Superstition and Obsession

obsessionIt crossed my mind awhile back that individuals with autism are less likely to be superstitious. This conclusion would also suggest that autistics are not magical thinkers. If this generalization has some truth, then this characteristic would not only make them unique in today’s society, but unique going back through multiple societal transformations past bands and tribes.

There are those folks that exhibit obsessive-compulsive disorder behavior as they seek to exert some degree of control over the world by performing personal rituals. OCD is not uncommon with people that are autistic. But OCD that features an obsession with pattern and a compulsion to participate in pattern replication is not the same as OCD linked to event control. The latter, which is more a robust expression of a superstitious frame of mind, suggests someone deeply fatigued by magical thinking. I am estimating that autistics are not magical thinkers. Autistics don’t easily intuit how they might change the world.

In the 1960s, I had two friends, brothers, who exhibited unique behavior. One had, at the time, undiagnosed Tourette’s syndrome, and he exhibited bizarre ritualistic behaviors, astonishing physical strength and a powerful intelligence. His brother retained unique thinking processes characterized by his seeing himself in any picture that he imaged, from a vantage point outside his body. Not just in his dreams, but in his thoughts, he was not “in” his body, but observing. Both men were/are brilliant.

In myself, my friends and the people I meet, I look for clues. Often the answers feel to be just around a corner. Sometimes, arriving around the corner, I feel like I’ve made my way back home.

There is a relationship between OCD, abstract thinking, magical thinking, autism, Tourette’s, facility with pattern recognition and perfect pitch, maturational delay, left-handedness and evolution.

Autism is an evolutionary condition. Before we were facile with language, we lived in a world of ritual dance and music. Pattern recognition and exhibition was/is the world of the autistic person. The reason that our contemporary autistics often exhibit uncanny facility with pattern, perfect pitch and familiarity with the abstract is that this was the world before language, split consciousness, single narrative compulsion and magical thinking were engaged.

Our autistics are the bridge consciousness to the ground consciousness from which we, split-mind, magical-thinking language users, so recently emerged. We wonder where we came from and the path we walked to get to where we are today. The answers sit inside the maturational delayed. The random-handed, big-brained (with both lobes similarly sized), slowly maturing, language-challenged autistics are our mentors in the way of nonduo thinking, the thinking we are all familiar with from when we were babes.

The way autistics process the world is the way we all thought when we were all group dancers and musicians gesturing our encouragements to the dancing band. The me/every had not differentiated into the me and the other. Story had not yet emerged. Abstract thinking was still so abstract that metaphor had not developed into a thing and what a thing represented. For example, a dancer representing thunder was thunder. The world had not yet broken down into parts. There was only everything, connected, and a compulsion to recognize connection, to acknowledge connection and to reproduce connection.

Hence the pattern obsession that has little to do with control.

Proceed to author’s FREE book download on this subject (The book is called Evolution, Autism and Social Change). 10 minute introductory video here.

on 09/28/09 in Evolution, featured | 1 Comment | Read More

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  1. […] Lili Marlene’s The dark side of theory of mind? first appeared on November 17, 2007 at Incorrect Pleasures, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.  Both in this post and in at least one other of hers still slated to be reproduced, Lili Marlene and Andrew Lehman can be seen to be plowing similar ground; for instance on autism contrasted with a cognitive style that “attribute[s] intentionality and meaning, even where there is none,” see Andrew Lehman’s Superstition and Obsession. […]

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