Autism & the Alien (The Thing from Inner Space, Part Three)

Consciousness, Autism, & Meeting “the Alien”

“Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”
—Julian Jaynes, The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind

In Jaynes’ influential work, he presents evidence for the idea that, in terms of conditioned learning, not only is consciousness unnecessary but it actually prevents learning from occurring. The more conscious we are of being conditioned, Jaynes points out, the less susceptible we are to it. This brings us back to the question of belief, and how the idea that we have consciously chosen to believe something is, nine times out of ten, an error. We believe, or disbelieve, because, at one time or another, it was necessary to believe.

In Jaynes’ book, he describes how, when a person is asked to say words at random, if the listener responds to certain words (say nouns) with a nod, a smile, or some other approving gesture, the subject will unconsciously begin to favor that particular class of words. Another example Jaynes gives: members of a psychology class were told to compliment anyone they saw wearing red and, within a week, the place was ablaze with red. In a similar experiment, students paid rapt attention to their professor and laughed at all his jokes whenever he was on the right side of the room. He was unaware of anything unusual, but the students reported that they were “almost able to train him right out of the door.” Such incidents indicate how susceptible we are to suggestion and how powerful the unconscious is, not only to shape our perceptions but to influence and even determine our actions. The proof Jaynes offers is that these kinds of experiments cease to work the moment the subject is made aware of how he or she is being conditioned.

A final example from Jaynes is one the reader can try for him- or herself. Take two identical glasses or mugs and fill them with unequal amounts of water. Move them around with your eyes closed until you are unsure which is which. Keeping your eyes closed, pick them up and judge which is heavier. You will probably find it easy to do so. Now look for what is making the judgment. The assumption we make is that our mind is making the judgment. In fact, our mind is not “doing” anything besides reporting what our nervous system has already done. Jaynes uses this example to point out how the entire basis for believing our judgments are based on mental processes is inaccurate. On closer examination, the mind may not really be doing much of anything besides skewering the evidence—and keeping us sufficiently unconscious to be conditioned?

Despite all of this, the idea that we are what we are conscious of being seems to have gained precedence in the Western mindset over the past few decades (not counting the preponderance of New Age ideas, which often seem more like compensatory “make believe” than deeper understanding). Transhumanists such as Ray Kurzweil are busy promoting technologies which they promise will extend human existence into the infinite, by way of replacing biology with hardware and consciousness with software. Kurzweil believes he can resurrect his dead father by gathering enough information, samples of DNA from his disinterred corpse, memorabilia, photographs, and his own memories about him, and converting it all into digitalized form. He believes (or pretends to believe) that all there is to his father is a set of specific characteristics making up his visible personality, his social identity, which can then be reassembled in this strange fashion—by adding all the parts together like Baron von Frankenstein with his creature (or the Kabbalists and their golem) and zapping it with a bolt of lightning. Bizarre as this scenario may sound, the thinking behind it appears to be becoming more and more prevalent, not only in transhumanist circles but everywhere.

Such beliefs can only arise from a denial of the existence of the unconscious and a raising up of the conscious ego mind to the throne of being. But if the ego mind is all the things we know and believe about ourselves, our memories, opinions, preferences, character traits (real or imagined), etc., needless to say this changes over time and varies from person to person, sometimes extremely. Not to mention that, at different times during the day (most obviously when we sleep), our conscious (or semi-conscious) minds are filled with different elements, all of which we identify as “ourselves.” Everyone knows that, to some degree at least, we respond to far more than we are consciously aware of. We all know what it’s like to experience irrational anger, to fall into despair for no apparent reason, or to find ourselves doing things with no idea of why we are doing them (and sometimes no memory of having done them). We are all, to one degree or another, aware of the existence of the unconscious, that there is far more to us than we are ever able to observe, much less categorize or explain, with our conscious minds. Yet we are also able to conveniently—and somewhat miraculously—ignore this fact throughout most of our lives.

Around the time I was becoming less and less interested in UFOs, I developed an interest in autism. This was not entirely coincidental, because there are some very obvious correlations between the two fields. Autistic people are often seen (and even describe themselves) as like alien beings; some of the more New Agey literature even suggests that autistics are literally extraterrestrials, walking unrecognized among us. Old faery lore, on the other hand, which has well-known correspondences with modern UFO lore, is filled with accounts of “changelings” being left in the place and likeness of a human child. Similarly, autistic children often seem perfectly normal until their second or third year, at which point the “symptoms” begin to show and parents may feel as if their child has been replaced by an alien imposter.

