Essay // Developmental Psychology: The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development

Mis à jour le Mercredi, 14 Avril 2021

TheoriesOfDevelopment

Source: An Introduction to Developmental Psychology by Slater & Bremner (Blackwell:Oxford, 2nd Edn, 2011)

It is fundamental to undertstand that as human beings, whatever stage of our lives we are, in order to be able to function fully in our daily lives and in any other activity we first of all need to have a strong foundation. That foundation is our brain, and hence, if our brain [i.e. the hardware] is not physiologically within the limits of what is deemed fit and healthy, every aspect of our mind will be affected and also of our lives. There is no psyche [mind] without a brain, because this biological hardware given to us by nature throughout the course of the shared evolutionary history of primates on planet Earth, allows us to experience every aspect of our lives, both physical and psychical [i.e. mental].

So, before diving deeper into the depth of children’s development, we are going to explore this link between brain and behaviour in order to get a foundation of the importance or a healthy brain, for a healthy development and a healthy and fulfulling life, by starting with how brain damage can affect our personalities and mental abilities; we are going to look at the Frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain behind our forehead responsible for problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity.

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(Photo: Jez C Self / Frontal Lobe Gone)

 

Frontal Lobes (& Frontal Lobe Damage)

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST; Grant & Berg, 1948; Heaton, Chelune,Talley, & Curtis, 1993) has long been used in Neuropsychology and is among the most frequently administered neuropsychological instruments (Butler, Retzlaff, & Vanderploeg, 1991).

The test was specifically devised to assess executive functions mediated by the frontal lobes such as problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity. Some neuropsychologists however, have questioned whether the test can measure complex cognitive processes believed to be mediated by the Frontal lobes (Bigler, 1988; Costa, 1988).

The WCST test, until this day remains widely used in clinical settings as frontal lobe injuries are common worldwide. Performance on the WCST test is believed to be particular sensitive in reflecting the possibilities of patients having frontal lobe damage (Eling, Derckx, & Maes, 2008). On each Wisconsin card, patterns composed of either one, two, three or four identical symbols are printed. Symbols are either stars, triangle, crosses or circles; and are either red, blue, yellow or green.

At the start of the test, the patient has to deal with four stimulus cards that are different from one another in the colour, form and number of symbols they display. The aim of the participant would be to correctly sort cards from a deck into piles in front of the stimulus cards. However, the participant is not aware whether to sort by form, colour or by number. The participant generally starts guessing and is told after each card has been sorted whether it was correct or incorrect.

Firstly they are generally instructed to sort by colour; however as soon as several correct responses are registered, the sorting rule is changed to either shape or number without any notice, besides the fact that responses based on colour suddenly become incorrect. As the process continues, the sorting principle is changed as the participant learns a new sorting principle.

potbIt has been noted that those with frontal lobe area damage often continue to sort according to only one particular sorting principle for 100 or more trials even after the principle has been deemed as incorrect (Demakis, 2003). The ability to correctly remember new instructions with for effective behaviour is near impossible for those with brain damage: a problem known as ‘perseveration’.

Another widely used test is the ‘Stroop Task’ which sets out to test a patient’s ability to respond to colours of the ink of words displayed with alternating instructions. Frontal patients are known for badly performing to new instructions. As the central executive is part of the frontal lobe, other problems such as catatonia – a condition where patients remain motionless and speechless for hours while unable to initiate – can arise. Distractibility has also been observed, where sufferers are easily distracted by external or internal stimuli. Lhermite (1983) also observed the ‘Utilisation Syndrome’ in some patients with Dysexecutive Syndrome (Normal & Shallice, 1986), who would grab and use random objects available to them pathologically.

 

Incomplete Frontal Lobe Development & Impulsiveness in Children

Image: PsyBlog

The Frontal lobe, responsible for most executive functions and attention, has shown to take years [at least 20] to fully develop. The Frontal lobe [located behind the forehead] is responsible for all thoughts and voluntary behaviour such as motor skills, emotions, problem-solving and speech.

In childhood, as the frontal lobe develops, new functions are constantly added; the brain’s activity in childhood is so intense that it uses nearly half of the calories consumed by the child in its development.

As the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex is believed to take a considerable amount of at least 20 years to reach maturity (Diamond, 2002), children’s impulsiveness seem to be linked to neurological factors with the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex; particularly, their [sometimes] inability to inhibit response(s).

The idea was supported by developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget‘s  Theory of Cognitive Development of Children [known for his epistemological studies] where he showed the A-not-B error [also known as the “stage 4 error” or “perseverative error”] is mostly made by infants during the substage 4 of their sensorimotor stage.

Researchers used 2 boxes, marked A and B, where the experimenter had repeatedly hid a visually attractive toy under the Box A within the infant’s reach [for the latter to find]. After the infant had been conditioned to look under Box A, the critical trial had the experimenter move the toy under Box B.

Children of 10 months or younger make the “perseveration error” [looked under Box A although fully seeing experimenter move the toy under Box B]; demonstrating a lack of schema of object permanence [unlike adults with fully developed Frontal lobes].

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Frontal lobe development in adults was compared with that in adolescents, e.g. Sowell et al (1999); Giedd et all (1999); who noted differences in Grey matter volume; and differences in White matter connections. Adolescents are likely to have their response inhibition and executive attention performing less intensely than adults’. There has also been a growing & ongoing interest in researching the adolescent brain; where great differences in some areas are being discovered.

The Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex [located behind the forehead] is essential for ‘mentalising’ complex social and cognitive tasks. Wang et al (2006) and Blakemore et al (2007) provided more evidence between the difference in Pre-Frontal Lobe activity when ‘mentalising’ between adolescents and adults. Anderson, Damasio et al (1999) also noted that patients with very early damage to their frontal lobes suffered throughout their adult lives.

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2 subjects with Frontal Lobe damage were studied:

1) Subject A: Female patient of 20 years old who suffered damages to her Frontal lobe at 15 months old was observed as being disruptive through adult life; also lied, stole, was verbally and physically abusive to others; had no career plans and was unable to remain in employment.

2) Subject B was a male of 23 years of age who had sustained damages to his Frontal lobe at 3 months of age; he turned out to be unmotivated, flat with bursts of anger, slacked in front of the television while comfort eating, and ended up obese in poor hygiene and could not maintain employment. [However…]

Reflections

While research and tests have proven the link between personality traits & mental abilities and frontal brain damage, the physiological defects of the frontal lobe would likely be linked to certain traits deemed negative by a subject willing to be a functional member of society [generally Western societies].

However, personality traits similar to the above Subjects [A & B] may in fact not always be linked to deficiency and/or damage to the frontal lobes; as many other factors are to be considered when assessing the behaviour & personality traits of subjects; where [for example] violence and short temper may [at times] be linked to a range of factors and environmental events during development, or other mental strains such as sustained stress, emotional deficiencies due to abnormal brain neurochemistry, genetics, or other factors that may lead to intense emotional reactivity [such as provocation or certain themes/topics that have high emotional salience to particular subjects, ‘passion‘]

 

THE 3 MAJOR THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT

In 1984, Nicholas Humphrey described us as “nature’s psychologists’” or homo psychologicus. What he meant was that as intelligent social beings, we tend to use our knowledge of our own thoughts and feelings – “introspection” – as a guide for understanding how others are likely to think, feel and hence, behave. He also argued that we are conscious [i.e. we have self-awareness] precisely because such an attribute is useful in the process of understanding others and having a successful social existence – consciousness is a biological adaptation that enables us to perform introspective psychology. Today, we are confident in the knowledge that the process of understanding others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviour is an ability that develops through childhood and most likely throughout our lives; and according to the greatest child psychologist of all time, Jean Piaget, a crucial phase of this process occurs in middle childhood.

Developmental psychology can be characterised as the field that attempts to understand and explain the changes that happen over time in the thought, behaviour, reasoning and functioning of a person due to biological, individual and environmental influences. Developmental psychologists study children’s development, and the development of human behaviour across the organism’s lifetime from a variety of different perspectives. Hence, if we are studying different areas of development, different theoretical perspectives will be fundamental and may influence the ways psychologists and scholars think about and study development.

Through the systematic collection of knowledge and experiments, we can develop a greater understanding and awareness of ourselves than would otherwise be possible.

 

Focussing on changes with time

The new born infant is a helpless creature, with communications skills that are limited along with few abilities. By 18 – 24 months, the end of the period of infancy – this scenario changes. The child has now formed relationships with others, has gained knowledge about the aspects of the physical world, and is about to undergo a vocabulary explosion as language development leaps ahead. At the time of adolescence, the child has turned into a mature, thinking individual actively striving to come to terms with a fast changing and complex society.

The important contribution to development, is maturation and the changes resulting from experience that intervene between the different ages and stages of childhood: the term maturation refers to those aspects of development that are primarily under genetic control, and which are relatively uninfluenced by the environment. An example would be puberty, and although its onset can be affected by environmental factors such as diet, the changes that occur are genetically determined.

 

Development Observed

The biologist, Charles Darwin, notable for his theory of evolution, made one of the earliest contributions to our understanding of child psychology in his article “A biographical sketch of an infant” (1877), which was based on observations of his own son’s development. By the early 20th century, most of our understanding of psychological development was not based on scientific methodology as much was still based on anecdotes and opinions of qualitative analysis, a method that strict empiricists have never managed to grasp or like. Nevertheless, knowledge was still being organised through both observation and experiment and during the 1920s and 1930s the study of child development started to grow as a movement, particularly in the USA with the founding of Institutes of Child Study or Child Welfare in university centres such as Iowa and Minnesota. Minute observations were made of young children in their developmental phase along with normal and abnormal behaviour and adjustment. In the 1920s Jean Piaget started his long and passionate career in child psychology, blending observation and experiment in his studies of children’s thinking.

The observations carried out in naturalistic settings was soon criticised by the empiricists of the behavioural movement in the 1940s and 1950s [although it continued to be the method of choice in the study of animal behaviour by zoologists]. This led to many psychologist carrying their experiments under laboratory conditions with statistical methods, and such experiments although come with some advantages from the perspective of empirical statistics, they do have limitations and drawbacks [e.g. on measuring qualitative aspects of personality such as emotions, values, etc]. It should be noted that much of the laboratory work on child development from the 1950s and 1960s has been described by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) as “the science of the behaviour of children in strange situations with strange adults”.

Schaffer (1996, pp. xiv – xvii) notes other changes in the methods in which psychologists now approach child development, such as the importance in understanding the processes of how children grow and develop rather than simply outcomes, and to integrate findings from a range of sources at different levels of analysis – for example meaningful others, community [geography, socio-linguistics, arts, etc] and culture [religion, nationality(ies), education, class, etc).

In the course of this essay, we will be integrating perspectives to make the most of the findings in distinguishing differences in personality, by reflecting on the links to be made by psychologists between the concept of the child’s “internal working model of relationships” and discoveries about the “theory of mind”.

It is fundamental to acknowledge that psychology itself is mostly based on accurate approximations due to the statistical methods used and the problematic nature of the qualitative variables measured, and not precision. And with this in mind, we should accept the complementary virtues of various different methods of investigation and gain a sense that the child’s process of development and the socio-behavioural context in which they exist are closely intertwined, each having an influence on the other.

 

Defining development according to world views

Intellectuals and researchers who study development also have different views on the topic, that is, the way in which development is defined, and the areas of development that are of interest to individual researchers generally orients them towards specific methodologies and philosophy when studying development.

We are now going to look at the 2 main views in the study of development given by psychologists who hold different views or sometimes combine elements of both, like ourselves, being firmly on the organic perspective of development and construction.

A world view [also known as paradigm, model, or world hypothesis] can be characterised as “a philosophical system of thinking, perceiving and feeling [ideas and more] that serves to organise a set or family of scientific theories and associated scientific methods” (1986, p. 42).

They are beliefs we adopt because it aligns with our values, and these are qualitative and often not open to common reductive empirical tests – that is precisely why we believe them!

Lerner and others note that many developmental theories appear to fall under one or two world views: organismic and mechanistic.

 

Organismic World View

The organismic world view which is the main view that we adopted to be the foundation of the Organic Theory, is one that sees a human being on earth as a biological organism that is inherently active and continually interacting with the environment [all aspects and dimensions], and therefore helping to shape its own development. The organismic worldview emphasises the interaction between maturation and experience that leads to the development of new internal, psychological structures for processing environmental input (e.g. Getsdottir & Lerner, 2008).

As Lerner states: “The Organismic model stresses the integrated structural features of the organism. If the parts making up the whole become reorganised as a consequence of the organism’s active construction of its own functioning, the structure of the organism may take on a new meaning; thus qualitatively distinct principles may be involved in human functioning at different points in life. These distinct, or new, levels of organisation are termed stages…” (p.57). A good analogy would be qualitative changes that take place when the molecules of two gasses hydrogen and oxygen, combine to form a liquid, water. Many other qualitative changes happen to water when it changes from frozen (ice) to liquid (water) to steam (vapour). Depending on the temperature, these qualitative changes in the state of water are easily reversed, BUT in human development the qualitative changes that take place are very rarely, if ever, reversible – that is, each new stage represents an advance on the previous stage, and the organism [human being] does not regress to former stages.

Irreversible

The main argument is that the new stage is not simply reducible to components of the previous stage; it represents new characteristics that were not present in the previous stage.

For example, the organism appears to pass through structural changes during foetal development [See Picture A].

PA Development of the human foetal brain_A_v2.jpg

PICTURE A. Development of the human foetal brain / Source: Adapted from J.H.Martin (2003), Neuroanatomy Text and Atlas (3rd ed., p.51). Stamford, CT:Appleton & Lange.

In the initial stage [Period of the Ovumfirst few weeks after conception] cells multiply and form clusters; in the second stage [Period of the Embryo – 2 – 8 weeks] the major body parts are formed by cell multiplication, specialisation and migration as well as cell death; in the last stage [Period of the Foetus] the body parts mature and begin to operate as an integrated system [e.g. head orientation towards and away from stimulation, arm extensions and grasping, thumb sucking, startles to loud noises, and so on (Fifer, 2010; Hepper, 2007)]. It is important to understand that similar stages of psychological development are postulated to happen after birth also, and the individual from one stage to another is different with new abilities that cannot be reversed.

Jean Piaget is perhaps the greatest and best example of a successful organismic theorist. Piaget suggested that cognitive development occurs in stages and that the reasoning of the child at one stage is qualitatively different from that of the earlier or later stages.

Partir en Livre Bibliothèque nationale de France dpurb d'purb site web

Image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The main job of the developmental psychologist who believes in the organismic worldview [like ourselves] is to determine when [i.e., at what age?] different psychological stages operate and what variables and processes represent the different between stages and determine the transition between them.

 

Mechanistic World View

From the mechanistic world view, it is assumed that a person can be broken down into components and can be represented as being like a machine [such as a computer], which is inherently passive until stimulated by the environment [this view seems to be more in line with the early British thinkers about the brain]. Human behaviour is reducible to the operation of fundamental behavioural units [e.g. habits] that are acquired in a progressive, cumulative manner. The mechanistic view assumes that the frequency of behaviours can increase with age due to various learning processes and they can decrease with age when they no longer have any functional consequence, or lead to negative consequences [such as punishment]. The developmental psychologists job here is to study environmental factors, or principles of learning, which determine the way organisms respond to stimulation, and which results in increases, decreases, and changes in behaviour.

Quite unlike the organismic world view, the mechanistic world view sees development as reflected by a more continuous growth function, rather than occurring in qualitatively different stages, and the child is believed to be passive rather than active in shaping its own development and its environment. This mechanistic view is generally embraced by behaviourists and cognitive-behaviourists who function on a reductionist philosophy based on the limitations of the scientific method when faced with understanding psychology and the mechanism of mind; instead they tend to focus on measurable behaviour and treat the brain as an information processing centre with a highly similar logic to a computer. The mechanistic view while being fairly grotesque due to its reductionist values, has revealed to be very practical in the study of human-machine interaction and along with new cognitive methods, it has helped to enhance the design of technological equipment to improve human experience in a wide range of areas.

As for us, we are mostly on the perspective of the organismic school of thought but refuse to completely dismiss all the mechanistic world view’s elements, because some of it can be embedded as secondary cognitive processes carried out by the conscious or preconscious areas of the mind when appraising stimuli from an organism’s environment. Hence, some elements can be embedded in understanding interaction with basic objects and elements of an organism’s “external” [not internal] environment, but to fully base our thoughts and behaviour on a mechanistic world view would arguably be irrationally reductionist.

 

Theories of Development

 

“Es gibt nichts Praktischeres al seine gute Theorie.”

–Emmanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

 

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”

-Kurt Lewin (1944, p. 195)

 

Human development is complex and it would be irrational to expect a single universal theory of development that could do justice to this complexity, and indeed no theory of development attempts to do so. Each theory attempts to account for only a limited range of development and it is often the case that within each area of development there are competing theoretical views, each attempting to account for the same aspects of development. We shall see below some of this complexity and conflict in our account of different theoretical views.

First of all, it would be helpful to understand what is implied by a “Theory” in the field of developmental psychology. A theory of development is a scheme or system of ideas that is generally based on evidence and attempts to explain, describe and predict behaviour and development. So, from this account, it is quite clear that a theory aims to bring order to what might otherwise be a chaotic mass of information – and hence why there may indeed not be anything more practical than a good theory.

We usually deal with at least 2 kinds of theory in every area of development, we have the minor theories [that are generally concerned with very specific and narrow areas of development such as eye movements, the origins of pointing and so on], and we have the major theories which are the ones we are primarily interested in as they attempt to explain large areas of development.

They have been divided in 3 groups for the purpose of this essay, with cognition, emotion and motivation in focus:

(I) The Theory of Cognitive Development of Jean Piaget


(II) The Theory of Attachment in Emotional Development by John Bowlby


(III) The Genetic/Psychosexual Model of Development by Sigmund Freud

 

__________

 

(I) The Theory of Cognitive Development (Jean Piaget)

The theory of cognitive development we are interested in is that of Jean Piaget who saw children as active agents in shaping their own development,  and not simply blank slates who passively and unthinkingly responds to whatever the environment throws at them or treats them to [an assumption that is insulting to human intelligence, hence why we do not subscribe blindly to the passive school of thought but only consider some elements related to very basic cognitive processes].

This suggests that children’s behaviour and development is motivated largely intrinsically (internally) rather than extrinsically (externally).

For Piaget and intellectuals with a firm belief in the mind as an active entity, children learn to adapt to their environment and as a result of their cognitive adaptations they are now better able to understand their world. Adaptation is an act that all living organisms have evolved to do and as children adapt, they also gradually construct more advanced understanding [internal working models] of their worlds.

These more advanced understanding of the world reflect themselves in the appearance of new stages of development. Piaget’s theory is the best and most accomplished example of the organismic world view, and it portrays children as inherently active, continually interacting with various dimensions of their environments, in such a way as to shape their own development.

With this assumption in mind, Piaget’s theory is also often referred to the Constructivist Theory.

 

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development (0 – 12 yrs)

Jean Piaget’s theory developed out of his early interest in observing animals in their natural environment. Piaget published his first article at the age of 10 about the description of an albino sparrow that he had observed in the park, and before the age of 18, journals had accepted several of his papers about molluscs. During his adolescent years, the young theorist developed a keen interest in philosophy, particularly “epistemology” [the branch of philosophy focused on knowledge and the acquisition of it]. However, his undergraduate studies were in the field of biology and his doctoral dissertation was once again, on molluscs.

For a short while, Piaget then worked at Bleuler’s psychiatric clinic where his interest in psychoanalysis grew. As a results, he moved to France and attended the Sorbonne university, in 1919 to study clinical psychology and also pursued his interest in philosophy. In Paris, he worked in the Binet Laboratory with Theodore Simon on the standardisation of intelligence tests. Piaget’s task was to monitor children’s correct response to test times, but instead, he became much more interested in the mistakes that children made, and developed the idea that the study of children’s errors could provide an insight into their cognitive processes.

Piaget came to realise that through the process and discipline of psychology, he had an opportunity to create links between epistemology and biology. Through the integration of the disciplines of psychology, biology and epistemology, Piaget aimed to develop a scientific approach to the understanding of knowledge – the nature of knowledge and the ways in which an organism acquires knowledge. As a man who valued richness and detail, Piaget was not at all impressed by the reductionist quantitative methods used by the empiricists of the time, however, he was influenced by the work on developmental psychology by Binet, a French psychologist who had pioneered studies of children’s thinking [his method of observing children in their natural setting was one that Piaget followed himself when he left the Binet laboratory].

Piaget later integrated his own experience of psychiatric work in Bleuler’s clinic with the observational and questioning strategies that he had learned from Binet. Out of this fusion of techniques emerged the “Clinical Interview” [an open-ended, conversational technique for eliciting children’s thinking (cognitive) processes]. It was the child’s own subjective judgement and explanation that was of interest to Piaget, as he was not testing a particular hypothesis, but rather looking for an explanation of how the child comes to understand his or her world. The method is not simple, and the team of Piaget’s researchers had to be trained for 1 year before they actually started collecting data. They were trained and educated about the “art” of asking the right questions and testing the truth of what the children said.

Piaget’s career was devoted to the quest for the mechanisms guiding biological adaptation, and also the analysis of logical thought [that derives from these adaptations and interaction with the exterior environment] (Boden, 1979). He wrote more than 50 books and hundreds of articles, correcting many of his earlier ideas in later life. At its core, the theory of Jean Piaget is concerned with the human need to discover and acquire deeper understanding and knowledge.

Piaget’s incredible output of concepts and ideas characterises his attitude towards constant construction and reconstruction of his theoretical system, which was quite consistent with his philosophy of knowledge, and perhaps indirectly to the school of thought of the mind as an “active” entity.

This section will explore the model of cognitive structure developed by Piaget along with the modifications and some of the re-interpretations that subsequent Piagetian researchers have made to the master’s initial ideas. Although many details have been questioned, it is undeniable that Piaget’s contribution to the understanding of thinking processes [cognitive] of both children and adults.

One great argument made by the theorist suggested that if we are to understand how children think we ought to look at the qualitative development of their problem-solving abilities.

Two famous examples from Piaget’s experiments will be considered that explore the thinking processes in children, showing how they develop more sophisticated problem-solving skills.

Example 1 – One of Piaget’s dialogue with a 7-year-old

Adult:    Does the moon move or not?
Child:    When we go, it goes.
Adult:    What makes it move?
Child:    We do.
Adult:    How?
Child:    When we walk. It goes by itself.

(Piaget, 1929, pp. 146-7)

From this example and other observations based on the similar theme, Piaget described a particular period in childhood which is marked by egocentrism. Since the moon appears to move with the child, she concluded that it does indeed do so. But as the child grows and her sense of logic follows, there is a shift from her own egocentric perspective where the child starts to learn to differentiate between what she sees and she “knows”. Gruber and Vonèche (1977) provide a good example of how an older child used her sense of logic to investigate the movement of the moon. This particular child had sent his younger brother for a walk down the garden while he himself remained immobile. The younger child reported that the moon moved with him, but the older boy realised from his observation that the moon did not move and could then disprove this wrong information with his brother.

Example 2 – Estimating the Quantity of a Liquid

FA Piaget Liquid Quantity

FIGURE A. Estimating a quantity of liquid

This example is taken from Piaget’s research into children’s understanding of quantity. Let us assume that John [aged 4] and Mary [aged 7] are given a problem; two glasses, A and B, are of equal capacity [volume] but glass A is short and wide and glass B is tall and narrow [See Figure A]. Glass A is filled to a particular height and the children would then be asked, separately, to pour liquid into glass B [tall and narrow] so that it would contain the same amount as glass A. Despite the striking proportional differences of the 2 containers, John could not grasp that the smaller diameter of glass B requires a higher level of liquid. To Mary, John’s response is incredibly senseless and stupid: of course one would have to add more to glass B. Piaget interestingly saw the depth of the argument that was in the responses of those children. John could not “see” that the liquid in A and the liquid in B are not equal, because his thought processes are using a mechanism that is qualitatively different in terms of reasoning and that is not yet developed [perhaps due to physiological/hardware limitations] and lacks the mental operations that would have allowed him to solve the problem. Mary, the 7 year old girl finds it hard to understand 4 year old John’s stupidity and why he could not perceive his error.

Facing this situation, Piaget brilliantly proposed that the essence of knowledge is “activity” – a line of thought and perspective adopted by many psychologists and intellectuals from the German and French school of Lacan quite opposite to the early British thoughts that assumed the mind to be “passive” and mostly shaped by the effects of the outside environment.  This argument is not only one that embraces human ingenuity and creativity and acknowledges our instinctual drives to thrive and succeed but also characterises the mind as an entity with high creative power instead of simple junction of neurons conditioned to react to stimuli from its environment almost helplessly as the “passive” school assumed it to be. Hence, to Piaget and ourselves, the essence of knowledge is “activity”, he could be referring to the infant directly manipulating objects and in doing so also learning about their properties. It may also refer to a child pouring liquid from one glass to another to find out which has more in it. Or it may refer to the adolescent forming hypotheses to solve a scientific dilemma. In the examples mentioned, it is important to note that the learning process of the child is taking place through “action”, whether physical (e.g. exploring a ball of clay) or mental (e.g. thinking of various outcomes and reflecting on what they mean). Piaget’s emphasis on activity was important in stimulating the child-centred approach to education, because he firmly believed that for lasting learning to occur, children would not only have to manipulate objects but also manipulate and define ideas. The major educational implications of Piaget will be discussed later in this section.

 

Assumptions of Piaget’s Theory of Development: Structure & Organisation

Through his carefully devised techniques, and using observations, dialogues and small-scale experiments, Piaget suggested that children progress through a series of stages in their thinking, each of which synchronises with major changes in the structure or logic of their intelligence. [See Table A]

TA Piaget - Stages of Intellectual Development

TABLE A. The Stages of Intellectual Development in Piaget’s Theory

Piaget named the main stages of development and the order in which the occurred as:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]

Piaget’s structures are sets of mental operations, which can be applied to objects, beliefs, ideas or anything in the child’s world, and these mental operations are known as “schemas”. The schemas are characterised as being evolving structures, in other words, structures that grow and change from one stage to the next.

The details of each section of the 4 stages will be explored below, however it is fundamental that we first understand Piaget’s concept of the unchanging or “invariant” [to use his own term – this may be related to temperament but here it involves another set of abilities] aspects of thought, which refers to the broad characteristics of intelligent activity that remains constant throughout the human organism’s life.

These are the organisation of schemas and their adaptation through assimilation and accommodation.

Organisation: Piaget used this term to explain the innate ability to coordinate existing cognitive structures, or schemas, and combine them into more complex systems [e.g. a baby of 3 months old has gained the ability to combine looking and grasping, with the earlier reflex of sucking]. The baby is able to perform all three actions together when feeding from her mother’s breast or a feeding bottle, an ability that the new born child did not originally have in his/her repertoire. A further example would be Ben who at the age of 2 had learned to climb downstairs while carrying objects without dropping them, and also to open doors. This means that he could then combine all three operations to deliver newspaper to his grandmother in the basement flat. To note, each separate operation combines into a new action more complex than the sum of the parts.

The complexity of the organisation also grows as the schemas become more elaborate. Piaget described the development of a particular action schema in his son Laurent as he attempted to strike a hanging object. Initially, Laurent only made random movement towards the object, but at the age of 6 months the movements had evolved and were now deliberate, focused and well directed. As Piaget put it in his description, at 6 months old, Laurent possessed the mental structure that guided the action involved in hitting a toy. Laurent had also gained the ability to accommodate his actions to the weight, size and shape of the toy and its distance from him.

The next invariant function, adaptation is characterised by the striving of the organism for balance [or equilibrium] with the environment, and is achieved through the further processes of “assimilation” and “accommodation”. During the process of assimilation, the child’s repertoire of knowledge expands and he/she takes in [learns about] a new experience [and the knowledge acquired with it] and fits it into an existing schema. For example, a child may learn the words “dog” and “car”, and following this enigmatic event, the child may call all animals “dogs” [i.e. different animals taken into a schema related to the child’s understanding of dog], or all vehicles with four wheels are called “cars”. The process of accommodation balances this erroneous process, where the child adjusts an existing schema to fit in with the nature of the environment [i.e. from experience, the child begins to perceive that cats can be distinguished from dogs, and may develop schemas for these 2 different animals – also that cars can be distinguished from other vehicles such as trucks or lorries.

By these two processes, namely assimilation and accommodation, the child achieves a new state of equilibrium which is however not permanent as this balance is generally soon upset as the child assimilates further new experiences or accommodates her existing schemas to another new idea.

Equilibrium only seems to prepare the child for more disequilibrium through further learning and adaptation; these two processes occur together and cannot be thought of separately. Assimilation provides the child with consolidation for mental structures; and accommodation results in growth and change. All adaptations contains the components of both processes and striving for balance between assimilation and accommodation [Remember: Organisation  Adaptation + (Assimilation & Accommodation)] leads to the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn [This is also reminiscent of the psychodynamic school of thought as several processes colliding to find balance in its model of the mental life of the individual mind]. When new experiences are within the child’s response range in terms of abilities, then conditions are said to be at their best for change and growth to occur.


The Stages of Cognitive Development

To adepts of Piaget’s outlook, intellectual development is a continuous process of assimilation and accommodation. We will not describe the four stages identified in the development of cognition from birth to about 12 years old [in normal children]. This order is similar for all children but the age these milestones are achieved may vary from one child to another – with the stages being:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]


I. The Sensori-Motor Stage (about 0 – 2 years) | Stage 1 of 4

During the sensori-motor stage the child changes from a newborn, who focuses almost entirely on immediate sensory and motor experiences, to a toddler who possesses a rudimentary capacity for thinking. Piaget described in detail the process by which this occurs, by documenting his own children’s behaviour. On the basis of such observations, carried over the first 2 years of life, Piaget divided the sensori-motor stage into 6 sub-stages. [See Table B]

TB Sub-stages of the sensori-motor period

TABLE B. Substages of the sensori-motor period according to Piaget

The first substage, reflex activity, included the reflexive behaviours and spontaneous rhythmic activity with which the infant is born. Piaget called the second substage primary circular reactions. He used the term “circular” to emphasise how children tend to repeat an activity, especially those that are pleasing or satisfying (e.g. thumb sucking). The term “primary” refers to simple behaviours that are derived from the reflexes of the first period [e.g. thumb sucking develops as the thumb is assimilated into a schema based on the innate suckling reflex].

Secondary circular reactions refer to the child’s willingness to repeat actions, but the word “secondary” is used here to point out the behaviours that are the child’s very own. In other words, she is not limited to just repeating actions based on early reflexes, but having initiated new actions, she can now repeat these if they are satisfying. However, at the same time, these actions tend to be directed outside the child (unlike simple actions like thumb sucking) and are aimed at influencing the environment around her.

This is Piaget’s description of his own daughter Jacqueline at 5 months old, kicking her legs (in itself a primary circular reaction) in what gradually ascends to a secondary circular reaction as the leg movement is repeated not just for itself, but is initiated in the presence of a doll.

Jacqueline looks at a doll attached to a string which is stretched from the hood to the handle of the cradle. The doll is approximately the same level as the child’s feet. Jacqueline moves her feet and finally strikes the doll, whose movement she immediately notices… The activity of the feet grows increasingly regular whereas Jacqueline’s eyes are fixed on the doll. Moreover, when I remove the doll Jacqueline occupies herself quite differently; when I replace it, after a moment, she immediately starts to move her legs again.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 182)

In displaying such behaviours, Jacqueline seemed to have established a general relation between her movement and the doll’s, and was also engaged in a secondary circular reaction.

Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions, being substage 4 of the Sensori-motor period, and as the word “coordination” implies, it is particularly at this substage that children begin to combine different behavioural schema. In the following extracted section, Piaget described how his daughter (aged 8 months) combined several schemas, such as “sucking an object” and “grasping an object” in a series of coordinated actions when playing with a new object:

Jacqueline grasps an unfamiliar cigarette case which I present to her. At first she examines it very attentively, turns it over, then holds it in both hands while making the sound apff (a kind of hiss which she usually makes in the presence of people). After than she rubs it against the wicker of her cradle then draws herself up while looking at it, then swings it above her and finally puts it in her mouth.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 284)

Jacqueline’s behaviour illustrates how a new object is assimilated to various existing schema in the fourth substage. In the following stage, that of tertiary circular reactions children’s behaviours become more flexible and when they repeat actions they may do so with variations, which can lead to new results. By repeating actions with variations, children are, in effect, accommodating established schema to new contexts and needs.

The final sub-stage of the sensori-motor period is known as the substage of Internal Representations and it refers to the child’s achievement of mental representation. The previous substages the child has interacted with the world through her physical motor schema, another way of phrasing it would be that, she has acted directly on the world. In this final substage, she can now act “indirectly” on the world because she has developed the capacity to hold mental representations of the world – that is, she can now think and plan.

As evidence for children attaining the level of mental representation, Piaget pointed out that by this substage children have a full concept of object permanence. Piaget noticed that very young infants ignored even highly attractive objects once they were out of sight [e.g. a child reaching for a toy, but then the toy is suddenly covered with a cloth and it immediately leads to the child losing all interest in it and would not attempt to search for it, and might even just look away]. According to Piaget it was only after the later substages that children demonstrated an awareness [by searching and trying to retrieve the object] that the object was “permanently” present even if it was temporarily out of sight. Searching for an object that cannot be seen directly implies that the child has a memory of the object, i.e. a mental representation of it.

It is only towards the end of the sensori-motor period that children demonstrated novel patterns of behaviour in response to a problem. For example, if a child wants to reach for a toy and comes across an object between herself and the desired toy, younger children might just try and reach for the toy directly and it is possible that the child knocks over the object while reaching for the target toy – this is best described as “Trial and Error” performance. In the later substages, the child might solve the problem by instead first removing the object out of the way before reaching for the desired toy. Such structured behaviour suggests that the child was able to plan ahead, which indicates that he/she had a mental representation of what she was going to do.

An example of planned behaviour by Jacqueline was given where she was trying to solve the problem of opening a door while carrying two blades of grass at the same time:

She stretches out her right hand towards the knob but sees that she is cannot turn it without letting go of the grass. She puts the grass on the floor, opens the door, picks up the grass again and enters. But when she wants to leave the room things become complicated. She put the grass on the floor and grasps the door knob but then she realises that in pulling the door towards her she will simultaneously chase away the grass which she placed between the door and the threshold. She therefore picks it up in order to put it outside of the door’s zone of movement.

(Piaget, 1936, pp. 376-7)

Jacqueline solved the problem of the grass and the door before she opened the door. It is assumed that she would have had a mental representation of the problem, which permitted her to work out the solution, before she acted.

A third line of evidence for mental representations comes from Piaget’s observation of deferred imitation, that is when children carry out a behaviour that is a reflection of copied behaviour that was previously taken in by the developing child. Piaget provides a good example of this:

At 16 months old Jacqueline had a visit from a little boy of 18 months who she used to see from time to time, and who, in the course of the afternoon got into a terrible temper. He screamed and he tried to get out of a playpen and pushed it backward, stamping his feet. Jacqueline stood observing him in amazement, having never witnessed such a scene before. The following day, she herself screamed in her playpen and tried to move it, stamping her foot lightly several times in succession.

(Piaget, 1951, p. 63)

This suggests that if the little boy’s behaviour was repeated by Jacqueline a day later, she would have had to have retained an image of his behaviour, i.e. she had a mental representation of what she had seen from the day before, and that representation provided the basis for her own copy of the temper tantrum.

To conclude, during the sensori-motor period, the child advances from very simple and limited reflex behaviours at birth, to complex behaviours at the end of the period. The more complex behaviours depend on the progressive combination and elaboration of the schema, but are, at the beginning, limited to direct interactions with the world – thus, the name Piaget gave to this period because he thought of the child developing through her sensori-motor interaction with the environment. It is only towards the end of that period that the child is not limited to immediate interaction anymore because she has now developed the ability to mentally represent her world [mental representation], and with this ability the child can manipulate her mental images (or symbols) of her world, in other words, she can now act on her thoughts about the world as well as on the world itself.

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Revisions of the Sensori-motor Stage

Jean Piaget’s observations of babies during this first stage lasting until 2 years of age, have been largely confirmed by subsequent reseachers, however Piaget may have underestimated children’s mental capacity to organize the sensory and motor information they take in. Several investigators have shown that children have abilities and concepts earlier than Piaget thought.

Bower (1982) examined Piaget’s hypothesis that young children did not have an appreciation of objects if they were not in sight. For this experiment, children a few months old were recruited and shown an object, and shortly after a screen was moved across in front of the object [so that it would be hidden/unseen from the child’s visual field], to then finally be moved back to its original position. This scenario was presented with 2 slight changes: in Condition 1 the object was still in place and hence seen again by the child when the screen was moved back to its original location; and in Condition 2, the object was removed so the child would perceive the object to have disappeared when the screen was moved back. After monitoring the children’s heart rate to measure changes [which reflect surprise]. To go back to Piaget’s assumptions from his qualitative observations, it would be assumed that children of a few months old do not retain information about objects that are no longer present, and if this was the case, we would not register any heart rate change because as there should be no element of surprise [i.e. the child would not expect an object to be there once the screen was moved back to its original location], thus in Condition 2, no reaction should be displayed by the children, however it was found that children displayed more surprise in Condition 2 and Bower inferred that the children would have had an expectation of the object to still be in its position or “re-appear” after the screen was moved back – this would be the evidence that young children must retain a mental representation of the object in their mind [could be interpreted as young children having some basic form of object permanence even if not properly developed at an earlier age than the assumptions of Piaget based on the results of his experimental methods].

In a further experiment, Baillargeon and DeVos (1991) showed 3-month-old children objects that moved behind a screen and then re-appeared from the other side of the screen. The upper half of the screen had a window and in one condition the children saw a short object move behind the screen [the object was small and below the level of the window and hence when it passed behind the screen it was completely out of sight / not visible, until it appeared at the other side of the screen].

In a second condition a taller object was passed behind the screen, and it was high enough to be seen through the window as it passed from one side to the other. Furthermore, Baillargeon and DeVos created an “impossible event” by passing the tall object through the screen without it appearing through the window, and it lead to the children displaying more interest by looking longer at the scenario than that with the small object. This lead to the argument that children reacted so, due to their expectation of the taller object to appear through the window, and hence this would suggest that young children early in the sensori-motor stage have an awareness of the continued existence of objects even when they are out of view. These results along with that of Bower (1982) seem to suggest that young children to have “some” understanding of object permanence earlier than assumed.

Another one of Piaget’s conclusion was also investigated further by another group of researchers who wanted to find out if children only developed planned action [which demonstrated their ability to form mental representations] at the end of the sensori-motor stage. Willatts (1989) placed an attractive toy on a cloth, out of the reach of 9-month-old children; the children could pull the cloth to access the attractive toy. However, the children could not reach the cloth directly since it was not accessible as Willatts placed a light barrier between the child and the cloth [the child had to move the barrier to reach the cloth]. The experiment showed that children were able to access the toy by carrying out appropriate the series of actions [i.e. first moving the barrier, then pulling the cloth to bring the toy within reach]. Most importantly, many of the children carried out the correct actions within the first occasion of being presented with the problem without the need of going through a “trial and error” phase. Willatts argued that for such young children to demonstrate novel planned actions, it may be inferred from such behaviour that they are operating on a mental representation of the world which they can make use of to organise their behaviour before carrying it out [This is also earlier than assumed by Piaget’s experiments].

