamental and also more mundane.  It is responsible for detecting and responding to threats, and only contributes to feelings of fear indirectly.  For example, the amygdala outputs driven by threat detection alter information processing in diverse regions of the brain.  One important set of outputs result in the secretion of chemicals throughout the brain (norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin) and body (hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol).  In situations of danger, these chemicals alert the organism that something important is happening. As a result, attention systems in the neocortex guide the perceptual search of the environment for an explanation for the highly aroused state.  The meaning of the environmental stimuli present is added by the retrieval of memories. If the stimuli are known sources of danger, “fear” schema are retrieved from memory.  My hypothesis, then, is that the feeling of “fear” results when the outcome of these various processes (attention, perception, memory, arousal) coalesce in consciousness and compel one to feel “fear.” This can only happen in a brain that has the cognitive wherewithal (to) have the concept of “me,” or what Endel Tulving has called “autonoetic consciousness.”  In a later post, I will elaborate on the autonoetic nature of our conscious feelings. (I’m confused: Does this mean that (IF) no animal other than Homo sapiens experiences self-awareness, or some similar “ME- NESS” then Homo sapiens is the only animal that suffers the “feeling” of fear? Lucky “lower” animals…) 

There’s nothing wrong with speculation in science (I just speculated about how feelings come about). But when a speculative interpretation becomes ingrained in the culture of science, and the culture at large, as an unquestioned fact, we have a problem. 

This problem is especially acute in neuroscience, where we start from mental state words (like fear) that have historical meanings, and treat the words as if they are entities that live in brain areas (like the amygdala).

Yes, yes, yes. This is EXACTLY what drives me nuts. 

In sum, there is no fear center out of which effuses the feeling of being afraid. “Fear” is, in my view, better thought of as a cognitively assembled conscious experience that is related to threat processing, but that should not be confused with the non-conscious processes that detect and control responses to threats.

Postscript:  Be suspicious of any statement that says a brain area is a center responsible for some function.

The notion of functions being products of brain areas or centers is left over from the days when most evidence about brain function was based on the effects of brain lesions localized to specific areas.

Psychology is stuck in the Old Days; the entire basis for  Asperger’s individuals being labeled as pathological and developmentally defective is nonsense. 

Today, we think of functions as products of systems rather than of areas. Neurons in areas contribute because they are part of a system. The amygdala, for example, contributes to threat detection because it is part of a threat detection system.  And just because the amygdala contributes to threat detection does not mean that threat detection is the only function to which it contributes. Amygdala neurons, for example, are also components of systems that process the significance of stimuli related to eating, drinking, sex, and addictive drugs.

Attractive qualities of a person with Asperger’s syndrome / LOL

Romantic Relationships for Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism

Tony Attwood, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Consultant
Minds & Hearts Brisbane, Australia

For what it’s worth: This is the famous “autism expert” who failed to diagnose his own son, who is Asperger. 

Excerpt: Attractive qualities…

Men with Asperger’s syndrome have many qualities that can be attractive to a prospective partner. 6 When conducting relationship counselling with one or both partners having the characteristics or diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, I often ask the typical partner, ‘What were the qualities that made your partner attractive when you first met him/her?’ Many women describe their first impressions of their partner with Asperger’s syndrome as being someone who is kind, attentive, and socially or emotionally immature. The term “silent, handsome stranger” can be used to describe someone who seems relatively quiet and good looking. Physical characteristics and attentiveness can be important, especially if the woman has doubts regarding her own self-esteem and physical attractiveness. The man’s lack of social and conversational skills can lead to his being perceived as the “silent stranger” whose social naivety and immaturity can be transformed by a partner who is a natural expert on empathy, socializing, and conversation. (Beware the insecure woman who seeks to change you; the mothering may turn into smothering and then, rage.)

I have noted that many of the partners of men, and sometimes of women, with Asperger’s syndrome have been at the other end of the social and empathy continuum. They are intuitive experts in Theory of Mind, namely understanding and empathizing with someone else’s perspective. (Why do I doubt this? If he / she is so empathetic, why can’t this “magic person” understand the Asperger “interior experience”?) They are naturally gifted in the ability to understand the world as experienced by the person with Asperger’s syndrome, much more so than a person of average Theory of Mind abilities. (This is ridiculous…)

Wow! Disaster! From my experience, this “magical empath” may honestly “believe” that he or she understands the Asperger way of being, and can change them into a “suitable for social life” partner (or possession). This widespread NT delusion dooms so many interactions between AS and NT. When the “Magical Empath” inevitably discovers that he / she CANNOT CHANGE THE ASPERGER, rage and outlandish attacks will follow. 

They (magic empath) are understanding and sympathetic, (the last thing I want is sympathy) and they provide guidance for their partner in social situations. Indeed, these are the characteristics that an adult with Asperger’s syndrome recognizes that he or she needs and would find desirable in a partner. (My opinion? This is absolutely not what I find attractive. Who needs or wants a “zoo keeper”? How insulting! A spouse who serves as a “guide dog”!) He or she will actively seek a partner with intuitive social knowledge who can be a social interpreter, is naturally nurturing, is socially able, and is maternal. (OMG! We’re perpetual children who need “nannies” – ) However, while a socially insightful and empathic partner may understand the perspective of the person with Asperger’s syndrome, the person with Asperger’s syndrome has considerable difficulty understanding the perspective of his or her typical partner. (It’s our problem;  after all, we’re defective) 

This is BS. The deeper my understanding of the Asperger way of being has become, the clearer the “rift” between NT and AS perception of reality, and therefore experience, is revealed. The inability of the NT to comprehend the degree of “differentness” that actually exists between neotenic social humans and AS individuals, all but precludes understanding of “who we are”. In terms of sensory experience, sensory processing and perception and what we “do with” our brains, my assessment is that Asperger types are, in the practical sense, a different species.

As long as NTs regard us as “broken” versions of themselves, there can be little rapprochement.

The attractiveness of a person with Asperger’s syndrome in a prospective relationship can be enhanced by intellectual ability, career prospects, and degree of attentiveness during courtship. (The Labrador retriever appeal) Sometimes, however, this attentiveness could be perceived by others as almost obsessive, and the words and actions appear to have been learned from watching Hollywood romantic movies. The person can be admired for speaking his mind, even if the comments may be perceived as offensive by others, due to his strong sense of social justice and clear moral beliefs. The fact that he may not be “macho” or wish to spend time with other men at sporting events or drinking alcohol also can be appealing for some women. The person with Asperger’s syndrome can be a late developer in terms of relationship experiences, which also can be an attractive feature. There may be no previous relationship “baggage.” I also have had many women describe to me how their partner with Asperger’s syndrome resembled their father. (My father was Asperger, and although, or likely because, we were great friends, and I knew him well, I would NEVER choose a partner like him) Having a parent with the signs of Asperger’s syndrome may have contributed to their choice of partner as an adult.

Oh please, do tell us! LOL

What are the characteristics that men find attractive in a woman with Asperger’s syndrome? The attributes can be similar to the characteristics women find appealing in a man with Asperger’s syndrome, especially the degree of attentiveness. (Our “male brains” of course – we’re both inadequate copies of males, and perverse females.) The woman’s social immaturity may be appealing to those men who have natural paternal and compassionate qualities. (The zoo keeper, guide dog, nanny again) There can be an appreciation of her physical attractiveness and admiration for her talents and abilities. Unfortunately, women (and sometimes men) with Asperger’s syndrome are not very good at making character judgments or identifying relationship predators. Women with Asperger’s syndrome often have low self-esteem, which can affect their choice of partner in a relationship. They can be the victim of various forms of abuse. As one woman with Asperger’s explained to me, ‘I set my expectations very low and as a result gravitated toward abusive people.’

So, this is what is “attractive” about AS women: Male predators find us to be “easy targets” because we’re desperate idiots. Thanks a lot!

For more insulting nonsense: https://iancommunity.org/cs/articles/relationships

Contemplating Dream Experiences

Where did the world go?

Where did the world go?

After I woke up from a particularly confusing jumble of dream images one morning, it occurred to me that the brain during sleep may be reacting to being cut off from the environment, as if it’s locked in a dark closet. The brain depends on a stream of information arriving from the senses; it uses this information to make sense of the environment and to model “reality.” Maybe it ‘freaks out’ when the visual information stream shuts down.

During REM sleep the brain tries to combine peripheral sensations with memory (like sounds from the street, or temperature changes in the room) but without the necessary full connection to the “outer world” via the senses, a coherent story can’t be composed. That is, the brain’s function, which is to make sense of the environment, is  to write an ongoing story that integrates all the available information that the brain needs to direct and control the body.

Deprived during sleep of sense information, especially visual orientation, the brain simply can’t thread images, sounds and motion into a coherent story. Whatever we may “dream” it is mostly forgotten, and if we do remember, the brain then strives to make a reasonable story from fragments that we can recall.

A Plea for Visual Thinking / Rudolf Arnheim

http://g-e-s-t-a-l-t.org/MEDIA/PDF/A-Plea-for-Visual-Thinking.pdf

A Plea for Visual Thinking

see also an interview with RA:  http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/rudolfarnheim.php

Rudolf Arnheim Reviewed work(s): Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), pp. 489-497 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343105 . Accessed: 31/01/2013 13:04

Perception and thinking are treated by textbooks of psychology in separate chapters. The senses are said to gather information about the outer world; thinking is said to process that information. Thinking emerges from this approach as the “higher,” more respectable function, to which consequently education assigns most of the school hours and most of the credit. The exercise of the senses is a mere recreation, relegated to spare time.

