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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, May 2017

Non-dualism (or Non-Duality) and Autism

by: Brett I. Cohen, Ph.D.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article will discuss the differences and similarities between non-dualism and autism. While non-dualism is not a genetic or neurological disorder (where autism is a genetic and neurological disorder), there are many similar characteristics regarding these seemingly different phenomena. These similarities (between non-dualism and autism) are discussed in detail.


Non-dualism (also defined as non-duality) has the literal meaning of "not two" and can also be described as "one undivided without a second" or “non-separation” (Katz 2007). The concept of non-dualism varies throughout religions and spiritual thoughts throughout the world. For example, non-dualism is found in many Asian religions and traditions {such as; Chinese Buddhism (non-duality is defined as absolute and relative reality), Madhyamaka-Buddhism (non-duality is defined as conventional and ultimate truth), and Madhyamaka-Buddhism Advaya (non-duality is defined conventional and ultimate truth with regards to the two truths), etc.}, but with regard to modern western religions, traditions and spitituality there are many meanings and uses of the concept of non-dualism (Harvey 2013, Katz 2007, Loy 1988).

The "ego" is part of your conscious mind and is also part of our identity that you consider your "self" (Katz 2007, Loy 1988). The "ego" is also defined as an inflated feeling of pride in ones superiority to others and ones consciousness of your own identity. The "ego" is also responsible for ones pleasures and desires. In order to achieve a non-dual spiritual awareness, the "ego" needs to shed away or die. When "ego" death is achieved there is a complete loss of subjective self-identity (katz 2007, Loy 1988). In other words, the death of the "ego" allows for an awareness "state" in which one is undivided without a second and is non-separated from spirit and body or flesh.


The diagnosis (as a neurological disorder) for autism is usually made through clinical observation using current DSM-5 criteria.  A neurological disorder is any disorder of the body's nervous system.  Autism is a complex genetic disorder that is characterised by significant disturbances in social, communicative and behavioural functioning.  An autistic subject can have disturbances that include serious impairment of social relationships, delayed or deviant language development, and repetitive and/or ritualistic play and interests.  Onset of autism occurs before the age of three years old (better known as Infantile Autism), and the symptoms described above usually continue throughout the autistic person's lifetime. Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) is defined by the presence of abnormal and impaired development that is observed before the age of three years. 

Cohen (1999) was the first researcher to illustrate extremely high gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the plasma and urine and high plasma ammonia levels as possibly the root cause of autism.  GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain. It is responsible for axon(s)-to-oligodendrocyte signalling in the corpus callosum. Located in the center of the brain (which separates the left and right hemispheres), the corpus callosum is responsible for language processing, speech and intelligence. When this area is damaged, cognitive disorders and language delays are usually found. The finding of elevated levels of GABA in the plasma and urine could explain why autistic features such as self-stimulatory behaviour and language delays are found. This is possibly due to the abnormal development of the axon(s) in the corpus callosum (Cohen, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2002a, 2004, 2004a, 2015, 2016).   

GABA-T (gamma-aminobutyric acid– transaminase) is the enzyme responsible for GABA catabolism (chemical breakdown in the liver during regulation). Cohen (2002, 2002a, 2004, 2004a, 2015, 2016) illustrated that the GABA-T enzyme activity for an autistic child was approximately half the value of the average control (normal) group. Elevated levels of ammonia in the plasma result in a decrease in the efficiency of the enzyme GABA-T, and this results in higher GABA concentrations in the plasma after liver regulation (Cohen, 2002, 2002a, 2004, 2015, 2016). 

The biochemistry regarding the ammonia/GABA cycle for humans is very complex and in order to demonstrate that an increase in ammonia (NH3) and its oxygen derivatives (NOx and/or NyO) are important concerning autism, Cohen (2004, 2006) illustrated that catabolism (breakdown of GABA in the liver during regulation via the enzyme GABA-T) of GABA (with the chemical formula, H2N(CH2CH2CH2)COOH) resulted in the production of ammonia (NH3) and other acid products, such as propionic acid (CH3CH2COOH) and methylmalonic acid (CH3CH(COOH)2). Interestingly, Cohen (2004) has illustrated that propionic acid is converted to methylmalonic acid via an intramolecular reaction involving a molecular rearrangement. This is due to the fact that propionic acid is an unstable intermediate (Cohen 2004). Cohen (2004) also reports that high methylmalonic acid concentations are also found for autistic subjects. 

