Physician, heal thyself.

The origins of the imperative, "know thyself", are lost in the sands of time, but the age-old examination of human consciousness continues here.

Physician, heal thyself.

Postby dragon » Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:41 pm

Uta Frith, a neuroscientist specializing in autism, is a guest on BBC Radio 3 this week. Professor Frith discussed the prevalence of autism in our society and the identification of the condition, either self-diagnosis or diagnosis of children etc. She acknowledged that she had wondered about herself in view of the fact that she had social difficulties of the sort normally associated with autism. However, she dismissed the possibility that she was herself autistic, and suggested that one should be wary of misdiagnosing oneself on the basis of certain social difficulties from which many people suffer.

Interestingly, Prof. Frith also went on to dwell on the attractiveness of autistic children. I say “interesting” because a normal, healthy person does not find sick or disabled people attractive. This is a protective mechanism without which behavioural disorders and mental problems of all sorts would be much more communicable. By and large one’s learning is driven by a sort of attraction: children are attracted to older children, there is often a sort of hero worship, and they want to emulate their hero. If one is attracted by somebody who behaves badly i.e. has a behavioural disorder, then one will find that one is picking up the bad behavior.

This is not a prejudice, and does not lead to any sort of intolerance. In fact, it leads to good behavior in that one is identifying people who need help and one is therefore able to offer help. If your feelings are unable to distinguish the sick from the healthy then you are (A) liable to pick up the dysfunction yourself and (B) are going to fail to recognize those in need.

So Prof. Frith has identified herself as someone whose feelings are unable to distinguish the healthy from the unhealthy. Also, she does acknowledge having social difficulties but dismisses them as “just one of those things”. I.e. she appears to think that it is normal and healthy to suffer from social difficulties. I disagree. Admittedly a healthy person will become more socially adept with every passing year, and the more so if they make a habit of mixing with people outside their own normal social sphere. In fact, a normal, healthy person will seek interaction with people who are very different from themselves since development of social skills (skills which are much more universally useful and applicable, e.g. to the assessment of art, than is normally recognized) is something they will pursue, something they will enjoy --- it is extremely satisfying to be able to interact successfully with people who are ever more “foreign” to oneself and to the society of one’s upbringing.

So in admitting to having social difficulties which are a fixed part of her psychology, it seems to me that Prof. Frith has identified herself as dysfunctional. Further, it seems to me that Prof. Frith is woefully deficient in the kinds of human resources that are necessary when identifying and dealing with the mentally disabled. And further yet, if we accept that people learn their behavior from other people, then Prof. Frith lacks the behavior that would make her an example to learn from.

PS: Relevant to the above is, or was, the prevalence of the use of the expression “setting an example”. One used to hear it used in classrooms: you’re setting a bad example to the other children, in homes: you’re setting a bad example to your younger sister, and I’m sure in many other places. This seems to me to be a recognition of how behavior is transmitted from one child or person to another.

PPS: It really could be considered quite alarming the numbers of people involved in mental health who are themselves short of a few sandwiches for the picnic, an obvious example being Prof. Oliver Sacks who by his own admission is short of more than just a few sandwiches!
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