Autism & Consensus Reality: Neurodiversity, Cognition & Perception

From a thread  started at reddit, here.

What we think of as reality is an agreement to perceive only certain aspects of reality. The agreement ensures that anything outside of that agreement will no longer be perceived.

It is possible to perceive things outside of that agreement. Children do it; animals do it; and many autistics and so-called “psychics” and “shamans” and “schizophrenics” do it also. (Psychedelic drugs allow ordinary people to do it too, though I don’t recommend them.)

Extra-consensual perception is not extra-sensory perception (ESP), however. It’s sort of the reverse. (There is nothing that we can perceive outside our senses, IMO; it’s just that our senses are capable of perceiving much more than we generally think.) Extra-consensual perception is full sensory perception. It comes through the five senses once they are fully open.

Autism is part of a species response to the unnatural limitations of consensus reality, and to the forced shutting down of EPC by socialization and enculturation. (Think ABA on a mass scale over millennia.)

I think of the human species as a single organism. It’s a bit like a balloon, if you push on one end, it deflates, and the other end has to bulge outward to take the displaced air. The air in this metaphor is perceptual capacity.

The more people shut down their perceptions, the more that disowned perceptual ability has to be picked up by another portion of the species. (This is only a theory, and I am oversimplifying to make it easy to follow. Obviously it is WAY more complex than pushing on a balloon.)

The currency of culture is what is “known” to be true. Knowledge is inessential to extra-consensual perception. The body knows stuff without knowledge, and knowing in the body something doesn’t automatically turn it into “knowledge” – which is like a set of knowings that have been stored by the mind (or in books, etc).

There’s like an internal battle within the human organism (and reflected in society out there) between two perceptual modes – focused awareness (a narrow band that takes in only what the eyes and mind zero in on), and unfocused awareness, which takes in what the whole body perceives through the five senses (but I think especially the ears), as well as inner senses like intuition.

Thinking/interpreting goes with focused awareness. Perceiving with unfocused. It’s not possible to think and perceive at the same time – if we interpret while we are observing, we will miss stuff. Observe first, interpret later.

NT types are interpreters; autistic types are perceivers, though of course it’s a spectrum so very few people are 100% either way.

As a high-functioning autie (as this post probably shows), I have pretty much aligned myself with the thinker-interpreter types, but I am slowly learning to perceive with my body more, and interpret with my mind less.

I suppose you could loosely equate this division with right brain and left brain. So what’s really needed is a good communication channel between the two. NTs need to learn how to perceive/observe/listen better, auties need to learn how to think/interpret/verbalize more.


The idea that our perceptions are limited by both genetic and social factors (epigenetics) is science, not just mysticism. Frogs for example will starve to death if they are surrounded by dead flies because their perceptual faculties can only recognize food when it’s buzzing around their heads. A rabbit that lives by the motorway soon learns to tune out the sound of cars once it “figures out” that the sound does not present a threat.

We really don’t know what we are failing to perceive, just as we can’t know which memories we have suppressed, because we don’t perceive a “hole” – we fill in the gaps and so it looks to us like a whole picture.

We need to apply logic to recognize that there are holes, just as if we look back at our past, logic tells us that the sum of all our memories cannot account for all of the time that’s passed, ergo, stuff has happened to us which we have no recall of.

One major erroneous assumption we make is that the holes can’t possibly be big ones, i.e., that there couldn’t be anything major in our past that we have forgotten, or anything significant in our perceptual field that we fail to perceive.

But evidence indicates the reverse: that it’s really profound, impacting things that get filtered out by the conscious mind (such as early experiences of abuse). The organism is hard-wired to protect itself from traumatic “data.”

Stories recount that the indigenous people couldn’t see Cortes’s ships on the ocean when the conquistadores came because they didn’t have a frame of reference for something that large on the ocean. It’s hard to believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

How many times every day do you fail to notice something that is right in front of you, because for whatever reason your mind filters it out of cognition? I know I do it all the time.

My point is roughly that all humans have two functions, perception and cognition and that, due to trauma probably, there’s been a form of “cognitive denial” (like those natives staring at “alien” ships) that’s caused a split off between the two, so that we cannot cognate large portions of what we perceive, and therefore cannot perceive them.

A natural reaction to this is that the species tries to correct the imbalance by relinquishing cognitive faculties in order to let in the missing perceptual data.

Since autism entails seeing what’s been shut out by trauma-induced cognitive denial, it makes perfect sense that the NT cognitive deniers reject and fear autistics.

Parents fear their own children because they sense, rightly, that parts of themselves they have shut out of awareness are perceivable to their children. They see the “message” of their own incompleteness/distortion/inauthenticity (trauma!) in the children’s eyes and, as unfortunately is human reactive nature, they want to kill the messenger. Or cure them.