Increases in ammonia plasma levels can also result in increases in nitric oxide (NO) levels (one possible oxygen derivative of ammonia) and Cohen (2004, 2006) proposed that NO may play a pathophysiological role in autism. Cohen (2004, 2006) reported that significantly elevated plasma levels of total nitrite in autistic patients were observed compared to the control group. Nitric oxide (NO) is involved in many neuropsychiatric disorders (such as; schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, Alzheimer's disease and Huntington disease) and it is known to effect neurodevelopmental processes in the central nervous system (CNS) (Cohen 2004, 2006). Elevated levels of NO can suppress the activity of GABA-T and this can result in elevated levels of GABA (Cohen 2004, 2006). Therefore, a cycle of high plasma GABA leading to its chemical breakdown to high plasma ammonia probably exists. In turn this leads to suppression of GABA-T enzyme activity, which leads to inhibited catabolism of GABA (in the liver) and the subsequent increase in plasma GABA concentration for autistic subjects (Cohen 2004, 2006).

Interestingly, another chemical derivative (oxygen derivative) in the ammona/GABA cycle is nitrous oxide (N2O). Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a chemical compound that is prepared by the thermal decomposition of ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3).  Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is produced by the addition of ammonia (NH3) with nitric oxide (NO).  N2O is commonly known as laughing gas due to the exhilarating effects of inhaling it, and because it can cause spontaneous laughter.  It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects (Cohen 2006).  Since both high plasma ammonia (Cohen 1999, 2001, 2002, 2002a, 2004, 2006, 2015, 2016) and high plasma NO (Cohen 2004, 2006) have been observed in autism,  it is only reasonable to expect that high concentrations of N2O could also be present. High concentrations of N2O could therefore, explain observation of uncontrollable laughter and high pain tolerances seen in some autistic subjects (Cohen 2006).

Cohen (2015) postulated that a link due to an epigenetic response (transgenerational response) to environmental factors like nuclear radiation fallout (due to worldwide exposure to nuclear radiation from the mid-1940s; for example, from the atomic bomb explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945) may be the reason for the observed increase throughout the world for the autism phenomenon.  Cohen (2015) also postulated that this transgenerational response to nuclear radiation exposure will be more pronounced two or three generations later, and this coincides with the reported data found today regarding rising rates of autism.  Cohen (2004, 2004a, 2015) illustrated that specific genes affect chromosome 16p13.3. This chromosome region (16p13.3) is important for the regulation of GABA-T enzyme activity since the enzyme GABA-T implicates a mapping region of chromosome 16p13.3 (Cohen, 2004, 2004a, 2015, 2016).  

Recently, Cohen (2016) also illustrated that autism is mainly a male disorder that affects males more than females via the region of  the corpus callosum (Cohen 2016). Gender difference regarding the corpus callosum for males and females can explain the phenomenon that autism is primarily a male disorder.  Males have less density, cross-sectional area and thickness in the corpus callosum as compared with females and males are more susceptible to autism via damage to the region of the corpus callosum.  Magnetic resonance imaging of autistic subjects confirms this with the observation that the corpus callosum is thinner or smaller compared with normal controls (Cohen 2016). 

Similarities Between Non-dualism and Autism

Interestingly, many of the features found for non-dualism (while not being a neurological disorder) are also found for autism.  The non-dualism "state" (as best defined as a "state") involves the loss of "ego" (through death of the "ego") and a complete loss of subjective self-identity.  This "state" could also be defined as being detached (being separated or disconnected) from personal relationships and can also result in mono-tone speech (or the expression of or the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulate sounds) and little to no affect in ones speech (thru the touch or expression of feelings of emotional speech).  

These characteristics above for non-dualism are very similar for autism, where an autistic individual has extreme issues with self-identity and personal relationships (that could include serious impairment of social relationships) {see Figure 1: Venn Diagram, Circle 1 (non-dualism), Circle 2 (autism) and 3 represents similarities between non-dualism and autism}.   Autistics are also considered detached regarding social relationships. The speech for autistic individuals (that are able to speak) are usually mono-toned with affect issues regarding emotional speech.  Many autistic individuals find emotional speech difficult to express through day to day conversations. Autistic individuals are usually conditioned to respond to their name, since many have no concept of an "ego" and as a result, use of pronouns like "she", "he" and "I" are very confusing and are offen used out of context in conversation.

