Remarks on Phyllis N. Hallenbeck’s “Some Issues Concerning the Use of Standard Personality Tests with the Blind”


Brodey’s freewheeling conference presentation, with some interesting remarks on how we need to become more sensitive to those parts of our cognitive and perceptual processes that became automatic. Some brief reflections on the lab.

Note to the reader: Unedited. tape. This statement will be most he can stand to read it aloud with it to be taken out of context--The Typed directly from audio meaningful to the reader if feeling. Otherwise, consider the author.

If the people in the ghetto feel themselves powerless and they would like to have more power, I think I share with some people here a sense of powerlessness in terms of doing anything that makes a difference for blind people, and maybe for sighted people. Because, you see, I think that many sighted people are much blinder than the blind people. What upsets me most of all is the amount of deadness that seems to be in the American style at a meeting of this sort. How our people sit on their asses, trying their best to take in information, but by and large listening to the same kind of crap that they have heard over and over again and not even objecting to it. That I find most unfortunate.

We have here at this meeting people who represent the various fields of endeavor who if given half a chance would each protect their own field of endeavor against the attack of the other fields, without necessarily finding in that experience much except some charged emotion, not much enlightenment, because all they are doing is saying the same old things that they always say when they come together with experts who happen to take a different point of view. So you end up with garbage. Now, I, at the same time am very much aware of the fact that sitting around a table like this, in this nice square, in a square room at the top of a square building, you sort of get squared, double squared and you know you can take that wherever you want to. Such squaring sort of is what happens.

What I mean by squaring is that you get trapped in a perspective which is a formal perspective which one is supposed to have at such meetings, where for one thing you don't talk like I do, because that's not nice, it's not polite. Except after a while you get fed up with being polite when essentially it means that you have to swallow so much garbage. Now, it so happens that I personally would like to be angry with everyone here, except I can't be, because I am one of you; and if I'm angry at you then I have to be angry at myself, and then I get depressed and I'd rather not get depressed because it's not very useful.

Now, what would I get angry about at you, or at me? It's sort of the lack of interaction that occurs in this kind of a situation. You know this Viet Nam War bit. I have to bring that in too. Let me simply say with regard to the Viet Nam War bit that most people are aware of the fact that the Federal Government doesn't want it, the local government doesn't want it, the people don't want it, the Vietnamese don't want it, nobody wants it, but somehow we are dropping bombs just the same, and everybody talks about “well, there is no way to back out of it and save face.” There is no way to do anything and save face.

There is no way to capture a few bombers to sort of, to translate into money that we might use for helping with the transit problems that we in this room are all interested in. I mean by that, that in some ways the sickness in this country and the sickness among us here is the sickness of sort of feeling constrained to do things in the right way, and to say things in a way that they have always been said, and to turn off, in your usual way of turning off, which is essentially to sit and accept and to passively listen and take it all in, and then to sort of gobbledy-gook among yourselves, and myself the pause I'm one of you, and then wish after you left that you had found something more interesting to do, and then complain, and then maybe in the last half hour there will be something to rationalize about (Oh, we did accomplish something) and maybe not.

Now, I don't know why it upsets me so much to see people who I respect captured. Captured in a way that everybody kind of knows about, but nobody does anything about because they don't know what to do. I think very much of some of my own family at large, who went into the gas chambers in Germany while people sat and said, “well, what can we do? You know we can't do anything against the government, and more than that, we as individuals can do nothing.” This kind of inaction is what has been going on in the ghetto situation. It isn't as if one doesn't want to be useful or do things that are helpful. But somehow there is no way to do anything. And, it's this powerlessness that I feel here in this group, and wish that I didn't feel, and feel just the same even though I talk about it.

And so I talk about it anyway, because maybe it gives me a feeling that I might by the end of this short time have something--at least allow other people to share this sense of hopelessness. And where is the hopelessness? You know I don't come by this lightly. I'm not talking just as someone who hasn't been in the field. I've worked for seven years at the School for blind kids. Those kids taught me a lot. They changed my whole life. These are multiply--I don't care what you call them. They are kids who are blind, some partially blind. They are called all sorts of names. They are called schizophrenic, they are called retarded, they're called everything; you just name it, they've been called it. We took the kids who were from the bottom of the barrel, some time ago, and we just tried to work with them to see what we could accomplish.

