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For "The Intersubjective Newborn", Infant and Child Development, Special Issue, Edited b Emese

Na!, in press "#$#


What Is It Like To Be a Person Who Knows Nothing?
Defining the Active Intersubjective Min of a Newborn !u"an Being
Colwyn Trevarthen,
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh
Abstract#
As thinking adults depend upon years of practical eperience, reasoning about facts and causes, and
language to sustain their knowledge, beliefs and memories, and to understand one another, it seems
!uite absurd to suggest that a newborn infant has intersub"ective mental capacities# $ut detailed
research on how neonatal selves coordinate the rhythms of their movements and senses, and how
they engage in intimate and seductive precision with other persons% movements, sensing their
purposes and feelings, gives evidence that it is so# The developmental and functional neuroscience
of the human brain agrees# &ndeed it seems that cultural intelligence itself is motivated at every
stage by the kind of powers of innate intersub"ective sympathy that an alert infant can show shortly
after birth# 'e are born to generate shifting states of self(awareness, to show them to other persons,
and to provoke interest and affectionate responses from them# Thus starts a new psychology of the
creativity and cooperative knowing and meaning in human communities#
)An ob"ective psychologist, hoping to get at the physiological side of behaviour, is apt to
plunge immediately into neurology trying to correlate brain activity with modes of
eperience# The result, in many cases only accentuates the gap between the total eperience
as studied by the psychologist and neural activity as analysed by the neurologist# $ut the
e%perience of the or!anism is inte!rated, or!anised, and has its meanin! in terms of
coordinated movement#)
*+perry, ,-.-, p# /-01 emphasis added2#
) &n the case of an animal, the mental states enter into the plan of the total organism and thus
modify the plans of successive subordinate organisms until the ultimate smallest organism,
such as electrons, are reached#3 *p# -42
5There are 6 two sides to the machinery involved in the development of nature# 7n the one
side there is a given environment with organisms adapting themselves to it# #### The other
side of the evolutionary machinery, the neglected side, is epressed by the word creativeness#
The organisms can create their own environment# 8or this purpose the single organism is
almost helpless# The ade!uate forces re!uire societies of cooperating organisms# $ut with
such cooperation and in proportion to the effort put forward, the environment has a plasticity
which alters the whole ethical aspect of evolution#) *p# ,9:2
*'hitehead, ,-/;<,-0.1 emphasis added2
)Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling# +craps of
information have nothing to do with it#) *p# ,2
*'hitehead, ,-/-2
To &e a 'erson (ith )ther 'ersons Is To *ove In Smpath (ith Them, Sharin! *eanin!
=ow can a newborn baby, a being with no meaningful knowledge, no education in the habits of
culture and language at all and therefore, it is assumed, incapable of reflective intelligence, be a
person> An infant must be unable to understand anything and unable to infer anything about an
outside reality or to articulate meanings in communication# That is what our psychological science,
attending to measurable products of intelligence, especially well(defined cultural and linguistically
sophisticated intelligence, rather than to any essential motive<emotional creative processes, has
assumed must be the state of a newborn mind# &t follows that the human newborn has no %self(
awareness%, no awareness of other human selves, and is not a person#
'hile more developed than a newborn rat or kitten, the human infant is more helpless than a
newborn monkey or chimpan?ee# &t is a feeble and dependent animal creature with a very
undeveloped cortical brain, but with human features of anatomy in body and nervous system# &ts
%refle(driven% activity is easily overwhelmed by unfamiliar stimuli and re!uires eternal %regulation%
of its states of activity and responsiveness to stimuli# &ts autonomic nervous system regulates an
organic vitality and lacks all reference to events perceived or remembered from eperience of an
outside world, and therefore has, it is claimed, no %emotions% *@eDou, ,--;2# All its eperience
appears to need forming by learning, and to depend on the support of an affectionate parent# &ts very
