I’ve been watching a medical drama recently – The Good Doctor stars Dr Shaun Murphy, who is a surgeon on the autistic spectrum. The way the character is written, his autism is more extreme than mine – I readily laugh, recognising (at least some of) the ways Shaun doesn’t realise he should be sensitive to his friends, colleagues and patients.
One episode in particular drew together several themes I’ve written about recently on this blog. The 14th episode of Season 1, entitled She, confronts Dr Murphy with a teenager who is biologically male but identifies as female. For most of the episode, Shaun finds this hard to process. TFor Shaun, this person is objectively a male, so he must call the person “him”. The teenager, however, argues that she is “meant to be a girl”. Shaun responds that there is no “meant to be”, only what is.
I think the scriptwriters have done a good job of capturing the sense of what it is not to understand the concept of meaning, which I’ve written about previously. It also highlights the dangers of philosophising about human identity by scholars who might themselves be autistic and not intuit what it is to have a sense of meaning or purpose. On the other hand, we can ask legitimate questions about why we have this sense. I’m beginning to realise that most human beings are hard-wired, when they watch a film or read a book, to ask: “What real-world principle is this about?” I can ask this question, but it’s hard work and doesn’t come naturally. It’s only just dawning on me that most storytellers are not only trying to tell a story but also make a point.