It is left to the playful practice of the arts and music and is readily dispensed with when a tight budget calls for economy. The habit of separating the intuitive from the abstractive functions, as they were called in the Middle Ages, goes far back in our tradition. Descartes, in the sixth Meditation, defined man as “a thing that thinks,” to which reasoning came naturally (it obviously doesn’t!); whereas imagining, the activity of the senses, required a special effort and was in no way necessary to the human nature or essence. (The arts and technology are vital to human health and happiness -)

Note: We see the “elevation” of these narrow ideas about “a hierarchy of thinking” (that damn pyramid obsession again) in the denigration of ASD / Asperger abilities: (formal, old-fashioned use of language if language is present; echoing or copying (parroting) of language with an extensive “memorized” vocabulary, but without a “clue” to the “deeper meaning”  of language; an indictment of ASD / AS individuals as robots that are utterly lacking in imagination or creativity; as enthralled by boring subject matter (to social types) and above all, the failure to accomplish what has recently been elevated to the “highest level of cognition attainable, socio-emotional language, exemplified by: Have a nice day!

For “verbally deficient” autistics, this means an immediate judgement of low intelligence.  

So far, we have a very clear historical explanation as to why “visual-sensory thinking” got trashed, demoted and eventually designated as a “developmental disability” by American psychologists. This vital and creative cognitive process has vanished from the “acceptable human social repertoire” of “brain activity” in puritanical” American culture.  

The passive ability to receive images of sensory things, said Descartes, would be useless if there did not exist in the mind a further and higher active faculty capable of shaping these images and of correcting the errors that derive from sensory experience. (Exactly backwards to how thinking works) A century later Leibniz spoke of two levels of clear cognition.’ Reasoning was cognition of the higher degree: it was distinct, that is, it could analyze things into their components. Sensory experience, on the other hand, was cognition of the lower order: it also could be clear but it was confused, in the original Latin sense of the term; that is, all elements fused and mingled together in an indivisible whole. Thus artists, who rely on this inferior faculty (as do many top inventors and scientists), are good judges of works of art but when asked what is wrong with a particular piece that displeases them can only reply that it lacks nescio quid, a certain “I don’t know what.” (Intuitively, you “get it” or you don’t)

Yes, the Descartes – thing is nonsense. Just because a man is a genius is one field, doesn’t mean that he is an expert on everything; but NTs love authority and will believe without question what “great men” say. Our present predicament of relying on a “false pyramid of thinking” based on “dumb” (not reasonable) value judgements from (European white male) heroes of the past, has devastated the power of thinking “outside the box of verbal abstraction and generalities” in entire societies.

In our own time, language has been designated as the place of refuge from the problems incurred in direct perceptual experience; this in spite of the fact that language, although a powerful help to our thinking, does not offer in and by itself an arena in which thinking can take place. Thus the very title of a recent collection of articles by Jerome S. Bruner suggests that in order to arrive at knowledge the human mind must go “beyond the information given” by direct sensory experience. Bruner adopts the belief that the cognitive development of a child passes through three stages. The child explores the world first through action, then through imagery, and finally through language. 

The implication is, unfortunately, that with the arrival at a next level the earlier one falls by the wayside.

This is obviously untrue: adults retain modes of “thinking” from childhood stages. Magical thinking is the default mode of thinking for neotenic social typicals. Magic  “fills in” the gaps left by inferior sensory data and perception, supplying “fantastical” explanations for phenomena. Reasoning, critical analysis, and effective understanding of “how the universe works” (math-science) may be native to a few individuals, but must be taught and cultivated in the majority of children. This is a taboo in highly religious American culture. Reality-based thinking has been abandoned, even demonized, in American education – and for several generations – in favor of socially-promoted emotional narcissism that contributes to a very distorted social reality and description of “being human.” That is, a supernatural orientation is the result of developmental stagnation, and furnishes the status quo in religious, psychological and social engineering regimes. Neoteny is a fact of life for the modern social human. 

Thus when the child learns to go beyond a particular constellation directly given to his eyes, the ability to restructure the situation in a more suitable way is not credited by Bruner to the maturing of perceptual capacity but to the switch toward a new processing medium, namely, language. Thus language is praised as the indispensable instrument for essential refinements of the mind, toward which in fact, language is little more than a reflector.

To claim that “cognition” suddenly appeared out of nowhere, only with the “arrival of human verbal language” is idiotic and unbelievably arrogant! 550 million years of “arms race” evolution, but “sensory thinking” is inferior…

We are told by psychologists that “autistic” children are defective (low intelligence) due to two outrageous prejudices:

1. Lack of verbal language use, and/or failure to use language as prescribed (social scripts) is automatically a “sign” of defective development. (This overturns and discards 550 millions of years of evolution)

2. Superior sensory perception and processing, which are autistic strengths, are denigrated as ‘low-level’ cognition.

Since experts insist that perception offers nothing better than the fairly mechanical recording of the stimuli arriving at the sensory receptors, it is useful to respond with a few examples which show that perception transcends constantly and routinely the mere mechanical recording of sensory raw material. (I am limiting myself in the following to visual perception.) At a fairly simple level, the psychologist Roger N. Shepard and his coworkers have shown that visual imagination can rotate the spatial position of a given object when a different view is needed to solve a problem, for example, in order to identify the object with, or distinguish it from, a similar one. (I have noted previously that this type of “test” is a very limited and rule-based conception of what visual thinking can and does accomplish) This is worth knowing. But reports by artists and scientists indicate that visual imagination is capable of much more spectacular exploits. Indeed, the imagination of the average person demands our respect.

Let me use an example cited in an article by Lewis E. Walkup. The solution of the puzzle should be attempted without the help of an illustration. Imagine a large cube made up of twenty-seven smaller cubes, that is, three layers of nine cubes each. Imagine further that the entire outer surface of the large cube is painted red and ask yourself how many of the smaller cubes will be red on three sides, two sides, one side, or no side at all.

SEE Skipped TEXT

Far from abandoning our image, we discovered it to be a beautiful, composition, in which each element was defined by its place in the whole. Did we need language to perform this operation? Not at all; although language could help us to codify our results. Did we need intelligence, inventiveness, creative discovery? Yes, some. In a modest way, the operation we performed is of the stuff that good science and good art are made of.

Was it seeing or was it thinking that solved the problem? Obviously, the distinction is absurd.

In order to see we had to think; and we had nothing to think about if we were not looking. But our claim goes farther. We assert not only that perceptual problems can be solved by perceptual operations but that productive thinking solves any kind of problem in the perceptual realm because there exists no other arena in which true thinking can take place. Therefore it is now necessary to show, at least sketchily, how one goes about solving a highly “abstract” problem. For the sake of an example, let me ask the old question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Instead of looking up the answer in Saint Augustine or Spinoza, I watch what happens when I begin to think. In what medium does the thinking take place? Images start to form. Motivational forces, in order to become manipulable, take the shape of arrows. These arrows line up in a sequence, each pushing the next-a deterministic chain that does not seem to leave room for any freedom (fig. la). Next I ask What is freedom? and I see a sheaf of vectors issuing from a base (fig. lb). Each arrow is free, within the limits of the constellation, to move in any direction it pleases and to reach as far as it can and will. But there is something incomplete about this image of freedom. It operates in empty space, and there is no sense to freedom without the context of the world to which it applies. My next image adds an external system of a world minding its own business and thereby frustrating the arrows that issue from my freedom-seeking creature (fig. ic). I must ask: Are the two systems incompatible in principle? In my … GO TO: 

http://g-e-s-t-a-l-t.org/MEDIA/PDF/A-Plea-for-Visual-Thinking.pdf

 

Exciting Paper / Enhanced Perception (Autism)

Royal Society Publishing
Note: I think this “pattern-structure perception” applies also to Asperger individuals who are visual sensory thinkers, but proficient in verbal language. That is, it’s not an “either or” situation in actual brains. (This “either or” insistence is NT projection of their black and white, oppositional, competitive obsession). Specific brains can and do process and sensory info and utilize verbal language; these are not “matter-antimatter” interactions as NTs imagine.  

Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity

Laurent Mottron, Michelle Dawson, Isabelle Soulières / .

Full paper: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1385.long

5. Savant creativity: a different relationship to structure

Savant performance cannot be reduced to uniquely efficient rote memory skills (see Miller 1999, for a review), and encompasses not only the ability for strict recall, requiring pattern completion, but also the ability to produce creative, new material within the constraints of a previously integrated structure, i.e. the process of pattern generation. This creative, flexible, albeit structure-guided, aspect of savant productions has been clearly described (e.g. Pring 2008). It is analogous to what Miller (1999, p. 33) reported on error analyses in musical memory: ‘savants were more likely to impose structure in their renditions of musical fragments when it was absent in the original, producing renditions that, if anything, were less ‘literal’ than those of the comparison participants’. Pattern generation is also intrinsic to the account provided by Waterhouse (1988).

The question of how to produce creative results using perceptual mechanisms, including those considered low-level in non-autistics, is at the very centre of the debate on the relationship between the nature of the human factor referred to as intelligence and the specific cognitive and physiological mechanisms of savant syndrome (maths or memory, O’Connor & Hermelin 1984; rules or regularities, Hermelin & O’Connor 1986; implicit or explicit, O’Connor 1989; rhyme or reason, Nettlebeck 1999). It also echoes the questions raised by recent evidence of major discrepancies in the measurement of autistic intelligence according to the instruments used (Dawson et al. 2007).

A combination of multiple pattern completions at various scales could explain how a perceptual mechanism, apparently unable to produce novelty and abstraction in non-autistics, contributes in a unique way to autistic creativity. The atypically independent cognitive processes characteristic of autism allow for the parallel, non-strategic integration of patterns across multiple levels and scales, without information being lost owing to the automatic hierarchies governing information processing and limiting the role of perception in non-autistics. (Remember; in visual perception and memory the image is the content; therefore it is dense with detail and connections – “patterns”. NTs “fill-in” the gaps in their perception with “magical / supernatural” explanations for phenomena)

An interest in internal structure may also explain a specific, and new, interest for domains never before encountered. For example, a savant artist newly presented with the structure of visual tones learned this technique more rapidly and proficiently than typical students (Pring et al. 1997). In addition, the initial choice of domain of so-called restricted interest demonstrates the versatility of the autistic brain, in the sense that it represents spontaneous orientation towards, and mastering of, a new domain without external prompts or instruction. How many such domains are chosen would then depend on the free availability of the kinds, amounts and arrangements of information which define the structure of the domain, according to aspects of information that autistics process well. Generalization also occurs under these circumstances, for example, to materials that share with the initial material similar formal properties, i.e. those that allow ‘veridical mapping’ with the existing ability. In Pring & Hermelin (2002), a savant calendar calculator with absolute pitch displayed initial facility with basic number–letter associations, and was able to quickly learn new associations and provide novel manipulations of these letter–number correspondences.

