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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » This "Curing" Autism thing is going too far! (Page 2)

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Author Topic: This "Curing" Autism thing is going too far!
The Rabbit
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quote:
If people can evolve to fear difference, can't they evolve to learn to accept it? You'd think we'd understand this by now anyway.
Evolution doesn't work that way. Evolution isn't something we can change, its the result of environmental selective pressures. There is a survival advantage to being cautious about things that are strange and new. There is also a survival advantage to exploring the unknown. Millions of years of evolution has equipped us with a particular balance between those traits that has served most people well. If for some reason natural selective pressures change to favor people who are happy and comfortable with what is strange and unfamiliar social behavior, then in a few thousand generations most people won't be uncomfortable or afraid of people who behave outside the social norm.

Until that happens the reality is that people have to fight a natural hard wired fear in order to interact with autistic people. We are highly adaptable, with repeated exposure, what is strange and frightening can be come familiar and comfortable. People can learn to make a conscious decision to not to flee from what is strange and frightening, but that just isn't going to be easy. We can and certainly should encourage people to be more open and accepting to people who have autism and other neural disorders. But if you can't understand why that's going to be hard for most people, it shows a deficiency in your ability to understand and relate to what other people feel. That is by definition a lack of empathy.

Maybe my insistence that autism is a disability also shows a lack of empathy. I'm not particularly social adept. I'm bad at reading non-verbal communication and often find that people misinterpret my body language. I sometimes think I may suffer from a very mild for out autism myself. The thing is, I recognize that my lack of social skills is a limitation and something I'd like to improve. While it's important to like yourself, if you can't recognize your own weaknesses you can't improve. When think its self limiting and destructive when people start defending their weaknesses as something that's actually desirable.

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mr_porteiro_head
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You two are, IMO, grossly underplaying the effects of autism in one's life. It is simply not comparable to learning about a new endeavor you'd never heard of before.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
I sometimes think I may suffer from a very mild for out autism myself.
You're an engineer. I'd be surprised if you didn't have some traits like that.
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Synesthesia
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I don't know. I've struggled for years trying to get a job, trying to work my way up from depression and social anxiety and such. It hasn't been easy, but I've learned to accept myself the way I am for the most part... though there are some things I need to change such as my lack of organization and such.

Maybe I am down playing it too much, I don't know... I have trouble seeing the way my brain is wired as a total weakness, but I've improved over the ages in terms of social skills and such.

But, if people can't evolve to accept difference, don't we have the brains and intelligence to learn to accept difference? We really should be used to this by now. There's 1 in 88 autistic people, according to the latest reports. It's not going away anytime soon. Folks need to get USED to this, but they can't even get used to people having different skin colours and sexualities.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
You two are, IMO, grossly underplaying the effects of autism in one's life. It is simply not comparable to learning about a new endeavor you'd never heard of before.

For some people, religion becomes far and away the most important thing in their life. I mean, what if a missionary comes to your house and tells you about a religion and then you become a priest and devote your entire life to that religion? Have you murdered your old self?

Or if it's because autism is considered a medical disability, then we can go that route. I think Rabbit already did last page: What about a functionally deaf person who gets a cochlear implant and is able to hear? Is that sufficiently similar? And if so, did they murder their old self?

These all just seem like differences of scale to me. Quantitative differences, not qualitative. Ultimately they are all examples of you changing, in a way you think will be better. Which, to varying degrees, everyone does many times throughout their life.

To be clear, if someone thinks that being able to hear, or being a priest, or not being autistic, is not going to be an improvement, then I agree, they shouldn't do it. Certainly, it shouldn't be forced upon them.

And if someone is just uncertain as to whether it will be an improvement or not, and such a change is irreversible, I can totally understand fear in that case. If you were considering joining a priesthood that killed apostates, that would be a difficult decision to make.

