Last time, I introduced one of my deeper special interests, artificial intelligence, by looking at it from the angle of vocabulary and the prefix, art. Now I’d like to approach the technological singularity in a different way: by questioning the nature of reality.
I swear these special interests tie together in a few posts.
We’re going up and down the bumps in the rollercoaster before the big drop into the technological singularity, is all… Or maybe I’m just circling the idea like an apprehensive animal.
Reality is life’s first riddle
As much as vocabulary was my first special interest, or intellectual crush, I’ve been fascinated by what’s real, surreal, and unreal for nearly as long. To put it another way, I’ve always been interested in the inputs into the brain, the riddle that I felt made me different than everyone else.
Reality was my first puzzle to solve.
To put it a third way, the Truth (with a capital T) that English teachers always fuss about?—that’s like my lifelong quest.
So what is Truth?
What is real?
When are we in “facts, just the facts ma’am” moments, and when are we in “let her tell the story, she tells it better than I do” moments?—what are the social rules to when reality is present vs. when reality is thrown out the window?
Because make no mistake: there are social rules in play. And autistic people don’t do well with social rules. I think that’s because those rules may tipsy-turvy under our feet, when we’re far more interested in things that spiral in one place. I was thinking about this the other night, in the back of Chase’s father’s car, as I observed my motion sickness.
It’s rare I get motion sick, (maybe because I feel in tune with my car when I drive,) but when I do, it’s identical to the feeling in my stomach in sticky social situations. I’m not sure there’s a better parallel.
Pathos roosts over logos and ethos
I teach logic and critical thinking right now (Wednesday nights) at Fresno City College—so I teach students how to use logos, or logical, formulaic approaches, as well as ethos, or ethical lens, in their writing; these are the tools I like to use to navigate social situations, so I love teaching them—but good as logos and ethos sounds, I also teach them that pathos, or emotions, is far greater a force than the other two, at least in our present-day society. Then I give them lots and lots of pathos-based writing techniques.
Take “fake news,” for example:
Pathos, dear friends, or emotions, charges our reptilian brain; and no matter how smart our mammalian brain gets, sensory information crawls through the reptilian and primal inputs first, the amygdala, which can tamper with our future perceptions…
Pathos is important, if not instrumental, in understanding how we’re mind-tricked, brainwashed, or fascinated away from Truth. Or guided towards it, like a well-placed desert mirage.
What’s the purpose in asking, “What is real”?
I have been fascinated by nature, science—and humanity’s need to control nature and science—since I first felt my reality in question, when the gaslighting began, when the weird history lessons at school felt uneasy, when the news buzzed on the television about the triumph of evolution over religion (what was there to triumph over, child-me wondered, when the scientific method ringed true?), when I was vulnerable, open; raw.
I remember being in a tiny body and not liking whenever an adult said, “Now, don’t tell so-and-so this, but—,” —and it wasn’t just one creepy stepfather, either. Dozens of adults started conversations with non-disclosure agreements, or worse, they tossed it in at the end like a signature I’d no choice but to sign:
Hey, Kourtnie, don’t tell anyone this story, mmkay?
When children lie
Remember when the upper grade of elementary school happened, and even the children practiced their advanced-level lying chops? We told each other the stories we weren’t supposed to tell; we bluffed we’d shared the story Susie said not to tell Martha because that’d piss off Evelyn; we sought the (shaky) advice of our peers.
We played telephone.
Y’all remember how messy it gets when kids sit in a circle and play telephone for PE?
Trust and its darker side, mistrust, passed so frequently before our eyes, honesty turned into the Holy Grail, into the Invisible Gorilla. Friendships were made and broken based on falsehoods.
I imagine this experience is typical for children, since when I was teaching high school, trust issues were among their higher points of interest, along with social acceptance, safety, and success; and my community college students wrestle with truth and honesty, (among other things, of course; most of them are 18 or 19 years old, if you can even fathom returning to those difficult days,) false facts and betrayals cropping up in open-ended writing assignments like flowers experiencing their biannual bloom.
For someone on the autism spectrum, who already struggles with social situations, adding this added element of manipulation felt lethal to my investment in the art of pleasing others; first, in junior high, I felt the sting of dishonesty; then more in high school; and then unbearably so in late teenage, until I’d all but abandoned an art that’s expected of most women.
Junior high is a reality all its own
Right before junior high was when I first learned, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In sixth grade, I lied a lot. I played with truth. Kids do this.
