Other Minds

Other Minds

This week I was lucky enough to spend an incredibly inspiring day at a conference on "Neurodiversity in the Workplace" with the Athena® team. I was struck by the Chair's (Dan Harris) prescient parting words, they were a powerful reflection on the future of the workplace, they paraphrase as best I can recall were "with AI increasingly taking over the traditional linear roles in the workplace, the future is neuro-diverse." His point being that the neurodiverse approach is not easily learned by machines.

I have found myself reflecting over the following days on two things. Not specifically about the neuro-diverse, but firstly the constraints imposed on everyday life by the so-called Neuro-typical; and secondly the importance of recognising intelligence beyond our narrow accepted definitions.

Thinking about the neuro-typical

So firstly, the constraints of a neuro-typical world. We live in an age that forces learning on young people through one specific model, and which reflects one version of intelligence that is based on one framework of learning. What I will call loosely here, the academic. The world demands a specific skillset, and as such demands the imposition of one model of teaching, and a such a standardised associated measure of learning. All this at the expense of our young people's individuality, and also the compromising of wellbeing for our educators who are under pressure to deliver it.

We emphasize the importance of individual success, whilst paradoxically neglecting genuine individual expression.

I am increasingly of the opinion it is not the neuro-typical that change the world. I believe that it is the innate nature of the neuro-typical to resist, and to perpetuate the status-quo.

Thinking differently

Secondly, I found myself reflecting on other minds.

We have traditionally held one view of intelligence, whether human or in the wider world of nature. We commonly assume that those like us, experience the world in the same way. We also often assume that those who do not, are obviously not at parity with us, i.e. an assumed primacy of own our experience.

In working closely with animals, particularly horses, I am beholden to their innate social intelligence. I am working alongside their minds. This leads to reflect on the acknowledging of their sentience, and what that means in context. Though we are not to know what it means in practice, we cannot but recognise that there is meaning. Ethology defines this meaning as their umwelt, their felt sense of being and experience, and this is no less "appropriate" or "correct" than each of ours.

My daughter has synaesthesia – which means her sensual experience is not typical. In her case she hears in colour. The syllables of our language, and sounds of the world around her, are processed as colours. We had no idea until a friend’s father who was a Professor of Psychology pointed this out, and similarly she did not know that we did not experience the world this way. This way of perceiving bore incredible results as she developed as a musician, and later undertook a Fine Arts degree.

I am what NLP refers “auditory digital.” This means my mind processes in the linear framework of language, and often over-rides the usual sense-based tendency that most people have. My natural tendency is towards a world rooted deeply in the world of Iain McGilchrist’s Emissary (The Master and the Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World, Yale University Press, 2019). The Master being the right hemisphere, that which experiences the world, that which in the bigger picture, over the more factual, logical and task-based Emissary (the left).

Her umwelt is so different to mine. Our perceived worlds are world apart. Her world is Vincent Van Gough, to my Simon Armitage. How can we even share an experience? Yet we effectively share the world and happily co-exist, regardless of these very different perceptions.

A call for respect

We need to be open to respecting all other minds. Opening ourselves up to these different ways of perceiving. There is no right perception, there is just the perception that each of us has. There is just what is.

One might argue that over recent generations there has been a move simplify the complex. The typical seeking to smooth off the edges of diversity. In McGilchrist's world, the increasing dominance of the left hemisphere over the right. Our world has been shaped by our tendency to believe in a myth of the common, to fit all others into our worldview; when actually we are actually part of a complex and diverse world of unique players.

This is a call for curiosity and respect. To understand and to create a world that enables and celebrates diversity, not to stigmatise or move to fix.

To return to the quote we started with the future is diverse. It is our collective responsibility to be open to that.