immature cerebral neo(corte has eceptional %plasticity% or capacity to store information, fed by the
perceptual impressions of stimuli from the physical and social worlds# &t awaits a consciousness that
depends on development of a special facility to ac!uire articulate language *Aolls, /::02# Thus
developmental science has conceived the initial state of the human mind as lacking intentions,
feelings and consciousness# &t is hardly a mind at all#
$ut, when calm, healthy, comfortable and well supported, an awake newborn infant, observed
closely, shows a remarkably coherent rhthmic purposeful consciousness B a spontaneous directing
of well(formed movements, selective awareness and affective appraisals in a precisely regulated,
brain(generated time *Trevarthen and Aeddy, /::C2# =e or she moves head, eyes, arms hands and
feet as one coherent, integrated vital +elf# The brain parts capable of effecting this integrated
mobility are present and active before birth, and largely sub(cortical *Derker, /::C2# And,
furthermore, newborns act in epressive ways that appear to be peculiarly human and highly
sensitive to human presence# Dost impressively, an alert newborn can draw a sympathetic adult into
synchroni?ed negotiations of arbitrary action, which can develop in coming weeks and months into
a mastery of the rituals and symbols of a germinal culture, long before any words are learned# &n
short, a human being is born capable of seeking and playing with others% attentions and feelings in a
rich variety of provocative, humorous and teasing ways *Aeddy, /::42# &nfants, it appears, are born
with motives and emotions for actions that sustain human intersubjectivit+ They perform actions
that are adapted to motivate, and invest emotions in, an ima!inative cultural learnin! *Trevarthen,
/::,a1 $rEten and Trevarthen, /::C2 + Their &ntelligence is prepared to grow and be educated by
sharing the meanin! of intentions and feelings with other humans by means of many epressive
forms of body movement that may be perceived in several modalities+
Frowth of a scientific understanding of these innate human attributes has re!uired a new approach,
in two ways# 8irst, it demands a radical shift in theory of how, and for what purpose, minds evolve
(( how conscious intentionality or %will% may be generated by irrational cerebral processes that
regulate and guide body movement of individual animal beings# &t has re!uired an appreciation that
both conscious awareness and learning of animals are adaptations of intelligence to serve self,
!enerated actions+ +econd, it must appreciate that intelligence has evolved to make it possible for
the intentions of actions to be shared socially, as is most evident in advanced species that cooperate
by skilful signaling in life activities and eploitation of environmental resources# The research
methods of this science have had to be speculative and descriptive, before hypothesis driven and
eperimental, to satisfy these two demands of a natural science of intelligent action#
&n application to human beings, a special theory of infant%s motives is needed, which can only be
confirmed by intensive study of the coordination and regulation of movements, including kinds of
movements for communication that are uni!uely human# Especially significant are the emotion(
epressing movements (( smiles, frowns, pouts, intent or %interested% focusing of seeing *7ster,
/::02, with shifting of seeing and hearing by turns of the head, and hand and feet movements
carefully modulated by attention to eperiences of holding and touching *Trevarthen, ,-4;1
Adamson(Dacedo, /::92# +uch movements are not only adapted to sustain the flow of an emerging
self(awareness, but may demonstrate self(regulations of movement %publicly%, for other persons,
anticipating or %provoking% their response, and en"oying play with it# They function as emotional
epressions to engage in communication by %intersub"ective motor control% with signs of the mind
states in other human beings *Trevarthen, ,-4;2# Gewborns, in addition to very remarkable
epressive capacities, show preferences for responding to many forms of human signalH certain
tastes and odours1 felt, heard or seen cadences of movement1 forms, colours or sounds that identify
persons, especially a responsive and sympathetic mother *8ant?, ,-;.1 Foren, +arty and 'u, ,-C01
Dc8arlane, ,-C01 =ofer, ,--:1 Ieifman, Delaney and $lass, ,--;1 $lass, ,---2#
Developmental psychology has had to develop the less pre"udiced %descriptive% methods of ethology
to study by detailed observation how this ineperienced human acting and interacting can be
