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Cognitive Difference as a New Media

We have reached the end of an evolutionary cycle, and another one is beginning. Difference is again acceptable, and our society is also beginning to re-understand the “difference” inherent in space, that Deleuze defined, as essential to “being”. Our scientists know that we live in a conscious world and that fluid relationships to the environment (space, time and nature) are crucial in identity formation.  These realization are coming in part from new discoveries on how the mind functions and is changing the world of mental illness and disabilities.

The modern medical community tends to pathologies children’s behaviors that do not fit the norm.  For instance, terms such as Autism, ADHD & Learning Disabilities are broad-spectrum classification to label often “non understood” behaviors in children—from “unknown”causes.  What is however known is that these children process the world differently.

The world of psychiatry and psychology has evolved in the last few decades to incorporate new values and notions of how the mind and attention functions that are leading some to understand the behaviors associated with these labels as something other than pathologies.  In parallel, an informal yet expert community has formed within digital networks, those with or parents of those with cognitive “differences” who are sharing their experiences and developing sub-cultures based on their own research and in the process developing new societal narratives which echo their lived and sensorial lives instead of the main mass mediated culture of normality and difference as “madness” or monstrous.

Cognitive “differences” are beginning to go through a new media re-articulation. For some this re-definition revolves around the idea that our current mainstream culture is a pathology that is oppressing those who happen to think, feel, and/or sense differently.  However, we know that certain other cultures tell stories about humankind’s partnership with the living world, and foster and embodied sensitivity to it.” (Sheperd, 2010, p.3)[i] In digital networks, these alternate, often ancient, stories are being incorporated in new narratives that celebrate instead of pathologize these differences.

For instance, blogger Jason Huxley part of the autistic subculture writes:

“Enculturated humans are guided by beliefs, values, traditions, ideologies, laws, and social conventions, most of all the social convention of “humanity.” Humanity is a cultural entity separate from Nature, divorced from its inner nature. The external arrangement we call culture is presumed, without ever thinking about it, to be progress. But what if the reality is that it’s a pathology?

This may be another reason that autists are “failing to communicate” — less as the result of any deficiency than because they are simply not being heard. Part of the pathology of culture is that it cannot conceive of any alternatives to itself. There are many kinds of perceptual narrowing, and expectation bias is one of them. Neurotypical humans are heavily invested in maintaining a belief in their culture and in the validity of their perceptions and beliefs. “[ii]

Ken Robinson articulates the current folk backlash against the medical establishment while discussing on Youtube the use of drugs administered to ADHD labeled children:

“These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out and on the same whimsical basis and for the same reasons: medical fashion. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. They are being besieged with information and coursed their attention from every platform, from computers, from iphones, from advertisement hoardings, from 100 of television channels. We are penalizing them for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff, at school for the most part. “(Robinson, 2010)[iii]

Before we can examine the shift in value that these emerging dialectics offer us, lets take a look at some of the thinking taking places on the fringes of modern medicine in terms of what the mind represents and how attention is formulated.

next: The mind: a malleable, dynamic, adaptable system


[i] Sheperd, Philip (2010). New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century. North Atlantic Books.

[ix] Keysers, Christian (2011-06-23). The Empathic Brain. Social Brain Press.

[xvi] Laney, Marti Olsen (2005) The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World (eBook)

[xvii] Greenspan, Stanley (2009). Overcoming ADHD: Helping Your Child Become Calm, Engaged, and FocusedWithout a Pill (Merloyd Lawrence Books)

[xviii] Siegel, Daniel and Bryson, Tyna Payne (2012).  The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam




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