Autistics may be a “new human race” but don’t forget that nature is one eco-system and all the species have specific function in relation to one another.

I am suggesting that, since what all the species have in common is consciousness and perception, this is the underlying nature of the total system, and therefore the primary relationship between the parts is perceptual – ie, not only what one species or individual does affects the other, but what it perceives.

12 thoughts on “Autism & Consensus Reality: Neurodiversity, Cognition & Perception

  1. You bring up many points in your essay today, Jasun. I will comment on only one of your ideas – the role of extra-consensual perception. I apologize in advance for the length of these comments, and beg your gentle readers indulgence:-) ( I actually had written this with responses to two of your ideas, but feel that that would be a great imposition on the time and attention of the visitors here. But your essay did provide me over two hours of thoroughly enjoyable writing time!)

    I highly recommend a work by the Scottish neuroscientist, Iain McGilchrist, published by Yale University press in 2009, titled “The Master and his Emissary”, which is a very erudite examination of how the “The Master”, the right hemisphere, is truly what should be *by nature* our dominant hemisphere, and that its “Emissary”, the left hemisphere, should be subservient to it. In a tiny nutshell, he argues that the activities of logic, discrimination, fact-collecting, enumeration, etc., that the left specializes in, should only serve the perceptual, big-picture, metaphysical role of the right – and not the reverse.

    Extra-consensual perception. One of the dominant signs and symptoms of autism is impaired language skills. (Not typically for Asperger’s though). In autistic brains, the cells that give us language, simply are not talking to each other, at the neurological level, and also physically. These cells literally have to be woken up, and much of the therapy goes to that effort, to get these children to communicate with the outside world. But at the same time, they have extra-ordinary levels of perception – nonlocal intuition, pattern recognition etc., that neurotypicals do not. It should be clear to anyone that we barely touch the surface of what our perceptive capacity is. Autists need help putting into words their experiences, and neurotypicals need help deepening their use of perception to understand experience.

    Tying all of this together, hopefully, neatly, is Heraclitus. Quoting from “The Master and the Emissary”, page 268. “Heraclitus held that the nature of things is intrinsically hard to seek out using the tools with which we would normally equip ourselves for the task. Our natural assumptions and our common ways of thinking will lead us astray, and we need to be both wary and indefatigable in our seeking after truth. ‘He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected,’ he wrote, ‘for it is trackless and unexplored’, the nature of things, and therefore the truthful evocation of them, is such that it ‘neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign.’ The Heraclitus scholar Charles Kahn writes that the ‘parallel between Heraclitus’ style and the obscurity of the nature of things, between the difficulty of understanding him and the difficulty in human perception, is not arbitrary: to speak plainly about such a subject would be to falsfy it in the telling, for no genuine understanding would be communicated.’ The point is not that the nature of things is contradictory, but that the attempt to render them in language leads inevitably to what we call paradox, and the attempt to avoid paradox therefore distorts.”

    Does an autist intuitively know that rendering into language distorts what is known to be true? Does the autistic child rocking quietly and watching a spider makes its web, know in his body this paradox? Does the Asperger individual who is sensitive to touch, know in his body reactions that touch holds a memory of something beyond words? And certainly, I think, that a world in which we perceive with our senses to a greater degree, would bring us to understand “truth” and our relationship to it, in far less abstract terms. The tool of language is powerful, but separates us from immediate experience. Autists live in the immediate, present moment in a way neurotypicals really can barely “perceive”.

    I must apologize for my fuzzy thinking. I intuit that Jasun is completely correct in the ideas he is presently but I can’t easily explain why. It is like a ghost in the fog of my mind that I can’t give substance to with words, but know it is there nonetheless.

    I will close with a poem of Rilke’s that I believe expresses very well how it feels to perceive deeply, and not with words alone.

    Everything Beckons to Us

    Everything beckons to us to perceive it,
    murmurs at every turn ‘Remember me!’
    A day we passed, too busy to receive it, will yet unlock us all its treasury.

    Who shall compute our harvest? Who shall bar
    us from the former years, the long-departed?
    What have we learnt from living since we started,
    except to find in others what we are?

    One space spreads through all creatures equally –
    inner-world-space. Birds quietly flying go
    flying through us. Oh, I that want to grow,
    the tree I look outside at grows in me!

    It stands in me, that house I look for still,
    in me that shelter I have not possessed.
    I, the now well-beloved: on my breast
    this fair world’s image clings and weeps her fill.

    (pages 108, 109 The Possibility of Being, translated from the German by J. B. Leishman, 1957 New Directions Publishing)

    • Hello, Debbie, I just wanted to remark that your comment contains a lot of insight, and I can back up your perspective with some of my own experiences. I have Asperger’s myself, but I believe I have had direct experience of the world of “low-functioning” autism (those without language) on an occasion when I took a fairly high dose of MDMA. The drug eliminated my language ability entirely for a period of time, leaving me with pure thoughts; I could not use words within my own mind, and could not express my thoughts verbally with words, either, though I made a few concerted attempts to do so. It was as though the “library” within my mind had been shut and locked, and no trace of memory of written or spoken language remained in the rest of the space. My thoughts were exactly the same as in my day-to-day life, but without the added language layer filtering them. It was a truly remarkable experience.