informed by a selective, moving conscious awareness modulated by intrinsic aesthetic and moral
sensibilities and emotions# &t leads to a new human psychobiology, one that confirms the
conclusions that Charles Darwin came to after making careful observations, with his wife Emma%s
able assistance, of how his own infants behaved epressively with human sensibility in natural
circumstances *Darwin, ,4C/, ,4CC, ,44C<,-042#
Dany years ago Aoger +perry *,-.-, ,-0/2 argued that psychology will drift away from any
comprehension of how the brain works, and how the mind acts, if it only measures reactions to
stimuli, if it tries to map the input to the nervous system and its rational categorisation# =e and Jarl
@ashley *,-0,2 insisted that the direction behaviourism was going overlooked the great creative
capacity of the central nervous system to conceive movements of a whole body in negotiable
relation to stimuli#
+ince these warnings, psychology, enthralled by the technical and pseudo(rational powers of
%representation% in the %artificial intelligence% of computers, has recently directed its energy to the
measurement of cognitive processes of ob"ect awareness, reason and language, trying to simulate
imaginative eplanations of the %processing, storage and retrieval of information% by disembodied
modular networks of logically connected elements *Diller, /::.2# The creative output of natural
intelligence in moving animal bodies, its conation and emotion, have been made mysterious and are
still largely neglected# Thus mainstream psychology leaves the personal attributes of infants, the
motives and emotions of their movements and the innate cooperative %witty% sympathies of human
minds, obscure *Aeddy, /::42# Geither the purposes of the individual human being, nor the
meaning built by sharing of purposes, eperiences and feelings between consciously active and
mutually aware sub"ects, are eplained# 'e have to go back to certain basics of animate life to
correct this#
-ow .nimals &ehave, and -ow -umans .re &oth the Same and Different
8undamental adaptive activities of animals as individuals and socially have been described in
precise terms by natural historians over the past two centuries *@amark, ,4:-1 Darwin ,4C/1 von
=olst, ,-.;1 Tinbergen, ,-0,2# The movement of an animal is intrinsically creative and cooperative
*'hitehead, ,-/;<,-0.2# &t is the product of morphogenesis of an integrated life system, or
organism, composed of intricately ordered assemblies of cells, with organs adapted to perform their
roles in a %division of labour% that sustains the vital state of a whole body# To live as an animal is to
move with !ood purpose1 that is, to want to act in ways that will be felt to be beneficial to the whole
individual B it is not "ust submitting to perception of certain present stimuli and instinctively
reacting to them, or learning how to %condition% behaviours to react to events better# Animals move
with coherent intentions directed by a !uest for an integrated and imaginative conscious eperience
of the world they move in, their functions held together by patterns of %hori?ontal control% *Packard,
/::;2# +ensing the world in relation to the form and displacements endowed with their bodies, they
are curious about their surroundings and how to use ob"ects, feeling with intrinsic emotional values
how to avoid hurt or fear and to gain pleasure from what life needs, seeking a state of active
security or well(being# This is the nature of animal self(awareness, which, in proportion to the
development of individuals with more elaborate mobile bodies, depends upon formulating
movements in prescribed ways *$ernstein, ,-;C2 while anticipating what it will feel like to move
*von =olst and Dittelstaedt, ,-0:1 Derker, /::02, on perceivin! affordances or how the sensed
environment can help moving achieve its goals *@ee, ,-C41 Fibson, ,-C-2, and on intrinsic
emotions that, as Kaak Panksepp has demonstrated, are generated according to ancient innate
principles in the core neurochemistries of the brain *Panksepp, ,--41 Fallagher, /::42#
The father of modern neurophysiology, Charles +herrington *,-:;2, put it succinctly# The acting
animal seeks with e%tero,ceptive %pro"icience% or imaginative epectation what will be the %affective
appraisal% of an ob"ect at a distance when it is brought, through moving of the body in its proprio,
ceptivel controlled %action space%, into contact with the parts of the body that may feel, taste and
consume it# The whole of any such intelligent episode depends on the coherent +elf, moving, with
