Born Aliens - Part IIWritten by Sam Vaknin
Expectedly, it is vague in first four months of life. When presented with depth, baby realizes that something is different – but not what. Babies are born with their eyes open as opposed to most other animal young ones. Moreover, their eyes are immediately fully functional. It is interpretation mechanism that is lacking and this is why world looks fuzzy to them. They tend to concentrate on very distant or on very close objects (their own hand getting closer to their face). They see very clearly objects 20-25 cm away. But visual acuity and focusing improve in a matter of days. By time baby is 6 to 8 months old, he sees as well as many adults do, though visual system – from neurological point of view – is fully developed only at age of 3 or 4 years. The neonate discerns some colours in first few days of his life: yellow, red, green, orange, gray – and all of them by age of four months. He shows clear preferences regarding visual stimuli: he is bored by repeated stimuli and prefers sharp contours and contrasts, big objects to small ones, black and white to coloured (because of sharper contrast), curved lines to straight ones (this is why babies prefer human faces to abstract paintings). They prefer their mother to strangers. It is not clear how they come to recognize mother so quickly. To say that they collect mental images which they then arrange into a prototypical scheme is to say nothing (the question is not "what" they do but "how" they do it). This ability is a clue to complexity of internal mental world of neonate, which far exceeds our learned assumptions and theories. It is inconceivable that a human is born with all this exquisite equipment while incapable of experiencing birth trauma or even bigger trauma of his own inflation, mental and physical.
As early as end of third month of pregnancy, fetus moves, his heart beats, his head is enormous relative to his size. His size, though, is less than 3 cm. Ensconced in placenta, fetus is fed by substances transmitted through mother's blood vessels (he has no contact with her blood, though). The waste that he produces is carried away in same venue. The composition of mother's food and drink, what she inhales and injects – all are communicated to embryo. There is no clear relationship between sensory inputs during pregnancy and later life development. The levels of maternal hormones do effect baby's subsequent physical development but only to a negligible extent. Far more important is general state of health of mother, a trauma, or a disease of fetus. It seems that mother is less important to baby than romantics would have it – and cleverly so. A too strong attachment between mother and fetus would have adversely affected baby's chances of survival outside uterus. Thus, contrary to popular opinion, there is no evidence whatsoever that mother's emotional, cognitive, or attitudinal state effects fetus in any way. The baby is effected by viral infections, obstetric complications, by protein malnutrition and by mother's alcoholism. But these – at least in West – are rare conditions.
In first three months of pregnancy, central nervous system "explodes" both quantitatively and qualitatively. This process is called metaplasia. It is a delicate chain of events, greatly influenced by malnutrition and other kinds of abuse. But this vulnerability does not disappear until age of 6 years out of womb. There is a continuum between womb and world. The newborn is almost a very developed kernel of humanity. He is definitely capable of experiencing substantive dimensions of his own birth and subsequent metamorphoses. Neonates can immediately track colours – therefore, they must be immediately able to tell striking differences between dark, liquid placenta and colourful maternity ward. They go after certain light shapes and ignore others. Without accumulating any experience, these skills improve in first few days of life, which proves that they are inherent and not contingent (learned). They seek patterns selectively because they remember which pattern was cause of satisfaction in their very brief past. Their reactions to visual, auditory and tactile patterns are very predictable. Therefore, they must possess a MEMORY, however primitive.
But – even granted that babies can sense, remember and, perhaps emote – what is effect of multiple traumas they are exposed to in first few months of their lives?
We mentioned traumas of birth and of self-inflation (mental and physical). These are first links in a chain of traumas, which continues throughout first two years of baby's life. Perhaps most threatening and destabilizing is trauma of separation and individuation.
The baby's mother (or caregiver – rarely father, sometimes another woman) is his auxiliary ego. She is also world; a guarantor of livable (as opposed to unbearable) life, a (physiological or gestation) rhythm (=predictability), a physical presence and a social stimulus (an other).
To start with, delivery disrupts continuous physiological processes not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. The neonate has to breathe, to feed, to eliminate waste, to regulate his body temperature – new functions, which were previously performed by mother. This physiological catastrophe, this schism increases baby's dependence on mother. It is through this bonding that he learns to interact socially and to trust others. The baby's lack of ability to tell inside world from outside only makes matters worse. He "feels" that upheaval is contained in himself, that tumult is threatening to tear him apart, he experiences implosion rather than explosion. True, in absence of evaluative processes, quality of baby's experience will be different to ours. But this does not disqualify it as a PSYCHOLOGICAL process and does not extinguish subjective dimension of experience. If a psychological process lacks evaluative or analytic elements, this lack does not question its existence or its nature. Birth and subsequent few days must be a truly terrifying experience.
