Re-thinking identity: Children’s experiences of self

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Re-thinking identity: Children’s experiences of self

Donna Thomas, PhD

Dr. Thomas argues that children, before a conceptual, culture-bound notion of self is inculcated in them, have a more spontaneous, broader sense of identity that defies our current worldview. She argues that their more natural, fluid self is more conducive to overcoming the despair characteristic of our present situation, and that it has much to teach us about reality itself.


Quote:For Hannah Arendt (1971), theorizing can only arise ‘out of incidents of living experience and must remain bound to them as the only guidepost by which to take its bearings.’ Some scientists may disagree, as research that relies on the personal accounts of people is often regarded as poor academic practice. In the cartesian-dominated world of science, the business of social researchers is to capture and explain human experience, while attempting to justify its empirical validity. This is a grave task when the bar is set at replicability, measurability and an empiricism that relies on conditioned consensus. How can the immeasurable be measured? Social scientists interpret human experience through incidence of themes, linguistic analysis, stories and collective agreements; all through the lens of the researcher’s position—governed by the latest theoretical ideas—with each turn constructing, deconstructing, fragmenting and obliterating the self.

Quote:Despite Arendt’s concept of experiential authority appealing exclusively to political life, the social sciences run with the idea of lived experience as a valid source of knowledge. In this way, social realities, systems and what it means to be human can be understood through the stories that people tell. Arendt herself ambiguously classifies experience as collective, not something that can be gleaned through subject-object relations. Yet social researchers tend to assume a cartesian-subject as a source of epistemic authority in relation to self, others and the world. This subject is the ‘story-I,’ an apparent self that moves through chronological and spatial dimensions, an inner subject held in relation to outer objects; as Nietzsche posits (see Spivak, 1974), a specifically linguistic, figurative habit of immemorial standing, a self that is, in the Foucauldian sense, entangled in discourses that circumscribe and constrain who we are.

I have seen this happen recently with children who frequently have ‘non-ordinary’ experiences; children who have premonitions, talk with deceased relatives, engage with disembodied beings, visit alternative realities and can lucid-dream on command. Although these experiences are considered as ‘non-ordinary,’ they appear to carry a surprising ordinariness in the life-worlds of many children; children who are consistently silenced, ignored and, at worst, diagnosed for experiences that do not fit into the dominant cultural narrative. When I research with these children, I listen to their ‘story-I’s,’ which are filled with discourses of illness, shame and difference. Self is never considered beyond the story (see Aatolla, 2017 ). Yet, as these children show, self and experience appear to extend far beyond mainstream ideologies, the limitations of language and even past their own inner narrative worlds. Postmodern preoccupation with lived experience and narrative self pays little attention to the ‘I’ of experience—in terms of its ontological existence and epistemological authority.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2022-08-17, 03:20 AM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 1 time in total.)
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Playing in the field: The nature of children and consciousness

Donna Thomas

Quote:Through their play and the extraordinary inner experiences they report, children reveal a broader, non-local, decentered and shared self. Because children are less conditioned than adults, this may be a clue to the true nature and scope of self and reality, as well as the role of consciousness within it, argues Dr. Donna Thomas.

Quote:Earlier studies into children and ESP began to show how experiences such as telepathy or telekinesis could be extensions of our natural cognitive functions,4 especially for children who experience a deficit in areas of their cognitive functioning, such as non-verbal children. In this way, experiences such as telepathy and clairvoyance would be extensions of normal perceptual processes. For example, precognition would be the reversal of memory and telekinesis an extension of motor abilities in children. In other words, these experiences are not super or paranormal; they naturally occur in response to a child’s need to survive and interact with the environment.5 In the late seventies, parapsychologist Alex Tanous co-authored a book with Katherine Donnelly that offered advice to adults for supporting their psychic child. Tanous & Donnelly advanced thinking around children and psi towards the idea that children could naturally enter altered states of consciousness, such as bilocation, or being in two spots at the same time.

