The languaged human mind begins its development prenatally, forming a sensitivity to the sounds and rhythms of the human mother even as it constructs itself. As soon as the infant emerges, it is imperative that the mother, or another, support it and keep it warm or it will die quickly. Unlike all other primates, it cannot cling. This means that a human mother cannot treat the infant as an extension of her own body as she moves through space. From its very entrance into the world, the human infant undergoes a radically different self-other embodied experience than a bonobo infant. Bonobo infants are extensions of the mother’s body within minutes after birth. The human baby is, instead, an object that is swaddled, carried, passed around, rocked, spoken to, picked up, put down, attended to — and sometimes not attended to, but left to cry. It has little input to, or responsibility for, any of the adult activities directed toward it. Unlike ape infants, it does not need to attend to the maintaining contact with the mother by holding tight and paying attention to her slightest movement to prepare itself for travel. Indeed, the only means available to it for maintaining parental contact is to signal by crying. Human parents are far more likely to ignore loudly crying babies than bonobo mothers are to ignore the soft whimpers of their babies. If a human baby is inside a hut and relatives are watching outside, predators who hear the cry will not gain access to the baby. Human babies can afford to cry; their survival does not depend upon being quiet. Bonobo babies cannot. They must adopt a kind of stoicism from birth.
Infant clinging has been characterized as a simple ‘innate response,’ but this is far from the truth. It requires very skillful co-ordination with the bonobo mother, and the baby must make constant adjustments to the mother’s postural changes. Once a bonobo infant learns to cling and to anticipate what the mother will do, very little conscious monitoring of the baby is necessary, on the part of the mother. Human infants are too heavy to cling at birth and, unlike bonobos infants, they continue to gain weight quickly, making it impossible for them to cling even if they were to become strong enough to do so. In addition, their feet and the size of their heads relative to the strength of their necks renders clinging hopeless. Human mothers must support the large head, weak neck and mobile spine in careful manner.
When a human infant is placed on a substrate other than the mother’s body, a very different visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic world impinges upon it. The bonobo baby is, during this same time, looking at a sea of hair and trying to stay with the mother. The human baby is looking at the mother’s face while observing her mouth move in synchrony with the sound that is coming to its ears as she speaks. Babies neurologically entrain to the mouth-movements, facial expressions and sounds of others; and they engage in facial-vocal dialogues with caretakers by two to three months (Stern, 1971, 1977; Trevarthen, 1978, 1998). These entrainment periods evoke rhythmic similarities to later ‘true conversations’. New born infants also ‘imitate’ facial expressions, such as tongue protrusion and smiles, from a few days after birth (Meltzoff, 1996; Myowa-Yamakosi, Tomonaga, Tanaka and Matsuzawa, 2004). The early onset of such behaviors suggests that they may be guided by the mirror neuron system, and that the inter-individual neurological mirroring is intimately tying babies to their caregivers (Rizzolatti, Fogassi, and Gallese, 2001). Thus the emotional and attentional world of the caregiver is patterning that of the infant, in both apes and humans, but in very different ways because the human infant does not cling. The bonobo baby is designed to quickly become a direct extension of the mother and to link tightly into her physical movements through space. The human baby is designed to be sat down from time to time and to be swaddled; and thus its attention focuses on the objects around it, and what others are doing with them.
When a human mother sets the baby down, even for a moment, if she is attending only to her own tasks, something can happen to the child. The bonobo mother, by contrast, needs only to watch out for her own welfare, as by so doing she assures also the welfare of the baby holding tightly to her. As a human baby is put down, it is exposed to the sun, rain, smoke, insects, wind or predators that could harm it quickly. The human mother must create in her mind a constant scenario of the baby’s needs, which differ from her own. This is demanding for most new human mothers. The mother’s emotional reaction to this constant need affects the content and style of the linguistic dialogue which begins to accompany her actions toward the baby (Oh, you’re all wet, You are getting sleepy, Now smile, don’t be fussy, What is bothering you?, Stop crying, Why don’t you smile at me? — etc.). Her dialogue carries a quality of aboutness with it, toward the baby. The degree of and tone of the aboutness expressed corresponds directly to the degree of differentiation taking place between mother and infant (Brigaudiot, Morgenstern, and Nicolas, 1996; Savage-Rumbaugh, 1990). Any sounds made by bonobo mothers are typically about what others in the group are doing, not about what the baby is doing.