Another point made by Piaget was that deferred imitation was an evidence that children should have a memory representation of what they had seen earlier. Soon after birth however it was found that babies are able to imitate the facial expression of an adult or the head movement (Meltzoff and Moore, 1983, 1989), however such imitation is performed in the presence of the stimulus being imitated. From Piaget’s experiments, it was initially deduced that stored representations are only achieved by children towards the end of the sensori-motor stage, however, Meltzoff and Moore (1994) showed that 6-week old infants could imitate a behaviour a day after they had seen the original behaviour. In Meltzoff and Moore’s study some children saw an adult make a facial gesture [e.g. sticking out her tongue] and others just saw the adult’s face while she maintained a neutral expression. The next day, all the children in the experiment saw the same adult, however this time, she kept a passive face. Compared to the children who had not seen any gesture, the children who had seen the tongue protrusion gesture the day before were more likely to make tongue protrusions to the adult the second time they saw her. Meltzoff and Moore argued that for the children to be able to perform those actions they would have had to have a mental representation of the action at a much earlier age than Piaget’s experiments concluded

 

II. The Pre-operational Stage (about 2 – 7 years) | Stage 2 of 4

This stage will be divided in 2 periods: (a) The Pre-conceptual Period (2 – 4 years) and (b) the Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)


(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)

The pre-conceptual period builds on the ability for internal, or symbolic thought to develop based on the latest advancements during the final stages of the sensori-motor period. During the pre-conceptual period [2 – 4 years old], we can observe a rapid increase in children’s language which, in Piaget’s view, results from the development of symbolic thought. Piaget unlike other theorists of language [who suggested that thought emerges from linguistic competence] argued that thought arises out of action and this idea is supported by research into cognitive abilities of deaf children who, despite limitations in language, have the abilities for reasoning and problem solving. Piaget argued that thought shapes language far more than language shapes thought [at least during the pre-conceptual period], and symbolic thought is also expressed in imaginative play.

However there are some limitations in the child’s abilities at the pre-conceptual period (2-4 years) of the pre-operational stage. The pre-operational child is still centred in her own perspective and finds it difficult to understand that other people can look at things differently. Piaget called this the “self-centred” view of the world and used the term egocentrism.

Egocentric thinking occurs due to the child’s belief that the universe is centred on herself, and thus finds it hard to “decentre”, that is, to take the perspective of another individual. The dialogue below gives an example of a 3-year-old’s difficulty in taking the perspective of another person:

Adult: Have you any brothers or sisters?
John: Yes, a brother.
Adult: What is his name?
John: Sammy.
Adult: Does Sammy have a brother?
John: No.

It is quite clear here that 3-year old John’s inability to decentre makes it hard for the child to realise that from Sammy’s perspective, he himself is a brother.

The egocentric trait at this particular period of development is apparent in their flawed perspective taking tasks. One of the most famous experiments carried out by Piaget is the three mountains experiment tasks, and it involves exploring children’s ability to see things from the perspective of another. In 1956, Piaget and Inhelder asked children between the ages of four and twelve [4 – 12 years old] to say how a doll would perceive an array of three mountains from different perspectives [i.e. by placing the doll at different locations].

FJ Piaget III Mountain Task.jpg

FIGURE J. Model of the mountain range used by Piaget and Inhelder viewed from 4 different sides

For example in Figure J, a child might be asked to sit at position A, and a doll would be placed at one of the other positions (B, C or D), then the child would be made to choose from a set of different views of the model, the view that the doll could see. When four and five year old children [4 and 5 years old] were asked to do this task, they often chose the view that they themselves could see (rather than the doll’s view) and it was not until 8 or 9 years of age that children could confidently work out the doll’s view. Piaget argued that this should be convincing in asserting that young children were still learning to manage their egocentricity and could not decentre from their own perspective to work out the perspective / view of the doll.

However, several criticisms have been made regarding the 3 mountain tasks, and one researcher, Donaldson (1978) pointed out that the tasks were unusual to use with young children who might not have a good familiarity with model mountains or be used to working out other people’s views of landscapes. Borke (1975) carried out a similar task to Piaget, but instead of using model mountains, he used the layout of toys that young children typically spend time with in play. She also altered the way that children were asked to respond to the question about what a different person’s view would be, and found that children as young as 3 or 4 years of age had some basic understanding of how another person’s perspective would be different from another position. This was much earlier than previously deduced from Piaget’s experiments, and shows that the type of objects and procedures used in a task can have a huge impact on the performance of the children. By using mountains, Piaget may have selected a far too complex content for such young children’s perspective-taking abilities to be demonstrated optimally.


Borke’s Experiment: Piaget’s Mountains Revised & Changes in the Egocentric Landscape

Borke’s main inquisition was about the appropriateness of Piaget’s three mountain tasks for such young children, and was concerned with the aspects of the task that were not related to perspective-taking and whether this might have adversely affected the children’s performance. These aspects were:

(i) the mountain from a different angle or not may not have sparked any interest or motivation in the children
(ii) the pictures of the doll’s views that Piaget had asked the children to select may have been too taxing for their intelligence
(iii) due to the task being unusual in nature, children may have performed poorly because they were unfamiliar with such a task

Borke considered if some initial practice and familiarity with the task would improve the children’s performance, and with those points in mind, Borke repeated the basic design of Piaget and Inhelder’s experiment but changed the content of the task, avoided the use of pictures and gave children some initial practice. She also used 4 three-dimensional  displays: there were a practice display and three experimental displays [see FIGURE B].

FB Borke's 4 three-dimensional displays

FIGURE B. A schematic view of Borke’s four three-dimensional displays viewed from above.

Borke’s participants were 8 three-year-old children and 14 four-year-old children attending a day nursery. Grover, a character from the popular children’s television show, “Sesame Street” was used for the experiment as a substitute for Piaget’s doll. There we 2 identical versions of each display (A and B), and Display A was for Grover and the child to look at, and Display B was on a turntable next to the child.

The children were tested individually and were first shown a practice display which consisted of a large toy fire engine. Borke placed Grover at one of the sides of the practice Display A so that Grover could view the fire engine from a point of view [perspective] that was different from the child’s own view of this display.

A duplicate of the fire engine [practice Display B] appeared on a revolving turntable, and Borke briefed the children, explaining that the table could be turned so that the child could look at the fire engine from ANY side. Children were then prompted to turn the table until their view of the Display B matched the exact perspective that Grover had while looking at Display A. If necessary, Borke even helped the children to move the turntable to the correct position or walked the children round Display A to show them the exact view [perspective] that Grover had in view

Once the practice session was over, the child was ready to take part in the experiment itself. This time, the procedures were similar, except no help was provided by the experimenter. Every single child was shown three dimensional displays, one at a time [see FIGURE B].

Display 1 included a toy house, lake and animals
Display 2 was based in Piaget’s model of three mountains
Display 3 included several scenes with figures and animals
Note: There were 2 identical copies of each display, and of course, children had to rotate the second  copy which was on a turntable to match the perspective [view] that Grover had in sight [as prepared in the practice session].

What Borke found was that most of the children in the experiment were able to work out Grover’s perspective for Display 1 [three and four-year-olds were correct in 80% of trials] and for Display 3 [three-year-olds were correct in 79% of trials and four-year-olds, in 93% of trials. However, for Display 2 [Piaget’s mountains], the three-year-olds were correct in only 42% of trials and four-year-olds in 67% of trials. Borke calculated an analysis of variance, and found that the difference between Displays 1 & 3 and Display 2 was significant at p < 0.001. As for errors, there were no significant differences in the children’s responses for any of the 3 positions – 31% of errors were egocentric [i.e. child rotated Display B to show their OWN view/perspective of Display A, rather than Grover’s view].

Borke successfully demonstrated that the task had a major influence on the perspective-taking performances of young children. When the display included toys that the children were familiar with and hence recognisable, and when the response involved rotating a turntable to work out Grover’s perspective, even the comparatively complex Display 3 task was successfully achieved by the children.

This seems to suggest that the poor performance by the children in Piaget’s original experiment involving three mountains was due in part to the unfamiliar nature of the objects that the children were shown.

Borke concluded that the potential for understanding the viewpoint of another was already present in children as young as 3 and 4 years of age, and this seems to be a reliable addition and revision to Piaget’s original assumption that children of this age are egocentric and incapable to taking the viewpoint of others. It now seems clear that although their perspective taking abilities may not be fully developed, they tend to make egocentric responses when they misunderstood the task, but when given the appropriate conditions, they show that they are capable of working out another’s viewpoint.

However, on a final note, it is important to also consider that Borke’s finding that children as young as three years can perform correctly in perspective-taking tasks stands in firm contrast to other researchers who have found that three-year-olds have difficulty realising another person’s perspective when the child and the other person are both looking at the same picture from different point of view [e.g. at the Louvres museum] (e.g., Masangkay et al, 1974).

 

(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)… continued from above

Piaget use the three mountains task to investigate visual perspective taking and it was on the basis of this task that he concluded that young children were egocentric. There are also a variety of other perspective taking scenarios, and these include the ability to empathise with other people’s emotions, and the ability to know what other people are or may be thinking depending on the scene, setting and scenario (Wimmer and Perner, 1983). In other words, young children are less egocentric than Piaget initially assumed.

 

(b) The Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)

At about the age of four, there is a further shift in thinking where the child begins to develop the mental operation of ordering, classifying and quantifying in a more systematic way. The term “intuitive” was particularly chosen by Piaget because the child is largely unaware of the principles that underlie the operations she completes and cannot explain why she has done them, nor can she carry them out in a fully satisfactory way, although she is able to carry out such operations involving ordering, classifying and quantifying.

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Difficulties can be observed if a pre-operational child is asked to arrange sticks in a particular order. 10 sticks of different sizes from A (the shortest) to J (the longest), arranged randomly on a table were given to the children. The child was asked to arrange them in ascending order [order of length]. Some pre-operational children could not complete the task at all. Some other children arrange a few sticks correctly, but could not complete the task properly. And some put all the smaller ones in one and all the longer one in another. A more advance response was to arrange the sticks so that tops of the sticks when order even though the bottoms were not [See FIGURE C].

FC Pre-operational ordering different-sized sticks

FIGURE C. The pre-operational child’s ordering of different-sized sticks. An arrangement in which the child has solved the problem of seriation by ignoring the length of the sticks.

To sum up, the pre-operational child is not capable of arranging more than a very few objects in the appropriate order.

It was also discovered that pre-operational children also have difficulty with class inclusion tasks – those that involve part-whole relations. Let us assume that a child is given a box that contains 18 brown beads and 2 white beads; all the beads are wooden. When asked “Are there more brown beads than wooden beads?” [note that the question does not make sense since all the beads are made of wood but some are brown and some are white], the pre-operational child tends to say that there are “more brown beads”. The child at the intuitive-period of the pre-operational stage finds it hard to consider the class of “all beads” [wooden] and at the same time considering the subset of beads, the class of “brown beads”[wooden + brown].

This findings is generally true for all children in the pre-operational stage, irrespective of their cultural background. Investigators further found that Thai and Malaysian children gave responses that were very similar to those of Swiss children at this stage of life [4 – 7 years old] and in the same sequence od development [the intuitive period].

Here, a Thai boy who was shown a bunch of 7 roses and 2 lotus [all are in the class of flowers], states that there are more roses than flowers [problem with class of all flowers] when prompted by the standard Piagetian questions:

Child: More roses.
Experimenter: More than what?
Child: More than flowers.
Experimenter: What are the flowers?
Child: Roses.
Experimenter: Are there any others?
Child: There are.
Experimenter: What?
Child: Lotus
Experimenter: So in this bunch which is more roses or flowers?
Child: More roses.

(Ginsburg and Opper, 1979, pp. 130-1)

One of the most extensively investigated aspects of the pre-operational child’s thinking processes is what Piaget called “conservation”. Conservation refers to the understanding that superficial changes in the appearance of a quantity do not mean that there has been any real change in the quantity. For example, if we had 10 dolls placed in line, and then they were re-arranged in a circle, it would not mean that the quantity has been altered [i.e. if nothing is added or subtracted from a quantity then it remains the same – conservation].

Piaget’s experiments revealed that children in the pre-operational stage generally find it hard to grasp the concept that an object’s qualities remain intact even if it is changed in shape and appearance. A series of conservation tasks were used in the investigations and examples are given in FIGURE D and PLATE A.

FD Piaget - Tests de Conservation

FIGURE D. Some tests of conservation: (a) two tests of conservation of number (rows of sweets and coins; and flowers in vases); (b) conservation of mass (two balls of clay); (c) conservation of quantity (liquid in glasses). In each case illustration A shows the material when the child is first asked if the two items or sets of items are the same and illustration B shows the way that one item or set of items is transformed before the child is asked a second time if they are still similar.

PA Piaget - Conservation of Number

PLATE A. A 4-year-old puzzles over Piaget’s conservation of number experiments; he says that the rows are equal in number in arrangement (a), but not in arrangement (b) “because they’re all bunched together here”.

If 2 perfectly identical balls of clay are given to a child and if questioned about whether the quantity of clay being similar in both balls, the child will generally agree that it is. However, if one of the balls of clay is rolled and shaped into a sausage [see FIGURE D(b)], and the child is questioned again about whether the amount are similar, he/she is more likely to say that one is larger than the other. When asked about the reasons for the answer, they are generally unable to give an explanation, but simply say “because it is larger”.

Piaget suggested that a child has difficulty in a task such as this because she could only focus on one attribute at a time [e.g. if length is being focussed on, then she may think that the sausage shaped clay, being longer, has more clay it it. According to Piaget, for a child to appreciate that the sausage of clay has the same amount of clay as the ball would require an understanding that the greater length of the sausage is compensated for by the smaller cross section of the sausage. Piaget said that pre-operational children cannot apply principles such as compensation.

A further example to demonstrate this weakness in the child’s reasoning about conservation is through the sweets task [see FIGURE D(a)]. In this scenario, a child is shown 2 rows of sweets with a similar number of sweets in each row [presented with one to one layout] and when asked if the numbers match in each row, she will usually agree. Shortly after, one row of sweets is made longer by spreading them out, and the child is once again asked whether the number of sweets in similar in each row; the pre-operational child usually makes a choice between the rows suggesting that one has more sweets in it. He/she may for example think that the longer row means more objects [logic of the pre-operational child]. At this stage, the child does not realise that the greater length of the row of sweets is compensated for by the greater distance between the sweets.

Compensation is only one of several processes that can help children overcome changes in appearance; another process is known as “reversibility”. This is where the children could think of literally “reversing” the change; for example if the children imagine the sausage of clay being rolled back and reshaped into a ball of clay, or the row of sweets being pushed back together, they may realise that once the change has been reversed the quantity of an object or the number of items in the row remains similar to before. Pre-operational children lack the thought processes needed to apply principles like “compensation” and “reversibility”, and therefore they have difficulty in conservation tasks.

In the next stage, which is the third stage of development known as the “Concrete Operational Stage”, children will have achieved the necessary logical thought processes that give them the ability to use the required principles and handle conservation techniques and other problem-solving tasks easily.

 

Revisions of the Pre-Operational Stage

While Piaget claimed that the pre-operational child cannot cope with tasks like part-whole relations or conservations, because they lack the logical thought processes to apply principles like compensation. Other researchers have pointed out that children’s lack of success in some tasks may be due to factors other than ones associated with logical processes.

The pre-operational child seems to lack the ability to grasp the concept of the relationship between the whole and the part in class inclusion tasks, and will happily state that there are more brown beads than wooden beads in a box of brown and white wooden beads “because there are only two white ones”. Some other researchers have focussed their attention on the questions that children are asked during such studies and found them to be unusual [e.g. it is not often in every day conversation that we ask questions such as “Are there more brown beads or more wooden beads?”]

Minor variations in the wording of the questions that enhances and clarifies meaning can have positive effects on the child’s performance. McGarrigle (quoted Donaldson, 1978) showed children 4 toy cows, 3 black and 1 white, all were lying asleep on their sides. If the children were asked “Are there more black cows or more cows?” [as in a standard Piagetian experiment with a meaningless trap wording of the question] they tended not to answer correctly. McGarrigle found that in a group of children aged 6 years old, 25% answered the standard Piagetian question correctly, and when it was rephrased, 48% of the children answered correctly – a significant increase. From such an observation it was deduced that some of the difficulty of the task was in the wording of the question rather than just an inability to understand part-whole relations.

Donaldson (1978) put forward a different reason from Piaget as a cause for children’s poor performance in conservation tasks, he argued that children have a build in model of the world by formulating hypotheses that help them anticipate future events based on their past experiences. Hence, in the case of the child there is an expectation about any situation, and his/her interpretation of the words she hears will be influenced by the expectations she brings to the situation. When in a conservation experiment, for example, the experimenter asks a child if there are the same number of sweets in two rows [FIGURE D(a)]. Then one of the rows is changed by the experimenter while emphasising that it is being altered. Donaldson suggested that it is quite fair to assume that a child may be compelled to deduce that there would be a link between the change that occurred [the display change] and the following question [about the number of sweets in each row]; otherwise why would such a precise question come from an adult if there had not been any change? If the child is of the belief that adults only carry actions when they desire a change, then he/she might assume that a change has occurred.

McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) explored this idea in an experiment with a character known as “Naughty Teddy”, and it was this character rather than the experimenter who changed the display layout and the modification was explained to the children as an “accident” [in such a context the child might have less expectation that a deliberate treatment had been applied to the objects, and there would be no reason to believe a change had taken place]. This procedure was setup in such a way because McGarrigle and Donaldson found that children were more likely to give the correct answer [that the objects remained the same after being messed up by Naughty Teddy] in this new context than in the classical Piagetian context.

Piaget was correct to point out the problems that pre-operational children face with conservation and other reasoning tasks. However, other researchers since Piaget have found out that, given the appropriate wording and context, young children seem capable of demonstrating at least some of the abilities that Piaget thought only developed later [even if these abilities are not well developed at such a stage].

Piaget also found that pre-operational children had difficulties when faced with tasks requiring “transitive inferences”. In this case, the children were showed 2 rods, A and B. Rod A was longer than Rod B, and then Rod A was taken out of sight of the children, who were then showed only Rod B and Rod C [B was longer than C]. When the children were then asked which rod was longer, Rod A or Rod C? Young children on the pre-operational stage find such questions hard and Piaget provided the explanation that these children cannot make logical inferences such as: if A is longer than B and B is longer than C, then A must be longer than C.

Bryant and Trabasso (1971) also considered transitive inference tasks and wondered whether children’s difficulties had more to do with remembering all the specific information about the objects rather than making an inference [i.e. for children to respond correctly they would not only have to make an inference but also remember the lengths of all the rods they had seen]. Bryant and Trabasso proposed that it was possible that young children [with brains still growing and developing physiologically] who have limited working memory capacity, were unable to retain in memory all the information they needed for the task.

In another scenario, children were faced with the similar task in an investigation of transitive inferences, however this time they were trained to remember the lengths of the rods [they were trained on the comparisons they needed to remember, i.e., that A was longer than B, and B was longer than C]. It is only when Bryant and Trabasson were satisfied that the children could remember all the information were they asked the test question [i.e. which rod was longer? A or C?]. The experimenters found that children could now answer correctly. So, the difficulty that Piaget noted in those tasks was more to do with forgetting some of the information needed to make the necessary comparisons, rather than a failure in making logical inferences.

 

III. The Concrete Operational Stage (about 7 – 12 years) | Stage 3 of 4

Mikail Akar Art Education Jan 2020 dpurb site web

Image: Mikail Akar, the 7-year-old being crowned the “Mini Picasso” (2020)

At the age of about 7 years old, the thinking processes of children change once again as they develop a new set of strategies which Piaget called “concrete operations”. These strategies are considered concrete because children can only apply them to immediately present objects. However, thinking becomes much more flexible during the concrete operational period because children lose their tendency to simply focus on one aspect of the problem, rather now, they are able to consider different aspects of a task at the same time. They now have processes like compensation and reversibility [as explained earlier in understanding volume], and they now succeed on conservation tasks. For example, when a round ball of clay is transformed into a sausage shape, children in the concrete operational stage will say, “It’s longer but it’s thinner” or “If you change it back, it will be the same.”

Conservation of number is achieved first [about 5 or 6 years], then this is followed by the conservation of weight [around 7 or 8], and the conservation of volume is fully understood at about 10 or 11 years old. Operations like addition and subtraction, multiplication and division become easier at this stage. Another major shift comes with the concrete operational child’s ability to classify and order, and to understand the principle of class inclusion. The ability to consider different aspects of a situation at the same time enables a child to perform successfully in perspective taking tasks [e.g. in the three mountains task of Piaget, a child can consider that she has one view of the model and that someone else may have a different view].

However, there are still some limitations on thinking, because children are reliant on the immediate environment and have difficulty with abstract ideas. Take the following question: “Edith is fairer than Susan. Edith is darker than Lily. Who is the darkest and who is the fairest?” Such a problem is quite difficult for concrete operational children who may not be able to answer it correctly. However, if children instead are given a set of dolls representing Susan, Edith and Lily, they are able to answer the question quickly. Hence, when the task is made a “concrete” one, in this case with physical representations, children can deal with the problem, but when it is presented verbally, as an abstract task, children have difficulty. Abstract reasoning is not found within the repertoire of the child’s skills until the latter has reached the stage of formal operations.

 

Revisions of the Concrete Operational Stage

A great amount of Piaget’s observations and conclusions about the concrete operational stage have been broadly confirmed by subsequent research. Tomlinson-Keasey (1978) found that conservation of number, weight and volume are acquired in the order stated by Piaget.

As in the previous stage, the performance of children in the concrete operational period may be influenced by the context of the task. In some context, children in concrete operational period may display more advanced reasoning that would typically be expected of children in that stage. Jahoda (1983) showed that 9-year-olds in Harare, Zimbabwe, had more advanced understanding of economic principles than British 9-year-olds. The Harare children, who were involved in the small business of their parents, had strong motivation to understand the principles of profit and loss. Jahoda set up a mock shop and played a shopping game with the children. The British 9-year-olds could not provide any explanation about the functioning of the shop, did not understand that a shopkeeper buys for less than he sells, and did not know that some of the profit has to be set aside for the purchase of new goods. The Harare children, by contrast, had mastered the concept of profit and could understand trading strategies. These principles had been grasped by the children as a direct outcome of their own active participation in running a business. Jahoda’s experiment, like Donaldson’s studies (1978), indicated the important function of context in the cognitive development of children.

 

IV. The Formal Operational Stage (12 years old) | Stage 4 of 4

During the third period of development, the Concrete operations stage, we have seen that the child is able to reason in terms of objects [e.g., classes of objects, relations between objects) when the objects are present. Piaget argued that only during the period of Formal Operations that young people are able to reason hypothetically, now they no longer depend on the “concrete” existence of objects in the real world, instead they now reason with verbally stated hypotheses to consider logical relations among several possibilities or to deduce conclusions from abstract statements [e.g. consider the syllogistic statement, “all blue birds have two hearts”; “I have a blue bird at home called Adornia”; “How many hearts does Adornia have?” The young person who has now reached formal operational thinking will give the correct answer by abstract logic, which is: “Two hearts!” Children within the previous stage will generally not get past complaining about the absurdity of the scenario.

Young people are now also better at solving problems by considering all possible solutions systematically. If requested to formulate as many combinations of grammatically correct words from the letters A, C, E, N, E, V, A, a young person at the formal operational stage could first consider all combination of letters AC, AE, AN, etc., verifying if such combinations are words, and then going on to consider all three letter combinations, and so on. In the earlier stages, children would attend to such tasks in a disorganised and unsystematic fashion.

Inhelder and Piaget (1958) explained the process of logical reasoning used by young people when presented with a number of natural science experiments. An example of one of their task, “The Pendulum Task” can be seen in Figure E.

FE Piaget - Pendulum Prob

FIGURE E. The pendulum problem. The child is given a pendulum, different lengths of string, and different weights. She is asked to use these to work out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum (from Inhelder and Piaget, 1958).

The young person as the participant here is given a string [that can be shortened or lengthened], and a set of weights, and then asked to figure out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum. The possible factors are the length of the string, the weight at the end of the string, the height of the release point and the force of the push. In this particular scenario the solutions to the solving the problem are all in front of the participant, however the successful reasoning involves formal operations that would also have to incorporate a systematic consideration of various possibilities, the formulation of hypotheses (e.g., “What could happen if I tried a heavier weight?”) and logical deductions from the results of trials with different combinations of materials.

The other tasks investigated by Inhelder and Piaget (1958) included determining the flexibility of metal rods, balancing different weights around a fulcrum, and predicting chemical reactions. These tasks mimic the steps required for scientific inquiry, and Piaget argued that formal scientific reasoning is one of the most important characteristic of formal operational thinking. From his original work, carried out in schools in Geneva, Piaget claimed that formal operational thinking was a characteristic stage that children or young people reached between the ages of 11 and 15 years – having previously gone through the earlier stages of development.

 

Revision of the Formal Operational Stage

Piaget’s claim has been rectified by recent research, more researchers have found that the achievement of formal operational thinking is more gradual and haphazard than Piaget assumed – it may be dependent on the nature of the task and is often limited to certain domains.

FF Piaget - Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stg

FIGURE F. Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stages as assessed by three tasks (from Shayer and Wylam, 1978).

Shayer et al. (1976; Shayer and Wylam 1978) gave problems such as the pendulum task [FIGURE E] to school children in the UK. Their results [see FIGURE F] showed that by 16 years of age only about 30% of young people had achieved “early formal operations” [Is this shocking compared to French speaking Europe where Piaget implemented his theory? Could this provide a partial explanation to the lack of personality, emotion, creativity, openness, depth and sophistication in some populations? Interesting questions…]. Martorano (1977) gave ten of Piaget’s formal operational tasks to girls and young woman aged 12 – 18 years in the USA. At 18 years of age success on the different tasks varied from 15% to 95%; but only 2 children out of 20 succeeded on all ten tasks. Young people’s success on one or two tasks might indicate some formal operational reasoning, but their failure on other tasks demonstrated that such reasoning might be limited to certain tasks or contexts. It is highly likely that young people only manage to achieve and apply formal reasoning across a range of problem tasks much later during their adolescence.

Formal thinking has been shown by some researchers as an ability that can be achieved through training, FIGURE G shows the results of such a study by Danner and Day (1977), where they mentored students aged 10 years, 13 years and 17 years in 3 formal operational tasks. As expected, training had a limited effect on the 10-year-olds, but it had marked effects at 17 years old. In summary, it seems that the period from 11 – 15 years signals the beginning of the potential for formal operational thought, rather than its achievement. Formal operational thought may only be used some of the time, in the domains we are generally familiar with, are trained in, or which have a great significance to us – in most cases formal thinking is not used. After all, we tend to know areas of life where we should have thought things out logically, but in retrospect realise we did not do so [without any regrets sometimes].

FG Piaget - LvL of availability of formal thought

FIGURE G. Levels of availability of formal thought. Percentage of adolescents showing formal thought, with and without coaching (from Danner and Day, 1977).

The Educational Implications of Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s theory was planned and developed over many decades throughout his long life, and at first, it was slow to make any productive impact in the UK and the USA, but from the 1950s its ambitious, embracing framework for understanding cognitive growth was becoming the accepted and dominant paradigm in cognitive development.

Whatever the shortcomings are with Piaget’s theory, it impossible to deny his ingenious contributions, as his approach provided the most comprehensive description of cognitive growth ever put forward on earth. It has had considerable impact in the domains of education, most notably for child-centred learning methods in nursery and infant schools, for mathematics curricula in the primary school, and for science curricula at the secondary school level.

Piaget argued that young children’s thinking processes are quite different from that of an adult, and they also view he world from a qualitatively different perspective. It goes with the logic that a teacher must make a firm effort to adapt to the child and never assume that what may be appropriate for adults should necessarily be right for the child. The idea of “active learning” is what lies at the heart of this child-centre approach to education. From the Piagetian perspective, children learn better from actions rather than from passive observations [e.g., telling a child about the properties of a particular material is less effective than creating an environment in which the child is free to explore, touch, manipulate and experiment with different materials]. A good teacher should recognise that each child needs to construct knowledge for him or herself, and active learning results in deeper understanding.

JeanPiaget

“Our real problem is: what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds capable of discovery from the preschool age through life?” – Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)

So, how can a teacher promote active learning on the part of the pupil? First, it should be the child rather than the teacher who initiates the activity. This should not lead us to allow the child a complete freedom to do anything they want to do, but rather a teacher should set tasks which are finely adjusted to the needs of their pupils and which, as a result, are intrinsically motivating to young learners. For example, nursery school classrooms can provide children with play materials that encourage their learning; set of toys that encourage the practice of sorting, grading and counting; play areas, like the Wendy House, where children can develop role-taking skills through imaginative and explorative play; and materials like water, sand, bricks and crayons that help children make their own constructions and create symbolic representations of the objects and people in their lives. From this range of experiences, the child develops knowledge and understanding for herself, and a good teacher’s role is to create the conditions in which learning may best take place, since the aim of education is to encourage the child to ask questions, try out experiments and speculate, rather than accept information and routine conventions unthinkingly – this also allows the child to learn and be creative about her subjective experience which is unique and different to any other child.

(1919) Jaroslava &amp; Jiri by Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939)

(1919) Jaroslava & Jiri, The Artist’s Children by Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)

Secondly, a teacher should be concerned with the process rather that the end-product. This is in line with the belief that a teacher should be interested in the reasoning behind the answer that a child gives to a question rather than just in the correct answer. Conversely, mistakes should not be penalised, but treated as responses that can give a teacher insight into the child’s thinking processes at that time.

The whole idea of active learning resulted in changed attitudes towards education in all its domains. A teacher’s role is not to impart information, because in Piaget’s view, knowledge is not something to be transmitted from an expert master teacher to an inexpert pupil. It should be the child, according to Piaget, who sets the pace, where the teacher’s role is to create situations that challenge the child [creatively] to ask questions, to form hypotheses and to discover new concepts. A teacher is the guide in the child’s process of discovery, and the curriculum should be adapted to each child’s individual needs and intellectual level.

In mathematics and science lessons at primary school, children are helped to make the transition from pre-operational thinking to concrete operations through carefully arranged sequences of experiences which develop an understanding for example of class inclusion, conservation and perspective-taking. At a later period, a teacher can also encourage practical and experimental work before moving on to abstract deductive reasoning. Through this process, a teacher can provide the conditions that are appropriate for the transition from concrete operational thinking to the stage of formal operations.

The post-Piagetian research into formal operational thought also has strong implications for teaching, especially science teaching in secondary schools. The tasks that are used in teaching can be analysed for the logical abilities that are required to fulfil them, and the tasks can then be adjusted to the age and expected abilities of the children who will attempt them.

Considering the wide range of activities and interests that appear in any class of children, learning should be individualised, so that tasks are appropriate to individual children’s level of understanding. Piaget did not ignore the importance of social interaction in the process of learning, he recognised the social value of interaction and viewed it as an important factor in cognitive growth. Piaget pointed out that through interaction with peers, a child can move out of the egocentric viewpoint. This generally occurs through cooperation with others, arguments and discussions. By listening to the opinion of others, having one’s own view challenged and experiencing through others’ reactions the illogicality of certain concepts, a child can learn about perspectives other than her own [egocentric]. Communication of ideas to others also helps a child to sharpen concepts by finding the appropriate words.

SigmundFreudYouthAge

 

“Everyone knows that Piaget was the most important figure the field has ever known… [he] transformed the field of developmental psychology.”

(Flavell, 1996, p.200)

“Once psychologists looked at development through Piaget’s eyes, they never saw children in quite the same way.”

(Miller, 1993, p.81)

“A towering figure internationally.”

(Bliss, 2010, p.446)

 

__________

 

(II) The Theory of Attachment in Emotional Development (John Bowlby)

If we pick up a new born baby , he/she will respond without any difference to us or to any other person. However, after 9 months, the same baby will have developed one or more selective attachments and will discriminate familiar faces to unfamiliar ones. So, if we were to pick up the baby again, we may face scenarios where he/she displays anxiety or cries, but if the mother or father picks her/him up, the baby will be reassured and pacified.

This section will explore and give an account of the development of attachment relationships between infants, parents, and other close primary caregivers. The significance of such attachments for development in adult life will also be considered, with its implication for the philosophy of education in sculpting the minds of tomorrow, along with some research on parenting styles analysing some of the factors affecting successful and less successful parenting.

 

The Development of Attachment Relationships: Attachment as an innate drive

The infant’s expression of emotions and the caregiver’s response to these emotions is the fundamental foundation of John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment. Bowlby’s (1958, 1969 / 1982, 1973, 1980) theory was inspired and influenced by an exciting and creative range of disciplines including psychoanalysis, ethology and the biological sciences. Before Bowlby, the main assumption and view of the infant-mother attachment was that it was a “secondary drive” or a side-product of the infant associating the mother with the provision of physiological needs, such as hunger [Picture B – breast feeding image].

Breastfeeding Mother

PICTURE B. Early theories of infant-mother attachment suggested that it was a secondary drive resulting from the mother satisfying the infant’s primary drives, such as hunger. / Photography:  Jo Frances

Bowlby defied this logic, and argued convincingly that attachment was an innate primary drive in all infants, and while his theory went through many revisions over the years, this argument remained fundamental.

In Bowlby’s first version of his theory of attachment (Bowlby, 1958), the emphasis was on the role of behaviours resulting from our instincts [on how behaviours such as crying, clinging and smiling served the purpose of eliciting a reciprocal attachment response from the caregiver]:

There matures in the early months of life of the human infant a complex and nicely balanced equipment of instinctual responses, the function of which is to ensure that he obtains parental care sufficient for his survival. To this end the equipment includes responses which promote his close proximity to a parent and… evoke parental activity.

(Bowlby, 1958, p. 346)

However, in the 1969 version of his theory (1st volume of his trilogy, Attachment and Loss),  Bowlby focussed on highlighting the dynamics of attachment behaviour, and switched to explaining the infant-mother tie in terms of a goal-corrected system which was triggered by environmental cues rather than innate instinctual behaviours. Whether attachment is instinctual or goal-corrected, we know that it eventually leads to the infant maintaining proximity to the primary caregiver.

Bowlby acknowledged that the development of an attachment relationship was not dependent purely upon the social and emotional interplay between infant and caregiver. Since we can only observe attachment behaviour primarily when the infant is separated from the caregiver, it is logically dependent upon the infant’s level of cognitive development in the ability for object permanence [i.e. the ability to represent an object (living or non-living) that is not physically present within the child’s proximity].

This seems to synchronise partly with Piaget’s outlook and theory of cognitive development, and indeed Bowlby was inspired by Jean Piaget, and based his argument on Piaget’s (1955) contention that this level of object permanence is not attained until the infant is approximately 8 months old. Furthermore, while children would be able to recognise familiar people before such age, they would still not miss the attachment figure and thus display attachment behaviour until they have reached the level of cognitive sophistication that comes with the ability to represent absent objects [and people, who are in the same class].

 

The Phases of Attachment: Development of Attachment Relationships

Let us imagine a classic example of a mother and child [about 1 – 2 year-old] in a park. What we might observe is that the mother is seated on a bench while the infant runs off to explore the area. Periodically, the child may be seen to stop and look back at the mother, and every once in a while may even return close to her, or make physical contact, staying close for a while before venturing off again. In most cases, the infant rarely goes beyond about 60 metres from the mother or primary caregiver, who may however have to go and retrieve the child if the distance gets too great or if the need to leave is imminent.

The scenario here from a developmental psychologist’s perspective is fairly simple; the infant is exploring the environment it is being exposed to inquisitively, and is using the mother as a “secure base” to which to return periodically for reassurance. This is one of the hallmarks of an “attachment relationship”. These observations of children in parks were made by a student of John Bowlby, Anderson (1972) in London, and the development of attachment has been described in detail by John Bowlby (1969).

Bowlby (1969, p. 79) described 4 phases in the development of attachment and subsequently extended it to a 5th.

The phases are:

I. The pre-attachment phase (0 – 2 months) is characterised by the infant showing hardly any differentiation in their responses to familiar or unfamiliar faces.

II. During the second phase (2 – 7 months), the foundations of attachment are being laid. Here infants start to recognise their caregivers, even if they still do not possess the ability to show attachment behaviours upon separation. The infant is also more likely to smile at the mother or important caregivers and to be comforted by them if distressed.

bebe-mange-puree-de-fruits.jpg

III. Clear cut attachment behaviours only start to appear after 7 months. At this phase, infants start to protest at being separated from their caregivers and become very wary of strangers [so called stranger anxiety] – this is often taken as a definition of attachment to caregiver and this onset of attachment happens from 7 – 9 months.

IV. When the attachment relationship has evolved into a goal-corrected partnership (from around 24 months / 2 years of age), [i.e. when the child also begins to accommodate to the mother’s needs, e.g. being prepared to wait alone if requested until the mother returns]. This is an important change because before this phase, the infant only saw the mother as a resource that had to be available when needed. Bowlby saw this as characterising the child at 3 years of age, although as mentioned from 2 years old babies can partly accommodate to verbal requests by mothers to await for her return (Weinraub and Lewis, 1977). From this phase onwards, the child relies on representation or internal working models of attachment relationships to guide their future social interactions.

V. The lessening of attachment is noticed as measured by the child maintaining proximity. The characteristics of a school-age child, and older, is the idea of a relationship based more on abstract considerations such as affection, trust, loyalty and approval, exemplified by an internal working model of the relationship.

Bowlby viewed attachment as a canalized developmental process where both the mainly instinctive repertoire of the new born and certain forms of learning are important in early social interactions. Certain aspects of cognitive sensori-motor development [as supported by Jean Piaget] are also fundamental for attachment. Until the developing infant can master the concept of cause-effect relations, and of the continued existence of objects [incl. persons] when out of sight, he or she cannot protest at separation and attempt to maintain proximity [note the importance of object permanence in emotional development and internal working models]. Hence, sensori-motor development is also a canalised process, and it should not be in opposition to an ethological and a cognitive-learning approach to attachment development.

 

Attachments: Between whom?

Many articles and textbooks have characterised the attachment relationship as mainly focussed on the mother (e.g. Sylvia and Lunt, 1981), and this may not be completely true, since many studies have suggested that early attachments are usually multiple, and although the strongest attachment is often to the mother, this need not always be so.

In a study conducted in Scotland, mothers were interviewed and asked to whom their toddlers showed separation protest (Schaffer and Emerson, 1964), the proportion of babies with more than 1 attachment figure increased from 29% when separation protest first appeared [about 7 – 9 months] to 87% at 18 months [1 and half year old]. It was also found that for about one third of babies, the strongest attachment seemed to be to someone other than the mother, such as father, or other trusted primary caregivers. In most cases, attachment were formed to responsive persons who interacted and played a lot with the infant; basic caregiving such as nappy changing was clearly not in itself such an important factor; and similar results were obtained by Cohen and Campos (1974).

UglyLeeches

Peinture: Sandrine Arbon

Studies in other cultures also support this conclusion, for example in the Israeli kibbutzim, young children spend the majority of their waking hours in small communal nurseries, in the charge of a nurse or metapelet. In a study of 1- and 2- year-olds reared in this way, it was found that the infants were very strongly attached to both the mother, and the metapelet; either could serve as a base for exploration, and provide reassurance when the infant felt insecure (Fox, 1977). In many agricultural societies, mothers tend to work in the fields, and often leave infants in the village, in the care of grandparents, or older siblings, returning periodically to breastfeed. In a survey of 186 non-industrial societies, it was found that the mother was rated as the “almost exclusive” caretaker in infancy in only 5 of them; hence other persons had important caregiving roles in 40% of societies during the infancy period, and in 80% of societies during early childhood (Weisner and Gallimore, 1977).

 

The Security of Attachment

Early infant-caregiver attachment relationships and the internal working models are the main aspects of Bowlby’s theory of attachment and have been given the greatest attention, with researchers developing 2 of the most widely used measuring instruments in developmental psychology to investigate Bowlby’s theoretical claims: the strange situation procedure to assess the goal-corrected system that evolved from the early attachment relationship, and the Adult Attachment Interview to assess internal working models.

Bowlby’s theory was focussed and interested with the making and breaking of attachment ties, probably because his experiences of working as a child psychologist exposed him to the negative consequences for emotional development of severe maternal deprivation [such as long term separation or being orphaned].

Nowadays, researchers and intellectuals are generally less concerned with whether a child has formed an attachment [since any child who experiences any degree of continuous care will become attached to the caregiver], but are rather more interested in the quality or security of the attachment relationship. This important shift in emphasis was due to the empirical work of Mary Ainsworth.

Ainsworth interest in the concept of attachment grew after working with Bowlby in London during the 1950s. Later, she moved to Uganda to live with the Ganda people where she made systematic observations of infant-mother interactions in order to investigate Bowlby’s goal-corrected attachment systems in action.

