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Jun. 2nd, 2015

A four-dimensional cat.

You want to experience the way my brain works?

Picture a four-dimensional cat.

That's what my brain got up to last night. It does this kind of thing all the time, leaving me rather bemused. Think of something odd. Pull together all kinds of information. Solve a problem. Draw a picture.

I lie in bed petting Tiny (because Tiny finds me too intimidating when I'm not on his level), and I should be sleeping; but instead I look at him and I think... "How many legs would a four-dimensional cat have?"

When you read this, remember that it's transcribed into words. I didn't think of it in words; words are too slow and clumsy. I think in concepts, relationships, and ideas, connecting to each other to form greater ideas. Words come in as key words, here and there: Cat. Legs. Dimensions. Balance. They pin down the corners of the ideas, but they don't make up their substance.

So I listen to Tiny purring, and I think...

Well, what are legs for? They're to balance you against gravity while you shift your weight to move. Cats have four. Humans have two, but we bounce from leg to leg while we walk, alternately falling and catching ourselves, and balancing as much on the two points at the heel and ball of each foot as we do from foot to foot.

A walking cat walks on four points of contact, one point per leg, instead of two points per foot. Three dimensions; four legs. Each pair of legs stabilizes the cat along one dimension: two dimensions against that third up and down pull of gravity. In three dimensions, balance is best achieved with three points--a three-legged stool at rest on a flat surface will always have all three legs touching the surface. Stability; three legs.

 A cat has those three legs, plus a fourth for movement. When two legs are on the ground, there are always two more legs to offset a shift to one side or the other. When walking, three legs are on the ground and the cat is balanced even if it freezes in midstep. Stability and motion: four legs.

I picture a two-dimensional silhouette cat. It has two legs. A two-dimensional cat cannot have the stability that a three-dimensional cat does. Like a human, it must hop from leg to leg, using more than one point per foot to stay balanced. But unlike a human in three dimensions, a cat in two dimensions stays effortlessly balanced when standing still. Two legs are adequate for two dimensions.

A four dimensional cat would look like... what? To balance a three-legged stool, we need a two-dimensional plane and three points. To balance a four-legged, four-dimensional stool, to define it in four dimensions, we have to add another point. Four points: Stability.

But four legs is not ideal for a four-dimensional cat any more than three legs is ideal for a three-dimensional cat. When a three-dimensional, three-legged cat moves, no matter how slowly it moves, it must always lose stability during the step, because it must lift one of its three legs to walk, leaving only two, an unstable configuration. And when it balances on those two legs, the third leg can only be on one side or the other of those two legs, and so the cat can tip over on that side. (Realistically, of course, three-legged cats learn not to shift their weight in that direction, so as not to tip over. But this is a theoretical cat. A spherical cat, if you will.) Two legs gives the cat one degree of freedom, and adding another two legs balances the cat through that axis.

So a four-dimensional cat, like our four-legged stool, must have four legs for balance; but on each side of those four legs it must have one leg, placed along the fourth dimension. A four-dimensional cat with three legs is like a three-dimensional cat with two legs: It can balance along all dimensions but one. Add a fourth leg to the four-dimensional cat, and you have the equivalent of the three-dimensional cat with three legs: Stability. But to have movement, do you add one more leg, or two more?

When a cat picks up its leg to walk, it shifts the weight onto another leg. Which leg it shifts to depends on whether it's walking or pacing (same side or opposite side), but the point is, the legs are paired. When it lifts one, there's another leg to partner it, keeping its weight evenly distributed for easier and more efficient movement. So we need an even number.

So my conclusion is: A four-dimensional cat, living in a world with gravity, most likely has six legs.

It took me just over a half-hour to articulate this in words, but last night, when I thought about it for the first time, I went through all those steps in two or three minutes, jumping from the concept of stability, to friction, to images of the cat and the three-legged stool, to ideas about walking, to coordinate systems and four-dimensional vectors. Thinking about four-dimensional cats is a bit silly, but it's a typical enough daydream.