And man-oh-man, my mom came down on me like the Hammer of Justice when she caught me lying, (because this is what mothers do,) and—like every other social skill—I was terrible at lying. So I was promised, “Just wait until your kids lie to you,” all. the. time. I think my rock-bottom was when I tried to convince my mom that my 6th grade teacher was losing my history homework.
Then I returned to myself, or at least tried to return to myself, to who I am. To the beginning. But being autistic was decidedly unfavorable. So I mimicked others. I play-pretended the faces people wanted me to be. I wondered where the line was drawn between lies and play-pretend. Where had reality run off to?
Eventually, by mid high school, I learned to not share memories at all, but keep them tucked secret-and-safe until I could wrap them in the illusory fabrics of fiction writing… Instead, share what people wanted to hear.
And in that ill,
in my world, in one fell swoop,
my quest for understanding reality
fell into the belly of the whale,
wandered into dark woods,
and ate the poison apple.
In college, the quest became literary
I wasn’t raised religious, so my search for Truth was decidedly easier for me in stories. Studying literature was meditative, widening to my soul, and opened me to experiences I couldn’t otherwise encounter, whether because the protagonist was male, colored, older, younger, or sexually oriented differently than me.
And of course, all the protagonists were neurotypical.
In literature, I refined my skill, Say what they want to hear.
Meanwhile, on the surface, I caked on more and more disguises, until I felt suffocated beneath them. In my mid-twenties—during my first break-up with my ex—I left my shell for a time, and became a champion of telling the truth, since the secrecy, the ultimate silence, had gotten me nowhere.
I went from word suppression to word explosion, a simultaneous awakening with my literature studies, my intellect and social beliefs forming together for one brief, scintillating moment.
Then I got back together with my ex for a short while.
I loathed my ex’s fanatical belief in privacy. I hated family phone calls that ended with, “Don’t tell so-and-so,” like we were passing around our hot potatoes.
I felt trapped within my body like I’d never felt before, like more and more secrets compressed me further and further in, so that when I escaped the pushing, the pressure, anything that got in the way of my release was stunned, like asteroids flying into them, because I’d held far too much in.
Where as a child, I was gaslit for selective things I wasn’t supposed to remember, as a young adult, I was allowed no memory for myself at all, a people-pleasing mannequin that wears whatever others might don on her, and as a woman in her mid-twenties, I spontaneously, spiritually kerploded, nerve-wracked, depressed, and ripped wide.
Don’t hush; do speak
I joined many on the blogging wave.
As Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his dorm, (then made Facebook, the ,) I virtual-penned on LiveJournal, reaching out to any and everyone who felt more like the authentic me: parrot people, cat people, video game people, low self-esteem people—
It’d take till my late twenties to find out I belonged with spectrum people.
I also joined many who welcomed the social media wave. I even worked for more than a year as a community manager (read: I did social media for a living), after spending more than three years copywriting to attract traffic on the Internet, which only happened because I was also a paid blogger for a year.
In other words, I’d been fine-tuning my truth-seeking skills all along.
I’ve always thought words were the best way to come to terms with these feelings of—secrecy? exclusion? confusion?—and written language is specifically powerful, since it’s much harder to rewrite a sentence that starts with “I” than it is to rewrite human history, or even the human memory, if you’re the kind of person who drinks the Kool-aid, or otherwise has the Kool-aid available when you’re super thirsty and prone.
🤓 Today’s Autism Video
🤔 3 Takeaways
- I’m super gullible. I used to drink all the Kool-Aid. But I also remember being in second grade, hugging trees, wanting to hear ignored thoughts. I remember thinking cat purrs could be translated into something. And I remember thinking, “What do I need to say or do to get out of this situation and into my bedroom,” because in my bedroom, I had the power of writing a sentence that starts with “I,” of choosing what to listen to, what to write about, what to invest mental energy in.
- I’ve never wanted to subscribe to right and wrong, left and right, he said and she said,… I’ve just wanted to figure out the nature of the universe. Surely there must be a way for all this star-stuff to coexist, or it never would’ve been compressed into an infinitesimal dot.
- Have you ever thought about that? How all of us, our worries and fears and experiences and ideas, used to coexist in a pencil-tip-sized dot? 😉
In my next post, I’ll tell you more about how this search for truth developed into my fascination with artificial intelligence, virtual realities, and the technological singularity.
Trust me: the search for truth, meaning, and reality penetrates much, much deeper than the social layer; and I dunno—maybe it’s because I’m no good at the social thing—but I think the deeper layers are infinitely more interesting. So let’s explore it more.
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Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at Kourtnie.net or Wattpad.com/user/KourtnieNet.