Tuesday, February 13, 1996

... peeling the ONION

Here is how I see the problem. I have expressed this in the past, but maybe it's
a good time to try again:

Organic and phsycological SEEM easy to distinguish when we are adults, in the
sense that you probably couldn't look at somebody's brain wiring and tell
whether s/he is afraid of snakes. Some of us view stuttering the same way. Why
would I block when saying may name? It's obviously psychological! ... But
wait... some of us believe that something is in fact "wired wrong" or the wires
are right but not getting the right chemicals... whatever, and names or other
"tense" or "meaningful" situations are the potholes that "loosen" some
connection in our "engine" and make us stall...

So even at this level the organic/psychological distinction is not
straightforward and is in fact the source of our debate.

But where it really gets hard is at the lover developmental level. In this sense
I fully understand Woody's parenthetical "I am not yet convinced" remark with
regard to physiological predisposition. He comes from a well supported belief
that intervention while language is being developed CAN prevent stuttering. So,
assuming (as I strongly hope) he is right, is the nature of this intervention
psychological or organic? Forgive my strong words, but, at this level, the
question is stupid.

Fuzzy logic has been a breath of fresh air in engineering, because here was
finally a system that recognized that some concepts don't have well defined
boundaries, yet, it is ultimately possible to build very precise systems based
on these concepts. Psychology and organic development are probably unseparable in the first few years of life. We are not a computer on which we can load and unload software. The computer/software analogy can work to some extent in the adult brain, but certainly not in the developing brain of children. At that point in our life at least some of our experiences "become" the computer.

"Organic" doesn't mean "written in the blueprint". Our genes are not read out in the same way a factory robot might be programmed to build your car. They are simply triggers for a very complex series of events that lasts ....all of our life. Certainly the body is buisiest building up new stuff during the first 9 months... but even here some of what actually gets built depends on factors such as nourishment and even some element of chance. Why chance? Because some (most) processes do not rely on precise measurements. Chemicals are thrown in quantities to a cell, so that, on average, it will pick up what it needs. Nature relies on "the law of large numbers".

At birth the body as we know it is recognizable, but the cognitive WIRING of the brain is just getting started. The only difference between the development of the lungs in the first 6 months and the development of the brain in the first 4 years is that the brain relies on external and internal "information" inputs as well as on all the other physical stuff. If we could see a lung defect coming we could intervene "mechanically" in the fetus to prevent it. If the natural evolution of child's speech mechanism (for whatever yet unknown reason) could be recognized to be toward a stuttering "circuitry" it may be possible to intervene either organically and or environmentally to prevent it. At this
level, seemingly "psychological" intervention, could be, in fact, equivalent to performing surgery on a fetus. The final result would the same: a system that is actually "organically different" from what it would have been otherwise.

You have your hexagon, which works very well at the "higher" levels. My model is an ONION. The outer layers are strongly psychological. As you peel them away they become more and more organic and each layer has its on peculiar SYSTEM to hold it together. As adults we don't have much choice but to slowly peel away. It may be possible to intervene in children to prevent the formation of outer layers, and it may be possible at some time in the future (my strong hope) to find the very "beginning" cause, without which the onien wouldn't grow or even stay together, the grain of sand which makes the pearl grow (we like pearls, but I am sure mussels don't!).

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