Autism relates to specific behaviors that are the result of a radically different way of perceiving the world. Autistic children, for reasons still unknown (it has to do with their brains having larger neural networks), seem to be hardwired in such a way that their senses function in totally different ways to ordinary children. One result of this is that they may fail to develop the kind of social identity which children are expected to develop. Autistic children are unable to imitate the behaviors of other children (or adults) and so to assume, or adopt, a socially acceptable “ego-self.” They are not able to learn, or rather, they can’t be conditioned. Our western bias (“neurotypical” is the word autistics have for it) assumes that this incapacity to “learn” (i.e., be conditioned) is due to a lack of consciousness. As Jaynes and others have shown, however, the reverse may more likely be the case. To the extent that autistic children are more conscious than ordinary children, they do not “learn” in the normal sense of the word, because, as Jaynes demonstrates, consciousness prevents conditioning.

Another of way of saying that autistics are more conscious is that they don’t suppress or shut down their perceptual awareness to the same degree as other children. This would mean there is less of a clear dividing line between their conscious minds and their unconscious psyche (or what quickly becomes unconscious in “normal” children). Hence, they are often seen as “aliens,” psychics (Indigo kids), and, more commonly, as retarded, brain-damaged, dysfunctional, or handicapped. This is an inevitable presumption if all there really is to us is our conscious minds—what else are we to make of autistics who haven’t developed such a mind except to presume that they are “non-beings”? In fact, in many cases that’s exactly how they are seen and treated.

Very often low-functioning, non-verbal autistics who have been diagnosed as severely retarded are discovered to be above average intelligence once someone finds a way to communicate with them.  If we find it so difficult to understand an autistic human or communicate with them, what does that say about the chances we would understand something truly alien if we encountered it? If we aren’t able to recognize or communicate with the psyche (or “the alien”) when it wears our own biological form, what chance do we have when it’s zipping around the sky or materializing as an uninvited goblin in the dead of the night?

All of this points to our own lack of awareness as to the nature of the unconscious, i.e., that it is incomprehensible to the conscious mind except through letting IT tell us what it is. To do that we have to first learn its language.

Ditto the UFO. The psyche is the greater reality we are none of us aware of save in a superficial way, and the UFO experience cannot be approached as a superficial question. To try and interpret the UFO material without applying psychology is, to paraphrase Charles Fort, like trying to ride an imaginary camel through the eye of a hypothetical needle, in a haystack that never was.

13 thoughts on “Autism & the Alien (The Thing from Inner Space, Part Three)

  1. Very well said. It is absolutely true that we know so very little of what the nature of consciousness truly is. Western civilization has developed in its social and cultural history with an overbalance (or imbalance) of left hemisphere dominance. If as Iain Mcghilchrist postulates, that the right hemisphere is the Master and the left is the Emissary, we now live in a society that holds its Master as less than a prisoner…for the left hemisphere, the Master doesn’t even exist.

    As you rightly point out, all autistic people, whether their autism dominates on the left or right, they are more (hyper) conscious than neurotypicals. They resist social conditioning because of their innate tuning to something other than social norms. I wish I had a better word to describe, than “something”, but what autistic people are in tune with may be a larger, deeper cosmic consciousness, rather than only human. I am dangerously close to New Age thought here, but I hope I am explaining myself well.

    The Greek etymology for the word apocalypse is “to reveal, to lift a veil, to remove a covering”. It cannot be so odd that fairy lore and folktales often talk of places and times of the year where “the veil” between worlds is lifted. Perhaps there have always been people who are always at that time and place, who literally live out life with the veil lifted or so thin that they have contact with other worlds. Autistic individuals would be very natural fey folk.

    One of the thoughts that I have wrestled with in my own mind as I have read your work over these past several months, has been that the experience of trauma and the experience of autism, in the western world at least, cannot be separated. For a child to grow up autistic in this culture means that they will experience some aspect of trauma at some point in their lives. For some…it may be that initial chemical imbalance that happened in utero that causes the autism in the first place. For others, it may be family and social ostracism or physical abuse. Others, maybe just a long adulthood of mixed matched relationships and jobs. However, I believe that autists struggle with the all the pain of trauma that you have described so well, and that it frames their experience of perception, both sensory and mentally. I have to believe that effects like dissociation are felt by autists to an even greater degree than a neurotypical simply because of their heightened consciousness.