Quote:If ideas of the world are to be formed from the living experiences of children, it becomes clear that materialism, as the dominant model of reality, doesn’t cut it. Not only does materialism lack explanatory power for making sense of children’s ways of being and experiences, it also denies them. A process of elimination may be warranted to find better ontologies that could support not just our understanding of children, but also inform wider social transformation. To stay committed to the living experiences of children, an idea of the world needs to accommodate several qualities children demonstrate:
  • A sense of I-ness or Me-ness that carries qualities of being collective, connected and shared, rather than located and individual.
  • Experiences that go beyond usual notions of personhood, space and time.
  • Appeals to nature.
  • Natural virtues such as creativity, wisdom and intuition.
Quote:Whether in dreams, through play or jumping in puddles, children are already where they should be, in communion with the true nature of reality, while adults are left out. We have forgotten how to play or be in eternity with an earthworm; we can’t remember how to create different worlds, filled with exciting creatures; we don’t hear the whispers of the ancestors telling us to slow down, be quiet and go sit with a tree. Children are not afraid to ask the big questions about reality; let’s be inspired, follow suit and start to playfully question everything we thought we knew about the world.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2022-08-17, 03:27 AM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 1 time in total.)
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I saved your first link until I had the chance to give it my undivided attention. I was expecting a treat because I have long felt that I had a different way of thinking about things as a child. If I try really hard, I can just about recover the odd elusive hint.

Add to this the fact that most evidence for reincarnation comes from young children.

I was really sorry to discover that this article seemed to be academic waffle. There were no real examples of children's thought - it constantly hinted at some exciting content, but delivered almost nothing. Donna didn't even mention the experiences of children who remember their previous life!

I have yet to read your second link, It looks as if it might be slightly better, with at least one actual example, but I wish Donna would realise that the real-life examples are far more important than the vague analysis.

Does anyone know of anything more concrete about this subject?

Sorry, maybe my approach is just too down to earth!
(This post was last modified: 2022-08-18, 08:25 AM by David001. Edited 2 times in total.)
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(2022-08-18, 08:16 AM)David001 Wrote: I have long felt that I had a different way of thinking about things as a child. If I try really hard, I can just about recover the odd elusive hint.

Interesting.

In the field of psychology, the clinical psychology rooted in the phenomenology of experience, and what comes out of the research of developmental psychology, this book is a classic:The Interpersonal World of the Infant by Daniel Stern.

The Wiki article breaks it down and the four "senses of self" that develop through the first two years. (Although he is in the "psychoanalytic" tradition, please mind that this is experiential psychoanalysis, and it's informed by developmental psychology, so it corrects the false hypotheses/teachings of earlier psychoanalysists like Mahler, etc., who were simply theorizing in their armchairs rather than connected to experimental psychology, and thought of the baby's self as "merged" with the mother and that had to be "separated/individuated".)

He also wrote a book for parents (and interested audiences) called "Diary of a Baby", where he imagines, from that knowledge, what a baby experiences (in words trying to convey what this experience is like), at five ages corresponding to these developmental landmarks: Joey at 6 weeks, Joey at 4 and a half months, Joey at 12 months, Joey at 24 months, Joey at 5 years.

It's a nice read, although I don't know if it would help you "recover that hint".

Now this doesn't relate to psi in any way, but I just thought I'd mention this. I'd be suspicious of whatever Donna writes if it contradicts this, 'cause this is pretty solid in the research and it hasn't been "overturned". If anything, developmental research has just shown how the baby's sense of self, in some ways, is there right at the beginning.
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(2022-08-18, 01:39 PM)Ninshub Wrote: Interesting.

In the field of psychology, the clinical psychology rooted in the phenomenology of experience, and what comes out of the research of developmental psychology, this book is a classic:The Interpersonal World of the Infant by Daniel Stern.

The Wiki article breaks it down and the four "senses of self" that develop through the first two years. (Although he is in the "psychoanalytic" tradition, please mind that this is experiential psychoanalysis, and it's informed by developmental psychology, so it corrects the false hypotheses/teachings of earlier psychoanalysists like Mahler, etc., who were simply theorizing in their armchairs rather than connected to experimental psychology, and thought of the baby's self as "merged" with the mother and that had to be "separated/individuated".)

He also wrote a book for parents (and interested audiences) called "Diary of a Baby", where he imagines, from that knowledge, what a baby experiences (in words trying to convey what this experience is like), at five ages corresponding to these developmental landmarks: Joey at 6 weeks, Joey at 4 and a half months, Joey at 12 months, Joey at 24 months, Joey at 5 years.

It's a nice read, although I don't know if it would help you "recover that hint".

Now this doesn't relate to psi in any way, but I just thought I'd mention this. I'd be suspicious of whatever Donna writes if it contradicts this, 'cause this is pretty solid in the research and it hasn't been "overturned". If anything, developmental research has just shown how the baby's sense of self, in some ways, is there right at the beginning.

I think there really are ways in which there are relatednesses and connections with some parapsychological phenomena. 
The Wiki article divides the baby's emerging more and more sophisticated self into a series of basic stages:

Quote:Emergent self
At birth, the infant experiences the world as a barrage of seemingly unrelated sensory stimuli, which s/he gradually learns to "yoke" together using cues such as "hedonic tone" (emotional quality), and temporal and intensity patterns shared between stimuli.

