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August 16, 2009

growing up as exemplifying our humanity singularly

Appropriations posting

I’m not going to dwell soon on child development, though Gopnik’s breezy The Philosophical Baby (see the last 2 paragraphs of last week’s posting) might be a good way into recent theory, e.g., Katherine Nelson’s important Young Minds in Social Worlds, Harvard, 2007.

Yet, dwelling on child development is something I could do: As of today, I have 49 titles identified for that pursuit. I’m especially interested in conceptual development, creativity, and ethical life. I’ll indicate a few titles, to provide a sense of what interests me:

The Origin of Concepts, Susan Carey, Oxford 2009
Conceptual Self in Context, Ulric Neisser, Cambridge 1997
Empathy and Moral Development, M.L. Hoffman, Cambridge 2001
Ethical Formation, Sabina Lovibond, Harvard 2002
Creativity and Development, R. Keith Sawyer, Oxford 2003
Conceptions of Giftedness, R. J. Sternberg, ed., Cambridge 2005
Character Strengths and Virtues, C. Peterson, ed., Oxford 2004.

In the beginning, you know, our humanity was a now-irretrievable mix of ethnicities (“tribes”) spread across central and southern Asia, survivors of “recent” ice ages—aggregately, diffusely, called the IndoEuropeans, echoed now at least in linguistic legacy, etymologically, a human trace of being in Big Time, so to speak, such that the root of some English words are traceable to Sanskrit as well as Greek.

They spoke, and we are. There was/is Sanskrit’s janati: “he begets,” from jana, “person.” Persons beget. Greek gignesthai (later, Latin’s gignere), “to be born” spawned (from Greek and Sanskrit) Greek genos (Latin genus): race, kin, kind; i.e., the kindred differentiations we may now make as “race,” “kin,” and “kind” were first a synergy of undifferentiated meaning—appreciable only retrospectively as such—genos. A genos spreads across the Earth, not yet differentiated as to race vs. kin, kin vs. kind. “We” were a genos, diasporic by nature, wanderers, wonderers by nature.

From genos was born genea: birth, race, family. In genea, the sense of our kind as kindred with our birth bears the legacy of Greek gignesthai. Old Norse kyn becomes High German kind (pronounced “kent”), “child.” From the sense of kindredness comes the sense of kind as belonging to us, primarily ascribed to how we are: a kind of kindredness. To be kind was, in Middle English, to be consistent with nature, fitting, to be of a good variety or in thriving condition, one of a kind, so exemplary, kind in its kind, thus kind to its kind, having an affectionate nature born of one’s kind, kind in its very kindness, echoing a lineage of genos.

Genesis: the origin or coming into being. Yet, ‘being’ comes from Sanskrit bhavati and Greek phyein, Latin fui, Gothic bauen, Old Norse bUa, “to live, to dwell,” Middle English bEen. Genesis: the coming into living, into dwelling, not like the rock merely present, rather living, inhabiting.

But these days when one is academically referring to child development, ontogeny is often used (or its variant ontogenesis). Ont- comes from another Greek sense of being, einai: “to be,” as enactive existence, individual living “thing,” organism. Ontogeny: coming to fully inhabit our kind of world, a fullness of flowering presence—a sense lost in its scientized definition: “the biological development or course of development of an individual organism” (from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged, citing the term’s etymology as “International Scientific Vocabulary”).

So, I would pursue ontogeny relative to a fullness of human flourishing, born of The Deep, instilling her/his ecstatic self-possession in the world as if there were no history before him/her, yet-another flower of possible originality that may elude all frames of mind entertaining her/him.

S/He comes into the Conversation of humanity, s/he portends some art of living through his/her—hiers?—embodiment (ungendered, as well as gendered), sensuality, perceptiveness, capacity for novelty, eros of bricolagic synergy, odd kinds of gardening, and high-altitude flight, writing life by sundry means.

May s/he show exemplary kindness, may s/he show insatiable love of learning, play, and constructiveness.

In an entirely different key, there is pure theory—which is not at all contrary to a figurative sense of well growing: “We shall distinguish, in our theory, between effective and defective functioning, according to 7 ontogenic modalities,” says one theoretical chapter of Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organizations, 2006, pp. 442-468):
• Self-regulation and interest in the world (homeostasis): especially during 0–3 months of life
• Forming relationships, attachment, and engagement: 2–7 mos
• Two-way, purposeful communication (somatopsychological differentiation): 3–10 mos
• Behavioral organization, problem-solving, and internalization: a complex sense of self: 9–18 mos
• Representational capacity: 18–30 mos
• Representational differentiation (building logical bridges between ideas and emotional thinking): 30–48 mos
• Higher levels of mental (ego) functioning
I like that seventh one: the nebulous “higher levels.” “Well, things happen so differently per individual that theoretical synopsis may offer a mere wave of the hand.”

I seek and honor capability, responsiveness, and inspiring appreciations. I’m especially impressed by innovative conceptuality (not mere conceptual novelty). We become walking theater, maybe deftly playing a kind of politics, as if “deliberate dishonesty” could be a kind of graciousness or playful invalidation a kind of affectionate reserve—Self hidden in protean plays of persona.