But if the choice is reversible (as in Rabbit's hypothetical)... then I really don't see the problem. You're still you. If you are happier in your new state, then stay as is. If you aren't, then change your mind.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
For some people, religion becomes far and away the most important thing in their life. I mean, what if a missionary comes to your house and tells you about a religion and then you become a priest and devote your entire life to that religion? Have you murdered your old self?

Or if it's because autism is considered a medical disability, then we can go that route. I think Rabbit already did last page: What about a functionally deaf person who gets a cochlear implant and is able to hear? Is that sufficiently similar?

In my opinion, not even close.

quote:
These all just seem like differences of scale to me. Quantitative differences, not qualitative.
I disagree.
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sndrake
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(Hi Syn!)
Syn reminds me that I don't want people to get the idea that I believe neurodiversity is best described at pathology - I know my own peculiar neurology does have its root in pathology, but I mean that to apply to me and just me.

To Dan - one big problem I see with your analogy is the difference in process. We all change in ways as we learn and experience - and sometimes we decide some of the changes were a mistake and revert. In the talks about 'cure' - impacting the wiring of the brain, it's doubtful the changes would be reversible.

Rabbit - Personally, I don't think of myself as having 'overcome' anything (OK - there's two things in my life that might apply to, but only one is even remotely disability-related). Not only that, but I think that the weird balance of cognitive strengths gave me some unusual ways of looking at things - how language and terminology are used and abused within certain professional arenas. (I've got a good track record of annoying a lot of bioethicists by challenging them to give me one standard definition of some very widely-used terms - widely and carelessly used.)

I'm sure the pre-injury me was on track to have across-the-board cognitive strengths. I don't feel cheated. If I can ask questions that can frustrate and annoy some folks who need more of that treatment, I figure I'm doing OK. ;-)

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Synesthesia
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The problem is that changing the bad stuff would take away the good stuff too. It's not all doom, gloom and misery to me, but it could be different for another person. I'm ready to throw a tantrum after taking 50 calls a day and beyond drained from being touched on trains and the constant sound issues, but on the other side of the sword is the strong emotions and electric happiness despite the misery of the sensory issues and social exhaustion.
You join a religion, and you're still yourself, someone takes away your brain chemistry, it's a different thing altogether.

Cochlear implants are a kind of controversial subject and reading both sides, I don't even know how to feel about it. They don't really help you to hear the way a person is born hearing can hear. And there's deaf culture to consider, but I don't even know about that. I just think, would I really be better if I were cured of my variations? What would that mean in the first place? Would I be more social? Less obsessed with music and spiders? Would I jump less from loud noises and not feel pain when I hear certain sounds? I think I'd like to tone down the sound and smell issues. You can't do a thing to block hateful smells, but I still want to keep aspects of how my brain is.

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CT
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
http://i.imgur.com/NQtLy.png

Coming to a medical journal near you: Dr. CT's Miracle Bleach Cure

Oh. God.

I have asthma, man. You trying to kill me?

I laughed till I wheezed out a lung. Maybe two.

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Synesthesia
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quote:
Originally posted by CT:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
http://i.imgur.com/NQtLy.png

Coming to a medical journal near you: Dr. CT's Miracle Bleach Cure

Oh. God.

I have asthma, man. You trying to kill me?

I laughed till I wheezed out a lung. Maybe two.

[ROFL]
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CT
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I know! That is brilliant.

---

As to the other conversation, I am enjoying reading it very much.

Though I have nothing to add, I have much to take from it. Thanks, guys.

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Destineer
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I'm not sure the difference between autistic and non-autistic people is well captured by an analogy about changing beliefs. For one thing, a major trait of autistic people has to do with skills--they're very limited in their ability to develop certain capabilities that other people have. Gullibility is a huge problem, for example. It's easy to con a lot of autistic people.
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Synesthesia
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Autism is a delay. It's not always total stagnation. Even folks who can't speak can learn and develop skills with patience and help.

And seriously read Amanda Bagg's Blog. her perspective is fascinating.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
You two are, IMO, grossly underplaying the effects of autism in one's life. It is simply not comparable to learning about a new endeavor you'd never heard of before.

