Archive for July, 2009
AUTISM: SYMBOL AND DISEASE
July – August 2009
If I wanted I could consider myself mildly autistic. I have certain symptoms of distance and lack of empathy with human adults. I could probably be considered more autistic than most of mankind, people who I deem to be more extraverted and emotionally expressive, more social and gregarious, more geared towards action and physical activity, more adapted to a reality based on sex, family, work and religion than me.
Indeed, as some years ago my mother told me:” Before you were three you had already somewhat closed, you were not very interested anymore in other children or people; you were only interested in animals or toys”.
I could also consider myself somewhat paranoid. I see signs and meanings everywhere, auspicious or foreboding. I believe I am special (like all no.4s of The Enneagram). I also believe I am superior, even though I know that the more inferior you feel for some reason or another, the more you compensate by delusions of grandeur. But it is still difficult for someone who was born in a sort of palace, with very high ceilings and where space and time did not count; someone who can- both through his mother and father- trace his ancestry to Charlemagne, through Edward III; to forget those ridiculous human distinctions. Yet, some of my siblings couldn’t care less about that type of thing. Perhaps those brothers and sisters who do not need to compensate for what I call an’ identity deficit’. Eventually it will be fathomed that until the feeling of separation ends, even the ‘frogs feel superior to the cows’…
As I see it, paranoia is an excessive defensive mechanism against imaginary threats. These threats in the end come from the repressed, unacknowledged and undigested parts of us.
All my life I have been having colds and allergies. That has been my main health problem. When I lived in Paris from 1985 to 1989 I calculated that more than half of my yearly days I was sick with those nose symptoms or groggy with the side effects of the antihistaminics which I took to counter those desperating symptoms. That was one of the main reasons why I then decided to quit diplomatic life after a very successful 17 years career. Obviously with that newly conquered freedom my allergies and colds decreased but they did not disappear. And I noticed that in certain periods of my life allergies would increase, the cause of which could not be exclusively attributed to climate, flora, physical environment and temperature.
Concerning signs and signals I later understood that we are the ones, who give meaning to them, for they have completely different meanings to different people. They are like symbols. For instance, the swastika always meant life and movement for many human cultures throughout the ages, but then it was misinterpreted as domination, arrogance, superiority, destruction and death. So we can see life and death in the same symbol.
I also did a practical investigation on the process of individual paranoias. Several times I saw through their illusory nature and have laughed them away. But, as the Nobel Prize for economics John Nash, who struggled to recover from paranoid schizophrenia said, his newly found ‘stability limited his creative thinking’, that is the imagination. So, adaptation to normal social life seems to require a certain hold on imagination (except if you are an artist or a writer) while paranoia is an excess of imagination.
When I left diplomatic life my competitive nature did not disappear, nor did my search for power and perfectionism. Only much later I understood their roots. When I assumed myself to be an artist, in the late Eighties, I naturally wanted recognition, and I wanted a source of revenue. Fortunately or unfortunately I had invented a new type of art, The Magical Gardens, miniature worlds inside glass cases which, as the Director of the National Art Museum of Osaka told me in 1996, would not have been recognized as art ten years before.
It was thus very difficult for me to get recognition; besides I had no art study credentials. So I got a travel grant from the Portuguese-American Foundation to come (or to go) to the United States to see whether some art gallery would become interested in showing my work. When I arrived to L.A., I got a terrible cold from using for a long time the open air and somewhat windy pool of the hotel. In order to be externally presentable to the art gallerists I took repeated doses of some anti-cold medicine which had Ibuprofen in it. From that, I believe, I developed a condition in the digestive system, never fully understood which later prevented me from personally attending the opening of an exhibition of mine in Seoul. It was something never properly diagnosed but akin to an ulcer, or irritated bowel syndrome. I now believe that I might have some mild form of Celiac disease, which means that I am somewhat allergic to gluten, and hence should not frequently eat most cereals in any form.
When I told a doctor friend:” The allergy to life is the mother of all allergies”, he was surprised and said: “I will have to think about that…I will consider it…” Yet, to say it plainly, I believe that all allergies are a mild form of autism. But that would be too unsettling to say to a scientist or to a doctor, because in their specialized frame of mind and work they lack a weltanschauung to see things in perspective and with humor; they lack the distance to perceive the forest because of their love for entomology.
I cannot say that I am or have been claustrophobic. Yet whenever I would be inside a vault, like in the closed metal door room where my parents would safe keep the jewelry and the silver, I felt slightly uneasy, as if someone could come and lock me there. Could it be that claustrophobia, or unease with the surrounding space is another symptom that could be related to the autistic cluster? Autism is ‘closing’ and claustrophobia is ‘feeling closed’…could it be that claustrophobia is related to a mild form of autism, perhaps peculiar to people who did not find their breathing space in life? This would also relate to the fact that respiratory symptoms, asthmas and allergies are strongly found in teenagers, that is, people still struggling to find their breathing space…
Why do I mention all these symptoms, feelings and syndromes?
