Monday, February 4, 2008

I Love Finding Words For Things I Already Do

Having just started the anthology Women from Another Planet?, I can tell that it's going to be full of topics I'm going to want to blog about, so instead of my ususal one or two long posts addressing everything I think is noteworthy about a book, for this book I will do a series of shorter posts about whatever aspects of the book I find resonant. That approach will also be more faithful to the spirit of the book in question, which is written by many women and ranges all over the map in terms of style and content.

The second chapter, "Differences," deals (obviously) with the ways in which autistic women differ from NT women and NTs in general. I will come back to that chapter in a later post, but right now I want to concentrate on one topic in particular, that of nonlinear thinking. All of the women participating in that discussion ("Differences" is written as a dialogue between several participants, moderated and commented on by the chapter's author, Ava Ruth Baker) describe their thinking in spatial terms, and differentiate it from the linear mode of thinking preferred by most NTs. Of particular interest to me is the women's taxonomy of nonlinear thinking, in which they describe two types of thought processes, branched thinking and helical thinking, and the ways in which these differ from linear thinking. It was eye-opening for me to read these descriptions, because I use both of these processes (one more than the other, and sometimes a tweaked version of the other) often.

Sola: Branched thinking occurs when an idea bears several possibilities for development. It is hard for me to choose one and discard the others, till I have examined all of them. So, after dwelling some on one possibility, I have to go back to the original idea and do the same with the other possibilities. This way of thinking, known in computer science as visiting a tree, may be a disadvantage, as it is slower than purely linear thinking. ... But branched thinking makes me a very good programmer and is conducive to science. I use it for problem solving in my own life, as a scientific approach is my preferred way of making sense of my life.

I also used branched thinking a lot, though sometimes rather than follow all the possibilities in sequence I will try to see them all unfolding. It's a thought process similar to the one described in Dune when Muad'Dib first discovers his prescient abilities: time is like a landscape, with hills and valleys, and in his visions he's standing on a hill watching different paths unfold from the particular historical nexus he's standing on at the moment. I can see a particular train of thought in a lot more detail if I look at it individually, as Sola is describing here, but sometimes I also pull back and locate one in context.

Ava: In helical thinking, just as a helix comes back to the same place over and over again but at a different level, so we experience or learn something different, something more refined, each time round. To an observer, the topic or behavior may seem repetitive or monotonous, but inside, our thoughts are evolving.

This is probably the thought process I use more often. I love helical thinking. I love learning something new about a favorite topic that leads me to reexamine the whole thing in a new light; it's what makes it fun to reread books, particularly when you've read more books by the same author and can now recontextualize the first one you read within that author's canon. Indeed, it's this kind of helical thinking that I hope will play more of a role on this blog once I've read and given initial comments on all these books dealing with autism --- I can group them, compare and contrast, follow a theme or metaphor through multiple authors' interpretations of it.

If branched thinking is the science and computer-programming geek's preferred thought process, helical thinking is definitely for lit geeks.

1 comment:

LittleRaven said...

Helical thinking is something I do lot. Sometimes branched thinking too, or linear thinking, but helical is the main one. I often thought of it as spiral thinking, but like you I'm glad there's already a phrase for it.