I don't think all autistic people think this way. Our experiences are as individual as our minds. I do know that I do, and I know that words are not as fundamental to me as they are to most people. There are people who believe that without a word to articulate a concept, you cannot conceive of the concept at all (I was first introduced to this idea when I read 1984), but I don't think those people have talked to a lot of autistics. Words make thinking more concrete, but wordless thinking exists and it is the source of many new ideas. When I think of a four-dimensional cat, I don't go through the process of generating all of that language. I don't need to. I don't even really need the "pin words"--cat, motion, stability, dimension, etc.--because those words are just simplifications of concepts much bigger than themselves. Just like the word "cat" cannot contain the idea of catness, the words I produce cannot contain my thoughts.

Do most people have thoughts bigger than their words? I think they must. We have whole universes inside our heads. Words are just the tiny trickle of proxy symbols meant to trigger bits of other people's universes when we say them and they hear them. When we don't have a word and we need to communicate, we make a word; but the idea was there before the word, and was no less real.

May. 22nd, 2015


You should do.

          I won't do.

You should do.

          I am I, not you.

          I want to. Not should.

          You should; but I want.

          I can, or could, or might--or I won't.
          My choice.

You should.

          You should; but I won't.

Your shoulds are I wants.

          I still won't.

          I won't should. I want, could, might--or I won't.
          I choose.

...You could.

          I can.

May. 21st, 2015

Taking marriage for granted

I can’t help but think how nasty it was of us to deny gay people the formal commitment and legal acknowledgement that straight people have enjoyed for so long.

I’m not surprised that the fight for gay marriage has made straight people think about the value of marriage, too; we took it for granted for so long, until we realized what it was like not to be able to marry at all, whether you wanted to or not. I think gay marriage will probably strengthen the institution of marriage, overall.

Humans, psychologically, pair-bond. We just do. We want to find another person and take on life together. Some of us don't want sex, some of us don't want romance, some of us prefer a person of the same gender; some of us want more than one person at once. A few aren't into the pair-bonding thing, and while that's unusual, there's nothing particularly wrong with it. But the point is--we bond with each other, naturally, and we see it as a good thing.

When all those love hormones are overwhelming your senses and you're "in love", it's easy to stay bonded. You just can't live without each other. Your cognitive abilities are measurably diminished. But that can't, and shouldn't, last forever, and that's where social bonds come in. As a relationship matures, people become friends as well as lovers; they rely on each other, learn to compromise, even learn to argue without hurting each other. Such a relationship takes work to maintain. Commitment.

There are benefits to a formal marriage. You've made your commitment publicly. You've made a legal contract and, if you're religious, you've also made a promise to each other before God. You're agreed that you're in it for the long haul. Legally, things change; you're taxed together, expected to both be responsible for children, and not expected to testify against each other. You can make medical decisions for each other when one is incapacitated. You inherit each others' property and can adopt each others' children.

And all of this is something we've taken for granted for a long time--until gay people reminded us how precious it is to be able to formally, publicly, and legally commit to another person, and how much pain can come from being refused that right.

I grew up with a mom who married some not-so-nice men. I didn't have that much respect for marriage in general. I think I would've been happier with a single mom. And yet all of this is forcing me to think about the value that marriage does have to people who are in love and want to spend their lives together, and how much they lose when they're not allowed to marry. I still don't want to marry, myself; I've never had a romantic relationship. If I did marry, it would be a platonic partner, probably for simple companionship, or to foster children together. I'm not even sure what gender I would prefer; gender is more or less irrelevant to me right now. But all the same, I'm just a tiny bit more open to the possibility of eventually finding that close friend, that love that would mean I would always have both someone to depend on and someone who depended on me. Maybe I'm a loner; maybe I'm not very romantic; but like many people, I've been taking marriage for granted--until I realized how much it matters to people for whom it's not an option.

Apr. 29th, 2015

In the News: Adopted Pit Bull Helps Autistic Teenager Hug and Kiss His Mom For the First Time

Adopted Pit Bull Helps Autistic Teenager Hug And Kiss His Mom For The First Time

It's not uncommon for autistic people to learn things from animals when humans are too complex to understand. Learning to cuddle with a dog is just so much less complicated than learning how, when, and when it's appropriate to hug a human. I can't help but wonder whether Aspie kid now enjoys hugging his mom, or does it because he knows Mom likes it. Personally, I learned how to back off and stop being annoying from my cat, who would just glare and hiss. People don't glare and hiss, they're too polite to do that, so we don't get clued in!

