On Human Nature – Manifesto

Inversion: A kind of philosophical “inversion” – the idea of G.H.Mead that the self “emerges” from a deep social relationship with its m/other – informs the manifesto.Our thought about the human (ourselves included), is that we are basically individual bodies: born, growing, getting knowledge, then language…finally to become social. This is simply not the case for the human (or other social animals)!

The dualisms which have followed from these ideas have taken us away from the human experience as we have constructed bodily and mental/spiritual/soulful-religious stories about our being. Current debates between naturalism and religion flow from this thinking and its faulty/narrow description of the human.

The inversion takes us on different paths toward the study and understanding of the human – toward the actuality and experience which informs our being and directs us toward more accurate and deeper (I suggest) understandings of our being.

Already, these ideas are emerging in the field of Child Development as “Attachment Theory” (Alan Fogel: “Developing through Relationships”). Here are Mead’s inversion wed with the ideas of “imprinting” derived from Lorenz’s ethological observations.

A philosophical inversion of this potential power will, I propose, have great power toward deeper understandings of the human (and the world).

An Intellectual (Pragmatist) Inversion in the Study of the Human and the Origin of the Self

Emergence of the Human. The usual sense of the human is with reference to other species or to some transcendent idea – say, of a deity. In general, we seem to see the human as different from others particularly in terms of some human abilities: e.g., language, thought, consciousness, rationality. How we do this has much to do with the history of our thinking, and our concerns about how we are and are to be. Somehow, historically, we humans presumably achieved a major intellectual leap which placed us high above our predecessors: by evolution, by gift…

For those who think of human being as material – mostly these days at the level of atomistic thinking of microbiology – the development of the large human brain was the defining moment. The brain is considered the central aspect of our being. Its understanding will provide answers to all the fleeting questions of how we are. For those who are opposed to the materialist viewing of humans, it was the human mind which raised us above all other species: our ability to know, to think, to possess (self-)consciousness, to know the deity or other universalistic ideas for the transcendentalists.

I think both views – and the resultant polemics – are simply an incorrect viewing of the human. Both views clearly have some points in their favor: we are material, we have large brains; we can and do think, in some ways remarkably and wonderfully well. To say that one side or the other is ultimately the correct way to characterize and understand the human is to omit great parts of our being and doing-behavior from view, and ultimately to mis-understand us.

Both these views generally infer a human which is co-extensive with his or her physical being. Once born, the infant is thought to develop from a biological to a rational creature, in some scheme of continuous development essentially independent of other persons or relationships.

The facts of the physical infant’s deep involvement with m/other is usually considered ancillary to its being. I suggest, instead, that the m/other-infant relationship is critical and transformative. This is to say that the physical infant is not survivable. The individual self of our being and interest is, following G.H. Mead, emergent from sociality, from this emergent transformation. We are thus social individuals.

Further I suggest that the central human difference from or uniqueness among other species, has to do especially with our love of faces. The human face – alone among species (but with the distinct possibility that some other species can do very similar things to what we do, perhaps via other routes) – is amazingly complicated in its appearance and processes.

It was the development and centralization of the human face which led to, perhaps coincided with, the enlargement of the cranium and the brain; likely coinciding with our upright posture, bipedalism, and the remarkable abilities of our hands. It was and is the face which is the locus for the study of the human, and of our being.

Moreover, our infants are apt students of the human face, particularly of the person who is their primary caretaker: their bonding-mother, call her m/other. It is with her face – and hers with her infant’s – that most of early learning, change, and development occurs.

M/other’s face is the place or locus where language derives, where knowledge is dispensed and interpreted. Here, as well, is the seat of character whom the child will become. M/other reads character into her child and interprets its being as event and possibility.

It is through their faces that the child comes to develop a sense of self which will emerge after a year or so, as m/other demands that the child become sufficiently independent to become an individual, a person, an I.

The face is highly contrastive; its movements are myriad and subtle; our eyes can focus on tens if not hundreds of different distances. It is the seat of expression, of identity, of central concepts such as age, gender, and beauty. Our study and concern with its details fill much of our lives: mirrors, cosmetology, grooming. The face remains so central to our functioning that it remains at the level of the obvious, and has barely been explored systematically.

I suggest further that the facial interaction of infant and mother basically develops the brain: rather than the reverse. The effective brain processes are largely shaped by what Mead called the emergent self.

