A revised version of the paper I wrote to give to various experts at the 2002 World of Difference Conference entitled -

Rainbows end. Towards a multi-axial neurodiverse landscape

An alternative perspective on mapping the autistic/spLD phenomenon.

I am not a scientist indeed like Moliere's Monsieur Jourdain I only recently discovered that I have been a Whorfian[1] relativist all my life. I am in a sense a consumer of numerous scientific and psychological theories of autism by virtue of being the subject matter of them and I guess that allows me the certain right to a "piece of the action".Without my kind all the conferences all the research money the books, the papers, the kudos and the frustration, the entire academic/media circus of it all would not exist, would not have its causality.

Since we are all in the world of words here, a certain semantic reality has to be recognised. That is the relativity of every concept that is conveyed by them. No sentient human has any more than a theory of mind, a hypothesis regarding whether what we think is at all cognate with another’s cognition.

It is to me a fact that we build the meaning around the perceived words of others according to our own established schemata of the world. No philologising neologising social scientist or psychologist will ever pin down meaning no matter how hard he or she attempts to define his or her terms of reference because in order to explain language we have to use it. It is rather like Gödel's[2] theorem of the improvability of mathematics, or the dictionary paperchase where we have to look up the meaning of every word used to define the word we have justed looked up ad infinitum.

As Lakoff[3] puts it each of us is an embodied mind and that which we think is wholly constrained within that framework. I am lucky as a neuro-divergent to have a radically different perspective that allows me in the manner of De Bono[4] a sideways look at the universe.

One error I see all the time is the attempt to argue reality from analogy. This is a literalist fallacy which springs to mind every time I see or hear of the Autistic “Spectrum”. As a literalist myself I think I am in a good position to appreciate the deficits of that mode of that kind of thinking.

If we understand that in one sense the “Spectrum” implies that Autism is multi coloured and variegated and not at all single faceted that is well. Nonetheless it can also serve to bracket our thinking into linear progressions, of points on the spectrum corresponding and analogous to frequencies of light. This leads one literally to suppose the existence of an infra red and ultra violet end of the spectrum, suggesting that there are boundaries and directions, that there are points where one comes onto and falls of the spectrum. All the confusing of High versus Low functioning where the ranges of function are never defined only supposed, apparently self evident but never explained

The more I read and have read about the spectrum (one of the advantages of my particular autistic mindset being the ability to absorb vast amounts of information at little mental cost so long as it interests me) the more I consider that it is a complicated phenomenon which mutates according to the direction one looks at it.

Alas I am still forced to use analogy, since in essence all language is metaphor[5]and analogy. It is all an extension of the simple concrete terms used to convey common meaning and describe the world so far as it is relevant to survival.

Let us take a dice as an example. You may look at one face of a die and it is a six but turn it over and it is a one. A cube is only a six faceted object yet it conveys to us a huge paradox, how can a thing be all these numbers at once, yet none of them. It is like the concept of the Trinity anecdotally explained by St Patrick by reference to the Shamrock.

Autism to me is like the die (and the aleatoric implications are not lost either). Baron-Cohen[6] has his Theory of Mind hypothesis, Happé[7]has her central coherence theory, we see Lorna Wing’s[8]triad of impairments and the upharsinogenic[9]categorisation of DSM4 and ICD 10. 

Can all of them be true, can any?

I derived the concept of the landscape from considering a WAIS intelligence profile, and the meaninglessness of looking at the mean score as a means to understanding anything. To me that is like trying to navigate an aircraft over unknown terrain by setting ones altimeter to the mean elevation and navigating along that. One will miss seeing anything in the valleys but worse than that one will sooner or later hit a mountain. This is an over simplification for mathematician I am not, spatial thinker I am and can comprehend the reality of a space beyond three or four obvious dimensions.

If we were to plot every observable trait of autism each along its own two dimensional axis and assemble them at conceptual right angles to each other as one does in a 3D graph we will see various shapes emerging which alas it would take a topologist to describe.
I can only attempt to simplify this for understanding, by reference to one example. Take Asperger's syndrome. If you look at it solely in terms of Social dyslexia and you are looking at one continuum only, turn the multi-hedron over and you might look instead at motor deficiencies, turn it again, see perseverations and all absorbing interests.

