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21.10. The child discovers itself

The child is not conscious of itself for the first couple of years. It has no idea that it is a child. It doesn't fully understand that it has a body or that there is a world outside this body. It doesn't experience being something separate from everything.

The child has no idea about their thoughts and emotions. It clearly experiences them but does not understand that it is the child's own thoughts and emotions. Nor does it understand that other people, and animals, have their separate inner worlds.

Developmental psychology explains that it takes a long time for human beings to discover themselves.

The child registers all kinds of qualia, but it takes a while to understand that an arm is an arm, a doll something familiar and dear, a dog something you can pull by the tail and then something exciting happens, a glass on the edge of the table ...

Much of this learning is what we call play.

Initially, it's pretty chaotic and primitive but quickly assumes structure and form. One leads to the other. Emergence.

It takes time before the child understands that a toy car that was there one moment is still there, even if mom covers it with a towel for a few seconds.

Then the child laughs.

It's obviously fun that something comes and goes this way, but why laughter?

When the toy suddenly reappears, it is a scary event for the child. What is standing right in front of me now? Is it dangerous? Should I run away? Should I freeze? Should I dissociate and incur a potential trauma?

It takes an instant, but then the kid realises that it's just the toy car, again!

What a relief!

The intense excitement that was there for a moment is unleashed.

That is the mechanism behind laughter.
  1. An expectation is built up
  2. Something other than expected is introduced
  3. The new appears scary, unfamiliar, provocative, strange, foreign
  4. After some thought, you realise that it was harmless
  5. You are relieved – and laugh
Physically, the muscles first contract in tension, readiness, which is finally, often abruptly, released when the joke is understood, and the muscles relax again. This process usually takes a few seconds – laughter.

In the end, the little creature understands that the car is always there.

The child eventually also realises that the colour of the toy car is the same even though the light makes it seem to change. The shape is the same, although the shadows and perspective change. If similar situations occur repeatedly, the child eventually develops the concept of object permanence.

In our idealistic worldview, learning object permanence is the same as associating, i.e. finding a plausible interpretation using existing knowledge and thus integrating.

The child has the mechanism in itself – or rather, the child is this mechanism – but it takes time before it is possible to use it on external objects.

Object permanence probably occurs as early as four months of age. Previously it was thought that it only happens around eighteen months.

The child gains security. The impressions are no longer as frightening.

A little before the child is three years old, usually, something happens – the first private memory. The first discovery of oneself as an independent, individual, observing being.

At this point, the child understands a lot about itself. It works as a seemingly complete human being, but so far, it has only pointed to things in the environment. It can select things it wants over something else.

From the age of one, and also earlier, it gradually learns what things are called; it can express names. It understands more and more.

But it does not understand itself. It does not fully understand space and perspective. It does not understand time. It does not understand complicated causal relationships.

It takes a lifetime.

In principle, we should go around the world and understand more and more. Become wiser. More precise. Skilful in everything. We should gradually become more empathetic as we learn to understand others and how we affect them.

But then this self is born – at the age of two or three.

The Ego.

The awareness of yourself.

It is not consciousness as such I'm talking about. It has been there all along, from the first moment there was anything to be conscious of; the first «point». It was already there before you were born.

So, from where did this insight about yourself come? How did you get the idea of yourself?

You now know more than enough to answer the question without my help.

I still assume that you struggle a bit to formulate an answer because everything we talk about here is, in a strange way, not very intuitive. The reason is that you have to answer from a perspective inside the answer. You do not have sufficient perspective on yourself.

My explanation is this: the discovery of yourself is a higher emergent interpretation of everything you already know. All the pieces you have experienced so far, arms and legs, together constitute something that must have its own, higher, emergent interpretation. You.

You discover what the collective consciousness already knew. You function the same way as the collective Experiencer and interpret and experience as it does. You have to come to the same conclusion that you are a human being.

The knowledge that leads to this conclusion in your mind is already in the collective consciousness. Thus it is simultaneously also in your experienced, private consciousness – because there is only one consciousness.

As you grow, your perspective gradually expands until you suddenly reach a threshold and understand what the collective consciousness already knew, that you are a human child.

You have found out about air and light and heat and, to a degree, distances and time. You have discovered arms and legs, mother and father, siblings, food, chairs and tables.

You have finally also discovered yourself.

Exactly what triggers this discovery can probably vary.

If you are exposed to trauma, you discover yourself – because you are forced to dissociate to endure.

It can also happen due to a less dramatic stimulus.

To me, it was a banana box.

I remember it as if it were today. I still have a vivid picture of the situation in my mind.

I remember seeing this box and realising it was not me. It was something big, rectangular, with an imprinted image of bananas.

I was three years old, and we lived on the floor above a grocery store. My mother must have gotten a banana box, put my toys in it, and placed the little boy next to it.

I experienced this ... banana box.

It must have been a little demanding. I knew nothing about banana boxes, but I must have known about bananas because I remember that was what I saw. And I saw a Brio wooden locomotive and some carriages. There was a giraffe with yellow and black stripes, also wooden. I remember the sunlight, the wooden floor, the lack of furniture and the room's shape.

I had so many skills and knew an incredible amount!

But it was this thing. I pondered what it could be.

Then I suddenly realised that what was in my field of vision was something separate from ... what? I discovered myself – as a «non-banana box».

I was something of my own.

It was a classic dissociation.

I had to conceptualise a role as something other than a banana box.

The notion of the banana box was also the result of emergence.

It is always the highest emergent interpretation that is in focus.

I had come so far in understanding the world that I was now ready to «find myself». It took a cardboard box so strange that it could not possibly be a part of myself.