One factor that struck Mary Ainsworth (1963; 1967), was the lack of uniformity in infant’s attachment behaviour, in terms of its frequency, strength, and degree of organisation. Furthermore, these differences were not specific to Gandan infants, since she replicated these findings in a sample of children in the USA when she moved to Baltimore. These variations in attachment type had not been accounted for by John Bowlby’s Theory and hence, this led Ainsworth to investigate the question of individual differences in attachment.

Mary Ainsworth experience of working with Bowlby, along with her rich collection of data harvested over a period of many years, put her in a unique position in the development of attachment as an empirical field of research. Her contribution led to attachment issues becoming part of mainstream developmental psychology, rather than being simply confined to child psychiatry, and behind this achievement was an investigation of the development of attachment under normal family conditions and by developing a quick and effective way of assessing attachment patterns in the developmental laboratory.

Although the strange situation procedure (Ainsworth & Wittig, 1969) circumvented [found a way around] the need for researchers to conduct lengthy observations in the home, it was not developed simply for research convenience, but because there are problems in trying to evaluate attachment type in the child’s own home environment. For example, if a child becomes extremely distressed upon the mother moving to another room in their own home environment, this may be an indication of a less than optimal attachment achieved, because if a child feels secure then such a separation should not trigger any distress. The extensive experience of Ainsworth in observing infant-mother interactions enabled her to identify the situations that we most crucial in attachment terms, and therefore formed the basis of the strange situation procedure.

 

The Strange Situation Procedure

Ainsworth and her colleagues then developed a method for assessing the attachment strength of an individual infant towards her mother or caregiver (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The method is known as the Strange Situation, and has been widely used with 12 – 24 months old infants in many countries worldwide. To sum up, it is a method for checking in a standardised way, how well the infant uses the caregiver as a secure base for exploration, and is comforted by the caregiver after a lightly stressful experience.

The strange situation assesses infants’ responses to separations from and subsequent reunions with, the caregiver [mother here], and their reactions to an unfamiliar woman [the so-called “stranger”]. In the testing room, there are only 2 chairs [one for the mother and one for the stranger] and a range of toys with which the infant can play.

TA - The Strange Situation Procedure

Table A. The Strange Situation Procedure

As Table A shows, the episodes are ordered so that the infant’s attention should shift from the exploration of the environment to attachment behaviour towards the caregiver as the Strange Situation proceeds. The most crucial points are the infant’s responses to the 2 reunion episodes, and form the basis for assessing an infant’s security of attachment. The coding scheme for security attachment was developed by Ainsworth et al. (1978) and describes infant behaviour according to 4 indices:

1) Proximity-seeking
2) Contact-maintenance
3) Resistance
4) Avoidance

Referring to Table A, in a well-functioning attachment relationship, it would generally assumed that the infant would use the mother as a base to explore [Episodes 2, 3 and the end of Episode 5], but be stressed by the mother’s absence (Episodes 4, 6 and 7;  these episodes are cancelled if the infant is overly distressed or the mother wants to return sooner]. Special attention is also given to the infant’s behaviour in the reunion episodes (5 and 8), to see if her or she is effectively comforted by the mother. Based on those measures, Ainsworth and others distinguished a number of different attachment types.

The 4 primary ones are:

Type A – Insecure Avoidant Attachment

Insecure-Avoidant (Type A) infants display high levels of environment-directed behaviour to the detriment of attachment behaviour towards the caregiver [i.e. Avoidant (A) – avoids caregiver and explores environment]. The Insecure Avoidant Types display little if any proximity-seeking behaviour, and even tend to avoid the caregiver, by averting gaze or turning or moving away, if the caregiver attempts to make contact. Throughout the whole process of the Strange Situation, Insecure Avoidant infants appear completely indifferent toward the caregiver, and treat both the latter and the stranger is very similar ways; hence, these infants may show less avoidance of the stranger than of the caregiver.

Note that conversely, the (Type C) Insecure Resistant / Ambivalent Attached infants show high levels of environmental-directed behaviour to the detriment of the caregiver [the complete opposite to Type A].

Type B – Secure Attachment

When the dynamics of the attachment relationship is a balance between environmental exploration and attachment behaviour directed towards the caregiver [See PICTURE C], then the securely attached infants are considered as having the right balance.

PC Attachment as a balance of behaviour TA

PICTURE C. Attachment as a balance of behaviour directed toward mother and the environment. Source: Adapted from Meins (1997).

The presence of the caregiver in the pre-separation episodes affords them the security to turn their attention to exploration and play, with the confident knowledge that the caregiver will be available for comfort or support should it be required. However, attachment behaviour is triggered in securely-attached infants during the separation episodes, leading to seek contact, comfort, proximity or interaction with the caregiver when they return. Securely attached infants may or may not become distressed upon separation from caregivers, and this makes the infants’ response to separation a relatively unreliable and poor indicator of attachment security. However, regardless of their response to separation, securely attached children are marked by their positive and quick response to the caregiver’s return, displayed generally by their readiness to approach, greet and interact with the caregiver.

It important to note that Type B [Secure] Attachment is the only “secure” attachment in the group, all the rest are insecure attachment types, and in contrast to Type B, they have their balance of infant attachment tipped to either extreme [i.e. Avoidant (A) – avoids caregiver and explores environment / Resistant (C) – avoids environment and exhausts caregiver]

Type C- Insecure Resistance / Ambivalent

Insecure-resistant infants are over-involved with [to the point of exhausting] the caregiver, showing attachment behaviour even during the pre-separation episodes, with little or no interest in exploring the environment. The Insecure Resistant (Type C) infants tend to become extremely distressed upon separation, however, the over-activation of their attachment system hampers their ability to be comforted by the caregiver upon reunion – this leads to angry or petulant behaviour, with the infant resisting contact with and from the caregiver [in extreme cases this manifests itself as tantrum behaviour where the caregiver may sometimes be hit or kicked by the infant].

Type D – Insecure Disorganised

Besides the original 3 categories mentioned above distinguished by Ainsworth et al. (1978), Main and Solomon (1986, 1990) established a fourth category, Type D [Insecure Disorganised Attachment] for infants whose behaviours appeared not to match any of the A [Avoidant], B [Secure] and C [Resistant/Ambivalent] categories. These insecure-disorganised infants look disoriented during the strange situation procedure, and display no clear strategy for coping with separations from and reunion with their caregivers. Infants classified as insecure-disorganised may simultaneously display contradictory behaviour during the reunion episodes, such as seeking proximity while also displaying obvious avoidance [e.g. backing to which the caregiver or approaching with head sharply averted]. Insecure-disorganised infants (Type D) may also react to reunion with fearful, stereotypical or odd behaviours [e.g. rocking themselves, ear pulling, or freezing]. Main and Hesse (1990) argued that, although the classification criteria for insecure-disorganised attachment are diverse, the characteristic disorganised behaviours all include a lack of coherence in the infant’s response to attachment distress and betray the “contradiction or inhibition of action as it is being undertaken” (p.173).

Main and her colleagues (1985) believe the Type D [Insecure-disorganised ] is a useful extension of the original Ainsworth classification.

There are many subtypes of these main types, however most studies do not refer to them, and in older studies, type D babies [who are often difficult to classify as they do not show a clear pattern] were ‘forced’ into 3-way and 4-way classifications.

In most cases, type B babies (secure – considered as most desired, i.e. “normal” / although debated] are compared with types A and C [inscure-avoidant and insecure-resistant/ambivalent], and the type B [secure-attachment] tends to be seen as developmentally normal, or advantageous. Many criticisms have been made of the attachment typing resulting from the Strange Situation procedure (Lamb et al., 1984), particularly of the earlier work that was based on small samples, and of the normative assumption that “B is best”. They also pointed out the procedure only measures the relationship between mother and infant, and not the characteristics of the infant. Since attachment security is the dyadic measure, infant-mother attachment type is not necessarily the same as infant-father attachment type. In fact, many studies have found that the attachment type to father is not related to that with the mother; meta-analyses (Fox et al., 1991; van Ijzendoorn and De Wolff, 1997) found a very modest association between the two.

However, the strange situation procedure is today a commonly and internationally used technique. One of the most important test of utility of attachment types is that it should allow us to predict other aspects of development, and we now have considerable evidence for this (see Bretherton and Waters, 1985 and Waters et al., 1995, for reviews).

Kochanska (2001) followed infants longitudinally from 9 to 33 months and observe their emotions in standard laboratory episodes designed to elicit fear, anger or joy. Over time, type A (Avoidant – towards caregiver) infants became more fearful, type C (Resistant/Ambivalent – exhausts caregiver) infants became less joyful, type D (Disorganised – does not fit in A, B or C behavioural categories) infants became more angry; whereas type B (Secure) infants showed less fear, anger or distress. Using the strange situation procedure, secure attachment to mother at 12 months has been found to predict curiosity and problem solving at age 2, social confidence at nursery school at age 3, and empathy and independence at age 5 (Oppenheim et al., 1988), and a lack of behaviour problems (in boys) at age 6 (Lewis et al., 1984).

Is the Strange Situation valid across populations worldwide?

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) provided a cross-cultural comparison of strange situation studies in a variety of different countries. In American studies, some 70% of infants were classified as securely attached to their mothers (type B), some 20% as Type A, and some 10% as Type C. However, German investigators found that some 40-50% of infants were of Type A (Grossman et al., 1981), while a Japanese study found 35% to be of Type C (Miyake et al., 1985). These percentages do raise the question about the nature of “insecure attachment”: is it a less satisfactory mode of development or are these just different styles of interaction?

Takahashi (1990) argued that the Strange Situation must be interpreted carefully when it is applied across cultures. He found that Japanese were excessively distressed by infant alone episode (episode 6 – Table A), because generally in Japanese culture babies are never left alone at 12 months. This is the reason why fewer Japanese babies scored B (Secure). It is also important to note, that there was no chance for them to show avoidance (and score A – insecure avoidant), since the mother seeing the level of distress went straight on without hesitation to pick up the baby. This may also be possible explanation as to why many Japanese babies were C (Insecure Resistant/Ambivalent) at 12 months [still they are not at 24 months, nor are adverse consequences apparent]. This distortion can be avoided by virtually omitting episode 6 (see Table A) for such babies. Rothbaum et al. (2000) do take a more radical stance, in comparing the assessment security in the USA and Japan. They argue that these two cultures put different cultural values on constructs such as independence, autonomy, social competence and sensitivity; such that some fundamental tenets of attachment theory are called into question as cross-cultural universals.

Cole (1998) suggested that we need information of the geographical trends in socio-behavioural patterns [culture, heritage, language, arts, etc] under study if we are to understand the nature of the everyday interactions that shape the development of young children in relation to their caregivers. The strange situation may be a valid indicator but we at least need to redefine the meaning of the categories “avoidant, secure and resistant / ambivalent” according to the geographical socio-behavioural patterns [culture]. He also argued that although it is a standardised test, strange situation is really a different situation in different environmental circumstances. However for successful use of the strange situation in a non-western culture [one that is not of Western European heritage], we can take a look at the Dogon people of Mali.

Infant-mother attachment among the Dogon of Mali

The study we are about to discuss is a very rare one among its kind which took place among the Dogon people of Eastern Mali, a primarily agrarian people living by subsistence farming of millet and other crops, as well as cash economy in towns [see PICTURE D].

PD - Dogon mother spinning cotton with child on her lap

PICTURE D. Dogon mother spinning cotton with child on her lap

The study was carried out in 2 villages with a total population of about 400, and one town population of 9000, with the researchers attempting to get a complete coverage of infants born between mid-July and mid-September 1989. Not all infants could take part, due to relocation or refusal, and the researchers excluded 2 infants who had birth defects, and 8 suffering from severe malnutrition. In addition, after recruitment two infants die before or during the two-month testing period. Finally, 42 mother-infant pairs took part and provide a good quality data. The infants were 10 to 12 months old at the time of testing.

The Dogon are a polyamorous society, and mothers typically live in a compound with an open courtyard, often shared with co-wives. There was some degree of shared care of infants, about one half were cared for primarily or exclusively by the mother, about one third primarily by the maternal grandmother with a mother however being responsible for breastfeeding (see PICTURE E).

PE - Dogon mother breastfeeding her child

PICTURE E. Dogon mother breastfeeding her child.

Breastfeeding is a normative response by the mother to signs of distress in in the Dogon infants. Three related features of infant care in the Dogon – frequent breastfeeding on demand, quick response to infant distress, and constant proximity to the mother or caregiver – are seen as adaptive and there is high infant mortality [as in some other traditional African cultures].

The researchers have several objectives in mind, they wish to see if the strange situation could be used successfully in Dogon culture; one distribution of attachment types was obtained; whether infant security correlated with maternal sensitivity – a test of the Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis; whether infant attachment type related to patterns of attachment-related communications in mother-infant interaction – the test of what the authors call the Communication Hypothesis; and to see if frightened or frightening behaviour by the mother predicted disorganised infant attachment.

Three situations were used to obtain relevant data, the behaviour being recorded on videotape in each case. One was rather new – the Weigh-In, part of the regular well-infant examination, in which the mother handed over the infant to be weighed on a scale – and mildly stressful separation for the in, especially in Dogon culture. The other two were more standard – the strange situation, carried out in an area of courtyard separated off by hanging mats; and two 15 minute observations in the infant’s home, and the mother was cooking, bathing/caring for the infant.

The following data were obtained:

  • Infant attachment classification (from the strange situation)
  • A rating of infant security on a 9-point scale (from the strange situation)
  • Mother and infant communication related to attachment, coded by 5-point Communications Violations Rating scales (from the Weigh-in)
  • Maternal sensitivity, rated in terms of promptness, appropriateness and completeness of response to infant signals (from the home observations)
  • Frightened or frightening behaviours by the mother, such as aggressive approach, disorientation, trance state, rough handling as if baby is an object, on a 5-point scale (from the home observations and the Weigh-In).

[REMEMBER!!!! [although we are quite sure you know this already] : “r” is known as the correlation coefficient and tells us 2 things: (i) Direction of Relationship + or – & (ii) Strength of Relationship : +or- .1 is a small effect / +or- .3 is a medium effect / +or- .5 is a large effect | and p-value is the critical decider of whether to reject Null Hypothesis( i.e. the scenario we rightly thought would be opposite to our predictions) if p small enough (if p < .05 we say results were statistically significant, if p < .01 we say it is HIGHLY statistically significant) we reject the Null Hypothesis [both cases].

The strange situation was found to be feasible, following quite standard procedures. The distribution of attachment types was 67% B (Secure), 0% A (Avoidant), 8% C (Resistant/Ambivalent), and 25% D (or on a forced 3-way classification, 87% B, 0% A and 13% C). This is quite unusual in having no avoidant (A) classifications; D is high but not significantly greater than Western norms.

The Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis only received weak support. The correlation between infant security and maternal sensitivity was r = 0.28, and with p < .10; the difference in means between attachment classifications was not statistically significant (B=5.26, C=5.00, D=4.20).

The Communications Hypothesis did get support. Infant security correlated -.54 with Communications Violations (p < .001), and the attachment classifications differed significantly (B=2.66, C = 3.50, D = 3.89; p < .01).

Finally, frightened or frightening behaviour by the mother correlated r = -.40 (p < .01) with infant security, and was particularly high in children with disorganised attachment (B= 1.23, C = 1.33, D = 2.35; p < .01).

Besides demonstrating the general application of the strange situation procedure in a nonwestern group with socio-behavioural patterns very different to our own, the findings provides support for the Communication Hypothesis. The case here would have been stronger if the different kinds of communication patterns for each attachment classification had been described in more detail. For example, that insecure resistant / ambivalent (C) attachment type infants would be inconsistent and often unable to convey their intent, or to terminate their own or another’s arousal, whereas insecure disorganised (D) attachment type infants would “manifest contextually irrational behaviours and dysfluent communication” (p. 1451). As it is, the main findings show that insecure infants show more communications violations, do not describe the detailed typology. Indeed, since some of the Communications Violations rating scales were of “avoidance, resistance and disorganisation” (p. 1456), there is a possible danger of conceptual overlap between this scale and the attachment classifications.

Although support for the Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis was we, the correlation of r = .28 is in line with the average of r = .24 found in the meta-analysis by De Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn (1997) on mainly Western samples. The researchers used a multiple regression analysis to examine the contributions of both maternal sensitivity and mothers frightened/frightening behaviour, to attachment security. They found that the contribution of maternal sensitivity remain modest, whereas the contribution of mothers frightened/frightening behaviour was substantial and significant; ratings of maternal sensitivity do not normally take account of mothers frightened/frightening behaviour, and the researchers suggest that this might explain the modest effects found for maternal sensitivity to date.

The absence of avoidant (A – avoids caregiver and favours exploration) type infants is interesting and the researchers argue that, given the close contact mothers maintained with the Dogon infants, and the normal use of breastfeeding as a comforting activity, it would be very difficult for it Dogon infant to develop an avoidant strategy [this may have some similarity with the low proportion of A-type in Japanese infants). If avoidant (A) attachment is a rare or absent when infants nursed on demand (which probably characterises much of human evolution), this might suggest that A type attachment was and is a rare except in Western samples in which infants tend to be fed on schedule, and often by bottle rather than breast, so that the attachment and feeding systems are effectively separated.

Most Dogon infants showed secure (B) attachment, but 25% scored as disorganised (D) [though mostly with secure as the forced 3-way classification]. The researchers comment that the frightened or frightening behaviours were mild to moderate, and did not constitute physical abuse. But why should mothers show these sorts of behaviour at all? An intriguing possibility is that it is related to the high level of infant mortality prevalent in the Dogon. About one third of infants died before five years of age, and most mothers will have experience in early bereavement. Unresolved loss experienced by a mother is hypothesised to disorganised (D) attachment; perhaps, frightened behaviours are more rational or expected, when the risk for infants are so much higher.

This study to great efforts to be sensitive to the geographically specific socio-behavioural patterns (culture) of the venue, when using procedures and instruments derive mainly from Western samples. A Malian researcher assisted in developing the maternal sensitivity coding, and Dogon women acted as strangers in the strange situation procedure. The Weigh-In and home observations were natural settings. The authors comment, however, that future work might make more effort to tap the perceptions of mothering and attachment held by the Dogon people themselves, in addition to the constructs coming from Western psychology.

(True, M. M., et al, 2001)

 

Back Home in the West: Why do infants develop certain attachment types?

Enfant en train de lire

Individual differences in the caregiver’s sensitivity to infant’s cues were the earliest reported predictors of attachment security. Ainsworth and colleagues (Ainsworth, Bell & Stayton, 1971, 1974; Ainsworth et al., 1978) found that mothers who responded most sensitively to their infants’ cues during the first year of life tended subsequently to have securely attached infants. The insecure-avoidant (Type A) pattern of attachment was associated with mothers who tended to reject or ignore their infants’ cues, and inconsistent patterns of mothering were related insecure-resistant/ambivalent (Type C) pattern of attachment. Although further research has largely supported this link between early caregiver sensitivity and later attachment security, the strength of the relation between these factors has not been replicated. For example, De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn (1997) conducted a meta-analysis to explore the parental antecedents of attachment security using data from 21 studies involving over 1000 infant-mother says, and reported a moderate effect size for the relation between sensitivity and attachment security (r = 0.24), compared with the large effect (r = 0.85) in Ainsworth et al.’s (1978) study. This led De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn to come to the conclusion that “sensitivity cannot be considered to be the exclusive and most important factor in the development of attachment” (p. 585).

It seemed that the construct of sensitivity might have been responsible for the result, so we return to Ainsworth et al.’s (1971, 1974) original definitions in order to have a better understanding of predictors of attachment security. In this research, we were particularly influenced by Ainsworth’s focus on the caregiver’s ability not merely to respond to the infant, but to respond in a way that was consistent with the infants cue. For example, Ainsworth et al., (1971) describe how mothers of securely attached infants appeared “capable of perceiving things from the child’s point of view” (p. 43), whereas maternal insensitivity involve the mother attempting to “socialise with the baby when he is hungry, play with him when he is tired, and feed him when he is trying to initiate social interaction” (Ainsworth et al., 1974, p. 129). Meins et al. (2001) verse argued that the critical aspect of sensitivity was the caregiver’s ability to “read” the infant’s signals accurately so that the response could be matched to this passive cue from the child.

baby-bebe-d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

In order to test this proposal, Meins et al. (2001) obtain measures of mothers’ ability to read their 6-month-olds’ signals appropriately (so called mind-mindedness), and investigated the comparative strength of mind-mindedness versus general maternal sensitivity in predicting subsequent infant-mother attachment security. Meins et al. reported that maternal mind-mindedness was a better predictor of attachment security 6 months later than was maternal sensitivity, with mind-mindedness accounting for almost twice the variance in attachment security than that accounted for by sensitivity.

This seems like a strong conclusion, since the genetic factors have been accounted for and do not contribute to attachment type as van Ijzendoorn et al. (2000) argued that it has a modest if any influence on attachment type. This can be confirmed from a twin study conducted by O’Connor and Croft (2001) when they assessed 110 twin pairs in the strange situation and found concordance of 70% in monozygotic twins and 64% in dizygotic twins – not significantly different. The model suggested estimates of only 14% of variance in attachment type due to genetics, 32% to shared environment, and 53% in non-shared environment.

A study of attachments formed by babies to foster mothers (Dozier et al., 2001) found as good a concordance between mothers’ attachment state of mind (from the Adult Attachment Interview, see below) and infant attachment type from the strange situation, as for biological mother-infant pairs, once again suggesting little genetic influence on attachment type.

So, it is fairly accepted today that mothers’ mind-mindedness is an important construct and it is defined as the mother treating her infant as an individual with a mind, instead of just an organism or small creature with needs to be satisfied. The emphasis should be on responding to the infant’s inferred state of mind, rather than simply their behaviour. In a longitudinal study of 71 mother-infant pairs, they found that maternal sensitivity (responding to infant cues) and some aspects of mind-mindedness, especially appropriate mind-related comments by the mother, measured at six months, both independently predicted security of attachment at 12 months. True et al., (2001) also found evidence that mothers’ frightened or frightening behaviour may also contribute independently to attachment security (Refer to Dogon Study above – Picture D and Picture E).

We should also take note that a huge amount of variance in attachment type appears to be related non-shared environment, and this cannot be explained by generalised maternal sensitivity. It is highly probable that, mothers are more sensitive and behave differently to some infants than others, depending on birth order, gender and infant characteristics, suggesting the need for family systems on these issues (van Ijzendoorn et al., 2000).

 

Attachment Beyond Infancy & The Internal Working Model

The attachment theory proposes that children use their early experiences with their caregivers to form internal working models (Bowlby, 1969 /1982, 1980) which incorporate representations of themselves, their caregivers, and their relationships with others. These internal working models will then be used by the child as templates for interacting with others. Consequently, because of the sensitive, loving support that securely attached children’s caregivers have supplied, these children are self-confident and have a model of themselves as being worthy; they therefore expect others to behave in a sensitive and supportive fashion. Conversely, given the patterns of interaction typically experienced by avoidant and resistant infants, insecurely attached children expect people to be rejecting, or inconsistent and ambivalent when interacting with them.

The strange situation measures security of attachment in terms of behaviours; especially how the infant behaves at a reunion of the separation. The strange situation procedure is generally used with infants between the ages of 12-24 months old. For 3 – 6 year-olds, variants of the strange situation, such as a reunion episodes after separation, have been used with some success (Main and Cassidy, 1988).

Research during the last 10 years has seen attachment become a life-span construct with corresponding attempts to measure it at different developmental stages (see Melhuish, 1993, for a review). It has been revealed that as infants grow older, in Bowlby’s 4th and 5th stages, attachment relationships become less dependent on physical proximity and overt behaviour, and more dependent on abstract qualities of the relationship such as affection, trust, approval, internalised in the child and also in the adult.

Research has revealed that it is useful to think of internal representations of the relationship in the child’s mind; the child is thought of as having an internal working model of his or her relationship with the mother, and with other attachment figures (Bowlby, 1988; Main et al., 1985). These are characterised as cognitive structures embodying the memories of day-to-day interactions with the attachment figure. They may be ‘schemas’ or ‘event scripts’ that guide the child’s action with the attachment figure, based on their previous interactions and the expectations and affective experiences associated with them.

Different attachment type would be expected to have differing working models of the relationship. Secure (Type B) attachment would be based on models of trust and affection [and a Type B infant would be able to communicate openly and directly about attachment-related circumstances, such as how they felt if left alone for a while]. By contrast, a boy or girl with an Insecure Avoidant (Type A) attachment may have an internal model of his/her mother that leaves the child without any expectancy of secure comforting from the latter when he/she is distressed [the mother may in fact reject his/her approaches]. The child’s action rules then become focused on avoiding her, thus inhibiting approaches to her that could be ineffective and instead lead to further distress; and this can be problematic, as there is less open communication between mother and son, and their respective internal working models of each other are not being accurately updated.

Insecure Resistant / Ambivalent (Type C) infants might not know what to expect from their mother, and they in turn would be inconsistent in their communication with the latter and often unable to convey their intent.

PF - Boy by Land Rover - from Separation Anxiety Test

PICTURE F. Boy by Land Rover: A picture from the Separation Anxiety Test

Over the last 15 years, researchers have attempted to measure attachment quality in older children [as much as the empirical methods allowed them to do in terms of construct validity and internal consistency], by trying to tap in to their internal working models (Stevenson-Hinde and Verschueren, 2002). One of the methods used involved narrative tasks, often using doll-play; children use a doll family and some props and complete a set of standardised attachment related story beginnings. Another method used has been the Separation Anxiety Test, in which children or adolescents respond to photographs showing separation experiences [see Picture G for an example]. The child is questioned about how the child in the photograph would “feel and act”, and then how he/she [the participating child] would feel and act if in that situation (Main et al., 1985). This test was found to have a good rater reliability and consistency for 8 to 12-year-olds. Large differences in responses between children having clinical treatment for behaviour disturbance and a normal control group was found (See Table B)

TB - Two Protocols from the Separation Anxiety Test

TABLE B. Two protocols from the Separation Anxiety Test

Securely attached children generally acknowledge the anxiety due to the separation but come up with feasible coping responses; insecurely attached children generally deny the anxiety, or give inappropriate or bizarre coping responses.

 

The Adult Attachment Interview

The internal working models of relationships can normally be updated or modified as new interactions develop. It is likely possibility that for younger children, these changes must be based on actual physical encounters. However, the Main et al. (1985) suggested that in adolescents or adults who have achieved formal operational thinking [Jean Piaget’s 4th and final stage at around the age of 12 as explained in our essay], it is possible to change / modify their internal working models without the need for such direct interaction. In order to measure attachment in older adolescents and adults, they developed the Adult Attachment Interview. This is a semi-structured interview that proves memories of one’s own early childhood experiences. The transcripts are coded, not on the basis of experiences themselves, so much as on how the person reflects on and evaluate them, and how coherent total account is [Adults’ attachment classifications are not based on the nature of their actual childhood experiences, but on the way they represent these experiences, be they good or bad]. They are also generally asked to describe their childhood relationships with mother and father, and to recall times when they were separated from their parents or felt upset or rejected. There are specific questions that also deal with experiences of loss and abuse. According to their responses during the AAI, Allsopp placed into one of the 4 attachment categories: (i) Autononous, (ii) Dismissing, (iii) Preoccupied [Or Enmeshed] and (iv) Unresolved

 

(i) Autonomous Attachment

Autonomous adults are able to give coherent, well-balanced accounts of their attachment experiences, showing clear valuing of close personal and meaningful relationships [note meaningful subjectively to the individual]. These adults classified as autonomous may have experience problems in childhood, or even had a very difficult or abusive upbringings, but they can generally have an open conversation and talk openly about the negative experiences and most seem to have managed to resolve any early difficulties and conflicts. In contrast to the open and balanced way in which autonomous adults talk about childhood experiences, adults in the remaining three categories have incredible difficulties in talking about attachment relationships.

 

 (ii) Dismissing Attachment

Dismissing adults deny the importance of attachment experiences and insist they cannot recall childhood events and emotions, or provide idealised representations of the attachment relationship that they are unable to corroborate the real-life events. [i.e. dismiss attachment relationship as of little importance, concern or influence

 

(iii) Preoccupied [or Enmeshed] Attachment

Preoccupied adults lack the ability to move on from the childhood experiences, and are still overinvolved with issues relating to the early attachment relationship [generally preoccupied with dependency on their own parents and still struggle to please them].

 

(iv) Unresolved Attachment

The final category is reserved for adults who are unable to resolve feelings relating to the death of a loved one or to abuse they may have suffered [people who have not come to terms with a traumatic experience, or work through the mourning process]

It is to be noted that, people from lower socio-economic groups are slightly more likely to score as Dismissing. However the large difference is in people receiving clinical treat, the great majority of whom do not score as Autonomous on the AAI.

 

Are attachments stable over time? From Infancy to Adult Attachment Type

The main question should be asking ourselves is does the security of attachment change the life, or does infant-parent attachment set the pattern not only for later attachment in childhood, but even for one’s own future parenting? As attachment has become lifespan construct, these questions have generated considerable research and debate.

Many studies have now spanned a period of some 20 years to examine whether strange situation classification in infancy predicts Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) classification as young adults (Lewis et al., 2000; Waters et al., 2000). The outcome is varied, but some of these studies have found significant continuity of the 3 main attachment types; that is, from Secure to Autonomous; Avoidant to Dismissive, and Resistant (Ambivalent) to Enmeshed. Several studies have also found relationships between discontinuities in attachment classification, and negative life events such as the experience of parent divorce.

 

Relationship between Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and Infant-Parent Attachments

Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and classifications have been found to relate systematically to the security of the infant-parent attachment relationship. Autonomous parents are more likely to have securely attached infants, and parents in the 3 non-autonomous group. Dismissing, Preoccupied and Unresolved are much more likely to form insecure attachment relationships with their infants. This relationship has been identified for both patterns of infant-mother (e.g. Fonagy et al., 1991; Levine et al., 1991) and infant-father (Steele et al., 1996) attachment. Furthermore, unresolved maternal AAI classification has been identified as a predictor of insecure-disorganised attachment (Main & Hesse, 1990; van Ijzendoorn, 1995). Thus, the way in which a parent represents their own childhood attachment experiences is related to the types of relationship formed with their children.

 

Are attachment stable over generations?

On top of the degree of continuity over time for an individual’s attachment typing, there is also evidence for the transmission of attachment type across generations; specially from the parent’s AAI (Adult Attachment Interview) Coding and their infant’s strange situation coding. Main et al. (1985) had reported some evidence for such a link, and indeed the AAI coding system is based on it; it was argued that Autonomous adults would end up with Secure infants; Dismissing adults with Avoidant infants, Enmeshed adults with Resistant (Ambivalent) infants; and Unresolved adults would have Disorganised infants. [See Table C].

TC - Hypothesized relationships between maternal stage of mind (AAI), maternal behaviour, and child attachment type

TABLE C. Hypothesised relationships between maternal stage of mind (from the AAI – Adult Attachment Interview), maternal behaviour, and child attachment type

Van Ijzendoorn (1995) looked at a large number of available studies in the decade since Main’s work and found considerable linkage between adult AAI (Adult Attachment Interview) and infant Strange Situation coding; Van Ijzendoorn argued that this “intergenerational transmission” of attachment may be via parent responsiveness and sensitivity. We discussed above how this is only a partial explanation, and other aspects of maternal behaviour and of the home environment may also be involved.

We have considerable evidence for some degree of continuity of attachment security through life, and onto the next generation; but considerable evidence that this can be affected by life events. An adult’s attachment security can also be influenced by counselling, clinical treatment, or simply by reflection [self mind-mindedness].

Some insight into this matter comes from a study by Fonagy et al. (1994). In a longitudinal study with 100 mothers and 100 fathers in London, who are given the AAI and other measures shortly before their child was born. The strange situation was used subsequently to measure security of attachment, to mother at 12 months and the father at 18 months. As many other studies have discovered, the parent’s AAI scores predicted the Strange Situation scores of the infants. The researchers also calculated the estimates of the amount of disrupted parenting and deprivation which the parents had experienced themselves, and use the measures to find out if these influenced infant attachment, which they did. However, the amount of disrupted parenting and deprivation the parents had experienced interacted strongly with the way in which the parents had dealt with their own representations of their experiences of being parented. Coding the AAI (Adult Attachment Interview), the researchers developed a Reflective Self-function scale to assess the ability parents had to reflect on conscious and unconscious psychological states, and conflicting beliefs and desires. Of 17 mothers with deprived parenting and low reflecting self-function scores, 16 had insecurely attached infants, as might have been expected. Completely opposite to this scenario 10 mothers who had experienced deprived but had high reflective self-function scores, all had securely infants. It was argued that reflective self-function could have the saliency to change the internal working models of people, and also demonstrate resilience to adversity and a way of breaking the inter-generational transmission of insecure attachment.

Adults who experienced difficult childhoods but have overcome early adversity and insecure attachment by a process of reflection, counselling or clinical help, are known as “earned secures”, and could be distinguished from “continuous secures”, who had a positive upbringing and what most might quality as “normal” childhood. Phelps et al. (1998) made home observations of mothers and their 27-month-old children, and found that earned-secures, like continuous secures, showed positive parenting; under conditions of stress, both these groups showed more positive parenting than insecure mothers.

Another fascinating perspective on this issue of inter-generational transmission of insecure attachments would be the Holocaust study (Bar-On et al., 1998; van Ijzendoorn et al., 1999). The Holocaust refers to the experiences of Jews and other persecuted unwanted & unassimilated minorities [who did not want to be Germans] in the concentration camps of World War II to be securely offloaded/deported when Adolf Hitler’s Germany became the Third Reich and when the policies changed to focus on National Socialism and Imperial Intentions of Expansion and Conquest (1939-45).

LittleJewsToBeSentBack

Jew Children: Here we see Jew school children in 1942. They look like younger children who are just beginning school. Notice that at least 2 teachers are with them. By this time the Jewish children had been forced out of public schools. For a short time however, they we allowed to attend schools set up by the Jewish community. At the time this photograph was taken, the transports to the deportation camps had already begun. Often children under 10-years of age were not required to wear the badges, but some of these children look much younger.

Although many revisionist such as the English historian, David Irving, of this dark part of human history are finding out inaccuracies regarding the true people responsible for those massacres [since no evidence has been found of Hitler giving any extermination order] along with other atrocities as evil if not worse than the deaths in concentration camps [for a section of a population that was causing instability to the proper functioning of a nation during times of revolt and huge global conflicts involving economic treaties, Jewish propaganda and ultra-liberal communist migration agendas fused with policies based on business & banking motives] committed by many of the “supposed good guys of the Allies” that involved the rape and murder of innocent children and women, fuelled by pure hate, Bolshevism and Jewish Communism against the native aryans of Germany [i.e. the German Volk/People].

A documentary extract from the diary of Dr. Joseph Goebbels who decided to take a firm stance against the national destruction of Germany (and Western Europe), Christianity, and whom many Nationally oriented thinkers consider to be among the bravest of the last great Christian Aryan men to have walked the earth. [See Aryan Race et aussi Race Aryenne / Also to be noted perhaps quite surprisingly that there were strong ancient Aryan religious & mythological warrior values embedded in the mind of Heinrich Himmler (the Reichsführer of the SS), the person believed to have taken the decision to exterminate the jews (remember the term itself originated from human sacrifices by Jews to their god, Baal), as he told his personal masseur & physician Felix Kersten that he always carried with him a copy of the ancient Aryan scripture, the Bhagavad Gita because it relieved him of guilt about what he was doing – he felt that like the sacred warrior Arjuna, who was simply doing his duty for his people and their future without attachment to his actions]

But, since the majority on this planet have been made to believe one version where all the Jews and the alien army of the allies are the good guys, and all the Germans [including Adolf Hitler] were the blood-sucking vampires who also turned into cannibals on the week ends, we are going to base our comments on this politically correct version that the history books and mainstream publishers prefer. [Politics too nowadays is in serious need of revision; are people really divided into 3 main categories? Left, Centre and Right? I tend to believe that we are above all this and have elements of all 3 embedded in us as modern human beings of the 21st century]

But getting back to the Bedouin cultured civilisation’s distinguished members, i.e. Jews as an example of victims in those concentration camps [that many people have begun to question the evidence used to claims of gas chambers (with a great amount found on territories occupied by Stalin) with many camp detainees reporting being kept in facilities with swimming pools, orchestras and kitchens, the number of casualties, and the true perpetrator of the crimes]. It is believed by most people of the 21st century who have had no other options but to take in their news from mainstream Jewish-owned media, that besides being treated like despicable rats, degraded and tortured, many of the Jews to be deported kept in those camps were killed [some shot like parasitic animals as they tried to escape], leaving behind them orphaned children in traumatic circumstances.

Our question here however in regards to the focal point of this section, i.e. “insecure attachments”, is whether such traumatic experiences could have an impact on attachment, and could this also have been transmitted inter-generationally to the Jewish children scattered around the globe today like modern gypsies? This issue of inter-generational transmission of insecure attachments is the focus of the Holocaust study (Bar-On et al., 1998; van Ijzendoorn et al., 1999). The study we are looking at encompasses 3 generations of Jews, now grandparents, who went through the Holocaust [note that the name Holocaust itself comes from an event involving human sacrifices to the Jewish god, Baal], typically as children themselves who had lost their parents; their children, now parents; and their grandchildren. These generations are compared here with comparable 3-generation families who had not experienced the Holocaust.

It was found that the effects of the Holocaust were evident in the grandparent generations, who showed distinctive patterns on the AAI (Adult Attachment Interview), scoring high on Unresolved, as would have been predicted, and high on unusual beliefs – another predicted effect of trauma and unresolved attachment issues. They also displayed avoidance of the Holocaust topic; a very common finding was that the experiences had been so horrific and disgusting that they were unable to talk about their experiences with their own offspring.

However, inter-generational transmission of attachment type was quite low for this group of Jews. The Holocaust parents (‘children of the Holocaust’) showed rather small differences from controls, scoring just slightly higher on Unresolved on the AAI. This normalization process continued to the next generation (‘grandchildren of the Holocaust’), for whom no significant differences in attachment were found from controls. This seems to suggest a minor trend of  “Unresolved” attachment among these Jews [note that this is linked to Disorganised attachment in infants and today some question whether Type-B Securely attached infants are really the “Best” way to be, and whether other personality characteristics also help shape the individual’s uniqueness throughout life, such as their reflective abilities and internal working models (reshaped by other meaningful events/relationships) – however it is also important to note that attachment types are known to remain and be transmitted over generations for the majority of people with low self-reflective skills and intelligence].

 

Disorganised Attachment and Unresolved Attachment Representation

The pattern of infant attachment classed as “Disorganised” from the Strange Situation procedure, was only acknowledged much later than the other well known attachment types [Secure, Inscure Avoidant & Insecure Resistant/Ambivalent], and appears to have rather distinctive correlates.

It has been noted that Disorganised infants may show stereotypic behaviours such as freezing, or hair-pulling; contradictory behaviour such as avoiding the caregiver [e.g. mother] despite experiencing severe distress on separation; and also misdirected behaviour such as seeking proximity to the stranger instead of the caregiver. These characteristic behaviours are known as signs of Unresolved stress and anxiety, and for these types of infants the caregiver is a source of fright rather than a symbol of safety (See Table C) – (see Vondra and Barnett, 1999, for a collection of recent research).

Van Ijzendoorn, Schuengel and Bakermans-Kranenburg (1999) reviewed a series of studies on Disorganized attachment, and argued that it was mainly caused by environmental factors [i.e. exposure]; although there is also some evidence for genetic factors in Disorganised infant attachment, and it is known to be higher in infants with severe neurological abnormalities [e.g. cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s syndrome] – around 35%, compared with around 15% in normal samples. However, Type-D (Disorganised Attachment) is also especially for mothers with alcohol or drug abuse problems (43%) or who have maltreated or abused their infants (48%). Type-D attachment is not higher in infants with physical disabilities; and it is not strongly related to maternal sensitivity as such, however there is evidence relating it to maternal unresolved loss or trauma [like the Jews of the Holocaust generation as mentioned above].

While the Maternal Sensitivity Hypothesis suggests that maternal (in)sensitivity predicts secure (B) or insecure (A,C) attachment, a different hypothesis has been proposed to explain Disorganised Type-D attachment (See Table C), which is that it is would be the result from frightened or frightening behaviour by the caregiver (generally the mother) to the infant, resulting from the mother’s own unresolved mental state related to attachment issues [e.g. abuse by her own parent; violent death of a parent/or close one; sudden loss of a child].

