Two modes of experience: 1) holistic and 2) linear

The distinct processing by the left and right cerebral hemispheres has been well documented (Schore, 1994). The left hemisphere functions through analytic cognition, logic, reasoned reflection, and verbal and number skills leading to complexities of language, math, and science. The right hemisphere functions through holistic cognition, intuition, imagination, reverie, and a heightened responsiveness to sensory stimuli: music, art, the beauty of nature.

A paper honoring Professor Traugott (2017), (see Lichtenberg and Thielst, 2018) describes an experiment on individuals who have acquired both a native and a later-learned language. The exclusion of the right hemisphere with unilateral shock therapy stimulated the patient to speak the learned language. When the left hemisphere was excluded the patient could speak only his native language (Perani et al., 1996).

Acquiring a native language in infancy and acquiring a later-learned language are two different experiences. Learning a language after infancy requires a step-by-step task of mastering its words, grammar, pronunciation, and idioms - a laborious experience of purposeful doing. In contrast, hearing mother’s speech with its musicality, engaging in face-to-face exchanges, making mouth movements, babbling, vocalizing, sounding “mmm” and saying “Momma” is a continuous flow of integrated doings that we experienced more as a turning on than a manifestation of a planned intention. The infant’s smile turns on when the musculature and brain mature and flows immediately into the existing face-to-face emotional communication. Similarly, crawling, pulling up and standing, and walking all turn on when the musculature is ready. The turning on of these capacities contributes to the neonate’s and infant’s experiences as a doer doing in the world, interacting with caregivers or alone in their presence (Winnicott, 1941).

During the period of turning on to intersubjective experience, the infant responds to any repeated activity by categorizing elements of the experience - mother, father, feeding, diapering, going to sleep, awakening - and draws distinctions between the categories. What is familiar is distinguished from what is novel and the somewhat novel activates interest and curiosity, while too much novel is a turn off.

A three-month-old infant is exposed to two scenes. In the first scene, a figure with googly eyes receives a push up from a helper that is needed to succeed in an intention to mount an incline. In a second scene, the figure is pushed down by a hinderer, and thus falls down the incline. The three-month-old is able to distinguish between the happenings in the two scenes. When then exposed to the helper and the hinderer, the infant responds differently. He looks at the helper while eye-averting from the hinderer (and at 5 months reaches for the helper) (Hamlin et al., 2007, 2010).

The point we wish to emphasize is that all these developmental advances and turn ons in the first year occur in the highly emotional context of infant-caregiver intersubjective experience. We regard each turn on or turn off as a sequence of happenings, of now-moments, each flowing into the next. Each experience involves an emotion-laden combination of human relatedness, body sensation, and agency that is experienced holistically.

In comparison, much (but not all) later conceptual, emotional, and behavioral sequences are experienced as temporally and contextually discrete and subject to reflection. So, seeking attachment, opening to regulation, implicitly learning to communicate, experiencing both specific emotions, and underlying generalized affective tones of attention and power come together as a turn on that is more unitary and integrated than discrete and linear.

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