The Manifold of Sense - Part IIWritten by Sam Vaknin
To say that emotions are cognitions is to say nothing. We understand cognition even less than we understand emotions (with exception of mechanics of cognition). To say that emotions are caused by cognitions or cause cognitions (emotivism) or are part of a motivational process – does not answer question: "What are emotions?". Emotions do cause us to apprehend and perceive things in a certain way and even to act accordingly. But WHAT are emotions? Granted, there are strong, perhaps necessary, connections between emotions and knowledge and, in this respect, emotions are ways of perceiving world and interacting with it. Perhaps emotions are even rational strategies of adaptation and survival and not stochastic, isolated inter-psychic events. Perhaps Plato was wrong in saying that emotions conflict with reason and thus obscure right way of apprehending reality. Perhaps he is right: fears do become phobias, emotions do depend on one's experience and character. As we have it in psychoanalysis, emotions may be reactions to unconscious rather than to world. Yet, again, Sartre may be right in saying that emotions are a "modus vivendi", way we "live" world, our perceptions coupled with our bodily reactions. He wrote: "(we live world) as though relations between things were governed not by deterministic processes but by magic". Even a rationally grounded emotion (fear which generates flight from a source of danger) is really a magical transformation (the ersatz elimination of that source). Emotions sometimes mislead. People may perceive same, analyze same, evaluate situation same, respond along same vein – and yet have different emotional reactions. It does not seem necessary (even if it were sufficient) to postulate existence of "preferred" cognitions – those that enjoy an "overcoat" of emotions. Either all cognitions generate emotions, or none does. But, again, WHAT are emotions?
We all possess some kind of sense awareness, a perception of objects and states of things by sensual means. Even a dumb, deaf and blind person still possesses proprioception (perceiving position and motion of one's limbs). Sense awareness does not include introspection because subject of introspection is supposed to be mental, unreal, states. Still, if mental states are a misnomer and really we are dealing with internal, physiological, states, then introspection should form an important part of sense awareness. Specialized organs mediate impact of external objects upon our senses and distinctive types of experience arise as a result of this mediation.
Perception is thought to be comprised of sensory phase – its subjective aspect – and of conceptual phase. Clearly sensations come before thoughts or beliefs are formed. Suffice it to observe children and animals to be convinced that a sentient being does not necessarily have to have beliefs. One can employ sense modalities or even have sensory-like phenomena (hunger, thirst, pain, sexual arousal) and, in parallel, engage in introspection because all these have an introspective dimension. It is inevitable: sensations are about how objects feel like, sound, smell and seen to us. The sensations "belong", in one sense, to objects with which they are identified. But in a deeper, more fundamental sense, they have intrinsic, introspective qualities. This is how we are able to tell them apart. The difference between sensations and propositional attitudes is thus made very clear. Thoughts, beliefs, judgements and knowledge differ only with respect to their content (the proposition believed/judged/known, etc.) and not in their intrinsic quality or feel. Sensations are exactly opposite: differently felt sensations may relate to same content. Thoughts can also be classified in terms of intentionality (they are "about" something) – sensations only in terms of their intrinsic character. They are, therefore, distinct from discursive events (such as reasoning, knowing, thinking, or remembering) and do not depend upon subject's intellectual endowments (like his power to conceptualize). In this sense, they are mentally "primitive" and probably take place at a level of psyche where reason and thought have no recourse.
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?