The apparently ‘restricted’ aspects of restricted interests are at least partly related to pattern detection, in that there are positive emotions in the presence of material presenting a high level of internal structure, and a seeking out of material related in form and structure to what has already been encountered and memorized. Limitation of generalization may also be explained by the constraints inherent in the role of similarity in pattern detection, which would prevent an extension of isomorphisms to classes of elements that are excessively dissimilar to those composing the initial form. In any case, there is no reason why autistic perceptual experts would be any less firm, diligent or enthusiastic in their specific preferences for materials and domains than their non-autistic expert counterparts. However, it must also be acknowledged that the information autistics require in order to choose and generalize any given interest is likely to be atypical in many respects (in that this may not be the information that non-autistics would require), and may not be freely or at all available. In addition, the atypical ways in which autistics and savants learn well have attracted little interest and are as yet poorly studied and understood, such that we remain ignorant as to the best ways in which to teach these individuals (Dawson et al. 2008). Therefore, a failure to provide autistics or savants with the kinds of information and opportunities from which they can learn well must also be considered as explaining apparent limitations in the interests and abilities of savant and non-savant autistics (see also Heaton 2009).

6. Structure, emotion and expertise

While reliable information about the earliest development or manifestations of savant abilities in an individual is very sparse, biographies of some savants suggest a sequence starting with uninstructed, sometimes apparently passive, but intent and attentive (e.g. Horwitz et al. 1965; Selfe 1977; Sacks 1995) orientation to and study of their materials of interest. In keeping with our proposal about how savants perceive and integrate patterns, materials that spontaneously attract interest may be at any scale or level within a structure, including those that appear unsuitable for the individual’s apparent developmental level. For example, Paul, a 4-year-old autistic boy (with a presumed mental age of 17 months), who was found to have outstanding literacy, exceeding that of typical 9-year olds, intently studied newspapers starting before his second birthday (Atkin & Lorch 2006). It should not be surprising that in savants, the consistent or reliable availability of structured or formatted information and materials can influence the extent of the resulting ability. For example, the types of words easily memorized by NM, proper names, in addition to being redundant in Quebec, share a highly similar structural presentation in the context where NM learned them, including phone books, obituaries and grave markers (Mottron et al. 1996, 1998). However, a fuller account of why there is the initial attraction to and preference for materials with a high degree of intrinsic organization, and for specific kinds of such structured materials in any particular individual, is necessary.

Positive emotions are reported in connection with the performance of savant abilities (e.g. Selfe 1977; Sloboda et al. 1985; Miller 1989). Therefore, it is possible that a chance encounter with structured material gives birth to an autistic special interest, which then serves as the emotional anchor of the codes involved in savant abilities, associated with both positive emotions and a growing behavioural orientation towards similar patterns (Mercier et al. 2000). Brain structures involved in the processing of emotional content can be activated during attention to objects of special interest in autistics (Grelotti et al. 2005). So-called repetitive play in autism, associated with positive emotions, consists of grouping objects or information encompassing, as in the codes described above, series of similar or equivalent attributes. In addition, in our clinical experience, we observe that repetitive autistic movements are often associated with positive emotions.

One possibility worth further investigation would be that patterns in structured materials, in themselves, may trigger positive emotions in autism and that arbitrary alterations to these patterns may produce negative emotions (Yes! Stop f—ing with our interests!)—a cognitive account of the insistence on sameness with which autistics have been characterized from the outset (Kanner 1943). Individuals who excel in detecting, integrating and completing patterns at multiple levels and scales, as we propose is the case with savants, would have a commensurate sensitivity to anomalies within the full array of perceived similarities and regularities (e.g. O’Connell 1974). In Hermelin & O’Connor (1990), an autistic savant (with apparently very limited language skills) known for his numerical abilities, including factorization, but who had never been asked to identify prime numbers, instantly expressed—without words—his perfect understanding of this concept when first presented with a prime number. The superior ability of autistics to detect anomalies—departures from pattern or similarity—has accordingly been reported (e.g. Plaisted et al. 1998; Baron-Cohen 2005).

Overexposure to material highly loaded with internal structure plausibly favours implicit learning and storage of information units based on their perceptual similarity, and more generally, of expertise effects. Savants benefit from expertise effects to the same extent as non-autistic experts (Miller 1999). Among expertise effects is the recognition of units at a more specific level compared with non-experts and the suppression of negative interference effects among members of the same category. Reduced interference has been demonstrated between lists of proper names in a savant memorizer (Mottron et al. 1998). Another expertise effect is the ‘frequency effect’, the relative ease with which memorization and manipulation of units, to which an individual has been massively exposed, can be accomplished (Segui et al. 1982). For example, Heavey et al. (1999) found that calendar calculators recalled more calendar-related items than controls matched for age, verbal IQ and diagnosis, but exhibited unremarkable short- or long-term recall of more general material unrelated to calendars. These two aspects of expertise would favour the emergence and the stabilization of macrounits (e.g. written code in a specific language, or set of pitches arranged by harmonic rules), which are perceptually the spatio-temporal conjunctions of recognizable patterns related by isomorphisms. Conversely, pattern detection may be unremarkable or even diminished in the case of arbitrarily presented unfamiliar material (Frith 1970).

Identifying savant syndrome as aptitude, material availability and expertise, combined with an autistic brain characterized by EPF, is also informative on the relationship between savant syndrome and peaks of ability in non-savant autistics. Perceptual peaks are largely measured using materials with which the participant has not been trained, whereas savant syndrome encompasses the effects of a life spent pursuing the processing of specific information and materials. We therefore forward the possibility that the range and extent of autistic abilities may be revealed only following access to specific kinds, quantities and arrangements of information. However, we do not expect savant abilities to differ from non-savant autistic peaks of ability in their basic mechanisms. According to this understanding of differences between savant and non-savant autistics, the fact that not all autistics are savants is no more surprising than the fact that not all non-autistics are experts.

NTs fill-in the gaps in their perception of the environment with magical beliefs; magical thinking is a developmental stage in young children.  

What psychologists say: Stage by Stage, age 3 – 4

  • Threes and fours often use magical thinking to explain causes of events.
  • Preschoolers sometimes assign their own thinking as a reason for occurrences that are actually out of their control.
  • Three- and 4-year-olds believe, with their powers of magical thinking, that they can change reality into anything they wish.

ASD / AS Intelligence Revisited / Guess what? We’re intelligent. DUH!

PLoS One. 2011; 6(9): e25372.
Published online 2011 Sep 28. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0025372
PMID: 21991394

The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome?

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182210/

Isabelle Soulières, 1 , 2 , * Michelle Dawson, 1 Morton Ann Gernsbacher, 3 and Laurent Mottron  / Efthimios M. C. Skoulakis, Editor

Introduction

Individuals on the autistic spectrum are currently identified according to overt atypicalities in socio-communicative interactions, focused interests and repetitive behaviors [1]. More fundamentally, individuals on the autistic spectrum are characterized by atypical information processing across domains (social, non-social, language) and modalities (auditory, visual), raising the question of how best to assess and understand these individuals’ intellectual abilities. Early descriptions [2], [3] and quantifications (e.g. [4]) of their intelligence emphasized the distinctive unevenness of their abilities. While their unusual profile of performance on popular intelligence test batteries remains a durable empirical finding [5], it is eclipsed by a wide range of speculative deficit-based interpretations. (based on socio-cultural arrogance) Findings of strong performance on specific tests have been regarded as aberrant islets of ability arising from an array of speculated deficits (e.g., “weak central coherence”; [6]) and as incompatible with genuine human intelligence.

For example, Hobson ([7], p. 211) concluded that regardless of strong measured abilities in some areas, autistics lack “both the grounding and the mental flexibility for intelligent thought.

Thus, there is a long-standing assumption that a vast majority of autistic individuals are intellectually impaired. In recent years, this assumption has been challenged by investigations that exploit two divergent approaches —represented by Wechsler scales of intelligence and Raven’s Progressive Matrices— to measuring human intelligence [8]. Wechsler scales estimate IQ through batteries of ten or more different subtests, each of which involves different specific oral instructions and tests different specific skills. The subtests are chosen to produce scores that, for the typical population, are correlated and combine to reflect a general underlying ability. Advantages of this approach include the availability of subtest profiles of specific skill strengths and weaknesses, index scores combining related subtests, and dichotomized Performance versus Verbal IQ scores (PIQ vs. VIQ), as well as a Full-Scale IQ (FSIQ) score. However, the range of specific skills assayed by Wechsler scales is limited (e.g., reading abilities are not included), and atypical individuals who lack specific skills (e.g., typical speech processing or speech production) or experiences (e.g., typical range of interests) may produce scores that do not reflect those individuals’ general intelligence.

In contrast, Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) is a single self-paced test that minimizes spoken instruction and obviates speech production or typicality of experiences [9]. The format is a matrix of geometric designs in which the final missing piece must be selected from among an array of displayed choices. Sixty items are divided into five sets that increase progressively in difficulty and complexity, from simple figural to complex analytic items. RPM is regarded both as the most complex and general single test of intelligence [10], [11] and as the best marker for fluid intelligence, which in turn encompasses reasoning and novel problem-solving abilities [8], [12]. RPM tests flexible co-ordination of attentional control, working memory, rule inference and integration, high-level abstraction, and goal-hierarchy management [13], . These abilities, as well as fluid intelligence itself, have been proposed as areas of deficit in autistic persons, particularly when demands increase in complexity [16], [17], [18], [19].

