Between Semi-Stable States

I’ve talked a fair bit about autistic task-switching and the like, most recently when I coined the idea of the autistic local cache and most dramatically when I’ve described the uncollapsed autistic wave function. This week there’s a piece by Jessica Hamzelou for MIT Technology Review that jumped out at me.

Reporting on research conducted by neuroscientists that monitored people’s brains for an entire week, Hamzelou’s lede notes the gist of their findings.

[…] As we go from reading a book to chatting with a friend, for example, our brains shift from one semi-stable state to another—but only after chaotically zipping through multiple other states in a pattern that looks completely random.

She elaborates upon the lede.

The team found some surprising patterns in brain activity over the course of the week. Specific brain networks seemed to communicate with each other in what looked like a “dance,” with one region appearing to “listen” while the other “spoke,” say the researchers, who presented their findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego last year.

And while the volunteers’ brains seemed to pass between different states over time, they did so in a curious way. Rather than simply moving from one pattern of activity to another, their brains appeared to zip between several other states in between, apparently at random. As the brain shifts from one semi-stable state to another, it seems to embrace chaos.

While it’s important to note, as do both the researchers and Hamzelou, that all of the subjects were epileptic and so we must use caution not to overgeneralize to wider populations, I admit that I can’t help but think about all those ways I’ve talked about autistic transitions.

In discussing the autistic local cache, I suggested that during a transition I’ve got to unload the information set for the current situation from my local cache, reset the local cache, and then load into the local cache the relevant information set for the next situation. I’ve wondered about the autistic brain perhaps requiring greater access to so-called “liminal space” than required by typical brains in order to make transitions.

Looking at this research, it’s difficult for me not to read the words “chaotically zipping through multiple other states in a pattern that looks completely random” without thinking of my difficulty with things that more resemble a database than a narrative.

Is my brain having difficulty with this chaotic, in-between phase that seems to exist between one semi-stable state and another? When my wave function refuses to collapse, is it my brain getting lost—stuck, really—among the cognitive weeds (or amidst the “loose sand”) of transitional randomness?