I think you fundamentally misunderstand the argument. The issue is not whether or not the affects of autism are comparable to the effects of religion or learning about a new field or even whether trying to cure autism is any different than trying to convert someone to your religion.

The issue is whether or not a person with autism can know whether they prefer to be that way. Unless they have experienced life without autism, how could they possibly know that they would not prefer it. Unless they've experienced the alternatives, people can't accurately predict things as simple and trivial about themselves as whether or not they'd prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla. Is there any reason to assume that people are better at understanding important and complex things about themselves without experiencing the alternatives than they are at understanding the simple and trivial?

I know that's not the way you are looking at the question. There are some parts of our personalities that we think are critical to our identity and some parts, like our taste in ice cream, that we see as unimportant. But in my experience, people really aren't very good at understanding their true essence. The things we think of as central to our identity frequently change as we move through life.

I believe that the essence of the "real me" is contained in my spirit and not my body. A disease or an accident or medical treatment that changes my brain can the ability of my body to express what is in my spirit, but it can't change who I really am. Diseases like Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia can rob a person of the ability to express and even understand who they really are, but they can't change the essence of a soul. I don't believe that people with autism have autistic spirits any more than I believe that people with schizophrenia have schizophrenic spirits or that amputees have amputated spirits.

Whether of not something is an undesirably disorder or part of a persons true essence is not determined by the age at which it manifests.

[ June 05, 2012, 12:20 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
But, if people can't evolve to accept difference, don't we have the brains and intelligence to learn to accept difference? We really should be used to this by now. There's 1 in 88 autistic people, according to the latest reports. It's not going away anytime soon. Folks need to get USED to this, but they can't even get used to people having different skin colours and sexualities.
If I understand you correctly, you're saying that anyone who thinks autism is a disorder that should be fixed, is wrong. They are intolerant of neurological differences, disrespectful of who you really are and trying to restrict your autonomy.

But at the same time, you seem to be saying that if other peoples brains are wired so that they fear people who are different, like those with autism, there is a problem with their brains that needs to fixed.

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Rakeesh
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Frankly, I am [u]deeply[/I] skeptical anytime anyone says something like, "No way I'd want a cure," or, "If I were injured like that I'd kill themselves," things of that nature. It takes some pretty deep and clearly expressed thinking for me to read someone saying such things and not translate them to, "I hope I wouldn't want a cure/would kill myself."

It's just...man, this is some pretty heavy stuff here, Synesthesia. How can you possibly know you wouldn't want a 'cure', setting aside the imprecision of such things? You can't. You may hope you wouldn't want a cure that, while conferring major benefits also caused fundemental changes in your...intangibles, so to speak.

Ssndrake's reasoning, on the other hand, appears quite different. Don't tilt at windmills? Excellent advice! Relevant. Founded not just in the sentiment that says we mustn't say something which might be mean about an autistic person, but rather deals with the deeper and much more complicated questions of humanity, and how and when it exists and is changed.

But show me a person who knows they wouldn't take a magic pill that removed many of the things that make life more difficult, though not necessary less joyful, and I'll ask how they know that and be dubious of their answer unless a similar challenge in the past can be pointed to. But to point out that we oughtn't even consider such an impossible scenario, well hey, that's worth talking about!

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
I think you fundamentally misunderstand the argument. The issue is not whether or not the effects of autism are comparable to the effects of religion or learning about a new field. The issue is whether or not a person with autism can know they prefer to be that way.
If you're not able to make your argument without saying that autism is like like learning something new, then your argument is a non-starter for a lot of people.

Look, I'm not trying to argue for what is or what is not. You said that you couldn't understand why anybody would decline to be normal to see what it's like. I'm merely providing a reason why they might not.

Whether it truly is or is not a fundamental part of who they are, a lot of people feel like it is, and it really shouldn't be all that hard to understand why they'd balk at losing that.