    If a new archetype is beginning to rise up through consciousness (as I believe Jung suggested), then autists would be among the first to perceive something like a UFO. And it would be more than just a perception via a story, it would be vividly experienced. I know that sounds like a hallucination, and even Strieber had himself tested for schizophrenia, but maybe we need a different word to describe the experiencing of this new archetype. The connections you have carefully and thoughtfully made between UFOs, trauma, and autism, and ultimately your own life, seem, well…seamless to me. I think you have gone a long way to finding a new way to describe such a new experience.

  2. It’s interesting that the deeper the conscious mind goes inside the subconscious the more the subconscious bends around to become the outside as well. It’s not like the subconscious is something below or hidden from the conscious mind but that the conscious mind is more like a bubble that is surrounded by and infused with the subconscious. I think I’m starting to prefer terms like “the other” to represent the subconscious as terms like this at least seem to impart this notion.

  3. I am amazed at how quickly psychologists (and i am one) dropkicked hypnosis and ‘subliminal’ effects out from the scrutiny of science.

    I’ve been intending to push the prisoner of infinity on mojomachine, although as old jim would say, ‘for all the good Our advertising will do you.’
    Let me know if I can be of assist

  4. Real interesting discussion (and replies). It touches some deep questions and themes from the cutting edge. Or maybe, the drop-off point. Where the conscious mind ends and the unconscious begins – with its murky unfathomed depths, greater than light can penetrate.

    About the ‘changeling’ concept, relative to autism and the ‘alien’ or ET – I’ve had some questions from my own personal end. On one hand, autism has never arisen in my history as a clinical question. Yet on the other hand, I’ve sometimes had a personal sense of ‘difference’ that makes me scratch my head a little sometimes. In pondering it, trying to trace its features, I began to realize at some point, that the ‘changeling’ offered an interesting metaphor or imaginative analogy, for the general sense of it.

    It occurred to me thus: suppose some ‘alien’ interest or intelligence – a higher consciousness akin to what’s depicted in DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (etc.) – surreptitiously switched out a human newborn, substituted one of their own in its place, to be raised as a human, by human parents, and part of human society. Presumably, as part of some plan or purpose unknown (unimaginable?), on the part of the alien agency – a purpose somehow involving Earth, and its form of life.

    Of course neither the human parents nor anyone would – by design – be aware of the substitution. Nor would they even be able to properly suspect, since they don’t even know of the existence of the alien intelligence involved. The changeling himself wouldn’t be in on it. He’d grow up on an understanding, an assumption unquestioned – that he’s an ordinary, human and conventional being. After all, what else would he, could he be?

    But because, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, he’s actually non-human (alien or whatever) – his experience, subjectively, might differ in certain ways, potentially puzzling. As a result, he might notice or gradually realize a sense, as if some strange ‘disconnect’ from the human condition itself. As if, despite his human form and identity – he’s actually a different type of being, in some unknown, mysterious but fundamental way.

    Depending how that develops (in such a scenario), his experience of this ‘difference’ might likely provoke questions in his mind – about his human identity, and his true nature as such. Especially, how his ‘being’ relates to others around him. Is he really an Earther or – could he be something else, disguised as one? If so, it might explain a lot. Could he have been placed on this planet for reasons unknown, part of some operation, or plan – and even he’s not in on it? That might be what it feels like. In such a scenario, the ‘secret plan’ he’s part of, wily-nily – might be predicated on the possibility – that the ‘changeling’ would or could at some point begin to suspect something such. He might look for evidence of an equivalent question in others – do they also wonder such things, about themselves? He might observe, from that standpoint, how people around him relate to each other in general – and perhaps find no such indications. The sense of puzzle in his mind, might only increase, intensify.

    Would such a ‘changeling’ begin to wonder at some point, if – as surface appearances insist – he’s really an ordinary human being (as he, his family and friends, and everyone else has always taken for granted)? If he learned about the ‘changeling’ motif, would he at least realize a comparison, between his sense of puzzling difference – and what a ‘changeling unawares’ might experience, in such an imaginative scenario?

    In pondering such things over years – realizing a possible analogy – one thing I eventually did was look into the ‘changeling’ folklore. I wanted to get a fuller sense of its scope and scale. One surprising aspect I found, briefly mentioned in a few sources – apparently some autistics identify with the concept of the changeling, and/or of the alien (as depicted in science fiction), along lines something like I was pondering. As pertains to perplexities of my own subjective experience, selfhood and identity – which has only gradually come to my attention in adult life.

    Of course, I have no answers whatsoever, only interest. And questions I’m able to clarify only to a certain extent. Among other things it enriches my interest in things ranging from scifi, as a literary/cinematic narrative cycle – to autism, consciousness and psychology. So the discussion here, intriguing.