curiosity and a cautionary emotional appraisal, in its felt body *Damasio, ,---2#
+ocial animals have evolved ways of inter(acting, of moving in complementary or coordinated
ways and sensing the power and purposes of one another%s movements intersubjectivel, so that, by
cooperating in their motives, they can increase their individual and collective benefits and their
adaptation in a sustaining ecology# They make their autonomic self(regulations of vital state
apparent to one another so they can act emotionally in %sympathetic% ways *Porges, ,--C2# Their
social life re!uires that they evaluate the purposes of one another by detecting intentions, interests
and feelings from the energetic and self(regulating !ualities of each other%s movements, altero,
ceptivel# They are born with adaptations of body and brain to initiate these individual and social
purposes by producing controlled effects in moving *Dac@ean, ,--:2#
=uman beings do all of these things, and more# The cooperative cultural eperience of a meaningful
world depends, in every human community, upon skills of interest, of initiative in action and of
emotional evaluation that have been created by past generations in the %history(making% of their
world *Turner and $runer, ,-4;2# Children, even very young infants, appear to communicate with
an artful imagination ready to pick up new epressive tricks *Dissanayake, /:::2# They try to move
with others to learn how to live in fictional, meanin!ful, historical ways, using cooperatively
invented conventions of moving with their comple %etravagantly mobile% bodies# Their behaviours
are negotiated in echange of purposes and states of creative activity, sharing %vitality dynamics%
*+tern, ,-40, ,---2 with other persons with what +tein $rEten felicitously calls %felt immediacy%
*$rEten, ,-442, acting in collaborative negotiations that eventually contribute to the rituals, stories
and fabrications or %habitus% of a culture *Fratier and Trevarthen, /::42# A human person is an
animal who is motivated to know what the actions of other humans mean when they are completely
arbitrary and, from an immediately practical point of view, useless *=alliday, ,-C41 Ilatev et al,
/::-2# @earning such actions serves only the development of mutual understanding of purposes
between sub"ects# The importance of these acts lies in their %meanings% and %values% (( the
a!reements of intendin! the affirm, and in the precise associations they make, by emotional
referencin! *Jlinnert et al#,,-4.1 Aeddy, /::42, to beneficial or dangerous eperiences of acting in
another time and place B that is, by human feelings that give aesthetic appraisal of things or events,
and moral appraisal of other%s actions *Trevarthen, ,-49, ,--.2# $y means of conversational stories
or dialogues in which symbols come to life as a convivial traffic of fantasies to which real practical
significance can later be attached, we come to live in a world in which we have access to meanings
thousands of years old that are capable of linking ideas between people far apart in !uite different
circumstances *$runer, ,-4;, ,--:2# =uman meaning tries to get the fundamental truth of things
without having any hope of success B its primary purpose is to share the eperience of doing and
knowing with feeling in specifically human ways# This is how we persons are#
-ow a Newborn *oves and /esponds .s a 'erson
)Dy first child was born on December /Cth, ,4.-, and & at once commenced to make notes on
the first dawn of the various epressions which he ehibited, for & felt convinced, even at this
early period, that the most comple and fine shades of epression must all have had a gradual
and natural origin#) *Darwin, ,44C<,-04, p# ,.,2#
)During the first seven days various refle actions, namely snee?ing, hickuping, yawning,
stretching, and of course sucking and screaming, were well performed by my infant# 7n the
seventh day, & touched the naked sole of his foot with a bit of paper, and he "erked it away,
curling at the same time his toes, like a much older child when tickled# The perfection of these
refle movements shows that the etreme imperfection of the voluntary ones is not due to the
state of the muscles or of the coordinating centres, but to that of the seat of the will#) *Darwin,
,4CC, p# /402
There are well observed facts of how infants may move with an integrated rhythmic control and
prospective awareness within minutes of birth, which showH
*,2 they have coherent, self promoting purposes regulated in brain generated time, and ways of