Another argument raised against trauma thesis is that there is no proof that cruelty, neglect, abuse, torture, or discomfort retard, in any way, development of child. A child – it is claimed – takes everything in stride and reacts "naturally" to his environment, however depraved and deprived.
This may be true – but it is irrelevant. It is not child's development that we are dealing with here. It is its reactions to a series of existential traumas. That a process or an event has no influence later – does not mean that it has no effect at moment of occurrence. That it has no influence at moment of occurrence – does not prove that it has not been fully and accurately registered. That it has not been interpreted at all or that it has been interpreted in a way different from ours – does not imply that it had no effect. In short: there is no connection between experience, interpretation and effect. There can exist an interpreted experience that has no effect. An interpretation can result in an effect without any experience involved. And an experience can effect subject without any (conscious) interpretation. This means that baby can experience traumas, cruelty, neglect, abuse and even interpret them as such (i.e., as bad things) and still not be effected by them. Otherwise, how can we explain that a baby cries when confronted by a sudden noise, a sudden light, wet diapers, or hunger? Isn't this proof that he reacts properly to "bad" things and that there is such a class of things ("bad things") in his mind?
Psychology as Storytelling - Part IWritten by Sam Vaknin
Storytelling has been with us since days of campfire and besieging wild animals. It served a number of important functions: amelioration of fears, communication of vital information (regarding survival tactics and characteristics of animals, for instance), satisfaction of a sense of order (justice), development of ability to hypothesize, predict and introduce theories and so on.
We are all endowed with a sense of wonder. The world around us in inexplicable, baffling in its diversity and myriad forms. We experience an urge to organize it, to "explain wonder away", to order it in order to know what to expect next (predict). These are essentials of survival. But while we have been successful at imposing our mind's structures on outside world – we have been much less successful when we tried to cope with our internal universe.
The relationship between structure and functioning of our (ephemeral) mind, structure and modes of operation of our (physical) brain and structure and conduct of outside world have been matter of heated debate for millennia. Broadly speaking, there were (and still are) two ways of treating it:
There were those who, for all practical purposes, identified origin (brain) with its product (mind). Some of them postulated existence of a lattice of preconceived, born categorical knowledge about universe – vessels into which we pour our experience and which mould it. Others have regarded mind as a black box. While it was possible in principle to know its input and output, it was impossible, again in principle, to understand its internal functioning and management of information. Pavlov coined word "conditioning", Watson adopted it and invented "behaviourism", Skinner came up with "reinforcement". The school of epiphenomenologists (emergent phenomena) regarded mind as by product of brain's "hardware" and "wiring" complexity. But all ignored psychophysical question: what IS mind and HOW is it linked to brain?
The other camp was more "scientific" and "positivist". It speculated that mind (whether a physical entity, an epiphenomenon, a non-physical principle of organization, or result of introspection) – had a structure and a limited set of functions. They argued that a "user's manual" could be composed, replete with engineering and maintenance instructions. The most prominent of these "psychodynamists" was, of course, Freud. Though his disciples (Adler, Horney, object-relations lot) diverged wildly from his initial theories – they all shared his belief in need to "scientify" and objectify psychology. Freud – a medical doctor by profession (Neurologist) and Bleuler before him – came with a theory regarding structure of mind and its mechanics: (suppressed) energies and (reactive) forces. Flow charts were provided together with a method of analysis, a mathematical physics of mind.
But this was a mirage. An essential part was missing: ability to test hypotheses, which derived from these "theories". They were all very convincing, though, and, surprisingly, had great explanatory power. But - non-verifiable and non-falsifiable as they were – they could not be deemed to possess redeeming features of a scientific theory.
Deciding between two camps was and is a crucial matter. Consider clash - however repressed - between psychiatry and psychology. The former regards "mental disorders" as euphemisms - it acknowledges only reality of brain dysfunctions (such as biochemical or electric imbalances) and of hereditary factors. The latter (psychology) implicitly assumes that something exists (the "mind", "psyche") which cannot be reduced to hardware or to wiring diagrams. Talk therapy is aimed at that something and supposedly interacts with it.