July 26, 2013

I figure I ought to offer some basic explanation of this website’s title and primary theme. What the heck does neurocosmopolitanism even mean?

Before I go there, I ought to first provide basic definitions of a couple of other concepts that will be central to my writings here: neurodiversity and the neurodiversity paradigm. 

Unlike the term neurocosmopolitanism, which I coined myself, the term neurodiversity has been around since at least 1999, and in recent years has begun to come into widespread usage. However, many people are still unfamiliar with it, or are still unclear on its meaning. So, as a great believer in being clear about the definitions of one’s terms, that’s where I’ll start. (By the way, my fellow neurodiversity scholar Ralph Savarese also coined the term neurocosmopolitanism, independently of me and possibly earlier than me.)

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds. The enormous diversity among individual human minds is a product of multiple factors, including environment, culture, family, and personal history. Human minds also possess an innate diversity, which interacts with these other factors to produce the unique individuality of each human being.

We are a neurologically diverse species: the enormous variation among individual human bodies extends to our brains and the rest of our nervous systems, which differ from one another like fingerprints. This neurological diversity translates into a diversity of cognitive styles, a diversity of innate cognitive strengths and weaknesses, gifts and peculiarities. This is what is meant by neurodiversity.

The neurodiversity paradigm is a perspective that recognizes neurodiversity as a naturally-occurring form of human diversity, like cultural diversity, racial diversity, gender diversity, diversity of physical ability, and diversity of sexual orientation.

The neurodiversity paradigm recognizes that the social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to these other forms of diversity. These dynamics include the dynamics of social power relations – the dynamics of social inequality, privilege, and oppression – as well as the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential within a group or society.

Thus, the neurodiversity paradigm is a complex framework that conceptualizes neurodiversity as both a source of evolutionary and creative potential, and an axis of social identity.

Cosmopolitanism has been defined in different ways by different thinkers. As I use the term, cosmopolitanism refers to a particular attitude or approach to cultural diversity. In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), Kwame Anthony Appiah writes: “People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences. Because there are so many human possibilities worth exploring, we neither expect nor desire that every person or every society should converge on a single mode of life.”

The cosmopolitan individual not only accepts cultural diversity, but treasures it as an infinite source of potential learning, beauty, innovation, and creative synergy. In Homeland Earth (1999), Edgar Morin, one of the great cosmopolitan thinkers, writes that cosmopolitanism involves “a double imperative” to “safeguard, propagate, cultivate, or develop” both unity and diversity. “We must simultaneously protect cultural specificities and promote cross-fertilizations and cross-breedings,” Morin writes, because the creativity and vitality of cultures and societies (and, I would add, of individuals) “feeds on influences and confluences,” whereas “homogeneity lacks genius.”

Neurocosmopolitanism consists of approaching neurodiversity in the same spirit in which the true cosmopolitan approaches cultural diversity.

To embrace the neurodiversity paradigm is to refuse to pathologize neurocognitive styles and experiences that differ from our own, and to accept neurodiversity as a natural, healthy, and important form of human biodiversity – a fundamental and vital characteristic of the human species, a crucial source of evolutionary and creative potential.

Neurocosmopolitanism goes beyond this baseline of acceptance, as cosmopolitanism goes beyond mere tolerance of cultural differences. The neurocosmopolitan seeks to actively explore, engage with, and cultivate human neurodiversity and its creative potentials, in a spirit of humility, respect, and continual openness to learning and transformation.


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