January 12, 2006

Temple Grandin: Animals are autistic

Temple Grandin is an associate professor at Colorado State University and arguably the most accomplished and well-known adult with 'high functioning' autism in the world. Grandin is also a world renowned professional designer of humane livestock facilities.

Grandin became well-known after being described by Oliver Sacks in the title narrative of his book, An Anthropologist On Mars, the title derived from Grandin's description of how she feels around 'neurotypical' people.

In her latest book, Animals in Translation, Grandin attempts to 'use the mysteries of autism to decode animal behaviour.' Some of her ideas:
- redefines consciousness and argues that language is not a requirement for consciousness
- categorizes autism as a way station on the road from animals to humans
- explores the "Interpreter" in the normal human brain that filters out detail, creating an unintentional blindness that animals and autistics do not suffer from
- applies the autism theory of "hyper-specificity' to animals, meaning that there is no forest, only trees, trees, and more trees
- argues that the single worst thing you can do to an animal is make it feel afraid
- examines how humans and animals use their emotions, including to predict the future
- compares animals to autistic savants, in fact declaring that animals may be autistic savants, with special forms of genius that normal people cannot see
- explains that most animals have "super-human" skills: animals have animal genius
- reveals the abilities handicapped people, and animals, have that normal people don't
Scientific American Review:
Temple Grandin has been known to crawl through slaughterhouses to get a sense of what the animals there are experiencing. An autistic woman who as a child was recommended for institutionalization, Grandin has managed not only to enter society’s mainstream but ultimately to become prominent in animal research. An associate professor at Colorado State University, she designs facilities used worldwide for humane handling of livestock. She also invented a "hug machine" (based on a cattle-holding chute) that calms autistic children. In Animals in Translation, co-authored with science writer Catherine Johnson, Grandin makes an intriguing argument that, psychologically, animals and autistic people have a great deal in common—and that both have mental abilities typically underestimated by normal people. The book is a valuable, if speculative, contribution to the discussion of both autism and animal intelligence, two subjects on which there is little scientific consensus. Autistics, in Grandin’s view, represent a "way station" between average people, with all their verbal and conceptual abilities, and animals. In touring animal facilities, Grandin often spots details—a rattling chain, say, or a fluttering piece of cloth—that disturb the animals but have been overlooked by the people in charge. She also draws on psychological studies to show how oblivious humans can be to their surroundings. Ordinary humans seem to be less detail-oriented than animals and autistics. Grandin argues that animals have formidable cognitive capabilities, albeit specialized ones, whereas humans are cognitive generalists. Dogs are smell experts, birds are migration specialists, and so on. In her view, some animals have a form of genius—much as autistic savants can perform feats of memory and calculation far beyond the abilities of average people. Some dogs, for example, can predict when their owner is about to have a seizure. Delving into animal emotion, aggression and suffering, Grandin gives tips that may be useful for caretakers of pets and farm animals. She also notes that humans seem to need, and thrive on, the proximity of animals. Indeed, she states provocatively, in the process of becoming human we gave up something primal, and being around animals helps us get a measure of that back.
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1 comment:

Star said...

Human beings as we know have an inheret instinct: the instinct of survival that we inherited from the first life forms ==> fish, reptiles, mammals, humans

This so called instinct is what we call as FEAR. Why? Because fear is the build-in guard that ensures survival by telling the being what can threaten its existance and what needs to be done to protect itself.

Fear has the same duality as everything in the cosmos/universe. It has chemichals (hormones) and it has an action.

Chemicals are also two (duality) the hormones adrenaline/testosterone and the opiates (the Eros and Thanatos pronciple that Freud spoke of) we feel just as much attraction and derive pleasure from the same thing that we feel fear and want to avoid.

Reactions are also two (duality) we want to stay and confront (fight) and want to run away (avoid). To confront is a coming together a union of the threat and our own abilities/skills. To run away is the separation of ourself from the threat. Both these reactions have a reason of co-existance.

To run away is the maximum survival, confront the fear is the maximum learning. By engaging the threat/enemy in a battle is the only way to learn more ==> strengths and weaknesses of this enemy! This knowledge will help in the process of evolution.

Evolution like survival has also two elements (duality again):

One part is the learning that occurs through fear and this it is past down from parent to offspring in two ways (duality here too):

- by genes (the one who learned best wins and the winner/strongest/fittest) gets to inseminate the females, and

- by teaching (monkey see monky do method) offspring learns how to hunt, escape, find food, avoid danger, etc by watching the parent.

