In Mark Johnson’s book “The Meaning of the Body” he described studies investigating how babies develop meanings from the beginning of lifebased on their physical relationship to the world. When a baby sucks on a nubbed pacifier it can then visually distinguish the nubbed onefrom the smooth. It’s a corresponding pattern of feeling recognizedand extracted from the continuous flood of sensory experience. These patterns are created by interacting with the world, led by the priorities of perception as it explores the surroundings. Tongue, lips and gums feel the variation on the surface of the nubbed pacifier. Passing through limbic structures like the thalamus where senses are combined, the similar mapping with other senses allows the nubbed pacifier to be distinguished from the smooth. The flow of life has rhythms that are first felt and recognized. That this is thefoundation of meaning shows when we use an expression like ‘getting the sense of’ something to refer to its overall meaning. Though the
pattern or structure may turn up in different modalities, the patternstays constant so is instantly translated from one sense to another. Subtle discriminations amidst the ebb and flow of sensory experience
are correlated with other kinds of rhythms and structures that are understood by the feeling they give us.
The unknown world resonates with structures that provide a starting point for understanding, a behavioral stance reflecting our previousphysical relationship with that pattern. In the spectrum of nuanced qualities and characteristics that sensory experience can have, the pinnacle, according to Johnson (and many others who are focused on the science) is the arts, where the essential constant is distilled. The rising excitement in a passage by Beethoven is understood through that feeling of rising excitement. Beethoven’s skill and sensitivity create a highly refined experience so those patterns are emphasized. In the act of listening our own powers of discernment are developed. Human sensory understanding is highly sophisticated and neuroscience is showing that it directs conscious awareness. As Alfred Adler advised at the beginning of the twentieth century, the best education from the
beginning of life is to be surrounded by beautiful things. This develops the guidance provided by our sense of beauty at a deep level and brings out the best in us.
Twins might have a head start in their knowledge about being because there’s so much more to explore in the womb. Seeds for the process of mirroring by which we understand others would already be sown. It could well be developing an increase in self- awareness in addition tothe ability to read others’ feelings.
Dedicated to Juliana and Nathan Moyer, born December 11, 2013.