Read the article:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brain and context
  3. Other theories
  4. Examples
  5. Chaotic emotions
  6. Left and right »
  7. The observing self
  8. Organising idea
  9. References

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Caetextia and CFS

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Left and right brain

As the intelligence system evolved in humans, our higher cortex became more complex and its left and right hemispheres developed specialisations for different processes. Whilst maintaining the ability to interact with and complement each other, the hemispheres developed exponentially to support rational and contextual thinking. Human language and thought, for example, are primarily ordered through the left hemisphere, which sequences and structures information moment by moment in a way that fosters reason. But our logical thinking is informed, and also coloured, by associative thinking and imagination, both faculties that emanate from the right hemisphere. Whereas previously we had relied on instinctive responses to keep us safe, once the cortex developed in modern humans we became able consciously to review feelings and not just act on them. In other words, we could investigate what was going on around us with a more refined reasoning ability.

But when people are missing the mammalian ‘parallel processing’ template for handling multiple streams of information, they are forced to try and resolve problems by other means. If a person is left-brain dominant, we see Asperger’s behaviour as traditionally recognised: literal, logical, analytical reactions with difficulties in communication and empathy because of a severely diminished ability to think contextually. This happens because the left neocortex is itself ‘autistic’ — it doesn’t have access to the feelings that create context. But if a person is right-brain dominant and is missing the template for reading context, we suggest that caetextia may express itself through an undisciplined, very strong imagination. The right brain looks always for associations, so, without a strong left brain to moderate the myriad associations that the right brain makes, a person with caetextia cannot discipline them and check them out. The associations made are unlikely to be the right ones because, without access to a personal emotional history, they are not anchored in reality. The constant, undisciplined association-making can lead not only to inappropriate but often quite bizarre thoughts and behaviour.

Right-brained caetextia is caused by a lack of instinctive feelings to moderate the person’s thoughts and behaviour, leaving the mind to run free, making directionless, random associations. Because a right-brained caetextic person is more emotional, it may seem odd to suggest that their condition is due to a lack of instinctive feelings, but it is the lack of emotional instincts to discipline associations that give rise to problems. Scientists researching decision making have determined that it is emotion, fired by imagination, that prioritises decision making, not logic. “Emotions arise when events or outcomes are relevant for one’s concerns or preferences and they prioritise behaviour that acts in service of these concerns”7 (our italics). Both right- and left-brained caetextia result in black-and-white thinking. Indeed, when heavily stressed, we can all become temporarily caetextic: prone to black-and-white, crazy, irrational behaviour and faulty reasoning.

More women than men

The contention that Asperger’s syndrome is overwhelmingly a male condition, with the male-to female ratio ranging up to 15:1, is not consistent with our clinical experience. As psychotherapists we see more females than men with his condition and, even taking into account that more women than men come for therapy, we believe that the prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome in women is underestimated.

We would suggest that females are much more likely than males to suffer from right-brain caetextia, and that clinicians are not yet recognising this expression of Asperger’s syndrome. This could be because, although in right-brain caetextia we see the same inability to track multiple foci of attention and think contextually, such people have ready access to emotions in a way that left-brain dominant caetextics, who, in our experience, are predominantly male, do not. Right brain caetextics can become emotional quickly and very, very easily, crying at the slightest upset, for instance. This accessibility of emotion, much more common in women generally, disguises the caetextia. However, they are sometimes just as poor at interpersonal intelligence as those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. They also lack empathy and cannot see how inappropriate their behaviour or beliefs appear to others.

Two conditions that we have noted, not infrequently, to be co-morbid with right-brain caetextia are fibromyalgia (a chronic disorder, primarily occurring in women, characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME), which is three to four times more common in girls and women than in boys and men.

Sense of self

When, in our evolutionary past, humans gained conscious access to the right hemisphere of the brain (the source of imagination), complex language with a past, present and future tense could develop.8 Only with the arrival of complex language could we escape from the present and describe things that were not there in front of us. It was this that opened up the possibility of universal reasoning: discovering the underlying patterns and rules by which matter and life operate. Only then could we begin to develop and test hypotheses and start to unravel the cause-and-effect sequences in the world around us — water enables plants to grow; sunshine facilitates growth; there is a rhythm to the seasons, and so on.

Although missing the template for parallel processing, the more intelligent a person with caetextia is, the more likely they are to have access to universal reason. They may then be able to use thought to reflect back consciously on whatever has happened and construct another perspective. But this is a slow process and, without instant access to their own reinforcement history, their sense of self will be impaired – that sense of ‘I-ness’, of being separate from whatever context we happen to be in. People on the autistic spectrum, lacking this ability, may struggle to develop a sense of self and typically feel insecure in a world where everything is constantly changing. It may be this impoverished sense of self that keeps driving the more creative people with this condition to find out who they are, trying out roles to play in life and reinventing themselves, etc. Since scientists began studying Asperger’s syndrome in the 1940s, it has been continuously remarked upon that sufferers lack a sense of who they are. “I feel like an outsider, and I always will feel like one,” the autistic writer Anne Rice once said, in an internet interview. “I’ve always felt that I wasn’t a member of any particular group.”9

Perhaps because they feel like outsiders, people with caetextia are often attracted to professions that give them an off-the-peg identity, very often one that comes with a uniform that announces that identity, such as army fatigues, police uniforms, church regalia or even the more eccentric costumes of ‘artists’ and ‘intellectuals’. Uniforms confer status. Professions that require uniforms also tend to have more tightly defined structures – rules, rituals and coded modes of speech – all of which render life more predictable and make people with caetextia feel more secure. In a well-ordered life, the sensory overload feared by autistic people can better be kept at bay.

Observing self »