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“What scientists do when a paradigm fails is, guess what, they carry on as if nothing happened.”

After watching this TED video of Elaine Morgan, updating us about the latest evolutionary research supporting the hypothesis that we evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats and the connection between nakedness and water in mamals, I thought I’d share my unedited essay on Elaine’s other examined ideas about m/other-child interaction from her book “The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution From a New Perspective“. Many paradigms need updating these days!

So, first the TED video updating on how we evolved, followed by my essay updating how we become somebody (interested folks might also like to see my (shorter) post about this.)


Seeing Somebody There


The broader context of this essay explores the fact that we humans are socially interactive creatures: “bodies-in-interaction.” Our individuality, the development of the self and/or the I, is an “emergent” aspect of the human condition.

Fact is italicized since the history and current thinking about the human and how we are, think, know…has managed to omit this fact. Why so, and what differences it makes in how we think about the human, the world…are at the heart of this discussion.

The human has been characterized as each (physical) individual, essentially separate or independent of others – at least early on in life. The individual has been characterized in terms of knowledge or mind: the individual is taken to be an embodied mind. The mind – how we know or have knowledge – is the factor of our being which is raised to the status of definition of our being.

In my experience, thought, and observations, this is not an accurate characterization of the human. Though it has been the completely dominant idea of the human – particularly in Western thinking – it leads us away from the experience and truth of our being – tends to focus on certain of our (presumed) abilities as definitional – and mis- or under-estimates many others. The facts of our faces being central to our being, for example, has been hardly studied or much considered in thinking about what is the human.

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(Part 1 on my teachers. Part 2 touches on this line of thought, part of how it stalled, and impact on society. Part 3 is on “languaging”. Part 4 summarizes some lessons learned from my teachers.)

Who am I? A deep and developing question. But I did have several teachers who helped me to formulate my thinking and directions.

Above all, Ray Birdwhistell – the originator of “Kinesics,” the study of the human body-in-interaction. He was an Anthropologist who was the best observer of people I’ve ever met – observer in the sense of seeing people in careful and detailed senses. He was trained as a “classical” dancer, and seemed to see all others as performers in life’s dances. And he didn’t only concentrate on each individual. He also/always noted how they interacted: in groups, in life’s varieties of social contexts from infants to older, the ordinary and the exceptional in every sense; richer and poorer, healthy and injured and “odd” and…; ethnic, linguistic. His ways into the world were always expanding. Life is social, interactive: the individual…?

My Teachers - My Teachers - Ray Birdwhistell, George Trager, Henry L. Smith Jr., Norman McQuown, ...

My Teachers (click image to enlarge)

Ray was a student of the Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction – heirs of the American Pragmatist, George Herbert Mead, and the anthropologists who wandered the entire world. His work wandered from American Indians to the average family dynamics, to the sick – physically and, particularly, mentally. And he directed me to the U. of Chicago, Anthropology, where I continued my studies with linguist Norman McQuown – under whose tutelage I (and family: J, and infant daughter Amy) studied a Mayan Language (Tzotzil) and lived in Chiapas, Mexico for two years deeply immersed in both Indian and Ladino (their term) cultures during this time.

Ray was also a student in the line of thought and active fieldwork (life is fieldwork!) of Franz Boas: Margaret Mead (especially), Gregory Bateson, influenced his thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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