In quantum mechanics, wave function collapse is said to occur when a wave function—initially in a superposition of several eigenstates—appears to reduce to a single eigenstate due to interaction with the external world; this is called an “observation”.

I’m not even going to attempt to discuss actual quantum mechanics here, since even after reading Through Two Doors at Once it always sounds like a description of our inability to have complete knowledge of a system rather than a description of the actual reality of the system. My usage here is purely metaphorical, to try to expand on what I posted yesterday.

It’s the closest thing I’ve stumbled upon that glimpses what these moments of overwhelm feel like from the inside.

What specifically happened yesterday, and this is where my autism’s cognitive rigidity comes into play, is that after a semi-disastrous trip downtown to become increasingly self-conscious while trying and likely failing to get any interesting photos at the local rally in solidarity with a protest happening at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, followed by an aborted attempt at having a meal at my favorite breakfast place, all of which involved a lot of walking, all I wanted to do was get back to my neighborhood and have a cheap burger and fries at the local diner.

That local diner, however, was roasting inside, and with the layers of physical and psychic stress that already had accumulated, I knew I couldn’t handle the heat.

The problem, here, is that as my stress increases, so does the cognitive rigidity. In theory there were plenty of other available options for food, but my brain had become focus-locked on this single thing that I knew for certain was going to help me re-center my day.

(There’s a notion out there of autism-as-monotropism, much of which has to do with getting stuck in “attention tunnels”.)

And without that single thing, the mental gears ground to a halt.

I’ve talked before about what I call “brain foam”, a more intense version of brain fog where it isn’t that I can’t see what I’m thinking (which is what brain fog is to me) but that my thoughts are present yet frozen in place, as if immobilized by Instapak. What happened yesterday in essence was the extreme version of brain foam.

Every choice I had with the rigidly-desired one out of play was laid out before me, and I could see every single one. Every possible position in which I could exist in the next moment was as clear as day.

But because none of them were what I’d previously decided upon as the stress was piling up and the gears winding down, none of them could fall into place. And this became the vague idea of an uncollapsed autistic wave function, where every possible choice seems to exist at the same intensity and potentiality but something is impeding a decision.

I was a pure probability wave, unable to be a discrete particle through observation. At one point I stood unmoving on a sidewalk corner, staring into space, not just unseeing but feeling mostly unseen.

This state lasted maybe half an hour, until finally my brain loosened enough to pick a path that had nothing to do with the original: I went to the store and got what I needed to go home and make a sandwich instead. Half an hour earlier, that decision not only would have been impossible, it wouldn’t have even been seen as an option, because I was rigidly locked into the original choice.

These moments don’t happen often, and I don’t have a strategy for getting out of them. Mostly it seems to be a lot of waiting, and a lot of hoping not to fall into an anxiety attack at the same time over the uncontrollable indecision.

Not for nothing but these moments are yet further examples of how autism is not a disability merely under the social model. Neither do they argue for autism as some sort of superpower. These states of mind are inherently disabling, but fortunately, for me, rare.

Referring posts: Between Semi-Stable States