Saturday, September 13, 2014

Metaphor vs Meat & Potatoes...the bane of literal thinking...

an example of literal thinking
In written form, I have less of issue with idioms, metaphors, euphemisms, puns, hyperbole, sarcasm, exaggeration and implied assumptions. However in communicating verbally with people it becomes really obvious that I can misunderstand. Even so, if I lack sufficient background information I can have a lot of difficulty even in written form. Just what is literal thinking, and how does it express itself differently than the thought processes of an NT?



There are two different layers to the meaning of words, their
  1. literal definitions
    & their
  2. intended meanings...
The literal definition of the words/images in question, what a thing actual is, while the intended meaning is where we get the term "figure of speech" from: a meaning different from the actual meaning of the words themselves. Focusing on the true/definite meaning of words is at the crux of literal thinking.  Those of us who process thought this way have difficulty in interpreting this second or figurative layer.

Those ACC and ASDs that are literal thinker have three distinct differences in their thought process in regards to

  1. auditory processing, 
  2. thinking in pictures, 
  3. & not distinguishing the whole from the part.
Within my own brain I have an auditory processing delay, revealed during didactic hearing studies.  I would wear stereo headphones, and they would speak unrelated words in both my left than my right ear.  It was revealed that I could not (neurologically) hear out of (process) different words out of my both ears, I would only hear one side, and usually it was the right side.  As well, there was a significant audio delay between the spoken word and my hearing of it.  This significant processing delay is apparent in many with ASD and/or ACC.

How it works is like this:
Language get's inputed (heard) and the length of time it takes to process non literal meanings is so long that the other individual is already on to the next word or sentence.  Given sufficient background information, this is why we can pick such things up in written text, because we are not going through the auditory processing system.

We also think in pictures.  We will even take the words we hear and translate them into "visual media" of the "thing." It is a picture, static, therefore literal, "what the thing is."  In order for us to think and understand the second layer of meaning, we have to translate words into pictures, change the picture and translate it back into words. Just consider the phrase "scared the hell outta me." It conjures up darkness and medieval images of Dante's levels of hell.  Imagine getting that out of your mind!

We also have trouble discriminating the whole from the part.  We cannot see the forest for the trees.  We take all these many pieces, like one would a giant jigsaw puzzle and start trying to piece the information together bit by bit, rather than looking for the intended (figurative) meaning within the context of the entire conversation.  We often can't back away from the details.

For example, let's take the English idiom "cool your jets!"  There is definitely only one intended meaning and that is to calm down.  The thought process I go through for just this might look like this:

"Cool my what? I don't have jets?  How hot are they and why do they need to be cooled? Where are my jets? Why do they need to be cooled in the first place?  Jets are cool! I wish I could fly in one! You know the T looks like a (jet) but the the J looks like something else!  What was the question?"

This all happening in two seconds and you're already saying something else...I get frustrated, felt misunderstood (because I can't "catch up" and communicate back to you what I'm thinking/feeling)...the process is utterly exhausting for me.

Some of us find figurative speech really upsetting  It confuses us and can even create unsettling visual imagery. Often others will make fun of us and mock us because we misunderstand.  We can even receive figurative speech as if it were a lie. Both in school and on the job we get pegged for "bad behavior" because we follow instructions literally to the word.

Please don't laugh at my misunderstanding what you said, and never use sarcasm. It can be stressful when you're the only one who doesn't get a joke,  at least take the time to explain the joke so I don't feel left out.

A day in the life of Joseph Galbraith...

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