Be a field trip in the ways of valuing, ethicality, and inspired inquiry. Be well-grounded in healthy thinking, yet an exemplary individuality, gaining character and a happy identity in one’s ownmost way.

There so is some hierarchy of needs (and many ways of doing a model). Be in throes of self-actualization (yet something better than “transcendence,” is available, I think, in discursive wayfaring).

Grow up into good sense, valuing realism, showing care reliably, living in good health, having ample self-efficacy, gaining easy admirability, persisting in curiosity, standing for reasonability and holism, and loving truth.

Have purpose, durable Purpose, to which your identity is wedded. But stay open to changing aims in living fruitfully with developing, evolving realities. Yet, do live, really live, making your life a working art.

August 10, 2009

pleasures of developmental excellence after lush aspirations of a philosophical baby

Appropriations posting

It’s been a long time. The previous posting, May 2008, “...a question of innateness as moot,” tacitly represented what might be called The Face of the Deep—the eonic biogenealogy expressed by prenatal epigenesis. The more-or-less self-contained narrative that details what “evo-devo” means in fact (merely my selection of extended quotation from Joan Stiles’s ending to her book) provides a coherence to brain development that can easily be invisible through all the details of her research-summarizing 380+ pages which can be overwhelming to the non-specialist.

The multi-million-year-old story told in the 9 month development of the brain begs any question of innateness in terms of an incomprehensible complexity of biogenealogy that goes wrong miraculously seldom. This genius of nature cannot be explained without relativity to the eonic genesis of our nature that is normally called our “evolution,” which is a claim of progressivity in primate self-selectivity relative to the increasing intelligence that self-selected for what became humanity, and that is expressed again in each prenatal development resulting from another selectivity between mating minds (countless thousands of conceptions every day).

Intelligent design, so to speak, at the epigenetic level belongs to our eonic nature. Its beginning days are largely identical to the beginning days of mice and countless other mammals (though already destined genetically to distinguish itself in several months as primative, then human) with which we share the origins of intelligent life. 

This is self-formative bioengineering at the immanent level, but it’s dependent on an environment of hormonal orchestrations from the womb that were already part of the genome that belongs to the mother who may carry the embryo—a genome that is, for all practical purposes, identical to the genome unfolding as the embryo, a genome that responded years into the mother’s life to produce the hormonal orchestration that its reinstantiation will need to engineer its embyro’s development into a fetus and beyond, already latent to the genome, already imprinted with the later-expressed mechanisms for the engineering environment that it needs for its own reactualization into another fetus. Again, this is evo-devo in its immanence.

Along the way, that embryogenesis generates “active agents” that have no agency. The figure of speech for functional efficacy of molecular products is mapped into allusions to intentless efficacy. “Innate factors and environmental context act in concert,” i.e., function effectively, “to direct,” i.e., vectorally constrain, “the processes that generate,” i.e., the proximal innate-likeness of, “the developing neural system.”

Any interest in discernible origins of mind here merely expresses a quaint need of the inquirer for Newtonian explainability, on the model of discrete causality we take from tangible physics (ignorant of the telic chaos of embryogenic molecularity, let alone the quantum uncertainty of primordial emergence). “The nature of the developmental process” is eonically written, having distilled inestimable variations of generative and functional efficacy into a durable version of DNA that depends on its self-generated environmental opportunities for epigenesis. To say, as I ended saying, that “the question of innateness dissolves or translates into the question of the emergent ‘act[ing] in concert to direct...processes that generate...that gives rise’” is to tacitly suggest, relative to an eonic scale of attention, that one is immanently doing a mere phenomenology, storytelling, which is the best that our cognitive need for cohering can do with unobservable, unreconstructibly complex events involving countless interactions of factors whose efficacy was millions of years in self-formation.

So, here we are, having historized ourselves for merely several millennia (the age of writing), reconstructively anthropologizing ourselves back merely several hundred thousands of years, archeologizing ourselves back several million, a few seconds on the clock of Earth’s Day, in one of the younger solar systems, likely among millions of similar ones in just our galaxy.

On Earth, at least, intelligent life selects for itself abundantly (so much of life has signaling and learning capacity, even among plants) and one variety has become technological and planetary. Narrating that has become a flourishing planetary industry, as evolutionary theory is now post-Darwinian, with new directions in bioengineering ordinary news.

Last week, well-known infant researcher Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby was published, subtitled “what children’s minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life.” It’s written for a general audience, so it’s a delightful portrait of where knowledge of babies now is (also reaffirming mothers’ wisdom). One point I’ll mention: Gopnik emphasizes the flourishing of imaginary worlds in the prelinguistic baby, whose challenge—easily met, normally—is not to find imaginativeness, but to find reality amid all the lush prospecting the baby intrinsically does, wondering how the world around it might reliably go.

The inestimably rich adventure of becoming a person begins before birth, as the embodied mind doesn't wait to awaken and bask in sensory archiving. The border between native capacity and ontogenic capability is inevitably lost in the ecology of prenatal life, already tracking conversations, music, and whatall, months before birth, untraceably accelerated in the stark hours afterward, a lushness of lived time that untraceably constitutes a self.