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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/29/10

Tito and Me

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Tito Mukhopadhyay is an autistic poet born in India, whose mother Soma had taught him to read, write and communicate. For a neurotypical brain to experience the external reality consciously, moment by moment, as some kind of multimedia movie in the head, requires the conversion of all the digital dots and dashes into a perception of the "real world" with all its sights and smells. But Tito's brain has trouble processing sound, touch and sight all at once.

Let us consider his case briefly. Doctors told his mom he was beyond hope: Tito is virtually mute, yet he can imagine. In Strange Son, Portia Iversen says that he is a "poet of such prolific output that every thought expanded into riffles of metaphor." He seems to be able of pour a torrent of words from his mind even when he appears to have no comprehension of language.

Iversen related that Tito said, "I think in terms of words. Talk about the Primer Minister and all the information I know about the Primer Minister, his office tenure, his duties and power come to my mind. What comes last to my mind is his face. I shall yet have no picture in my mind. However, if the TV shows some clipping, I would remember the event as that clipping. Or if the newspaper shows a still image, I shall have the image of the event that way. The world is full of different events. Each event is unique. There is no opportunity to practice seeing one particular event, because, It would never be repeated in the same way."

That is his left-brain as the left-brain should be damaged by autism: with words and sequences and rhythm. Tito made a symbolic representation of a particular event but not symbolic reasoning. It is puzzling because, in my case, it seemed that the reverse is true. Granted, like any autistic, I couldn't comprehend my mother tongue (Spanish) either, but Spanish language was programmed into my brain sufficiently well to go through elementary and high school in Argentina without myself ever becoming "conscious" or possessing even a basic awareness about the facts of Argentina's life. Nothing of the outside world got into my head, and, naturally I wouldn't be able to describe just one small incident or how I experienced it.

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As Fred R. Volkmar notes in A practical guide to Autism: "Boys are much more likely to have autism than girls (about 3 to times more likely). But when girls have autism, they tend to have more severe cognitive problems. It is probably the case that, for whatever reason, girls are less vulnerable than boys and, accordingly, for a girl to get autism a bigger genetic "hit" is needed, presumably accounting for the greater degree of cognitive impairment."

Is Tito's experience so foreign to me that there is no relationship? I think not. We agree that literacy allows autistic people to join the world outside. This kind of mysterious illness is thankfully rare in women, but from the vantage point of neurology every woman is but one of a kind. I was able to take in information very well, but the wiring in my brain simply won't allow the information to be processed in the form of organized thought and language. If I could not organize thought and language, there must be a spectrum of consciousness, in which an alternative form of self-awareness is possible.

What Math did for Me

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The use of symbols in mathematics goes well beyond their appearance in notation for numbers. As a casual glance at any mathematics text will make clear. The first important step towards symbolic reasoning as opposed to mere symbolic representation occurred in the context of problem-solving. Let me give you an example: the Islamic Revolution in Iran, 1979. When numerous TV images and events, right back to the seventies, presented me with information about some unknown external event, I couldn't ask for their meaning.

Following a standard formula of mathematic and, in the literal sense, I should have said: "I witnessed a revolution in Iran but didn't consider it a unique event." I knew it was not unique. I frizzed (figuratively speaking) the picture in my brain and after some additional information when I had taken a second picture of public executions in the streets of Teheran (How vivid is that memory!) and the American Hostage Crisis suddenly the event took forms as living history. These associations are not the associations of a chaotic mind. I have been using general procedure of math to give meaning to an event.

We find the universe to be mathematical. Not in the sense that we can impose some mathematical equations on what we see, but inherently mathematical. The human brain does not impose mathematical order that does not actually exist in the real physical world; abstract mathematics is too accurate in practical, physical applications not to reflect the real nature of the physical world.

The fact that my brain used symbolic reasoning to understand the events in Iran at that time, demands explanation, for it is not clear why I defined my identity exactly at the right moment when a religious revolution took place in a foreign country, absolutely disconnected with my native land. Might the images themselves generates feelings, I wondered?

However frequently autistic people responded abnormally to the environment, still, I had a counterintuitive perception of something "evil" inside religion to a degree which cannot be explained by chance alone. And, more fundamentally, if mathematics was effective in describing a religious event, religion per se must necessarily have universal patterns, like music, numbers and painting.

The Ayatollah Khomeini showed me something I wanted to avoid: a picture of religion, and how it changes, which is to say, a religion entirely dependable of a particular viewpoint.

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I am wondering how math work in Tito's brain.

 

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Claudia Mazzucco is an accomplished golf historian and an award winning journalist. Her book, Being Hagen: the Golfer's Search for a Theory of Golf, was published in January 2009 by Millennial Mind Pub. During her life in her native Argentina, she (more...)
 
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Tito and Me