> In general, the argument is that in attempting to understand
> other persons human infants apply what they already know
> about themselves.
Why should there be a direct link between the emergence of
understanding the self and understanding others in children?
Nonhuman primates do 'feel' as intentional beings, but still don't
begin to see others as intentional beings, because of this single
ability. OK, let's say we accept the above hypothesis, but then we
only postpone the real problem of investigating the difference
between human, and nonhuman primates. In this case the question
"what is the difference that makes the understanding of others
emerge as a direct result of self-agency in humans, but not in
nonhumans" instantly arises.
> [...] My own view is that infant's early understanding of
> other persons as 'like me' is indeed the result of a uniquely
> human biological adaptation [...]
Yes, the question is why this adaptation is uniquely human? Could
the answer be the presence of a critical period in the development
of the understanding of others? Maybe the special maturation of a
certain brain structure is responsible for this ability. Maybe
nonhuman primates after all could be capable of attaining this
biological adaptation, but it's too late for them, simply because
they enter the world more matured than human infants. At the time
they see themselves as an intentional agent, their certain brain
structure is well over the critical period for changes to take effect
in behalf of realising other's intentionality.
Of course it is possible that thinking about the role of 'certain
brain structures' in the development, thus trying to assign a certain
brain area for the understanding others as mental, and intentional
agents is not the best approach to this problem at all.
> It is in any case not an unreasonable hypothesis that human
> infants display an especially powerful social attunement with
> their caregivers from soon after birth, as reflected in their
> tendency to interact both in reciprocally sensitive ways in
> protoconversations and in a ways that requiring a matching
> operation as they attempt to reproduce adult behaviors.
Maybe this 'ultra-social' behavior is responsible for the above-
discussed phenomena, that in human, but not in non-human
primates the emergence of understanding the self as an intentional
agent leads directly to the emergence of understanding others as
intentional agents. Maybe nonhuman primates could be able to do
such a trick, it's just that they don't pay attention, they don't care
about others as much as human infants do. And maybe the time
when such capabilities could arise quickly passes away. And if
they really not that motivated, all our efforts with captive primates
to teach such things to them will be spoiled.
But then again, the question remains: why do human infants (only
if they do!) differ from nonhuman infants in a manner like this?
> As infants begin to follow into and direct the attention of
> others to outside entities at 9 to 12 months of age, it happens on
> occasion that the other person [...] focuses on the infant
> herself. The infant then monitors that person's attention to her
> in a way that was not possible previously, that is, before the 9-
> month social-cognitive revolution. [...] She is now interacting
> with an intentional agent who perceives her and intends things
> toward her. [...] The infant now [...after understanding that
> others perceive and intend things toward the outside world...]
> can monitor the adult's intentional relation to the world,
> including herself. [...] This new understanding [...] opens up
> the possibility for the development of shyness, self-
> consciousness, and a sense of self-esteem.
We know of nonhuman primates recognizing themselves in the
mirror (with a red point on their forehead), therefore showing some
sort of self-concept, and there's no way they could have acquired it
through the above process. Maybe some primates, and infants
younger than nine months acquire some sort of self-consciousness
while differentiating themselves from the bed, the pillow, and
food? Does this mean that the increase of self-consciousness due to
joint attentional phenomenon is not qualitative but quantitative?
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Jun 13 2001 - 18:38:03 BST