Tuesday 18 April 2000


Pic of the day: "Mama? Mama? Mama? Maamaaa?!"

The cry that made us human

All things work together, seamlessly, one thing leading to another. Some times the results are quite strange. Today, for instance, I actually met a fairly intelligent member of Jehovah's Witnesses, and we decided to meet again on Monday after Easter, that is, 2nd day Easter here. (They don't celebrate Easter like that, so it's no problem for him.) He promised to bring, free of charge, their theory on the surge in human intellect since ca 1914. I understand that they think Jesus has arrived in an UFO or something like that, physically, and set up a base on or near Earth and is doing some tinkering with the human genome or leaking out divine tech secrets or some such. This is certainly very simplified and I hope it does not do justice to their actual doctrine. Anyway, the guy is a computer overseer too, and seems to be able to speak fairly clearly. I look forward to it. Monday at 4 PM. :)

That's not the main event of the day, though. You see, because of the Easter, we are short of people, and I have to take telephones from clients. I don't usually do that, because I mainly do computer related and some administrative stuff. It did not go all that bad; I am quite different in real life from what you see here. Namely, here I just talk and talk, but in real life I listen most of the time. People like that. I speak gently and friendly when I speak, and leave to them to fill in most of the conversation. They like it, and so do I.

However, I had to spend my usual lunch time taking these phones. (That was when they lacked people, naturally.) So I went to McDonalds half an hour later. One of the Asian girls there actually not only recognized me but know what kind of milk shake I wanted. They do learn eventually. As I sat down to enjoy my McFeast (burger with vegetables and cheese), I heard a toddler going "Mama mama MAMA MAMA!" You know how they are. And then suddenly there was light.


I have pondered the question of sentience, of self-awareness as a contrast to pure sense awareness. Certainly sense awareness is the critical facility for survival. To discern the various threats and possibilities around you, to match sense input with your memories. But in humans, self awareness has grown to such an extent that it often overwhelms the senses. It is the defining trait of our species, or so it seems.

In the past, I have mentioned our need for attention. How small children cry for attention even when they are in no danger at all. They go like "mama mama mama mama" and if mama does not respond, they go wild and scream and claw to get attention. Then if asked what they want, they don't know. They just wanted attention.

And as I listened to the toddler's desperate plea for attention, I wondered what had changed in me. Why don't I feel the same need? Well, in a way I am trying to get attention right now. If you read this, you do pay attention ... but I will never know, unless perhaps you e-mail me. But generally, I get no attention feedback from writing this, except from my own mind. Self attention. Self awareness.

That's right. I pay attention to myself! Somehow toddlers still lack the feedback mechanism that lets them keep themselves company, but they do have a strong instinctive need for attention. There must be a supply of attention. I suspect that the MORE attention you pay to small kids, the LESS attention will they need later. I may be totally wrong here, of course. It may be that they need to be weaned of attention. But certainly that won't help until their brains have matured to support the attention feedback loop. Once in place, it quickly spirals up to self awareness. And we become able to see ourselves as if by another.

I personally remember very little other than raw sense images and emotion (and little enough of that) from my early childhood. The first memory of clear self awareness was from the last spring before I started school. I was 6 years and 4 months old. I walked around in the melting snow, looking at it with a child's fascination. No doubt I was also telling stories to myself, as I spent most of my spare time as a child telling stories. But I do remember reflecting on my freedom: That this was the last spring in my life that I did not have to work. Next year there would be school, and after that I would work all the time. This was a clear, adult-type self awareness. But I do not remember when or how it started.

I have heard that dolphins who are isolated, very quickly lose their will to live. We're talking about hours or at most days. Human company can partly replace that of other dolphins, though. I wonder - were the first humans similarly bound to their tribe? It seems indeed that some are even today. I suspect that the dolphins lack (but perhaps don't miss) the attention feedback loop. One minor mutation - or perhaps it is not even physical, but an invention of sorts - and the nature of the human mind was changed beyond recognition. The cry within ourselves found an answer within ourselves.

So, how was your day?

Overcast, slightly rainy.

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