Against these assumptions, we reported that autistic children and adults, with Wechsler FSIQ ranging from 40 to 125, score an average 30 percentile points higher on RPM than on Wechsler scales, while typical individuals do not display this discrepancy, as shown in Figure 1 [20]. RPM item difficulty, as reflected in per-item error rate, was highly correlated between the autistic and non-autistic children (r = .96). An RPM advantage for autistic individuals has been reported in diverse samples. Bolte et al. [21] tested autistic, other atypical (non-autism diagnoses), and typical participants who varied widely in their age and the version of Wechsler and RPM they were administered; autistics with Wechsler FSIQ under 85 were unique in having a relative advantage on RPM. Charman et al. [22] reported significantly higher RPM than Wechsler scores (FSIQ and PIQ) for a large population-based sample of school-aged autistic spectrum children. In Morsanyi and Holyoak [23], autistic children, who were matched with non-autistic controls on two Wechsler subtests (Block Design and Vocabulary), displayed a numeric, though not significant, advantage within the first set of Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices items.

The nature of autistic intelligence was also investigated in an fMRI study [24]. Autistics and non-autistics matched on Wechsler FSIQ were equally accurate in solving the 60 RPM items presented in random order, but autistics performed dramatically faster than their controls. This advantage, which was not found in a simple perceptual control task, ranged from 23% for easier RPM items to 42% for complex analytic RPM items.

Autistics’ RPM task performance was associated with greater recruitment of extrastriate areas and lesser recruitment of lateral prefrontal and medial posterior parietal cortex, illustrating their hallmark enhanced perception [25].

One replicated manifestation of autistics’ enhanced perception is superior performance on the Wechsler Block Design subtest, suggesting a visuospatial peak of ability [26]. Even when autistics’ scores on all other Wechsler subtests fall below their RPM scores, their Block Design and RPM scores lie at an equivalent level [20].

Thus, enhanced occipital activity, superior behavioral performance on RPM, and visuospatial peaks co-occur in individuals whose specific diagnosis is autism, suggesting an increased and more autonomous role of perception in autistic reasoning and intelligence [24].

But what about individuals whose specific diagnosis is Asperger syndrome? In Dawson et al.’s previous investigations of autistics’ RPM performance, Asperger individuals were excluded. Asperger syndrome is a relatively low-prevalence [27] autistic spectrum diagnosis characterized by intelligence scores within the normal range (non-Asperger autistics may have IQs in any range). Two main distinctions between the specific diagnosis of autism and Asperger syndrome are relevant to the question of intelligence in the autistic spectrum. First, while their verbal and nonverbal communication is not necessarily typical across development, Asperger individuals do not, by diagnostic definition, exhibit characteristic autistic delays and anomalies in spoken language. While both autistic and Asperger individuals produce an uneven profile on Wechsler subtests, Asperger individuals’ main strengths, in contrast with those of autistics (see [20]), are usually seen in verbal subtests (count me in)  (as illustrated in Figure 2; see also [28]). Although RPM is often deemed a “nonverbal” test of intelligence, in practice typical individuals often rely on verbal abilities to perform most RPM items. (NOTE: I have commented on this in another post, regarding the pre-test tutoring available to students, during which the “rules of the game” are explained. Is this “cheating” in that “fluid intelligence” and not learned procedures, are supposedly being measured?)  

Second, at a group level, Asperger individuals do not display the autistic visuospatial peak in Wechsler scales; rather, their Block Design subtest performance tends to be unremarkably equivalent to their FSIQ (see Figure 2 and also [32]). The question of whether Asperger individuals display the autistic advantage on RPM over Wechsler is thus accompanied by the possibility that the Asperger subgroup represents an avenue for further investigating the nature of this discrepancy. (I am quite baffled at times by my “native” Asperger experience, which is overwhelmingly visual-sensory, but that verbal language is a “go to tool” for translating that experience into “acceptable” form. Very practical! Why does this “arrangement” seem to occur in Asperger’s?)

Our goal was to investigate whether the autistic advantage on RPM is also characteristic of Asperger syndrome and, further, whether RPM performance reveals a fundamental property of intelligence across the autistic spectrum. If the mechanism underlying autistics’ advantage on RPM is limited to visuospatial peaks or to language difficulties disproportionately hampering Wechsler performance, then the advantage should not be found in Asperger individuals. Indeed, as predicted by Bolte et al. [21], Asperger individuals should perform even better on Wechsler scales than on RPM. If instead the underlying mechanism is more general and versatile, then Asperger individuals should demonstrate at least some advantage on RPM. Preliminary findings have suggested this to be the case. In one recent study, Asperger children (age 6–12) obtained significantly higher raw scores on RPM than did typical children matched on age and Wechsler performance [33].

For all the “poo-bah” and graphs, go to original paper (and related papers):  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182210/

Discussion

Asperger individuals differ from autistics in their early speech development, in having Wechsler scores in the normal range, and in being less likely to be characterized by visuospatial peaks. In this study, Asperger individuals presented with some significant advantages, and no disadvantages, on RPM compared to Wechsler FSIQ, PIQ, and VIQ. Asperger adults demonstrated a significant advantage, relative to their controls, in their RPM scores over their Wechsler FSIQ and PIQ scores, while for Asperger children this advantage was found for their PIQ scores. For both Asperger adults and children and strikingly similar to autistics in a previous study [20], their best Wechsler performances were similar in level to, and therefore plausibly representative of, their general intelligence as measured by RPM.

We have proposed that autistics’ cognitive processes function in an atypically independent way, leading to “parallel, non-strategic integration of patterns across multiple levels and scales” [36] and to versatility in cognitive processing [26].

Such “independent thinking” suggests ways in which apparently specific or isolated abilities can co-exist with atypical but flexible, creative, and complex achievements. Across a wide range of tasks, including or perhaps

especially in complex tasks, autistics do not experience to the same extent the typical loss or distortion of information that characterizes non-autistics’ mandatory hierarchies of processing

Therefore, autistics can maintain more veridical representations (e.g. representations closer to the actual information present in the environment) when performing high level, complex tasks. The current results suggest that such a mechanism is also present in Asperger syndrome and therefore represents a commonality across the autistic spectrum. Given the opportunity, different subgroups of autistics may advantageously apply more independent thinking to different available aspects of information: verbal information, by persons whose specific diagnosis is Asperger’s, and perceptual information, by persons whose specific diagnosis is autism.

One could alternatively suggest that the construct measured by RPM is relative and thus would reflect processes other than intelligence in autistic spectrum individuals. However, a very high item difficulty correlation is observed between autistic individuals and typical controls, as well as between Asperger individuals and typical controls. As previously noted [20], these high correlations indicate that RPM is measuring the same construct in autistics and non-autistics, a finding now extended to Asperger syndrome.

Therefore, dismissing these RPM findings as not reflecting genuine human intelligence in autistic and Asperger individuals would have the same effect for non-autistic individuals.

The discrepancies here revealed between alternative measures of intelligence in a subgroup of individuals underline the ambiguous non-monolithic definition of intelligence. Undoubtedly, autistics’ intelligence is atypical and may not be as easily assessed and revealed with standard instruments. But given the essential and unique role that RPM has long held in defining general and fluid intelligence (e.g., [37]),

we again suggest that both the level and nature of autistic intelligence have been underestimated.

Thus, while there has been a long tradition of pursuing speculated autistic deficits, it is important to consider the possibility of strength-based mechanisms as underlying autistics’ atypical but genuine intelligence.

The Psych Industry, Pop-Science and abstract thinking

How is the concept of abstract thinking used in “the helping, caring, fixing” industry, which claims to understand and describe THINKING as a human behavior?

Quotes from psych and other sources: (Very far removed from any “coherent” definition: ridiculous, actually.)

Abstract Thinking

“Abstract thinking describes thoughts that are symbolic and conceptual and not concrete or specific. Concrete thinking focuses on the present or here and now specificity (facts and specific objects exist temporarily, but thankfully for NTs, they vanish in a nanosecond) while abstract thinking is based on concepts, principles, and relationships between ideas and objects.”

“For example, a statement derived from concrete thinking would be “There are 3 dogs.” An abstract perspective could be thinking about numbers, different types of dogs, how some animals are pets, or how wolves and dogs are related. Young children are essentially just concrete thinkers – abstract thinking develops with age.” (Or doesn’t)

How about this gem”? 

1. Concrete thinking does not have any depth. It just refers to thinking in the periphery. On the other hand, abstract thinking goes under the surface.
2. Concrete thinking is just regarding the facts. On the other hand abstract thinking goes down below the facts.
3. Abstract thinking may be referred to the figurative description whereas the concrete thinker does not think so.
4. Unlike the concrete thinking, abstract thinking involves some mental process. (Unlike concrete thinking, which originates in the spleen)
5. A person with concrete thinking does not think beyond the facts. They do not have the ability to think beyond a certain limit. (The supernatural delusion that there is a magic “space” behind, above, outside reality, which contains, a priori, all the nonsense that the NT brain is capable of generating) 
6. When compared to concrete thinking, abstract thinking is about understanding the multiple meanings.
7. While abstract thinking is based on ideas, concrete thinking is based on what the person sees as well as the facts.

Following is by an Asperger. Note that concrete vs. abstract doesn’t enter the picture; accurate use of language (and self-knowledge) is stressed, and also visual processing. 

I feel that the whole empathy thing is an example of the danger of NT language. The concept is that autistics do not intuitively know what NTs are thinking and feeling and do not automatically share those thoughts and feelings with NTs. Same thing happens in the opposite direction. But NT language has turned this concept of empathy into the word “empathy” which has become {equivalent to} or more like {made an umbrella for} the word “compassion” and the phrase “caring about people” and the phrase “ability to love”, all of which words or phrases describe different concepts, but all the different concepts subsumed under this one word “empathy”, such that the simple concept of lacking empathy has come to mean also lacking compassion, caring about people, being able to love people. But in reality, each concept is like a different big giant chemical structure, but all these structures are being given the same verbal label by NTs, who see the world in lower resolution than autistics do and therefore habitually apply low-resolution verbal labels to cover all manner of distinct structures, or concepts.

