“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.

These narrow or particular approaches to our understanding of the human have, by now, resulted in several arenas of impasse in our potential explorations: how we know, how much we can know, what is the relation of the individual to the world, questions of consciousness, morality, and conscience currently arise in our thinking – often to question the very possibilities and possible certainty of human knowledge. Instead…

We are/can be quite good observers of ourselves and the world. In my view, we have underestimated the complex workings of each of us, of the human (body), in our focus on the mind as essentially definitional of the human. Very little thought or observation has been given to how we interact with others – indeed, from the moment of our birth.

In our exploration of the human as observer and knower, we have observed much less, and have created a depiction of the human – alone in the world, looking-out – as it were. The question of how we come to know the world has followed the directives of this presumption. Instead…

We are not alone in the world, and do not survive unless we are in very intense, long-term intimate relations with m/others. The idea of the human looking out at the world is, just that, an idea – not the reality of our being and experiences. It continues a very ancient line of thought about the human, which this essay attempts to surmount.

To begin: this narrow characterization of the human has clearly and certainly displaced or submerged the role of women (m/others) in human development, and the human condition. How? – this essay will explore this in some depth in attempting to characterize critically, the usual-central questions of human. It has virtually kept hidden the facts of our involvement in knowing, in how we examine the world – as bodies-in-interaction.

Instead, we have focused on the either/or of mind or body in the study of our being. How this body gets to be able to know, think, observe (especially ourselves, observing) is central to our being who we are. Yet, we do not include the nature of the measurer (ourselves) in our observations of the world – it is as if we are removed from ourselves, rather than being thoughtful and under much (self) control as we work at being objective.

[This approach to the human follows in the thinking of Pragmatist–Philosopher, G. H. Mead, and will attempt to lay the groundwork and develop the ideas and observations of humans – including ourselves as observer-interactors, how we develop in the context of “Attachment Theory” (from Mead and biologist-ethologist Konrad Lorenz and psychiatrist John Bowlby). As I will attempt to show, these observations and ideas will likely have a profound effect on how we are and think about the human, perhaps much else.]


“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.”[1]

Having partaken-in, witnessed, observed the meeting of the newborn and its m/other (parents) on several occasions, I noted the usual excitement, even amazement, at the first meeting of one’s new baby.[2] Most usual: after checking the genitals for gender, then the hands and feet for the proper number of fingers and toes, concentration focuses powerfully and extensively upon the child’s face.

Somebody there: the m/other looks intensely into the face of her child, and “sees somebody there.” What is the “nature” of this “looking?” In what senses does one “see somebody” there?[3] What is the nature of being a somebody, a person, an existent entity, a self, an “I,” a real…at the “beginning” of its personal/interactive being?

Is this some form of “identity projection” on the part of the m/other?

All she does – after all – is to “cast” her eyes (mostly eyes focusing and other eye area movements – but also mouth) into the eyes/face of the newborn. The details, minutiae, change from moment to moment, can be quite small to fairly great or deep – How we judge the power or intensity of this interactional behavior seems to depend on the care or depths of our (and her) observation and ways of looking. Using or casting the eye muscles is very active “work” on the m/other’s part – and is more powerful and subtle (and complicated) than we usually have thought.[4]

If the child’s eyes are “open” (opening and closing involve, necessitate the use of the muscles which control the eyelids – no small task), the m/other tries to “engage” the muscles which move the eyes in various directions, as well as the muscles which “focus” the eye closer and further away.

Best (I guess), is the noting that her child seems to move its eyes in some reference or relating to the movements of m/other’s: varieties of “coordination.” (What muscles, how do they “work,” especially involved or in coordination-with the muscular movements (engaging/focus) of m/other’s? What is the nature of coordination of movements of two interactants? One can actually see the reflection of one’s facial looking in the irises of one another!)