These different styles of caregiving are molded within the first two years of life and give rise to adult social structure. Infants raised by either pattern eventually develop some degree of self-awareness and reflective thought. But the objectification of the self is fostered far earlier by human rearing and human language patterns. The bifurcation of self into “I” and “me” becomes elaborate in the human adult as it is embedded in language directed to the child from birth. However, by the time the bonobo infant has begun to develop its sense of self-agency, its primary focus of attention has already been unalterably fixated upon group cohesion and group movement through the terrain. It has formed a formidable spatial/temporal map of its world and it has become inextricably embedded within its landscape and its social group. Time spent in self-reflection is minimized by bonobo culture, as this culture places a higher priority on group survival and shared knowledge than on individual survival or private knowledge. Human cultures value individual knowledge, individual competency, self-narrative and self-justification.
These differences in maternal care patterns, which human and bonobo infants experience from the moment of birth forward, are responsible for the many of the behavioral distinctions that later emerge between the species. They are culturally instantiated and are open to change at any time. From these caregiver patterns emerge the different styles of human/ape consciousness which have captivated philosophers and psychologists (Kitcher, 2006; Locke, 1690/1959; Savage-Rumbaugh, Fields and Segerdahl, 2005). However, we should recognize first, that it is possible for ape mothers to exhibit more human-like patterns (which they do when they have an infant that cannot cling) and second, that it is possible for human mothers to rear ape infants who do not cling because they are carried and treated precisely as human infants would be treated. Therefore the apparent differences between humans and apes are not biologically fixed, but they are biologically and culturally instantiated.
When apes experience human-rearing and are exposed to a human language they begin to display the human patterns of self-awareness and self-reflection by 6 months of age. An obvious index of self-awareness is the use of a mirror to view the self as the self is being intentionally altered (or immediately after it has been altered). Many apes explore their image by seeking out a mirror to look at their teeth, their tongue, their ears, their eyes and other portions of their body that could be observed only in a reflected image. Linguistically competent apes expand this awareness by beginning earlier and by elaborating. They paint their faces, put on wigs, shawls and monster masks, and rush to the mirror to see how the look. They try to blow bubbles with bubble gum while using mirrors to watch their cheeks. They practice displays by adding fur capes as they swagger in front the mirror. They seek out live video images to see things that even a mirror would not reveal. Only a live camera image can reveal their epiglottis and allow them to learn to vibrate it in real time (Menzel, Savage-Rumbaugh, and Lawson, 1985; Savage-Rumbaugh, 1986).
Their concern with understanding the appearance of the self from the perspective of another arises from the bifurcated, or dualistic, view of the self, whose roots lie in the I/Me distinctions embedded in the structure of the human language which they are acquiring. The doer/viewer duality of consciousness enables the youngster to think about what it is doing, the appearance of its action, and/or how the action will be perceived by others — all at the same time. When this dualistic process begins to operate, there emerges, within a single brain and body, the capacity to consciously separate the imaged self into that of the doer of one’s actions and the viewer of those same actions (Bates, 1990). The viewer begins to sometimes hold an action by the doer in abeyance, or sometimes even to reflect upon the past actions of the self as doer with a certain amount of chagrin and dismay. This is the formative basis of mental time travel and the mental construction of alternative world views (Suddendorf and Corballis, 2009).