regulating their vital state and the sense of well(being in their bodies1
*/2 they are super(sensitive to the attentive, purposeful and emotionally regulated actions of any
other person who seeks to engage in contingent responsiveness with them#
Dost remarkable of allH
*.2 they show themselves capable of making an effort of will and attentiveness to take part in an
emotionally charged reciprocation of arbitrary ways of moving, and so to become part of a dramatic
narration of being in companionship with another person *$ra?elton, ,-C-1 Trevarthen, ,-C-2#
8igure ,H Coherent, conscious and epressive activity of newborns#
AboveH A 9(week(old infant captures and tracks with her eyes an ob"ect that is moving from
right to left of her body# +he coordinates her whole body and makes two reach and grasp
movements with her right arm and hand, and a fast, fisted movement of her left hand
*Trevarthen, ,-C9, ,-C0, Trevarthen et al#, ,-C02# &ntegrated activities of this kind can be seen
with healthy and alert newborns immediately after birth *$ra?elton, ,-492#
CentreH Gewborns less that an hour old imitating the mother%s tongue protrusion, tracking a
red ball in a %game% with an adult, and participating with her in reciprocal imitations of hand
gestures# *Photos by Jevan $undell2
$elowH A ;(day(old baby girl, partly sleeping, makes epressions of hands and face that
provoke ideas of thoughts and feelings she wishes to epress# +he may have been hearing her
mother who was talking to someone in the net room#
&nfant human beings imitate other humans, not "ust to act like them, but to enter into a
communicative and cooperative relationship with them by some transfer of the feeling of body
action *8igure ,2# They act as though they %want% to learn new %tricks% of vocali?ation and gesture,
making an effort, with accelerating heart, to respond with a matching epressive act, and they show
emotional appraisal of the echange of intentions *Daratos, ,-C., ,-4/1 Del?off and Doore, ,-CC,
,-4.1 =eimann, ,--41 Jugiumut?akis, ,--., ,--41 Gagy and DolnLr, /::92# They can, in this way,
start building understandings that may serve later to identify a particular companion in the meaning
of a shared world *Del?off and Doore, ,--/2# They can, in a elementary way, %play a part% and
%learn a "ob%, in a cooperative life# These precocious abilities for mimicry of arbitrary actions are not
demonstrated, ecept in very rudimentary form, by other species, even those closest in genetic
relationship to humans *Trevarthen and Aitken, /::.2#
Donkeys and apes can show intense awareness of the purposes and changing interests of their
companions, and they live in communities tightly regulated by emotion, but their
imaginative<imitative play, especially with vocali?ations and gestures of the hands, is limited#
Geonatal chimpan?ees will imitate the facial movements of a human being *$ard, ,--., ,--42#
+tein $rEten has recorded how a chimpan?ee in 7slo ?oo, when too young to move about safely on
their own, are in intense relationship with both the body and awareness of their mother as they cling
to her, investigating the world in coordination with her shifting focus of interest *$rEten, personal
communication and forthcoming2# This may be seen as an evolutionary precursor of the %intent
participation learning% by which human young everywhere become apprentices in cultural practices#
$ut there is a difference in the way imagination or self(eperience is shared by newborn apes and
by human infants, and it relates to motives that make both art and language possible *Dissanayake,
/:::, /::-1 Derker /::-, in press2#
Especially important as one necessary foundation ability for the evolution of spoken language is a
human capacity, uni!ue among primates, for learning how to make, and imitate significant sounds
beyond "ust singing social feelings#
)8or every word we know how to pronounce and for every song we know how to sing we rely
upon a competence that is lacking in other apes, and whose corresponding neural mechanism
is, accordingly, a uni!uely derived trait of the genus -omo# The competence in !uestion is the
capacity to reproduce b means of the voice that which has been heard b ear# Though a basic
prere!uisite for both our singing and our speaking, it is essential for little else in our
behaviour# The capacity is technically known as vocal learnin!+) *Derker, in press2#
This capacity for vocal imitation is present in a human newborn, but undergoes development on
early infancy, and then slowly matures into a talent for imitating and creatively using speech
