Tag Archives: neurodiversity

The Big Picture: A less-anthropocentric worldview

To summarize the GRINFree.com website in a single image would be unfair: The site is interactive, personal, practical, and related to current events. However, there can be value in a grounding image which facilitates a quick overview.

“Anthropocentric” means human-centered, much as “geocentric” means Earth-centered and “heliocentric” means Sun-centered. Original image by Niko Lang SVG version by User:Booyabazooka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsA picture of our solar system can help us shift from the belief that all planets revolve around the Earth to the belief that all planets revolve around the Sun. The reason we need to make that shift is that our personal perspective of watching celestial objects move across the sky naturally biases us towards the geocentric model. To recognize the falsity of geocentrism, it helps to picture the world from outside our personal perspective. The geocentric model starts to look dubious when you actually confront it from outside. An image might likewise help us escape mistakes of anthropocentrism.

Here’s what modern anthropocentrism looks like from the outside:

Modern Anthropocentric Model

Humans are distinguished in two dimensions: In the vertical dimension, we sit at a particular level in a hierarchy—above cells and molecules but below corporations and ecosystems. This does not imply reductionism; in terms of integrated information theory, each level in this hierarchy represents a different grain size of consciousness,{\textstyle \Phi ^{\textrm {Max}}}. For example, a molecule may be conscious of warmth, but nothing less complex than a body could be conscious of a book (or of itself). The anthropocentric model assumes that bodies can be conscious of moral facts.

In the horizontal dimension, humans are distinguished from other kinds of bodies—other species and machines. This allows us to make sense of the notion that humans (and perhaps God) are the only moral agents that exist. Tests of moral education are administered to particular human bodies. Voting rights are allocated to particular human bodies (often one vote per body). Human bodies are put on trial and can be compensated in courts of justice. We realize that the components of human bodies can come from non-humans sources (e.g. food, pacemakers, artificial limbs, and whole cells from other species), but we do not expect such non-human sources to have moral agency because they do not have all of the components we do.

Less-Anthropocentric Model

The new worldview comes from analyzing the mechanisms of moral understanding into its functional components, and realizing that different bodies play different functions in that mechanism. This is why radicals so consistently oppose conservatives: because one’s function in the corporation is to provide novelty while the other’s is to provide fidelity. Both kinds of bodies participate in moral consciousness, as do neurons and DNA, but no body is individually complex enough to fully contain moral consciousness. We know this because the persistence of our moral disagreements shows our inability to recognize our own moral errors even when pointed-out to us.

All it takes to arrive at the new worldview is to categorize bodies by their function in service to the higher levels of the hierarchy. Since fully-functional corporations may be composed entirely of humans, species clearly isn’t a helpful distinction within corporations. GRINfree.com describes four interdependent evaluative types (though other evaluative types could be discovered). If a corporation lost its last member of a given evaluative type, it would be better to replace that member with a machine of the same evaluative type than with a human of a different type. For example, some humans are not gifted for compassion and other humans are not gifted for fidelity—relying on a human to exhibit a gift he/she lacks would lead to poor functioning.

Corporantia are bodies who respond to the persistence of moral disagreement by acknowledging a kind of consciousness they cannot attain individually; evaluativists are bodies who respond to that same evidence by believing merely that bodies of other evaluative types are incapable of moral consciousness (i.e. treating political opponents as sick or immature). Many celebrated moral theories suppose that one and only one type of body has moral agency (e.g. deontology for conservatives, consequentialism for achievers, virtue ethics for compassionates). These theories lack empirical support, but help to identify the plurality of types.

Why does a body assume it can individually achieve all possible consciousness—including moral consciousness? It’s a lot like the conclusion that the Sun revolves around the Earth—it makes sense from our point of view—and why bother to test it?

The reason why we should have bothered to test that assumption is that it will otherwise get tested inadvertently. The modern age is making it possible to escape biological families—to sort and destroy evaluative diversity—and thus deprive higher levels in the hierarchy of the components they need to achieve moral agency.

A corporation dominated by conservatives, achievers, radicals or compassionates would function as poorly as a body composed purely of muscle, bone, or neuron. Such lack of diversity could occur by closeting humans of particular types or by replacing humans of a given type (e.g. caregivers) with machines developed for a different purpose (e.g. competition). Ironically, anthropocentrism hurts humans; it prevents us from honoring our own diversity, which ultimately hurts not just minorities (especially the young and old), but all of us.