In autistic language, this conflation would be harder to make, because instead of applying this generalized highly abstract verbal label “empathy”, autistics would just say, more explicitly and concretely, “I don’t know, automatically and instantly, what you are thinking and feeling, and I don’t share your thoughts and feelings, because the same stimuli generate different responses in me vs. you, so you’re going to have to explain your perspective for me to have a theoretical understanding of it (the catch here for NTs is that they may not be able to explain their behavior, thinking or “feelings” at all; may not understand their own “state of mind” because they have never thought it through! They have been “taught” all their lives that the “shallow social formulas” that they obey are the only possible and correct reactions.) … and I will explain mine to you afterwards, because guess what, I do want to know your perspective, because I do care about you and therefore want you to feel happy as much of the time as possible, and the first concept I talked about explicitly was what you call ’empathy’ and the second concept that I talked about explicitly was ‘caring about people’.”

From two psychology websites:

Jean Piaget uses the terms “concrete” and “formal” to describe the different types of learning. Concrete thinking involves facts and descriptions about everyday, tangible objects, while abstract (formal operational) thinking involves a mental process. 

Concrete idea Abstract idea
Dense things sink. It will sink if its density is greater than the density of the fluid.
You breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Gas exchange takes place between the air in the alveoli and the blood.
Plants get water through their roots. Water diffuses through the cell membrane of the root hair cells.

Would someone please explain to me how the phrases in the “right column” “involve a mental process” (and where does concrete thinking take place, in the feet? In a cabinet? On the moon?) when these are only more detailed descriptions of concrete objects doing concrete things?

These are abstract formulas.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Abstract thinking is the ability to think about objects, principles, and ideas that are not physically present. (Where are they?) It is related to symbolic thinking, which uses the substitution of a symbol for an object or idea. (A dove means peace)

A variety of everyday behaviors constitute abstract thinking. These include:

  • Using metaphors and analogies;
  • Understanding relationships between verbal and non-verbal ideas;
  • Spatial reasoning and mentally manipulating and rotating objects;
  • Complex reasoning, such as using critical thinking, the scientific method, and other approaches to reasoning through problems.

How Does Abstract Reasoning Develop?
Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget argued that children develop abstract reasoning skills as part of their last stage of development, known as the formal operational stage. This stage occurs between the ages of 11 and 16. (Really? Or is this over-generalization?) Yes… However, the beginnings of abstract reasoning may be present earlier, and gifted children frequently develop abstract reasoning at an earlier age. Some psychologists have argued that the development of abstract reasoning is not a natural developmental stage. Rather, it is the product of culture, experience, and teaching.

Children’s stories frequently operate on two levels of reasoning: abstract and concrete. The concrete story, for example, might tell of a princess who married Prince Charming, while the abstract version of the story tells of the importance of virtue and working hard. (Is this really abstract thinking, or delivery of a “hidden” socio-cultural message?) While young children are often incapable of complex abstract reasoning, they frequently recognize the underlying lessons of these stories, indicating some degree of abstract reasoning skills. (Abstract reasoning leads to “getting the social message…”)

Abstract Reasoning and Intelligence
Abstract reasoning is a component of most intelligence tests. Skills such as mental object rotation, mathematics, higher-level language usage, and the application of concepts to particulars all require abstract reasoning skills. Learning disabilities can inhibit the development of abstract reasoning skills. People with severe intellectual disabilities may never develop abstract reasoning skills, and may take abstract concepts such as metaphors and analogies literally.

WOW! Here we have the CONFLATION of “abstract reasoning” (undefined) with intelligence (also undefined), which is limited to a “grab bag of skills” – from the visual manipulation of objects (is visual-spatial mental activity the same as abstract thinking, or is it sensory thinking? ) to maths (much of which is follow-the-rules grunt-work) to “high level language usage” (language use based on social judgement as dictated by the Top o’ the Pyramid folks). 

From a teacher resource center:

WHAT ARE CONCRETE AND ABSTRACT THINKING?

Abstract thinking is a level of thinking (thinking is a pyramid built of a hierarchy of types of thinking) about things that is removed from the facts of the “here and now” (facts only exist in the present? Bizarre!), and from specific examples of the things or concepts being thought about. Abstract thinkers are able to reflect on events and ideas, and on attributes and relationships separate from the objects that have those attributes or share those relationships. Thus, for example, a concrete thinker can think about this particular dog; a more abstract thinker can think about dogs in general. A concrete thinker can think about this dog on this rug; a more abstract thinker can think about spatial relations, like “on” (and a concrete thinker can’t use a preposition such as “on”? This is bizarre.) 

See: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/word-classes-or-parts-of-speech)

A concrete thinker can see that this ball is big; a more abstract thinker can think about size in general. A concrete thinker can count three cookies; a more abstract thinker can think about numbers. A concrete thinker can recognize that John likes Betty; a more abstract thinker can reflect on emotions, like affection. (So abstract thinking requires an activity called reflection? Definition?)

Another example of concrete thinking in young children is a two or three year old who thinks that as long as he stays out of his bedroom, it will not be bed time. In this case, the abstract concept of time (bedtime) is understood in terms of the more concrete concept of place (bedroom). The abstract idea of bedtime comes to mean the concrete idea of being in my bedroom.

Wow! I’ve noticed something very strange.  

In myriad examples of “supposed abstractions”, the mistake is made of confusing  “non-time dependent” abstractions, like the mass, density, volume formulas above, with the crazy notion that abstractions do not occur, and are not applicable, in the present, which tolerates the very temporary existence of “facts”. This is utterly “NT” bizarre; NTs fear facts. I suppose banishing them from the past and future makes facts less scary? Wait a second, and they will magically “go away”… 

Another example that applies to two or three year olds is the following. One of the favorite Dr. Seuss books is Green Eggs and Ham, which ends with the narrator changing his mind from rejecting green eggs and ham under any circumstances to trying them and actually liking them. At a concrete level of understanding, the story is about a stubborn person changing his mind. At a more abstract level of understanding, it is about people in general being capable of modifying their thoughts and desires even when they are convinced that they cannot or do not want to do so. This more abstract level of understanding can be appreciated by two and three year old children only if the higher level of meaning comes out of a discussion of the book with a more mature adult. At older ages and higher levels of thinking, this same process of more mature thinkers facilitating higher levels of abstraction in less mature thinkers characterizes the process of teaching abstract thinking. For example, this is how great philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, taught their pupils how to think abstractly.

WOW!

So abstract thinking is “a higher level of thinking” (there goes most of applied science and engineering; most skills; most technology; most human creativity – making art, music and performing dance, and innovation of any “concrete object” of value into the “trash bin” of low-level thinking).

It is suspicious that “abstract thinking” is represented as providing a higher level of meaning; in this context, higher level of meaning = “the social message of obedience” and abstract = hidden or deceptive.

Be a good girl or boy: Eat your eggs and ham, even if they are covered in green mold that will poison you.

I’ve given myself a headache, again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Hell is Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking? / Does anyone actually know?

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abstract-objects/

This “post question” is vital to untangling much of what is said by “experts” about the ASD / Asperger “way of thinking”. One reads that we are “socially stupid” because we think concretely; receive language literally; fail to “comprehend” the gloriously sophisticated and complex use of “social language” (Have a nice day! Those jeans make you look skinny!) The assertion is that concrete thinking ranks as a “lower level” type of thinking on the grandiose pyramidal system of “human social development”, which has become the only development that “counts” toward being a “true” Homo sapiens. Other “experts” claim that we are “good at” abstract thinking; math and science and engineering, but this assumes that these activities are exclusively the product of abstract thinking! Far from it. 

We have to start somewhere! 

Abstract Objects

First published Thu Jul 19, 2001; substantive revision Mon Feb 13, 2017

It is widely supposed that every entity falls into one of two categories: Some are concrete; the rest abstract. The distinction is supposed to be of fundamental significance for metaphysics and epistemology. This article surveys a number of recent attempts to say how it should be drawn.

Here we are again: this “supposed distinction” is everywhere – but I find myself muttering, as I read various articles and papers, “What the Hell is this person talking about” when they refer to abstract thinking? I “get” formal thinking in math and other systems; the need to discover, set up, find an equation or formula that is “accurate” for all cases; a generalization that “matches” certain general conditions and provides for solutions and predictions. But the rest of “reality”?

What the Hell are people talking about? Human language itself seems to be a big part of the problem – this obsessional necessity to “chop up” a smooth experiential existence into a word salad. Yes, this is my Asperger confusion and frustration with “verbal language” – like using a chainsaw to carve butter. 

from: 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy organizes scholars from around the world in philosophy and related disciplines to create and maintain an up-to-date reference work. Principal Editor: Edward N. Zalta

1. Introduction

The abstract/concrete distinction has a curious status in contemporary philosophy. It is widely agreed that the distinction is of fundamental importance. And yet there is no standard account of how it should be drawn. There is a great deal of agreement about how to classify certain paradigm cases. Thus it is universally acknowledged that numbers and the other objects of pure mathematics are abstract (if they exist), whereas rocks and trees and human beings are concrete. Some clear cases of abstracta are classes, propositions, concepts, the letter ‘A’, and Dante’s Inferno. Some clear cases of concreta are stars, protons, electromagnetic fields, the chalk tokens of the letter ‘A’ written on a certain blackboard, and James Joyce’s copy of Dante’s Inferno.

The challenge is to say what underlies this dichotomy, either by defining the terms explicitly, or by embedding them in a theory that makes their connections to other important categories more explicit. In the absence of such an account, the philosophical significance of the contrast remains uncertain. We may know how to classify things as abstract or concrete by appeal to intuition. But in the absence of theoretical articulation, it will be hard to know what (if anything) hangs on the classification.

Well, I’m not alone in my confusion!