Because by observing my life and those of other people I came to the conclusion that each human being is not only unique and even special, but that each of us is an integral, whole being. I also concluded that there are no (separate, clear-cut, well defined) diseases but sick people, who evolve and emanate their very particular way of being. And, further to that, I came to see something that a purely materialistic scientist or doctor will never be able to see: that not only diseases are psychosomatic but that the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual are one whole; an energetic matrix, in which any disturbance in one field or pathway will affect all others.
That is why doctors routinelyobserve, but scientists cannot explain that in one patient illnesses and symptoms seem to migrate from one area to another, from one system to another, from depression to constipation. People nurture their emotional distortions and then don’t want the body to pay for the consequences. This, not to talk about the hypochondriacs, who really develop the symptoms they want and about the people for which their disease and sufferings finally give them some sort of identity.
Unfortunately, most doctors do not study quantum physics, and if they do, they very seldom relate that microcosm of the atoms to the intermediate level of the cells, or they then say that the laws ruling one field do not rule the other. Yet, if scientists found that the same laws rule and the same phenomena happen, in both astrophysics and the atomic physics why not try and see a bridge between them?
But the truth is that when science replaced religion, the newly acquired power came with its drawbacks. Such as the caste system, the infallibility, the dogmas, the fear of exposure and ridicule, the vested interests and even the providing of false data which 20% of scientists admit to do. But, above all, the main drawback is the incapacity to accept evidence that disturbs the current paradigm. For instance, even though the WHO recognized acupuncture as valid medicine decades ago, most doctors and scientists remain like the politicians: ‘acupuncture and homeopathy are the ‘axis of evil’.
If I talk about politics and politicians I touch another taboo in the scientific world, for scientists prefer to be apolitical, they naively trust whoever has power and gives them funds. Yet, if they could agree with the view which the more politically seasoned Europeans have of Reagan and Bush as primary and brainless people, they could perhaps see that what that type of dualistic politicians tend to do is to project outwards their own inner nemesis, their intransigence, their limited, simplistic and parochial worldview; in reality, their allergy and fear of intelligence and consciousness.
Perhaps, if they were to ponder all these issues, perhaps then, those scientists- who recognize that in their own private lives they are no wiser than the common citizen- perhaps they would start taking their religion( those who do have it) out of the walls of their churches and Sundays only services. They would also be more cautious in the assumptions they make about the nature of reality and more humble in the pronouncements they make about the implications of their empirical findings. For what we see if we study the history of science is that ideas, theories and dogmas have happily and fortunately been changing all the time. Sometimes that happens with a lot of acrimony, sometimes very conveniently, discreetly and as a matter of fact in order to avoid any embarrassment to the system.
But, returning to the question of atoms and cells – and everybody knows that a cell really appears to be a universe once you lift it out of a XIXth century two-dimensional perspective – we can imagine that a spiritualist or a natural philosopher (those holistic precursors of nowadays scientists), would probably ask this:
”which is the most fundamental level, the most basic? Why not investigate the possibility that what is one-dimensional or two- dimensional defines what is three-dimensional? Why not study the possibility that the qualities of the more simple and general are as a rule present in the apparently more complex?”
But who can teach holography to those who do not want to believe in it? Who is open to understand that fractals might happen both in space and in time? Who knows about non-locality, uncertainty and entanglement? Who is willing to risk reputation and funding and even persecution to embrace a wider view?
In the 1970’s Susan Sonntag suggested that cancer was the symbol and the metaphor for our society. This might still apply today. But cancer normally happens after a certain age, yet autism and allergies happen with children. I would thus say that these ‘new’ diseases are not a terminal degeneration but an early and vehement protest.
I am not against scientific innovation, on the contrary. Neither do I deny the very useful role played by doctors. I even believe that doctors, with all the knowledge that they have about the human body could raise themselves to another level and become true healers, even of the soul.
Great Nobel prizes were people who were interested in different fields and who sometimes dared to defy the Establishment. Some like Linus Pauling or Richard Feynman were also sort of philosophers. They could somewhat be seen as an attempt to be modern versions of the Renaissance ideal of the ‘homo universalis’, the person who sees behind categories and phenomena. But nowadays our society and above all our economy dictate that specialization should be prized and rewarded. And those who rule are only too happy with that trend because the more you separate the best you control. “Divide and rule”.
Yet, if you really want to understand autism and why it is on the rise as an ‘allergy’ to modern civilization, if you want to understand why allergies in general have increased tremendously in the last decades, you will have to take an integral approach, encompassing both physical health, psychology, sociology, economics, environmental science, politics and spirituality.
The piece-meal approach has failed; specialists are useful but synthesizers are essential. People who have studied several disciplines and have mastered one or two are the ones who can see the connections, the patterns in different fields of human activity. They are the ones who have their right-brain activated and balanced with the left. They are the ones who can bring it all together in a novel way of seeing human life. Let us bring them forth into this world!