Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Face Time With God and Man

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Whatever else it means, this statement by Paul shows a high degree of psychospiritual sophistication and introspection, as it gets to the heart of what it means to be seen and re-cognized, and therefore to have one's being -- one's humanness -- validated.

In the book I referenced yesterday, Vision and Separation, the author writes that "The 'space' of self-consciousness is a secondary development within the field of consciousness. It arises when the subject (the child) becomes aware of the looking of the object. It is the space within which the person looks at himself through the eyes of the other.

"I often speak of consciousness as interface, or inter-face. This is to emphasize that both consciousness and self-consciousness, and the symbols that mediate these experiences, only arise between faces, in other words, in an interpersonal setting, within which relations between persons... are formative."

In fact, infant observation studies have been conducted in which mothers maintain a deadpan expression, but otherwise respond normally to their infant in every way. As you might imagine, the infants quickly become visibly distressed. They are literally dis-oriented, since the mother's face is not only the center of their universe, but their primary means to manage their own internal states. In other words, they look to the mother to "know what's going on," both outside and "inside," in the emotional world. Without the M(O)ther, the child is quickly drowned in O.

I suppose any normal parent is implicitly aware of this, but since we were consciously aware of it, Mrs. G. and I always provided Tristan with lots of animated face time. Have you ever noticed how, when children fall down or have some kind of sudden accident, they first look to the parent, as if to ask, "Am I okay, or is it time to shriek like a Democrat in November?"

In these situations, we always gave him an enthusiastic, or reassuring, or amused expression (unless he was doing something truly dangerous). Also, whenever he fell down, I'd put my arms out like a baseball umpire, and yell SAFE!

In contrast, when I'm at the park, I notice that a lot of mothers in particular are constantly transmitting anxiety to their children, with pursed lips and worried or disapproving expressions. This has the effect of reining in the child's natural exuberance and exploratory impulses.

As it so happens, Tristan has turned out to be unusually daring and fearless. Of course, there's no way of knowing if our parenting style has played a role in this, because there's no way to conduct a controlled study, plus he has other personality traits and quirks that clearly have nothing to do with us.

In any event, just last week his first grade teacher conducted a sort of mock graduation ceremony, in which she gave a diploma to each child, citing their most prominent characteristic. Tristan's was for "always being the fearless, active, and brave one all year!"

Like any other system, this facial recognition system -- in which we feel the need to be recognized by other faces -- can go awry. For example, pathological narcissism essentially revolves around an exaggerated need for human mirroring in order to fill a deficit inside.

The problem here is that the narcissistic mirroring doesn't reach to the level of being, but only touches a superficial "false self" unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) constructed by the narcissist. This means that the narcissist is actually in control of the process, and isn't truly "giving" or exposing his true self to the other. That would be too risky.

One can understand why so many narcissists gravitate toward entertainment and media (and now "reality TV" and other similar sops to the craving for recognition), since these are an ideal way to submit a false self to a bunch of anonymous faces for their slack-jawed but wide-eyed approval.

But deep down the narcissist has a well-founded contempt for such losers, so he knows as well as anyone that he is just addicted to psychic junk food. It's never enough, which is why, on top of it all, these types have to hand out so many awards to each other for being such successful and accomplished phonies.

I recently read a book called Mimesis and Science, which goes into some of the latest research on the centrality of the Face in human development. One author, Jean-Michel Oughourlian, compares it to a force of attraction, like gravity, except displaced to the subjective horizon:

"That natural force of cohesion, which alone grants access to the social, to language, to culture, and indeed to humanness itself, is simultaneously mysterious and obvious, hidden in and of itself, but dazzling in its effects -- like gravity and the attraction of corporeal masses in Newtonian space.

"If gravity did not exist, life on earth would be impossible. Similarly, if this remarkable force that attracts human beings to one another, that unites them... -- if this force did not exist, there would be no humanity."

This means, among other things, that "from the very start, psychological actuality is found between individuals.... The self and the other are thus bound together in a fundamental way at the point of origin by a tie that is ontological and existential.... The genesis of the self cannot take place except by the mediation of the other and simultaneously with the other in a process of differentiation that is gradual and reciprocal."

In all my studies, I never came across a psychoanalyst who was also an orthodox Christian, or at least made the effort to unify metapsychology and theological metaphysics. I have, however, stumbled upon a handful of theologians who are aware of developments in attachment theory, and of their implications for theology.