It should be stressed that there need not be one single “correct” way of explaining the abstract/concrete distinction. Any plausible account will classify the paradigm cases in the standard way, and any interesting account will draw a clear and philosophically significant line in the domain of objects. Yet there may be many equally interesting ways of accomplishing these two goals, and if we find ourselves with two or more accounts that do the job rather well, there will be no point in asking which corresponds to the real abstract/concrete distinction. This illustrates a general point: when technical terminology is introduced in philosophy by means of examples but without explicit definition or theoretical elaboration, the resulting vocabulary is often vague or indeterminate in reference. In such cases, it is normally pointless to seek a single correct account. A philosopher may find himself asking questions like, ‘What isis idealism?’ or ‘What isis a substance?’ and treating these questions as difficult questions about the underlying nature of a certain determinate philosophical category. A better approach is to recognize that in many cases of this sort, we simply have not made up our minds about how the term is to be understood, and that what we seek is not a precise account of what this term already means, but rather a proposal for how it might fruitfully be used in the future. Anyone who believes that something in the vicinity of the abstract/concrete distinction matters for philosophy would be well advised to approach the project of explaining the distinction with this in mind.

2. Historical Remarks

The contemporary distinction between abstract and concrete is not an ancient one. Indeed, there is a strong case for the view that despite occasional anticipations, it played no significant role in philosophy before the 20th century. The modern distinction bears some resemblance to Plato’s distinction between Forms and Sensibles. But Plato’s Forms were supposed to be causes par excellence, whereas abstract objects are generally supposed to be causally inert in every sense. The original ‘abstract’/‘concrete’ distinction was a distinction among words or terms. Traditional grammar distinguishes the abstract noun ‘whiteness’ from the concrete noun ‘white’ without implying that this linguistic contrast corresponds to a metaphysical distinction in what these words stand for. In the 17th century this grammatical distinction was transposed to the domain of ideas. Locke speaks of the general idea of a triangle which is “neither Oblique nor Rectangle, neither Equilateral, Equicrural nor Scalenon [Scalene]; but all and none of these at once,” remarking that even this idea is not among the most “abstract, comprehensive and difficult” (Essay IV.vii.9). Locke’s conception of an abstract idea as one that is formed from concrete ideas by the omission of distinguishing detail was immediately rejected by Berkeley and then by Hume. But even for Locke there was no suggestion that the distinction between abstract ideas and concrete or particular ideas corresponds to a distinction among objects. “It is plain, …” Locke writes, “that General and Universal, belong not to the real existence of things; but are Inventions and Creatures of the Understanding, made by it for its own use, and concern only signs, whether Words or Ideas” (III.iii.11). (I agree)

The abstract/concrete distinction in its modern form is meant to mark a line in the domain of objects or entities. So conceived, the distinction becomes a central focus for philosophical discussion only in the 20th century. The origins of this development are obscure, but one crucial factor appears to have been the breakdown of the allegedly exhaustive distinction between the mental and the material that had formed the main division for ontologically minded philosophers since Descartes. One signal event in this development is Frege’s insistence that the objectivity and aprioricity of the truths of mathematics entail that numbers are neither material beings nor ideas in the mind. If numbers were material things (or properties of material things), the laws of arithmetic would have the status of empirical generalizations. If numbers were ideas in the mind, then the same difficulty would arise, as would countless others. (Whose mind contains the number 17? Is there one 17 in your mind and another in mine? In that case, the appearance of a common mathematical subject matter is an illusion.) In The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884), Frege concludes that numbers are neither external ‘concrete’ things nor mental entities of any sort. Later, in his essay “The Thought” (Frege 1918), he claims the same status for the items he calls thoughts—the senses of declarative sentences—and also, by implication, for their constituents, the senses of subsentential expressions. Frege does not say that senses are ‘abstract’. He says that they belong to a ‘third realm’ distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness. Similar claims had been made by Bolzano (1837), and later by Brentano (1874) and his pupils, including Meinong and Husserl. The common theme in these developments is the felt need in semantics and psychology as well as in mathematics for a class of objective (i.e., non-mental) supersensible entities. As this new ‘realism’ was absorbed into English speaking philosophy, the traditional term ‘abstract’ was enlisted to apply to the denizens of this ‘third realm’.

Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are sometimes called nominalists. This terminology is lamentable, since these words have established senses in the history of philosophy, where they denote positions that have little to do with the modern notion of an abstract object. However, the contemporary senses of these terms are now established, and so the reader should be aware of them. (In Anglophone philosophy, the most important source for this terminological innovation is Quine. See especially Goodman and Quine 1947.) In this connection, it is essential to bear in mind that modern platonists (with a small ‘p’) need not accept any of the distinctive metaphysical and epistemological doctrines of Plato, just as modern nominalists need not accept the distinctive doctrines of the medieval nominalists. Insofar as these terms are useful in a contemporary setting, they stand for thin doctrines: platonism is the thesis that there is at least one abstract object; nominalism is the thesis that the number of abstract objects is exactly zero (Field 1980). The details of this dispute are discussed in the article on nominalism in metaphysics. (See also the entry on platonism in metaphysics.) The aim of the present article is not to describe the case for or against the existence of abstract objects, but rather to say what an abstract object would be if such things existed.

3. The Way of Negation

Frege’s way of drawing the abstract/concrete distinction is an instance of what Lewis (1986a) calls the Way of Negation, according to which abstract objects are defined as those which lack certain features possessed by paradigmatic concrete objects. Nearly every explicit characterization in the literature follows this model. Let us review some of the options.

According to the account implicit in Frege’s writings, An object is abstract if and only if it is both non-mental and non-sensible.

Here the first challenge is to say what it means for a thing to be ‘non-mental’, or as we more commonly say, ‘mind-independent’. The simplest approach is to say that a thing depends on the mind when it would not (or could not) have existed if minds had not existed. But this entails that tables and chairs are mind-dependent, and that is not what philosophers who employ this notion have in mind. To call an object ‘mind-dependent’ in a metaphysical context is to suggest that it somehow owes its existence to mental activity, but not in the boring ‘causal’ sense in which ordinary artifacts owe their existence to the mind. What can this mean? One promising approach is to say that an object should be reckoned mind-dependent when, by its very nature, it exists at a time if and only if it is the object or content of some mental state or process at that time. This counts tables and chairs as mind-independent, since they might survive the annihilation of thinking things. But it counts paradigmatically mental items, like the purple afterimage of which I am now aware, as mind-dependent, since it presumably lies in the nature of such items to be objects of conscious awareness whenever they exist. However, it is not clear that this account captures the full force of the intended notion. Consider, for example, the mereological fusion of my afterimage and your headache. This is surely a mental entity if anything is. But it is not necessarily the object of a mental state. (The fusion can exist even if no one is thinking about itit .) A more generous conception would allow for mind-dependent objects that exist at a time in virtue of mental activity at that time, even if the object is not the object of any single mental state or act. The fusion of my afterimage plus your headache is mind-dependent in the second sense but not the first. That is a reason to prefer the second account of mind-dependence.

If we understand the notion of mind-dependence in this way, it is a mistake to insist that abstract objects be mind-independent. To strike a theme that will recur, it is widely supposed that sets and classes are abstract entities—even the impure sets whose urelements are concrete objects. Any account of the abstract/concrete distinction that places set-theoretic constructions like {{ Alfred, {{ Betty, {{ Charlie, Deborah}}}}}} on the concrete side of the line will be seriously at odds with standard usage. With this in mind, consider the set whose sole members are my afterimage and your headache, or some more complex set-theoretic object based on these items. If we suppose, as is plausible, that an impure set exists at a time only when its members exist at that time, this will be a mind-dependent entity in the generous sense. But it is also presumably an abstract entity. Gee whiz!

A similar problem arises for so-called abstract artifacts, like Jane Austen’s novels and the characters that inhabit them. Some philosophers regard such items as eternally existing abstract entities that worldly authors merely ‘describe’ or ‘encode’ but do not create. (Really?) But of course the commonsensical view is that Austen created Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Bennett, and there is no good reason to deny this (Thomasson 1999; cf. Sainsbury 2009; see also the entry on fiction). If we take this commonsensical approach, there will be a clear sense in which these items depend for their existence on Austen’s mental activity, and perhaps on the mental activity of subsequent readers. These items may not count as mind-dependent in either of the senses canvassed above, since Pride and Prejudice can presumably exist at a time even if no one happens to be thinking at that time. (If the world took a brief collective nap, Pride and Prejudice would not pop out of existence.) But they are obviously mind-dependent in some not-merely-causal sense. And yet they are still presumably abstract objects. For these reasons, it is probably a mistake to insist that abstract objects be mind-independent. (For more on mind-dependence, see Rosen 1994.)

Frege’s proposal in its original form also fails for other reasons. Quarks and electrons are neither sensible nor mind-dependent. And yet they are not abstract objects. A better version of Frege’s proposal would hold that:

An object is abstract if and only if it is both non-physical and non-mental.

This approach may well draw an important line; but it inherits the familiar problem of saying what it is for a thing to be a physical object (Crane and Mellor 1990). For discussion, see the entry on physicalism.

3.1 The Non-Spatiality Criterion

Contemporary purveyors of the Way of Negation typically amend Frege’s criterion by requiring that abstract objects be non-spatial, causally inefficacious, or both. Indeed, if any characterization of the abstract deserves to be regarded as the standard one, it is this:

An object is abstract if and only if it is non-spatial and causally inefficacious.

This standard account nonetheless presents a number of perplexities.

Consider first the requirement that abstract objects be non-spatial (or non-spatiotemporal). Some of the paradigms of abstractness are non-spatial in a straightforward sense. It makes no sense to ask where the cosine function was last Tuesday. Or if it makes sense to ask, the only sensible answer is that it was nowhere. Similarly, it makes no good sense to ask when the Pythagorean Theorem came to be. Or if it does make sense to ask, the only sensible answer is that it has always existed, or perhaps that it does not exist ‘in time’ at all. These paradigmatic ‘pure abstracta’ have no non-trivial spatial or temporal properties. They have no spatial location, and they exist nowhere in particular in time.

