Monday, August 10, 2009

Pleasures of developmental excellence after lush aspirations of a philosophical baby

It’s been a long time. The previous posting, May 2008, “...a question of innateness as moot,” tacitly represented what might be called The Face of the Deep—the eonic biogenealogy expressed by prenatal epigenesis. The more-or-less self-contained narrative that details what “evo-devo” means in fact (merely my selection of extended quotation from Joan Stiles’s ending to her book) provides a coherence to brain development that can easily be invisible through all the details of her research-summarizing 380+ pages which can be overwhelming to the non-specialist.

The multi-million-year-old story told in the 9 month development of the brain begs any question of innateness in terms of an incomprehensible complexity of biogenealogy that goes wrong miraculously seldom. This genius of nature cannot be explained without relativity to the eonic genesis of our nature that is normally called our “evolution,” which is a claim of progressivity in primate self-selectivity relative to the increasing intelligence that self-selected for what became humanity, and that is expressed again in each prenatal development resulting from another selectivity between mating minds (countless thousands of conceptions every day).

Intelligent design, so to speak, at the epigenetic level belongs to our eonic nature. Its beginning days are largely identical to the beginning days of mice and countless other mammals (though already destined genetically to distinguish itself in several months as primative, then human) with which we share the origins of intelligent life. 

This is self-formative bioengineering at the immanent level, but it’s dependent on an environment of hormonal orchestrations from the womb that were already part of the genome that belongs to the mother who may carry the embryo—a genome that is, for all practical purposes, identical to the genome unfolding as the embryo, a genome that responded years into the mother’s life to produce the hormonal orchestration that its reinstantiation will need to engineer its embyro’s development into a fetus and beyond, already latent to the genome, already imprinted with the later-expressed mechanisms for the engineering environment that it needs for its own reactualization into another fetus. Again, this is evo-devo in its immanence.

Along the way, that embryogenesis generates “active agents” that have no agency. The figure of speech for functional efficacy of molecular products is mapped into allusions to intentless efficacy. “Innate factors and environmental context act in concert,” i.e., function effectively, “to direct,” i.e., vectorally constrain, “the processes that generate,” i.e., the proximal innate-likeness of, “the developing neural system.”

Any interest in discernible origins of mind here merely expresses a quaint need of the inquirer for Newtonian explainability, on the model of discrete causality we take from tangible physics (ignorant of the telic chaos of embryogenic molecularity, let alone the quantum uncertainty of primordial emergence). “The nature of the developmental process” is eonically written, having distilled inestimable variations of generative and functional efficacy into a durable version of DNA that depends on its self-generated environmental opportunities for epigenesis. To say, as I ended saying, that “the question of innateness dissolves or translates into the question of the emergent ‘act[ing] in concert to direct...processes that generate...that gives rise’” is to tacitly suggest, relative to an eonic scale of attention, that one is immanently doing a mere phenomenology, storytelling, which is the best that our cognitive need for cohering can do with unobservable, unreconstructibly complex events involving countless interactions of factors whose efficacy was millions of years in self-formation.

So, here we are, having historized ourselves for merely several millennia (the age of writing), reconstructively anthropologizing ourselves back merely several hundred thousands of years, archeologizing ourselves back several million, a few seconds on the clock of Earth’s Day, in one of the younger solar systems, likely among millions of similar ones in just our galaxy.

On Earth, at least, intelligent life selects for itself abundantly (so much of life has signaling and learning capacity, even among plants) and one variety has become technological and planetary. Narrating that has become a flourishing planetary industry, as evolutionary theory is now post-Darwinian, with new directions in bioengineering ordinary news.

Last week, well-known infant researcher Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby was published, subtitled “what children’s minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life.” It’s written for a general audience, so it’s a delightful portrait of where knowledge of babies now is (also reaffirming mothers’ wisdom). One point I’ll mention: Gopnik emphasizes the flourishing of imaginary worlds in the prelinguistic baby, whose challenge—easily met, normally—is not to find imaginativeness, but to find reality amid all the lush prospecting the baby intrinsically does, wondering how the world around it might reliably go.

The inestimably rich adventure of becoming a person begins before birth, as the embodied mind doesn't wait to awaken and bask in sensory archiving. The border between native capacity and ontogenic capability is inevitably lost in the ecology of prenatal life, already tracking conversations, music, and whatall, months before birth, untraceably accelerated in the stark hours afterward, a lushness of lived time that untraceably constitutes a self.