Thursday, February 01, 1996

Stuttering as a "limit cycle"

John Harrison responded to my remark" "we pay attention because we stutter rather than the other way around..." by stating that it wasn't an "either-or" situation.

It is either-or in the following sense: we must not confuse the "final" manifestation of a problem with its origins. It's simple misfortune that "paying undue attention" tends in fact to make the problem worse. If paying attention helped, stuttering would probably be nipped in the bud immediately. We'd have a mathematically stable system stutter-payAttention-stutterLess, just like a ball at the bottom of a cup, you move it and gravity pushes it back to the bottom.

Unfortunately the system is unstable: stutter-payAttention-stutterMore-payMoreAttention...
Eventually we get trapped in a "limit cycle" (sorry about the math...) and we lose track of how we got there.

The "chicken and egg" problem is not a conundrum, it is a hystorical artifact. If you could reconstruct evolution precisely you'd find "what" came first (neither the chicken nor the egg).

I agree with you that the final manifestation of stuttering is an interlocked system, and that, yes, learning to "pay less attention", more zen, whatever... has the positive effect of releasing us from the tighly locked cycle that can make stuttering much worse.

I simply want to make sure that nobody gets the illusion that unlocking or "melting away" the cycle automatically makes us non-stutterers. I know, you probably want to say "it depends on what you mean by stuttering...". I'll preempt you. I mean that, when all is said and done and we have achieved the highest zen mastery, at least some of us, will still be prone to blocking once in a while. There will still be a fundamental "organic" difference between us and fluent folks.

I don't want to sound defeatist. Unlocking the cycle is precisely what I have worked on and I consider myself "recovered" in the sense that stuttering has ceased to be an issue in my life. I just don't want us to lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a real organic problem as opposed to some chance "psychodynamic event" whose consequences can be undone with the right attitude.

I keep having the nagging feeling, I have often expressed, that we are talking about apples and oranges. Could it be that the there are vast differences in the "original" organic problems we have? Could it be that the final "system" manifestations of these problems are, instead, fairly similar? After all, whether we trip on a pebble or a rock our fall is going to look remarkably similar!

So people like you would say "if you melt away the cycle you've got nothing left!" (and indeed I've never heard you stutter). I say "I've got nothing left that I really worry about.." ( but I still experience some occasional "surprise" stumble..), and others will say "you guys are full of it...I worked and worked and I keep falling back into the same patterns!"

How I hope we'll figure it out some day!

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