The similarities (the characteristics described above) between non-dualism and autism are fascinating. While non-dualism is not a neurological disorder (where autism is a genetic and neurological disorder) the loss or shedding away of "ego" results in complete loss of subjective self-identity.  Non-dualism could also be described as being in "one" with the "I am" of universal consciousness or G-d.

About the Author:   Dr Brett I. Cohen holds a PhD in inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry from the State University of New York at Albany. He received his PhD in November 1987 for his thesis entitled “Chemical Model Systems for Dioxygen-Activating Copper Proteins” and was a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University in 1988–1989.  His research at Rutgers was in the area of peptide synthesis utilizing transition metal chemistry. After his postdoctoral fellowship, from 1989 to 2003 Dr Cohen was one of the owners of Essential Dental Systems where he was CEO and Vice President of Dental Research. 

Dr Cohen has been awarded 16 US patents and has had over 100 papers published in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry, Journal of Dental Research, Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, Journal of Endodontics, Autism, etc.  These papers cover a variety of areas such as inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry, biomedicine, autism, physical chemistry, dentistry and more. 

In the Alternative Arena Dr. Cohen has published articles for Nexus Magazine, Phenomena Magazine, The Skeptic (Australia) and Argunners Magazine, etc.  These articles cover a variety of topics such as UFO's, Ancient Mysteries {for example; Queen's Chambers chemistry in The Great Pyramid at Giza, Roman Flexible glass (Vitrum Flexile) and "Greek Fire", etc.}, Alternative History (for example, "Aero" Airship Flight in the mid 1850's, and Prussian Blue staining the walls of German World War II concentration camps),  Mythology {Cryptozoology} (chemical mechanism of fire-breathing dragons), Spirituality (Non-dualism), Alternative Health (Autism and links to Epigenetics) and more... Dr Cohen can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 Cohen, B.I., "Elevated levels of plasma and urine gamma-aminobutyric acid:  A case study for an autistic child", Autism 1999 Jan; 3(4):437-440

 Cohen, B.I., "GABA-transaminase, the liver and infantile autism", Med. Hypotheses 2001 Dec; 57(6):673-74 

Cohen, B.I., "The significance of ammonia/gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) ratio for normality and liver disorders", Med. Hypotheses 2002 Dec; 59(6):757-58

 Cohen, B.I., "Use of a GABA-transaminase agonist for treatment of infantile autism", Med. Hypotheses 2002a Jul; 59(1):115-16  Cohen, B.I., "Gammaaminobutyric Acid (GABA) and Methylmalonic Acid:  The Connection with Infantile Autism", in O.T. Ryaskin (ed.), Trends in Autism Research, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY, 2004, ch. IX, pp. 177-186  

 Cohen, B.I., "Rationale for further investigation of chromosome 16p13.3, a region implicated for autism", Autism 2004a Dec; 8(4):445-47 

 Cohen, B.I., " Ammonia (NH3), Nitric Oxide (NO), Nitrous oxide (N2O)- The Connection with Infantile Autism",  Autism 2006; 10 (2): 221-223

Cohen, B.I., Rising Autism Rates and the Link with Epigenetics, NEXUS vol. 22, no. 6, October–November 2015.  Cohen, B.I., UNRAVELLING THE MYSTERY OF AUTISM AS MALE DISORDER, NEXUS, vol. 23, no. 3 April-May 2016. Harvey, P., An introduction to Buddhism. Teachings, history and practices, Cambridge University Press, West Nyack, New York,  2013.

Katz, J., One: the Essence Writings of Nonduality, Sentient Publications, Boulder, CO, 2007. Loy, D., Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn, 1988.

Figure Legend:

Figure 1: Venn Diagram between Non-dualism and Autism.

Circle 1: Non-Dualism:  Not a neurological disorder and not a genetic disorder.        

Circle 2:   Autism:  Neurological disorder, complex genetic disorder, significant disturbances social, communicative behavioural functioning, and impairment of social relationships, repetitive and/or ritualistic play and interests.    

3: Similarities between Non-dualism and Autism: Complete loss of subjective self-identity,  no concept of an "ego", detached (being separated or disconnected) from personal relationships, and mono-toned with affect issues regarding emotional speech.

Thursday, February 22, 2024