And, in seeing “somebody” there, m/other is certainly doing various forms of “projecting” what is “in” her thoughts and observations “into/onto” the child, presumably ascribing what she sees and thinks, to her child: the child is “somebody,” a person…

What does/might such projecting or imaging/imagining into the child, consist in? “What” and “who” does the mother “see-into” her child? I speculate (having “lived through/experienced” the births of two children), the m/other sees “her child” and imaginatively (but realistically) constructs a great deal of being, history, and futurity “into” the child. Some-one she “likes-wills to love-like some one she knows, in the family, in her history…However she ascribes personhood to herself, she projects some form(s) of these into/onto her child.[5]

The delivery – end of a “long” pregnancy, the presence of a (her) child. In this very moment – together – history, but also a momentary and an immense future – tomorrow, this and the next moment, just now – holding and letting go of each past moment; looking away and looking back at her child to check that this is all actually occurring; next week, another month, six months, a years, two, five, puberty, growing up, adult…all in the same or moving moments in her thinking and seeing her child.[6]

Now lying, soon moving, sitting up, walking, talking, running, knowing, relationships, gender possibilities, puberty, maturity, marriage, children (her grandchildren…) flashing in her thoughts – seemingly all-at-once or in various forms of possibility. This is all “really” happening.

Will her child continue to breathe. Yes. Yes! (Certainly, in the case of everyone who is reading this essay!) This moment, the next…tomorrow…a long life. Such a huge happening – at once so obvious in her own being, and so amazing in her child’s being and doing. Her mind races, but keeps the infant in her seeing “somebody there.” About as real as things get! (And keep in mind that this event has been brewing for nine months – and for much of her life as possibility and the huge actuality of pregnancy and birth and…- and that there are others involved in her being and seeing-into.)

Who does the baby “look like?” Her mother, father, grandparents, husband/partner, soon to “meet” their child, too. Feeding it, feeling breasts, breasts directed toward her child’s wants to touch and such, holding her child, piss and shit and much detritus, dressed-up for the first prom…forever, health, but also sickness…and death…Just to begin to imagine what she’s seeing in seeing-into her child. Many years of imagining this moment…maybe much coming to fruition, or having to be pushed away from her thoughts; excitements, frights, relationship(s) over time, “success,” fights and arguments…One could go on…life will go on. Hope-fully. All in this moment of meeting her new child. In the next moment, remembering the first or letting it pass away or into her memory. Projecting…whew. Life, a new life: hope, the future…And she has or memorizes what her child “looks like,” and will be able to “identify” her/him each and every time in life: her child.

She is moving her eyes and mouth – performing various muscular actions – perhaps observing that (her) child is “in-tune” with her movements – perhaps in a next moment. But, possibly, she sees little movement or responses to her moving; hardly at all.

In the case of Down Syndrome children, it seems to be very difficult (next to impossible) to “find” the child: no one, no somebody is there. From the work of John Rynders, I learned that m/others must “hang-in” with their infants for several months before they can “clearly” discern somebody there.[7] (Many/most Down Syndrome children do “very” well if their m/others “hang-in” with them until the occipital and other “head” muscles develop, and are “able” to help the muscles of the mouth and eyes move – in some/good relationship to their m/others’.[8] Down Syndrome is, in this context of m/other-child interaction a different kind of face than is usual/normal – whatever the syndrome is in terms of genetics/brain function, the fact is that their faces look/appear different – meaning that they have or hold/use their muscles differently from normal/usual.[9]

We/I may infer from that the muscular ability/presence of the eyes and mouth/face are very important to the m/other’s seeing “somebody there.” Further, we infer that the projection of the m/other (and most/all of society) has quite “clear” and “active” views of the faces of (all) other persons. How does she (how do we) have and keep faces – and identities/persons – in our being and knowing? – a “brain” or “mind” function, or involving our own facial muscles/movements in seeing and knowing others?