Every act of the viewer is like a tiny seed that grows and expands very slowly at first, but with increasing maturity it takes over more and more of the body’s actions until the adult individual emerges with a highly self-reflective consciousness, capable of moral agency. This capacity for dual consciousness, or bifurcated thought, lies at the root of Cartesianism, but there is no need to reduce the bifurcations of consciousness to mind/body dualism. When consciousness, as an emergent property of the neural system, reaches a certain level of self-awareness, or awareness of self as causal agent, it becomes able to bifurcate. As it does so, it gains the ability to self-reflect. Metaphorically speaking, consciousness splits into two parts, like a soap bubble that becomes two halves, by the appearance of film in the middle. One half of the ‘consciousness bubble’ specializes in guiding the immediate actions of the organism and the other half specializes in reflecting upon those actions. Through this lens of reflected consciousness, one sees one’s self as a causal agent outside one’s immediate tendency to react. Human language, coupled with human maternal care, enables the consciousness to bifurcate very early and extensively. Without the self-reflective properties inherent in a reflexive agent- recipient language, and without the objectification of the human infant — a very different kind of humanity would arise.
Human consciousness, as constructed by human language, becomes the vehicle through which the self-reflective human mind envisions time. Language enables the viewer to reflect upon the actions of the doer (and the actions of one’s internal body), while projecting forward and backward — other possible bodily actions — into imagined space/time. Thus the projected and imagined space/time increasingly becomes the conscious world and reality of the viewer who imagines or remembers actions mapped onto that projected plan. The body thus becomes a physical entity progressing through the imaged world of the viewer. As the body progresses through this imaged world, the viewer also constructs a way to mark progress from one imagined event to another. Having once marked this imagined time into units, the conscious viewer begins to order the anticipated actions of the body into a linear progression of events.
A personal narrative then arises through the vehicle of language. Indeed a personal narrative is required, expected and placed upon every human being, by the very nature of human language. This personal narrative becomes organized around the anticipated bodily changes that it is imagined will take place from birth to old age. The power of the bifurcated mind, through linguistically encoded expectancies, shapes and molds all of human behavior. When these capacities are jointly executed by other similar minds — the substrate of human culture is manufactured. Human culture, because it rides upon a manufactured space/time self-reflective substrate, is unique. Though it shares some properties with animal culture, it is not merely a natural Darwinian extension of animal culture. It is based on constructed time/space, constructed mental relationships, constructed moral responsibilities, and constructed personal narratives — and individuals, must, at all times, justify their actions toward another on the basis of their co-constructed expectancies.
Human Consciousness seems to burst upon the evolutionary scene in something of an explosion between 40,000 and 90,000 years ago. Trading emerges, art emerges, and symboling ability emerges with a kind of intensity not noted for any previous time in the archeological record. But if Darwin was correct, humanity must have descended from ape-like beings. The problem is that there seem to have arisen a few inadequacies in the Darwinian account. The first is that apparently — if the current fossil record is to be believed — there are no recent fossil apes, only fossil humans that look a lot like apes. Everyone assumes that recent fossil apes will eventually be found, but no one ever finds them. The second problem is that living apes appear, at first blush, to lack any semblance of what we believe to be important human attributes: language and rational thought. No wild apes wear clothes, construct dwellings, paint their bodies, sing, count or tell stories, as far as we know. Yet our anatomy, as compared with that of living apes, leaves no doubt as to the closeness of our kinship — a fact confirmed with the sequencing of the chimpanzee genome in 2005. The closeness of human and chimpanzee DNA varies depending on how you measure it, but regardless of the percent of relatedness one assigns, it clearly reveals that humans and apes are far closer than anyone had dared to speculate on the basis of anatomical characteristics alone. No one understood, from the standpoint of natural selection, how human beings could evolve so quickly from an apish mentality to a world of symbols, syntax, reasoning, and complex planning. These essential human characteristics were not simply an elaboration of the ape mode of life — as Darwinian theory would predict. They represented a fundamentally new form of self-conscious life, empowered by a reflexive language that separated me from thee, past from now, and him from her.