However, some abstract objects appear to stand in a more interesting relation to space. Consider the game of chess, for example. Some philosophers will say that chess is like a mathematical object, existing nowhere and ‘no when’—either eternally or outside of time altogether. But that is not the most natural view. The natural view is that chess was invented at a certain time and place (though it may be hard to say exactly where or when); that before it was invented it did not exist at all; that it was imported from India into Persia in the 7th century; that it has changed over the years, and so on. The only reason to resist this natural account is the thought that since chess is clearly an abstract object—it’s not a physical object, after all!—and since abstract objects do not exist in space and time—by definition!—chess must resemble the cosine function in its relation to space and time. And yet one might with equal justice regard the case of chess and other abstract artifacts as counterexamples to the hasty view that abstract objects possess only trivial spatial and temporal properties.

Should we then abandon the non-spatiotemporality criterion? Not necessarily. Even if there is a sense in which some abstract entities possess non-trivial spatiotemporal properties, it might still be said that concrete entities exist in spacetime in a distinctive way. If we had an account of this distinctive manner of spatiotemporal existence characteristic of concrete objects, we could say: An object is abstract (if and) only if it fails to exist in spacetime in that way.

One way to implement this approach is to note that paradigmatic concrete objects tend to occupy a relatively determinate spatial volume at each time at which they exist, or a determinate volume of spacetime over the course of their existence. It makes sense to ask of such an object, ‘Where is it now, and how much space does it occupy?’ even if the answer must sometimes be somewhat vague. By contrast, even if the game of chess is somehow ‘implicated’ in space and time, it makes no sense to ask how much space it now occupies. (To the extent that this does make sense, the only sensible answer is that it occupies no space at all, which is not to say that it occupies a spatial point.) And so it might be said:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it fails to occupy anything like a determinate region of space (or spacetime).

This promising idea raises several questions. First, it is conceivable that certain items that are standardly regarded as abstract might nonetheless occupy determinate volumes of space and time. Consider, for example, the various sets composed from Peter and Paul: {{ Peter, Paul},{},{ Peter, {{ Peter, {{{{ Paul}}}}}}}} , etc. We don’t normally ask where such things are, or how much space they occupy. And indeed many philosophers will say that the question makes no sense, or that the answer is a dismissive ‘nowhere, none’. But this answer is not forced upon us by anything in set theory or metaphysics. Even if we grant that pure sets stand in only the most trivial relations to space, it is open to us to hold, as some philosophers have done, that impure sets exist where and when their members do (Lewis 1986a). It is not unnatural to say that a set of books is located on a certain shelf in the library, and indeed, there are some theoretical reasons for wanting to say this (Maddy 1990). On a view of this sort, we face a choice: we can say that since impure sets exist in space, they are not abstract objects after all; or we can say that since impure sets are abstract, it was a mistake to suppose that abstract objects cannot occupy space.

One way to finesse this difficulty would be to note that even if impure sets occupy space, they do so in a derivative manner. The set {{ Peter, Paul}} occupies a location in virtue of the fact that its concrete elements, Peter and Paul, together occupy that location. The set does not occupy the location in its own right. With that in mind, it might be said that:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it either fails to occupy space at all, or does so only in virtue of the fact some other items—in this case, its urelements—occupy that region.

But of course Peter himself occupies a region in virtue of the fact that his parts—his head, hands, etc.—together occupy that region. So a better version of the proposal would say:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it either fails to occupy space at all, or does so of the fact that some other items that are not among its parts occupy that region.

This approach appears to classify the cases fairly well, but it is somewhat artificial. Moreover it raises a number of questions. What are we to say about the statue that occupies a region of space, not because its parts are arrayed in space, but rather because its constituting matter occupies that region? And what about the unobserved electron, which according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics does not really occupy a region of space at all, but rather stands in some more exotic relation to the spacetime it inhabits? Suffice it to say that a philosopher who regards ‘non-spatiality’ as a mark of the abstract, but who allows that some abstract objects may have non-trivial spatial properties, owes us an account of the distinctive relation to space and spacetime that sets paradigmatic concreta apart.

Perhaps the most important question about the ‘non-spatiality’ criterion concerns the classification of the parts of space itself. Let us suppose that space or spacetime exists, not just as an object of pure mathematics, but as the arena in which physical objects and events are somehow arrayed. Physical objects are located ‘in’ or ‘at’ regions of space, and so count as concrete according to the non-spatiality criterion. But what about the points and regions of space itself? There has been some debate about whether a commitment to spacetime substantivalism is consistent with the nominalist’s rejection of abstract entities (Field 1980, 1989; Malament 1982). If we define the abstract as the ‘non-spatial’, this debate reduces to the question whether space itself is to be reckoned ‘spatial’. But surely that is a verbal question. We can extend existing usage so as to allow that points and regions of space are located ‘at’ themselves—or not, according to taste. The philosopher who thinks that there is a serious question about whether the parts of space count as concrete would thus do well to characterize the abstract/concrete distinction in other terms.

3.2 The Causal Inefficacy Criterion

According to the most widely accepted versions of the Way of Negation:

An object is abstract (if and) only if it is causally inefficacious.

Concrete objects, whether mental or physical, have causal powers; numbers and functions and the rest make nothing happen. There is no such thing as causal commerce with the game of chess itself (as distinct from its concrete instances). And even if impure sets do in some sense exist in space, it is easy enough to believe that they make no distinctive causal contribution to what transpires. Peter and Paul may have effects individually. They may even have effects together that neither has on his own. But these joint effects are naturally construed as effects of two concrete objects acting jointly, or perhaps as effects of their mereological aggregate (itself a paradigm concretum), rather than as effects of some set-theoretic construction. Suppose Peter and Paul together tip a balance. If we entertain the possibility that this event is caused by a set, we shall have to ask which set caused it: the set containing just Peter and Paul? Some more elaborate construction based on them? Or is it perhaps the set containing the molecules that compose Peter and Paul? This proliferation of possible answers suggests that it was a mistake to credit sets with causal powers in the first place. This is good news for those who wish to say that all sets are abstract.

(Note, however, that some writers identify ordinary physical events—causally efficacious items par excellence—with sets. For David Lewis, for example, an event like the fall of Rome is an ordered pair whose first member is a region of spacetime, and whose second member is a set of such regions (Lewis 1986b). On this account, it would be disastrous to say both that impure sets are abstract objects, and that abstract objects are non-causal.)

The idea that causal inefficacy constitutes a sufficient condition for abstractness is somewhat at odds with standard usage. Some philosophers believe in ‘epiphenomenal qualia’: objects of conscious awareness (sense data), or qualitative conscious states that may be caused by physical processes in the brain, but which have no downstream causal consequences of their own (Jackson 1982; Chalmers 1996). These items are causally inefficacious if they exist, but they are not normally regarded as abstract. The proponent of the causal inefficacy criterion might respond by insisting that abstract objects are distinctively neither causes nor effects. But this is perilous. Abstract artifacts like Jane Austen’s novels (as we normally conceive them) come into being as a result of human activity. The same goes for impure sets, which come into being when their concrete urelements are created. These items are clearly effects in some good sense; yet they remain abstract if they exist at all. It is unclear how the proponent of the strong version of the causal inefficacy criterion (which views causal inefficacy as both necessary and sufficient for abstractness) might best respond to this problem.

Apart from this worry, there are no decisive intuitive counterexamples to this account of the abstract/concrete distinction. The chief difficulty—and it is hardly decisive—is rather conceptual. It is widely maintained that causation, strictly speaking, is a relation among events or states of affairs. If we say that the rock—an object—caused the window to break, what we mean is that some event or state (or fact or condition) involving the rock caused the break. If the rock itself is a cause, it is a cause in some derivative sense. But this derivative sense has proved elusive. The rock’s hitting the window is an event in which the rock ‘participates’ in a certain way, and it is because the rock participates in events in this way that we credit the rock itself with causal efficacy. But what is it for an object to participate in an event? Suppose John is thinking about the Pythagorean Theorem and you ask him to say what’s on his mind. His response is an event—the utterance of a sentence; and one of its causes is the event of John’s thinking about the theorem. Does the Pythagorean Theorem ‘participate’ in this event? There is surely some sense in which it does. The event consists in John’s coming to stand in a certain relation to the theorem, just as the rock’s hitting the window consists in the rock’s coming to stand in a certain relation to the glass. But we do not credit the Pythagorean Theorem with causal efficacy simply because it participates in this sense in an event which is a cause. The challenge is therefore to characterize the distinctive manner of ‘participation in the causal order’ that distinguishes the concrete entities. This problem has received relatively little attention. There is no reason to believe that it cannot be solved. But in the absence of a solution, this standard version of the Way of Negation must be reckoned a work in progress.

4. The Way of Example

In addition to the Way of Negation, Lewis identifies three main strategies for explaining the abstract/concrete distinction. According to the Way of Example, it suffices to list paradigm cases of abstract and concrete entities in the hope that the sense of the distinction will somehow emerge. If the distinction were primitive and unanalyzable, this might be the only way to explain it. But as we have remarked, this approach is bound to call the interest of the distinction into question. The abstract/concrete distinction matters because abstract objects as a class appear to present certain general problems in epistemology and the philosophy of language. It is supposed to be unclear how we come by our knowledge of abstract objects in a sense in which it is not unclear how we come by our knowledge of concrete objects (Benacerraf 1973). It is supposed to be unclear how we manage to refer determinately to abstract entities in a sense in which it is not unclear how we manage to refer determinately to other things (Benacerraf 1973, Hodes 1984). But if these are genuine problems, there must be some account of why abstract objects as such should be especially problematic in these ways. It is hard to believe that it is simply their primitive abstractness that makes the difference. It is much easier to believe that it is their non-spatiality or their causal inefficacy or something of the sort. It is not out of the question that the abstract/concrete distinction is fundamental, and that the Way of Example is the best we can do by way of elucidation. But if so, it is quite unclear why the distinction should make a difference.

5. The Way of Conflation

According to the Way of Conflation, the abstract/concrete distinction is to be identified with one or another metaphysical distinction already familiar under another name: as it might be, the distinction between sets and individuals, or the distinction between universals and particulars. There is no doubt that some authors have used the terms in this way. (Thus Quine 1953 uses ‘abstract entity’ and ‘universal’ interchangeably.) This sort of conflation is however rare in recent philosophy.

