Sunday, 22 December 2013
Caetextia – Its all about context
Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell first coined the term "caetextia" in 2007 in respect to Autism in that people on the autistic spectrum rarely consider things in their wider context or in relation to other contexts. Maybe you have seen episodes of the TV series ‘Bones’ where the lead character Dr. Temperance Brennan is said to be based on a character with Aspergers Syndrome. Her literal take on events and conversations serves both to frustrate other cast members and entertain the audience; it is context blindness in action.
Noam Chomsky, a leading authority in transformational grammar, stated in 1957 that human beings unconsciously use three processes to filter information in order to create their/our own personal reality. According to him, we delete, distort and generalise information; in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) this would be classified as assumption filters. I mention this filter process as I consider it how context blindness naturally occurs.
Generalisations – We, as human beings, generalise when we take examples from specific contexts at specific times and span them across many more possible contexts in the past, present and future; thereby creating a rule for life. Listen for the use of “every time, always” etc. when applied to classifications.
Deletions – There is so much primary data hitting us at any one time that we cannot process it. American psychologist George Miller believed that we can only consciously process 7±2 pieces of date at any one given moment and we delete the rest for ease of attention. In terms of context this could be a comparative deletion where the “compared to what” has been deleted from conscious awareness. Consider a simple statement “That is not correct”; it is ‘not correct’ compared to what?
Distortions – actions happen, things are said yet we often jump to the wrong conclusion because our perception has distorted the intended meaning; its not the thing itself that is stressful but your perception of that thing. Shakespeare wrote “nothing is true or false ‘til thinking makes it so”. We perceive situations and statements from our filtered map of reality and without a back story (context) the distortion can take you anywhere in your own map. Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski remarked that "the map is not the territory", “the word is not the thing”. This concept was expanded on by Gregory Bateson in "Form, Substance and Difference", from Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972). Dr. Richard Bandler and Dr. John Grinder took this concept as the key operational presupposition for Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Human beings are pattern matchers by which I mean we compare each experience against patterns (maps) already stored and select the best fit; this matching is mostly unconsciously decided. This matching happens in response to a trigger (sensory based experience). One of the key areas of contextual confusion is language and in particular nominalisations where processes are turned into things for example ‘improved performance’ or ‘sharpening efficiency’ or ‘more confidence’ etc. Leaders and politicians are the biggest culprits of this as their intention is to not be pinned down to measurable definitions. Nominalisations play to contextual blindness as it is very difficult to connect nominalisations in the wider context when they don’t actually state anything without clarifying the criteria. This leads us to the metaphorical nature of language
It is easy to appreciate how misunderstanding can occur and how this can develop into context-blindness as language by its nature is vague, open to interpretation and metaphoric. The following two quotes by key figures in this field express this more eloquently:
“A metaphor is understanding something in terms of something else” – George Lakoff
“Metaphor mediates the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind” – David Grove
Metaphors have the power of enabling each individual to connect the metaphoric interpretation to each specific context in a way that best fits their map. But metaphors are a double-edged sword: when wielded poorly they have the potential to cause more harm, yet when wielded by a skilled hand, they cut to the heart of the matter. Framing correctly ensure the context and contexts can be connected appropriately and context blindness avoided.
I have heard it said that you can not use metaphors/similes with people with autism or aspergers as they are prone to interpret them too literally. This is due to thinking of metaphor too narrowly e.g. “he drowned in a sea of grief” when in the wider context it can be considered as “this is like that”. Rather than applying your own or learnt metaphors, listen out for and use metaphors presented by the individual as they will have patterned the meaning.
Context blindness, or caetextia as Ivan and Joe have termed it, is one of the key causes of anxiety. Not being able to connect to the wider context means each situation is experienced in isolation and can act as a double-bind where action and no-action appear like the old adage “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.
Learning to connect in the wider context enables behavioural flexibility; in NLP terms this is termed ‘chunking up’. In CBT much of the work is based on helping people develop strategies to overcome contextual distortions and contextual blindness. Although it can appear quite obvious how caetextia effects aspergers and autism, once you consider how we all generalise, delete and distort reality to create our own functional maps then it becomes abundantly clear how contextual blindness is active to some degree in all of us.
Here is an example sited on the HG website: “a professional woman who came to see one of us had decided to give up her job in a bank and go and live in a Buddhist meditation centre. Although she was keen to do this, she was also very sad and upset because she would never see her mother again. When asked why, she said, “My mother’s a Catholic”. She assumed that, if she went to visit her mother, she would have to tell her about her own change in religious belief, and that her mother wouldn't be able to cope with it. It didn’t occur to her that people of different faiths can still know and love one another, especially if they are family; or that she could choose to protect her mother from what she thought would be devastating information for her, and just continue to go to Mass with her mother whenever she was home”.