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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

6. A Symbiotic Self

Over the last century, the field of psychology has sought to clarify and understand our human panoply of mental domains, behaviors, emotions, and so on, with increasing reference to their neuroanatomical, biochemical and genetic substrates. A prime concern, often equated with Sigmund Freud, was to identify and mitigate the psychic maladies that inflict night and day. In an initial analytic stage, the endeavor segmented into many subsets and factions, which along with its subject matter inhibited general theories. In the 1980s a confluence of neuroscience, linguistics, cognition, artificial intelligence, and philosophy, became known as cognitive science. Humanistic and transpersonal psychologies in their turn sought to shift the focus from illness to positive enhancement.

This fraught project has often divided into camps of nature vs. nurture. One side, under rubrics such as nativism, essentialism or rationalism, argues that innate, preset programs govern. The other, variously as behaviorism, constructivism or empiricism, contends people are mostly molded by external influences and make life up as they go along. The two approaches are converging on an obvious middle ground where both make a contribution. But such psychological studies have labored without a unifying vision that could (re)connect person and cosmos. Recently an “evolutionary psychology” seeks Darwinian roots for the vagaries of paternal investment, mate choice, altruism, territoriality, rank, consumption, prejudice and so on. Investigators then conceive mental capacity as a congress of “modules” or “mental organs,” each evolved to compute and solve an adaptive problem or handle a novel activity. The effort is beset with factions and contention, as sources report. A sense of humankind’s common project to reconstruct how its members came to think, feel and behave could bring a palliative rapport. And as observers note, such knowledge of ourselves does not determine but can in fact liberate.

A conceptual integration within a genesis cosmology again draws upon the sciences of complexity, which finally promises an understanding of our diverse human mores. The integral psyche is seen to mature and be sustained by the same self-organized, fractal network dynamics as the development of the living universe. Ones selfhood can be likened to an autopoietic system constantly referring to, maintaining and creating its own, viable identity. It is not difficult to perceive the same generative pattern of symbiotic union which makes up a coherent personality as that which constitutes the nucleated cell.

Abraham, Fred and Albert Gilgen, eds. Chaos Theory in Psychology. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. An initial effort to apply complex systems to psychological phenomena. A sample paper is “Fractal Geometry and Human Understanding” by T. Marks-Tarlow which contends that ones personality reflects its self-similar, complex organization.

Amiot, Catherine, et al. Integration of Social Identities in the Self: Toward a Cognitive-Developmental Model. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 11/4, 2007. Although written in the academic jargon of the field, another contribution (see also Christopher & Bickhard) which engages a dynamical self/society relation.

Arbib, Michael. Towards a Neuroscience of the Person. Robert Russell, et al, eds. Neuroscience and the Person. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1999. Arbib theorizes that the brain employs “schemas” or mosaic representations which constantly assimilate and accommodate new experience. The self is an ‘encyclopedia’ of thousands of these schemas gained throughout ones life.

Baldwin, Mark, ed. Interpersonal Cognition. New York: Guilford Press, 2005. Our individual selves are much constructed through social interaction. This relational dimension is then thoroughly explored from evolutionary origins to therapeutic concerns. An impression is that what makes us uniquely human is not only a larger brain but our embeddedness in dynamic cognitive networks, as if a fledgling cultural cerebration.

Barkow, Jerome, ed. Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Barkow was an author, along with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, of the 1992 book The Adapted Mind that largely initiated the search for evolutionary explanations of human psychology and cultural behavior. But during the intervening years the endeavor has been subject to much contention, misunderstanding and attack. Many psychologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, and so on, for a number of vested reasons, reject any biological cause or determination. In his lead essay, Barkow carefully reviews this state of affairs and tries to set a necessary “Darwinian metanarrative” on a correct course. Notable authors such as Anne Campbell, Ullica Segerstrale, and Lee Cronk then delve into its value for feminist studies, resolving domestic violence, and many other subjects. What seems to be indeed missing is a common sense of humankind’s project to comprehend, heal and enhance itself, which is hampered by these unproductive, disciplinary dissent.

Barkow, Jerome, et al, eds. The Adapted Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. For the record, the compendium that introduced the field of evolutionary psychology as based on a cocatenation of specific modules in the brain.

Bell, Nancy and Anindita Das. Emergent Organization in the Dialogical Self: Evolution of a ‘‘both’’ Ethnic Identity Position. Culture & Psychology. 17/2, 2011. In an issue devoted to forming a personal identity in cultural settings, Texas Tech and Kansas State University social psychologists present a case study of an Asian-American woman which illustrates how an individual draws together disparate life experience into a coherent narrative. And in a “human universe” might we imagine an evolutionary genesis trying to similarly organize and narrate itself into viable selfhood as a child of the cosmos?

The dialogical self is a dynamic self-organizing system, on whom we base the following discussion. Self-organization refers to emergent organization of systems that occurs without external “instruction” or preformed design. It is not a single theory, but rather a set of metatheoretical principles that increasingly guide many scientific domains, including developmental science. The underlying principles of self-organization enable dialogical self theory to coordinate and integrate the dichotomies of variability-stability, discontinuity-continuity, multiplicity-unity, and thus to serve as a framework for reconciling the divergent positions within the identity literature. (244)

Bjorklund, David and Anthony Pellegrini. The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002. This large volume tries to expand the field of evolutionary psychology to include how we learn to think and act, which is set in a broadly recapitulative and epigenetic context.

Bolhuis, Johan, et al. Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology. PLoS Biology. 9/7, 2011. After some two decades of pro and con debate on this approach, behavioral biologist Bolhuis, Utrecht University, Gillian Brown and Kevin Laland, University of St. Andrews anthropologists, and philosopher Robert Richardson, University of Cincinnati, survey the psychospace so to find a clearer path forward. Surely human cognitive, sexual, familial, and social behaviors have real evolutionary roots, which it would serve us to rightly sort out, understand, and avail.

Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. We argue that the key tenets of the established EP paradigm require modification in the light of recent findings from a number of disciplines, including human genetics, evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and paleoecology. For instance, many human genes have been subject to recent selective sweeps; humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution; and experimental evidence often favours a general process, rather than a modular account, of cognition. A redefined EP could use the theoretical insights of modern evolutionary biology as a rich source of hypotheses concerning the human mind, and could exploit novel methods from a variety of adjacent research fields. (Abstract, e1001109)

Bosma, Harke and E. Saskia Kunnen, eds. Identity and Emotion: Development Through Self-Organization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. More examples of how the psychological study of personality is gaining new insights through dynamic systems theory. By this view, ones self develops and is sustained by the same principles of recursion, complementarity and emergence as all natural systems.

Buchman, Timothy. The Community of the Self. Nature. 420/246, 2002. A surgeon and cardiologist, presently at Emory University, explores entryways to a novel “systems physiology” via a reconception of body and heart as a dynamically poised complexities. An August 18, 2010 lecture by Dr. Buchman given at the Santa Fe Institute on the latest progress in this medical revolution entitled “Secrets of the Heart: The Electrocardiogram, Complex Systems Science, and the Fundamental Laws of Biology” can be viewed at http://www.santafe.edu/research/videos/play/?id=a5d6f206-fb0a-42ce-be9a-b1aafc583643.

At all levels – from genes to the web of organ systems that make up an individual – it is the balance of autonomy and connectedness that sustains health. These two fonts of stability have complementary roles in guarding the communities of cells that, in aggregate, is the organism itself. (246)

Burgess, Robert and Kevin MacDonald. Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005. A multi-author document exploring how to life’s past course might effect our present body and mind.

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