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Born Aliens

Neonates have no psychology. If operated upon, for instance, they are not supposed to show signs of trauma later on in life. Birth, according to this school of thought is of no psychological consequence to the newborn baby. It is immeasurably more important to his "primary caregiver" (mother) and to her supporters (read: father and other members of the family). It is through them that the baby is, supposedly, effected. This effect is evident in his (I will use the male form only for convenience's sake) ability to bond.

The late Karl Sagan professed to possess the diametrically opposed view when he compared the process of death to that of being born. He was commenting upon the numerous testimonies of people brought back to life following their confirmed, clinical death. Most of them shared an experience of traversing a dark tunnel. A combination of soft light and soothing voices and the figures of their deceased nearest and dearest awaited them at the end of this tunnel. All those who experienced it described the light as the manifestation of an omnipotent, benevolent being.

The tunnel - suggested Sagan - is a rendition of the mother's tract. The process of birth involves gradual exposure to light and to the figures of humans. Clinical death experiences only recreate birth experiences. The womb is a self-contained though open (not self-sufficient) ecosystem. The Baby's Planet is spatially confined, almost devoid of light and homeostatic. The fetus breathes liquid oxygen, rather than the gaseous variant. He is subjected to an unending barrage of noises, most of them rhythmical. Otherwise, there are very few stimuli to elicit any of his fixed action responses. There, dependent and protected, his world lacks the most evident features of ours. There are no dimensions where there is no light.

There is no "inside" and "outside", "self" and "others", "extension" and "main body", "here" and "there". Our Planet is exactly converse. There could be no greater disparity. In this sense - and it is not a restricted sense at all - the baby is an alien. He has to train himself and to learn to become human. Kittens, whose eyes were tied immediately after birth - could not "see" straight lines and kept tumbling over tightly strung cords. Even sense data involve some modicum and modes of conceptualization (see: "Appendix 5 - The Manifold of Sense"). Even lower animals (worms) avoid unpleasant corners in mazes in the wake of nasty experiences. To suggest that a human neonate, equipped with hundreds of neural cubic feet does not recall migrating from one planet to another, from one extreme to its total opposition - stretches credulity. Babies may be asleep 16-20 hours a day because they are shocked and depressed.

These abnormal spans of sleep are more typical of major depressive episodes than of vigorous, vivacious, vibrant growth. Taking into consideration the mind-boggling amounts of information that the baby has to absorb just in order to stay alive - sleeping through most of it seems like an inordinately inane strategy. The baby seems to be awake in the womb more than he is outside it. Cast into the outer light, the baby tries, at first, to ignore reality. This is our first defence line. It stays with us as we grow up. It has long been noted that pregnancy continues outside the womb. The brain develops and reaches 75% of adult size by the age of 2 years. It is completed only by the age of 10. It takes, therefore, ten years to complete the development of this indispensable organ almost wholly outside the womb.

And this "external pregnancy" is not limited to the brain only. The baby grows by 25 cm and by 6 kilos in the first year alone. He doubles his weight by his fourth month and triples it by his first birthday. The development process is not smooth but by fits and starts. Not only do the parameters of the body change but its proportions do as well. In the first two years, for instance, the head is larger in order to accommodate the rapid growth of the Central Nervous System. This changes drastically later on as the growth of the head is dwarfed by the growth of the extremities of the body. The transformation is so fundamental, the plasticity of the body so pronounced that in most likelihood this is the reason why no operative sense of identity emerges until after the fourth year of childhood. It calls to mind Kafka's Gregor Samsa (who woke up to find that he is a giant cockroach).


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