Somebody there: we “attribute” being to ourselves and to others. Here, I wish to raise the questions of “reality” and “certainty” which remain deeply problematic issues in the philosophical and psychological-cognitive traditions. “Projecting being” into and onto others can be considered as the basis for our survival, thus our being. We do not survive (Rene Spitz)[10] without m/other’s deep care for us – most of all (I propose) seeing-into and/or projecting our being (her being, seeing somebody there…into our being, eventually emerging from a deep “attachment” relationship with her, and “finding” our selves/I in the very extended processes of development.[11]

Somebody there: and we know them, most “effectively,” as their faces/facial appearances.[12] In this context and sense, projecting “somebody” into the being of her child, provides both the sense of being to the child, but also the senses of continuity and permanence. The child is/exists, will be/exist, tomorrow…indefinitely. M/other confirms this reality in every next instant of interaction. How the child emerges to become its own self…?

Emergence from Attachment: the Self

In many and deep ways this is the basic/basis of reality of our being and existence: of ourselves, others, objects. Someone else (m/other…to others, to most everyone in a world of “true” democracy – not very easy, certainly historically to get and/or maintain), grants to the child our being somebody. We buy this “story” – and must do so in order to survive – and become the person who develops from and is somebody there.

How we get from the first moments of m/other’s viewing and granting “somebody there” to the persons we are now (and throughout life) is the framework, the outline of the facts of our being…who and what we are.

In effect/actually we join and/or become our m/other. We do not study the world directly, but study her presentation of the world: via the Question-Response System, as I have suggested.[13] And we eventually and inevitably (with exceptions – survival, autism, psychosis…) emerge and become (our)selves – fairly “independent” but always with her and others in our minds and being. [14]

How this occurs in dynamic, in the reading-into or projections of our being, is a paradox: changing and, yet, permanent. M/other is the icon of permanence, even as she interacts with her infant, then child, through many changing moments. Here, the question of “life-paradoxes” enters the discussion.

How we are – at once/both – changing and permanent (who we are) has not been “resolved” – at least in Western thought. Indeed, this is the basis of a foundational argument about the very nature of reality. The Western temptation to resolve paradoxes continues to lie at the basis of our (currently rising) religious traditions: which is the real – life or death. Within both Christianity and Islam, death, and the idea of a/our return to Heaven is very powerful. This argument returns us to the ongoing battles between Plato/Pythagoras and Heraclitus which have underlain much of Western thought, and continuing.

How the child emerges and becomes real (to) itself– after an enduring period of attachment – also needs to be explored. As I suggest in other essays,[15] the child emerges from its attachment with the m/other about the time it grows sufficiently to become dangerous to itself; much larger, stronger than its infantile being, fast-moving…At this point the m/other needs to get the child to take care of itself essentially as m/other would care for it.

The situation: her child is dangerous to itself, and m/other needs to get her child to take care of itself, essentially as she would. How to get her child to see/treat itself essentially as she would: is the existential/real issue! Locate itself on the sidewalk, see cars coming, or other dangerous scenes, be careful especially going downstairs. Become “moral,” have a “conscience,” begin to develop “consciousness.” Here is the beginning of the self/I in which the child begins to think/develop as a dialogue between m/other and itself – but both now reside in/as the child.

Begin to locate itself – here the entire question of Context has been severely understudied. How the child knows where is here and now, and how to interpret each present in terms of what is going on, remains distant in our thinking of what is the human.[16] As our study has been focused on knowing, especially of objects in the world, the question of our being selves, as we develop seems to have been constructed quite narrowly.


Somebody there: opens, I suggest, a quite new – but actual in the human condition – depiction and study of who and what we are, and think, and know.

The body lives; the body dies – but there is so much more to being than mere life and death. The body is cells, tissues – organized in many different ways. It grows immensely or tremendously, and changes all the time.

The basis of our knowledge – that is, the body – is as complicated, perhaps more complicated than we have ever imagined. It is brain, tissues, it is and it does – but also and always in the company and with respect to and of others.