A study in London by Hughes et al. (2001) compared the Unresolved scores on the AAI (Adult Attachment Interview) for 53 mothers who had infants born next after still birth, with 53 controls [normal mothers], and found out that among the mothers who had previously stillborn infants, 58% scored as Unresolved, compared to 8% of Controls; furthermore, 36% had Disorganised (Type D) infants, compared with 13% of controls. A statistical path analysis [looking at the relationships among all the variables showed that the stillbirth experience predicted Unresolved maternal state of mind, and that it was this variable [i.e. Unresolved state of mind] then predicted infant disorganisation.

The hypothesised behavioural aspects of maternal unresolved state of mind [and Disorganisation in infants] were supported by the study in Mali reported above. A study in Germany by Jacobsen et al. (2000) provided further support in which 33 children were examined along with their mothers at 6 years of age. Disorganised attachment (assessed from a reunion episode) was significantly related to high levels of maternal expressed emotion, defined as speech to the child that was severely critical of them or over-involved with them.

Van Ijzendoorn et al., (1999), in a review, also found that insecure Disorganised (Type D) attachment in infants predicted later aggressive behaviour, and child psychopathology. Carlson (1998) found significant prediction from attachment disorganisation at 24 and 42 months, to child behaviour problems in preschool, elementary school and high school. Taking into consideration the prior links to parental maltreatment and abuse, it is highly likely that the Disorganised (Type D) attachment type will be found to be the most relevant aspect of attachment in understanding severely maladaptative or antisocial behaviour in later life.

 

Origins of the Insecure Disorganised State of Mind

The origins of insecure-disorganised (Type D) attachment is becoming an increasingly researched topic, and this may be due to the fact that early disorganisation (Type D) has been identified as a risk factor for later psychopathology (Fearon et al., 2010; van Ijzendoorn et al., 1999), with studies identifying a link between insecure-disorganised attachment in infancy and behavioural problems in later childhood (Lyons-Ruth et al., 1993; Munson et al., 2001; Shaw et al., 1996).

In Main and Hesse’s (1990; Hesse & Main, 2000) their seminal work led to the argument that these insecure-disorganised (Type D) infants have not been able to establish an organised pattern of attachment because they have been frightened by the caregivers or have experienced their caregivers themselves showing fearful behaviour. This is supported by findings that have linked insecure-disorganised attachment to infant maltreatment or hostile caregiving (Carlson, Cicchetti, Brnett & Braunwald, 1989; Lyons-Ruth et al., 1991), maternal depression (Radke-Yarrow et al., 1995), and maternal histories of loss through separation, divorce and death (Lyons-Ruth et al., 1991).

In a meta-analytic review however, van Ijzendoorn et al. (1999) reported that 15% of infants in non-clinical middle class American samples are classified as insecure-disorganised (Type D), suggesting that pathological parenting practices cannot fully account for disorganised attachment in infants. As highlighted by Bernier and Mains (2008), the origins of attachment disorganisation are very complex, involving factors ranging from infants’ genetic make up to parents’ experiences of loss or abuse, and much remains to be learned about why some infants are unable to form and organised attachment relationship with the caregiver.

 

Links between Attachment & Emotional Development

It is fundamental to understand and grasp the importance of the early stages of life, as the brain’s cognitive patterns are shaped by these early experiences that tend to have a lasting effect on personality. The infant’s earliest mode of exploring and engaging with the world revolves around conveying emotions: fear, discomfort, pain, contentment, happiness.

As we have already explained above in the section exploring the reasons why infants develop particular attachment types, the caregiver’s responses [not sensitivity, but mind-mindedness, i.e. the ability to respond “appropriately” to the cues] to such emotional cues and their representations of their own childhood emotional experiences [generally measured with the AAI for Autonomous, Dismissing, Preoccupied or Unresolved] are accepted as strong predictors of attachment security [i.e. Autonomous – Secure, Dismissing –Avoidant, Preoccupied- Resistant and Unresolved – Disorganised].

With this in mind, it is quite surprising that so little research has been conducted on the relation between security and children’s emotional development.

There are 2 main ways in which links between attachment and emotional development have been addressed:

(i) The research has investigated whether infants’ early emotional experiences predict attachment security

(ii) The researchers have explored whether the security of the infant-caregiver attachment relationship predicts children’s subsequent emotional development.

 

Emotional Regulation and Attachment Security

This section is focussed mainly on how caregivers’ ways of responding to the infants’ emotional cues predict later attachment security.

Mothers of insecure-avoidant infants have been found to withdraw when their infants express negative emotions (Escher-Graeub & Grossmann, 1983). Conversely, mothers of insecure-resistant infants typically find it difficult to comfort their infants effectively, meaning that their responses result in prolonging their infants’ feelings of distress (Ainsworth et al., 1978).

Cassidy (1994) argued that caregivers may enable their children to develop good emotional coping and regulation strategies through their willingness to acknowledge and respond to their children’s emotions. She also argued that secure attachment is characterised by the openness with which the caregiver [mother, father, etc] recognises and discusses the full spectrum of emotions [which leads to the child’s understanding that emotions should not be supressed and can be dealt with effectively]. Insecure-avoidant attachment is generally associated with caregivers failing to respond to their infants’ negative emotions because of their tendency to bias interactions in favour of positive emotional expressions. On the opposite, insecure-resistant attachment is associated with the caregiver amplifying the infant’s negative affect. Cassidy maintained that mothers of insecure-resistant children fail to emphasise the importance of attachment relationships, and therefore adopt strategies that fail to help the child regulate negative emotion, hence, prolonging the need for contact with the mother [or caregiver].

 

Affect Attunement

Cassidy’s views are in synchronisation with other theoretical positions, such as Stern’s (1985) characterisation of sensitive parenting in terms of effect attunement, with the sensitive mother being the type of human being who is attuned to all of her infant’s emotions, is also accepting and sharing in their affective content.

Insensitive mothers on the other hand, undermatch or overmatch their infants’ emotional signals because of their own perceptual biases.

In support of these approaches, Pauli-Pott and Mertesacker’s (2009) investigation revealed that mismatches between maternal and infant affect at 4 months [e.g. mother shows positive affect while her infant demonstrates neutral or negative affect] predicted insecure mother-infant attachment at 18 months. Mind-mindedness is also operationalised in terms of the caregiver’s tendency to accurately interpret the infant’s cognitions and emotions, and has been found to predict later attachment security (Meins er al., 2001). Thus, observations by a mother of her infant displaying surprise in response to a jack-in-the-box, followed by enigmatic comments such as “my infant is surprised” are associated with subsequent secure attachment. In contrast, insecure attachment is related to mothers misreading their infants’ internal stress by, for example, commenting that the infant is scared when no cue to suggest such an emotion is present in the infant’s overt behaviour. In more recent work it has been found that these inappropriate mind-related comments are particularly common in mothers of insecure-resistant infants, with mothers in this group being more likely to comment inappropriately on their infants’ thoughts and feelings than their counterparts in the secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure-disorganised groups.

Evidence suggests that mothers in the insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant groups are aware of over-controlling and under controlling strategies respectively in coping with their children’s negative emotions. Berlin and Cassidy (2003) followed up a sample of infants who had been assessed in the strange situation in infancy, and questioned the mothers when the children were aged 3 about how they dealt with their child’s emotional expressive, and found that insecure-Avoidant (Type A) group mothers reported the greatest control of their 3-year-olds’ negative emotional expressiveness [e.g. expression anger or fear], whereas mothers in the insecure-Resistant(Ambivalent – Type C) reported the least control of children of their children’s expressing negative emotions.

These findings suggest that maternal behaviours associated with avoidant and resistant attachment that have been observed in infancy are stable and persist into the preschool years.

Security-related differences in the way in which children regulate their emotions are also in line with Cassidy’s (1994) approach. Spangler and Grossman (1993) took physiological measures of infant distress during the strange situation procedure and compared these measures with infants’ outward shows of upset and negative affect. The physiological measures showed that insecure-Avoidant (Type A) group infants were as distressed or more distressed than their secured group conterparts (Type B), despite the absence of overt behavioural distress observed in the insecure-avoidant (Type A) groups infants. It was therefore concluded by Spangler and Grossman that insecure-Avoidant infants mask or dampen their expression of negative emotions as a way of coping with the facts that caregivers are likely to ignore or reject their bids for contact and comfort when they are distressed.

Belsky, Spritz, and Crnic (1996) reported that 3-year-olds who had been securely attached in infancy were more likely to recall and memorise the positive emotional events that had witnessed on a puppet show, whereas insecurely attached children tended to attend and remember only the negative events. On the same note, Kirsch and Cassidy (1997) found that both secure and insecure-resistant attachment in infancy were associated at 3 years of age with better remembering and recall for a story in which a mother responded sensitively to her child than to a story where the child was rejected.

In contrast to the scenario above, insecure-Avoidant infants showed no difference in their recall of the responsive versus rejecting stories. Kirsch and Cassidy also found that 3-year-olds classified as insecure in infancy were more likely than those in secure groups to look away from drawings depicting “mother” – child engagement.

These findings suggest that the positive experiences of secure infants with their caregivers may result in these children attending more to positive emotional events because they are consistent with their attachment security.

 

__________

 

(III) The Genetic/Psychosexual Model of Development (Sigmund Freud)

“For generations almost every branch of human knowledge will be enriched and illuminated by the imagination of Freud” (Jane Harrison, 1850- 1928)

The Genetic Model of Psychosexual Stages

The genetic model that we are now going to explore may not have much to do with genes, and relates more to the “development” of the child. Sigmund Freud proposed that childhood development proceeds through a series of distinct stages to adulthood, each of them with their own themes and preoccupations.

The stages are based on the life-drive present in all organisms, as Freud proposed, and it seems logical from a physician who carried empirical work on the sexual organs of eels, to assume that all organisms have the embedded urge for “life” [i.e the life drive to keep itself and its species alive, which involves sexual selection and the fertilisation achieved through sex] that is primarily sexual but some also argued that it can be interpreted (unconsciously or consciously) in other forms [as flamboyant French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan proposed in his Theory with the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real] to suit a sophisticated society [e.g. France] with all its dimensions. Freud proposed that the psychosexual stages are understood to be organised around the child’s emerging sexuality.

It is important however to not exaggerate or misinterpret Freud’s assumption and also to remember the logic and vital purpose behind the sexual (life) drive in organisms in its own existence and continuity [breeding]. This is also a very good discussion point for the 21st century as it seems to imply that all healthy organisms should have healthy sexual drives, but whether these should “always” find expression through genital sexual acts with another organism is debatable and questionable from an ethical and moral perspective [especially for those not in a healthy and stable relationship]; hence many psychologists recommend “masturbation” as a healthy and safe alternative in managing excessive sexual desires in both young people and adults.

In the process of the child’s emerging “sexuality”, the term “sexual drive” itself meant more than simply adult genital sexuality, and from a psychological perspective, was broadly referring to a physiological/biological sense of “pleasure in the body” and more to “sensuality”. As many psychologists who based their foundations on some aspects of Freudian perspectives, it is assumed that adult sexuality is nothing more than the simple culmination of an orderly set of steps in which the child’s “psychosexual” focus shifted from one part of the body to another, with these body parts or “erotogenic zones” all having something in common with the generation of pleasure; which are orifices lined with sensitive mucous membranes.

Hence, Sigmund Freud may have adequately proposed in a statement regarding mental health that, “the only unnatural sexual behaviour is none at all.”, taking note once again that the term “sexual” from a psychologist exploring the developmental stages of a child generally tends to refer more to “sensuality”. The erotogenic body parts with orifices and sensitive mucous membranes leads to the infant sensuality being initially centred on the mouth (oral cavity), followed by the anus and then the genitals in early childhood. After some characteristic drama at about the age of 5, the child’s sexuality goes nearly completely dormant for a few years, before re-emerging with a vengeance [a rush of hardly managed sexual feelings] when puberty hits.

As the tradition on the debate of the development of the mind itself as an entity [that reflects in linguistic form the desires, both conscious and unconscious of the human organism] goes on among psychologists in the quest for these answers, we are also familiar with critics [mostly from the reductionist schools of thoughts (e.g. Pavlovian) such as the cognitive-behavioural enthusiasts and the medical department with its accolade, the pharmaceutical industry] who have not been entirely positive about Freud’s contribution to knowledge and are still unconvinced [perhaps due to their philosophy on a kind of methodological epistemology that is lacking to cope with matters of the mind] about the unconscious part of the mind that plays a huge role in our conscious behaviour. This may not be completely negative to intellectuals who subscribe to a version of reality that is embedded in language since critics in many cases have led to systematic investigations [scientific methodology] and until now there is an increasing body of evidence that points to the existence of an unconscious drift/urge/motive that exists in all organisms [e.g. as we noted in the essay about Biological Constraints in Learning by Operant Conditioning and also other studies carried out on priming along with observations of the symptomatic manifestations of certain mental disorders such as OCD and Panic Attacks].

The psychoanalytic theory has been modified by some of the best minds of the psychoanalytic tradition [e.g. Jung, Lacan, and some components adopted by ourselves in the conception of the model of mental life within the Organic Theory] since Freud left the questions open with the freedom of dialogue over the concepts and their expansions and applications throughout various dimensions [e.g. analysing qualitative subjective experiences of the expression of love and passion, or the obsoleteness of politics in modern society, or the impact of animal studies in designing a human world]. However, between all the versions of Freud’s theories, there are 3 components that have never been denied by any great psychoanalyst, which are the 3 structures first mentioned in the early Topographic Model, that is, the Unconscious, the Subconscious and the Conscious. These were later replaced with the Structural Model, which is the popular version that remapped and renamed the concepts, and which includes the (unconscious) id [present in all new born infants which consists of impulses, emotions & desires – id demands instant gratification of all wishes and needs], the (conscious, me) ego [which acts a mediator between reality and the desires of the id] and the (subconscious) superego [the conscience: the sense of duty & responsibility], that adepts such as Jacques Lacan and Carl Jung rejected over the earlier Topographic model [being one that is more flexible for the development of further refined models that also have the option to define the life force in other ways than the questionable specificity of the Structural Model’s id, ego & superego.

 

The 5 Psychosexual Stages

Stage I: The Oral Stage (from birth to 1 year old approximately)

From Freudian assumptions, it is believed that the voracious sucking of infants is not pure nutritional, although the infant clearly has a basic need to feed, it also takes a “pleasure” in the act of feeding, a feeling that Freud did not hesitate to quality as sexual and perhaps more “sensual” at this stage as babies appear to enjoy the stimulation of the lips [in play] and the oral cavity, and will often happily engage in “non-nutritive sucking” when they are no longer hungry and the milk supply is withdrawn. Beyond being an intense source of bodily pleasure – an early expression of later sexuality – sucking also represents the infant’s way of expressing love for and dependency on its feeder [normally it is the mother, but it can also be a primary caregiver that the child is attached to, hence Lacan proposed that the Oedipal & Electra complexes may not only not be true for ALL cases, but the child’s early sexual feelings may be projected on other primary caregivers and not necessarily the direct parents]. The sucking behaviour also serves to a general stance that the infant takes towards the world, one of “incorporation” or the taking in of new experiences.

 

Stage II: The Anal Stage (1 to 3 years old approximately)

At the second stage, the Anal stage, the focus shifts from one end of the digestive tract to the other at it happens at around the age of 2, when the child is developing an increasing degree of autonomous control over its muscles, including the sphincters that control excretion. After the incorporative passivity and dependency of the oral stage, the child begins to take a more active approach to life [note the term active also in line with Jean Piaget’s views on the development of the human child]. Sigmund Freud proposed that these themes of activity, autonomy and control, play out most crucially around the anus as the child learns to control defecation, and learns that it can control its direct external environment, in particular its caregivers attention, by expelling or withholding faeces. Moreover, the child takes a sort of sadistic pleasure in this control, a form of pleasure described as “Anal erotism”. An important conflict for the child during this stage involves toilet training, with struggles/disapproval taking place over the parents/caregivers demand that the child control its defecation according to particular rules. However, the anal stage represents a set of themes, struggles, pleasures, and preoccupations that cannot be reduced in any simple way to toilet-training, as many common psychology students from the wrong linguistic vein are in caricatures of Freud maybe in a defensive act for their lack of linguistic subtlety to understand the mental life and the models that govern it.

 

Stage III: The Phallic Stage (3 to 6 years old approximately)

Gradually, although still in the early childhood years, the primary location of sexual pleasure and interest shifts from the anus to the genitals, where the little boy starts to become fascinated with his penis while his counterpart, the little girl on other side of the gender register, develops a fascination with her clitoris. However, this stage is known as “phallic” and not “genital” because Freud maintained that both sexes were focused on the male organ; “phallus” referring not to the actual physical organ, the anatomical penis, but to its “symbolic value”. Briefly explained, the phallic stage is set as the little boy understanding that he has the penis [which has a symbolic value] which the little girl lacks, and develops the belief that he could possibly lose it. In contrast, the little girl does not have a penis and wishes to have one.

This is the very first time that the difference between the sexes comes into play in childhood development, and the contrast between masculinity and feminity, really becomes an issue for the child. It is also the 1st stage at which Freud’s psychosexual theory recognises sexual differences, and marks the crucial point at which, children become gendered beings [between the ages of 3 – 6].

The little boy’s and the girl’s differing relation to the phallus [remember: the “symbolic value” of it not the actual organ] plays a vital role in unfolding drama that takes place within the family during this stage, somewhere around the age of 3 to 5. It has been dubbed the “Oedipus complex”, after the Greek legend in which Oedipus unwittingly murders his father and marries his mother, his original love-object [remember the attachment period in Bowlby’s along with breastfeeding] after all, as is consequently envious of his father, who seems to have his mother to himself. The boy’s fearful recognition that he could lose his penis [symbolically: “masculinity”] – “castration anxiety” – becomes focussed on the idea that the competing male for the love of the mother[the father], could inflict this punishment on him if the boy’s sexual feelings and desire for the female figure of the caregiving mother is recognised. So, faced with fear, he renounces and represses the sexual feelings and desire, to instead identity with the father, becoming his imitator rather than his rival. In this process, the boy learns about masculinity and internalises the societal rules and norms [e.g. about relationships] that the father represents [the development of the Super-Ego, a sense of duty and responsibility, i.e. “conscience” takes place as the Structural Model suggests].

In the case of the little girl, matters are slightly different, and the developing child soon feels her lack of a penis keenly (“penis envy”) and blames the mother for leaving her so grievously unequipped, and then the father soon turns into her primary love-object [the “Electra Complex” appears as the opposite of the “Oedipus” Complex], and the mother her rival.

A similar process to the little boy now takes place in the little girl’s realm, resulting in the repression of her sexual feeling, desires and love, to shift to an identification with her mother, and hence with feminity. However, given that the girl is not under any “castration” threat, this process occurs under much less emotional pressure than in the little boy’s case. Consequently, perhaps due to this difference in emotional pressure, Freud proposed that the Electra complex was resolved less conclusively and with much less complete repression in girls than in boys, but also that girls tend to internalise a conscience [preconscious, or superego] that is in some ways weaker and less prohibitive and punitive than boys. It is not surprising that such a controversial claim about girls has been highly criticised specially with no scientific evidence to back it up; and is perhaps also one reason why Freud’s account of Oedipal [Electra complex] conflict in women has been the subject of much revision [e.g. by Jacques Lacan].

 

Stage IV: Latency (6 years old to puberty)

After the upheavals of the Oedipus and Electra complexes, the sexual drives go into a prolonged “semi-hibernation”. During the pre-pubertal school years, children engage in much less sexual activity and their relationships with others are also desexualised. Instead of desiring the primary caregivers and original love-objects, their parents, children now begin to identify with them – having structured their understanding of the world. However, this sudden interruption of childhood sexuality is largely a result of the massive repression of sexual feelings that concluded the phallic stage. One of the main consequence of this repression is that children come to completely forget their earlier sexual feelings, a major source [Freud claimed] of our general amnesia for early childhood experiences. Other institutional settings with their own social models such as formal schooling, reinforce the repression of sexuality during latency, leading children to focus their energies instead on mastering “culturally valued” knowledge and skills. Freud observed that the desexualisation of latency-age children was less complete among so-called “primitive” peoples.

 

Stage V: The Genital Stage (from the onset of puberty to death)

The latency period of forced or socially imposed sexual repression ends with the biologically-driven surge of sexual energy that accompanies puberty. This marks the final stage of psychosexual development where it all the previous stages were successfully completed, leaves the person with the ability for mature love with sexual feelings. It is important to note that the focus on sexual pleasure is once more shifted to the genitals as it was before the stage of latency [during the phallic stage (3 – 6 years old)] however, now it is fused with the ability for sensible and true affection for the object of desire [and not simply immature sexual feelings trying to find expression from an inadequately developed brain being projected at the easiest accessible caregiver].

In addition, both sexes are now invested in their own genitals rather than sharing a focus on the “symbolic value” of the penis as it occurred during the “Phallic stage”. The Genital Stage therefore marks the end of the “polymorphous perversity” of childhood sexuality. However, these erotic moments have not completely vanished but are instead subordinated to genital sexuality, often finding expression in other subtle ways [e.g. sexual foreplay].

According to the genetic model of psychosexual stages, we pass through each of the psychosexual stages on the way to maturity. However, we do not pass through them unscathed, and there are many ways in which people have problematic difficulties in particular stages [unable to progress successfully] and when such incidents happen a “fixation” develops. A fixation is simply an unresolved difficulty involving the characteristic issues of the particular stage, and leads to a fault-line in our personality, according to Freudian developmental perspectives.

If the individual failed to receive proper and reliable nurturance and gratification during the oral stage – or alternatively if they were over-indulged – a fixation on that stage may develop. It is believed that when a person is confronted with some forms of stresses, they may revert to the typical immature ways of dealing with the world of that period [at the particular point in time of that stage], this process was referred to as “regression” by Freud.

In some cases, fixations may lead to full-fledged mental disorders: Oral fixations are linked to depression and addictions, anal fixations to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phallic fixations to hysteria [in severe cases]. Fixations [generally later countered by Reaction Formation] do not simply represent forms of behaviour and thinking that people regress to when faced with difficulties but the whole personality [thought structure] or “character” – the term Freud preferred – may be organised around the themes of the stage at which the person is most strongly fixated. As a result, Freud proposed a set of distinct stage-based character types:

(i) Oral Characters

This category of characters tend to be marked by passivity and dependency [think of the sheep metaphor], and are liable to use relatively immature ego defences such as denial.

(ii) Anal Characters

Anal people tend to be inflexible, stingy, obstinate and orderly, with a preference for defence mechanisms such as the isolation of affect [hide their feelings] and reaction formation.

(iii) Phallic Characters

Phallic characters are generally impulsive, vain and headstrong [think alpha-male prototype] with a preference for a defensive style that favours repression.

It is important to note that this 3-part typology is the closest that the psychoanalytic theory of personality comes to bringing forward an explanation for individual differences in personality from early childhood experiences. A phase of development pivotal to the other 2 mentioned theories which also attribute the foundations of fundamental structures to the period of infancy and childhood, although they all also acknowledge the individual’s ability to shape their own minds and correct their own problematic traits through reflection, and indeed as mentioned in the section on John Bowlby’s theory of attachment mothers with high reflective abilities were able to reshape the internal working models of their children’s attachment style and subsequent emotional development. It is to also be noted how all these 3 theorists although different in their perspectives, have been inspired by each other’s works, the idea of attachment itself was inspired by Freud’s pre-oedipal claims, and Jean Piaget like Sigmund Freud came from the school of thought that viewed the mind as an “active” entity in its development and creation, and not a “passive” entity generated by a ball of soft matter acting like a junction box with scripts for stimuli.

 

Psychoanalysis, then and now

One of the main claims of Freudian theory is that much of what motivates us to move forward in life is determined by the unconscious, and since by the reductionist mind state of the common researcher who sadly only had empiricism to dream of a better life for himself, these unconscious processes cannot be measured [such as moles, weight, fingers, teeth, sheep, cattle, etc], and hence it is often claimed [without much understanding or linguistic abilities or skills in discourse and philosophy] that belief in Freudian ideas is precisely that – beliefs rather than mechanical models based on empirical evidence [e.g. medicine, physics, surgery, chemistry, biology, etc – all the disciplines of the hard sciences].

However, while Freud’s views are almost impossible to test with reductionist quantitative methods, his theories and claims have influenced many psychologists who work with different methodologies and the unconscious processes of the brain are also being backed up by emerging fields that focus on the physiology of the brain [e.g. cognitive-neuroscience].

To illustrate one of those views that are hard to test empirically, consider the Freudian notion of “Reaction Formation”. It is assumed for example that if an individual is harshly [by strict parents] toilet trained as a child then the Freudian prediction would be that the person becomes “anally retentive” [i.e. excessively neat and tidy]. However, if in some ways we do recognise such tendencies in ourselves [once again prompting to the existence of a well developed with reflective and perspective taking abilities fully developed by Piaget’s standards], maybe even unconsciously, then we may react against it [Reaction Formation occurs] and we actively become very untidy.

This suggests that we are in control of ourselves and we have the ability to reverse the effects of our upbringing and early childhood experiences, which means in turn that it is impossible to predict a child’s development despite the fact that the first 6 years from birth are supposedly critical in determining later personality formation [self-reflective people save themselves from the mediocrity of the masses].

Freudian Theory has been of immense importance in pointing out 2 possibilities. One is that early childhood can be immensely important in affecting and determining later development [a position also adopted by other major theorists as we have seen such as Bowlby], and the other is that we can be driven by unconscious needs and desires which we are not aware of [until exposed to the right environmental stimuli that release them from their hidden depths]. Thus, it is assumed that if we not complete one of the childhood psychosexual stages very well, it could reflect itself later in adult disorders such as neurotic symptoms, but we would not be aware of the source or cause of the problem. The only way to come to terms with these deeply embedded problems in the depth of the individual’s psyche that has more saliency than the minor cognitive schemas for basic environmental interactions [e.g. making a cup of tea or a sandwich], is through close intensive sessions of psychoanalysis (see Picture G) in which the analyst peers into the unconscious to try and unravel [discover] the problems that occurred during the patient’s childhood development that is causing the current problems.

PG Psychoanalyst tries to discover what went wrong in your childhood that is causing your current problems

PICTURE G. The psychoanalyst tries to uncover the childhood unresolved issues to find the causes of the current problems.

Whatever its weaknesses are, the psychoanalytic theory remains the most complete theory in terms of depth and detail in capturing the essence of the human mind [soul as metaphor, or psyche], and today there are still many who believe that psychoanalytic theories are fundamental in understanding human development with many theoreticians who have brought forward variations and alternatives to Freud’s proposals on some controversial issues [e.g. Jacques Lacan, John Bowlby and Carl Jung] while many of his proposals have also lead to the scientific discovery of unconscious mental processes.

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*****

 

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Essay // Psychology: The Concept of Self

Mis-à-jour le Samedi, 19 Juin 2021

SelfRope

The concept of the self will be explored in this essay – where it comes from, what it looks like and how it influences thought and behaviour. Since self and identity are cognitive constructs that influence social interaction and perception, and are themselves partially influenced by society, the material of this essay connects to virtually all aspects of psychological science. The self is an enormously popular focus of research (e.g. Leary and Tangney, 2003; Sedikides and Brewer, 2001; Swann and Bosson, 2010). A 1997 review by Ashmore and Jussim reported 31,000 social psychological publications on the self over a two-decade period to the mid-1990s, and there is now even an International Society for Self and Identity and a scholarly journal imaginatively entitled Self and Identity.

Nikon Portrait DSC_0169 Res600

The concept of the “self” is a relatively new idea in psychological science. While Roy Baumeister’s (1987) painted a picture of a medievally organised society where most human organism’s reality were fixed and predefined by rigid social relations and legitimised with religious affiliations [family membership, social rank, birth order & place of birth, etc], the modern perspectives adopted by scholars and innovative psychologists has been contradicting such outdated concepts. The idea of a complex & sophisticated individual self, lurking underneath would have been difficult, if not impossible, to entertain under such atavistic assumptions of social structures affecting an individual human organism.

However, all this changed in the 16th century, where momentum gathered ever since from forces such as:

Secularisation – where the idea that fulfilment occurs in afterlife was replaced by the idea that one should actively pursue personal fulfilment in this life

Industrialisation – where the human being was increasingly being seen as individual units of production who moved from place to place with their own “portable” personal identity which was not locked into static social structures such as extended family

Enlightenment – where people felt they were solely responsible for choosing, organising and creating better identities for themselves by overthrowing orthodox value systems and oppressive regimes [e.g. the French revolution and the American revolution of the late 18th century]

and

Psychoanalysis – the psychoanalytic theory of the human mind unleashed the creative individual with the notion that the self was unfathomable because it lived in the depth of the unconscious [e.g. Theory of social representations – theory invoking psychoanalysis as an example of how a novel idea or analysis can entirely change how people think about their world (e.g. Moscovici, 1961; see Lorenzi-Cioldi and Clémence, 2001). [See: Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution]

Jacques Lacan d'purb dpurb site web

Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981)

Together, these and other socio-political and cultural influences lead to society thinking about the self and identity as complex subjects, where theories of self and identity propagated and flourished in this fertile soil.

As far as self and identity are concerned, we have noticed one pervasive finding in cultural differences. The so called “Western” world involving continents such as Western Europe, North America and Australasia, tend to be individualistic, whereas most other cultures, such as in Asia, South America and Africa are collectivist (Triandis, 1989; also see Chiu and Hong, 2007, Heine, 2010, 2012; Oyserman, Coon and Kemmelmeier, 2002). Anthropologist Geertz puts it beautifully:

“The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated, motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.”

Geertz (1975, p.48)

conceptofself d'purb dpurb site web

Markus and Kityama (1991) describe how those from individualistic cultures tend to have an independent self, whereas people from collectivist cultures have an interdependent self. Although in both cases, people seek a clear sense of who they are, the [Western] independent self is grounded in a view of the self that is autonomous, separate from other people and revealed through one’s inner thoughts and feelings. The [Eastern] interdependent self on the other hand, unlike in the West, tends to be grounded in one’s connection to and relationships with other people [expressed through one’s roles and relationships]. As Gao explained: ‘Self… is defined by a person’s surrounding relations, which often are derived from kinship networks and supported by cultural values based on subjective definitions of filial piety, loyalty, dignity, and integrity’ (Gao, 1996, p. 83).

From a conceptual review of the cultural context of self-conception, Vignoles, Chryssochoou and Breakwell (2000) conclude that the need to have a distinctive and integrated sense of self is “likely” universal. However from individualist and collectivist cultures, the term “self-distinctiveness” holds a set of very different assumptions. In the individualist West, separateness adds meaning and definition to the isolated and bounded self. In the collectivist & Eastern others, the “self” is relational and gains meaning from its relations with others.

universal

A logic proposed by analysing historical conceptions of self with an account of the origins of individualist and collectivist cultures along with the associated independent and interdependent self-conceptions may be related to economic policies. The labour market is an example where mobility helped the industry by viewing humans as “units” of production who are expected to shift their geographical locations from places of low labour demand to those of higher demand, along with their ability to organise their lives, relationships, self-concepts around mobility and transient relationships.

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

Construction workers eat their lunches atop a steel beam 800 feet above ground, at the building site of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

Independence, separateness and uniqueness have become more important than connectedness and long-term maintenance of enduring relationships [values that seem to have become pillars of modern Western Labour Culture – self-conceptions reflect cultural norms that codify economic activity].

However, this logic applied to any modern human organism seems to clearly offer more routes to development [personal and professional], more options to continuously nurture the evolving concepts of self-conception through expansive social experience and cultural exploration, while being a set of philosophy that places more powers of self-defined identity in the hands of the individual [more modern and sophisticated].

TheMan

Now that some basic concepts and origins of the “self” along with its importance and significance to psychological science has been covered, we are going to explore two creative ways of learning about ourselves.

Firstly, the concept of self-knowledge which involves us storing information about ourselves in a complex and varied way in the form of a schema means that information about the self is assumed to be stored cognitively as separate context specific nodes such that different nodes activate different ones and thus, different aspects of self (Breckler, Pratkanis and McCann, 1991; Higgins, van Hook and Dorfman, 1988). The concept of self emerges from widely distributed brain activity across the medial prefrontal and medial precuneus cortex of the brain (e.g. Saxe, Moran, Scholz, and Gabrieli, 2006). According the Hazel Markus, self-concept is neither “a singular, static, lump-like entity” nor a simple averaged view of the self – it is a complex and multi-faceted, with a relatively large number of discrete self-schemas (Markus, 1977; Markus and Wurf, 1987).

masks

Most individuals tend to have clear conceptions of themselves on some dimensions but not others – generally more self-schematic on dimensions that hold more meaning to them, for e.g. if one thinks of oneself as sophisticated and being sophisticated is of importance to oneself, then we would be self-schematic on that dimension [part of our self-concept], if not then we would not [would not be part of our self-concept – unsophisticated]. It is widely believed that most people have a complex self-concept with a large number of discrete self-schemas. Patrice Linville (1985, 1987; see below) has suggested that this variety helps to buffer people from life’s negative impacts by ensuring enough self-schemas are available for the individual to maintain a sense of satisfaction. We can be strategic in the use of our self-schemas – Linville described such judgement colourfully by saying: “don’t put all your eggs in one cognitive basket.” Self-schemas influence information processing and behaviour similarly to how schemas about others do (Markus and Sentis, 1982): self-schematic information is more readily noticed, is overrepresented in cognition and is associated with longer processing time.

S€lection de Vos Oeufs d'purb

Self-schemas do not only describe how we are, but they are also believed to differ as we have an array of possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986) – future-oriented schemas of what we would like to become, or what we fear we might become. For example, a scholar completing a postgraduate may think of a career as an artist, lecturer, writer, philosopher, politician, actor, singer, producer, entrepreneur, etc. Higgins (1987) proposed the self-discrepancy theory, suggesting that we have 3 major types of self-schema:

  • The actual self – how we are
  • The ideal self – how we would like to be
  • The ‘ought’ self – how we think we should be

Discrepancies between the actual, ideal and/or ought, can motivate change to reduce the discrepancy – in this way we engage in self-regulation. Furthermore, the self-discrepancy and the general notion of self-regulation have been elaborated into the regulatory focus-theory (Higgins, 1997, 1998).This theory proposes that most individuals have two separate self-regulatory systems, termed Promotion and Prevention. The “Promotion” system is concerned with the attainment of one’s hopes and aspirations – one’s ideals. For example, those in a promotion focus adopt approach strategic means to attain their goals [e.g. promotion-focused students would seek ways to improve their grades, find new challenges and treat problems as interesting obstacles to overcome. The “Prevention” system is concerned with the fulfilment of one’s duties and obligations. Those in a prevention focus use avoidance strategy means to attain their goals. For example, prevention-focussed students would avoid new situations or new people and concentrate on avoiding failure rather than achieving highest possible grade.

aimhigh

Whether an individual is more approach or prevention focussed is believed to stem during childhood (Higgins and Silberman, 1998). Promotion-focus may arise if children are habitually hugged and kissed for behaving in a desired manner and love is withdrawn as a form of discipline. Prevention-focus may arise if children are encouraged to be alert to potential dangers and punished when they display undesirable behaviours. Against this background of individual differences however, regulatory focus has also been observed to be influenced by immediate context, for example by structuring the situation so that subjects focus on prevention or on promotion (Higgins, Roney, Crowe and Hymes, 1994). Research also revealed that those who are promotion-focussed are more likely to recall information relating to the pursuit of success by others (Higgins and Tykocinski, 1992). Lockwood and her associates found that those who are promotion-focussed look for inspiration to positive role models who emphasise strategies for achieving success (Lockwood, Jordan and Kunda, 2002). Such individuals also show elevated motivation and persistence on tasks framed in terms of gains and non-gains (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998). On the other side of the spectrum, individuals who are prevention-focussed tend to recall information relating to the avoidance of failure by others, are most inspired by negative role models who highlight strategies for avoiding failure and exhibit motivation and persistence on tasks that framed in terms of losses and non-losses. After being studied in intergroup relations (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998), the regulatory focus theory was found to strengthen positive emotion related bias and behavioural tendencies towards the ingroup when in the context of a measured or manipulated promotion focus. Prevention-focus strengthens more negative emotion-related bias [haters] and behavioural tendencies against the outgroup (Shah, Brazy and Higgins, 2004).

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The second way of learning about the concept of self is through the understanding of our “many selves” and multiple identities. In the book, The Concepf of Self, Kenneth Gergen (1971) depicts the self-concept as containing a repertoire of relatively discrete and often quite varied identities, each with a distinct body of knowledge. These identities have their origins in a vast array of different types of social relationships that form, or have formed, the anchoring points for our lives, ranging from close personal relationships with other professionals, mentors, trusted friends, etc and roles defined by skills, fields, divisions and categories, to relationships fully or partially defined by languages, geography, cultures [sub-cultures], groups values, philosophy, religion, gender and/or ethnicity. Linville (1985) also noted that individuals differ in terms of self-complexity, in the sense that some individuals have more diverse and extensive set of selves than othersthose with many independent aspects of selves have higher self-complexity than those with a few, relatively similar, aspects of self. The notion of self-complexity is given a rather different emphasis by Marilynn Brewer and her colleagues (Brewer and Pierce, 2005; Roccas and Bewer, 2002) who focussed on the self that is defined in group terms (social identity) and the relationship among identities rather than number of identities individuals have.

TheMask

They argued that individuals have a complex social identity if they have discrete social identities that do not share many attributes but a simple social identity if they have overlapping social identities that share many attributes [simple]. For example, when Cognitive Psychologists [cognitive psychology explores mental processes] study high-level functions such as problem solving and decision making, they often ask participants to think aloud. The verbal protocols that are obtained [heard] are then analysed at different levels of granularity: e.g. to look at the speed with which participants carry out mental processes, or, at a higher level of analysis, to identify the strategies being used. Grant and Hogg (2012) have recently suggested and empirically shown that the effect, particularly on group identification and group behaviours of the number of identities one has and their overlap may be better explained in terms of the general property of social identity prominencehow subjectively prominent, overall and in a specific situation, a particular identity is one’s self-concept. Social identity theorists (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) argued 2 broad classes of identity that define different types of self:

(i) Social Identity [which defines self in terms of a “particular” group membership (if any meaningful ones exist for the individual), and

(ii) Personal Identity [which defines self in terms of idiosyncratic traits & close personal relationships with specific individuals/groups (if any) which may be more than physical/social, e.g. mental [strength of association with specific others on specific tasks/degrees]

The first main focus question here is asked by Brewer and Gardner (1996), ‘Who is this “we”?’ and distinguished three forms of self:

  • Individual self – based on personal traits that differentiate the self from all others
  • Relational self – based on connections and role relationships with significant/meaningful others
  • Collective self – based on group membership [can depend of many criteria] that differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’

More recently it has been proposed that there are four types of identity (Brewer, 2001; Chen, Boucher and Tapias, 2006):

  • Personal-based social identities – emphasising the way that group properties are internalised by individual group members as part of their self-concept
  • Relational social identities – defining the self in relation to specific other people with whom one interacts [may not be physical or social only] in a group context – corresponding to Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) relational identity and to Markus and Kitayama’s (1991) ‘interdependent self’.
  • Group-based social identities – equivalent to social identity as defined above [sense of belonging and emotional salience for a group is subjective]
  • Collective identities – referring to a process whereby  those who consider themselves as “group members” not only share self-defining attributes, but also engage in social action to forge an image of what the group stands for and how it is represented and viewed by others.

China Collective

The relational self  [for those who choose to be defined by others at least] is a concept that can be considered a particular type of collective self. As Masaki Yuki (2003) observed, some groups and cultures (notable East-Asian cultures) define groups in terms of networks of relationships. Research also revealed that women tend to place a greater importance than men on their relationships with others in a group (Seeley, Gardner, Pennington and Gabriel, 2003; see also Baumeister and Sommer, 1997; Cross and Madson, 1997).

