Is anyone there?


I’m a little manic, and it’s pouring and thundering, so I’m doing a Blog post rather than be bored to death …

Try this: get up, go to a mirror, look yourself in the eye and ask, “Is anyone there?”

I know, I know, it seems a pretty foolish endeavor, but go give it a try anyway!

Ask an Anthropologist what makes a man different from an Ape, and they talk enthusiastically, and at great length, about upright walking, Big toe in line with the others, the versatility and sensitivity of the hand, our intelligence, artistic leanings, etc, etc …

Ask a theologian, and the topic of the Soul will come up, almost immediately!

Interestingly, there is virtually nothing in the Holy Bible regarding the Soul. It is taken to be the breath breathed into Adam … the image of God paired with the separate, but linked, Spirit, the abode of personality and individuality. These two components, inextricably joined, and imperishable, form the core of who each of us is …

… at least, until you ask another Theologian.

Daoists have similar, but very distinct, ideas regarding the soul … very greatly simplified, the idea is that each person has at least 2 souls: a spiritual, Yang soul, call hun, which leaves the body at death, and a Po, a Yin, corporeal, and substantive soul, which remains with the body.

Among the Israelites, there was a scholarly sect known as the Saducees, who believed there was no afterlife, and therefore no soul to arise from the body, and the opposite idea, popular among the Pharisees, who claimed that the soul was eternal, and essential to each man, while the body deserved special treatment only insofar as it was the ‘Temple of the Soul’.

Among the Hindus, each person possessed an Atman – the true self, stored in a body like water in a pot. It was this which could be liberated to become Brahman, the “Transcendant Self”.

Many animist traditions, such as the Shinto of Japan, see the soul as being the essence of one’s life, and argue that it can be stored anywhere – a tree, a rock, a peasant, a Samurai, anything, whether living or not, could house the Kami or spirit, upon death, only to yield up that Kami, upon the destruction of the form, to take up a new form, for the next cycle of living.

The trouble of it all, is that these ideas originated with thinkers – human beings just trying to figure stuff out, each with his own set of preconceptions, and prejudices, and limited viewpoint … if there actually is a deity (and I believe there is), He or She has not revealed in any way, the true nature of the soul … so people have had to guess, infer, interpret, or just flat speculate – and these have come down to us in a traditional form that’s virtually impossible to get a good grip on … and absolutely impossible to prove!

Apart from the ever-problematic soul, there’s another, equally difficult to grasp, concept: consciousness …

This one, we can experiment with!

It’s pretty much the purview of a discipline called Cognitive Science, or Cognitive Psychology – or, as one of its practitioners calls it “The Discipline of Really Interesting Questions”.

Some of those “Really Interesting Questions” are When do we become self-aware? How and When is Personality formed? And, perhaps most importantly, What can go wrong with that process, and what can be done about it?

Think back to your childhood. WAY, way back. You parents are going out someplace and leave you with a sitter …

You remember that, don’t you? It’s freaking traumatic, and the memory tends to stay with people permanently no matter how young they were when it happens. For me it happened at about age 3 … I don’t remember knowing my age, but I remember standing at a window in a strange house, watching my parents get into a car … it was dark, and it was raining … there was a flash of white face as my mother turned to look back at me.  I wept. Wailed, actually. And didn’t stop when someone soft picked me up …

This traumatic moment – and the many more that will happen before this stage is over – is referred to as Separation Anxiety. It represents the slowly growing understanding that we are not physically part of our mother, but rather a separate, independent being. It’s freaking uncomfortable, but every child goes through it – and getting through it plays an enormous role in our developing consciousness …

Most of us deal with it, and gradually learn to become more self-sufficient, and self-reliant – mostly:  there are some who are coddled by either mother or father, and are forever after dependent on their parents, emotionally.

There are others who go the other way: pulling back not only from parents, but society – emotionally dependent on themselves alone.

There’s a story, regarding Ted Kaczynsky, the infamous Unabomber.  His mother relates that he was a very happy baby, at first. Loved being held, full of laughter and joy. At about 6 months of age, his body was covered with hives, and he was taken to an isolation ward, as the cause of them was not known … he was treated for several months, then, when he was finally sent home, his mother thought he was an entirely different child: he never laughed, never smiled, his eyes never lit up, and he resisted being held … His mother wrote in March 1943, “Baby home from hospital and is healthy but quite unresponsive after his experience.”

A psychopath had been born.

Another important part of this stage of development is the formation of prototypes … an ideal version of some general class of object. Think of a bird, for instance:  you probably pictured a small bird, with two legs, two wings, a beak, and covered with feathers … that’s the essence of a bird, right?

Try this little experiment, and be honest about it: consider the following things, and say ‘yes’ if it’s a bird, and ‘no’ if it’s not:









This sort of experiment is generally done by clicking a button, in response to a word flashed on a screen, allowing extremely accurate measurement of reaction time … when this is done, it is universally found that it takes longer to identify a Penguin, or an ostrich, as a bird than it does to decide a car isn’t one, or a crow is … That’s because penguins and ostriches stray from the classical model of birds: both are flightless, one swims, the other runs, and both are VERY large, where most birds are not … in our minds, there is a single, perfect bird, and both penguins and ostriches are very far from the center of that category …


All well and good for birds, but what about other things?

Children develop a prototype for man and woman very, very early.  Dad is usually the prototype for a man, while mom usually serves as the prototype for woman … you’ve heard the old saying that every girl marries her father? It’s true, and this is the reason. When little Susie goes out to find a boyfriend, she’s looking for an ideal guy, right? Subconsciously, she will locate someone who resembles physically, but most importantly, resembles behaviorally, Daddy … Little Timmy will do exactly the same, searching for a perfect woman based on Mom …

But what if Dad’s a son of a bitch, and Mom’s weak enough to put up with it?

The prototype isn’t just used to pick a mate:  it’s also used as a model for behavior: children will typically mimic their same-sex parent, quite unconsciously.  Which means little Timmy’s idea of a man includes the following: drinks heavily, belittles women, physically violent … Worse, little Susie’s idea of the perfect man has the same qualities, and worse still, her idea of a perfect woman includes: submissive, takes beatings, but doesn’t leave …

And the cycle of family violence continues.

This is one reason why, although I support gay rights, and believe very strongly that gays and Lesbians should be allowed to marry, I’m more hesitant about condoning gay adoption … I have no idea, and I don’t believe anyone else does, either, what impact such a family would have on a child’s growing set of prototypes.  Perhaps there would be only minor effects. Perhaps. But very early childhood is a time of vastly overblown reactions, to very subtle things …


~ by dourscot on March 19, 2013.

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