We've accomplished a fair amount, but that isn't what I'm here to tell you about. The way, we've accomplished what we've accomplished is by giving up as much as we could, the kind of organization, the kind of design and of plannings, twat everybody touts in this community of ours. You know the kind of planning that goes into schools where the kids sit down at 9:00, or 9:30, or 8:30, or whatever it is, and eat at such and such a time whether they are hungry, or not and they live in .a way that is competent and well organized; and finally if they are lucky they will be successful and maybe they will become successful people, in the sense of being alive, or maybe they will be successful plastic people.

Now, among the blind people I know there are some who have had most of their guts torn out of them in the process of being taught in schools for the blind. And I mean by that. . . again I don't speak of this lightly, I have for four years, while I was in Washington in practice, I paid a group of blind people to come and teach me about blindness. This is something I wanted to know about; and some of you may have heard of this, I haven't written much about it. But a group of eight blind people who were all very bright, from Georgetown University, because those were the ones who were verbal and I could interact with, came usually once a week and sometimes every two weeks, I'd say to them: “You were traveling down the street today--how did you manage? I don't know how you manage. I close my eyes and I bump into something. I'd be in a terrible mess. How did you manage?”

And by and large over a matter of four years we got a little bit of language together, not very much. Most of them had experiences which I still couldn't encompass in any way. But I did learn about the fact that another world existed. That I didn't know about. And that many worlds exist that I don't know about, and that we couldn't examine scientifically as long as we are completely trapped within a particular, to use my big word, epistemology. In other words, as long as you are trapped within a point of view that doesn't allow you to see the other person's point of view, you've had it. And you can be as ritualistic as you like.

This morning, for example, in listening to the psychologists, you know, the ritual, the sort of religious ritual of the scientist who is not a scientist at all, who is essentially following a bunch of recipes in order to come up with something which usually is irrelevant, but true, so you can write about it for a Ph.D., which is usually the way in which most of the research gets done, which is what was mentioned in this article. And you get your Ph.D. and then you forget about the research, because the research was essentially for the purpose of getting a Ph.D. Or the clinician, whose main job is satisfying the state office of something or another, rehabilitation is the number of people that finally he gets into jobs.

And whether he likes it or not, he is trapped into the system. This is what I want to make clear, I think that we as a group--me anyway--we get trapped every so often. And once we are caught you start justifying what you know is miserable, what you know really doesn't work, what you know is a travesty; but you get trapped and you start to justify it. You know it stinks and you feel lousy inside. Well, I think this is the business of the ladies getting up at the meeting for the retarded, I forget the meeting--up in Boston it was, exceptional children or something--and saying, you know, how great we are you ladies and you gentlemen, and the State Governor and everybody else, you know, is so great, because here we are saving these kids from the bottom of the barrel, and I can remember myself in the early days saying about the same thing.

And this was with a sense of church-y self-righteousness in the bad direction. And yet, we say, after all how else a meeting supposed to go. You always start with a talk like that, and that's the ritual. And you are right. That is the ritual. And that's the ritual we all follow. We follow it here too, for that matter. And you know, you need rituals. You need rituals in order to simplify things so everybody knows that madame chairman or mister chairman gets up, and you speak, and you have your ritual.

I've found that my work with the blind kids decided me that I couldn't stand sitting and listening--I had a psychiatric practice and I just couldn't stand listening to people yak at me about their wives or husbands and so on and on, so I just took off and went to MIT to work. Now I talked about the clinicians and I've talked about the poor psychologists and the poor clinicians, and I'm in the dock, because I've been sort of one of all of them; and now I'm going to talk about the “scientist.”

You know, for a moment this afternoon, I said, Oh yeah, here are my people talking now, and they don't come from the other side of the tracks, like the people who were there this morning. I'm on the new side of the tracks now, with the modernists, with the guys who are going to change the world. And then I start to remember the fact that Jim Bliss and other people that I know could be talking about the same things for a long time. They have gradually gone ahead--and I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about what I saw when I was working in what I called the ward, the laboratory where they had all these machines around.