------

Let's suppose another autisism-like disorder. With this disorder, you'd have practically no reading nor mathematical skills. Intellectually and emotionally, you'd be quite dim, just barely on the cusp of being mentally competent. But you'd find much more contentment than you can currently imagine from simple activities like fingerpainting. You'd be, by any objective standard, happier.

If you could, would you choose to become like this permanently? I doubt you would. I know I wouldn't.

But let's suppose you had the opportunity to try it out temporarily. It might be very relaxing -- like an extreme form of turning off your brain and laying about or watching a summer blockbuster.

But imagine how much more hesitant you might be to try that it if there were a chance that dim, finger-painting you might decide that they preferred to stay that way, rendering the temporary change permanent.

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Synesthesia
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I don't think I said that fear of difference is so much a problem of the brain that needs to be fixed. People who fear differences or have prejudices can learn not to be that way, like learning not to fear snakes or spiders, which might be hard wired into the brain. But when you talk about curing autism that sounds less like learning to adapt to society and more like wiping out people who are different altogether because of course something must be wrong with these folks that are autistic.
But I wonder if that's even an accurate way to look at things. Especially since people can view any variation of the norm as meaning something is wrong with the person who doesn't fit in. Sexuality comes to mind. Some people think if people are not heterosexual they need to be cured, but many that are gay think they are fine the way they are and it's society that needs to deal with it.
I think I know myself well enough at this point to determine that no, I do not want a magic pill.

Also, do people even know what being normal means enough to determine that everyone wants to be that way?

[ June 05, 2012, 08:06 AM: Message edited by: Synesthesia ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
f you're not able to make your argument without saying that autism is like like learning something new, then your argument is a non-starter for a lot of people.
I never said that autism was like learning something new. I said that unless you've experienced the alternatives, you can't know what you really prefer.

Do you see any particular reason that this is less likely to be true of autism than it is of anything else in life?

quote:
But let's suppose you had the opportunity to try it out temporarily. It might be very relaxing -- like an extreme form of turning off your brain and laying about or watching a summer blockbuster.

But imagine how much more hesitant you might be to try that it if there were a chance that dim, finger-painting you might decide that they preferred to stay that way, rendering the temporary change permanent.

That second half pretty much negates the hypothetical situation I intended and the point I was making.

[ June 05, 2012, 09:11 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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scifibum
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quote:
I said that unless you've experienced the alternatives, you can't know what you really prefer.

Do you see any particular reason that this is less likely to be true of autism than it is of anything else in life?

Your assertions beg the question Porter is raising, though. Who is the 'you' experiencing alternatives, if each alternative is a significantly different 'you'? Can these different versions of yourself actually compare themselves to each other?

Since autism isn't just a simple impairment like vertigo, it might not be fair to say that an individual - a person with an identity - can experience both alternatives. The act of experiencing the alternative may alter the identity of the person experiencing it to the point that it's meaningless to say that the person who had autism is now experiencing the alternative. Even if this is reversible, somehow - which seems unlikely - how are we to know whether a memory of the non-autistic experience can even meaningfully be carried from the non-autistic state back to the autistic state, so that non-autistic version of the person can evaluate whether it was a net good from her own perspective?

I think this hypothetical carries with it the assumption that there is a sort of constant self that can experience both being autistic and non-autistic. If you buy mental dualism, then you might consider such a hypothetical naturally reasonable, but I think the science right now indicates the body and brain are all there are of the individual, so this somehow aloof self that can compare both alternatives is a problematic assumption.

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Samprimary
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Disadvantages of autism >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> advantages of autism

even when 'high functioning' — most aspies just have this extremely low level of understanding as to the extent of what general functionality they don't have as individuals.

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Destineer
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Ssndrake's reasoning, on the other hand, appears quite different. Don't tilt at windmills? Excellent advice! Relevant. Founded not just in the sentiment that says we mustn't say something which might be mean about an autistic person, but rather deals with the deeper and much more complicated questions of humanity, and how and when it exists and is changed.

