Friday, August 29, 2008

One on't cross beams gone out askew on't treadle

I expect there will be trouble at'mill by the time some folks have read and digested this post ..

One of my abilities is the ability to think in pictures though images is probably a better way to talk about it, as there is nothing particularly flat or two dimensional about this. I believe this allows me to easily create analogies and to be able to approach problems from different directions, that would never occur to someone who has to construct everything in words. Which part of the neurodiverse territories this comes from does not matter for the argument here. I want to give you a little example illustrating the fallacy of trying to find a medical cure for complex neurodevelopmental differences.

I don't suppose many of you have seen either a Stevengraph, or know the workings of Jacquard loom. A Stevengraph was an elaborate silk picture, woven on a Jacquard loom which uses punched card to determine how the threads are all woven together. To see one in action as I have at Coventry's museum in the past is quite amazing.

Anyway if we were to consider the Stevengraph as the brain, we could see that the punched cards are perhaps the DNA, and the mechanical maintenance of the machine, that keeps it oiled, the parts fitting together properly, and feeds in the different coloured silk could be seen as the epigenetic or environmental factors that also have to gel to create the flawless finished product.

Now imagine one of these wonderful artefacts gone awry, perhaps with rivers of red silk running through it, or sections of the picture missing. How can you fix it? If you unpick all the silk that ought not to be there, or attempt to patch in what was missing, you will not get the original intended picture back, it won't have the same structure, it won't be the same at all. And to try and go back one stage further and discover just where it went wrong, if it is in the punched cards for instance, to discover which particular extra holes, and which missing ones caused it all to go awry would be a nightmare.

Well a Stevengraph elaborate though it is, is a lot less complex than the brain. You can no more expect to unpick dyslexia, or autism, and get the whole picture back, than you can unpick the silk. There is no easy magic pill. You can't just oil the cranks and get it to run right, it's more than that.

That is why I do not believe in easy medical answers and quick fixes. The medic is akin to the mechanic, trying to keep the machine running, not the designer who punched all those holes.


Anonymous said...


I would like to point out also that there are many other conditions people have been looking for the answer for years, and have found only salves.

To my knowledge we still have Muscular Dystrophy and the condition marked by Fibre growth in the lungs, in addition to Down's, Marfan's, Wilson's, Lupus, etc.

Those who insist on a 'cure' may need to revisit the starkness of reality.


laurentius rex said...

I realise to some the language in which I have couched this last post might appear to suggest that autism, or dyslexia is a flawed design, I don't mean to say that, it is just different from what is expected and cannot be restored to some notion of perfection because we are what we are.

You can reason too much by analogy as well, and there are points where I am only talking of a simple analogy and nothing else, a parable as it were.

Perhaps for some those random holes might lead to a more interesting conception in the final analysis, like the random mistakes you might make when executing a sculpture or painting.

laurentius rex said...

Indeed Patrick,

Downs turns out to be nothing like as simple as supposed, and as for Marfan's, there is also Ehlers Danlos and then there are just the traits such as hypermobility which mix in somewhere with one spectrum crossing another.

It's reality, like the weather, an equally complicated system.

There are no magic bullets and I think that the growth of the scientific perspective over the last century has led to a false belief that everything can be solved, from anti wrinkle creams to dare I say it the male worries that the majority of spam seems to address itself to.

Ed said...

The weaving analogy is foreign to me my wife has studied weaving and to design fabric. The big picture relating to that kind of weaving is beyond my comprehension partly because I have never learned the small steps of weaving.

What you understand and have learned to describe is facinating to me.

Having no idea how I learned type of any of the small steps to what I now do, my neurology was the begining explanation to what it now seems to make more sense as mainly being influenced by the lack of structured learning than my classification for how I learn.

I agree the big picture is too often settled by claims of magic cures to individual parts.

I personally get stuck with the overwhelming big picture view since I've learned to identify no structured steps and can only move forward if I can make some peace with the settlement of what looks like a step to better understanding the big picture.

laurentius rex said...

The weaving analogy is familiar to me because of the Coventry connection, having seen the machines and known a little about the history.

My dad also had some interesting abilities, he built my mum a full sized and working loom (handloom that is like the pre industrial weavers used) from a picture in a catalogue, notwithstanding that was not what my mum actually wanted, as she would have preferred something smaller.

Before the Jacquard loom and mechanisation was introduced weaving was a cottage industry that often called for solitude and a devotion to repetitive work. However no one can say that there was never artistry in handloom weaving, as William Morris (of pre raphaelite fame)became a master at it, composing poetry whilst he wove.

Some of my antecedents were weavers in Nuneaton, where George Eliot was familiar enough with the craft to write the novel Silas Marner.

Silas Marner as described was a neurodiverse man and a loner in the novel. He had epilepsy. It has been speculated that William Morris may have had temporal lobe epilepsy too, one of his daughters was definitely epileptic.