Where there was the promise, always the promise, of what we are going to do tomorrow for the blind people. We were going to change everything, and that promise, by and large, does come off, but it is so slow and it's so irrelevant to the clinical problems that you have to deal with today and it's so irrelevant to the fact that here's all this money going into it, and here are these people who don't have that thousand dollars which would make a big difference, and yet half a million is going into this piece of research by a bunch of Ph.D. students who are trying to get their Ph.D.'s.

So I guess what I am talking about is... let me go the next step. I've already left MIT on April 1st, and have been fortunate enough to start my own laboratory. I could be talking just as well about the great things that we are going to do in the future for the blind people, and for the sighted people; we are much more ambitious than some people are, and for the children who when they enter school are already being trained out of their perceptual skills. But I don't think that necessarily is useful, maybe it is.

The one thing that I'm so awed with, that seems so important to me is the passivity of being turned off, which is about where most people are. You've learned so well to learn by sitting and learning the symbolic things, and then the experiences at home and so on you put in an entirely different category, and part of the psychological testing and so on is the effort to lift what is personal to us into something that is technical. In having sort of espoused a way of life, which is so much more of sitting and just sort of taking it all in, and being part of what goes on in this sense.

We have lost our awareness of the intellectual values as for the technical values are concerned. I'm using Ed Hall's words. He goes from the informal, which are the frames of reference that you don't understand. They're so automatic that you really don't perceive them, and this is also recognized traditionally: how other people talk about the world, the invisible world around us, which is so automatic that you have no sense of its meaning. The blind people more than anything else taught me about the world that is so automatic that I didn't even know it was there before: the world of echoes, the world of different densities of sound, the world of interference.

Walking down the street, and how the different sounds and different heat radiations, and all these things, how these manifest themselves. Only yesterday, I was sort of trying to build in my laboratory a space that had certain kinds of qualities, and I knew from the way the blind people had taught me that I couldn't build that space as long as the acoustical qualities of the space were thus and so. Now we have in our laboratories, a CDC 200 computer, an averaging computer, and the reason for that being there is just to help us to try and work with the kind of interaction that occurs in everyday life.

We are not trying to be technologists in the full sense, but what we are trying to do is to work on the conversation between a person and another person, and a person and his environment, where both the person and his environment are interacting momentarily, each with each other and at the same time, in parallel. I speak to you and I speak in terms of your responses to me even as I speak. We cannot separate the cause and effect, really, when we're coming down to the delicate affairs that are involved. We cannot separate subjects and objects. There is no way to be objective and to be a significant, none whatsoever.

You can be significant in terms of gross things like whether somebody is living or dead. But when it comes to the fine-grained kinds of information exchanges that we should be interested in, given the level of sophistication we have about us, you have to change your whole point of view. The experimental method is changed, because it is possible to program the computer so that it changes the experiment with many, many variables all at once, in midstream, while the experiment is going on. Real-time information processing changes the whole environment.

My own work in the laboratory is working and trying to define real-time experimentation. So that we may be able to... not so much change everything, as to find a way to talk about that which is informal, that which all of us use every day in order to interact with each other, in order to stay alive. To talk about turned on things instead of having it talked about by the hippies, or by the people who are doing it in strange ways. We want to talk about health, we want to talk about being able to enlarge the horizon of a human creature so that, for example, a child lives in terms of his potentiality instead of having to be slowed down to teacher rate as soon as they end up in fifth grade.

You watch it happening and it's sad and you don't know what to do about it. That's the way I feel about it anyway. So these are some of the things that are on my mind, and I think Phyllis Hallenbeck, when she spoke about how personal dedication seems to be the thing that carries, more than intellectual dedication in the sense of being right, and being able to prove, and the like. Being able to prove being right and all those things are important, but relevance is by far the most important aspect of science, and it seems to have gotten lost.

I believe that with our new technology, if we can move together the people with technology, the people with a background in science, you might say, clinical people, we have something to do together. But I don't know how to do it, I am not even sure that it can be done with the people here. But I do think among the people here there really is enough power to be able to develop a significant program, or help it, if we would only share with each other our frustrations, rather than pointing with pride to developments which we know within the framework of requirements are so many.