*Trevarthen, ,-4;1 7ller and Eilers, ,--/2# The longitudinal studies of Jugiumut?akis *,--4, ,---2
and =eimann *,--42 agree that the earliest vocal imitations, before . or 9 months, are restricted to
open mouth vowels, with little modulation, though Jugiumut?akis has demonstrated they may be
imitated as a strings of sounds with control of rhythm and intensity# Even a two(month premature
infant can participate in a precisely timed alternation of simple %coo% sounds with an adult, sharing
the rhythms of syllables and phrasing as these are retained in mature speech *Man Aees and de
@ieuw, ,--.1 Trevarthen et al, ,---1 +chNgler and Trevarthen, /::C1 Trevarthen, /::42#
8igure /H Psychobiological foundations of protoconversation#
AH The organs of human communicative epression and sensitivity are elaborated by the early
foetal stage, at ;: days, before the central nervous system is active#
$H The special visceral efferent nuclei of the brain stem, which regulate eye movements,
facial epressions and vocali?ations of an infant, and of an adult, are well(formed in the brain
of a 0: day human embryo#
CH &n protoconversation with an attentive and sympathetic adult, the brain of an infant a few
weeks old, with very immature cerebral corte, can engage in a precisely regulated rhythmic
echange of interests and feelings with the adult brain by means of si!ht of head and face
movements, with eye(to(eye contact, and hand gestures, hearin! of vocali?ations, and touches
between the hands# *Trevarthen, /::,b, /::92#
Neurobiolo! of Neonatal Intersubjectivit
$rain science shows both developmental and comparative evidence that the human brain is formed
prenatally with adaptations at all levels to motivate activity and emotions B it has subcortical or
brain stem systems that are homologous with those that mediate communication in reptiles and
birds, and these have additional features that are specifically human and that anticipate development
of a new comple of communication of mental activity by eye movements, facial epressions and
vocali?ations# The subcortical components for power of movement, emotional epression,
distribution of attention and %eecutive functioning% are integrated with large neocortical
elaborations *Trevarthen, ,-40, /::,b, /::92#
An electroengephalographic study has demonstrated that a two(month old infant looking at a
photograph of a woman%s face shows activation of asymmetric areas of the prefrontal and parietal
corte# These are the areas that in adults are essential forn perceiving the conversational epressions
in an other person and for responding with complementary facial, vocal and gestural epressions
*T?ourio(Da?oyer et al#, /::/2# This indicates that the cortico(subcortical integrations necessary for
learning the codes for intersub"ective communication, including those for language, are already
functioning at this early stage in proto(conversation##
Dost remarkable, and little studied, is the coupling of human hands with the brain stem motor
centres in the functions of hands as self(regulatory and as epressive organs# =uman hands act in
collaboration with the special visceral efferent motor nuclei that have evolved beyond their
primitive functions as regulators of vital functions of the +elf, such as breathing, eating and seeing,
to control epressive movements of eyes, face and voice in communication *Porges, ,--C2#
Geonatal hands make many delicate movements in %self(synchrony% with other body movements,
face epressions and vocali?ations, and these movements are capable of sympathetic %inter(
synchrony%, with the movements of looking and speaking of an adult *Condon and +ander, ,-C91
Trevarthen et al, /::-2#
All these innate gestural and vocal epressions ehibit coordination by an %intrinsic motive pulse%, a
time sense generated and regulated in the brain *Trevarthen, ,---2, with variations of %vitality
dynamics% *+tern, ,-40, ,---2# The communicative power of drama, poetry, dance and music
depend on this temporal patterning of movement shared by all of us *+tern, /:,:2# The vocal
echanges between a mother and a young infant are found to have measurable parameters of
%communicative musicality%H a rhythmic %pulse%, changing %!uality% or epressive intensity of pitch
and tone, and capacity to entrain attention and purposeful imagination in %narrative% se!uences of
many seconds*Dalloch, ,---2, out of which all elaborated forms of human companionship in action
and eperience are constituted# &ntersub"ective motor control of imitation and dialogic echange
