The title of this post is the title of one of the mini-essays in a piece on my website, written 20 years ago, called "MINDSTUFF: BONBONS FOR THE CURIOUS USER." I re-discovered it while working on a lecture I'm giving this fall, and find the writing much more engaging than what I am currently generating!
We are forever barred from recalling the buzzing cacophony that greeted our entry into this world. Our remembering brains had not formed, they had not begun to construct a world for themselves outside the womb. And yet, they had a very ancient kind of knowledge formed over millions of years. They knew to look for a face, they knew to direct muscles of the mouth to draw milk from a mother's breast. From a very rudimentary beginning repertoire they began fashioning a network of sensing and acting to finally generate the extraordinary machines that can read a page like this one.
In both the womb and with the growing baby, the story is a record of sensuality, of kinesthetic, visual, auditory, tasting and smelling histories that form themselves into a predictable order. A sense of past and of anticipation of the predictable future form a base non verbal imaged story line on which the layers of human language begin to build themselves. A smooth continuity informs the transformation of communication from gestures and simple sounds to strings of words with subjects, objects and verbs that form into stories about why, what, how, where. This transformation does not occur in feral children raised by surrogate animal parents, they appear to remain locked in the more present centered mental space of animals - a space that gives no flicker of reflectivity. The requirement is for not only our distinctively human genes but also a cultural context of human communication through gesture and language kept alive, altered, and transmitted by successive generations. We are tools of our our tools.
The programming of our brain regions central to social interactions is just as biological as the workings of a liver or kidney. It involves involuntary linkages of our primitive mammalian or limbic brain and its neuroendocrinology to status, sex, affiliation, power - mechanisms whose fundamental aspects we share with prairie voles and cichlid fish. Unique to humans is the self conscious confabulator or self-constructor that provides a new level of nudging, specification, control over these processes. It is this confabulator that generates what we take to be the world, what we take to be social sources of validation. All are in fact internal self creations that are assayed by their utility.
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