Out of the mouths of autistics: Subjective report and its role in cognitive theorizing

Victoria McGeer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The theoretical work that emerges from a study on the work of memory, learning, and other higher functions, such as consciousness, is this: if the psychological (functional) taxonomy is ill-defined, then the search for neural substrates for those functions will be correspondingly ill-defined. There are, certainly, remarkable data, found at all levels in psychology and neuroscience, but precisely how to interpret the data in terms of a theory of neurobiological capacities, representations and processes is yet to be discovered. – Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy. My primary concern in this chapter is with subjective report, and in particular, first–person reports of abnormal sensory and/or perceptual experiences. This topic raises interesting questions at two distinct levels: First, there are philosophical questions about the nature of subjective experience, subjective awareness of experience, and subjects’ capacity to articulate what they are experiencing. Secondly, there are questions about how philosophical theories of such matters interact with empirical theories of – and research into – abnormal neurocognitive conditions. To focus my discussion of these questions, I will be considering, in particular, the phenomenon of subjective report in high–functioning individuals with autism. Understanding Autism: Some Methodological and Substantive Concerns. Autism presents a highly complex challenge for researchers trying to negotiate between neurological and cognitive levels of theorizing. As with other neurodevelopmental disorders, such research involves working along two dimensions at once. As T. W. Robbins explains: The challenge to research into childhood autism lies in relating what appears to be a set of apparently somewhat independent symptoms … to corresponding deficits in brain systems.[…]

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCognition and the Brain
Subtitle of host publicationThe Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9780511610608
ISBN (Print)0521836425, 9780521836425
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


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