*Trevarthen, ,-4;2 re!uires that the parameters of epressive movement are well(regulated and
simulated in the awareness of others, and among the most pervasive and important of these is the
rhythmic pulse characteristic of the vital control of all animate functions and of body movements in
particular# This is clear in the %chronobiology% of music *7sborne, /::-2, and from the %musicality%
of behaviours in all active human communication and from the sensitivity of infants to the
dynamics and epressive modulations of music *Dalloch and Trevarthen, /::-2#
Physiognomic form or %shape% of epressions must be perceived etero(ceptively, by sight, hearing
or touch# The sense of %pro"icience% or anticipation of effects in every act directed to the outside
world *+herrington, ,-:;2 is shown by the searching and self(testing movements of other
individuals B seein! the epectant orientation of the head and movements of the eyes and the
epressions of the mouth and gestures of the hands, hearin! the form of the mouth in a vowel
sound# These forms of epression can be portrayed technically by static images *photos, graphs,
phonetic symbols, tet, or pictures of hand signs2, but all naturally occur as momentary states in
dynamic se!uences of moving# The changes in direction, rate, intensity and combination are highly
significant in communication as epressions of different motives and emotions *+tern, ,-40, ,---1
+tern et al#, ,-401 Trevarthen, ,-4;2, and all these parameters are controlled with precision in the
movements of infants#
Accurate recording of how movements unfold in time and space reveals that there is a consistent
regulation by %motor images% *$ernstein, ,-;C2 and that these can be described with remarkable
economy and precision by a mathematical formula discovered by David @ee and called by him the
%tauF% function *@ee, /::01 @ee and +chNgler, /::-2# Mariation of form in the family of curves
described by the function can be closely compared to epressions of emotion and the feelings they
stimulate when epressed in purposeful activities of any kind, and in dance, music, song or poetic
speech#
Dialo!ues, 0ames and Cooperations1 The 0enesis of Cultural *eanin!
The sensitivities and actions of newborn infants are more easily comprehended in the light of
developments that follow on through the first year, at the end of which an infant, who has been a
willing partner in action games and simple song narratives, is clearly now intrigued by cultural
practices and tools, and about ready to learn words *Trevarthen, ,--4, /::9, /::42# The newborn
appears to have motives and responses, as well as epressive organs, that are adapted to foster these
developments#
Dialogues with two(month(olds ehibit the rhythmic steps, affective melodies and narrative
envelopes of energy cycles that are the dynamic characteristic of human body movement, thought
and language# As the body becomes stronger and more self(supported, infants are more alert,
curious and playful# $ut even newborns ehibit the euberance and etravagance of proprio(
ceptively regulated agency, or poly(rhythmic sub"ectivity, that is uni!uely characteristic of all
humans, and that animates the gesture narratives of musical sound *Trevarthen et al, /::-2# 8rom
birth, this spontaneous epressiveness involving the head and body with all the limbs, seeks
engagement, altero(ceptively, with the agency of other persons# &n games with others, infants
negotiate at the growing borders of shared purposefulness with powerfully epressed emotions of
self( and self(other(eperience, and they learn rituals of body movement and of "oint intention with
others#
$y si months an infant should show a proud performer%s personality, showing off and acting self(
conscious *Aeddy, /::41 Trevarthen, ,-4;, ,--41 OOO2# =e or she will be sensitive to the identity, as
well as the manners, of any person who attempts to share play, showing a teasing happiness in the
company of familiar playmates, shyness with intrusive approach of a stranger, and shame when
unable to sustain self(confidence when attempting a familiar performance with someone who does
not play their part# *Trevarthen, ,--41 OOO2
At - months the eperience of ob"ects motivated by from individual interest and manipulation,
which develops through the middle of the first year with postural control of the trunk and head, full
and fleible support of outreaching arms and hands, and guidance by touch, sight and hearing of
manipulations by the fingers, ceases to be so self(absorbed# &t becomes open to direction by another
person%s intentions and enthusiasm, or their indications of caution or annoyance related to eternal