Humans came with a propensity to alter the world around them wherever they went. We were into object manipulation in all aspects of our existence, and wherever we went we altered the landscape. We did not accept the natural world as we found it — we set about refashioning our worlds according to our own needs and desires. From the simple act of intentionally setting fires to eliminate underbrush, to the exploration of outer space, humanity manifested the view that it was here to control its own destiny, by changing the world around it, as well as by individuals’ changing their own appearances. We put on masks and masqueraded about the world, seeking to make the world conform to our own desires, in a way no other species emulated. In brief, the kind of language that emerged between 40,000 and 90,000 years ago, riding upon the human anatomical form, changed us forever, and we began to pass that change along to future generations.
While Kanzi and family are bonobos, the kind of language they have acquired — even if they have not manifested all major components yet — is human language as you and I speak it and know it. Therefore, although their biology remains that of apes, their consciousness has begun to change as a function of the language, the marks it leaves on their minds and the epigenetic marks it leaves on the next generation. (Epigenetic: chemical markers which become attached to segments of genes during the lifetime of an individual are passed along to future generations, affecting which genes will be expressed in succeeding generations.) They explore art, they explore music, they explore creative linguistic negotiation, they have an autobiographical past and they think about the future. They don’t do all these things with human-like proficiency at this point, but they attempt them if given opportunity. Apes not so reared do not attempt to do these things.
What kind of power exists within the kind of language we humans have perfected? Does it have the power to change biology across time, if it impacts the biological form upon conception? Science has now become aware of the power of initial conditions, through chaos theory, the work of Mandelbrot with fractal geometric forms, and the work of Wolfram and the patterns that can be produced by digital reiterations of simple and only slightly different starting conditions. Within the fertilized egg lie the initial starting conditions of every human. We also now realize that epigenetic markers from parental experience can set these initial starting conditions, determining such things as the order, timing, and patterning of gene expression profiles in the developing organism. Thus while the precise experience and learning of the parents is not passed along, the effects of those experiences, in the form of genetic markers that have the power to affect the developmental plan of the next generation during the extraordinarily sensitive conditions of embryonic development, are transmitted. Since language is the most powerful experience encountered by the human being and since those individuals who fail to acquire human language are inevitably excluded from (or somehow set apart in) the human community, it is reasonable to surmise that language will, in some form, transmit itself through epigenetic mechanisms.
When a human being enters into a group of apes and begins to participate in the rearing of offspring, different epigenetic markers have the potential to become activated. We already know, for example, that in human beings, expectancies or beliefs can affect gene activity. The most potent of the epigenetic markers would most probably arise from the major difference between human and ape infants. Human infants do not cling, ape infants do. When ape infants are carried like human infants, they begin to development eye/hand coordination from birth. This sets the developmental trajectory of the ape infant in a decidedly human direction — that of manipulating the world around it. Human mothers, unlike ape mothers, also communicate their intentions linguistically to the infant. Once an intention is communicated linguistically, it can be negotiated, so there arises an intrinsic motivation to tune into and understand such communications on the part of the ape infant. The ‘debate’ in ape language, which has centered around do they have or don’t they — has missed the point. This debate has ignored the key rearing variables that differ dramatically across the studies. Apart from Kanzi and family, all other apes in these studies are left alone at night and drilled on associative pairings during the day.
The question to be addressed is whether or not they can exhibit components of it when the care-giving patterns foster its emergence; and whether or not, as a result, epigenetic events take place which will enable future generations to begin to follow a developmental trajectory that is more human-like as a result. With the birth of Kanzi’s first infant, Teco, unusual effects are appearing. Teco exhibits clinging patterns that are distinctly human-like rather than ape-like. Consequently, his development is being affected not only by being carried so that he will not have to cling, but by being carried because he will not cling.
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