Core self
Around two months, the child's organization of sensory experience reaches a point where s/he is able to sufficiently organize experience to have integrated episodic memories. This enables a higher level of sophistication organizing future experiences, as the child is able to discern discrete invariant objects from cross-modal sensory stimuli and to use these to arrive at generalizations about what s/he can expect in the future from his/her environment. In this process, the infant also becomes aware of its own features ("self-invariants"), which give the child its sense of core self as an entity distinct from other objects in its environment.

Subjective self
Around seven months, the child begins to be aware that her thoughts and experiences are distinct from those of other people, that there is a gap between her subjective reality and that of other people. However, with proper attunement by the primary attachment figure, the child also becomes aware that this gap can be bridged through intersubjective experiences, such as sharing affect and focus of attention.

Verbal self
Around 15 months, the child develops the capacity for symbolic representation and language, and becomes capable of creating complex abstract mental representations of experiences, facilitating intersubjectivity but shifting the child's focus towards those things that can be represented and communicated in language.

I think this analysis may offer clues as to why and how the young child at the age of 2 1/2 or so may begin to remember his/her immediate past life. It seems to come about as soon as the development of the sense of self reaches the needed level of sophistication, at the "verbal self" stage outlined above. From the beginning there probably is a simple basic sense of self even at the earliest stage. The previous life memories begin to emerge as soon as the sense of self and overall neurological development will allow it.

One mystery seems to be the actual mechanism by which the spirit, that presumably entered the infant at a very early stage of development before even the "emergent self" stage, progressively realizes itself as an expanding complex personality from a previous life. Soon thereafter to start forgetting these memories.

This development process may mirror the supposed progressive expansion of awareness and consciousness that characterizes the after-physical-death experience of a human spirit. Where the transitioning process involves his/her consciousness gradually opening up and expanding into a condition where the vastly expanded soul consciousness with all of its past lives is realized. All accomplished somehow without losing the sense of self, that "I am me".

The very young child's experience of the four stages above may mirror this unfoldment; perhaps the "I am me" sense of self begins at the earliest stage, and just elaborates and deepens from there.
(This post was last modified: 2022-08-18, 07:24 PM by nbtruthman. Edited 1 time in total.)
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(2022-08-18, 01:39 PM)Ninshub Wrote: Interesting.

The Wiki article breaks it down and the four "senses of self" that develop through the first two years.

I must admit, I had rather expected that everyone would rush in with similar vague recollections of a different way of thinking back in childhood.

Looking at the Wiki article, I don't see anything that even attempts to back up all that theory with evidence!

Moreover, if indeed we are spiritual and become attached to a new body from time to time (reincarnation) that the ideas going through the young child's head may be vastly different!

Every day I went to school with one or other parent, and we came to a junction where three roads branched off at slightly different angles. Somehow this seemed a vaguely magical spot where taking each road would lead to radically different outcomes!

OK, the problem is that put into adult words the experience sounds utterly banal.

David
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(2022-08-18, 07:30 PM)David001 Wrote: Looking at the Wiki article, I don't see anything that even attempts to back up all that theory with evidence!

It's based on infant research, but you'd have to read the book to access that. Obviously a brief Wiki summary of the book will not go into that detail!

EDIT: Here's a 2000 infancy research article by author discussing the sense of self present extremely early.
http://www.psychology.emory.edu/cognitio...nfancy.pdf

Quote:Research is presented suggesting that an implicit sense of self is developing from birth, long before
children begin to manifest explicit (conceptual) self-knowledge by the second year. Implicit self-
knowledge in infancy is rooted in intermodal perception and action. Studies are reported showing that
at least from 2 months of age, infants become increasingly systematic and deliberate in the exploration
of their own body and the perceptual consequences of self-produced action. From such exploration,
infants develop a sense of their own body as a differentiated entity, situated and agent in the
environment. Based on recent empirical findings, the perceptual determinants of such implicit sense
of self are discussed.
(This post was last modified: 2022-08-18, 08:32 PM by Ninshub. Edited 2 times in total.)
(2022-08-18, 08:28 PM)Ninshub Wrote: It's based on infant research, but you'd have to read the book to access that. Obviously a brief Wiki summary of the book will not go into that detail!

EDIT: Here's a 2000 infancy research article by author discussing the sense of self present extremely early.
http://www.psychology.emory.edu/cognitio...nfancy.pdf

Couldn't that work be re-framed as a baby exploring the body it has just reincarnated into?

David
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I have no problem with that! Smile
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