Some-body there? Understanding Human Nature and who’s been left out.

“The heart-stopping thing about the new-born is that, from minute one, there is somebody there. Anyone who bends over the cot and gazes at it is being gazed back at.”

Elaine Morgan, The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution from a New Perspective, p. homework help websites 99, (1994).

Currently, a revolution in the study of the human: begin by observing others – and oneself…observing. The ancient trap: to extrapolate from us mature thinkers about human nature, directly to all the wonders about how we are…and how we know.

What was ignored, left out in our attempts to describe and understand? Lots! The facts about the newborn – but, perhaps even more so – the facts of the m/other observing her new-born – and the power of her to remain involved with her new-born, and all of what this entails. Most of this part of the human story has been neglected until very recently: now, developing “Attachment Theory.”

We do not survive unless some one who gazes at the newborn: and sees, interprets what she observes as “somebody” (usually the birth mother – but whoever takes responsibility so many moments especially for the first several years of life and development – thus m/other).

We are not individual bodies, but our body in the world with others’
bodies: being observed, observing others. “Somebody” there!? – means that somebody is “looking back” at us looking. We’re not merely body hanging-out in the world, absorbing the world via our senses.

And what does looking-observing entail? This is not very obvious, even though it is “common” experience: it involves looking at an infant’s face, and noting something about the eyes and the areas about the eyes, being held in some “tension.” This tension is pretty much like the tension of others’ faces that the m/other interacts with.

But her face is also being held in the kinds of tensions which involve “looking at” somebody. The infant is “captivated” by m/ other’s face as well.

How do I know this; or think that I do? Primarily from the work of Rynders and Horrobin – who worked with Down Syndrome children and their m/others. Whatever is “different” about such children (mostly muscular – but remaining poorly described), it is very difficult to see “somebody” there. The muscles which move or shape the face of the infant are apparently missing or non-useful. As Rynders explained to me: he asks the m/others of Down children to “hang-in” with them for a few months – they will be able to move, smile, find some muscles to move their eyes which others can “read” as “somebody there.” And this generally works: the first Down Syndrome child to be able to read by age 2 and ½ was reported in our local paper just a few years ago.

The fact that children are deeply, constantly, engaged with m/others – not much in our thinking about the human…until now. Why not? How could this be? – should help us to begin to be more deeply engaged, critically, in what is human nature!

The most usual description – actually more a metaphor – about the human condition tried to address the questions of how we know, are infinite or “symbolic” in our scope, and led us to posit that we are deeply and basically body and mind: two-part creatures…but pretty much alone in the world with respect to how we know, and are.

Instead, Attachment Theory, deriving much from Pragmatist G.H. Mead, suggests that infant “somebody”, joins or virtually becomes the m/ other who sees somebody there. This will radically alter how we understand how the child develops language and knowledge, as we further study the more actual development and experience of each child (us).

Mead – a “symbolic-interactionist – noted that we are essentially social creatures who “emerge” transformed into our individual self – the I that I am, you are. Attachment Theory goes even “further” – suggesting that the infant “joins” or “becomes” the m/other; does not merely study the world, but gains knowledge by studying m/other.

M/other presents the world and knowledge to her infant: in what I dub the “Question-Response” System: the few questions about the world (Who, what, when, where, how many…), are responded to by “open” sets of responses: essentially infinite in number when combined in syntax.
Thus finite and infinite: don’t need to go outside the human condition to explain how we are and how we know.

As the child develops – becomes abler, stronger, faster, dangerous to itself – the m/other needs and wishes the child to emerge into its “self” – an increasingly less dependent, more its-self, eventually the “I” who each of us sees as our-self.

“Somebody” there: a most powerful moment in the human experience – essentially neglected in the depiction and understanding of human nature. Hopefully this insight will enable us to more fully describe the human as-we-are, rather than how our ancient theories have claimed (still claim) that we are.

  • Jacob Freeze

    You reminded of the famous blogger Be’rube’ playing golf with his Down Syndrome child. Be’rube’s blogs on this subject have an aura of “Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Wonderful’s wonderful Down Syndrome child.” For example, at http://pandagon.net/2007/06/03/the-further-adventures-of-jamie/ there’s a good story, but it’s punctuated with a few artificial moments. “He’s a kind of amazing kid, that Jamie.” This is a little too wonderful for me, but all credit to Be’rube’ for staying engaged, and if he can keep himself going by creating an ideal image of himself and putting it across to thousands of readers, more power to him.

    Question: Obviously these kids are going to do better with engaged parents making pleasant faces at them, but how much better can they be? Maybe it isn’t important, or can’t be quantified, or maybe there’s bad news about the best case scenario that would make it harder for parents to make the improvements they can actually make. I don’t know.

  • Harvey

    Jacob,
    Thanks for your critique. My response to “how much better can they
    be” is: “plenty” – at least for some Down Syndrome persons.

    My personal history includes living next door to Irwin – a Down
    person – while I was in high school and college. Irwin was over 40,
    was clearly a Down person, but also kept a job (was divorced), and
    played the piano and flute passably well (an amateur). His mother had
    devoted much of her life to him – not all that unusual a story. My
    spouse (Janis) – worked with “retarded” kids for several years, and a
    close friend (former student), Jerry Timian worked with, examined for
    his MA, and supervised homes for “different” persons for quite a few
    years. I spent a couple of years in close contact with Down kids at
    the U. of Minnesota, and studied them in various, mostly group contexts.

    What is Down’s – in addition to it being a “genetic” syndrome? Their
    faces “look funny, different.” How, why, I wanted to know. How did I
    recognize, classify so many persons as a particular “kind?” All the
    discussions I read and heard about during those years said that there
    was something “wrong” with their brains. And, essentially all Down
    children were put into perma-care institutions when we were having
    kids, several decades ago.

    Timian and I noted that their facial musculature is different, some
    muscles probably lacking, or not “available” to them to be
    “utilized,”moved, etc. Almost all Down kids were said to do better in
    swimming pools – having something to do with their muscle lacks or
    weakness in ordinary gravity.

    What I learned from John Rynders, in encouraging mothers of Down
    infants to “hang-in” with their kids, is that many such parents do
    not “see” anyone “at home” in their faces. But if you “hang in” for a
    few months – other facial muscles will develop, become strong, be
    able to move the mouth, and you will “find” the person. Many parents
    of Down kids do not see a person, do not look for a smart and
    developing kid – and the kids respond, in their turn – and don’t much
    develop. A few – following Rynder’s and Horrobin’s ideas, turn out to
    be really smart. Lots to do with relationship, idea of m/others that
    their kids will “become” real persons – and some become very smart.

    So we have apparently taken kids with not well developed facial
    muscles, interpret them as “retarded,” and don’t hang-in with them.
    They are “different” – we se e that – I try to do mouth-sounds (I
    think I’m very good at this!) with most kids I interact with, and the
    Down kids are not very good at “imitating” me – so they don’t have or
    can’t get to certain muscles. Muscle lack – we interpret as retardation.

    How do we “see” anyone – facial appearance – muscles organized, used
    – faces are much more complicated and subtle than we have assumed:
    and not much studied as we have been “satisfied” with the idea that
    some people are intrinsically smarter than others. Rather, the
    interactions we have with infants, are much deeper and more important
    in who we are and become, than our older ways of characterizing faces.

    So: Plenty!

    Harvey