In search for the evidence for the existence of multiple selves which came from research where contextual factors were varied to discover that most individuals describe themselves and behave differently in different contexts. In one experiment, participants were made to describe themselves on very different ways by being asked loaded questions which prompted them to search from their stock of self-knowledge for information that presented the self in a different light (Fazio, Effrein and Falender, 1981). Other researchers also found, time and time again, that experimental procedures that focus on group membership lead people to act very differently from procedures that focus on individuality and interpersonal relationships. Even “minimal group” studies in which participants are either: (a) identified as individuals; or (b) explicitly categorised, randomly or by some minimal or trivial criterion as ‘group’ members (Tajfel, 1970; see Diehl, 1990), a consistent finding is that being categorised tends to lead people to being discriminatory towards an outgroup, conform to ingroup norms, express attitudes and feelings that favour ingroup, and indicate a sense of belonging and loyalty to the ingroup.

ManVsGorilla

Furthermore, these effects of minimal group categorisation are generally very fast and automatic (Otten and Wentura, 1999). The idea that we may have many selves and that contextual factors can bring different selves into play, has a number of ramifications. Social constructionists have suggested that the self is entirely situation-dependent. An extreme form of this position argues that we do not carry self-knowledge around in our heads as cognitive representations at all, but rather that we construct disposable selves through talk (e.g. Potter and Wetherell, 1987). A less extreme version was proposed by Penny Oakes (e.g. Oakes, Haslam and Reynolds, 1999), who does not emphasise the role of talk but still maintains that self-conception is highly context-dependent. It is argued that most people have cognitive representations of the self that they carry in their heads as organising principles for perception, categorisation and action, but that these representations are temporarily or more enduringly modified by situational factors (e.g. Abrams and Hogg, 2001; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam and Veenstra, 2006).

evolution

Although we have a diversity of relatively discrete selves, we also have a quest: to find and maintain a reasonably integrated picture of who we are. Self-conceptual coherence provides us with a continuing theme for our lives – an ‘autobiography’ that weaves our various identities and selves together into a whole person. Individuals who have highly fragmented selves (e.g. some patients suffering from schizophrenia, amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease) find it very difficult to function effectively. People use many strategies to construct a coherent sense of self (Baumeister, 1998). Here is a list of some that we have used ourselves:

Sometimes we restrict our life to a limited set of contexts. Because different selves come into play as contexts keep changing, protections from self-conceptual clashes seem like a valid motive.

Other times, we continuously keep revising and integrating our ‘biographies’ to accommodate new identities. Along the way, we dispose of any meaningless inconsistencies. In effect, we are rewriting our own history to make it work to our advantage (Greenwald, 1980).

We also tend to attribute some change in the self externally to changing circumstances [e.g. educational achievements, professional circle, industry, etc] rather than only internally, to construct who we are. This is an application of the actor-observer effect (Jones and Nisbett, 1972).

In other cases, we can also develop self-schemas that embody a core set of attributes that we feel distinguishes us from all other peoplethat makes us unique (Markus, 1977). We then tend to recognise these attributes disproportionately in all our selves, providing thematic consistency that delivers a sense of a stable and unitary self (Cantor and Kihlstrom, 1987). To sum up, individuals tend to construct their lives such that their self-conceptions are both steady and coherent. A major element in the conception of self, is the ability to master language and its varying degrees of granularity that hold a major role in social identity [linguistic discourse].

[The remaining part of this essay will focus on the power and importance of language as the essence of the human being]

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The Essence of the Modern Human Being: Language, Psycholinguistics & Self-Definition

Human communication is completely different from that of other species as it allows virtually limitless amounts of ideas to be expressed by combining finite sets of elements (Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2005; Wargo, 2008). Other species [e.g. apes] do have communicative methods but none of them compare with human language. For example, monkeys use unique warning calls for different threats, but never combine these calls on new ideas. Similarly, birds and whales sing complex songs, but creative recombination of these sounds in the expression of new ideas has not occurred to these animals either.

As a system of symbols, language lies at the heart of social life and all its multitude of aspects in social identity. Language may be at the essence of existence if explored from the philosopher Descartes most famous quote, “Cogito Ergo Sum” which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”, as thought is believed to be experienced and entertained in language. In expressing his discourse, Descartes based the science system on the knowing subject in front of the world that it constructs and represents to itself – a system that would later also be the basis for many of the concepts of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis.

cogito ergo sum

The act of thinking often involves an inner personal conversation with oneself, as we tend to perceived and think about the world in terms of linguistic categories. Lev Vygotsky (1962) believed that inner speech was the medium of thought and that it was interdependent with external speech [the medium of social communication]. This interdependence would lead to the logical conclusion that cultural differences in language and speech are reflected in cultural differences in thought.

In the theory of linguistic relativity devised by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, a more extreme version of that logic was proposed. Brown writes:

Linguistic relativity is the reverse of the view that human cognition constrains the form of language. Relativity is the view that the cognitive processes of a human being – perception, memory, inference, deduction – vary with structural characteristics – lexicon, morphology, syntax – of the language [one speaks].

rene-descartes

Rene Descartes was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in the history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the “father of modern philosophy”, Descartes profoundly influenced intellectuals across Europe with his writings. Best known for his statement “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), the philosopher started the school of rationalism which broke with the scholastic Aristotelianism. Firstly, Descartes rejected the mind-body dualism, arguing that matter (the body) and intelligence (the mind) are 2 independent substances (metaphysical dualism) and secondly rejected the causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment. The philosopher spent a great part of his life in conflict with scholastic approach (historically part of the religious order and its adherents) which still dominated thoughts in the early 17th century.

Les bons plans de René

Rene Descartes (1596-1659) / Image: Université Paris-Descartes

Communication & Language

The study of communication is therefore an enormous undertaking that draws on a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, linguistics, socio-linguistics, philosophy and literary criticism. Social psychologists have tended to distinguish between the study of language and the study of non-verbal communication [where scholars agree both are vital to study communication (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Holtgraves, 2010; Semin, 2007)]; with also a focus on conversation and the nature of discourse. However the scientific revolution has quickly turned our era into one hugely influenced by computer-mediated communication which is quickly turning into a dominant channel of communication for many (Birchmeier, Dietz-Uhler and Stasser, 2011; Hollingshead, 2001).

Communication in all its varieties is the essence of social interaction: when we interact we communicate. Information is constantly being transmitted about what we sense, think and feel – even about “who we are” – and some of our “messages” are unintentional [instinctive]. Communication among educated humans comprises of words, facial expressions, signs, gestures and touch; and this is done face-to-face or by phone, writing, texting, emails or video. The social factors of communication are inescapable:

  • It involves our relationship with others
  • It is built upon a shared understanding of meaning
  • It is how people influence each other

Spoken languages are based on rule-governed structuring of meaningless sounds (phonemes) into basic units of meaning (morphemes), which are further structured by morphological rules into words and by syntactic rules into sentences. The meanings of words, sentences and entire utterances are determined by semantic rules; which together represent “grammar”. Language has remained an incredibly and endlessly powerful medium of communication due to the limitless amount of meaningful utterances it can generate through the shared knowledge of morphological, syntactic and semantic rules. Meaning can be communicated by language at a number of levels, ranging from a simple utterance [a sound made by one person to another] to a locution [words placed in sequence, e.g. ‘It’s cold in this room’], to an illocution [the locution and context in which it is made: ‘It’s cold in this room’ may be a statement, or a criticism of the institution for not providing adequate heating, or a request to close the window, or a plea to move to another room (Austin, 1962; Hall, 2000)].

Délice Sonore M100 Master d'purb dpurb site web.jpg

Linguistic mastery therefore involves dexterity at many levels of cultural understanding and therefore should likely differ from one individual to another depending on their personality, IQ, education and cultural proficiency in self adjustment. This would lead to being able to navigate properly in the appropriate cultural context through language whilst knowing the appropriateness of the choice of words in term of “when, where, how and to whom say it.” Being able to master these, opens the doors to sociolinguistics (Fishman, 1972; also see Forgas, 1985), and the study of discourse as the basic unit of analysis (Edwards and Potter, 1992; McKinlay and McVittie, 2008; Potter and Wetherell, 1987). The philosopher John Searle (1979) has identified five sorts of meanings that humans can intentionally use language to communicate; we can use language:

  • To say how something is signified
  • To get someone to do something.
  • To express feelings and attitudes
  • To make a commitment
  • To accomplish something directly

Language is a uniquely human form of communication, as observed in the natural world, no other mammal has the elaborate form of communication in its repertoire of survival skills. Young apes have been taught to combine basic signs in order to communicate meaningfully (Gardner and Gardner, 1971; Patterson, 1978), however not even the most precocious ape can match the complexity of hierarchical language structure used by a normal 3-year-old child (Limber, 1977).

BabyBoy

Language has been called a human instinct because it is so readily and universally learned by infants. At 10 months of age, little is said, but at 30-month-old infants speak in complete sentences and user over 500 words (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). Moreover, over this very 20 month period, the plastic infant brain reorganises itself to learn the language of its environment(s). At 10 months infants can distinguish the sounds of all languages, but by 30 months, they can readily discriminate only those sounds to which they have been exposed (Kraus and Banai, 2007). Once the ability to discriminate particular speech sounds is lost, it is very hard to regain in most, which is one of the reason why most adults tend to have difficulties with learning a new language without an accent.

Neuro_SpeakingAHeardWord

Processes involved in the brain when speaking a heard word. Damage to areas of the Primary auditory cortex on the Left temporal lobe induce Language Recognition Problems & damage to the same areas on the Right produce deficits in processing more complex & delicate sounds [e.g. music, vocal performances, etc]. Hence, in Neuroscience, although it is not always the case, it can be generalised with a fair amount of confidence that Left is concerned with Speed, and Right is focused on Complex Frequency Patterns.

Most intellectuals researching the evolution of sophisticated human languages turned first to comparative studies of the vocal communications between human beings and other lesser primates [e.g. apes / monkeys]. For example, vervet monkeys do not use alarm calls unless other similar monkeys are within the vicinity, and the calls are more likely to be made only if the surrounding monkeys are relatives (Cheney and Seyfarth, 2005). Furthermore, chimpanzees vary the screams they produce during aggressive encounters depending on the severity of the encounter, their role in it, and which other chimpanzees can hear them (Slocombe and Zuberbuhler, 2005).

A fairly consistent pattern has emerged in the study of non-human vocal communication: There is a substantial difference between vocal production and auditory comprehension. Even the most vocal non-human primates can produce a relatively few calls, yet they are capable of interpreting a wide range of other sonic patterns in their environment. This seems to suggest that non-human primates’ ability to produce vocal language is limited, not by their inability to interpret sounds, but by their inability to exert ‘fine motor control’ over their voices – only humans have this distinct ability. It also confidently suggests that human language has likely evolved from a competence in comprehension already existing in our primate ancestors.

theyoungafricanape

The species specificity to language has led to some linguistic theorist to assume that an innate component to language must be unique to humans, notably Noam Chomsky (1957) who argued that the most basic universal rules of grammar are innate [called a “Language Acquisition Device”] and are activated through social interaction which enables the “code of language” to be cracked. However some other theorists argue for a different proposal, believing that the basic rules of language may not be innate as they can be learnt from the prelinguistic parent-child interaction (Lock, 1978, 1980), furthermore the meanings of utterances are so dependent on social context that they seem unlikely to be innate (Bloom, 1970; Rommetveit, 1974; see Durkin, 1995).

Motor Theory of Speech Perception

The motor theory of speech perception proposes that the perception of speech depends on the words activating the same neural circuits in the motor system that would be activated if the listener said the words (see Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner, 2009). Support for this theory has come from evidence that simply thinking about performing a particular task often activates the similar brain areas as performing the action itself, and also the discover of mirror neurons, motor cortex neurons that fire when particular responses are either observed or performed (Fogassi and Ferrari, 2007).

Cerebellum

Broca’s area: Speech production & Language processing // Wernicke’s area: Speech Comprehension

This seems to make perfect sense when solving the equation on the simple observation that Broca’s Area [speech area] is a part of the left premotor cortex [motor skills/movement area]. And since the main thesis of the motor theory of speech perception is that the motor cortex is essential in language comprehension (Andres, Olivier, and Badets, 2008; Hagoort and Levelt, 2009; Sahin et al., 2009), the confirmation comes from the fact that many functional brain-imaging studies have revealed activity in the primary or secondary motor cortex during language tests that do not involve language expression at all (i.e., speaking or writing). This may also suggest that fine linguistic skills may be linked to fine motor skills. Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner (2009) compiled and evaluated results of recorded activity in the motor cortex during speech perception and concluded that the motor cortex is active during conversation.

Gestural Language

Since the unique ability of a high degree of motor control over the vocal apparatus is present only in humans, communication in lesser non-human primates are mainly gestural rather than vocal.

chimps-gestures

Image: Reuters

This hypothesis was tested by Pollick, and de Waal in 2007, who compared the gestures and the vocalisations of chimpanzees. They found a highly nuanced vocabulary of hand gestures being used in numerous situations with a variety of combinations. To conclude, chimpanzees gestures were much more comparable to human language than were their vocalisations. Could this simply suggest that primate gestures have been a critical stage in the evolution of human language (Corballis, 2003)?

On this same note, we may focus on the already mentioned “Theory of Linguistic Relativity” (Whorf, 1956) which states that our internalised cognitions as a human being, i.e. perception, memory, inference, deduction, vary with the structural characteristics, i.e. lexicon, morphology and syntax of the language we speak [cultural influence shapes our thoughts].

Thoughts

In support of of Sapir and Whorf’s position, Diederik Stapel and Gun Semin (2007) refer poetically to the “magic spell of language” and report their research, showing how different categories in the language we speak guide our observations in particular ways. We tend to use our category of language to attend to different aspects of reality. The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language entirely determines thought, so those who speak different languages actually perceive the world in entirely different ways and effectively live in entirely different cognitive-perceptual universes. However extreme this suggestion may seem, a good argument against this assumption would be to consider whether the fact that we can distinguish between living and non-living things in English means that the Hopi of North-America, who do not, cannot distinguish between a bee and an aeroplane? Japanese personal pronouns differentiate between interpersonal relationships more subtly than do English personal pronouns; does this mean that English speakers cannot tell the difference between relationships? [What about Chong, Khan, Balaraggoo, Tyrone, Vodkadinov, Jacob, Obatemba M’benge and Boringski – where would you attribute their skills in the former question?]

The strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is believed to be the most extreme version to be applicable to the mainstream, so a weak form seems to better accord with the quantitative facts (Hoffman, Lau and Johnson, 1986). Language does not determine thought but allows for the communication of aspects of the physical or social environment deemed important for the community. Therefore in the event of being in a situation where the expertise in snow is deemed essential, one would likely develop a rich vocabulary around the subject. Similarly, should one feel the need to have a connoisseur’s discussion about fine wines, the language of the wine masters would be a vital requisite in being able to interact with flawless granularity in the expression of finer tasting experiences.

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Although language may not determine thought, its limitations across cultures may entrap those ‘cultured’ to a specific one due to its limited range of available words. Logically, if there are no words to express a particular thought or experience we would not likely be able to think about it. Nowadays such an idea based on enhancing freedom of expression and the evolution of human emancipation, a huge borrowing of words across languages has been noted over the years: for example, English has borrowed Zeitgeist from German, raison d’être from French, aficionado from Spanish and verandah from Hindi. This particular concept is powerfully illustrated in George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which a totalitarian regime based on Stalin’s Soviet Union is described as imposing its own highly restricted language called “Newspeak” designed specifically to prohibit people from even thinking non-orthodox or heretical thoughts, because the relevant words do not exist.

Further evidence over the impact of language on thought-restriction comes from research led by Andrea Carnaghi and her colleagues (Carnaghi, Maas, Gresta, Bianchi, Cardinu and Arcuri, 2008). In German, Italian and some other Indo-European languages [such as English], nouns and adjectives can have different effects on how we perceive people. Compare ‘Mark is gay’ [using an adjective] with ‘Mark is a gay’ [using a noun]. When describing an individual, the use of an adjective suggests an attribute of that individual; whereas a noun seems to imply a social group and being a member of a ‘gay’ group. The latter description with a noun is more likely to invoke further stereotypic/prejudicial inferences and an associated process of essentialism (e.g. Haslam, Rothschild and Ernst, 1998) that maps attributes onto invariant, often bio-genetic properties of the particular social category/group.

Paralanguage and speech style

The impact of language on communication is not only dependent on what is said but also by how it is said. Paralanguage refers to all the non-linguistic accompaniment of speech – volume, stress, pitch, speed, tone of voice, pauses, throat clearing, grunts and sighs (Knapp, 1978; Trager, 1958). Timing, pitch and loudness (the prosodic features of language; e.g. Argyle, 1975) play major roles in communication as they can completely change the meaning of utterances: a rising intonation at the end of a statement turns it into a question or communicates uncertainty, doubt or need for approval (Lakoff, 1973). Underlying emotions are often revealed in prosodic features of speech: low pitch could signify sadness or boredom, while high pitch could communicate anger, fear or surprise (Frick,1985). Naturally fast speech often reflects power and control (Ng and Bradac, 1993).

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To gain further understanding of the feelings elicited by different paralinguistic features, Klaus Scherer (1974) used a synthesizer to vary short neutral utterances and has had individuals identify the emotions that were being communicated. Fig. A shows how different paralinguistic features communicate information about the speaker’s feelings.

In addition to paralinguistic cues, communication can also happen in different accents, different language varieties and different languages altogether. These are important speech style differences that have been well researched in social psychology (Giles and Coupland, 1991). From social psychology, the focus in language is mainly on how something is said rather than on what is said, with speech style instead of speech content; whereas discourse analytic approaches also place importance on what is said.

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Fig. A | Emotions displayed through paralinguistic cues

Social Markers in Speech

Most individuals have a repertoire of speech styles that is automatically or deliberately tailored depending on the context of the communicative event. For example, one would tend to speak slowly, use short words and simple grammatical constructions when dealing with foreigners and children (Clyne, 1981; Elliot, 1981). Longer, more complex constructions along with formalised language varieties or standard accents tend to be used in more formal contexts such as an interview or a speech.

In 1979, Penelope Brown and Colin Fraser categorised different components of a communicative situation that may influence speech style and distinguished between two broad features:

  • The scene (e.g. its purpose, time of day, whether there are bystanders or an audience, etc)
  • The participants (e.g. their personality, ethnicity, chemistry between them)

It is important to note however that individual differences have a major role to play in this objective classification of situations as different individuals may not define the similar “objective” situations similarly. For example, what is deemed formal for some may simply be common place to others; this subjective perception of objective situations has an effect on one’s chosen speech style.

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One amazing point raised by Adrian Furnham (1986) is the fact that not only does one adjust speech styles to subjectively perceived situational demands, but one also seeks out situations that are appropriate to a preferred speech style. Contextual variations in speech style contains information about who is speaking to whom, in what context and on what topic? Speech contains social markers (Scherer and Giles, 1979). The most researched markers in social psychology are of group “memberships” such as society, social class, ethnicity, education, age and sex. Social markers are in most cases clearly identifiable and act as reliable clues to group membership. For example, most of the English can easily identify Americans, Australians and South Africans from their speech style alone, and (see Watson, 2009) are probably even better at identifying people who have been cultured in Exeter, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Essex! Speech style generally elicits a listener’s attitude towards the group that the speaker “represents” [at the exception of some non-mainstream individuals – as in any other group]. A mainstream media example could be the actress Eliza Doolittle’s tremendous efforts in the film My Fair Lady to acquire a standard English accent in order to hide her Cockney origins. This idea or concept is known as the match-guise technique, one of the most widely used research paradigms in the social psychology of language – devised to investigate language attitudes based on speech alone (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner and Fillenbaum, 1960). The method involves individuals rating short speech extracts similar in paralinguistic, prosodic and content respects, differing ONLY in speech style (accent, dialect, language). All the speech extracts were spoken by the very same individual – who was fluently bilingual. The speaker is rated on a number of evaluative dimensions, which fall into 2 clusters reflecting competence and warmth as the 2 most basic dimensions of social perception (Fiske, Cuddy and Glick, 2007).

  • Status variables (e.g. intelligent, competent, powerful);
  • Solidarity variables (e.g. close, friendly, warm).

The matched-guise technique has been used extensively in a wide range of cultural contexts to investigate how speakers of standard and non-standard language varieties are evaluated. The standard language variety is the one that is associated with high economic status, power and media usage – in England, for example, it is what has been called received pronunciation (RP) English. Non-standard varieties include regional accents (e.g. Yorkshire, Essex), non-standard urban accents (e.g. Birmingham, North/South London) and minority ethnic languages (e.g. Afrikaan, Urdu, Arab, Hindi, Mandarin and other foreign minority languages in Britain). Research reveals that standard language varieties are more favourably evaluated on status and competence dimensions (such as intelligence, confidence, ambition) than non-standard varieties (e.g. Giles and Powesland, 1975).

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There is also a tendency for non-standard variety speakers to be more favourably evaluated on solidarity dimensions. For example, Cindy Gallois and her colleagues (1984) found that both white Australians and Australian Aborigines upgraded Aboriginal-accented English on solidarity dimensions (Gallois, Callan and Johnstone, 1984). Hogg, Joyce and Abrams (1984) found that a similar scenario occurs in other linguistic cultures, for e.g. Swiss Germans upgraded speakers of non-standard Swiss German relative to speakers of High German on solidarity dimensions.

Language, Identity & Ethnicity

Matched-guise technique and other studies in linguistics have revealed how our speech style [accents, language, grammatical proficiency & voice] can affect how others evaluate us socially. This is unlikely to be due to the fact that some speech styles are aesthetically more pleasant than others, but more likely to be because speech styles are associated with particular social groups that are consensually evaluated more or less positively in society’s scale. Unless being acted, a person speaking naturally in the speech style of lower-status groups may lead to an evaluation similar to that of the group and their image [i.e. way of life] in society [for most mainstream cases & not expert assessors of individuality]. This suggests that processes associated with intergroup relations and group memberships may affect language and social behaviour among the mainstream crowd.

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René Descartes (1596-1650) par C. Jacquand • Crédits : Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive / The Picture Desk – AFP

Howard Giles and Richard Bourhis and their colleagues employed and extended principles from the social identity theory to develop an intergroup perspective on the social psychology of language (Giles, Bourhis and Taylor, 1977; Giles and Johnson, 1981, 1987). Since the original analysis focussed mainly on ethnic groups that differ in speech style, the theory is called ethnolinguistic identity theory; however, the wider intergroup analysis of language and communication casts a much wider net to embrace all manner of intergroup contexts (e.g. Giles, 2012; Giles, Reid and Harwood, 2010). 

Speech Style and Ethnicity

Although it is well know that ethnic groups differ in appearance, dress, cultural practices, and religious beliefs, language or speech style is often one of the most distinct and clear markers of ethnic identitysocial identity as a member of an ethnolinguistic group (an ethnic group defined by language or speech-style). For instance, the Welsh and the English in the UK are most distinctive in terms of accent and language. Speech style, then, is an important and often central stereotypical or normative property of group identity: one of the most powerful ways to display your Welshness is to speak English with a marked Welsh accent – or, even better to simply speak Welsh.

Language or speech style cues ethnolinguistic identity. Therefore, whether people accentuate or de-emphasise their ethnic language is generally influenced by the extent to which they see their ethnic identity as being a source of self-respect or pride. This perception will in turn be influenced by the real nature of the power and status relations between ethnic groups in society. Research in England, on regional accents rather than ethnic groups, illustrates this (e.g. Watson, 2009) – some accents are strengthening and spreading and others retreating or fading, but overall despite mobility, mass culture and the small size of England, the accent landscape is surprisingly unchanged. Northern accents in particular such as Scouse and Geordie have endured due to low immigration and marked subjective regional pride of these respective communities. Brummie is slowly spreading into the Welsh Marches due to population spread, and Cockney-influenced Estuary English popular due to it being portrayed in mainstream middle-class films has luckily not influenced East Anglia and South East England – that have kept their grammar and granularity.

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It should be noted that almost all major societies have a multicultural component with ethnic groups, however all contain a single dominant high-status group whose language is the lingua franca of the nation with ethnic groups whose languages are subordinate. However, in major immigrant economies such as the United States, Canada and Australia some of the biggest variety of large ethnic groups occur. Unsurprisingly, most of the research on ethnicity and language comes from these countries, in particular, Australia and Canada. In Australia for example, English is the lingua franca, but there are also large ethnic Chinese, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese communities – language research has been carried out on all these communities (e.g.  Gallois, Barker, Jones and Callan, 1992; Gallois and Callan, 1986; Giles, Rosenthal and Young, 1985; Hogg, D’Agata and Abrams, 1989; McNamara, 1987; Smolicz, 1983)

Speech Accommodation

Social categories such as ethnic groups may develop and maintain or lose their distinctive languages or speech style as a consequence of intergroup relations. However, categories do not speak. People speak, and it is generally done with one another, usually in face-to-face interaction. As mentioned earlier, when people interact conversationally, they tend to adapt their speech style to the context – the situation, and in particular the listener. This concept is the foundation of the speech accommodation theory (Giles, 1984; Giles, Taylor and Bourhis, 1973), which invokes specific motivations to explain the ways in which people accommodate their speech style to those who are present. Motivation involved for such adaptations may be a desire to help the listener to understand what is being said or to promote specific impressions of oneself.

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Radcliffe Square at Night, Oxford [Image: Y. Song]

 Speech Convergence and Divergence 

Since most conversations involve individuals who are potentially of unequal social status, speech accommodation theory describes the type of accommodation that might occur as a function of the sort of social orientation that the speakers may have towards one another (See Fig. B). Where a simple interpersonal orientation exists (e.g. between two friends), bilateral speech convergence occurs. Higher-status speakers shift their accent or speech style ‘downwards’ towards that of the lower-status speakers, who in turn shift ‘upwards’. In this scenario, speech convergence satisfies a need for approval or liking. The act of convergence increases interpersonal speech style similarity and this enhances interpersonal approval and liking (Bourhis, Giles and Lambert, 1975), particularly if the convergence behaviour is clearly intentional (Simard, Taylor and Giles, 1976). The process is based on the supported idea that similarity typically leads to attraction in most cases (e.g. Byrne, 1971).

Table D1

Fig. B | Speech accommodation as a function of status, social orientation and subjective vitality

Consider a particular scenario where an intergroup orientation exists. If the lower status group has low subjective vitality coupled with a belief in social mobility (i.e. one can pass, linguistically, into the higher status group), there is unilateral upward convergence on the part of the lower status speaker and unilateral speech divergence on the part of the higher status speaker. In intergroup contexts, divergence achieves psycholinguistic distinctiveness: it differentiates the speaker’s ingroup on linguistic grounds from the outgroup. Where an intergroup orientation exists and the lower status group has high subjective vitality coupled with a belief in social change (i.e. one cannot pass into the higher status group), bilateral divergence occurs. Both speakers pursue psycholinguistic distinctiveness.

Speech accommodation theory has been well supported empirically (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles and Coupland, 1991). Bourhis and Giles found that Welsh adults accentuated their Welsh accent in the presence of RP English speakers (i.e. the standard non-regional variety of English). Bourhis, Giles, Leyens and Tajfel (1979) obtained a similar finding in Belgium, with Flemish speakers in the presence of French speakers. In both cases, a language revival was under way at the same time, and thus an intergroup orientation with high vitality was salient. In a low-vitality social mobility context, Hogg (1985) found that female students in Britain shifted their speech style ‘upwards’ towards that of their male partners. Accommodation in intergroup contexts reflects an intergroup or social identity mechanism in which speech style is dynamically governed by the speakers’ motivation to adopt ingroup or outgroup speech patterns. These motivations are in turn formed by perception of:

  • The relative status and prestige of the speech varieties and their associated groups; and
  • The vitality of their own ethnolinguistic group

Stereotyped Speech

One important factor that may actually govern changes in speech style is conformity to stereotypical perceptions of the appropriate speech norm. Thakerar, Giles and Cheshire (1982) distinguished between objective and subjective accommodation. People converge on or diverge from what they perceive to be the relevant speech style. Objective accommodation may reflect this, but in some circumstances it may not: for instance subjective convergence may resemble objective divergence if the speech style stereotype is different from the actual speech behaviour of the other speaker.

Even the “Queen’s English” is susceptible to some accommodation towards a more popular stereotype (Harrington, 2006). An analysis of the phonetics in the speech of Elizabeth II from her Christmas broadcasts to the world since 1952 show a gradual change in the Royal vowels, moving from ‘upper-class’ RP to a more ‘standard’ and less aristocratic RP. This may simply reflect a softening of the once strong demarcation between the social classes – social change may sometimes be a catalyst for speech change. Where once she might have said “thet men in the bleck het”, she would now say “that man in the black hat”.

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Red Queen Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (Oxford Classics)

Speech accommodation theory has been extended in recognition of the role of non-verbal behaviour in communication – now called communication accommodation theory (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles, Mulac, Bradac and Johnson, 1987; Giles and Noels, 2002), which acknowledges that convergence and divergence can occur non-verbally as well as verbally. Anthony Mulac and his colleagues found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards the amount of eye contact (now called ‘gaze’) made by their partner (Mulac, Studley, Wiemann and Bradac, 1987). While accommodation is often synchronised in verbal and non-verbal channels, this is not necessarily the case. Frances Bilous and Robert Kraus (1988) found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards men on some dimensions (e.g. total words uttered and interruptions) but diverged on others (e.g. laughter).

Bilingualism and second-language acquisition 

Due to the excessive and culturally destructive waves of migration caused by the exploitation of diplomacy and corrupt politicians with their partners in the mainstream media to promote uncontrolled migration, most major countries are now bilingual or multilingual, meaning that people need to be able to speak two or more languages with a fair amount of proficiency to communicate effectively and successfully achieve their goals in different contexts. These countries contain a variety of ethnolinguistic groups with a single dominant group whose language is the lingua franca – very few countries are effectively monolingual (e.g. Portugal and Japan) anymore – which nowadays seems to be reflected in the lack of socio-psychological coherence and the clash of values and visions.

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The Intervention of Sabine Women par Jacques-Louis David (1795-1799)

The acquisition of a second language is rarely a matter of acquiring basic classroom proficiency, as one might in order to ‘get by’ on holiday – in fact, it is a wholesale acquisition of a language embedded in a highly cultural context with varying degrees of granularity to reach the levels of flawless/effective communication (Gardner, 1979). Second-language acquisition requires native-like mastery (being able to speak like a native speaker), and this hinges more on the motivations of the second-language learner than on linguistic aptitude or pedagogical factors. Failure to acquire native-like mastery can undermine self-confidence and cause physical and social isolation, leading to material hardship and psychological suffering. For example, Noels, Pon and Clément (1996) found low self-esteem and marked symptoms of stress among Chinese immigrants in Canada with poor English skills. Building on earlier models (Gardner, 1979; Clément, 1980), Giles and Byrne (1982) proposed an intergroup model of second language acquisition. There are five socio-psychological dimensions that influence a subordinate group member’s motivational goals in learning the language of a dominant group (see Fig. C):

  • Strength of ethnolinguistic identification
  • Number of alternative identities available
  • Number of high-status alternative identities available
  • Subjective vitality perceptions
  • Social beliefs regarding whether it is or is not possible to pass linguistically into the dominant group

Low identification with one’s ethnic ingroup, low subjective vitality and a belief that one can ‘pass’ linguistically coupled with a large number of other potential identities of which many are high-status are conditions that motivate someone to acquire native-like mastery in the second language. Proficiency in the second language is seen to be economically and culturally useful; it is considered additive to our identity. Realisation of this motivation is facilitated or inhibited by the extent to which we are made to feel confident or anxious about using the second language in specific contexts. The converse set of socio-psychological conditions motivates people to acquire only classroom proficiency. Through fear of assimilation, the second language is considered subtractive in that it may attract ingroup hostility and accusations of ethnic betrayal. Early education, individual Intelligence, personality and aptitude may also affect the individual’s proficiency.

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This analysis of second-language acquisition grounds language firmly in its cultural context and thus relates language acquisition to broader acculturation processes. John Berry and his colleagues distinguished between integration (individuals maintain ethnic culture and relate to dominant culture), assimilation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and wholeheartedly embrace the dominant culture), separation (individuals maintain their ethnic culture and isolate themselves from the dominant culture) and marginalisation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and fail to relate properly to the dominant culture (Berry, Trimble and Olmedo, 1986).

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Human brain specimen being studied in neuroscience professor Ron Kalil’s Medical School research lab. © UW-Madison News & Public Affairs 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller

While the most effective forms of adjustments that completely benefit a system remain “native citizens[in terms of creating organisms equipped to be part of an inherited system from the lower to the upper scale of society], along with assimilation [i.e the culturally & educationally worthwhile & proficient organisms that manage to adjust themselves and become fully part of the dominant culture], the remaining could simply be qualified as burden to most systems, for example, unassimilated children deriving from labour and 3rd world migration who are being born in mass due to the higher fertility culture from their parents’ traditional origins, and who seem to want native-like treatment and consideration, which seem to be illogical demands and expectations if they are unable to interact, communicate, adjust their perspective and perception to orient and group themselves with native-like proficiency in order to fully identify with the dominant culture [i.e. cultural belonging and identity], find their place in the society and contribute like all the citizens to the development and continuity of the dominant civilisation. This unassimilated and ‘nomadic‘ generation whose parents initially moved from land to land simply for financial gains from a larger economy may unfortunately [at the exception of some mediocre college-educated extreme-leftist human rights activists] be a scenario fit to be described metaphorically as “parasitic“, while to others [e.g. another segment of the same crowd of mediocre college-educated extreme-leftist human rights activists], this could be what they describe as “cultural-enrichment[See the Essay: Psychological Explanations of Prejudice & Discrimination].

In a sophisticated reality, from the perspective of the experienced scholar and intellectual drenched in literature, psychology, science and philosophy that I have grown to become over the years, I believe that the “parasitic” example may simply be described as a mass phenomenon that civilised society is not used to dealing with and has not been monitoring effectively since the 1950s to a point where confusion and desperation sets for both native citizens and authorities when thinking of a “rational” solution that seems to be constantly shunned by illogical laws and extreme-leftists global conventions that are generally unfavourable to civilised societies while unconditionally defending excessive refugee resettlement programs and cheap and unskilled migration originating from linguistically, culturally and economically atavistic systems [e.g. the third world, middle east, some areas of Europe & parts of Southern and Eastern Asia] to be relocated and transformed into our collective burden.

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Thus, the consequences for second language learning can indeed be very dramatic and have a life changing impact. The major economies of Europe are still divided and unsynchronised due to linguistic barriers and psychosocial differences. Furthermore, language and discourse are refined, enhanced and cultivated from interactions and exposure; the lack of psychosocial and linguistic coherence may also play a role in the drop in cultural standards along with the appearance of a generation that does not seem to have any direction or to represent any concrete philosophical ideals or values, composed of nothing but a simple classroom proficiency in order to meet the basics of daily communication with hardly any granularity or refinement in the psycholinguistic and cultural context of a rich heritage built on and developed over centuries of human civilisation.

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Majority group members do not generally have the motivation to acquire native-like mastery of another language. According to John Edwards (1994), it is the international prestige and utility, and of course widespread use of English that makes native English speakers such poor language students: they simply lack the motivation to become proficient. Itesh Sachdev and Audrey Wright (1996) pursued this point and found that English children were more motivated to learn languages from the European continent (e.g. French, German, Italian) than those from the Asian continent (e.g. Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Urdu, Tamil, Arabic, etc) even though a fair amount of children in the sample were exposed to more Asian & African immigration [due to years of mediocre policies linked to cheap democratic governments & extreme-leftist agendas bent on promoting alien invasions – fragmenting societies & violently destabilising geographical compositions] than languages & cultures from Europe. A possible reason would be that English children perceive more prestige and desirability in mastering additional languages & learning about cultures such as French, German & Italian instead of far-flung incompatible foreign ones [e.g. African Third world, Middle-East, Asia etc].

Communicating without words

Speech rarely happens in complete isolation from non-verbal cues. Even on a phone, individuals tend to automatically use a variety of gestures [body language] that cannot be ‘seen’ by the recipient at the other end of the phone line. In a similar fashion, phone and computer-mediated communication (CMC) conversations can be difficult precisely because many non-verbal cues are not accessible [e.g. users may interpret some messages as ‘cold’, ‘short’ or ‘rude’ when a participant might simply not be proficient at expressing themselves on a keyboard]. However, non-verbal channels do not always work in combination with speech to facilitate understanding. In some cases, non-verbal message starkly contradicts the verbal message [e.g. threats, sarcasm and other negative messages accompanied by a smile; Bugental, Love and Gianetto, 1971; Noller, 1984].

Agony, Torture, and Fright by Charles Darwin

Agony, Torture, and Fright | Charles Darwin, 1868

Human beings can produce about 20,000 different facial expressions and about 1,000 different cues based on paralanguage. There are also about 700,000 physical gestures, facial expressions and movements (see Birdwhistell, 1970; Hewes, 1957; Pei, 1965). Even the briefest interaction may involve the fleeting and simultaneous use of a huge number of such devices in combination, making it unclear even to code behaviour, let alone analyse the causes and consequences of particular non-verbal communications. However, their importance is now acknowledged in social psychology (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Burgoon, Buller and Woodall, 1989; DePaulo and Friedman, 1998), and doing research in this area has remained a major challenge. Non-verbal behaviour can be used for a variety of purposes, one may use it to:

  • Glean information about feelings and intentions of others (e.g. non-verbal cues are often reliable indicators of whether someone likes you, is emotionally suffering, etc);
  • Regulate interactions (e.g. non-verbal cues can signal the approaching end of an utterance, or that someone else wishes to speak)
  • Express intimacy (e.g. touching and mutual eye contact);
  • Establish dominance or control (non-verbal threats);
  • Facilitate goal attainment (e.g. pointing)

These functions are to be found in most aspects of non-verbal behaviour such as gaze, facial expressions, body language, touch and interpersonal distance. Non-verbal communications has a large impact, yet it goes largely ‘unnoticed’ – perhaps since we acquire them unaware, we tend not to be conscious when using them. Most individuals acquire non-verbal skills without any formal training yet manage to master a rich repertoire of non-verbal behaviour very early in life – suggesting that huge individual differences in skills and uses should be noticed. Social norms can have a strong influence on our use of non-verbal language, for example, if one is delighted at the demise of an arrogant narcissist or foe, one would be unlikely to smile at their funeral – Schadenfreude is not a noble emotion to express [at least in most situations].

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Individual and group differences also have an influence on, or are associated with, non-verbal cues. Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo, Rogers and Archer, 1979) devised a profile of non-verbal sensitivity (PONS) as a test to chart some of these differences. All things equal, non-verbal competence improves with age, is more advanced among successful people and is compromised among individuals with a range of psychopathologies (e.g. psychosis, autism).

Gender Differences 

Reviews conclude that women are generally better than men at decoding both visual cues and auditory cues, such as voice tone and pitch (E. T. Hall, 1979; J. A. Hall, 1978, 1984). The explanation for this seems to be rather social than evolutionary (Manstead, 1992), including child-rearing strategies that encourage girls more than boys to be emotionally expressive and attentive. One major question remains whether women’s greater competence is due to greater knowledge about non-verbal cues. According to Janelle Rosip and Judith Hall (2004), the answer seems to be ‘yes’ – women have a slight advantage, based on results from their test of non-verbal cue knowledge (TONCK). A meta-analysis by William Ickes has shown that when motivated to do so, women can become even more accurate: for example when women think they are being evaluated for their empathy or when gender-role expectations of empathy are brought to the fore (Ickes, Gesn and Graham, 2000).

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Most individuals can improve their non-verbal skills (Matsumoto and Hwang, 2011), that can be useful for improving interpersonal communication, detecting deception, presenting a good impression and hiding our feelings [when required in some situations]. Practical books have been written and courses on communications has always had an enduring appeal. Why not try yourself out on the TONCK?

Non-verbal behaviour differs among individuals since most have different attachment styles thus different relationships too. In the case of intimate relationships, we would tend to assume that partners would enhance each other’s emotional security through accurate decoding of their individualistic non-verbal cues and responding appropriately (Schachner, Shaver and Mikulincer, 2005). Although there are data dealing with non-verbal behaviour in parent-child interactions and how they relate to the development of attachment styles in children (Bugental, 2005), there is less research focussing on how adult attachment styles are reflected ‘non-verbally’ in intimate relationships.

