According to Business Insider, Elon Musk discussed his excitement over Neuralink, “an AI-enabled chip that could be implanted in a person’s brain to stimulate brain activity.” on a Lex Fridman podcast, which aired this past Tuesday.
While I can’t speak directly to how this microchip would work with Alzheimers’s or Parkinson’s, we need to reflect on different possibilities in terms of Autism and Schizophrenia.
I deal with mental health challenges and a neurological impairment, and I for one, don’t need a microchip to “solve” my “issues”. Many folks on the Autism spectrum consider their Neurodivergence as a way of being and wouldn’t want a chip to be implanted into their brains. They don’t see their way of being as a condition that needs fixing.
Medium writer, Devon Price, wrote an article that beautifully represents the benefits that Autism carries, in 2018.
While I’m sure your intentions are good, Mr. Musk, the main contention I have with your understanding is it misses the point that Neurodivergent folks may not consider their way of relating to the world to be a problem. The bigger problem is our society’s lack of understanding.
A bigger issue we deal is being misunderstood and stigmatized by our wider culture.
And while I’m sure some of us, will likely consider the prospect of a microchip insertion, many of us don’t identify as being a broken machine necessitating added equipment to fix us.
There are Person-centered ways of dealing with mental suffering.
As a Peer Support Specialist and, a Neurodivergent individual myself, I know there’s a lot of suffering connected with these two diagnoses. People diagnosed and family members don’t always know what to do. And we may not be aware of resources, especially outside of the most traditional understandings.
Even individuals diagnosed with what is considered to be Schizophrenia have more resources than ever, especially for people who hear voices specifically.
One major example is in the Hearing Voices Network, people have learned to talk about their voice-hearing in a way that does not pathologize their experiences. Instead they learn that voices are often a result of past traumatic experiences and can be worked with over time and with plenty of social support. There are Hearing Voices support groups all over the world and more facilitators are being trained every day.
We are learning to expand our understanding, rather than seek out ways to eradicate differences from the norm.
This “Fix-your-brain-at-all-costs” approach is not the answer for many people’s suffering and can be rife with pitfalls, however tempting it may seem in our darkest moments. And when you’re up against a wall, it’s easy to seek a quick fix. It’s a major reason why people with Severe Depression seek out Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), despite the grave, long-term risks it can present.
The consequences are tragic when a person doesn’t get what they need, however there are still resources which get closer to the core of caring for the whole person. These possibilities include providing more funding to nonprofits, state programs, expanding access to housing and work opportunities — and even alternatives to traditional Psychiatric understandings, such as the Hearing Voices Network.
And while someone like me would benefit from having a Thyroid gland for instance, since I happen to be born without one — installing a chip in my brain isn’t a path I’d be willing to go. This simplistic view fails to take into account that most people heal from added communal and social supports while learning to work through potentially traumatic experiences in their lives which lead to ‘symptoms’ diagnosed as Schizophrenia.
We are living, breathing human beings with rich emotional lives who need deeper connection with other humans — not machines in need of being repaired.
This mentality of seeing human beings as a vat of chemicals, needing chemical and technological interventions is simplistic at best — and at worst, is reminiscent of eugenic agendas of the twentieth century.
As a Peer Advocate, I support informed consent and in my work, have always promoted individuals being in the driver’s seat of their own care — we need to be careful what steps we take in helping people deal with their suffering.
Let’s not continue to make the mistake of promoting the erasure of human experiences that run contrary to mainstream consensus reality paradigms. There are many community supports and interventions out there for people diagnosed with Schizophrenia or Autism, which respect the totality of the individuals’ experiences and Personhood. We don’t need microchips, what we need most is more awareness, education and financial resources.
The seemingly straightforward path isn’t always as simple as it appears. In 2019, it’s become easy to forget that we are whole people, not just neurons firing off inside craniums.