But show me a person who knows they wouldn't take a magic pill that removed many of the things that make life more difficult, though not necessary less joyful, and I'll ask how they know that and be dubious of their answer unless a similar challenge in the past can be pointed to. But to point out that we oughtn't even consider such an impossible scenario, well hey, that's worth talking about!

It's good practical advice, I agree. But of course we should consider it, if thinking about the hypothetical brings us greater understanding of what we actually value in life. Don't plan on a cure for autism, of course--but think about how you'd feel if there were one. In itself, the understanding you thereby gain is a valuable thing.
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Darth_Mauve
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Lots to discuss here. Let me start with:

A) Fecal Transplant...sorry, but I'm not taking s*** from anyone.

B) There have been comparisons of higher functioning folks with Autism and Homosexuality. Would we force gay couples to be cured of homosexuality if such a thing could exist? If not, why the Autistic?

If there were a cure, would you take it?

C) That is the plot of at least 2 X-men movies, and about 1/4 of the X-titled comic books.

D) This just proves that the underpaid philosophy majors out there can find important work--"If after a cure I am no longer who I was, is it a cure? Am I ever who I was? What is a Cure? What is I?"

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Samprimary
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quote:
Would we force gay couples to be cured of homosexuality if such a thing could exist? If not, why the Autistic?
Moving past all the other reasons why this is such a weird comparison, I'd say a HUGE good reason is that the disadvantages of autism usually pertain directly to specific disordered functioning and the fact that it is a straight-up disability in most cases, whereas homosexuality's 'dysfunction' all but vanishes without social stigma attached. You could get rid of autism stigma and still have severe functionality issues. There's no "high functioning" versus "low functioning" homosexuality.
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Synesthesia
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I got to question the validity of low functioning and high functioning. Amanda Baggs would be considered low functioning because she can't speak and needs caretakers, but she's incredibly intelligent.
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Samprimary
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Don't question the validity of it. There is absolutely low functioning spectrum individuals with autism. A large portion of autistic children are incapable of living independently. Many are functionally incapable of even clothing or feeding themselves.
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Synesthesia
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It's misleading because there's people who are considered high functioning for being able to speak, but they can have a lot of invisible difficulties that folks don't notice as much because they can speak. Amanda Baggs can't live independently, but she's brilliant.
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Samprimary
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That there's some observational lay misrepresentation of someone's functional differences from other individuals doesn't mean that there isn't a very pronounced spectrum of functionality with autistic people, which is what I'm talking about. For example, amanda baggs being unable to live independently is an indicator of her functional differences from a typical non-autistic person. She just serves as a person who was neglected due to an incomplete diagnosis that made her out to have a far more complete operational dysfunction than she actually had.
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sndrake
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quote:
It's good practical advice, I agree. But of course we should consider it, if thinking about the hypothetical brings us greater understanding of what we actually value in life. Don't plan on a cure for autism, of course--but think about how you'd feel if there were one. In itself, the understanding you thereby gain is a valuable thing.
I disagree, especially when it comes to discussions that are meant to somehow direct our thinking on public policy.

In my experience, hypotheticals are used most often to gain agreement to applying certain things in extreme cases - which then get applied in much less extreme cases. A classic example is the question of how far one would go to extract information from someone who you *knew* had knowledge of a terrorist event you *know* will happen within 24 hours. To my knowledge, we've never had such a prisoner, but 'extreme' interrogation techniques got used on plenty of other prisoners.

Hypotheticals also get used as a tool to make painful electric shocks considered an acceptable 'educational' method by presenting some person whose self-injury is so severe - and for whom nothing else has worked or ever will work - that to not use the painful electric shock would be unethical. In practice, of course, the method is used on people with far less serious behavior issues.

Peter Singer also slipped in a hypothetical in an essay in the NY Times Magazine a couple years ago to justify severely limiting the health care one would allow for people with severe disabilities in a 'rational' rationing plan.