    • Hi Brian – that’s a great comment, and it goes directly to the question I raised while I was working on a pitch for my autism book/project, just yesterday! As follows:

      If there were an alien species hidden among us, is this what it would be like? What sort of communication and socialization problems might it have? What special abilities? How would we receive it? Would there be an ongoing, unrecognized “inquisition of difference,” a persecution drive under the guise of “treatment”? Or, conversely and simultaneously, an idealization of hyper-sensitive, “divine” children, heralding a new species come to save or supplant the old, outworn humanity?

      The bottom line is that no one but autists know what autism is — and most of them aren’t talking.

      [This book] will not only be essential reading for individuals diagnosed as autistic (and their relatives, caregivers, et al) but also for an equally large percentage of people who, without identifying themselves as “autistic” per se, have long felt different from the neurotypical norm. Autism is like the splinter in Thomas Anderson’s brain, in The Matrix. It comes in varying sizes, and the size of the splinter determines how well they can function in neurotypical society. There are an immeasurable number of these “sleeper agents” out there, and this book, in part, will help them to identify themselves.

      I was about to make a call out for readers and collaborators today, so again that’s great timing .

      What’s your interest level in P.K. Dick?

  5. Jasun, I’m glad stuff I said struck a note of interest apparently. A pleasure to think my ‘free association’ from my own weird currents of experience added to, rather than diverted from, your discussion. But you’ll only encourage me. There’s more I can tell, and if it furthers your exploration, I might toss some out.

    I should first answer your question – I’m not well-versed in PK Dick. Decades back as a scifi fan, I read “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” But I’m not sure I know any of his others. I look forward to your discussion about that. No doubt it’ll broaden my horizons. Especially in what I call “Terence McKenna Studies.” Seems like PKD comes up an awful lot in connection there – exegetically (I hasten to add).

    Pertaining to the ‘trauma’ theme as you discuss it in this context – relative to my own gradual realization of an ‘as if alien changeling’ metaphor (for aspects of my inner experience) – I’m thinking there may be a connection. I might explain. I wonder if you think its valid or relevant. I can go back to age 5 in memory and find events, moments, that posed a kind of confusion for me as a child – of some obscurely traumatic nature perhaps. They could be seeds that sprout into the ‘changeling’ sense, as I reflect. I’ll preface by observing – what I’m talking about ties in with certain sensitive themes. The ‘imaginary friend’ in childhood (or, is it completely imaginary), as axis of a story, in terms of adult input distressing the child. Its delicately depicted and thematically explored as sources of narrative. A few examples I’ll cite for reference – I’ll guess you’ve seen these (on odds?):

    LOST IN SPACE: MY FRIEND MR NOBODY – the mother, with best most sympathetic intention, interprets her young daughter’s story as imaginative and normal, by trying to relate it to her own childhood experience
    DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL – adults, especially mother, questioning the reality and truth of what her son says about Mr Carpenter
    (also an ANDY GRIFFITH in which Opie’s in trouble with his Dad – because of a story he tells, that Dad doesn’t believe, simply because it sounds too fantastic – thinks his son made it up – much to Opie’s distress and conflict)

    As I recall from Kindergarten, a young enthusiastic teacher once had us her students, making construction paper ‘spiders.’ The ‘fun gimmick’ was a kind of cross-wise folding of the legs – giving the legs a certain dynamic, spring-like flex, when the spider was hung on a string (representing its silken line). But I experienced a problem, in my too-young clueless way – when the teacher instructed us to furnish it with three pairs of legs. Not four. At that age, presumably unlike others, I was acutely aware of the typical confusion of spiders with insects. And realizing concern, I put it to the teacher – these are spiders, they need four pairs. In my innocence – I had no inkling of the challenge to authority this posed, apparently. Nor was I aware of such dimensions of education in general, or this exercise as a case in point. So, I was dismayed and confused when the teacher dismissively brushed off my concern. It was giving the spider the wrong number of legs – in effect, confusing it with an insect per common misunderstanding – was somehow important, part of the lesson. As if there would be something wrong with giving it the right number of legs, or even suggesting such a thing.

    I was troubled and confused enough by this that, next day (still and again not ‘getting it’) – I brought in to class a book with pictures, to show the teacher. I thought there must be something she didn’t understand; or that I’d not explained clearly enough, or proven perhaps. Of course, it was a gesture with no prospects, other than – to compound my perplexity (by her strange reaction as if pretending to be interested, but …). Only years later did I gain enough adult vantage point to realize the nature of nerves I’d touched as a clueless 5 yr old. And strings of fragile authority attached, of which I knew nothing, nor could have understood then if anyone had tried to explain.