But there's something about this article that seems a little skeevy to me. It's like... the dog is some kind of miracle, a dog with a saintly halo who helped this poor Aspie kid to do things he never would've otherwise. But plenty of people, autistic or not, learn things from their pets. Dogs are very demonstrative creatures, with such obvious emotions; why shouldn't it be easier to learn to hug a dog than a human?

What gets me about it, I suppose, is mostly that it's taken as extraordinary that this kid learned how to hug Mom without it being overwhelming. I guess he must have been very touch-sensitive, or something of that sort; and I guess the dog was easier because a dog doesn't get mad and sad and disappointed if you don't want to hug it. Still, it's not unusual for us autistics to learn new things, from a dog or from a human or from reading a book or watching someone do it or just figuring things out ourselves. And I'm pretty tired of newspapers that act like it's an unusual thing for us to learn something new, or to grow out of ultra-sensitivity that makes hugs painful, or to learn to ration our energy so we can hug someone who really wants a hug from us.

Because it's not unusual at all. It's the way things go. You grow up, you learn things. A boy and a dog become friends and both of them are the better for it. All I see is a very human, everyday situation.

Apr. 21st, 2015

In the News: Kennedy Apologizes for "Holocaust" Comment

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologizes for "holocaust" comment in vaccine debate

In one fell swoop, he's managed to insult both autistics and Holocaust survivors. Quite a feat. A tip, Kennedy: The Holocaust was genocide. It was horrible. It was evil. We never want it to happen again. Autism, on the other hand, is a developmental disorder that doesn't shorten one's lifetime nor take away the same chance at happiness that any human being has, and autistic people and our families are really, really tired of being cast as "catastrophic tragedies".

Mar. 29th, 2015

You're Not Like My Child... My Child is Severely Disabled.

I get this sometimes. People look at me; they see I can talk, I can take care of myself, I live on my own with no more than a case manager checking in weekly (thank goodness, by the way; it was long overdue and I'm very pleased to finally be able to depend on someone to help me figure out the little unexpected bits of daily life)...

And they say, "You're not like my child. My child is severely disabled. He can't go to college. He can't talk. He won't live on his own. He can't..."

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Mar. 9th, 2015

I've changed my mind.

Over the past few days I've been working on a new database--the Memorial Annex, which as you might guess is an annex to the autism memorial. Rather that proper memorials, it's a simple list of identifying information for disabled homicide victims, to help other people doing research on other disabilities (or all disabilities), and to get a more comprehensive list for next year's Day of Mourning.

During my research for this site, I've come across a lot of killers who were given the death penalty for their crimes, and I've been doing some thinking. Growing up, and until quite recently, I supported the death penalty for premeditated murder--for killers who wanted to kill someone and deliberately did so. My reasoning was pretty simple: If you take someone else's life, you forfeit your own. And I still believe that.

But I've changed my mind about the death penalty. I no longer support it.

I haven't changed my mind about the morality of the death penalty, not quite. I would still disagree with the statement that "Even a premeditated murderer should not be deliberately killed," because I still think that paying with your own life for taking someone else's is just. However, I've come to realize it's not as simple as that.

The world isn't an abstract philosophy textbook. Those premeditated murderers are full-fledged people, in a messy culture full of racial prejudice, fallible legal systems, and human error. And the death penalty is just too permanent. What if we made a mistake?

And we have. Some innocent people have been executed. Some people who are guilty are executed, while others who are guilty of very similar crimes receive life sentences or even less than that. Race plays into it, and culture, and even what state they committed their crime in. Sometimes the ability to convince the jury that they're sorry makes the difference between life and death.

I still don't think the death penalty is unjust. I simply don't trust fallible human beings to carry it out fairly. We can't trust ourselves to take each others' lives into our hands that way. I wouldn't trust myself to impose a death sentence, nor do I trust anyone else.

For premeditated murder, when we know (or think we know) someone has killed before and is perfectly capable of killing again, I think we should put them in prison for life. It's still a harsh sentence, but it's not permanent, like the death penalty is. If we made a mistake, at least we wouldn't have killed someone over it. And the effect on society is the same: The killer is out of circulation, whether they're dead or permanently imprisoned. The death sentence doesn't seem to have too much of a deterrent effect because most premeditated murderers willingly risk their own lives simply committing the murder (they risk that the victim will fight back and kill them, or that they will be shot by police trying to arrest them), and so the extra risk of a death sentence afterward isn't really adding anything.