Paradoxically it/I, the body, remains in some deep senses constant/permanent. It is crucial to examine this living paradox at the heart of our being who we are.

We are body/bodies in interaction with others: the body is not merely or only the individual. We are not (mere) objects in the world – who/which have a mind and can think. We are body: the body thinks, knows – knows others, and itself.

How the body/I is and gains meaning, has and knows, this essay addresses in several manners or contexts.

As we study the development of our being human more accurately and completely – as we are in deep and continuing interaction with our m/others, the questions relating to the individual being/thinker/knower will continue to expand. How we come to be selves, actual persons with knowledge, freedom, borders, and boundaries continue to expand, I suggest.

Questions abound: how do we see ourselves seeing/being?

As Dewey advised/admonished us, the body is both so complex and so obvious to us that we have never much examined it. To begin with the idea that we are intrinsically interactive will help us to drop – move beyond the histories which have blinded – at least not illuminated what this body is, does, can do.

History: has addressed mainly how the human is different from (other) animals – and the similarities have shown up as kinds of remainders. They are simpler than we, don’t have or use language, don’t have minds or reason. In taking this trail to the human, we have underestimated the human body in so many ways.

Why the body-as-individual: the body is born and dies. Thus the body has been the focus of the questions about our being?! Death has been a central focus of the questions of reality of our very being – and birth, fascinates all of us – most of all, women, especially m/others. But we have not much thought about or examined this body (that I am) with respect to how it grew up, what it is now, how it works, how we know others…

Most of what (I regard as) fascinating about being a body is not much discussed in the contexts of what is the human. For many years I gathered a group of athletes, dancers, musicians, curers, teachers, inquirers…to discuss the body from as many perspectives as we could muster. Perhaps it is time to regather such a group to examine our being in more breadth and depth.

In the study of there being somebody there, we need to study how we hold ourselves as we are, move, while we think, do. How do we hold ourselves as we attempt to be observers of the world (and ourselves), objective – as we say. Attempting to be objective is neither simple nor relaxed, but fairly particular.

While we have loved our hands – homo faber – we seem to underestimated or neglected to think upon the face and the fact that we humans live our lives, effectively out-of-balance. Different from most other animals, our balance requires fairly constant and continuous bodily activity and thought, to keep upright and to move well. And our faces, as I proclaim too often, are bundles of movement in connection, interaction, thoughts about others’ faces.

Remaining questions concerning how we come to be thinking, thoughtful, (mostly) independent thinkers – especially in the strongly Stoic senses of personal strengths – continue to be puzzling to us. They affect strongly how we think about politics, economics, and much of how we think about the human.

How we move from an attached – very dependent creature – physically, but also intellectually, to transcend the supposed simple self that we have been assumed to be, remains quite puzzling…

Seeing Somebody There: such an interesting and exciting part of each of our lives.



[1] Morgan, Elaine. 199-. “The Descent of the Child.”

[2] Similarly in first meeting one’s adoptive child on its “arrival day.” These are usually very powerful/life-changing/life-framing experiences. Parenthood is (usually) a “contract for life,” forever…promising to be there…every day…forever.

[3]She is also doing much with the location/distance of her face/head from her child, and usually a fair amount of mouth/lip work, vocalizing, etc. Not unimportant. (Plus smells, touches – and lots of internal work in/to her own bodily being.)

[4] Eyes and eye movements are very complicated, can be extremely fast, shifting focus in many possible planes, place to place, blinking, watching the child’s eye arenas moving, focusing, etc.

[5] Reality: much of the idea of what/who is the real, is located in this situation. M/other grants being to her child – as real, we shall claim, as the reality of anyone’s (including hers) being. In this moment, but also into a wide variety of changing being: changing with all/many interactions, updated to whatever moment they are in: growth, change, tomorrows…As we shall explore, the very survival of the child (and the human species) depends on this seeing “somebody there.” Survival, reality, attachment – as “real” as it gets. Our believing in our being, and in reality, derives from our believing in ourselves, all of which follow from “seeing” and granting “somebody there.”

