On the Varieties of Styles of Thinking, Part 2: From Solipsism to Autism

Last time we talked about the differences between top-down and bottom-up thinking. Each have benefits and each have shortcomings. However, the most typically bottom-up thinkers have been pathologized by the majority (primarily top-down thinkers) into Asperger’s and Autism. But what if things are more complex than that? Although there are certainly problems — from a neurotypical’s standpoint, anyway — with those in the autism spectrum, one ought to acknowledge that if the most extreme end of bottom-up thinking is problematic, then the most extreme end of top-down thinking is problematic as well.

What would you expect from an extreme bottom-up thinker? That the -up part is gone, that the world remains fragmented and that the pieces can therefore not be brought together at all. I think this would go a long way to explaining the behavioral situation of those with the most extreme forms of autism. Equally, then, one would expect from an extreme top-down thinker that the -down part is gone, that the world remains an undifferentiated whole. This would mean there is no difference between the person and the rest of the world — which is solipsism. The solipsist, however, can function in the social world, whereas the extreme autistic cannot. However, the solipsist believes he has the answer to everything, that everyone is the same as him, and that to question his ideas is to insult him personally, as there is no differentiation between him and his ideas. The extreme autistic sees infinite variety; the solipsist sees infinite sameness. The solipsist would then be expected to support egalitarianism, to think wealth disparities are terrible, that differences in opinions from his own are terrible, and thus would seek to create a society that conformed to him and his ideals. The extreme autistic is a problem only to himself (and those who have to take care of him); the solipsist is a problem to society.

Let me now relate all of this to Gravesean social psychology. It seems to me that the more collectivist levels — purple (tribal), blue (authoritative), green (egalitarian), and turquoise (holistic) — are going to develop out of and in turn encourage more top-down thinking. Individualistic levels — red (heroic), orange (entrepreneurial), and yellow (integrationist) — are going to develop out of and in turn encourage more bottom-up thinking. The more one is able to switch from one style of thinking to another, the easier it will be to move through the levels; extremes of either side will find such emergence more difficult, since switching styles is more difficult. Difficult does not mean impossible, of course; life conditions can certainly give one a strong nudge, to say the least. But if we take the fact that most people are in fact predominantly top-down thinkers, while those with a more balanced style of thinking are relatively rare, we can perhaps make sense of the fact that there are relatively few of the most complex psychologies, even within even the most complex societies.

We would also expect top-down thinkers to prefer to “settle in” in the more collectivist levels, where they are comforted by top-down organization of society, whereas we would expect bottom-up thinkers to prefer to “settle in” in the more individualistic levels, where they are comforted by less hierarchical, more scale free social orders. At the same time, we would expect many business owners to be top-down, strategic thinkers, while we would expect analysts and scholars to be more bottom-up, analytic thinkers. All of which clearly problematizes any simple political divisions. Still, it would probably not be surprising if one were to learn that there is a positive correlation between dominance of bottom-up thinking and support for libertarianism.

All of this points to the fact that when it comes to understanding any social order of any sort, you are dealing with very complex situations. The dominance of a style of thinking is going to affect the structure of society and of the culture as well. It also suggests that we need to be careful pathologizing ways of thinking. As a style of thinking comes to dominate in a society, that society will itself shift into being a society more open to that style of thinking, but not to another. Today’s pathology might be tomorrow’s norm. But if we pathologize, we don’t really have to even try to understand; we can simply get such uncomfortable thoughts such as that there are people out there who do not in fact think like us well away from us so we won’t have to worry about it or even deal with it. But that impoverishes both ourselves as individuals and society itself as a whole.

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