 

Discovering the Self

In turning our attention to ourselves, we begin to apply the psychological concept of self to the individual’s consciousness of his or her own identity. What does the “mind’s eye” see when it looks into the self – into that special mirror that reveals one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, i.e. our own private world we so often hide from others. Ancient Greeks who travel to the Oracle at Delphi for answers to their problems, found this message inscribed on the shrine: “Know Thyself”.

Centuries later, it was William James who in 1890, set the stage for the modern resurgence of psychology’s interest in the self. In studying what he called “the mind from within”, James distinguished three aspects of the self: the material, the spiritual and the social.

The material self is our awareness of the physical world: our body and the people and things around us.

The spiritual self is the part that “thinks of ourselves as thinkers” – the inner witness to events.

And the part of the self that focuses on the images we create in the minds of others is called the social self.

While it was William James who pioneered the scientific concept of the self, many earlier philosophers and writers had also recognised this dimension of human nature. Some psychologists believe that the gradual separation of a young child from its mother, a process called individuation, is essential for developing a unique sense of self and a healthy personalityfailure to acquire an independent self-identity may lead to psychological problems.

Today many psychologists are keenly interested in studying the self, however there was a time when psychology focused almost exclusively on behaviour – there was no place for anything as fuzzy as the concept of self. Even to Freud, the conscious self was little more than a weak, passive link in his triad of Id, Ego and Superego. Freud defined the Id as a primitive, unconscious part of the personality where drives and passions originate. The Superego restrains the Id. For Freud the Superego is a combination of the conscience and the ideal self. The ego, our conscious self of self-identity, moderate between the Id and Superegobetween our primitive impulses and our sense of moral obligation. Freud was much more interested in the dramatic confrontations between the unconscious Id and Superego, than he was in the conscious processes of the ego [which we believe accommodates many basic principles of Cognitive Psychology, although not sufficient to explain a complete model of the mind, behaviour, drives and motivation as it tends to ignore the unconscious processes].

Carl Rogers in the 1960s placed a much greater emphasis on aspects of the conscious self [the conscious Ego]. Rogers led the humanistic movement, which was hugely responsible for psychology’s return to the self. In contrast to Freud’s view of a conflicted, impulse driven creature, Rogers offered a vision of psychological growth and health. There exists within the healthy individual, a capacity for self-understanding, for self-direction, for guiding behaviour in self-directed ways, which can be tapped if the right conditions [e.g. resources, education, commitment, training, etc] are provided.

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In other words, the individual does have the capacity and a potential for self-development, change and integration [eventually leading to assimilation in various “cultural” contexts, i.e. linguistic, socio-behavioural, philosophical, geographic, etc] – which does not need to be supplied from the “outside world”, but rather learnt and developed from within the individual. As Jacques Lacan beautifully puts it in describing the mirror stage, one unfortunate outcome of the stage is that individuals tend to look outward and not inward in their search for identity – such external orientation toward individuals’ own identity is doomed to fail.

One great historical example of self-development, change and integration is Paul Léautaud, the son of an indifferent father and an absent mother, who never had any formal literary education and left school at 15, worked in all kinds of small jobs to live, and educated himself by reading all the great authors voraciously late at night. Eventually, he would become part of the literary crowd and be pivotal in the discovery of Guillaume Apollinaire, even if he would not publish much himself. He was an Écrivain pour hommes de lettres” in his own words [French for: “Writer for men of letters”]. To have the freedom to write, something that meant the world to him, he accepted a badly paid job at the Mercure de France, where he was charged for a short time to be a drama critic under the name of Maurice Boissard; he would make himself known for his frankness, his mocking and subversive mind. Léautaud went through hard times financially but never allowed his problems to become an obstacle to his literary aspirations, stating “Quand je marque mes dépenses chaque jour, quand j’inscris 20 francs, il y a 15 francs pour les bêtes et 5 francs pour moi. Je vais avec des souliers percés, du linge en loques et souvent sale par économie, ce qui est une grande souffrance pour moi, je mange insuffisamment et des choses qui me répugnent, je porte mes vêtements au-delà de toute durée et toujours par économie ou impossibilité de les remplacer, je ne m’achète rien, je ne m’offre aucun plaisir, aucune fantaisie. Je vais même peut-être être obligé de cesser de m’éclairer à la bougie pour travailler, ce qui me plaît tant. Voilà ma vie à 52 ans accomplis ou presque” [French for: “When I mark my expenses every day, when I enter 20 francs, there are 15 francs for the animals and 5 francs for me. I go with pierced shoes, ragged clothes and often dirty by economy, which is a great suffering for me, I eat insufficiently and things that repel me, I wear my clothes beyond any duration and always by economy or impossibility to replace them, I buy nothing, I offer myself no pleasure, no fantasy. I may even have to stop lighting myself with candles to work, which I like so much. This is my life at 52 years or so.”] Solitary, collecting abandoned animals in his pavilion in Fontenay-aux-Roses and living in poverty himself, he devoted himself for more than 60 years to his Journal, which he called literary, where he recounted, day by day, under the direct impression, the events that affected him: « Je n’ai vécu que pour écrire. Je n’ai senti, vu, entendu les choses, les sentiments, les gens que pour écrire. J’ai préféré cela au bonheur matériel, aux réputations faciles. J’y ai même souvent sacrifié mon plaisir du moment, mes plus secrets bonheurs et affections, même le bonheur de quelques êtres, pour écrire ce qui me faisait plaisir à écrire. Je garde de tout cela un profond bonheur. » [French for: “I only lived to write. I only felt, saw, heard things, feelings, people only to write. I preferred this to material happiness, to easy reputations. I have even often sacrificed my pleasure of the moment, my most secret happiness and affections, even the happiness of a few people, to write what made me happy to write about. I keep a deep happiness from all this.“] He was also elitist, and in terms of the mind and the absence of prejudice, he puts himself above most of his contemporaries, declaring: “Sorti de l’école à 15 ans, mis aussitôt à travailler comme employé par mon père, ayant appris seul ce que je peux savoir, m’étant donné seul la culture que je peux avoir (je n’ai jamais cessé), m’étant perfectionné seul comme écrivain, cela n’a pas fait de moi un démocrate. Tout le contraire : un aristocrate. Je l’entends par mon esprit, ma façon de penser et de juger.” [French for: “Leaving school at 15, immediately made to work as an employee by my father, having learned alone what I can know, having alone given myself the culture that I can have (I have never stopped), having perfected myself alone as a writer, that did not make me a democrat. Quite the opposite: an aristocrat. I mean it by my mind, my way of thinking and judging.“] A great admirer of Stendhal, he readily acknowledged a taste for egotistical exploration: “J’ai un grand penchant […] à parler de moi, de mes souvenirs. Aussi, dans mes songeries, j’aurai passé ma vie à me revivre” [French for: “I have a great inclination[…] to talk about myself, about my memories. Also, in my thoughts, I will have spent my life reliving myself“]. He thought that good writing should have the qualities of tone, the sensitivity, of a certain personality and that the great brand is to write in complete relationship with the man we are and that it causes fire works. Léautaud’s last words before dying were, “Maintenant, foutez-moi la paix.” [French for: “Now, leave me alone.”] Marie Dormoy, whose lover he had been, became his universal legatee and executor and helped to publish and make known his Literary Journal after his death. The style of the journal is natural and spontaneous. Léautaud practiced, without vulgarity, a living French, a delicious mixture of writing and orality, through a stream of emotional, reactive and lively thought. For those who discovered Leautaud’s voice in his famous radio interviews, the reader has the impression, on each page, of hearing it. Few writers have been able to create the plastic dynamism of the French language as he has. A man of the eighteenth century lost in the first twentieth century, he had the dryness, naturalness and ease of the great masters of French prose before Chateaubriand. Paul Gilson, director of the Services artistiques de la radio would say: “Nous n’avons jamais eu d’entretiens aussi vivants, intéressants et qui aient un pareil succès.” [French for: “We have never had such lively, interesting and successful interviews.”] It seems that Paul Léautaud’s life can be resumed in one quotation from Adèle de Bellegarde, which is “Je n’ai réussi qu’une seule chose, vivre selon mon goût” [French for: “I only managed one thing, to live according to my taste.”]

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Traduction(EN): “I only managed one thing, to live according to my taste” – Adèle de Bellegarde

Marcel Gauchet put it well by explaining that when one lives in a world structured by republican meritocracy and when one is a good student, one knows that there are paths to social ascension.

Hence, in the humanistic view, we find a self that is striving towards personal fulfilmenta guiding force that moves us towards positive actions and enhancements imbued with a kind of virtue that gives humans kinship with the angels. For psychologists, the next step after describing the properties of the self has been to explore just how this dynamic mental structure works in controlling behaviour. Researchers who study the self usually speak of the self-concept: the individual’s awareness of his or her continuing identity as a person. This self-concept is viewed as an internal regulator of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It interprets and organises our ongoing experiences. It reflects on how our present actions compare with our standards and expectations, and it affects our performance by providing plans, scripts, goals and incentives.

We tend to organise our beliefs and information about ourselves in terms of schemas, or knowledge clusters. For example, to some people, gender schemas are all-important – masculinity and femininity dominate their thinking. To others, “weight schematic” may be more important, where they may be trying to lose weight and perceive others primarily in terms of being fat (out of control) or being thin (having it all together). Our self-schema or self-image can have a powerful impact on our behaviour. If our self-image is good, we try to live up to our standard: we try harder and succeed more often. If our self-image is bad, we tend to adjust downward, and end up failing more often. So, self-image can work for or against us. Along this line, Albert Bandura of Stanford developed what he calls the theory of self-efficacy, a new theory of how the self works which can help us understand how some people translate promise and passion into optimal performance. In this experiment, researcher Delia Cioffi would give one subject the task of improving production at the model furniture factory. She would tell the subject that his ability to make good decisions for the factory is based on innate intelligence and ability. The higher one’s basic capacities in the skills, the better one will perform. Nowadays however computer programs tend to ease this process. The next subject is told that complex decision-making is an acquirable skill, and that his performance can improve through his own efforts. In any new skill, one does not begin with faultless performance, but the more one practices formulating and testing decisions, the better one gets at it. The first subject who believes that decision-making is a measure of his intelligence proceeds cautiously and sets lower goals for himself and is frustrated by an increasing number of incorrect decisions. His confidence is measured by the number on the lower left of the screen which keeps falling, as does his sense of efficacy. The second subject, however, sees early mistakes as a necessary part of learning. He profits by them and his performance improves. He sets higher goals for himself, and his response to questions about confidence demonstrate an increasing sense of his own efficacy.

The issue is not what you have, but how you use what you have. From this point of view, we can see that we can have the same competencies and subskills and use them poorly, adequately, or extraordinarily, depending on our self-belief. So for this reason, we can often predict people’s accomplishments better from their self-belief rather than from just their past attainments.

Up to this point we have been focusing on the part of the self which focuses inward to assess its capabilities. But there is another aspect of the self that focuses outward to get an understanding on the impression being created in others. This outward focus, the awareness of the social self, asked the questions: “How am I coming across? What impression am I creating? Do you see me the way I see myself? Do you see me the way I would like you to see me?”

Livres Audio Nouvelle Génération dpurb site web.jpg

Image: Audiobook and child: Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular to the literary crowd in 2019 as they ease the process of transfering information to the brain while leaving the hands free, but also pack a more powerful emotional punch through the sound of speech which also allow the listener [reader] to learn and improve their vocal skills. Neuroscience research has also shown that audiobooks are more emotionally engaging than film or TV [see: Richardson, D., Griffin, N., Zaki, L., Stephenson, A., Yan, J., Curry, T., Noble, R., Hogan, J., Skipper, J. and Devlin, J. (2018). Measuring narrative engagement: The heart tells the story.

 

Statistiques Livre Audio les Critères 2019 dpurb site web

Cette statistique montre les critères de choix les plus importants lors de l’achat de livres audio parmi les consommateurs français en 2017. On y apprend que près de 70 % des lecteurs accordaient une très grande importance au sujet des livres audio lors du choix. Un peu moins de la moitié des lecteurs considéraient la voix de l’interprète comme un critère très important. / Source: Statista France

« Je suis officier de la Légion d’honneur, je n’en tire pas de vanité. Je vous dis ces choses parce qu’aux yeux de certaines personnes cet accessoire vestimentaire confère à ceux qui le portent un certain prestige. Cet attribut me donne le privilège d’être écouté respectueusement par les imbéciles. Les autres ne me prêtant quelque attention qu’à cause de mon talent, de ma carrière ou de mon passé. » [Traduction(EN): « I’m an officer of the Legion of Honor, I don’t get any vanity out of it. I say these things to you because in the eyes of some people this clothing accessory confers a certain prestige on those who wear it. This attribute gives me the privilege of being listened to respectfully by imbeciles. Others only pay attention to me because of my talent, my career or my past. » – Professeur Lambertin (joué par Louis Jouvet) / Un Extrait du film, Entrée des artistes (1938)

To better explain this part about self-presentation, we are going to explore the arts, particularly drama which addresses the nuances of self-presentation. As a former student of literature and drama, I will use the example of the drama teacher who trains young individuals and actors in self-presentation skills to help them convey an impression to an audience. How does this work? Well, we are going to use the concept of status, which has to do with how we manipulate the affect of our self to one another. The content in a given circumstance may be the same, however the way in which I choose to speak to you [the way I use non-verbal cues, i.e. body language] may affect my relationship to you.

These status transactions, come in different aspects, and here we are going to discuss some of them.

The first of these would be eye contact, as it is commonly known that eye contact is a useful device in asserting oneself.

The second variable is of course whether or not one’s body is moving in a sustained way or whether it has jerky movements. As soon as a person starts to move in jerky ways it also affects his or her speech, as it is hard to sustain sentences when for example one is moving there head up and down. Many people tend to speak uncomfortably while moving at the cost of their status [e.g. Uh, as soon as, um, I begin to move my body in, uh, jerky ways – it also affects my speech you notice, It’s hard to uh, sustain sentences when I’m moving, uh, kind uhbut, but it, uh…. At the cost of their status in some cases]. A third kind of jerky motion we notice often is people touching the face, their hair or their hands, which conveys a sense of nervousness – which again would be lowering their status as a speaker]. In other words, anything we might consider to be nervous gestures would be in the category of lowering one’s status. So, the prototype for high status would be someone who is basically calm and composed, and who speaks in complete sentences, breathes deeply, makes eye contact and [uh?] does not have any particular jerky mannerisms.

These factors in interactions are known as status transactions, and they take place all the time between all kinds of people. They are a form of interpersonal communication where individuals establish their degree of social status and power, and demonstrate as well as anything the social aspects of the self-concept. To manage the impressions we create in others, we all engage in what is known as strategic self-presentation – how we present ourselves to others so that they perceive us in the way we see ourselves. Society reacts to us according to the context our behaviour has created [e.g. profession(s), values, education, language(s), nationality(ies), etc], then we see the way they respond to us, which confirms our original belief about the kind of individual we truly are [have become through growth and development]. It is a closed circle – what researcher Mark Snyder has called behavioural confirmation. Our beliefs, our sense of self, create their own reality. That is why depressed people elicit negative reactions and tend to be treated as if, in fact, they are inadequate in most aspects of normal life. While extroverts create an easy-going social climate in which others tend to respond positively to them.

There is also an intimate connection between self and culture [please note that culture here may be related to many fields, e.g. language, profession, clubs, private circles, orientations, identities, musical circles, arts, etc] – culture can be defined objectively [scientifically] as behavioural patterns individualised to a particular select group.

When we talk about the self, we are referring to the way in which the biological organism/being becomes a person. Becoming a person [human being], is largely a social endeavour, and there is nothing more social than language [i.e. linguistic discourse]; language creates a social bond, as Jacques Lacan also pointed out, language [i.e. linguistic discourse] gives the Subject the ability to attain recognition from others [i.e. the rest of humanity]. We can be a biological being [a primate] all by ourselves but to become a person, to become a self, we must engage with or take on or incorporate the cultural meanings, cultural ideas and practices of a particular group or groups [for individuals who have the chance to be bi or tri-cultural] and all these are learnt by language in its different forms. We must use these to become a person as it would be impossible to be a self by ourself. We can be a biological entity, but to be a person with a sense of self, we normally do it in some set of culture specific ways.

Culture can be seen not as biologically based, but rather socially based. It is a set of behavioural patterns and attitudes that we adopt as a means of defining who we are depending of where we are and who we want to be.

Danny D'Purb dpurb.com official concept of self dpurb site web

« Le jour où je cesserai de questionner, d’apprendre, de créer et d’innover sera le jour où je serai mort. » – Danny D’Purb // Traduction(EN): « The day when I will stop questioning, learning, creating and innovating, will be the day that I will be dead. » -Danny J. D’Purb | 2018

Many tend to think of “culture” as an entity inside people, similar to some sort of essence. Taking myself as an example, I qualify myself as bi-cultural, being a Franco-British individual, and since the majority of people do not have the chance to receive the heritage of two European empires, I will focus on the French side. Many people tend to think about us French [yes, the heirs of the language of Hugo, Molière, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Lacan & Foucault] as having some kind of French genes, or French traits or some kind of French attributes that make us French. It is absolutely not true, as culture is “what we choose to do”. And so, as the French school of thought, which has always been avant-garde in structuring minds to the French family; if we take an individual and guide him or her to connect with and use French ideas/concepts, and French ways of perceiving, feeling, behaving and doing things [i.e. values], then eventually that person will become French. Similarly, if I took that same person and placed him or her in the British context, that person will then become British in that sense [at least the science of Psychology in 20th century has enough evidence that I have collected throughout the dpurb.com website, to show that such a scenario depending on the individual’s abilities should be scientifically and psychologically valid – the mainstream people at large are still to embed and share this principle to open new perspectives to their own lives and in doing so allow themselves to grow psychologically and culturally – like Boris Cyrulnik beautifully phrased it:

« Un savoir non partagé humilie ceux qui n’y ont pas accès. »

– Boris Cyrulnik

___________

French for :

“Unshared knowledge humiliates those who do not have access to it.

Boris Cyrulnik

 

Culture is simply a set of common ideas and common ways of doing things – although each culture has its sub-cultures that may vary [e.g. geographically, linguistically, artistically and philosophically]. We can view culture and self as a collaboration where each has an effect on the other: culture shapes self and the Self also has the power to shape culture. This idea is known as mutual constitution and it is reflected in the artefacts of all societies through art, literature and languages of all societies. It also affects each individuals differently in their choice of identification, consumption and adoption of particular products of culture. For example, having been brought up in a society with a Franco-British heritage, it was my choice to shape my self with French literature, arts, journalism, music, heritage, along with Oxford English, literature and heritage as a foundation to establishing myself as an individual with a self of Western European origin, and to make the region a place that I call home. As Jacques Lacan beautifully placed it:

«…en disant que seule la perspective de l’histoire de la reconnaissance permet de définir ce qui compte pour le sujet.

Je voudrais, pour ceux qui ne sont pas familiers avec cette dialectique que j’ai déjà abondamment développée, vous donner un certain nombre de notions de base. Il faut toujours être au niveau de l’alphabet. Aussi vais-je prendre un exemple qui vous fera bien comprendre les questions que pose pour la reconnaissance, et qui vous détourne de la noyer dans des notions aussi confuse que celles de mémoires ou de souvenir…

…un refoulement est autre chose qu’un jugement qui rejette et choisit. »

– Jacques Lacan

___________

French for :

“by saying that only the perspective of the history of recognition allows the definition of what matters for the subject.

I would like to, for those who are not familiar with that dialectic that I have already abundantly developed, give you a number of basic notions. We must always be at the level of the alphabet. So I will take an example that will make you understand the questions posed for recognition, and that distracts you from drowning it in notions as confusing as those of memories or souvenirs…

…a repression is something other than a judgment that rejects and chooses.”

– Jacques Lacan

Most of us are exposed to thousands of images in a given day, which many go by our conscious [not the unconscious] senses unnoticed. While these images discarded by our attention are deemed unnecessary, they collectively shape our thinking about how to be a person [a model to follow], how to be a self [the chosen self]. Take Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin or Oscar Wilde for example; it is quite clear that none of those characters would be qualified as the boy next door; they have been taken here as examples because, as myself, none of us with an English linguistic, literary and intellectual heritage [specially those with the educational elements to optimise their output in life] choose to be the “boy next door”.

A discussion published in the Oxford Journal of Applied Linguistics based on the emerging field of heritage speaker bilingual studies challenged the generally accepted position in the linguistic sciences, conscious or not, that monolingualism and nativeness are exclusively synonymous; from modern academic discussions, it is now being acknowledged that heritage speaker bilinguals and multilinguals exposed to a language in early childhood are also natives; they have multiple native languages, and nativeness can be applicable to a state of linguistic knowledge that is characterized by significant differences to the monolingual baseline (Rothman and Treffers-Daller, 2014).

This may also be said in the French realm for those who received a French linguistic, literary, and intellectual heritage like myself, with examples such as Jean Fanchette, Malcolm de Chazal, Voltaire, René Descartes, François-René de Chateaubriand, Honoré de Balzac, Napoléon 1er, Jacques Lacan, Pierre Bourdieu, Francis Cabrel or Florent Pagny, since none of these “héritiers de la langue Française” would also qualify as the “boy next door”. This is because none of us of French heritage with the intellectual capacity to optimise our output in life would choose to be the “boy next door”.

BNF aventure écriture &amp; livre d'purb dpurb site web

“Chaque civilisation se forge un mythe destiné à expliquer son apparition et construit sa tradition écrite autour d’un support privilégié” / Découvrez (Liens): (i) l’aventure des écritures et (ii) l’aventure du livre | Source: La Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF)

The French heritage is known for its philosophical values embedded in the “grandeur d’esprit et de l’être”, as Charles de Gaulle famously said: “Un peuple comme le nôtre accoutumé aux malheurs comme aux gloires, sait reconnaître les États qui forment avec lui, l’équipe de la liberté.” [Translation: “A people like ours accustomed to misfortunes as well as glories, knows how to recognize the states that form with him, the team of freedom.”] We can thus conclude confidently that intelligent and reasoning beings are unlike unchangeable lifeless objects such as stones, coins and pennies.

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Unlike animals, humans have the ability to express themselves linguistically while using sophisticated and complex reasoning; we are bodies of flesh, blood and bones with a malleable brain and we know from anthropology and biological science that the morphology of our cerebral cortex is substantially less genetically heritable than in chimpanzees, the closest fossil and living relatives of humans, and this means that we, humans, have a brain that is highly responsive to moulding by complex environmental influences of various types; this specific anatomical property of increased plasticity which is likely related to the human pattern of development may underlie our species’ capacity for cultural evolution (Gómez-Robles, Hopkins, Schapiro and Sherwood, 2015).

Brain Activity danny d'purb dpurb site web

Video: 3D animation showing the neuronal activity of a healthy and functional human brain

Hence, we can conclude that individuals with a functional brain have the capacity to construct themselves based on their choices and abilities and are not absolute copies of their parents, siblings, or relatives [even if they may happen to share some personality traits such as for e.g. IQ, emotional intelligence, creativity, temperament, etc], neither are they simply products of exposure to their social circle, acquaintances, or “direct/initial” environment – as the reductionist and deterministic minds of pure cognitive-behavioural psychology wrongly assume [although a wide range of simple and basic vital behaviours can be explained from the cognitive-behavioural perspective in terms of Stimulus and Response, e.g. using the toilets, but complex thought processes of creativity and individuality in various aspects of mental life remain problematic to their branch of psychology]. This is because individuals are unique just like their finger prints, blood type and eyes, and this extends to their tastes, desires, direction, choices, field, creative influences, artistry, identities and parcours. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci’s father was not the productive and creative genius that his son was, but he may have shared some degree of fluid intelligence and reasoning that he passed to his son through his genes; Rafael Nadal’s parents cannot serve and destroy the world’s best tennis player like he does; Victor Hugo’s father was an imperial general and a military person, not the prolific writer and literary master that his son was; Napoleon’s father did not have the personality or imperial vision of his son but married his wife Maria Letizia Ramolino when she was 14 and was a man in law, however he may have had a good sense of judgement in matters related to the management of society that Napoleon inherited; Jacques Lacan’s father was a business man who simply dealt in oil and soap and was not the academically cultured and innovative theorist in psychology that Jacques Lacan was; the father of Sigmund Freud was a poor and unsuccessful wool merchant, and did not have Sigmund Freud’s theoretical creativity in psychology; the family of Carl Jung was very modest financially and were not the deep thinker and theorist that Carl Jung was; Pascal Picq, the author of  “L’homme est-il un grand singe politique?” was born to parents who worked in the market, and whose father later worked in transportation while his mother became a factory worker, they were not affiliated to the prestigious “Collège de France” as their son would later be; and Pierre Bourdieu, the author of “Langage et pouvoir symbolique” was the son of a man who came from the the small peasantry of Béarn, a daily farmer who then became a postman without leaving his rural environment, and was not the gifted researcher, thinker and speaker that his son Pierre would grow up to be. And if we were to also extend these examples to the spiritual domain for Christians, we can also note that the father of Jesus Christ was a wood worker, not the prophet, messiah, philosopher and founder of Christianity that his son Jesus was, he also did not walk on water, turn it into wine and restore sight to the blind, perhaps on the same religious note for those who see science as the systematic study of God’s works, it may be perfect to quote Michael Langlois: « Si Dieu nous a créés avec un cerveau, c’est pour qu’on s’en serve ! » [which is French for “If God created us with a brain, it’s so we can use it!”]. These examples to show that individuals are unique and not absolute copies go on and on, and although they are obvious, it seems that reminding the masses of the reality of individual psychological construction in our world is the job [or burden] that destiny has placed on my shoulders. A lie will remain untrue even if the whole world believes in it, and the truth will always stay true even if noone believes in it.

 

L’heritage de Voltaire: a pioneer of individual self-conception and the liberation of the mind

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Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

We are now going to explore the life of one of the most enigmatic intellectuals of the enlightenment of the 18th century, Voltaire, because he is one of the pioneers of self-conception and the liberation of the individual. It is fundamental to understand that the society that we now live in was not simply given to us on a plateau. Many individuals have fought intellectually and dedicated their lives to justice and individual freedom and emancipation. It would be incredibly atavistic to remain ignorant about the intellectual heritage, the founding pillars passed on to us by men and women who have changed our world by the power of their mind and pen.

We all have heard of Voltaire, and today his name can be found on so many institutional buildings, monuments and places, not to mention paintings by some of the greatest artists and statues that adorn France and other countries. So, why do we do this? Why do we as a civilisation ensure that his name lives on throughout time? We do this in the hope that the fire that lived inside his mind is passed on to the next generation; we do this in the hope that the minds of the present and future generation may follow his example and choose a path of dedication, excellence, values, persistence and courage.

1jour1actu - Voltaire expliqué aux enfants - France Education - d'purb dpurb site web

Source: Education Philosophique en France: Voltaire expliqué aux enfants / Consulté le 7 novembre 2020 sur 1 Jour 1 Actu

In France, Voltaire’s life is even taught to young children, his legacy has become part of modern French intellectual heritage, identity and education, and the majority of people with a French intellectual and/or literary heritage embody the values of Voltaire – both consciously and in many cases unconsciously. Voltaire’s life has become part of French educational heritage and is taught to the young in order to shape their minds, character and values at an early age, he is considered as a sort of prophet, and remains to French identity and heritage what Muhammad is to Muslim identity and heritage.

During the times of Voltaire, 18th century Europe was going through an incredible period of change through the intellectual revolution of the enlightenment, a change that would be permanent and that has since shaped the mind of human civilisation. In those times, the whole of Europe, shook by the enlightenment, spoke French, i.e. the Europe of the intellectuals, diplomats, bureaucrats, emperors and even cooks. As Stéphane Bern phrased it in 2019: it is in the calm countryside on the Franco-Swiss border, in the Auverge-Rhône-Alpes region that slept a strange volcano, uncontrollable, it was a volcano of the mind, of relevance and liberty, his name was Voltaire – the great, the immense, who would die in Paris at the age of 83 years old on the 30th of May 1778. However, it was in the village of Ferney that he had moved to a few years before, in his refuge residence that has recently been restored at the heart of a village baptised Ferney-Voltaire in order to honour his memory.

Voltaire’s initial name was François -Marie Arouet, but for the whole of Europe, he is Voltaire, the prince of philosophers, the passionate poet, the dedicated historian and the writer in his twenties of his first play, “Oedipe” which would open the doors of all the theatres to him. He was also a passionate lover, most famously of the brilliant Émilie du Châtelet, the « grand amour » of his life with whom he discovered true love for more than 15 years.

A man who considered himself the equal or superior to people in power and who was never intimidated by them, crowned or not, Voltaire constantly fought against hypocrisy, superstition, and for justice while always remaining loyal to God, whom he never denied, but he never stopped denouncing the abuses of the religious authorities of his time as an atavistic institution that persecuted people and condemned many to atrocious deaths.

Ne vous conformez pas au monde actuel, soyez transformés par l'intelligence - Romains 12-2 d'purb dpurb site web

Romain 12:2 : Ne vous conformez pas au monde actuel, mais soyez transformés par le renouvellement de l’intelligence afin de discerner quelle est la volonté de Dieu, ce qui est bon, agréable et parfait. // Traduction(EN): Romans 12:2 : Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Voltaire is known for his usual irony and intellectual ferociousness along with a courage without equal in the conservative and unforgiving climate of the ancient regime of his time in the 18th century. Eventually, he paid harshly for such a flamboyant and defiant character through a few trips to La Bastille prison, but Voltaire’s mind remains free and alive!

As Stéphane Berne perfectly phrased it in the 2019 documentary « Voltaire ou la liberté de penser » dedicated to the memory of Voltaire: « Un homme seul peut parfois changer le monde avec sa plume » [French for: « One man alone can sometimes change the world with his pen. »]

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« Un homme seul peut parfois changer le monde avec sa plume » – Stéphane Bern [French for: « One man alone can sometimes change the world with his pen. »] Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Voltaire never hesitated to defend causes deemed lost, such as that of Jean Callas, the unfortunate protestant from Toulouse who was unjustly condemned to death by the Catholic Church and whose name and honour would be restored by Voltaire. He was a dedicated intellectual, always connected with his era, never atavistic or living in the past, but was a passionate lover of the world with surprising originality who applied reason and philosophy to challenge all the irrational conventions of the social structure of the ancient regime and in doing so he is nowadays regarded as an intellectual who was always in advance over his contemporaries by a few centuries. Early in his life, he became a vegetarian, refusing to see meat at his table with this very Voltarian argument embedded with heavy connotations: « On ne mange pas ses semblables! » [French for: “one does not eat his similars!”]

Voltaire’s incredible parcours ends in apotheosis in 1791, when l’Assemblée National brings Voltaire into the Panthéon 13 years after his death – voilà, he reached immortality! That day was memorable because Voltaire’s body, before entering the Panthéon, crossed Paris by programmed stages; first it passed La Bastille where he spent some time, then Voltaire, homme de lettres (man of letters), homme de théâtre passed all the great Parisian theatres, the troops were there with texts that praised his memory. One of the moving parts was when the procession stopped where Voltaire died, l’hôtel de Villette which is on the quai des Théatins, which would later become the Quai Voltaire.

It is amazing to see how the French people treated a man who was not a noble, but through his mind and intellectual abilities rose to gain the respect and acclaim comparable to that of kings and emperors. This ceremony was so grandiose that a commentator had even said that it was a national ceremony, the ceremony of the nation who found itself around the remains of Voltaire. However, the remains arrived at the Panthéon at night and the bishop who was to consecrate Voltaire’s body was absent, since as a clergyman he did not want to receive the remains of a man who throughout his life had fought against the Catholic institutions. Yet, Voltaire’s remains entered the Panthéon and he has since been acknowledged as one of the greats of our civilisation; he entered a monument constructed to be a church and transformed into a pantheon for him. There is a funny anecdote from the obese Louis XVIII after the restoration when Napoléon I was sent to exile after his unfortunate last battle at Waterloo when at that point his regime was riddled with spies and traitors, apparently the monument was to be transformed into a church and there were debates about whether to move Voltaire, and the obese monarch said: « Laissez le, il sera bien puni d’entendre la messe tous les jours. » [French for: “Leave him, he will be punished by hearing mass every day!”]. So, Voltaire remains in the monument.

The tombeau of Voltaire constituted from the catafalque that crossed the whole of Paris is important for all the inscriptions that show the importance of the great man, historian, philosopher, poet, but it is also the recognition by the Assemblée Nationale of the immortal genius of Voltaire.

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Le tombeau de Voltaire au Panthéon / Traduction(EN): Poet, Historian, Philosopher He Widens The Human Mind And Showed It That It Had To Be Free

The intellectual also has a very special place, because he is in the front of the monument, hence all the great men and women have to pass in front of it before entering the Panthéon. In 1794, Voltaire will be joined by Rousseau, and although the two had some clashes in their life, they are considered as the two major philosophers who spread the mind of the enlightenment and carried its eternal spirit of freedom and justice.

It is to be noted that 11 years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, and 2 years before his remains were transferred to the Panthéon in 1789, a historical event would shake the world forever: France had for the first time in its history gone through the revolution, with the iconic takeover of La Bastille, but the Republic had not yet been proclaimed. To this day Voltaire remains the most ancient personality to remain at the Panthéon. The revolution was looking for modern heroes, men who were not saints, kings or men of war, and began to look for minds of the ancient regime who were already dead who in some way, announced the revolution.

Intellectuals debate to this day whether Voltaire could be seen as an artist and architect of the revolution. In some way it may be true, since the ideas of personal liberty and individual emancipation that he defended were the base on which the revolution was founded. But it can also be said that Voltaire was not a man made by the revolution, although in his times, he was aware of the English revolution of 1649 which sent shockwaves across Europe as Charles I was put to death in England after Oliver Cromwell, the English general and statesman had led the armies of the Parliament of England against the king during the English Civil War to then rule the British Isles as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658, also acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republican commonwealth. Voltaire in France was very close to many crowned heads, and although he was not of noble decent himself and despised the abuses of the church and royalty, he socialised with them and saw them as part of his circle; he was close to the monarchy and never thought that the monarchy in France could ever be overturned; however he wanted the monarchy to be constitutional, tolerant, humane and respectful towards individuals and their liberties. French historians argue that Voltaire was definitely not a republican, although this remains debatable since he is not alive to respond to the question and the world can keep on guessing.

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Image: Voltaire en train d’écrire / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Voltaire was a sophisticated man of words and a refined thinker who believed in the power of the pen, mind and intellectual discourse, hence he was not a grotesque brute and would have probably been disgusted around the majority of average, simple, nasty, infantile and petty animalistic minds who infest the political scene of the 21st century, who probably would not be able to interact with him linguistically at the level of language he would have expected and naturally functioned at psychologically; his discourse would not have reached optimal understanding among the mediocre majority of his audience and he would have had to slow down and simplify himself constantly, which would have been very frustating and painful for such a brilliant intellectual; and a struggle in maintaining his mind sharp.

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Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

The man was definitely one of the most talented intellectuals of the 18th century that the Assemblée Nationale has crowned. French historian Évelyne Lever observed that Voltaire had an enigmatic and powerful gaze that marked his presence and would say:

« Le regard chez Voltaire c’est essentiel. C’est un regard qui capte tout et c’est un regard qui rend tout ce qu’il a vu, et il a évidemment des possibilités intellectuelles extrêmement vastes, c’est l’homme des lumières dans tous les sens du terme. »

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French for :

“The look in Voltaire’s eyes is essential. It is a gaze that captures everything and it is a gaze that gives back all that he saw, and he obviously has extremely vast intellectual possibilities, he is the man of the enlightenment in every sense of the word.”

For French writer Philippe Sollers, Voltaire was an adventurer who was very agitated, very clandestine, constantly fighting through his intellectual discourse, like being at war with the conventions of his time. The author of « L’invention de l’intellectuel dans l’Europe du XVIIIe siècle » and « Les Ennemis des Philosophes », who also co-directed « Inventaire Voltaire », Didier Masseau, saw in Voltaire, a character who had a great presence and who entertained some kind of tradition, with his large Louis XIV styled wig that was completely out of fashion in the 18th century; hence Voltaire was a very singular character. François Jacob, the author of « Voltaire », believes that Voltaire was someone who had always been conscious of his own worth, and knew that he was among the greatest –  someone who could bring a tremendous amount to his contemporaries.

The recognition obtained at the Panthéon, Voltaire had been looking for it during the early years of his life. Voltaire from the very beginning entertained the spark of the self-made and self-defined man, since the man who was not yet named Voltaire is in fact François-Marie Arouet and does not have any aristocratic ancestry, and hence could not be considered as noble. While in the 21st century the educational cultivation or the discourse, views and ideas of an individual may lead to him or her being perceived as a noble man or woman of intellect or a noble mind, it was not the case in the 18th century, where there was a strong division between classes – where nobility was usually given by royalty or inherited by birth. Hence, Voltaire from a very early age worked to make the notion of “origins” meaningless in the emancipation and development of the individual – a task that was titanic in the old days of the 18th century.

Voltaire’s father belonged to the middle-class, i.e. the bourgeoisie. It was a relatively well-to-do bourgeoisie and they lived comfortably, but they did not swim in gold either. François-Marie’s mother passed away when he was only 6, and he was raised by his father and benefited of an exceptional formation. At 10 years of age, he had gained admission at the most prestigious institution of the kingdom, the collège Louis-le-Grand, where both the sons of the bourgeoisie and highest nobility were scholarised. So, there he experienced a social climate generated by the best minds of his generation who were destined for a prestigious future and of course, some of his alliances had allowed him to build a network in some of the highest milieus. Even if the young François-Marie was not treated as well as some of his comrades, he would very soon distinguish himself through his intelligence, personality and individuality.

Among the young aristocrats there, some had a room with their own domestics and their private prefect, while the young Arouet was condemned to share the room with 15 or 20 of his classmates. Among the subjects taught, at the college, there was dissertation in Latin, the writing of poetry and versification. Voltaire was particularly gifted in those linguistic and literary fields, especially in exercises of amplification, that put the emphasis on a sense of rhetoric [i.e. the ability to analyse, synthesise, respond and argue convincingly], this is how he would get himself noticed. Voltaire would get the best results in linguistic eloquence in Latin, and this was also the first time that he developed the confidence and pride of a writer or a thinker, since he had just proven himself by winning a contest of eloquence and that would finally be the birth of his career as a thinker.

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Le jeune Voltaire au collège / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

During these college years, he also benefited from the teaching of the Jesuits which is characterised by a great open-minded view of the world, it was about forming a true citizen, i.e. a profoundly Christian mind but who is also open to the reality of his times, hence the importance of the voyages, history, and this constant open-minded view and of course the dramatic arts, such as the theatre. The theatrical arts after all is an opening on the city. The young Arouet developed a taste for drama and theatre, he did not play comedies, but rather tragedies, and from there Voltaire was already blossoming and was certainly thinking of a writing future.

The personality of the future Voltaire was also shaped by his godfather, a man of thought who was a member of the Société du Temple, a world apart that the young François-Marie was introduced to in his teenage years. That society had been a sort of microcosm in Paris, and Voltaire would develop a taste for its aristocratic and libertarian side and also for « le bon mot » [French for: the good word]. It is an epicurean society: a society that lives for pleasure as well as for the freedom of thought. There he had found people who were less conformist and who held different views about the social structure of his time, and the young Voltaire started to love this milieu as it opened new horizons to him. After his godfather had introduced him to one of his older female friends, the latter saw in Voltaire a young man with an exceptional intelligence and left him a small amount of money in her will. With that money, François-Marie, a lover of literature, would go and buy books since his choice had been made, he was not going to follow the career planned by his father since that notarial and legal bureaucratic bourgeois milieu would not have allowed him to fully explore and develop his literary talent, artistic and intellectual creativity, and would have been too narrow and mundane for his ambition and deep mind.

When the young Arouet left college, he was still not known as Voltaire, but in the logic of the future Voltaire, he already wanted to be an « homme de lettres » [French for: man of words or letters], an « homme de plume » [French for: man of the pen]. Of course, for his father that was truly scandalous, because from his bourgeois perspective and milieu, poets are considered as « crève-la-faim » [French for: someone who cannot afford to eat properly] – being a poet is not considered a job. Hence, Voltaire’s father had imagined him studying law and perhaps becoming a notary but he instead wanted to enter the domain of the “belles-lettres” [French for: beautiful words], and hence there the young intellectual’s choice experienced a first form of rejection by his father.