Rather than choose the geocentric model simply because it made sense, it would have been better to compare it with heliocentric models via controlled and systematic experiments. Likewise, it is better to test the proposed new worldview scientifically than to dismiss it out of hand. Some of those experiments have already been conducted and are cited on GRINFree.com.

Evaluativism and the Neurodiversity Movement

The rainbow-colored infinity symbol represents the neurodiversity movement

What do you call it when someone discriminates on the basis of evaluative diversity? For a long time, I didn’t know there was a word for it, but it turns out to be “evaluativism.” In his essay defending evaluativism, Hartry Field offered the following example:

…in dealing with a follower of the Reverend Moon, we may find that too little is shared for a neutral evaluation of anything to be possible, and we may have no interest in the evaluations that the Moonie gives.

In other words, an evaluativist is someone who disregards or avoids people with whom they have disagreements grounded in evaluative differences (and Field’s example is one in which many of us would behave as evaluativists).

Yet much significant research about evaluativism seems unaware of this term. As examples:

To put it bluntly, we engage in evaluativism a lot and without realizing or naming it. Evaluativism is out of control. Where is the movement to fix it? It might have begun with the GRINfree website, or it might have begun with the neurodiversity movement.

The neurodiversity movement grew from the autism movement of the 1990s, especially from Jim Sinclairs’s essay, Don’t Mourn for Us, in which he pointed-out that autism is part of one’s identity, so a parent who wishes their child were not autistic effectively wishes that child were replaced. This sounds remarkably like evaluativism, where a mother wishes her son had not joined that church, or had not fallen in love with that girl, or become a liberal, or become a conservative, or become a materialist. To wish this is to reject the son’s identity, and the son may reciprocate. They may each disown aspects of the other by declaring topics like religion and politics “off the table” between them.

The neurodiversity movement, however, seems to be far ahead of the evaluativism movement. It has a logo (see above), a manifesto (the Holist Manifesto), a national symposium, a host of petitions (including for a neurodiverse doll, for special school districts, and for neurodiverse Disney characters), Thomas Armstrong’s book, The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain, and even a course at the College of William & Mary (Interdisciplinary Studies 490: Neurodiversity).

Yet where does the scope of the neurodiversity movement end? It is called “neurodiversity” because it includes differences labeled “dyspraxia, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, autistic spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.“ What are the others?  Does the neurodiversity movement even include advocating for more regard between liberals, conservatives, and highly sensitive persons (political orientations do correlate to brain features, as does emotional sensitivity)?

Drawing a line is a problem for the neurodiversity movement because a line would force people to get diagnoses and wear labels. The better solution is for society to appreciate the distinctions observed in individuals even before diagnosis. In other words, appreciate people for who they are, rather than for the labels they wear. But to advocate for that kind of appreciation would be to fight evaluativism.

For example, in an analysis of whether it makes more sense to label people with “Asperger syndrome” and “high-functioning autism” as disabled or to treat them merely as different, Simon Baron-Cohen pointed out that the observable differences that lead to labeling are merely how the person chooses to spend their time, their interests, what they think is relevant and important, what kinds of experiences they prefer, and how easily they are influenced by others. In other words, the differences are all evaluative. Until diagnoses are made, with their accompanying stigmas, there is nothing but evaluativism for the neurodiversity movement to protect these people from.

Here we must take care to avoid stereotypes. Not all women have the same values, so we must not portray sexism as a kind of evaluativism, yet women are more likely to be Naturally Relational, so women’s liberation cannot be achieved without addressing evaluativism. Not all Muslims have the same values, so we must not portray religionism as a kind of evaluativism, yet religionism cannot be resolved without resolving evaluativism. Likewise, John Elder Robinson points out that although autistic people are more likely to reject organized religion today (much less follow Reverend Moon), some church leaders may have been on the autism spectrum. The resolution of evaluativism may be a high priority for the neurodiversity movement, but we should take care not to equate neurodiverse identities with evaluative types.

The word “evaluativism” may be as new to you as it was to me, but members of the neurodiversity movement have always known that evaluativism is an obstacle they face. Armstrong’s suggestion that we recognize the strengths of the children we raise and teach isn’t just a way to respond to a diagnosis–its a strategy for addressing evaluativism in general.

Recognizing this connection is especially important for people who previously thought they had no personal stake in the neurodiversity movement. The truth is that evaluativism threatens every family, company, and nation, and the neurodiversity movement may be best positioned to rescue us. For your own family’s sake, please start following the neurodiversity movement, encourage its activists, sign their petitions, and invite them to address your organization.