The single faceted approach of diagnosticians attempting to make sense of what they perceive to be an individual deficiencies look only at the strongest manifestations of a thing and furthermore, human relativists that they are, colour there perceptions according to preconceived schemata.

Thus one may be diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, one with semantic pragmatic disorder, some with central auditory processing disorder, another with dyspraxia and another perhaps with dyslexia according to whatever present strongest, whereas to me they are all mathematical shapes within the multi-axial model, islands in the neurodiverse landscape as it were.

It is like any map where the different colours represent man made political boundaries, that is to say the diagnoses found in the manuals, but the land is bordered naturally by rivers and valleys where one people inhabits more than one country.

Hitherto the scientist has proceeded with Occam's Razor in hand, trying not to multiply entities in search of a simplified theory. I say put away the razor and get out the shopping basket, throw everything in and then only discard it when you are sure it is not relevant.

Bibliography and Notes

[1]  Daniel Chandler: Semiotics for Beginners: - “Whorfianism: In its most extreme version 'the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis' can be described as relating two associated principles: linguistic determinism and linguistic relativism. Applying these two principles, the Whorfian thesis is that people who speak different languages perceive and think about the world quite differently, their worldviews being shaped or determined by the language of the culture (a notion rejected by social determinists). Critics note that we cannot make inferences about differences in worldview solely on the basis of differences in linguistic structure. Whilst few linguists would accept the Whorfian hypothesis in its 'strong', extreme or deterministic form, many now accept a 'weak', more moderate, or limited Whorfianism, namely that the ways in which we see the world may be influenced by the kind of language we use.“ 

[2] Antony Flew: A Dictionary of Philosophy, St. Martin's Press 1979: - "The proof, published by Kurt Gödel in 1931, of the existence of formally undecidable propositions in any formal system of arithmetic. More precisely, his first incompleteness theorem states that in any formal system S of arithmetic,there will be a sentence P of the language of S such that if S is consistent, neither P nor its negation can be proved in S. ... [The second incompleteness] theorem states that the consistency of a formal system of arithmetic cannot be proved by means formalizable within that system."

Gödel, K. (1964). Russell's mathematical logic, and What is Cantor's continuum problem?, in Philosophy of Mathematics, P. Benacerraf and H. Putnam (eds.), Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, pp. 211-232, 258-273

[3] EDGE 51— March 9, 1999 The Third Culture"Philosophy in the flesh: - A Talk with George Lakoff by John Brockman http://www.edge.org/ "We are neural beings," states Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff. "Our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything - only what our embodied brains permit."  

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Philosophy in the Flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought
University of California, Berkeley, and University of Oregon  New York: Basic Books, 1999, xiv+624 pp. Hardbound, ISBN 0-465-05673-3, 

[4] Edward de Bono: The Use of Lateral Thinking (also published as New Think) 1967

[5] The Neural Theory of Language research group ( Jerome Feldman, George Lakoff, Lokendra Shastri inter alia ) use neural networks and Artificial Intelliegence concepts to examine aspects of language based upon the works of cognitive linguists such as Len Talmy who posit that bodily movements and spatial concepts prefigure verbs of motion. Beyond this basic ontogeny of language everything else is a metaphoric extension.

[6] Baron-Cohen, S, Tager-Flusberg, H, and Cohen, D.J. (eds, 1993) Understanding other minds: perspectives from autism. Oxford University Press.

[7] Happé F: ' The Psychologist Volume 12 Part 11 November 1999: Understanding assets and deficits in autism, Francesca Happé's Spearman Medal Lecture

[8] Wing, L. (1981a). Asperger's syndrome: A clinical account. Psychological Medicine, 11, 115-130

Wing, L. & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children Epidemiology and classification. Jounial of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 9, 11-29.

[9] Upharsination, a neologism coined by Laurence Arnold. - The faculty of rule by division, an obsession with taxony and categorization qv Belshazzars Feast “Mene Tekel Upharsin“ ... "thou hast been weighed in the balance and found wanting” or “weighed numbered and ” – divided”

“Systems of pathological taxony such as the American Society of Psychiatrists Diagnostic and Statistical Manual edition 4 and the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases Edition 10 tell us nothing about the conditions and more about the societal and economic needs for neat categories.”

Copyright © Laurence Arnold 2002, 2004