This unpleasant experience led him to even invent his own aristocratic origin, since ironically the future Voltaire would say that he was not the son of his father, and that his real father was an aristocrat who probably wrote verses and who was the lover of his mother; Voltaire said this openly without any shame, since he preferred to come across as a prestigious bastard born out of wedlock rather than a mediocre legitimate child. Of course, this was fairly petty, and could be attributed to a childish frustration, being a fiction that Voltaire created that allowed him to discard his own origin, but from a deeper look it showed how he was already being marked by the concept of the self-made and self-created individual governed by his own abilities and will-power.

Voltaire was already refusing to be a victim of the past and the random location where the fusion of a spermatozoid and an egg, i.e. birth, had placed him; we can take note here that it was what modern psychologists and psychoanalysts qualify as “the concept of self” , i.e. the individual is not dependent on anyone, is not simply a biological lump of flesh created by two primates who copulated, compelled to be defined by an imposed legacy and carry whatever burden it may include – that is an option of course, depending on the individual’s choice in relation to his or her desires but it is definitely not an obligation. We are who we are and who we choose to make ourselves through our own efforts, desires and choices – that is Voltairean heritage and the mind of the intellectual enlightenment! Coincidentally, this simple yet immense and fundamental concept aligns with my own reflections, scientific arguments and philosophical orientations based on the organismic perspective of the free organism that follows a constant evolution throughout its lifetime in a Piagetian style of cognitive growth. So in a way, it is like finding a partial form of synchronisation of my own intellectual thoughts with Voltaire’s, while Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mind, language and concept of symbolic chain and desires follows an almost similar line of thought – it shows that while most of my contemporaries missed the emphasis on the organismic perspective, one of the minds who changed the world in the 18th century shared my beliefs – this particular intellectual similarity is personally satisfying.

When later in his life Voltaire managed to acquire the château de Ferney, he had the old building demolished which he had qualified as atavistic in style, and had a new one built to his taste. It would also become the place where he received many intellectuals and also his friend, the mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet, along with the actor Lequin who would take part in many of the plays written by Voltaire. One of the other great intellectuals who never came to Ferney is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the solitary philosopher, since those two sometimes clashed on some philosophical issues without ever meeting each other, however they both recognised each other’s greatness which reminds us today that they have been two of the most illustrious [i.e. well known, respected and admired] homme de lettres of the century of the enlightenment. After his death, Voltaire’s heart was stored in a cenotaph in France at his Ferney residence for several years, with the inscription:

« Son esprit est partout et son coeur est ici. »

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French for :

« His mind is everywhere and his heart is here. »

Voltaire also invited the most intimate of his guests at Ferney into his personal library where he would read them extracts that meant a lot to him and were connected to his intellectual fight against the problems of the society of his time, for example, against the rigid religious institutions of the Ancient Regime and the persecutions and horrors they orchestrated. The complete works of Voltaire can also be found at Ferney, where he first started writing and focussed on tragedy, a popular genre in his times.

It is with the literature, dramatic arts and the theatre that he was drenched in at college that Voltaire would create and build a name for himself. He thought that this would suffice to take his legacy to posterity, i.e. through his tragedies, however as we would see, it took much more to have Voltaire accepted among the greats of his time, since the division of classes was rigid in the 18th century.

At around 20 years old, the young Arouet had already become quite used to the Parisian salons and his personality and mind quickly made him popular – he became well-known and a habitué of the court at the château de Sceaux. The young Arouet had already risen in society through his intellectual and artistic abilities and original personality, and at that court he was a little boute-en-train (i.e. joker); he improvised clever rhymes and poetry and would say exactly what the great seigneurs wanted to hear. He was stunned by the early success he had found at Sceaux; and although he should have toned himself down in this milieu, he just could not resist the urge to be even more extroverted, flamboyant, defiant and outgoing – it seems that Voltaire was an early embodiment of a form of open-minded libertarian conservatism. During his time there he also enjoyed a wide range of literary, theatrical and musical pleasures.

However, he would soon go beyond his limits, and reveal himself as an extremely biting, facetious mind that could become nasty when provoked, according to French historian Évelyne Lever. In his poem, « Puero Regnante », he offended a man whom no one would have dared to insult, namely Philippe d’Orléans who was the man in charge of the French monarchy since the death of Louis XIV in 1715; d’Orléans was ensuring the regency of the kingdom until the young Louis XV reached the age to govern. The futur Voltaire’s verses in his poem came with heavy consequences since his dramatic poem accused the regent of having killed the grand children of Louis XIV by poison in order to get as close as possible to power while going even further to accuse the regent of having sexual relations with his daughter.

The poem was so scary that Voltaire found himself imprisoned at La Bastille. He was incarcerated on the 16th of May 1717 while in his twenties, and he would remain locked for almost a year. However, his conditions while in detention were far from terrible; the young Arouet was placed in the quarters that we could consider in today’s terms as those reserved for the V.I.Ps [i.e. very important person]. There he had lunch with the governor, where people would also visit and write to him; it was a place where you could serenely plan and prepare for your release.

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Voltaire enfermé à La Bastille / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

If someone is imprisoned at the special quarters of La Bastille, it is because they hold a degree of importance and because they have the power over society, hence the writer used it as a formidable source of publicity to push himself at the front of the social scene. It is also during that period that François-Marie Arouet decided to bury his old name and transform himself into Voltaire; he thought that he should find himself a signature to match his size and to prepare for his future glory; he considered his old name, François-Marie Arouet, to have been a burden to him. French historian, Évelyne Lever noticed that the name, Voltaire, contained the term « Volte » which carries the connotation of one who danses and flies. On the name of Voltaire, the French intellectual, François Bessire said:

« C’est l’invention d’une marque, c’est l’invention d’un nom tout à fait remarquable, un travail de communication étonnamment réussie. »

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French for:

« It’s the invention of a brand, it’s the invention of a very remarkable name, a surprisingly successful work of communication. »

Voltaire also made the most of his time in detention to finalise his first play, however after his release, his perfectionist approach and the numerous repetitions and modifications he made to the script caused conflicts among the troop of actors of the Comédie-Française who accepted to take part in it. One of the actresses, Miss Desmares, had categorically refused to receive new verses from Voltaire to repeat, but had quite an appetite. So, Voltaire ironically sent over small pâtés that she would open to eat and inside there were the new lines that Voltaire wanted her to learn, everyone of course laughed at this adventure, yet the verses were learnt and of course the small pâtés eaten.

The première of Voltaire’s play, Oedipe, opened on the 18th of November 1718, and the whole of Paris rushed to watch the spectacle of the young author with a sulphurous reputation. It was a triumphant success for the writer, and that would be the moment that Voltaire began to earn a living with his pen, and his desire for glory at the same time was satisfied. The success of his writing was fundamental to Voltaire because it confirmed that he was a great author of the classical tragedies.

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Image: Le triomphe du premier oeuvre de Voltaire / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

After that event, Voltaire would start to build a network of acquaintances and friends among the nobles, and would visit Jean-René de Longueil at the Château de Maisons, today known as the Château de Maisons-Laffitte. It is there that Voltaire worked on his epic poem, la Henriade, and one time during a lecture in the great hall of the château, Voltaire did not hesitate to ask the opinions of the guests invited and they, who were not writers and never wrote a play in their life allowed themselves to a number of criticisms. As this went on, Voltaire began to lose his calm and in an abrupt gesture he took his manuscripts and threw them all in the fireplace in a raging gesture; one of the guests stormed to pick them up and gave them back to Voltaire.

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Image: La rage de Voltaire: les manuscrits dans la cheminée / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Another unfortunate episode there was when Voltaire caught a potentially deadly disease: smallpox. However, Voltaire in a few weeks miraculously recovered but a fire spread from the chimney under his room, having been kept constantly lit during the weeks of his illness, the place was ravaged, but that blow of fate would not affect the solid friendship that bound him to Jean-René de Longueil.

After proving himself through his intellectual, linguistic, literary and artistic abilities, Voltaire in his thirties thought that he could finally consider himself as the equal of the nobles, him, a sort of aristocrat of the mind. However, an altercation with one of them during a soirée would cruelly prove him wrong. During that night, the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot had been joking unsympathetically about the name of Voltaire, trying to mock him, and Voltaire in an affirmative and insolent tone abruptly responded:

« Mon nom commence là où fini le votre! »

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French for:

« My name starts where your name ends! »

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Image: Voltaire à Rohan-Chabot: « Mon nom commence là où fini le votre! » / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

A few days later, Rohan-Chabot had Voltaire beaten violently as he was leaving a house where he had had him invited. Voltaire was permuted with pain with all the blows he received from sticks. Voltaire asked for reparation and began to realise that his noble friends certainly pitied him, but would do nothing concrete to help him as the days went by. Voltaire eventually realised that he was being advised to remain silent and to get over this humiliation. That event likely marked Voltaire for life in his fight against the atavistic structure of the ancient regime because it brought him back to the condition that the 18th century of France imposed on individuals; hence, he could be a star on the intellectual, literary and artistic scene, he could be the great Voltaire, but in the 18th century, to the nobles, he would always be considered a « roturier » [note that this is an archaic term that is not used anymore in the 21st century as it used to mean someone who does not have aristocratic origins, it is a term that can very rarely be heard in a minority of social circles that still abide by the social structure of the ancient regime, for example, among some circles in England, the English term is usually “commoner”]; and this irrational concept allowed the nobles of the 18th century to hold the illusory belief that they were superior to anyone who did not have aristocratic origins and that the person could be given the stick by them, even if the individual was incredibly educated, cultured and intellectually superior to the nobles. That was of course something that Voltaire would not accept and towards the end of his life he would receive the acclaim only reserved for kings and emperors for changing the perception of French society and the whole of Europe about individual emancipation forever. But for the time being Voltaire’s humiliation would not stop there, since conscious of Voltaire’s relentless and daring personality and character, the entourage of chevalier Rohan-Chabot feared for the desires of vengeance of the prolific author and so, they arranged for Voltaire to be sent once more to the Bastille prison. He would be freed after only 2 weeks on the condition that he left Paris.

For his exile, the man of letters chose to go to England. It was 1726 and Voltaire would end up staying in the neighbouring country for almost 3 years. It is important to note that in those times, England had already gone through the English Civil War and had shocked Europe by putting King Charles I to death, the latter was beheaded publicly after Oliver Cromwell had defeated the Royal armies. France on the other hand had not yet gone through the revolution, something that would take place 63 years later in 1789, 11 years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, with the iconic takeover of La Bastille on the 14th of July 1789. So, when Voltaire went to England, the power of the ancient regime there was already weakening through the socio-cultural change brought by the English civil war. Hence, in some aspects regarding the structure of society, England at that time appeared slightly in advance to Voltaire in matters regarding the personal liberties of the individual where the organisation of society was different compared to the strict climate imposed by the Ancient Regime of the monarchy in 18th century France, that caused Voltaire to be victimised and jailed for a simple vocal retaliation.

It was Voltaire’s curiosity that motivated him to go to England and also his personal circumstances; that trip would calm down the tension in France by allowing Voltaire to be forgotten for a few years at least. Once in England, Voltaire who was especially gifted with language quickly learned to master English, which is much simpler than French. Being a believer in the values of the intellectual enlightenment, a man who fought for individual freedom and self-conception, and also a proven man of words, intellect and a sort of aristocrat of the mind in France, it seemed logical to expect that Voltaire would work on a similar mastery of language in England and create his own individual identity, and so he did not learn English by socialising, but rather through Shakespeare. He would visit the theatre at Drury-Lane where it is believed that he took the prompter’s manuscripts to learn English through Shakespeare.

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France still conserves a collection of his courier that shows his incredible mastery of the English language but also the affinity he developed for some English customs. The fact that Voltaire took pride in writing in English while in England was not insignificant, because Voltaire in England had felt at home, and very quickly started to see himself as an Englishman, during his voyage he slightly toned down his French identity. Charles Eloi-Vidal, a curator at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France suggested that it seemed that Voltaire during his time in England gave the impression that he had fallen in love with the country and its people. Voltaire was seduced by the atmosphere of freedom that his anonymity may also have contributed to in England. The writer stated that in England, no mode of life seemed strange, we see men who complete 6 miles daily for their health, who feed on only roots, who never eat meat, who wear a lighter outfit in winter than your ladies’ costume on the hottest days. Voltaire thought that all that in England was perceived as a singularity but was not taxed by anyone as ridiculous or insane.

In reality, the French still mock the English for their eccentricity but what Voltaire saw in some aspects of the English society of the 18th century was the freedom to be anything we wanted, an opinion that seemed slightly exaggerated by Voltaire who only lived in England for about 3 years, since nowadays in the 21st century England is far behind modern day France in terms of individual social mobility, although it is encouraging to see that gradual progress is taking place through the contribution of dedicated intellectuals at major universities [e.g. the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford] who are changing the atavistic minds of the Anglo-Saxon masses through the propagation of modern psychological, scientific and philosophical works about development, conception, individuality and identity.

What also stunned Voltaire in 18th century England was the religious tolerance. When in France the rigid institutions firmly controlled and regulated by the Catholic church would persecute people for their beliefs and practices and even send them to horrible death sentences, in England Voltaire saw Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists all somehow living together. However, in the 21st century when we scratch the surface, we find that underneath the illusion of this “living together” in a secular society with the vague concept of « political correctness », there is a passive and silent yet constant competition between each group, all desiring supremacy over one another; this even applies at a global level from the basic population count, to the geographical hold of living space of each group with different languages on our planet; and each group would be ready “diplomatically” to defend their borders with guns, tanks, fighter planes and even nuclear weapons if necessary, and of course, not to mention the periodic violence that traumatises society at large, especially from Muslim jihadists. It is also fair to note how each group – under the illusion of “living together” and “political correctness” – still “indirectly” fragment the population by organising events that celebrate and promote each group’s identity and characteristics within their own geographical population, and that does not seem to be a genuine sense of living together as a singular community but rather a politically correct form of hypocrisy.

We can observe that that the idea of « living together » can be associated with the modern-day phenomenon known as « globalisation » that portrays the society that Voltaire saw in 18th century England. Unfortunately, the “living together” of globalisation is simply focussed on labour and migratory movement and financial motives, whereas true harmony in a genuine community of sophisticated, educated and enlightened minds relies on the construction of a united society and is closer to post-revolutionary French philosophical values of « Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité », which is not simply a question of living side by side with each other, but involves getting all individuals – besides their personal tastes as unique humans beings – to also honestly agree on identity, belonging, values and goals; feel, understand and synchronise their lives with each other as a genuinely united community that supports and helps one another, while also working and building harmoniously together at every level of human life – not simply economically. After all, we are living in pivotal times where the human civilisation is evolving at breakneck speed in so many ways and changing era right before our eyes in the 21st century; with a generation that has the chance of having access to the wide range of accelerated learning technologies available. The world’s societies have evolved beyond recognition from their « primitive » past, and are today interconnected and inspire and influence each other in so many ways [e.g. science, sport, medicine, cuisine, arts, literature, philosophy & education]. We can only imagine what a brilliant mind like Voltaire would have achieved if he lived in our time with all the tools available to us in the 21st century.

Even if nowadays, in the 21st century, after centuries of imperfect democratic parliamentary regimes we have begun to see the lack of organisation, the corruption, the greed for money, the unethical financial motives, the apathy and lack of sophistication and sensibility from the average financial workers crowding the political scene along with their simple binary minds and outlook, the illogical concepts of political parties dividing people by orientation, and the badly organised departments of the state; in the times of Voltaire in the 18th century, this less than perfect parliamentary regime was considered as the only solution and represented a step towards defying the abuses of the Ancient Regime of hereditary traditions and undisputed domination of the crowned heads. So back then, when the parliamentary regime was in its early days in England, Voltaire was fascinated with it, since he thought of it as a movement that kept the King in check, since whenever the crown would try to abuse its powers, it could instantly be stopped by the parliamentary regime – that to Voltaire created a King that could only be kind. Since it was 1726, 63 years before the French revolution, hence this to Voltaire was quite another world – he would most certainly have much to write about if he was alive today to see the horror show of the majority of mediocrity in modern politics in the 21st century.

It is almost certain that if a brilliant, perceptive and volcanic mind like Voltaire lived in the 21st century he would have ferociously criticized the current democratic parliamentary regime, and would be engaged in a fight like ourself to crease out the imperfections, being just like ourself focussed on the liberation of the human mind through reason and science, individual liberty, meritocracy, order, love and justice for all, along with a concern about a harmonious, ethical, intellectually enlightened and a sophisticated society devoid of alienating irrational superstitions, political abuses and unnecessary suffering.

During his English séjour, Voltaire had maintained a journal that he completed once back in France, those écrits, packed with explosive content, would later become his « Lettres Philosophiques ». Those would have two objectives. Firstly, it was an expression of gratitude towards the English society that welcomed and hosted him for almost 3 years. Secondly, Voltaire wanted to point out the problems of the society of pre-revolutionary France in the 18th century where he castigated the French monarchical despotism along with the climate of intolerance towards individual liberties – such as religious beliefs – that it imposed on individuals with heavy consequences to those who chose to deviate from the Church’s rigid outlook [e.g. the persecution of other forms of Christianity such as Protestantism].

Voltaire’s writings were seized and burnt in front of the palais de justice in France; the power of the ancient regime understood that this was a bomb that could seriously cause a storm in France where unlike anywhere else in the world the people are sophisticated, highly receptive and reactive, and always in the constant quest to refine and cultivate themselves intellectually through fresh philosophical discourse. Hence, as soon as Voltaire returned from his exile in England, the enigmatic thinker and writer had once again become persona non grata in Paris and would have to remain discrete and keep a safe distance from monarchical power for some time. Besides, Voltaire using aspects of the English society of the 18th century as examples to criticize France was not going to be well perceived. Although French society acknowledges the pivotal works of some hardworking individuals who dedicated their lives to particular fields [e.g. medecine, science, literature, music, etc] and who have been translated into French, for example, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, just like many other hardworking and dedicated minds across the globe, it certainly does not consider the English heritage or the Anglo-Saxon world as superior, a model to follow or something to be envious about; that is an opinion even shared by a great amount of English intellectuals and people themselves and even the former English King, Henry V, who used the French language to write « Dieu et mon droit » on the coat of arms of the British monarchy. If anything, French society has always considered the Anglo-Saxon world as rough, mesquin (i.e. petty), cold, mechanical, calculating, ruthless and much less refined and sophisticated emotionally, philosophically, artistically and linguistically; while lacking sensibility in human affairs, with the tragedy of Jeanne d’Arc embedded in the hearts of the French people along with the Hundred Years War, not to mention Waterloo. Even the iconic English writer, Oscar Wilde, was persecuted by the society that produced him and ended up seeking refuge and spending the last days of his life in France; a fairly similar fate was imposed on the English mathematician, Alan Turing, who dedicated his life to saving his country and whose contributions were decisive in shifting the outcomes of World War II – he would be persecuted by his own country treated like a criminal and was left to die as a recluse in a room in almost complete anonymity. Hence, a tremendous work of cultivation remained to be done in the Anglo-Saxon world in order to reconcile and build a firm bridge between these two environments and create a genuine sense of trust and respect from the French – a work involving the cultivation of the masses to sophisticated French values that is still ongoing up to this day. The great way to put this could be by saying: « We are from the same planet but not from the same world. »

In the room of Voltaire at Ferney we still find an immense portrait of empress Maria Theresa of Austria and the inscription shows that it was given to Voltaire on the 15th of July 1770, historians do not know the circumstances of the arrival of the portrait here but its presence is quite surprising since Maria Theresa did not have a high esteem of Voltaire, she had in fact forbidden her son Joseph II to visit such a miscreant. To Voltaire, exposing such a portrait was nothing more than a way to show his familiarity with crowned heads even if his relations with kings were very complicated because of his intellectual and philosophical orientations.

French historians observe that Voltaire was an elegant man with incredible style who took great care of his body and cultivated his appearance and looks, however in private he sometimes received people in his night gown. In his residence at Ferney we can also find a portrait of the most meaningful woman in his life, Émilie de Châtelet, who according to the French painter Marianne Loir was among the first women to dedicate herself to science with whom Voltaire finds true love for more than 15 years Voltaire met her in 1733 when he was almost 40 years old while she was in her twenties and fell immediately under her spell, she had an impressive physique and a mind that was no less. Émilie was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant women of the 18th century, a true woman of science, but that did not prevent her from knowing literature admirably – there was a reciprocal coup de foudre between those two geniuses who acknowledged each other’s greatness. Their love story would blossom at the château de Cirey where Voltaire found refuge in 1734 after the scandal provoked by his « lettres philosophique » right after his return from England.

At first, Voltaire did not plan on settling at Cirey, and only intended to spend a few months, just enough time to be forgotten and for things to calm down in Paris. However, when he arrived at Cirey there was an instant feeling of love at first sight with the place and he decided to settle. In the beginning, he would restore an existing part and later decided to enlarge it to install a wing with his own apartments. What is striking is that Voltaire added his unique touch to the architecture, for example, a sculpted door that is still present today dedicated to the arts and to the sciences where we find a tribute to astronomy, painting, sculpture and of course the art of writing and literature.

Chateau de Cirey - La marque de Voltaire

Image: La touche de Voltaire à Cirey

Voltaire hated to waste time and was always busy and mentally drenched in a project. The days at Cirey were shared between philosophical discussions, the pleasures of love that of course should never be neglected and a range of experiments. The couple were 2 dedicated hard workers, each working in their office and they would meet over lunch. There was a real atmosphere of joy, both physical and the joy of being together while not being burdened by the surrounding society and intellectual crowd. Voltaire would say to a friend in one of his letters that they were very voluptuous philosophers. Once, the couple took part in a competition at the Académie des Sciences, and while they did not win, Voltaire had insisted for the memory of Émilie to be printed by the Académie des Sciences, which would have been a great honour – he never asked the same treatment for himself; a gesture that historians nowadays believe to have been a genuine proof of sincere love.

Voltaire ou la liberté de penser - Émilie du Châtelet traduit Newton - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Tableau representant Émilie du Châtelet étudiant les travaux de Newton

Émilie du Châtelet also signed the first translation of Newton’s mathematical principles of philosophy, one of the major works of the 18th century regarding universal gravity. However, it is important to note that Voltaire cannot be considered as purely and simply a man of the mathematical sciences; he definitely took a genuine interest in the pivotal scientific discoveries of his time such as universal gravitation but only to meditate and extract philosophical meaning about the implications of scientific discoveries, i.e. to explain how all the scientific discoveries will impact the way society and humans function, such as the impact on the education of the individual, society at large and the values to be taught in relation to them.

Voltaire ou la liberté de penser - Émilie du Châtelet - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Émilie du Châtelet en train de travailler sur ses écrits / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Modern day French historians believe that Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet were unquestionably the leading couple of that particular century, the 18th century, the century of the enlightenment that gave way to an open-minded view of our world and our wider environment, and that also motivated intellectuals worldwide to take the world out of the claws of obscurantism and into the light. It was the century enlightened by reason where men and women were encouraged to rely on their own experience and knowledge to apprehend the world around them [i.e. to work on their understanding and perception] – this was a turning point in the evolution of mankind! From then, the individual did not feel that he had to respect or abide uncritically to any form of hierarchy whether it was religious or political but was instead encouraged to learn to use intellectual and logical reasoning to understand the world instead of simply believing without thinking.

Voltaire ou la liberté de penser -Espace de Voltaire à Cirey d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Espace de Voltaire à Cirey / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

The 18th century was also the period where we almost completely mapped the terrestrial globe; where we had begun to get a deeper understanding of the inner mechanism of the human body since the early works Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. All this new knowledge led to a turning point because it allowed the emancipation of the individual; now we were no longer subject to the traditional obligation to play our role, to take our place quietly in a society that was regulated by religious authorities and that was patriarchal, because now we finally had the sensible and thoughtful knowledge and hence we had the ability to get out of our former conditions and follow a different chosen path, find our way and ourself.

During all those years at Cirey with Émilie, the main entertainment would somehow remain the arts, namely drama and theatre. Between his intellectual endeavours, Voltaire would not give up on his creative writings dedicated to the theatrical arts and his plays would be performed in a small home theatre that was under the attic, it would become an iconic place since many afternoons and evenings would be spent there and sometimes the only spectator would be the cat and Émilie. Sometimes the couple would also have arguments that would end up in disputes.

Voltaire dans une profonde réflexion

Image: Voltaire sérieux et dans une profonde réflexion / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Émilie displayed an excessively authoritarian nature and would choose how Voltaire should dress, she would even choose the wine that he should drink, and would even forbid him from showing some texts that she had locked away; she knew of Voltaire’s explosive personality and that he would write special and subversive texts; conscious of the nature of those texts and the possible legal consequences that could be even more violent, Émilie kept a close eye on them along with Voltaire’s correspondence. All that would generate moments of tension when they already had disputes, and when those occured they communicated in English so that prying ears across doors and walls would not understand the content of their exchanges. Voltaire would often leave the table in anger when he was annoyed and would sulk, then after they would reconcile with each other and open dialogue through messages on small pieces of paper that they would send to each other through the domestics.

Voltaire dans une profonde réflexion et souriant d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Voltaire souriant et en train d’écrire / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

When Voltaire reached the age of 50, his relationship with crowned heads had already been complex, he looked for their favour but remained true to his intellectual perspectives that were not always favourable to the powers of the ancient regime. Voltaire never regarded the king as the representative of god on earth, hence it became incredibly hard for him to display the signs of adoration that the conventions expected. He was fairly insolent and impertinent and at the same time he had already built the solid reputation of a man of words who mastered the pen with incredible efficacy.

Voltaire ou la liberté de penser - Voltaire faisant de la recherche d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Voltaire faisant de la recherche / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Hence, he was perceived as a scary revolutionary mind, so the royal powers in France would remain very wary of the ingenious writer permanently. Louis XV never accepted Voltaire, who for him was a profoundly unsympathetic man with subversive ideas that he did not want to hear anything about.

But even if he was not regarded highly by the monarchy in France, there was a sovereign in Europe who had boundless admiration for him and his avant-garde ideas. That man was Frederick II of Prussia, the one who would be known as Frederick the great, who had already been known as the philosopher king. It had been a while already since the two man had maintained a passionate correspondence which was initiated by Frederick himself when he was heir to the throne.

The future Frederick II wrote to Voltaire so that the prolific intellectual could correct his verses and help him with his French. The Prussian heir swore by the French language and only spoke German with the horses; to him the French language and the mastery of it was higher than everything else. So, he wrote to Voltaire as a sycophant, qualifying him as the greatest writer of all time and the man he admired the most in Europe. Voltaire was so flattered to find himself celebrated in this way by the future king of Prussia that it made him dizzy with pride. The form of complicity would eventually develop between those two, on the topics of the freedom of mind and ideas. Voltaire on the other hand saw in the future King of Prussia the possibility to hold a very particular role; the role of the one who thinks for the Prince and who participates in the elaboration of political reflections – he had imagined this as a great duo, philosopher and king.

When Frederik II was crowned, he continuously invited Voltaire to join him in Prussia. At around the same period, on the 10th of September 1749, Voltaire was struck by the most demoralising news of his life: Émilie de Châtelet had suddenly passed away. He would be utterly devastated by the death of the woman whom he had loved the most in his life, it was a very painful period for Voltaire who went mad with grief; and it is following this irreparable mourning for him that he left for Prussia.

In July 1750, Voltaire arrived in Potsdam near Berlin where the court of Frederick was located. Once there, his main task consisted in correcting and embellishing the verses of Frederick II. There however, he found many other philosophers and intellectuals united around Frederick II and hence did not feel like the greatest or the most important anymore. Voltaire thus found himself as a token among others of a king whose writing and verses were incredibly mediocre. The king however could be unsympathetic as Voltaire would later discover when a conversation was reported to him where apparently it was said that we squeeze the orange and we discard the core. This seemed to showcase the monarchic mentality about using talented people to further itself and to discard them when they were no longer needed.

That moment had Voltaire realising that he was to Frederick II someone considered as some kind of buffoon that could be disposed of when his services would not be required. Voltaire knew that his situation had changed and that he was not respected by Frederick anymore; so, he concluded that it was time to escape after having spent 3 years there. So, in March 1753, Voltaire left and turned a page on the king but a rocambolesque event will delay his return to France. After arriving at Francfort, he was stopped by Frederick’s men and assigned to residence until he returned a number of documents that he had kept; these were the drafts of poems that Frederick had written along with all the corrections that Voltaire brought. When the King found that out he realised that it would be a catastrophe for him since the world would find out the immense contribution of Voltaire who was almost the co-author of his originally mediocre writing.

Volaire bloqué à Francfor par Frédéric II

Voltaire enfermé à Francfort par Frédéric II / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Voltaire would be held for several weeks as a form of humiliation from Frederick, someone that the writer had previously flattered. It was a sinister farce, but Voltaire eventually got out of it after returning the drafts. The two would not see each other again, however their epistolary relationship would resume. Before leaving the court in 1753, Voltaire had also made a series of scathing attacks on the head of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and Frederick ordered that a satirical pamphlet written by Voltaire be publically burned. It is believed that when Voltaire left the court, he told a friend that he had been enthusiastic about [Frederick] for 16 years, but the latter had cured him of this long illness.

Back in Ferney, France near the Swiss border in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Voltaire thought that a tiny church nearby was hiding the perspective of the residence, so he took it upon him to move the church and had a central alley drawn. He started this modification without any authorisation which was of course not to the taste of the ecclesiastical authorities; hence Voltaire had to renounce to it and rebuild the facade. However cheekily, he had his name on it written much larger than that of god which was of course frowned upon.

In those times, Voltaire was often sick and he knew that death could come knocking at any moment. Since he had wished to be buried at Ferney, he would have a tombeau constructed in the shape of a pyramid that was leaning against the wall of the church, adjoined to the outside; Voltaire envisaged that clever people would say that he was neither inside or outside of the tomb. Voltaire had a particular liking for his garden and had a bower made for walks with his intimate guests sometimes; the talented writer’s influence was not limited to his residence since the whole village profits from his presence and saw its popularity rise. After all his adventures with the kings of France and Europe, it was in a way Voltaire’s own time to become the little king of Ferney. However, Voltaire’s independent and volcanic mind and intellectual orientations never allowed him to build strong links with those who held institutional powers, so he sought refuge to establish himself firmly. It would be in Geneva before finally ending up in Ferney that Voltaire’s last and perhaps most pivotal legacy would be forged.

Voltaire - le reigne à Ferney

In his sixties, Voltaire fell under the charm of a quiet and bucolic place near the Léman lake, a peaceful property in Geneva from where he had a view of the mountains. He would name his residence there « Les Délices » and had the place enlarged to live slightly more comfortably. It is to be noted that at that time, Geneva was independent and was not part of any kingdom, it was outside of the French and the Prussian borders and so Voltaire had settled in a completely neutral territory for a while. Voltaire would take many reflective walks in his garden there but his main activity remained writing, his eternal true love.

Les Délices to this day conserves a range of Voltaire’s furniture and other gadgets. We can find the iconic Louis XV styled desk with floral and musical motives. It was on that very desk that Voltaire wrote a great number of his literary and intellectual works.

Meubles de Voltaire aux Délices - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Meubles et accesoires de Voltaire / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Even in the 18th century, he seemed to have an affinity for gadgets as we can also find a small écritoire [i.e. writing case] which allowed him to write during his voyages, inside we can find a pen holder, and two small objects in silver with the coat of arms of Voltaire [i.e. the three flames and the two greyhounds] which are in fact a travel ink pot where the writer would draw the ink to write his letters and on the other side a powder case with sand that Voltaire would sprinkle over a page as soon as it was written to act as blotting paper in order to absorb the excess ink from the document; which in the 21st century could be the equivalent of a portable computer.

Aux Délices - Pot d'encre - Armoiries de Voltaire - Les 2 Levriers - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Les armoiries de Voltaire sur le pot d’encre de voyage: Les trois flammes et les deux Levriers

Voltaire wrote his poem on the Lisbon disaster there after the terrible earthquake of 1755 but most importantly it was the location where he wrote his most famous work, the one that is still the most read in the 21st century, his philosophical tale that summarised and covered all the great themes of the movement of the enlightenment: Candide. The book would go to become a best-seller of the second half of the 18th century which surprised Voltaire himself to see his book sales reaching 20 000 copies; for that time, it was an incredible amount and considered as a planetary success with a range of smaller formats also released: pocket editions, luxurious editions and others.

However, soon Voltaire would lack the breathing space he needed in Geneva and return to Ferney. In Geneva, theatre was not allowed and the writer found this unacceptable when he made arrangements to have small theatrical representations at Les Délices. He would get into problems with the Geneva pastors who were not content with the fact that he was organising theatrical sessions and attracted the daughters of Calvinist pastors to take part and feature as characters in them, that was unacceptable to those pastors. So, he went back to Ferney which was located in a strategic place since it was in France but on the Swiss borders. He would turn Ferney into a living utopia, a world where the earth was celebrated, where one lives comfortably and safely. He would also take the opportunity to transform the village of Ferney which was in a miserable state and launch himself in a variety of enterprises; which shows that Voltaire was not only a pure mind but that he could also take actions and contribute to the benefit of society around him, and that would have an immense impact. Under Voltaire’s reign in Ferney, the village saw a spectacular development. It is also there that Voltaire’s fight against religious fanaticism amplified gloriously.

In a France where the Catholic institution occupied a dominant position, it is very important to understand that Voltaire’s perspective did not insult or deny the existence of a god as the creator, but he took a firm combative stance and spoke out against all dogmatisms. Voltaire has never been an atheist, he is a deist, he states that in the incredible complexity of the natural world there must be a godly power that governs it all. What shocked him are the institutions that claim supremacy over god: the weight of those institutions that tells us what we have the right to believe in or not, and that classifies us in different groups, among the heretics, and that even had the powers to send us to the stake to die a painful and horrible death. Voltaire fought against all the abuses of the religious institutions that declared to have been revealed, namely the 3 most popular monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

In 18th century France under Louis XV, tensions had been persistent between Catholics and Protestants. Protestantism was not a recognised religion and its adepts faced repression and even severe persecution.

Volatire - Tension entre les religions en France au 18ème siècle

Image: Persécution religieuse en France au XVIIIe siècle

What Voltaire had observed in the years 1750-60 was a resurgence of tension between religions and it was the letter of the contemporary world then: religious fanaticism. Voltaire could never accept that in the name of religion, in the name of a God that is supposed to be good and merciful, men have such atrocious practices and persecute one another – always in the name of their God. To Voltaire, religious fanaticism associated with power was still present and would always be a threat to civilisation, and as from 1760 he intensified his fight with the shocking formula: Écrasez l’infâme [French for: crush the infamous]. This expression surfaces again during the correspondence he exchanged with his friend, the philosopher, d’Alembert.

Voltaire ou la liberté de penser - d'Alembert - Écrasez l'infame d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Correspondence de Voltaire à d’Alembert: Adieu mon grand philosophe… Écrasez l’infâme! / Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France | Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

We have records at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France of those exchanges where he spoke of his lectures, philosophy, life in Paris and concludes his letter by saying: « Adieu mon grand philosophe. Écrasez l’infâme. » What was that « infâme » [French for: infamous] that he wanted to crush? It was the superstition that clouded reason, it was the institutional power of religious authorities over justice and the management of society by enlightened minds.

Another incident that motivated Voltaire to be even more engaged in his fight took place on the 10th of March 1762, when Jean Callas, a merchant from Toulouse is sentenced to the torment of the wheel and killed by strangulation in the public square.

Voltaire - Jean Callas - condamné au supplice de la roue et étranglé

Image: Jean Callas le protestant étranglé en public

Jean Callas had been an old protestant accused in Toulouse to have assassinated his son because the latter wished to convert to the Catholic religion. In fact, the son perhaps wanted to convert but committed suicide by hanging. In the beginning of this affair, Voltaire showed no interest and even asked himself if Jean Callas could be guilty. He only really became aware of the reality behind through the visit of a reformed person who would tell him the story and how it had been an obvious injustice. Voltaire would study the case at length and denounce a quick and incriminating investigation. For him, there was no doubt that Jean Callas had been executed because he was a Protestant.

Voltaire - en colère et en train de lire à Ferney - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Voltaire étudiant les dossiers sur Jean Callas à Ferney / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

For 3 years, Voltaire would attempt to rehabilitate the memory of Jean Callas by relying on his network. He wrote to all the people who were the most influent and tried to show that there had been a horrible misunderstanding. Today, when we simply look at Voltaire’s correspondence made of numerous letters to convince each of them to join the fight for Callas, we realise that hours and hours of his life were given to the memory of Callas, a man with whom he had no direct links and never even knew personally.

It would take several years for the judgement of Toulouse to be first adulated and for Jean Callas to be subsequently rehabilitated, but Voltaire would succeed; the King’s council would make this return which was quite exceptional for the conservative religious climate of the 18th century. Voltaire would also get involved in many other issues of the society of his time, however the story of Jean-Callas remained the fight of his life. It is in fact the major catalyst that led him to write his timeless treaty on tolerance, a work that remains until this day a reference on the subject.

In 2015, the working premises of the popular satirical and “over the top” newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, known for its defiant, exaggerated and limitless comics, was assaulted by Muslim Jihadists, Chérif and Said Kouachi and 11 people lost their lives brutally: the cartoonists, Jean Cabu, Stéphane Charbonnier, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski; the psychoanalyst, Elsa Cayat; the economist, Bernard Maris; the corrector, Mustapha Ourrad; a maintenance worker, Frédéric Boisseau; and Michel Renaud, the cofounder of the festival « Rendez-vous du carnet de voyage », who had been invited to assist the editorial conference. The following day, another Muslim Jihadist who claimed to be of the Islamic State, namely, Amedy Coulibaly, stormed a super market and killed 4 people, fuelled by his Islamic jihadist teachings and Jew hatred. The whole of France and the world were in a state of shock. Parisians manifested in mass the following day, and it is to be noted that when they did, they brandished the writings of a man known as Voltaire who lived 250 years ago, and it was his « Traité de Tolérance ». Spontaneously, people and even the youth looked for Voltaire’s mind, since he remains the man who best embodied liberty “à la Française”; meaning a form of freedom for all that is superior to every other belief whatever it is and wherever it comes from – that proves how avant-garde and ahead of his time Voltaire was.

To this day, we can find a painting known as « Le Triomphe de Voltaire » [French for: The Triumph of Voltaire] at his former residence in Ferney, which was realised 3 years before his death that Stéphane Bern in 2019 pointed out to be very interesting for its biographical value, because in the centre we see two faces of Voltaire: one that shows a mortal man like all human beings on our planet, and a second that shows Voltaire as the immortal creator; at the bottom of the painting we see the Callas family who are portrayed as protégés of Voltaire, then we also see the bust of Voltaire that is going to be installed in a temple on the right next to the those of Sophocle, Euripide, Corneille and Racine; the temple also strangely resembles the Panthéon where Voltaire’s remains are, as if it was written in the books of destiny that Voltaire would have an incredible homage or that Voltaire knew that his memory would be celebrated by those who inherited, feel and stand for his values and philosophy.

During the last years of his life, Voltaire had become the best-known personality in Europe, so many people made the trip to meet him in Ferney. Voltaire called himself « l’aubergiste de l’Europe » [French for: Europe’s innkeeper], simply because his residence at Ferney would receive so many personalities from all over Europe. When visitors arrived daily, everyone was received by Voltaire himself; sometimes he would drop kind words, other times he would greet by nodding his head. His visitors could be writers, aristocrats, intellectuals from so many domains, for example, some of them worked in Italy on the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

It is also important to remember since we tend to forget, that the whole of Europe, the Europe of the aristocrats and of the bourgeoisie of the enlightenment spoke French, and in Europe no one was Voltaire’s equal because he made people laugh and also cry, and also because he had a mind with extraordinary agility – everyone read Voltaire!