However the infant is able to breathe and sense at birth, its love and connection to its m/other’s face is its primary locus on the way to becoming a self: future study of the human will have to consider the nature of the emergent transformation.

Here I wish to pose the notions that the early experience of the child is with a face which is large beyond its apparent proportions to us adults, filling the entire visual space; and that the length of early time experience of the infant is almost without bounds. Both of these dimensions reduce or quicken in later life, so that we have vastly underestimated the abilities and complexities of emergence of self, of language, of being.

M/other’s face is the conceptual bridge to the world. The child (all of us?) conceptualize the world as if there were a face framing it. I infer this from noting how we dote on – stare, cannot look away, avoid looking – both at what we call those who appear beautiful to us, and those who have unusual or different facial characteristics: scars, faces which appear “retarded,” frightening (including scary species such as snakes, rats, or bats).

It is as if these faces affect us in ways such that we have little control over what we do. I infer, then, that we operate much as second-order sensors of the external world: our facies/faces respond to other’s and to the world of objects (ideas?), and we react to and read our own responses. It is as if we face the world – at least of other persons – with a projected screen in/over our visuality.

Inferential thinking: much of the loss of knowing and languaging in stroke and brain lesion patients seems to be accompanied/determined by the inability to see and judge facial movement and expression (Damasio).

I think that much of what is effectively lost in some forms of brain lesions or strokes is of the ability to use one’s own and to read other’s faces. This suggests new modes of therapy for the victims of stroke and accidents, whose own facial changes or peculiarities seem rarely described in studies of neuropathology.

Further (as if this isn’t far enough), I propose that the child does not learn or study the world directly – as most thinkers have assumed. Instead, the child studies the world as m/others see and conceptualize the world, and their child within it. That is, the child is primarily student of its parents, thence of the world.

The infant, then toddler, does not learn to name the world, or to concatenate ideas in the formation of sentences. The toddler, not facing the world directly, but via the construction of an en-faced world, is actually a student of parents’ descriptions. M/others certify their infant’s being, as well as the being of the world – I think, in that order.

This occurs largely via the Question-Response System, wherein parents pose the world as a set of some two dozen or so questions to which the child learns sets of responses. These Question-Response sets are conceptually bounded one from the others. Responses to when do not overlap with responses to where or who.

Each of these response sets is essentially open, thus infinite: all the responses to when or where or how many or why or who. It is through this process that the notion of a finite person being able to know symbolically an infinite world, occurs. As the response sets are open, we humans are symbolic or infinite in several different ways or contexts.

Kernals of meaning are located in the response sets: what the set of reponses to when? are, circumscribes the meaning. Children gradually come to an understanding of the world as they relate members of response sets to the world of their experiencing. Here, the apparent paradox of the one and the many is located: it is well understood by the toddler
(though most philosophers consider it a great puzzle).

Naming of words-objects occur in the context of Question and Response: the word and experience are those determined by the parent’s naming. The parental response to why a word names an object: is because (I say so). Vocabulary development is thus triangulated and related to being a self, an I.

The structure of sentences is composed of Question-Response sets in some form or order. The conceptualized member of some set may or may not be expressed: e.g., all sentences are directed to some person, a who in an implicit/explicit place and time. (Non-sense phrases or ideas are extrapolated just like other phrases in response sets: colorless green ideas.)

The sense of being which Mead and others call the self is an emergent phenomenon. It derives principally from the m/other who reads or interprets her child as competent, and increasingly demands that she or he be responsible for self…as m/other would be; i.e., develops a conscience. In the same sense, m/other demands her infant develop a sense of self: a propositional creature. Here is the locus of logic.

The defining moment in (self-)consciousness occurs when the child begins to call itself an I. This is a moment of discovery, since the I must be discovered: there is no way of the parent telling this to a child as it is a reciprocal term. This certifies that the child is – finally – an independent self, at least to some extent.

Further development of the self is ensconced within the context of others. As we see the world through others (as it were), our own being is invested in the being of others. Our ways of being with and as others, how we find distance or removal, direct or circumscribe our life circumstances.

One is always invested in the world and self with others. Our self-being continues to relate to the world of appearance and judgment of others: thus our bodies are (always) to some extent invested in and with others. We become others, as it were.

The foundations of logic are located in the structure of sentences which is a concatenation of Question-Response sets usually in some lineal order.