    This is merely one example of things I experienced, that might have some ‘depth trauma’ aspect – informing what for me, as an adult, eventually ripened into realization of an analogy or metaphor – of ‘alien changeling question’ (about myself). Because for me, I think such moments did begin a process of non-identification with others around me, both peer and adult – sparking a sense that has only grown, of some fairly deep, enigmatic kind of difference (as I came to realize it more and more).

    With adult realization about this, following the metaphor of the changeling – the suspected alien in disguise (even from himself) as a normal Earther – murkier questions arise. I wonder if they tie in. For example, what would or might the plan or purpose be, and how would it work? For the latter, a kind of ‘fail safe’ seems built-in, against the operation being breached. The ‘changeling’ might go through life never catching on, never suspecting – only scratching his head. In that case, no harm done. But – nothing ventured, nothing gained. The plan (whatever its objective) might be predicated on odds, what would follow otherwise – if the ‘changeling’ did begin to suspect something, would he be prompted to pursue it, investigate? Perhaps like Oedipus, realizing certain otherwise disconnected circumstances – might tie in?

    In other words, whatever the ‘plan’ (in this metaphor): is it possible that the ‘changeling’ – as vital part of it – would be left to his own devices, to figure out (1) that he is not what he appears to be first; and (2) to begin a process of trying to find out what it means and what he actually is; perhaps (3) to discover certain answers, ultimately decoding to spell out his role in the plan – as intended from the start, but necessarily kept from all involved, as a matter of operational security and strict ‘need to know.’ Would the ‘changeling’ be left to discover on his own, what would in effect, translate as – the rhyme and reason. Or to put it another way – his mission, should he choose to accept it – about which apparently, he’d have agency, choice, at that point?

    Well, I hope such strange ruminations are not off course of the direction you’re exploring. Not too far anyway ! Thanks again for your interesting explorations, I enjoy reading.

    • that’s a lovely story about the spider – so much meaning conveyed in a few short incidents – a meta-narrative no less. And i couldn’t help but notice that, like all good symbolic narratives, it has a macro and micro meaning – ie, not only does the event describe your own early coming of age (? – realization of difference) experience but the details of it tell a larger more collective story: the spider = autists, ordinary insects = NTs, your teacher’s lack of interest in the finer points of arachnid taxonomy and even implied attempt to divest the spider of its spideriness by reducing it to insect proportions = the NT bias to forcing round autie pegs into the square holes of NT socialization.

      Like I say, beautiful story, it made an already bright day brighter, thanks!

      Your later points remind me rather of PK Dick’s exegenic explorations, which I’m currently trawling my way through.

  6. The ‘rules’ of the ‘unconscious’ resemble those found within systems of ceremonial magic(k), e.g. the law of contagion is why autists are so ruthlessly shunned. It as if their “self-chosen’ non-normal ways were somehow ‘catching’ – and no self-absorbed Normal person wishes such a precipitous loss of ‘Mana’ (magical life-potency – the capacity to control his or her life.)
    This notion of ‘absolute control’, while it is a pernicious delusion, is a VERY potent part of the ‘unconscious’ – the realm(s) of instinct. This is why ‘ The law of attraction’ / The secret’ is so (damnably) popular: it preaches to the massive magical steak found within the ‘unconscious; and in doing so, it sets up ‘the unconscious ways of instinct’ as the correct and socially-approved ways of living.
    “Disregard your intellect, sir. Go with your ‘true and inward nature'” – or, as Dutton puts it, “unleash your Inner Psychopath.”
    Easy enough, if one is Normal, for then ones possesses both those instincts which define ‘ Normalism’, and that central image found at the core of that same instinct which provides then needed guidance for all of life.
    If one is NOT Normal, however – one lacks that same inner nature, with its instincts and inward image; and hence, one is Alien; Alien, enemy, traitor; and ultimately, “the manifested evil in nature;” a thing which needs destruction, and its sole use, a scapegoat.

  7. Mostly agreeing.
    I’ve not had the chance to read Dutton’s ‘Paean to Archetypy’, but I have seen – more or less involuntarily – what the true and inward nature of Normalism is, courtesy of over fifty years of near-continuous bullying.
    I’ve no ‘good’ idea when “A treatise on the nature of Normie’s” will be ready for circulation, but when it is ‘done enough to show’, I’ll send you a copy.
    I hope you fwill ind it as interesting as I’ve found your work.

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