The other part of learning where evolution and survival meet is the part that happens in molecular level. This also has two factors (duality):

- A genetic mutation that allows the species to adapt to the environment (moths were known to have a range of coloring that was from very light to very dark) this happens so that some shade of this range will be the best no matter what color the trees might be. This means that at least some moths will survive no matter what changes might occur in the environment). This mutation happens automatically and is not a reaction to the environment. It is just an endless combination of every and any possible gene. That is why even within a species there are so many subtle differences. Think of shades of one color, size of antlers, length of neck, etc. All of these variations exist to anticipate external environmental changes and ensure that some variation will eventually survive no matter what.

- the other genetic mutation is internal and it is one that science has not yet fully discovered. There is some research that proves this mutation which was done with children.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/health/research/05trau.html
Quote from the article:
"A truly frightening experience appears to heighten baseline activity in circuits involving the amygdala, a subcortical area that registers threat, and makes it harder for higher areas of the brain to inhibit amygdala response. If the system is hit again by another trauma, it can become chronically over-reactive, research suggests."

This means that our brain and body have the ability to adjust to external/environmental changes (remember the one above was to anticipate, this is to prevent from happening again).

Each time a being faces fear, a gene records the size of this fear. How it is measured? By the amount of fear hormones (adrenaline/testosterone and opiates) that was necessary to survive this specific threat. Each time a new threat happens, the size is again recorded. The final result is a combo of two (duality) factors:
- how many threats ( = times of occurance)
- how much fear ( = amount of fear hormones in the blood a % or level)

This information I believe is recorded (science is yet to discover this part) in the amygdala. The amygdala keeps an accurate record of the above interaction of factors and with each new threat in adjust the amount of hormones (adrenaline/testosterone and opiates) according to the highest result to ensure that the being has enough supply to survive.

This means that if an animal lives in constant threat the amygdala will make sure to create a supply that is higher and higher with each new threat and trauma. This can and will result in a too high dosis or overdosis which we call "being in shock" The state of being in shock is a state where both the adrenaline/testosterone AND the opiates are so high that be organism is in a state of freking out and being high with immence pleasure all at once!

What all this means is that the human body has the same mechanism. With each traumatic experience that felt as a fearful threat, our mitiochondria records the amount of hormones that were released. The next time a trauma occurs, a higher level of hormones is released to be on the safe side (this extra is the margin for error that nature has installed in everything that is created).

As we know each generation of humans inherits their mother's mitochondria. I believe that the information that the amygdala stores concerning fear, threat and trauma is then passed to the mitochondria of each cell. Thus the instinct of survival, fear and the fear hormones are genetically inherited from our mothers!

With each generation, the female body records and keeps the level of fear hormones that was necessary to survive. This also means that with each generation, this level has changed (either remained the same as the previous generation if no worse threat was present, or it became higher if more or greater threats were present).

Today we know that testosterone plays a big role in the autism issue. And my hypothesis is, that the mothers who gave birth to autistic children were mothers who had mitochondria that predisposed them to a high level of fear hormones.

If this predisposition was combined with two factors (duality) then the results were:
- a difficult birth, which difficult birth was an added trauma for the mother and
- a difficult birth that was either the first or an added trauma to the fetus/baby inside the mother's body. If the mother has had other traumatic experiences during her pregnancy then a traumatic birth was an added trauma.

From research we know that with each added trauma the human body will increase the amount of fear (and fear hormones together) by precentages that are exponentially increased after each added trauma.

Now when this added precentage interacts with the brain and body of a fetus, two things (duality) will occur:
- the psysiology will change. Both the physiology of the brain, and the physiology of the body.
- the mental function of the brain will switch from normal to autistic (I use these terms just to clarify not as an indication of what I think is normal or not).

The physiology changes

Thefear hormones affect how the body acts and reacts.

It is known that male and female hormones exist in both males and females. When faces with fear, and the release of the fear hormones, changes occur in the brain and body.

But let's not forget that the fear hormones are not just the eventual tesosterone but also other hormones that create the pleasure feeling. Because of this duality of the hormones the following happens:

- While more adrenaline makes the male physically stronger, the pleasure hormones that are the same as the "being in love" hormones, make him emotionally weaker, less agressive. As funny as that seems it has a very logical explanation, which is explained here below.