happenings or ob"ects and the shared space of action# This new cooperative awareness of a world in
common leads to performance of "oint tasks, which are regulated by compliance with re!uests,
indications and instructions, or refusal that is clearly opposed to the other%s intentions# The affective
control of these acts can lead to teasing play# $ut games involving ob"ects becomes more serious or
%business(like% as cooperation to achieve a goal with help for, or from, another becomes the main
interest *Trevarthen and =ubley, ,-C41 =ubley and Trevarthen, ,-C-# 8urthermore, the nature of a
task can be inferred by observing another attempting to carry it out, and an observed practice can be
remembered *Delt?off, ,-40, ,--02# Cultural habits for use of ob"ects and for performance of
technical production or works of imaginative art may re!uire that the performer takes an ob"ective
view of the task, or a more deliberate and focused interest in the methods involved# This re!uires a
disengagement from sharing of impulses and feelings B a %detachment%# Can a newborn show this
detached individual intentionality distinct from the sociable motivation re!uired for a proto(
conversation>
7bservations of infants inwardly %contemplative% states of mind suggest that right from birth an
infant can have some kind of creative eperience of being alone with the feelings of the body,
reflectively eploring the eperience of being a human life, feeling tensions and contacts of
moving, touching their own hands and face, looking at their hands move, listening to the effects of
movements within their body and when they move outside things# +ome very delicate self(
regulations serve essential functions of feeding, of being well supported, to push away hurtful
ob"ects# Geonatal sucking seems an instinctive refle, but has been shown to have delicate
prospective control *Craig and @ee, ,---2, and can become an instrumental act to regulate
eteroceptive eperience *$runer, ,-;42# 7ther movements seem to serve self(awareness only#
Geonatal hand movements are investigative, self(stimulatory and regulative for the infant# 'hat has
been called Pneo(playQ with touch sensations of moving hands appears to help build a self(
awareness, from which an awareness of ob"ects remote from the body may be conceived and their
properties eplored and used *Adamson(Dacedo, /::92# And such spontaneous movements can
compose episodes within a se!uence of changing states of vitality, comparable with the %narratives%
of approimately .: seconds duration identified in protoconversation with a ;(week(old, or in
games and songs with older babies *Dalloch, ,---1 Trevarthen, ,---1 Dalloch and Trevarthen,
/::-2#
A psychobiological perspective on thought suggests that the imaginative mental creation of a plot, a
story garnered from eperiences of the past that are reassembled in new ways in the phenomenal
present, depends on an internally regulated physiological cycle of energy in living and acting# &t is
significant that the time of a proto(narrative, ranging from /: to 9: seconds, corresponds with a
poly(vagal cycle of control by the brain of activities of the heart and lungs *Delamont, Kulu and
Kamal, ,---1 Trevarthen, ,---2#
Dy conclusion is that the proto(cultural intelligence that can be attributed to a one year(old infant,
which comes to a rich imaginative ripeness in the net two years, with the intersub"ective intentions
and perceptions that it depends on, can be already found in the active agency and sociable
awareness of an alert and contented newborn# 'e must respect these intuitive beginnings if we are
to comprehend the elaborately representational and rationally regulated minds of speaking humans#
These are the motives at the beginning of education that 'hitehead calls %romantic% and that, he
claims, must remain active and well(regulated within the child and young adult who is being
instructed at later stages in %disciplined% and %generalised% knowledge# Dargaret Donaldson in
-uman *inds *Donaldson, ,--/2 has a similar idea of the stages of cultural education, and Derlin
Donald%s theory of how the human mind evolved *Donald, /::,2 similarly assumes that a culture of
epressive and creative mimesis were necessary for the emergence of language# Infectious mimetic
fantasy play, Victor Turner (1982) called it the human seriousness of play, is the driving force of
cultural learning in early childhood, and its primary needs are evident in neonatal intersubjectivity.
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