I think we learn even more about ourselves when we actually study, analyze and critique real events, practices, etc. than we do when we deal with hypotheticals.

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sndrake
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Samprinary said:

quote:
That there's some observational lay misrepresentation of someone's functional differences from other individuals doesn't mean that there isn't a very pronounced spectrum of functionality with autistic people, which is what I'm talking about. For example, amanda baggs being unable to live independently is an indicator of her functional differences from a typical non-autistic person. She just serves as a person who was neglected due to an incomplete diagnosis that made her out to have a far more complete operational dysfunction than she actually had.
First, I'm not sure that's an accurate assessment of Amanda Baggs - I don't think she claims the 'low functioning' parts of her life are due to neglect.

Second, I think that you and Syn are operating under different assumptions. You seem to think that such disparities in different parts of 'functioning' within one person are rare - and the result of neglect and/or misdiagnosis. Syn - I think - is assuming that autistic individuals can often have pretty significant highs and lows in terms of their personal functioning. (Not happy with how I worded that, but can't think of anything better right now.)

Personally, I am more with Syn on this. Think of so-called 'savants.' People who have limited social skills or have trouble making change - but are highly skilled at playing piano, specialized areas of math, etc. Isn't Amanda Baggs just a variation of that theme?

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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by Synesthesia:
The thing is, you got to wonder what the autistic individual wants. Does Tony WANT to be cured? Life with autism isn't easy, but people tend to focus more on the it's so tragic aspects more than the whole picture.
And the leave people with autism out of the dialogue altogether. In my case, as difficult as my sensory issues are, I am not sure that microflora thing is worth it. No, definitely not. Ew. Autistic people's brains work in unusual and interesting ways. I wish there were more focus on that, and less on trying to wipe us out.

I know, Syn. I doubt he would want to be cured now, and that is fine. It's his life, and I love him completely the way he is now. But it doesn't change the fact that he will never marry, have kids, live on his own, support himself, or be able to understand and interact with other people on a regular basis.

And he is considered high functioning.


I don't advocate forcing cures on people who don't want them, and NONE of the studies linked to are talking about that. They are talking about preventative cures, to prevent this from happening more often.

And I think that is a noble effort, one I stand behind completely.

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Synesthesia
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Ugh. Peter Singer. I hate that guy. What I would like is the concept that perhaps there are different ways of thinking. I'd like to see non-autistic people integrate autistic people into society based on their strengths and to help them with their weaknesses. Yes, I'm a dreamer, but it's not like I'm the only one. Hopefully JRC will be shut down or at least not allowed to shock a teenager 31 times for not removing his jacket.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
You two are, IMO, grossly underplaying the effects of autism in one's life. It is simply not comparable to learning about a new endeavor you'd never heard of before.

Exactly.

I can't imagine anyone wanting to go through what my cousin had to go through as a child. He manages better now, but his symptoms made a fractured pelvis seem like a flesh wound.

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Synesthesia
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Then again, how does one know he WON'T marry? I was told I'd still be living with my parents when I was a kid and I'm not. I'm not married yet because I refuse to mate until I learn how to set boundaries and stand up for myself. It's a serious problem. And how does one attract non-abusive people too? That's one reason why I don't date much and the fact that that people annoy me.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by Synesthesia:
I got to question the validity of low functioning and high functioning. Amanda Baggs would be considered low functioning because she can't speak and needs caretakers, but she's incredibly intelligent.

And she wouldn't lose that intelligence by gaining the ability to clean herself or talk.
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Kwea
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He can't support himself, has to live in a group home, and can't stand interacting with other people on a regular basis. Getting married usually involves another person.

I con't think of anything worse for him other than getting married and having a kid....or either one of them without the other.