- While more adrenaline/testosterone in her body makes the female also physically stronger, the pleasure hormones make the female more ... aggressive!

Research that was done about the behavior of people in love shows this amazing finding in time of danger men become more weak and submissive emotionaly than women, maybe that is why heroism is such an issue for men, because they know how weak they feel when faced with danger, while women do not get why men are behaving like that because they feel more aggressive, more dominant.

This strange effect has a reason that is conencted with the survival of the species. If the man became both physicaly strong AND emotionally agressive, then he would take off and abandon the female. By becoming emotionally weak he wants to stay with the female, wants her company. On the other hand, the female needs to become more emotionaly aggressive because if she is pregnant she needs to fight BOTH for her self and her unborn child.

Fear and the dual hormonal effect creats a bond of equals and opposites in the male and female so that they will stay together and enhance their own survival and the survival of their unborn child if that is the case!

Lets see what we have:

- Survival demands that we learn through fear/pleasure.
- Evolution means to better the species' abilities to deal with the source of danger that causes fear.
- The accumulation of traumas can affect and increase the fear response, affecting also and increasing the amount of adrenaline/testosterone.
- The mitochondria (or possibly another organ - could be the amygdala - I am not sure which organ but THERE is an organ that keeps score of the amount of adrenaline/testosterone needed to have a good survival margin) will make sure that each generation has the best survival margin by increasing the adrenaline/testosterone and pleasure hormones to accommondate the increasing demand.

Conclusion: the more threat and fear a species encounters the more adrenaline/testosterone and pleasure hormones this species will be able to produce when in a fearful situation.
If the fearful situation is prolonged beyond 'safe' levels, the organism can have a hormone overdose that is the "being in shock" situation.
This situation helps the organism deal with the intense trauma by feeling detached from one's self and conencted with the other, the 'enemy' this is the so called "loving the enemy" response that is a simple survival mechanism very known to science.

Now, what if the human species have arrived to such an evolutionary point, through all the trauma that we have caused ourselves with wars, greed, environmental disasters, poverty, etc. etc. that we have become adrenaline/testosterone and pleasure hormones junkies!
Maybe this also explains why there is such an increasing demand for action films, horror films, etc. we need our shot of adrenaline!

How does autism occur?

A mother who has an unusually high predesposition to adrenaline/testosterone and pleasure hormones due to both a genetic reason (human evolution) and two (dual again) additional factors:
- Her personal life (internal factors)
- Her life in a specific land or period of time (external factors)

If all these factors combine in such a way that this woman has an above averega amount of traumas in her life, her body is producing also above average quantities of adrenaline/testosterone and pleasure hormones.

If this woman gets pregnant and during her gestation period she continues to experience additional traumas and also a traumatic birth process, then the testosterone levels in her body will be way above average if not close to dangerous levels!!!
Dangerous both for her and her fetus. If the testosterone level affects the brain (while it is forming or after it has formed or both) the following can happen:

- The brain of the child switches from the awake state to a permanent REM sleep state. There is research done with Vietnam veterans that show that increased trauma can cause the brain to go into a permanent REM sleep state! these Veterans exhibited autistic behaviour!!!

This what autism is. It is the switching of the brain. When awake the autistic brain functions as if it is in a REM sleep state, and when asleep it functions in the 'NT awake' state.

Daily life is for an autistic a life lived in a dream, while the dreams at night are the 'real' life, the reality. In a state of REM sleep the brain function in a different wave length. This wave length is what gives autistocs our sixth sense and telepathic abilities and the ability to see the fabric of the universe. This wave length is what animals also use and that is why autistics have a special wa of understanding animals and the workings of nature and all the cosmos.

In a REM dream state the brain can think in images = dreams, and that is why autistics think in pictures. It can also process information extremely fast and with great accuracy. This is because when asleep the brain needs to works much faster to process our daily experiences.

If one thinks about this switch, it explains everything about autism, why we have difficukty sleeping, why we have problems with certain foods (the body in a state of REM sleep functions in a hypotonic manner, the whole metabolism is different than during the awake (non REM sleep state). The senses become also hypotonic, the coordination becomes less, the apathy, apraxia, and hyperactivity are also explained.

The reason that autistic behaviour seems to be so weird to the NTs, is because the autistic brain simply put, works in a different wave length than theirs! It works in the REM sleep wave length.

The answer to what autism is, is THAT simple!