Putting context into context

Don’t believe everything you think.

Context is how us cuddly ol’ apes hold our notions of ‘reality’ together; context provides specific information to the brain as a container for any further information.  To use a tired computer analogy, context is the brain setting up a folder in which to save related files.

I also get the general impression that ‘context’ has particular significance in autistic experience.

For instance, if someone is telling me something that requires a response, in order to contextualise and make sense of the new information, my brain might have to go through this process:

  • receive data
  • interpret data as having cognitive shape (making sense)
  • try to determine which data is most relevant out of a field of possibilities
  • connect disjointed pieces into subsets of data
  • give the subsets enough cognitive shape (and/or) assume enough understanding to formulate a response…

I assume this type of cognitive processing is universal to our species, but perhaps for some brains it is more automatic ie the brain is not as conscious of its own process. It seems that autistic brains are acutely aware of themselves within one context or another, making each moment a dynamic stream of information and variables to select from and respond to.  

In this sense autism could be viewed as a kind of neurologically-innate mindfulness, insofar as there is an enhanced attention to sensory input and perception. In a situation that requires me to respond immediately (eg asking me to answer a question, or to make a decision), this degree of magnified sensory awareness requires a lot of concentration in order to deal with the immensity of choice. To use the analogy of a tired computer, too much data slows down the processing speed.  I find it mentally exhausting if prolonged. For me this becomes especially difficult if the interaction is charged with intense emotional energy (eg anger).

CONTEXT: Latin contextus, from con- ‘together’ + texere ‘to weave’.

In my thinking, context immediately communicates relationships between points of information. If you suddenly start telling me something without first providing me with context, my brain can’t anchor your words to a central meaning; whatever you tell me will float around in my head like disjointed blobs, with nowhere to connect as understanding.

However, if I’m given a context to begin with, my brain immediately attunes itself to anticipate patterns & make connections.  Any information stored in that container of ‘context’ is describing a matrix of inter-related data, of dynamic relationships, all connected to each other. From context we can magically (though not altogether reliably) construct a sense of place, time, emotive attributes, personal responses…in fact far too complex to describe because Context, defined thus, is Everything. 

Actually I’m completely baffled by the assumption that we (ie human primates) understand each other at all.  We make noises into the air (or move our bodies in space, or arrange shapes on a surface) in an attempt to symbolise what we experience (thoughts, feelings) via our personal nervous systems.

But we can only ever describe one-nanonth of our actual, infinitely complex, internal experience.  How can I describe your eyes, without including your face, your body, your clothes, your setting, the light around & on you, any sounds or smells, any impressions I have of you, and the infinite potentiality & unknowable mystery of you….you see my meaning…

Yet we somehow expect other primates (other universes) to interpret our coded signals as if they provide automatic access to the entire matrix of information lying behind our original coded signal.  This is, of course, an impossible expectation, and I often feel our faith in ‘communication’ and ‘being understood’ is akin to the faith that keeps airplanes in the air.

Disclaimer: This is not a disclaimer! 

As you read these ramblings, I’d like to ask you to keep this context in mind:

Anything you read here can only convey a tiny facet of what I’m likely to be thinking. These words can only ever be a temporary flow of my personal observations and opinions – which in all truth I may or may not adhere to at any time after having writ it. And right now, these words exist for you in relationship to whatever sense of reality you are experiencing, right now, until you experience some other sense of reality – at which point, these words may well exist in a different relationship.

I will inevitably fall short of my intended meaning, I will inevitably contradict myself, and I will regularly change my mind as I peer through one lens or another.

I’m not sidestepping any responsibility when I say these things; actually, I mean it as a proclamation of authentic responsibility.  In my half-century spent studying my own & others’ behaviour, it seems to me we all build our lives on very tenuous threads of memory, belief, identity….reality.  Any logical enquiry reveals that these are all notions of the mind, and the mind (even at its most stubborn) is a changeable notion in itself.  Of course, there are millennia of mystic and philosophical traditions which describe this far more lucidly than I.

So, I’m trying this out: it’s a creative exercise, a process.  I’m exploring the medium of writing as another portal into my lifelong self-exploration.  I’m observing what happens in this medium as I reflect on my life as I tell myself I’ve lived it; of course I can only tell myself these things from the perspective of Now Me, which has very little ‘reality’ in common with any Then Me conjured from the foggy depths of my dislocated soup of memories, identities, beliefs & supposed realities.  In fact, I can’t really be certain that the entity I think I am now is even the same entity that existed five minutes ago, let alone decades ago. 

I’m not here to offer advice, provide my top ten autism lifehacks or even suggest that you reading this has any bearing whatsoever on how you live your life.  I can only attempt to describe my own experience because after all, who else’s experience can I claim?  ‘Theory of mind’ be buggered – as far as I can tell, I am logically the only human consciousness in existence with direct access to my own nervous system, and I am inescapably my own primary reference point for any data, inside or out (though more usually insidedown & upsideout).

And in that context, perhaps it’s more useful, in this moment, to think of ‘me’ as an assemblage of something in your own mind, and see where that leads you….