Christian Missionary confronts “Experience-based culture” Everett’s journey to sanity demonstrates the confounding grip that magical thinking has on the modern neotenic brain.
NOTE: Some readers have mistaken Asperger language to mean that 1. there is an actual Asperger language and 2. that the Piraha speak “Asperger”. Sometimes it’s difficult to extract a short, but meaningful phrase to use as a title, so I have replace the misleading title. And NO, I’m not “endorsing” Everett.
What I’m proposing is that a language exists which reflects a perception of the environment that is familiar not only to many Asperger individuals, but repeats criteria that are widely claimed to be diagnostic of Asperger’s disorder.
I’m not saying the Piraha have Asperger’s disorder. I’m saying that the discovery of a language that is Asperger-like in its “picture of reality” opens the door to serious contemplation of my hypothesis that present day Asperger individuals are born with a “brain type” that was the prevailing type before agriculture, urbanization, and juvenalization that produced the modern social brain.
Piraha is a concrete language that demands a sensory “source” for any statement, such as “Did you see it? Did you hear it?” I’m sure any Asperger will recognize the basic empirical “mind” of these people.
No supernatural domain. No generalizations; numbers or abstractions. “We don’t want to hear about Jesus or God” unless they exist. You haven’t seen Jesus? Then we’re not interested.
Imagine a culture where you, a concrete visual thinker, would at last be welcome… and “home” at last.
I’m going to say it: Asperger individuals put up with “social missionaries” day in and day out. Psychologists are the equivalent to Christian missionaries, as are teachers, parents and even work mates, neighbors and friends. We are surrounded by missionaries. Unlike the Piraha, we can’t “refuse to go to town”, but must create our private refuge wherever and however we can.
Daniel Everett: lost in translation
An article in The Telegraph about Everett’s life and work.
What can a failed missionary’s adventures in the Amazon teach us about the origins of language?
By William Leith, 10 Apr 2012
It’s hard to describe Daniel Everett, so here are some facts about him. He’s American. He was a Christian missionary. His goal in life was to tell people about Jesus. He spent 25 years, on and off, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, talking to a tribe of hunter-gatherers called the Pirahã. This is one of the most remote, undeveloped places on earth. The Pirahã did not want to know about Jesus. Not even a bit. Everett could not even begin to convert them.
Instead, they converted him, in a way. He began to speak their language, a language that is unusual to say the least. He wrote books about them. He made what he thinks is a key anthropological discovery.
And now, because of this, he’s in the middle of a bitter row with one of the world’s premier intellectuals, the formidable Noam Chomsky.
Everett is 60, but looks a bit younger – sort of like Russell Crowe’s older brother. He’s stocky, with red hair and a beard. As I shake his hand, I think of all the terrible, wrenching things this man has been through. Something awful happened to him when he was 11 years old. Two dreadful things happened to him in the rainforest. One ended well, the other very badly. Perhaps the worst thing of all happened in a flat in the middle of Manchester. Something had been nagging away at Everett for a long time, and he decided to share it with his wife, Keren. The moment he did, his life fell apart, and would never be the same again.