So whatever my philosophical thoughts on the death penalty, I think that in a practical sense, it doesn't make sense to keep it on the books. Theory collides with practice, with human fallibility, and with the real world, and we have to take into account how things actually play out rather than focusing just on how we wish they would.

Mar. 1st, 2015

Day of Mourning 2015: Murder of the Disabled Q&A

Today I'll be joining an online vigil for the 2015 Day of Mourning. The point of the vigil is to commemorate people with disabilities who were murdered by their families and caretakers--killed by the people who were supposed to protect them.

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Feb. 15th, 2015

Yes, I'm okay.

A few days ago, someone posted on my journal that they were worried because I haven't posted for two months. I appreciate the concern--I really do; it makes me feel connected to the rest of the world that someone would notice that I haven't managed to post for so long. I want to reassure you all that I am indeed okay; I've just been having some trouble lately that's been taking up all of my attention.

I thought about it and I realized that maybe it would help to explain things to the anonymous Internet; isn't that the point of a blog? Well--this blog has been more like a series of essays than chatty talk about everyday happenings. It's final drafts instead of rough drafts, with each essay organized and edited. Maybe that ought to change. If there's anything I'm good at, it's lecturing about random things.

But here's the basic problem: I need more help than I'm getting, and I have a lack of medical records because I wasn't diagnosed when I was a little girl. The reason for that lack of diagnosis is rather simple: Deliberate medical neglect.

Trigger warning for abuse.Collapse )

Dec. 19th, 2014

After the Happy Ending

This entry contains spoilers for Disney's Tangled.

So what happens to Rapunzel after she gets her happy ending? She's out of the tower where she's spent her whole life. Mother Gothel is long-overdue dead and dusted. She finally gets to meet people. She gets to have her birth family. She finds out she's royalty. The guy she loves just proved how much he loved her. What could be better? Roll credits.... right?

But things aren't so rosy for the princess, are they? She's a sheltered child who's just been thrust into the monarchy. Her entire life, she's had parenting based around guilt and fear from a foster mother nearly as isolated as she was. Oh, sure, she's charismatic enough to talk an inn full of rogues into not killing her escort, but is she going to survive being the "lost princess" that everyone longed for? She's lost her specialness; the hair that heals people has been cut. Sure, her boyfriend cut it off to keep Mother Gothel from taking her away and, presumably, keeping her captive for the rest of her life; it's not like she was going to be able to heal anyone with it to begin with. But she still has to live with the fact that she's no longer a special, magical creature; she can't solve the pain of the world by wrapping it with her hair and singing a song. For Rapunzel, the world suddenly got a lot more complicated--and all the skills she learned to deal with her captivity are suddenly useless.

What now?

I couldn't help thinking about how very much this story is like my own, and like that of many people who have survived trying times. I survived an abusive childhood, a stint in a cult, two hospitalizations; I've been expelled from school, fired from my job, and been without a home to call my own. I too had a childhood built around guilt and fear, and I too have lost my specialness, which for me came from being a precocious, gifted child, now that I'm a thirty-one-year-old still trying to get a college degree. And even though I'm free now, with a new haircut, all the skills I learned growing up were skills that help a person survive captivity.

I took it for granted that I wouldn't be allowed to make my own decisions. Now that I'm free, I don't know how. I thought of "fun" only as something you snuck when your keepers weren't looking; now that I'm free, I can't enjoy myself without guilt. What I ate, when I slept, when I did chores, were all prescribed for me; now that I'm free, it's a full-time job just to remember to do all of those things. I learned how to pretend I wasn't disabled; now I don't know how to use the help I'm finally getting. I escaped bitterness as I learned how to care about others, but I never learned how to care about myself. I survived captivity, but can I survive freedom?

This happens to a lot of people--people who come out of institutions, out of prison, out of cults; people who get out of poverty or grow out of an abusive childhood. When you're trying to help people in captivity, it's not enough to just get them out of their respective jails. To really become free, a person has to learn how to live in freedom. It's a difficult lesson, one I haven't yet fully learned.

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