High functioning is a broad, imprecise term.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
And she wouldn't lose that intelligence by gaining the ability to clean herself or talk.
You have no way of knowing that.
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Destineer
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quote:
I disagree, especially when it comes to discussions that are meant to somehow direct our thinking on public policy.
I'm not sure why you say "especially" here instead of "only."

quote:

In my experience, hypotheticals are used most often to gain agreement to applying certain things in extreme cases - which then get applied in much less extreme cases. A classic example is the question of how far one would go to extract information from someone who you *knew* had knowledge of a terrorist event you *know* will happen within 24 hours. To my knowledge, we've never had such a prisoner, but 'extreme' interrogation techniques got used on plenty of other prisoners.

This is a good point. There's always a danger that the knowledge of ethical principles we gain through considering extreme thought experiments will be misunderstood in such a way as to justify bad actions. This can easily happen in cases like the one you describe, where people (including scholars as well as laypersons) wrongly assume that reality resembles the thought experiment in the relevant ways.

Knowledge often carries with it some associated risk; we've seen that in spades with scientific knowledge, and I think it's true of ethical knowledge as well. That doesn't mean the knowledge itself isn't valuable.

To turn the example you raised around a bit, ticking time bomb scenarios are among the thought experiments that have convinced me that ethical (as opposed to political) libertarianism can't be true. That's an important part of my ethical knowledge that I wouldn't want to be without.

quote:

I think we learn even more about ourselves when we actually study, analyze and critique real events, practices, etc. than we do when we deal with hypotheticals.

It is, of course, possible to do both. And even for both practices to complement each other: one might criticize the real-world assassination of al-Awlaki on the grounds of what it implies about the powers of the President in certain hypothetical situations.
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Destineer
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A lot of students in philosophy classes get impatient with discussion of hypotheticals. I always tell my students, hey, maybe if a few hundred years ago people had asked the question, "what if there were some way to cure Parkinson's, but developing it required you to kill a bunch of fertilized but undeveloped human embryos," maybe we'd be in a better position now to work out issues about stem cells in the present day.
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sndrake
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quote:
This is a good point. There's always a danger that the knowledge of ethical principles we gain through considering extreme thought experiments will be misunderstood in such a way as to justify bad actions. This can easily happen in cases like the one you describe, where people (including scholars as well as laypersons) wrongly assume that reality resembles the thought experiment in the relevant ways.
That doesn't jive with my experiences at all - whether reading a 'scholar' - or dealing with him in person, or dealing with these hypotheticals in any context, they come across as deliberate manipulations. Agree to the extreme case, and now that you've conceded an extreme case, you're now arguing about where the lines are - point being, you lost the argument. (Works in the Singer NY Times Mag too - first half of article is wonky and empirical, then gets on to rationing scheme with a 'hypothetical' proposition about quadriplegics - that's not ignorance at work)

The *esteemed philosopher* George Bernard Shaw probably provided the best and shortest example of the manipulation technique that I know of, even if it's dated and sexist (and somewhat misgynist as well):

quote:
Shaw: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
Actress: My goodness. Well, I'd certainly think about it.
Shaw: Would you sleep with me for a pound?
Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!
Shaw: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

OK - he left off 'hypothetically' at the start of his thought experiment, but the principle and practice match. [Wink]
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Destineer
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I'm not sure I'm groking your main point here. To stick with the ticking time bomb example, do you think we'd be better off not knowing what the right thing to do would be if we were in the same situation as Jack Bauer in season 2 of 24? Do you think we shouldn't care what would be right in that kind of case? Or do you just think the real world never, in fact, puts us in that position?

I agree with that last thing.

quote:
That doesn't jive with my experiences at all - whether reading a 'scholar' - or dealing with him in person, or dealing with these hypotheticals in any context, they come across as deliberate manipulations. Agree to the extreme case, and now that you've conceded an extreme case, you're now arguing about where the lines are - point being, you lost the argument.
Well, if your position was that you must never torture, no matter what, and the hypothetical shows that it's right to torture in an extreme case, you have lost the argument. If your position in the first place was that torture is almost always wrong, and here is where we draw the line, then you haven't lost.
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Destineer
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Anyway, deliberate manipulation or not, a good argument is a good argument, and if you can't find a flaw in its reasoning you should accept its conclusion. A lot of people are dicks, that doesn't make them wrong.
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sndrake
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When you answer a 'hypothetical,' you really *don't* know anything of practical use. There is no real urgency, there are no real-life consequences, and when asked to say something about what we'd do without the real-life consequences, the answer is meaningless.