Voltaire - en train de lire - d'purb dpurb site web

Voltaire en pleine lecture / Source: Voltaire ou la liberté de penser (2019)

Some women would even respectfully come and kiss Voltaire’s hands. To travel to such a place in order to meet a man of letters and bowing down before him as if he was a religious messiah remains a remarkable phenomenon – Voltaire is an 18th century star like that century would not have any other. This would also be one of the most fruitful periods in Voltaire’s correspondence at Ferney; he wrote nearly a quarter of his 25,000 known letters which is an integral part of his legacy and work.

Being a prolific communicator in the days where people wrote letters: official letters and clandestine letters, we found out how he dealt with those in power and the authorities; French writer, Philippe Sollers thought that Voltaire sliced and reigned with his words – just like Napoléon. To this day, there are very few correspondences that can be read and enjoyed as masterpieces.

La correspondence de Voltaire en plusieurs volumes - d'purb dpurb site web

Image: La correspondence de Voltaire compilé en plusieurs volumes

Voltaire spoke of everything in his correspondence, his own life and the life of others along with a number of extraordinary thoughts that emerged and that completes his work in a sense. French philosopher, Elizabeth Badinter considers the compiled volumes of Voltaire’s correspondence as the most exciting reading of all, arguing that one can read his correspondence over and over without ever being bored.

Another extraordinary achievement remains the fact that Voltaire was entitled to his marble statue during his lifetime when such a privilege had generally only been reserved for kings. The statue realised by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle is exposed at the Musée du Louvre, an iconic work of sculpture that represents Voltaire naked, with nothing but a small drapery, sitting on a tree trunk and we can also see two accessories: a mask which symbolised comedy, a dagger for tragedy, but also a phylactery which is a piece of paper that is usually attributed to prophets and Voltaire is represented with it, barefoot as a prophet, because he is seen as the prophet of the republic of letters who announced the time of the liberation of the individual.

Voltaire Nu de Jean-Baptiste Pigalle d'purb dpurb site web

Image; Voltaire nu (1776) par Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714 – 1785)

That extraordinary statue was funded through a subscription launched to all men of words, and we can find the names of the subscribers on the base of the statue: King Frederick of Prussia, the King of Denmark and even Jean-Jacques Rousseau his great intellectual rival.

The sculptor, Jean-Baptise Pigalle was inspired by the great philosophers of antiquity and hence realised a naked and natural Voltaire without exaggeratingly idealising him and that led to scandals. Pigalle wanted to portrait Voltaire in the reality of a man, that is, an old man, but a handsome old man. However, the statue would generate a lot of irony. King Gustav III of Sweden who was passing through Paris would say that he was willing to subscribe but for clothes, so we can conclude that Gustav was ignorant and did not understand anything of Pigalle’s artistic message and perspective. Many sarcasms will follow, minor sonnets that ridiculed Voltaire and the statue. Voltaire then understood that it was time to calm things down and put a stop to all the nonsense around the shock and perhaps jealousy of a man getting the accolade of an emperor with a statue in his living, and declared that he found Pigalle’s statue to be a masterpiece. Voltaire stated that he himself had suffered so much from censorship and if Pigalle perceived and conceived it like that, he is a great artist and should be free!

While Voltaire enjoyed a formidable recognition in Ferney, he still dreamt of a last séjour in Paris in his eighties, which was an exceptional age to reach in the 18th century when medicine was almost prehistoric without vaccines and antibiotics, and where people of various segments of society and all walks of life died of diseases such as tuberculosis, that would have been considered as minor and curable in the 21st century that we now live in, or they would sometimes be killed by the unscientific and barbaric surgical practices of the times when bacteria and medical hygiene were unknown; modern medicine would only begin in the 19th century with the invention of the stethoscope by René Laennec. Voltaire did not have much to fear from the power held by the young Louis XVI who had no idea that he would be the last king of France of the period known as the Ancien Régime and during the unstable reign of terror before the proclamation of a republican constitution, would be sentenced to the guillotine in 1793 at the Place de la Révolution in Paris along with his wife Marie-Antoinette of Austria, sadly even the pioneering chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, who is considered as the father of modern nutrition, would suffer the same fate for having worked as a tax collector for the monarchy.

In February 1778, Voltaire made his great return to the capital that he had left 30 years earlier. He was cheered by thousands of Parisians and would not be able to leave his house since his carriage was constantly surrounded by crowds of people. People wanted to touch him as they wanted to touch relics, some even proposed to uncouple the horses from his carriage to put themselves in their place in order to have the honour of transporting this modern-day Apollo to his home. There were crowds clustered on the rooftop balconies which was something surprising for the times. During his time in Paris, Voltaire stayed at his friend, Charles de Villette’s place at the Quai de Théatins also known today as Quai Voltaire. That would be the place where he completed his last play, Irène. Historians would later find out that in 1777, Voltaire tried to make the play, Irène, seem like a piece that he had just completed, but his correspondence revealed that he had been working on it and minutely crafted that story for more than twenty years before it came out.

Voltaire - Irène

Image: Irène par Voltaire

When Irène was played, the spectators were hardly interested in the show because everyone was interested in Voltaire and his presence. Yet, it was a success and after the play, Voltaire’s bust was brought in. The man of letters was crowned and the French actors sung verses in honour of the great man. Voltaire stood up while being crowned with laurels and said:

« Vous allez me faire mourir de plaisir. »

___________

French for:

« You are going to make me die of pleasure! »

That was Voltaire’s apotheosis! That same year, 1778, Voltaire died on the 30th of May at the age of 83 years old. The body was opened and embalmed by candlelight on the kitchen table of Charles de Villette; the heart and the brain were extracted to be conserved and the entrails would be thrown in the latrine. His skull was covered with a cap to hide the opening where his brain was removed, make up was applied on his lips and cheeks to give the illusion of life and his body was strapped upright in the carriage and all that jolly entourage would leave in complete discretion. Since, to the displeasure of his religious enemies, he remained true to his beliefs and never confessed to a sworn Catholic priest who could have given him the last rites of unction, people were worried that his remains would not be buried in Christian soil. To avoid the common grave, the transfer of his body out of Paris was hastily organised and sent to the Abbaye de Sellières.

There are tales that suggest that loud thunder manifested when Voltaire’s body was in the church, the weather was so bad that the doors slammed open and the candles were blown out and Voltaire’s body fell, the monks started to pray in panic in complete darkness and balls of fire were rolling on the grass. Voltaire was inhumated at Sellières where his remains stayed until 1791 when they were transferred to the Panthéon. The heart of Voltaire, which had been removed during the embalmment was first placed in the room of Voltaire at Ferney where a mausoleum was specially fitted out, it would then later be given to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France where it would be stored in the base of the famous statue of Voltaire sitting sculpted by Houdon between 1780 and 1790.

Voltaire_Assis par Jean-Antoine_Houdon 1780-1790 d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Voltaire assis (1780 – 1790) par Jean-Antoine Houdon (1714 – 1785)

In 2010, during renovation works to enlarge the BNF, Voltaire’s statue had to be temporarily moved and during that move, the base was opened and the workers found a shiny heart-shaped metal box with the inscription, « Coeur de Voltaire, mort à Paris le 30 Mai 1778 ». The heart has since been put back in the base of Houdon’s statue as we would have treated that of a Saint, which is ironic, and would have definitely amused the man who during his whole life fought the rigid religious institutions of the 18th century.

« Je meurs en adorant dieu, en aimant mes amis, en ne haïssant point mes ennemis, en détestant la superstition ! »

–        Voltaire

___________

French for:

« I die worshipping God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, hating superstition!  »

–        Voltaire

Those were the last words uttered at the end of his life which perfectly summarises his faith, personality and vision of the world. After the philosopher’s death, Ferney lost a great part of its economic activities but the memory of Voltaire continues to animate the little town. Iconic writers such as Chateaubriand, Stendhal, Flaubert and Alexandre Dumas père would come to pay homage to the great master of French letters after his death. The town has since been renamed Ferney-Voltaire to honour the man who will remain as the master craftsman of the Age of Enlightenment.

Ferney-Voltaire - Blason et Logo de la ville d'purb dpurb site web

Image: Blason et Logo de la ville de Ferney-Voltaire

The modern individual is unique and makes choices in self-conception

It is important to understand that an individual will never be what others believe or want them to be, whatever the size of the crowd, because individuals are creative and adaptive organisms with the ability to make conscious decisions about their lives and identities, and can leave their initial enviroment for new locations, adapt and recreate themselves to be part of a new society [there many illustrious examples in the 21st century to cite] depending on their desires and abilities, or they can also simply visit places for the sake of exploration without adapting or being part of them.

Fritz Perls Citation

Traduction(EN): “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” -Fritz Perls, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist who coined the ‘Gestalt therapy’

In most modern and enlightened societies of Western European intellectual and philosophical heritage, we are a culture of individuals, a society of unique people who besides their individual characteristics and differences manage to synchronise and work together in matters of national importance without it being restrictive to our personal liberties and choices from one person to the other. To be a person generally means to be connected [even indirectly, e.g. through arts and literature] to others. However, taking the metaphor of a golf competition to explain the picture, we cannot all win the contest. Clearly, one person will win and others will still perform well while some will need training to reach a decent standard although not within competitive categories. However, in an advert promoting golf, no company would only show one golfer by himself on all its adverts, but rather they show and promote many golfers, happy to be together. Hence, the way to be a person in modern society seems to be a part of it [directly or indirectly, all representatives of the society but with varying degrees of skills and abilities].

As with myself, having pushed the limits of my Franco-British heritage to the academic stage globally, more and more people are slowly getting the opportunity to be bi or tri-cultural. It is not a simple thing to do or accommodate, but it will be the task of more and more people in the world if individuals are to overcome their limitations in perception, feeling and understanding, and experience the world from the finest socio-linguistic lenses to explore their different senses on a planet that is more accessible in its depth through the magic of modern media [e.g. internet, multimedia experiences, high definition packages, distance learning, virtual reality, audiobooks, and even university lectures online [e.g. Les cours de Michel Butor] that is changing the processes of learning at a speed never seen before.

The reasoning person, being the intelligent being who has infinite worth and dignity would logically try to assimilate into the best heritage / linguistic-culture(s), knowing that the world is not flat and that we have natural masters and natural slaves, where intelligence is the only thing that distinguishes them – as Immanuel Kant also concluded. Like the analogy of humans, who being more intelligent than other living creatures, have become the supreme beings at the top of the food chain to rule over our planet. If we also side with this evolutionary logic, the best and most sophisticated society or societies [in terms of language, education, philosophy, heritage, etc] should by the laws of meritocracy have the privilege to guide and/or inspire the human civilisation to create a singular society/human empire in synchronisation with itself in the future as our civilisation evolves and comes to terms with its insignificance as a mortal bunch of organisms on a small, depleting and lonely planet in the universe without a spare planet to colonise that could still be wiped out and never remembered like the dinosaurs with an asteroid at any moment.

Asteroid Impact on Earth

Image: Illustration of an asteroid impact on Earth that could wipe out all life / See: Le Jour Où Les Dinosaures Ont Disparu (2017)

Modern psychological research has shown that we are reflections of all social interactions that mark us throughout our life and these interactions do not only come in the physical form, but also through arts, film, modern media and literature, all these create symbolic desires that affects each individual differently. And those who choose who and what shapes them, will tend to be inspired by those they admire [this extends beyond minor interactions such as the fishmonger at the market place or the coconut seller at the beach, but reaches as far as the mind goes up to the highest level of culture through exposure directly or indirectly (modern media) and breaches barriers once thought impossible]. As Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic writings also suggest – relying heavily on linguistic theory and intellectual trends in late 20th-century France, such as the structuralist movementour sense of self is a tissue of identification with people we have known [directly or indirectly exposed to, e.g. mentors, fictional characters, authority figures, artists, etc], and the only wholeness we imagine ourselves to have is a fiction, a comforting and self-deceiving way of narrating our personal story, since our “selves” are profoundly “de-centred”.

The greatest child psychologist of all time, Jean Piaget argued that all forms of social interaction [which also includes artistic exposure] in the process of learning play an important role in “cognitive growth”. Bernard Lahire pointed out that differences in cultural education [e.g. various forms of artistic exposure] have an impact on the developing child and leads to inequalities early in life, i.e. the child exposed to finer artistic experiences (e.g. literature, music, film, digital experiences, etc) has a better chance of developing a sophisticated mastery of language early in life than the child who is not. This does not mean that all individuals are doomed for failure because of their inadequate early development, as some gifted or dedicated individuals do catch up on their linguistic development later in life.

La fabrique des inégalités

Crédits : Youst – Getty

However, one of the greatest challenges to individual cultural identity remains the overcoming of bigotry. The prejudices of a superior heritage can eat away the self-regard of inferior cultures, languages and heritage. Prejudice is a form of psychological genocide that works across generations and contributes to the despair, drug abuse and violence we see in communities whose cultural identities are under siege. This can be seen through high levels of depression, alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans for example. Hence, an agreement that respects the achievements, strengths and individuality of others would likely ease the tensions with inferior cultures who may have more to gain in assimilating into superior ones. Diplomacy and empathy will also help in the transition to adopting new patterns of living if we [as a group of organisms on planet Earth] take the direction that leads to a synchronised civilisation/empire in the future, looking into space for new planets to ensure our existence and continuity as a space race.

In the face of adversity we have seen another side of the self that creates new realities, transforming life into art. This is what Alfred Adler called the creative self. Throughout history, men and women have put their creative imprint on anything that can be shaped, coloured and re-arranged. Even in the depths of despair, Jews who were imprisoned in German deportation camps [that had been heavily damaged by allied bombings, and cut off from receiving rations due to bombed train tracks while the lack of sanitation led to outbreaks of typhus which killed thousands], still managed to create art on whatever scraps of paper they could get their hands on to give meaning to the incomprehensible horror of their lives at that time.

However, research from Brandeis University that explored the creativity of two groups of girls aged 7 to 11 from the community centre of an apartment complex has found that people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest and enjoyment, the satisfaction, the challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures (Amabile, 1982).

So, now, you have learnt some of the ways in which intellectuals, academics and psychologists try to follow the Delphic Oracle’s exhortation to “Know Thyself.” We have explored a number of aspects and dimensions of the self, some of which may be known readily – although not accurately – through empirical investigations [e.g. using basic constructs for variables such as traits in questionnaires of quantitative empirical research that remain questionable in terms of construct validity and internal consistency], while others [such as the impact of art on the mind and implicit learning] can only be explained theoretically [since traits too can be modified, affected or changed through an individual’s desires or external influence (e.g. arts) and evolve into different behaviours through cultural evolution as we move further into human history]. We have also seen how we differ in our self-concepts from one individual to another, and how our behaviour differs as a result [e.g. the choices we make as unique organisms/individuals with unique fingerprints and brain chemistry].

 

The Organic Theory (of Psychical Construction):  a theory of the 21st century mainly focussed on the conception of the individual

The organic theory is a theory of the 21st century proposed by Danny d’Purb [myself] mainly focussed on the conception of the individual. It is based on the post-revolutionary French school of thought where the individual embraces his own choices and defines himself through his abilities, desires and achievements. It is also founded on the theory of evolution, because it sees the individual as an organism that is shaped by its environment with the ability to adapt, evolve and change depending on the psychological, social and cultural environments it wants to be a part of. However, what is unique the Organic Theory, is that it is the first theory that takes the unique conception of the individual organism to another level, because it remains focussed on the structure of thoughts and the interpretation of the world by considering what matters symbolically to the individual and is not founded on generalisations of assumption like most ancient theories do, hence this discards a lot of confusion because it shifts the focus on what matters to the unique individual organism and mind.

Another important aspect of the “Organic Theory” as a scientific theory that I would like to make clear in the mind of the masses is that a scientific theory is nothing like what most people tend to refer as “general theories”. A general theory is a common theory that generally used to explain every day matters of sometimes questionable importance related to social matters; this usage of the term “theory” generally encompasses subjective beliefs and insights about matters not related to the universality of human life or psychology, but instead tend to occupy social conversations that most people have in places such as coffee shops to discuss and provide explanations about possible reasons or causes on common matters such as “Why did World War II really happen?”, “Why did John quit his job?” or “Why did Jane marry John?”. Explanations to these questions tend to be referred by the common crowd as some “theory”, and this kind of theory has absolutely nothing to do with a “scientific theory” such as the Organic Theory.

A scientific theory is based on a combination of two ancient methods: rationalism and empiricism. These two methods are what make science a powerful tool. The rationalist school of thought go by the belief that mental operations or principles must be employed before knowledge can be attained, for example, rationalists state that the validity or invalidity of a certain proposition can be determined by carefully applying the rules of logic. The empiricist school of thought maintains on the other hand that the source of all knowledge is sensory observation, so for rigid empiricists true knowledge can be derived from or validated only by sensory experience. After centuries of inquiry, we found that by themselves, rationalism and empiricism both had limited usefulness, so modern science combined the two schools of thought, and since then, knowledge has been accumulating at an exponential rate.

Hence, the rationalist movement added its aspect to science and prevented it from simply collecting an endless array of disconnected empirical facts, because we intellectuals must somehow make sense out of what we observe, hence, we formulate scientific theories. A scientific theory has two main functions: (1) it organises empirical observations, and (2) it acts as a guide for future observations and generates confirmable propositions. In other words, a scientific theory suggests propositions that may be tested experimentally to a certain extent with some reductionist statistical methods. If the propositions generated by a theory are confirmed reasonably through experimentation, the theory gains strength; if the propositions are not confirmed, the theory loses strength. In science observation is often guided by theory.

The Organic Theory is a theory that I brought forward to the intellectual table but its foundations were lying dormant in the psychology and scientific literature for decades. It seems that I only had to piece together these objective observations and methodically arrange them to come to the deduction along with the reality it revealed. We are not complete masters of our life, but we do have a great amount of control of our own individual conception based on our desires, education, direction, capabilities and choices in life.

The organic theory follows the organismic worldview that already existed in the great psychological debates of the century and I have built upon this perspective, refined and extended it with modern day empirical and philosophical literature to give the individual more power of self-definition in our modern and sometimes confused society. In fact, I also took some concepts from Jacques Lacan to give the individual the power and the ability to achieve their dreams and also to open the minds of the surrounding crowd to let society know and understand that people are not static objects, but have the ability to create and recreate themselves.

The one fundamental message the Organic Theory brings are that we are not defined simply by where we are born or the people connected to us that we did not choose, or by bloodlines, but rather by our own choices, efforts, abilities, achievements and directions, and also the fact that any organism can be conditioned to become part of the environment of any other organism through the never ending process of learning and adaptation, as we can see from the examples of Adolf Hitler or Napoléon Bonaparte, to name two famous cases of great leaders who came from modest foreign origins and who raised to the highest level in countries where they were not born, but recreated themselves to become the heart of these nations at a given point in time.

The Organic Theory proposes that individual construction [training], which ‘can be’ mechanical and structured in its application [e.g. distance learning by text / video / audio], develops indirectly to create and give a socio-cultural dimension to the individual once the desired skills [communicative and behavioural patterns] have been fully adopted, mastered, and deployed in life.

La Génération de la Culture Digitale dpurb

Au XXIe siècle, les industries des arts, de la culture et de l’éducation s’appuient principalement sur les médias numériques pour toucher des clients dans le monde entier / The industries of the arts, culture and education in the 21st century, mainly rely on digital outlets to reach customers across the planet

The term ‘social’ is also far too vague to be important as such… the term ‘social’ can simply be defined as the interaction [of all types, including cultural and artistic exposure] between organisms. So the term ‘social’ is not really valid scientifically and it lacks precision itself since it may refer to a wide range of variables. What we are left with then is only the individual’s choices, language(s) & abilities of personal development [e.g. cultural & psycholinguistic synthesis]: the major factors in the psychological & philosophical explanation of his/her singular conception [to note that each conception is unique to the individual human organism such as his/her fingerprints, skull shape, or body structure: singularity]. Thus: training, meritocracy, order and love [simple… in theory]. Marcel Gauchet put it well by explaining that when we live in a world structured by republican meritocracy and when we are a good student, we know that there are paths to social ascension. Unfortunately and shockingly, in some prehistoric, atavistic, misinformed and barbaric societies still governed and haunted by obscure, ancient, unsophisticated and unscientific structures of the Ancient regimes of the Middle Ages [especially in the Anglo-Saxon world], many people are still forced to wrongly believe that the individual was born to be a slave to his birth condition, to live on his knees in eternal inferiority and to be defined by the views of their masses, who are [mostly] apathetic and miserable by conditioning.

So we remain focussed on our mission to change the perception of minds, as when we do change minds, we also have an impact on the mind of their children and grand-children; the impact of psychoanalysis saves generations from misery and has an eternal effect.

« Les hommes de génie sont des météores destinés à brûler pour éclairer leur siècle. »

-Napoléon

French for:

“Men of genius are meteors destined to burn to enlighten their century.”

-Napoleon

Clavier Napoleon Bonaparte dpurb site web

Image: Napoléon (2002) avec Christian Clavier

To understand the simple logic of individual conception of the unique organism, let us use the example of a man who is deeply embedded in French culture and is a great teacher of literature, but has a son who decides to join a monastery in Tibet, and a daughter who converts to Hinduism, and a sister who learns Arab, marries a merchant and moves to his country, does this mean that the man himself is now a Tibetan Hindu Arab? Of course not! Another example would be to imagine a great philosopher of the Western world who happens to have a sister who due to a lack of attention is influenced by a petty social circle and becomes a strip dancer in the suburbs of France, similarly does this mean that the philosopher is now part of the sex industry? Of course not! Yet society and sadly, fully grown up men in the modern world still do not understand individual conception – which comes with the fundamental fact that each organism is responsible for his/her own conception and destiny and not that of others – I feel that the organic theory should clearly help society worldwide understand that an individual organism’s choice in life is not the responsibility or the burden of another.

It is a theory that brings neuroscientific evidence to explain plasticity [See: Essay // Biopsychology: How our Neurons work; Essay // Biopsychology: The Temporal Lobes: Vision, Sound & Awareness], philosophical discourse to explain perception [See: Essay // Philosophical Review: Moral Relativism – Aren’t we all entitled to an ugly opinion?; Essay // Philosophical Review: “The World as Will and Idea”, by Arthur Schopenhauer (1818)] and psychoanalytic theoretical explanations to explain the proceedings of the mind, along with construction and symbolic desires that guide the individual in achieving its goal in life [See: Essay // Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution]. Subsequently, it is also making the point that these scientific facts and philosophical discourses cannot be ignored by both the individual and societies at large, because we are a new generation of human beings, and we should be acting as enlightened organisms in the face of discovery, not atavistic and rigid beings of a long dead past, because we are not prisoners of the past.

The fundamental foundation to remember in order to grasp the universality of the “Organic Theory of Psychical Construction is the following factual observation, which states that, while the communicative patterns (i.e. language, other forms of communication and expression along with socio-behavioural schemas) learnt by human primates vary across geographical regions, individual IQ and intelligence (i.e creative, expressive, reflective, emotional, musical, artistic, philosophical, linguistic, psychological, numeric, etc) do not!

« Si les modes de communication appris par les primates humains varient d’une région géographique à l’autre, ce n’est pas le cas du QI et de l’intelligence individuels ! »

-Danny d’Purb

“While the communicative patterns learnt by human primates vary across geographical regions, individual IQ and intelligence do not!”

-Danny d’Purb

Jacques Lacan also reached a fairly similar conclusion since he also distinguished the speaking Subject of the enunciation [i.e. how words are pronounced] from the Subject of the statement [i.e. the genuine message of the discourse], which suggests that in order to evaluate the true worth of any linguistic discourse, it is the genuine message that should be extracted; in other words, it should be translated in the appropriate language of the reader/listener so that its true value and meaning can be assessed. This implies that genuine intelligence and talent cannot choose the brain or body from which they will appear, and neither the location; hence firmly proving the universality of the Organic Theory and the application of its concept.

However, individuals who intend to share their wisdom and contribute to the world’s development would have an advantage in adopting and mastering a communicative pattern (i.e. language) deemed superior by the fact that it comes with modern human values and is weaved in the fabric of a more refined and sophisticated intellectual, psychosocial, philosophical and artistic heritage [e.g. French, which is the most desired and most spoken second language in the UK and in Germany] since it would be understood by the wider audience of the civilised world, where the major intellectual and cultural evolution/revolution takes place.

Anglais VS Français Habsburg d'purb dpurb site web

Traduction(EN): “The English language is a shotgun: the shot is scattered. The French language is a rifle that shoots bullets, precisely. » -Otto von Habsburg

It was the French revolution, which had been heavily influenced by the movement of the Enlightenment [i.e. the 18th century intellectual movement of reason], that would secularise a number of Christian humanitarian values into the constitution, most notably the famous « Liberté, égalité, fraternité » [French for: “Liberty, equality, fraternity”], which is inspired from the free will of Christians, as the French philosopher Michel Onfray reminded. Equality [Égalité] is derived from the concept of equality before God, and brotherhood [Fraternité] is derived from the concept of the community of the ecclesia. Liberté [Freedom], of course, most people know what this means, which is the freedom to explore, to choose, to discover, to learn, to express ourself, to speak, to have open debates, to question, to propose, to love, to create, to live life fully within the limits of reason and respect for the mother psychosocial sphere. Hence, as French philosopher, Michel Onfray noted, we have a concept that was passed on from St. Paul to Robespierre and that went through the French revolution, where the new generation of French people secularised and embedded those values with the firm belief that “we have a universal world view; we want everyone to share our values of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité!'”.

Onfray reminded that this led to a generation of French minds who think that we have to go out into the wider world, where the vast majority of people are, in order to share our good news with them, which is our universal human values of « Liberté, égalité, fraternité ». At the Assemblée Nationale, Jules Ferry stood for the idea of free, secular and compulsory school, and so, that school, we people of French heritage thought that we would give it to the whole planet. This created the wave “We are going to colonise”. Onfray pointed to the example of the colonisation of Algeria as one that shows the intention of the French to pass on their good ideas and values. Hence, when we look back at the historical wars of the French revolution, we come to realise that they were wars of ideological and intellectual colonisation.

Hegel et Napoléon à Iéna - Harper's Magazine 1895 dpurb

Image: “Hegel et Napoléon à Iéna” (illustration tirée du Harper’s Magazine, 1895)

When we consider the German philosopher, Hegel’s passionate words about Napoléon, Hegel now comes across like a great collaborator for the French colonisation concept, as himself as an iconic German historical figure, described Napoléon’s conquering arrival in Germany as: “I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it. Those words from Hegel were written in a letter to his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer on the 13 October 1806, the day before the battle of Jena, which would be fought on the plateau west of the river Saale in today’s Germany between the forces of Napoleon and Frederick William III of Prussia, with the historic defeat suffered by the Prussian army subjugating the Kingdom of Prussia to the French Empire; the victory is celebrated as one of Napoleon’s greatest. It is quite ironic, because the great German, Hegel’s words admitted that the French heritage is superior to his own; and the post-modern French philosopher Michel Onfray ironically suggested « on a juste envie de lui dire ‘mais enfin, et ton Allemagne ? » [French for: You just want to say to him, “But what about your Germany?”].

It may also be useful for the majority of anglophones and fellow English people out there who hardly know their own cultural evolution, to point out that there is French on the emblem of the British monarchy. The words, « Dieu et mon droit » have been the motto since the time of Henry V (1413 – 1422), and since those times old English is not the language of the English elite anymore which resulted to the use of words and expressions of French and Norman origin that are now widely used in the English language. If Henry V decided to use the French language, which to him was a foreign language, on the emblem of his own country, just like Hegel, he must have believed that the French heritage is superior to his own in more ways that one.

Dieu et mon droit [Royal_Coat_of_Arms_of_the_United_Kingdom]

Image: The « Français » on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom

The Scientific and Philosophical Impact of the Organic Theory of Psychical Construction

Philosophy and science are part of human culture after all, and scientific and technical progress is evolving rapidly, so it is fundamental to understand its impact on our reality on earth. As one of the members of the Academie des Sciences in France, Sanchez-Palencia, pointed out, culture is a fundamental part of our lives and is not a luxury of the rich; it allows us to understand the various facets of our environment on earth, allowing us to situate ourselves in it, to foresee the future or possible futures and to make responsible decisions while assuming the consequences. Of course, scientific knowledge is not exact, but it is close. Theories give us an approximate understanding of the fragments of our reality, and research contributes to the improvement of theories. Despite the limitations imposed by the simplicity of models in rigid empirical scientific research to study reality, these simple models allow us to understand their mechanisms of transformation and evolution and also to manipulate them to achieve a desired goal. It is also important to understand that scientific knowledge forms a compatible and coherent network that is always evolving like our world on earth, and therefore research adds new knowledge, and in doing so, it modifies and restructures old knowledgesynthesis and philosophical creative imagination are always present in quality research. Sanchez-Palencia also quoted Francois Jacob:

«Contrairement à ce que j’avais pu croire, la démarche scientifique ne consistait pas simplement à observer, à accumuler des données expérimentales et à en tirer une théorie. Elle commençait par l’invention d’un monde possible, ou d’un fragment de monde possible, pour la confronter, par l’expérimentation, au monde extérieur. C’était ce dialogue sans fin entre l’imagination et l’expérience qui permettait de se former une représentation toujours plus fine de ce qu’on appelle la réalité »

-François Jacob

French for:

« Contrary to what I had thought, the scientific approach was not simply a matter of observing, accumulating experimental data and deriving a theory. It began with the invention of a possible world, or a fragment of a possible world, to confront it, through experimentation, with the outside world. It was this never-ending dialogue between imagination and experience that made it possible to form an ever finer representation of what we call reality. »

– François Jacob

What society needs to understand is that new discoveries in science also have a philosophical impact and change and redefine our reality and make the past obsolete. Thus, our culture [our understanding of and relationship to our environment on earth] evolves in accordance with and through scientific progress [See: Essay // History on Western Philosophy, Religious cultures, Science, Medicine & Secularisation]. A good example would be the first trial of Edison’s phonograph, as also pointed out by Sanchez-Palencia in his essay to the Académie des Sciences. Edison in his trial had sung a short song to test the phonograph in the presence of his collaborators; and the sound was recorded and reproduced by the apparatus a few moments later. At this point, the whole audience was filled with admiration but also fear, and some of the listeners even made the sign of the cross; yet they all knew that Edison was working on the recording and reproduction of sound, but the human voice seemed too much for these shocked listeners. At that time, reproducing the human voice was seen as a transgression of the limits of what was permitted to mortals on earth, and this was in the realm of transcendence. Today, in the 21st century, some 150 years later, all this has been perfectly forgotten, today’s young people have become connoisseurs of technology, smartphones and digital media, and people posting and watching videos on the high-speed internet do not feel that they are dealing with the world of witchcraft – that is how human culture has evolved.

In the same essay published by the Académie des Sciences’, Sanchez-Palencia describes a feeling that many innovators have suffered from; that of having to pay to transgress the limits of reality of the human of his time, a sentiment that he believes is rooted in the conviction of the masses, who invent myths to redeem themselves from exceeding the supposed limits of the predominantly pagan deities. For example, the invention of the ignition of fire, which led to the myth of Prometheus, who was supposed to have stolen the secret from the gods and who was condemned to be eternally chained so that an eagle would come every day to devour his liver, which would then be renewed every night so that the painful experience of being devoured would continue every day with the flesh eating animal. A less bloody version of Prometheus’ liberation was imagined by the painter Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834 – 1890) [as shown above].

Therefore, it is no longer surprising that like most intellectual innovators, I have encountered some obstacles that I have successfully overcome, basing my arguments on sound and strong scientific and philosophical arguments [Descartes, Lacan, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Rousseau] while merging objective perspectives and rational observations based on evolutionary theories put forward by Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. Indeed, I only started questioning human behaviour, the brain and the construction of our realities after having sacrificed years of my life in research and earned the knowledge and skills to do so. The foundations of my theory are based on empirical facts gathered from a wide range of reputable scientific journals even if empiricism cannot capture everything precisely when dealing with the inner workings of the mind – as most cognitive-behavioural psychologists themselves know very well since they chose to embark in research that only deals with what is observable and measurable, and unfortunately not everything about the mind is measurable since we have too many confounding variables, and the psyche is after all a non-physical domain.

Psychisme Définition - Centre National de Resources Textuelles et Lexicales

Définition du mot “Psychisme” sur le site du Centre National de Resources Textuelles et Lexicales

The organic theory is to conclude, a theory that is meant to free the individual from nonsensical and imaginary barriers and to let them know that they are not bound by anything or anyone with whom they did not sign any agreement to abide by. Individuals are free to build themselves, to create social connections just as much as they can also discard of social burdens and links with any organism that is not in any way beneficial or progressive to their development, and this extends to any outside organism that is not their responsibility or part of their chosen reality [e.g. petty acquaintances, colleagues, family, etc].

What I am simply implying is that individual organisms are masters of their own destiny and to be able to achieve their dreams they should be smart enough to know what to sacrifice since it is not their burden or responsibility and what to create and/or keep. Indeed, I was always told that the measure of one’s success is the measure of one’s sacrifice, and this seems to be a simple matter of reasoning. Perhaps in some way the “Organic Theory” is also putting to the test the notion of “freedom” in our modern societies.

If we really do live in free societies then the individual should be free in his or her choices, because freedom itself entails having choices. The philosophy of the “Organic Theory” also seems to be suggesting that in an enlightened, educated, cultivated, sophisticated and modern society, a free individual should be able to say what he wants, when he wants, where he wants, how he wants, to whomever he wants, and depending on his abilities, he should also be able to choose his own path, identity, domain and circle, and when such acts do not cause death to anyone, this seems totally noble and right.

L'individu libre dans une société éclairée Danny D'Purb dpurb site web 2019

« Dans une société éclairée, éduquée, cultivée, sophistiquée et moderne, un individu libre devrait être capable de dire ce qu’il veut, quand il veut, où il veut, comment il veut, à qui il veut, et selon ses capacités, il devrait aussi pouvoir choisir son propre chemin, identité, domaine et cercle, et lorsque ces actes ne causent la mort à personne, cela semble totalement noble et juste. » -Danny d’Purb Traduction(EN): “In an enlightened, educated, cultivated, sophisticated and modern society, a free individual should be able to say what he wants, when he wants, where he wants, how he wants, to whomever he wants, and according to his abilities, he should also be able to choose his own path, identity, domain and circle, and when these acts do not cause death to anyone, this seems totally noble and right.” -Danny D’Purb

Communicative pattern, also known as “language” is also a fundamental element of the Organic Theory as it is one of the biggest facets of one’s identity. Through language an individual can be allocated to a particular civilisation or civilisations if the individual masters more than one, this is known as the mastery of communicative patters that is also related to behavioural patterns that are inherited from a particular linguistic sphere. As already mentioned, a discussion published in the Oxford Journal of Applied Linguistics based on the emerging field of heritage speaker bilingual studies challenged the generally accepted position in the linguistic sciences, conscious or not, that monolingualism and nativeness are exclusively synonymous; from modern academic discussions, it is now being acknowledged that heritage speaker bilinguals and multilinguals exposed to a language in early childhood are also natives; they have multiple native languages, and nativeness can be applicable to a state of linguistic knowledge that is characterized by significant differences to the monolingual baseline (Rothman and Treffers-Daller, 2014).

To conclude, The Organic Theory is a theory of individual conception and evolution. In the 21st century, as far as ‘The Organic Theory’ [which focuses on the singularity of the individual organism] is concerned, there is no debate between intellectuals in psychology, but simply the discovery of the new mechanical / scientific perspectives that it introduces to explain the psychological and philosophical conception of the individual – as Carl Sagan phrased it, ‘Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge’. I have sacrificed years of my life studying the brain, development, psychology, art, literature, language, conception and singularity, and I would genuinely feel honoured to know what most of you out there believe in.

I firmly believe that intellectuals of psychology and philosophy, have a tremendous work remaining to be done regarding the education of the masses about the construction of their own inner worlds that structures mental life in order to adjust society to a modern and enlightened reality: a positive mind helps everyone. This procedure will also help in the sophistication of the mind of the masses as it develops a basic sense of scientific and philosophical understanding, and grasp the concept of the free organism on earth with more similarities than differences [Organisms differing in communicative patterns and IQ, but still repeating the similar vital patterns daily with minor variations geographically]. Hence, the geographical location of an embryo’s fertilisation cannot seal its destiny if the right choices are made and the appropriate resources for development are provided [See: Essay // Developmental Psychology: The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development]. A biological organism has an almost limitless number of ways in which it can be rebuilt, modified and redefined [re-programmed] depending on the individual’s abilities and this leads to a scientifically and psychologically valid product – the mainstream people at large are still to embed and share this principle to open new perspectives to their own lives and in doing so allow themselves to grow psychologically and culturally.

After studying intellectual humility, psychologists have found that individuals with this personality trait have superior general knowledge (Krumrei-Mancuso, Haggard, LaBouff and Rowatt, 2019). Intellectual humility has consequences for learning and styles of thinking; the process of learning itself requires intellectual humility to acknowledge that one lacks a particular knowledge and hence has something to learn in order to continue evolving. In the same study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Krumrei-Mancuso and her colleagues found that intellectual humility was associated with less claiming of knowledge that one does not have, indicating a more accurate assessment of one’s own knowledge.

Psychology Intellectual Humility is related to more General Knowledge

In the study, intellectual humility was also correlated with being more inclined to reflective thinking, and also possessing more “need for cognition” [i.e. enjoying thinking hard and problem solving], greater curiosity, and open-minded thinking. In the journal Self and Identity, the results from a study by Porter and Schumann (2017) suggest that intellectual humility can be increased in individuals through a growth mindset of intelligence; hence we could all benefit from intellectual humility in our lifetime development. The authors concluded that “teaching people a malleable view of intelligence may be one promising way to foster intellectual humility and its associated benefits.”

The organic theory is an ongoing project with the foundations having already been laid; it is a lifetime project that will be refined and updated in a series of books in the coming decades along with other works that I intend to bring to the intellectual table and the mainstream audience worldwide.

 

Reflections

Finesse

The concluding thoughts are logically the fact that men and women who make the choice and who have the necessary education and intelligence to guide them, build themselves and gain the ability to change cultural and national registers & identity, when they have the capacity for development, the linguistic heritage and the genetics of intellect with a mastery of expression, linguistic discourse and speech. It is only then that they manage to represent a nation or an empire [or two?].

However, the concept of self is not an overnight process but a gradual, systematic and intelligent process involving calculated, precise and minute adjustments to one’s inner thoughts, thus, over time [this depends on individual abilities], changing one’s cognitive schemas, personality, identity and linguistic proficiency. It is a process hugely dependent on individual motivation, education, dedication, capability, IQ and socio-psychological proficiency. This is also reminiscent of some of the writings of Diogenes Laërtius, which is likely a stoic interpretation that compares athletic training to psychological and moral training, which consequently highlights the idea of a form of asceticism in construction which implies a “Ponos [a labour and/or a challenge].

Fundamental to the concept of self, language(s) is the essence of identity because it creates a social bond and it is also fundamental to all forms of social activity and discourse which lead to cultural belonging, and thus, cognitive schemas related to internalised emotions and thoughts that allow one to navigate efficiently within the particular cultural theme and become part of the societies related to the languages. Together, psychology, linguistic culture, personality and intelligence are the core foundations of individual conception – to sum it up beautifully for colleagues in innovation, science, psychology and philosophy out there, “It is not what is in the book and brain that counts, but the ability to turn it into a believable logical reality and promote psychologically valid human concepts/identities.”

Bourdon-DescartesX2-dpurb-conceptofself

Images: (i) Sébastien Bourdon par Hyacinthe Rigaud (1733) | (ii) René Descartes par Sébastien Bourdon (1671) | (iii) René Descartes par Alessandro Lonati (2016)

 

Ad Augusta Per Angusta

Translation (EN): « Has grandiose results by narrow lanes » / Source: Le Petit Larousse 2018 / Les locutions étrangères gravées dans nos mémoires ont la magie des formules oubliées dont le charme va croissant lorsque l’alchimie des mots nous est plus mystérieuses. Elles ont l’autorité de la chose écrite. / Mot de passe des conjurés au quatrième acte d’Hernani, de Victor Hugo. On n’arrive au triomphe qu’en surmontant maintes épreuves.

 

uomo vitruviano - da vinci (1490) d'purb site

L’Huomo Vitruviano ” ou “L’Homme de Vitruve” par Léonard de Vinci (1490)

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