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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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In Gerald Edelman's Darwinian model of cognitive functioning, experience is categorised by the firing of groups of neurones in the cerebral cortex, and these categorisations are assigned values by feedback loops through the emotional centres of the mid-brain. There is some evidence that autism spectrum may be associated with developmental damage to these emotional centres. The disorders often affect not just joint attention, but engagement with others in general.

Edelman considers language a 'higher order' system for categorising experience, built on the older system of 'primary consciousness'. His model is consistent with Halliday's theory, in which language likewise involves categorisations of experience that are assigned interpersonal values. This is a 'metafunctional' model, in which language simultaneously construes our experience (experiential functions) and enacts our social relations (interpersonal functions). We can't have one without the other. (This contrasts with the formalist model of language as syntax, which privileges experiential ('representational') meanings and reduces interpersonal meanings to 'pragmatics'.)

From infancy, each step in language learning begins with interpersonal developments before experiential features appear, e.g. with names for caregivers before names for other things. If the capacity for assigning emotional values to interpersonal relations is damaged, then the whole process of language learning is likely to be inhibited, delayed or prevented altogether. It is precisely the interpersonal language functions of subtly negotiating speakers' relationships and feelings that people with autism spectrum have greatest difficulty with.

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