[6] As we shall explore, issues of (the experience of) time, are different in different times of our life: very long in early years, speeding up with aging.

[7] John Rynders. Lengthy personal communication, some years ago at the U. Minnesota. John has investigated Down Syndrome and interactions with Down children – advises m/others of Down children to “hang in” with their children for several months, until their children’s face is more flexible and moving: then, she can see “somebody there.”

[8] Ref. to STRIB article on Down Syndrome early reader.

[9] Though Charles Darwin’s last book – “Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” is primarily about the face, this line of thought about the human has been little pursued. Much recent work on the faces is concerned with “attractiveness,” but the complexities of the face have been little examined since the work of my teacher, Ray Birdwhistell on “Kinesics,” – interaction primarily via faces and gestures.

[10] Rene Spitz explored the development (or lack of development) of institutionalized children. In the 1945 study involving human babies, Spitz’s followed the social development of babies who, for various reasons, were removed from their mothers early in life. Some children were placed with foster families while others were raised in institutions (e.g., a nursing home). The nursing home babies had no family-like environment. The setting was very institutional. Care was provided by nurses who worked eight hour shifts. The babies raised in the nursing home environment suffered seriously. More than a third died. Twenty-one were still living in institutions after 40 years. Most were physically, mentally, and socially retarded.

[11] I suggest, in my Manifesto and Talk that the experience of time/event is much “slower” for infants and children, and gradually “speeds up” in our experiencing. Not yet ready to explore this in depth, I note this from the experience of the “older” persons for whom time goes by more and more “quickly.”

[12] Verbiage gets very complicated here, as we have traditionally thought that physical objects in the world represent(ed) reality and the world. Here, I am suggesting (claiming) that the reality which m/others grant to their infants is the effective basis for our being and reality. As I claim in my “Manifesto and Talk,” it it the m/other’s granting reality to her infant which is the primary and continuing basis for each of our own senses of our being and of reality – and all that follows: certainty, consciousness, knowledge…How the child emerges from a deep attachment with its m/other to become a self/I – follows from Mead’s ideas that the infant, in effect becomes or joins the m/other. Eventually, the child “emerges” from this relationship to become a “self/I.” – a person who gradually becomes each of us.

[13] Sarles, Harvey. 1985. “Language and Human Nature.” Ch. 9. U. Minnesota Press. The child is not a student of the world – as implied in the entire history of Western thought – but of its m/other. M/other presents the world to her child: via talk, facial expressions, especially eye movements, etc. She presents the world as a number of Question-words: “who, what, when, why, how many, where, etc. And she directs the child (dynamics to be studied at length – very likely to be located in paralanguage/tone-of-voice – to respond to the question word with one member of a set of responses to each Question Word; e.g., dog is not merely a dog-object, but a response to “what is this?” The Responses form sets (learning the sets – again likely tone of voice). Syntax is an arrangment of members of all the response sets in the order of that particular language/context. This, interestingly, can account for how the human can think “infinitely,” beyond the present here-and-now, etc.

[14] Attachment, joining, becoming the m/other is obviously a complex dynamic – involving the frequent (usually and most strongly) visual relationship between child and m/other: again, mostly eye movements “catching” the movements of one another – and then “directing” them in various ways, contexts, etc. Much to be studied here – but I’ve observed all this in many relationships, contexts, etc., between infants and their m/others: our eye movements, control – locating infant and then shifting its own looking to various objects, places, persons…and back to her. Complex and fascinating, ongoing, and developing with the development of the child.

[15] E.g., “The Genesis of Morality,” and “Genesis of the Self.” Mss.

[16] “Context.” Located in Sarles’ “The Foundations Project.” See: http://harveysarles.com/

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