But I guess I haven't yet found anyone who is as startled as I am at the psycho-developmental implications of the Trinity, through which one is two, two are one, one is three, two are three, etc.

But all of this bears directly on infant development, to such an extent that it is impossible to assume anything other than a trinitarian metaphysic and still permit humanness to exist. To put it another way, if the cosmos weren't trinitarian right down to the ground, then we wouldn't be here. Nor would you understand a word of what I just wrote.

17 Comments:

Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

From the Department of the Predictable: "Facebook makes us feel good about ourselves: study."

6/26/2012 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"...a psychoanalyst who was also an orthodox Christian."

This man may be:
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist

6/26/2012 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

Splendid and astonishing post, Bob.

It came at a very good time, too, so thanks.

6/26/2012 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

@Bob, darn - you beat me to it. The article I was going to link had a slightly different take, though, focused more on the dopamine reaction element.

I wonder, though, what the take-away is for people who don't get a thrill out of Facebook? Maybe we just get a similar effect out of blogging...

6/26/2012 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Going back to the infantile development,

But all of this bears directly on infant development, to such an extent that it is impossible to assume anything other than a trinitarian metaphysic and still permit humanness to exist.

In addition to face time and showing appropriate emotions, one of the things I notice is the importance of mirroring behavior. Not just him copying us, but us copying him. At this age, it seems he sees us, as it were, in a mirror, dimly. It is only through the process of growing to adulthood that a child learns to see his parents (assuming all goes relatively well) as something more than a reflection of himself (or some aspect of himself), while of course the parent knows the child in a much broader sense. For many if not most people, it comes as a revelation to discover the humanity of of their parents.

6/26/2012 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, you can't see your own container, since it encompasses you...

6/26/2012 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In a certain way it's a thankless job, because they won't truly know what you gave them until they have a demanding brat of their own.

6/26/2012 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

True. Good thing it's so rewarding to see them thrive. Come to think of it, that reward can be a dangerous lure, too - it's easy to give in to childish demands when the response is one of unalloyed (if temporary) joy; much harder to say "no" and bear the sadness or anger that results.

6/26/2012 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Don't forget God's admonishment to the young Jeremiah: "Do not be afraid of men and their faces."

6/26/2012 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

RE: Yesterdays convo. The real mind**** is when we find we aren't alone but the 'aliens' are humans -- same species.

Then nobody knows what to say! What a sense of humor that Jesus guy has!

6/26/2012 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

dawkins
dashed
deftly by a damsel no less
2006 review

6/26/2012 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love it when people who sit around every day congratulating themselves about how smart they are complain about narcissists.

6/26/2012 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hey, you voted for him.

6/26/2012 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I don't need my high school diploma any more!

6/26/2012 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

This means, among other things, that "from the very start, psychological actuality is found between individuals.... The self and the other are thus bound together in a fundamental way at the point of origin by a tie that is ontological and existential.... The genesis of the self cannot take place except by the mediation of the other and simultaneously with the other in a process of differentiation that is gradual and reciprocal."

I'm bettin' it's an O tie.

6/26/2012 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Have you ever noticed how, when children fall down or have some kind of sudden accident, they first look to the parent, as if to ask, "Am I okay, or is it time to shriek like a Democrat in November?"

I reckon it's the same with anyone involved in an accident or assault. I always noticed in the ER the docs, nurses and EMT's were always careful not to show any horror on their face at a patient's condition.
No matter how bad it looked.

I've seen more than a few nurses excused when they couldn't control their emotions, particularly where it involved children.

Navy Corpsmen were the same way. However, it was difficult to predict how a newbie would do under intense pressure.
Not everyone is cut out for that work.

This is one of the many reasons they rarely let family members in the ER until the patient is stabilized.
Because you don't know how they'll react.

6/26/2012 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"To put it another way, if the cosmos weren't trinitarian right down to the ground, then we wouldn't be here. Nor would you understand a word of what I just wrote."

Yep. And that trinitarian nature is percievable from several different directions, such as Philosophy has three root axioms which you cannot 'get under', they are the starting point for all, and all you might think involves in one way or another, all three: Reality, Identity, Awareness

And of course 'three strikes and you're out!', something going on with those 3's.

6/27/2012 06:51:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home