Creative Arts with Patrick Moore


Why Humans are Naturally Active and Curious
May 25, 2016, 9:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I read a lot. I am curious about what is natural for humans and how much we’ve been conditioned away from our natural state. This morning I was reading about Piaget’s theory of childhood development. He said yes, babies arrive with instinctive reflexes, and by one month old they already actively explore, and synthesize the results of their exploration into new behaviors. Babies are naturally active and curious!

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Naturally Curious Animals c) Patrick Moore

Piaget’s theory was resisted by established psychology. Where Piaget’s theory said humans seek stimulation, Freud’s theory said that humans tend to escape stimulation. Stimulations are an annoyance, Freud said. Hunger is an annoying stimulation. You don’t eat because you are curious for new stimulation, you eat to stop that annoying hunger, in Freud’s view.

First, which view do you agree with? Do humans instinctually avoid stimulation, or naturally seek out new stimulations? Are humans like or unlike other animals in this regard? To side with Freud, humans are unlike animals. We have these behaviors that tend to escape stimulation:

  • We close ourselves in quiet houses to block out the natural stimulations of nature.
  • We clothe ourselves to dampen the stimulation from our skin of hot/cold, breeze, bugs, branches and deliberate touch by other humans.
  • We dampen our sensitivity to stimulation using alcohol and opioids.
  • We numb our sensitivity to stimulation using TV, video games and other electronic media. But isn’t this stimulation? Yes and no. Yes, we stimulate ourselves with loud flashy experiences. But we know in advance the range of stimulation. We control it. There will be no surprises. While using these things and for many hours or days after, we have a reduced sensitivity to natural stimulation including the temperature, breezes, sounds and other things we do not control, that have the potential to surprise us or be new experiences. We flood ourselves with old predictable stimulations to avoid new experience stimulations that might be beyond our control. In Freud’s view we do not crave the stimulation of TV screens, but we use this known stimulation to escape natural stimulation that includes the unknown, which we fear.
  • We wear dark glasses to block nature’s stimulations when we are outdoors but take them off when we are in front of our controlled-stimulation-machines. Dark glasses also block others from seeing our eyes, which are our “windows to our souls.” We want those windows closed.

I have done all these things. While I am not proud to say so, I still do my own versions of numbing and escaping the full experience of life. Still I am striving to embrace life more fully.

This list above appears to support Freud’s view that humans instinctually escape stimulation.

But I ask, just because humans tend to do these things, does that mean it is natural for our species? Piaget observed that infants one month old are doing the opposite. Some tribes in Australia, African and the Amazon still do very little of this list, which shows it is not our species that escapes natural stimulation, but only most of our species.

Is it possible that humans are born natural, and that by the time they are old enough to hold an electronic device or a beer, they are trained by culture to numb themselves to stimulation? Perhaps Freud is correct in the tendencies of adults, but not because avoidance is our natural instinct. I believe we avoid natural stimulation because our culture rewarded us when we did and punished us when we didn’t. As Piaget observed, infants don’t avoid stimulation but do all they can do, experiment and test all boundaries. I believe this is because infants have not yet been trained to be Freudian. I believe Piaget’s view describes what is natural for humans, and Freud’s view describes human tendencies after they’ve been fully assimilated into Western culture.

The authors of the book I am reading (Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development by Herbert P. Ginsburg and Sylvia Opper) suggest that Piaget’s theory is incomplete. Freud’s theory has an explanation why humans behave to escape stimulation. Freud’s explanation includes terms like id, ego, superego, envy, libido, drives and Oedipus. Piaget’s theory gives only observations, and no explanations.

Piaget observed about the infant: “when capable of an activity, he tends to perform it.” (p. 34) But WHY does he test every human capability he possesses, by acting it out? According to the authors, Piaget offered no explanation for why. They conclude this section by saying, “alternative views designed to explain the individual’s preference for activity and stimulation must be developed.” The third edition of this book was published in 1988 so maybe an alternative explanation has by now been written. In case it hasn’t, I offer one below.

How and why would it be natural for each human to perform all activities he or she is capable of?

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts you may anticipate what I’m about to say: Edgar Allan Poe gave an answer in his poem, Eureka. Plato gave practically the same answer in his dialogue, Timaeus. Their answer is, our universe is designed this way. Individuals are a microcosm of the entire universe, and so we behave in our realm like planets behave in theirs and galaxies in theirs. This universe was created curious, and so each of us is naturally curious when we emerge in this universe.

Why was this universe created as a curious universe? Poe wrote this universe was designed so that a maximum amount of difference would occur in the expansion phase after the big bang. A maximum diversity allows the maximum creativity in the contraction phase (a few billion years from now) or where there is local contraction, for example within a galaxy. Poe said this is not the first universe but each big bang/big crunch cycle is like one heartbeat of the universe that has had millions of heartbeats before this one. The being whose heart is this universe, has an intention. Its intention is to have new experiences. It would be bored if this universe (this day, this heartbeat) were exactly the same as all the previous ones. This universe was adjusted differently than previous universes, with a little more cosmological constant, a little more entropy but not too much, so that this universe would have even more potential to evolve some truly unique creations than the last universe. According to Poe, this universe was intelligently designed to be a creative one, with just the right balance of pushing and pulling forces at varying distances to create stars, planets, water, gasses, tides, seasons and evolution of life from bacteria to the complex organisms we now see. Evolution is the proximate cause of life, while intelligent design was the first cause, the cause of evolution.

I don’t swallow any literal explanation whole. Peter Kalkavage’s 2012 translation of Timaeus has a wonderful introduction. Kalkavage describes Timaeus’ explanation of how the world was intelligently designed as “a likely story.” It’s not that Timaeus’ description of how God created the demiurge who created the Universe animal who created the Stars who created the Planets who created the people, is fictitious. It is just the best description that could then be given in words, about a process that is truly beyond human comprehension. I believe Poe’s Eurekaverse is a second to Plato’s Timaeus, in being a “likely story.”

Poe’s likely story offers one possible explanation for Piaget’s findings. Infants seek out new stimulation, new experience, test out every capability and opportunity available to them. They do this because they are made as microcosm of the whole universe, which was created curious.

Freud’s view is still true. Adult humans do tend to avoid curiosity by numbing activities and isolating themselves inside cars, houses and buildings where they think they can control and limit their experiences. But this adult tendency is not our natural essence. Freud’s view describes the enculturated, conditioned human. Piaget’s view describes the natural essence of the human, still resonating with the universal design of curiosity.

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