      For anyone who is introspective and able to obtain pure MDMA (not street drugs, preferably), I would highly recommend taking it in a well-controlled environment, just for the experience of thought without language. I am quite convinced that animals, as well as people with severe autism, experience the world in this way.

      • Good evening, Ruminator, and thank you for your kind words. It certainly does sound as if you had a rare experience of sensory perception, without being able to access language to describe it at that time. I like your visual of a “library” being closed to you for that time – it must have felt a bit disorienting, though perhaps not in a bad way!

        I left behind consciousness-enhancing plants long ago, and I doubt I will ever try MDMA, but your experience certainly gave you insight that most people never have.

  2. thanks debbie for mcgilchrist…..googled laim mcgilchrist and watched a one and one half hour video at schumacher college….this guy seems to embody a balanced left brain right brain soul/entity which i think he is talking about….in any case thanks again both to you and jake….from my perspective the video is outstanding. namaste` derm

  3. And thank you Derm for finding such a video! It never occurred to me to search for him that way, but I will now. I would love to hear him give a lecture. Namaste, Deb

  4. Here is the link, for anyone interested. His work is exactly as Derm describes…an extensive analysis of the battle between the two hemispheres for supremacy, and why that outcome is important on a societal and individual level.

    I would love to hear the thoughts of others regarding the idea that autism can be looked at as a response of the human psyche to pressures from one side of the “balloon”. (left hemisphere?) and the deep connections of trauma, both collectively and individually to autism, that Jasun also discusses above.

  5. I am so glad you have had a chance to listen to his talk, even just a little. (I am very grateful to Derm for finding it!). I would have recommended his book The Master and the Emissary earlier, but I really do understand how much of a tidal wave of information you must swim up through each day to prepare the your thoughts and writing. His book is really a mirror to many of the things you have written or spoken about over the years, and uncannily, even his author’s voice has tones of yours. That being said, the book is an ungodly steep climb to get through. It is not written with an academic audience in mind, but he expects his readers to have a very thorough knowledge of western european history, language, literature and most especially philosophy. I bought it in November and am only now nearly done. The first half is an investigation of the physical, cognitive differences of the left and right hemispheres. The second half is an examination of how western european society developed with such a left brain focus what the consequences have been. There are over 80 pages of footnotes and bibliography at the end. lol…for the general reader:-)

    I think his video lectures are an excellent way of getting his main points without having to spend hours in his book.

    I thought about you today when I glanced through the rather blistering series of articles that were posted on the internet following the release of the prosecutors note’s in the Sandy Hook investigation. There was definitely a media focus on his reported “asperger’s syndrome”.

  6. Jasun, only a few years ago I would not have been fully on-board with your concepts presented here, but having experienced recent breakdowns of the internal walls separating me from some of my worst childhood memories (which I had no conscious knowledge of until the breakthroughs), I understand your ideas, and agree with them. There is so much more to life than meets the eye, and reality is not very well reflected in the memory of humans. Memory is less like a photograph than a drawing being constantly revised.

    It disappoints me to see people’s forays into the world of intuitive thought being dismissed as new-age mumbo jumbo by so-called ‘experts’ who refuse to acknowledge the artificial cognitive barriers that humanity has erected between language-based thought, and primal or ‘pure’ thought. The way humanity has historically treated animals is blatant evidence of this prejudice: “They cannot think [read: “speak”], therefore we do not have to show them respect or compassion”. It is self-evident that animals are capable of thought, but only relatively recently have otherwise highly-educated people started to recognise this fact.

    This attitude towards others who are not capable of language has naturally and tragically extended to humans. People trapped inside their own minds, people who are unable to speak, have been assumed to be mentally deficient (incapable of thought), but now with the help of advanced technology we are discovering this to be very false indeed, as some of those individuals are expressing their thoughts to us via computer.

    I wonder whether humanity will ever evolve to the point where a person could consciously switch back and forth between thought styles – language-based and primal. It would be a very useful ability.

    Really I just wish I had a better mind and could observe our kind as a whole and see the things we’ve hidden from ourselves, the things that might be fairly obvious to a visitor from another world, for example.

    Thanks for your post; it has gotten my mind spinning.

  7. You’re very welcome.

    This comment somehow got caught up in the blog-system and I only saw, and therefore approved, it just now, so I apologize if it felt like you’d been ignored, or worse, blocked. If anyone else notices this happening with their comments, please send me a heads up at jasun at auticulture dot com.


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