I deal with policy issues. So when this point comes up in a policy debate, I reply that policy should be dealing with things most likely to happen and within the full context of the real system under discussion (how many discussions of 'safeguards' in the medical system talk about the lack of reporting of lethal medical errors?). So my stance is that I refuse to deal with hypotheticals and insist we deal with the very real, very flawed, and often unethical systems that are the current reality.

I refuse to play a game in which the rules are rigged to guarantee I lose - and besides, are non-reality based.

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sndrake
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quote:
A lot of people are dicks, that doesn't make them wrong.
Oddly enough, things much like this have been said about me. By my friends.
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
Anyway, deliberate manipulation or not, a good argument is a good argument, and if you can't find a flaw in its reasoning you should accept its conclusion. A lot of people are dicks, that doesn't make them wrong.

I love you, man.
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Destineer
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quote:
When you answer a 'hypothetical,' you really *don't* know anything of practical use. There is no real urgency, there are no real-life consequences, and when asked to say something about what we'd do without the real-life consequences, the answer is meaningless.
Do you like science fiction and fantasy? Do you think that we learn nothing of worth from watching characters wrestle with situations that will never, in fact, come about in real life?

We will never really have the ability to predict who's going to commit murder. Does that make the central theme of "Minority Report" meaningless?

Also, as my stem cell example was meant to point out, sometimes (if only rarely) the strangest hypothetical situations do actually come about.

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Destineer
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
Anyway, deliberate manipulation or not, a good argument is a good argument, and if you can't find a flaw in its reasoning you should accept its conclusion. A lot of people are dicks, that doesn't make them wrong.

I love you, man.
[Kiss]
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sndrake
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quote:
Do you like science fiction and fantasy? Do you think that we learn nothing of worth from watching characters wrestle with situations that will never, in fact, come about in real life?
To me, they're entertainment. I watched 'Buffy' 'religously-in-an-agnostic-kind-of-way,' but no, I don't think I learned anything of worth from that or just about any fiction I've read in terms of helping figure out 'real life.' Fiction is a closed system - the author decides what the rules are, what rules you need to know and what rules are irrelevant. The deck is stacked toward a conclusion that is there to meet the author's standards. I'm along for the ride.

quote:
We will never really have the ability to predict who's going to commit murder. Does that make the central theme of "Minority Report" meaningless?
It makes it interesting and entertaining. Again, the self-contained universe of the producers/authors don't necessarily have much bearing in the much more complex real world. Ride. Along for. Me.

quote:
Also, as my stem cell example was meant to point out, sometimes (if only rarely) the strangest hypothetical situations do actually come about.
That's a stretch. But even so, it does not make the case that it should help shape policy at that time.
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sndrake
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quote:
Anyway, deliberate manipulation or not, a good argument is a good argument, and if you can't find a flaw in its reasoning you should accept its conclusion.
Not necessarily. If the argument is meant to distract from messy current realities it's more a non sequitur than an argument. Asking me to comment on a hypothetical which has been neatly packaged for no other reason than to make it a losing proposition for the other person is not really an argument. It's demanding I step into a trap. I have a choice not to do do by explaining how irrelevant to trap is to the real argument. (I'll also generally comment that it's possible to construct scenarios in which theft and murder are ethically justified - but we don't build policy on hypothetical, extreme, or rare examples.
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sndrake
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quote:
A lot of people are dicks, that doesn't make them wrong.

Oddly enough, things much like this have been said about me. By my friends.

Correction: I just checked my email. That last sentence should read "By my friend."
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