6. The Way of Abstraction

The most important alternative to the Way of Negation is what Lewis calls the Way of Abstraction. According to a longstanding tradition in philosophical psychology, abstraction is a distinctive mental process in which new ideas or conceptions are formed by considering several objects or ideas and omitting the features that distinguish them. For example, if one is given a range of white things of varying shapes and sizes; one ignores or ‘abstracts from’ the respects in which they differ, and thereby attains the abstract idea of whiteness. Nothing in this tradition requires that ideas formed in this way represent or correspond to a distinctive kind of object. But it might be maintained that the distinction between abstract and concrete objects should be explained by reference to the psychological process of abstraction or something like it. The simplest version of this strategy would be to say that an object is abstract if it is (or might be) the referent of an abstract idea, i.e., an idea formed by abstraction.

So conceived, the Way of Abstraction is wedded to an outmoded philosophy of mind. But a related approach has gained considerable currency in recent years. Crispin Wright (1983) and Bob Hale (1987) have developed an account of abstract objects that takes leave from certain suggestive remarks in Frege (1884). Frege notes (in effect) that many of the singular terms that appear to refer to abstract entities are formed by means of functional expressions. We speak of the shape of a building, the direction of a line, the number of books on the shelf. Of course many singular terms formed by means of functional expressions denote ordinary concrete objects: ‘the father of Plato’, ‘the capital of France’. But the functional terms that pick out abstract entities are distinctive in the following respect: Where ‘f(a)f(a) ’ is such an expression, there is typically an equation of the form

f(a)=f(b) if and only if Rab,f(a)=f(b) if and only if Rab,where RR is an equivalence relation. (An equivalence relation is a relation that is reflexive, symmetric and transitive.)
For example:

The direction of a=a= the direction of bb if and only if aa is parallel to bb .

The number of FF s = the number of GG s if and only if there are just as many FF s as GG s.

Moreover, these equations (or abstraction principles) appear to have a special semantic status. While they are not strictly speaking definitions of the functional expression that occurs on the left hand side, they would appear to hold in virtue of the meaning of that expression. To understand the term ‘direction’ is (in part) to know that ‘the direction of aa ’ and ‘the direction of bb ’ refer to the same entity if and only if the lines aa and bb are parallel. Moreover, the equivalence relation that appears on the right hand side of the equation would appear to be semantically and perhaps epistemologically prior to the functional expression on the left (Noonan 1978). Mastery of the concept of a direction presupposes mastery of the concept of parallelism, but not vice versa.

The availability of abstraction principles meeting these conditions may be exploited to yield an account of the distinction between abstract and concrete objects. When ‘ff ’ is a functional expression governed by an abstraction principle, there will be a corresponding kind KfKf such that:

x is a Kf if and only if, for some y,x=f(y).x is a Kf if and only if, for some y,x=f(y).

For example, xx is a cardinal number if and only if for some concept F,x=F,x= the number of FsFs . The simplest version of this approach to the Way of Abstraction is then to say that

xx is an abstract object if (and only if) xx is an instance of some kind KfKf whose associated functional expression ‘ff ’ is governed by a suitable abstraction principle.

The strong version of this account—which purports to identify a necessary condition for abstractness—is seriously at odds with standard usage. As we have noted, pure sets are paradigmatic abstract objects. But it is not clear that they satisfy the proposed criterion. According to naïve set theory, the functional expression ‘set of’ is indeed characterized by a putative abstraction principle.

The set of FF s = the set of GG s if and only if, for all x,(xx,(x is FF if and only if xx is G)G) .

But this principle is inconsistent, and so fails to characterize an interesting concept. In contemporary mathematics, the concept of a set is not introduced by abstraction. It remains an open question whether something like the mathematical concept of a set can be characterized by a suitably restricted abstraction principle. (See Burgess 2005 for a survey of recent efforts in this direction.) Even if such a principle is available, however, it is unlikely that the epistemological priority condition will be satisfied. (That is, it is unlikely that mastery of the concept of set will presuppose mastery of the equivalence relation that figures on the right hand side.) It is therefore uncertain whether the Way of Abstraction so understood will classify the objects of pure set theory as abstract entities (as it presumably must).

Similarly, as Dummett (1973) has noted, in many cases the standard names for paradigmatically abstract objects do not assume the functional form to which the definition adverts. Chess is an abstract entity. But we do not understand the word ‘chess’ as synonymous with an expression of the form ‘f(x)f(x) ’ where ‘ff ’ is governed by an abstraction principle. Similar remarks would seem to apply to such things as the English language, social justice, architecture, and Charlie Parker’s style. If so, the abstractionist approach does not provide a necessary condition for abstractness as that notion is standardly understood.

More importantly, there is some reason to believe that it fails to supply a sufficient condition. A mereological fusion of concrete objects is itself a concrete object. But the concept of a mereological fusion is governed by what appears to be an abstraction principle:

The fusion of the FF s = the fusion of the GG s if and only if the FF s and GG s cover one another,

where the FF s cover the GG s if and only if every part of every GG has a part in common with an FF . Similarly, suppose a train is a maximal string of railroad carriages, all of which are connected to one another. We may define a functional expression, ‘the train of xx ’, by means of an ‘abstraction’ principle: The train of x=x= the train of yy iff (if and only if) xx and yy are connected carriages. We may then say that xx is a train iff for some carriage yy , xx is the train of yy . The simple account thus yields the consequence that trains are to be reckoned abstract entities.

It is unclear whether these objections apply to the more sophisticated abstractionist proposals of Wright and Hale, but one feature of the simple account sketched above clearly does apply to these proposals and may serve as the basis for an objection to this version of the Way of Abstraction. The neo-Fregean approach seeks to explain the abstract/concrete distinction in semantic terms: We said that an abstract object is an object that falls in the range of a functional expression governed by an abstraction principle, where ‘ff ’ is governed by an abstraction principle when that principle holds in virtue of the meaning of ‘ff ’. This notion of a statement’s holding in virtue of the meaning of a word is notoriously problematic (see the entry on the analytic-synthetic distinction). But even if this notion makes sense, one may still complain: The abstract/concrete distinction is supposed to be a metaphysical distinction; abstract objects are supposed to differ from other objects in some important ontological respect. It should be possible, then, to draw the distinction directly in metaphysical terms: to say what it is in the objects themselves that makes some things abstract and others concrete. As Lewis writes, in response to a related proposal by Dummett:

Even if this … way succeeds in drawing a border, as for all I know it may, it tells us nothing about how the entities on opposite sides of that border differ in their nature. It is like saying that snakes are the animals that we instinctively most fear—maybe so, but it tells us nothing about the nature of snakes. (Lewis 1986a: 82)

The challenge is to produce a non-semantic version of the abstractionist criterion that specifies directly, in metaphysical terms, what the objects whose canonical names are governed by abstraction principles all have in common.

One response to this difficulty is to transpose the abstractionist proposal into more metaphysical key. We begin with the idea that each Fregean number is, by its very nature, the number of some Fregean concept, just as each Fregean direction is, by its very nature, at least potentially the direction of some concrete line. In each case, the abstract object is essentially the value of an abstraction function for a certain class of arguments. This is not a claim about the meanings of linguistic expressions. It is a claim about the essences or natures of the objects themselves. (For the relevant notion of essence, see Fine 1994). So for example, the Fregean number two (if there is such a thing) is, essentially, by its very nature, the number that belongs to a concept FF if and only if there are exactly two FF s. More generally, for each Fregean abstract object xx , there is an abstraction function ff , such that xx is essentially the value of ff for every argument of a certain kind.

Abstraction functions have two key features. First, for each abstraction function ff there is an equivalence relation RR such that it lies in the nature of ff that f(x)=f(y)f(x)=f(y) iff Rxy. Intuitively, we are to think that RR is metaphysically prior to ff , and that the abstraction function ff is defined (in whole or in part) by this biconditional. Second, each abstraction function is a generating function: its values are essentially values of that function. Many functions are not generating functions. Paris is the capital of France, but it is not essentially a capital. The number of solar planets, by contrast, is essentially a number. The notion of an abstraction function may be defined in terms of these two features:

  • ff is an abstraction function iff
  • a.for some equivalence relation RR , it lies in the nature of ff that f(x)=f(y)f(x)=f(y) iff RxyRxy ; and
  • b.for all xx , if xx is a value of ff , then it lies in the nature of xx that there is (or could be) some object yy such that x=f(y)x=f(y) .

We may then say that

xx is an abstraction if and only if, for some abstraction function ff , there is or could be an object yy such that x=f(y)x=f(y)

And

xx is an abstract object if (and only if) xx is an abstraction.

This account tells us a great deal about the distinctive natures of these broadly Fregean abstract objects. It tells us that each is, by its very nature, the value of a special sort of function, one whose nature is specified in a simple way in terms of an associated equivalence relation. It is worth stressing, however, that it does not supply much metaphysical information about these items. It does tell us whether they are located in space, whether they can stand in causal relations, and so on. It is an open question whether this somewhat unfamiliar version of the abstract/concrete distinction lines up with any of the more conventional ways of drawing the distinction outlined above.

7. Further Reading

Putnam (1975) makes the case for abstract objects on scientific grounds. Field (1980, 1989) makes the case against abstract objects. Bealer (1993) and Tennant (1997) present a priori arguments for the necessary existence of abstract entities. Balaguer (1998) argues that none of the arguments for or against the existence of abstract objects is compelling, and that there is no fact of the matter as to whether abstract things exist. The dispute over the existence of abstracta is reviewed in Burgess and Rosen (1997). Fine (2002) is a systematic study of abstraction principles in the foundations of mathematics. A general theory of abstract objects is developed axiomatically in Zalta (1983; 2016 in Other Internet Resources). Wetzel (2009) examines the type-token distinction, argues that types are abstract objects while the tokens of those types are their concrete instances, and shows how difficult it is to paraphrase away the many references to types that occur in the sciences and natural language. (See the entry on types and tokens.) Moltmann (2013) investigates the extent to which abstract objects are needed when developing a semantics of natural language.

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