“To Know and to be known”


“We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.  The Poet at the Breakfast Table (1872).




From a single cell to our development as individuals involves differentiation: the development of a multiple unique cells from cells with otherwise shared characteristics, reflecting open and closed  programs of genetic activation. Cells aggregate as tissues and organs and eventually the functional organism.  But as social animals we also need other organisms … you become your self in a social context.  Read about the butterfly in the brain, then Read what Aristotle said about that, below).

The processes of INDIVIDUATION and SOCIALIZATION are fundamental developmental processes, necessarily balanced as an organism develops.  As in all balanced processes, and homeostasis itself, excesses (or deficits) in one or another process can be dysfunctional, often leading to distortions of physiology and behavior created by efforts at compensation.  For example, is loneliness a symptom of such a disorder?  Read the A&O post on Loneliness.


  • “The Butterfly in the Brain”  You have likely heard of the “butterfly effect”— the dependence of the current state on a very small change in a previous state.  In other words, small changes can cascade and be amplified in subsequent states. 
    • In recent years, partly considering the interplay of  nature and nurture, after the relatively small contribution of genetics to subsequent behavior in humans (see about the science of individuality),  Geneticists such as Robert Plomin at King’s College London argue that much of the remaining variation is the result of chance events as our brains develop in the uterus. As [neuroscientist David] Linden* puts it: “The wiring diagram of the human brain is so enormous and complicated that it cannot be specified exactly in the sequence of an individual’s DNA. Subtle random changes in the position or movement of cells within the developing nervous system can cascade through time to produce important differences in neural wiring and function.” (read about this idea in context in a book review of Unique in newscientist) [*(David Linden is author of Unique: The new science of human individuality; reviewed in New Scientist, 12 Dec 2020.)] (from A&O notes on DEVELOPMENT)


Between congenital and acquired qualities of your SELF,  How much of you is YOU, and how much is OTHER PEOPLE (real or idealized) that you have encountered in your life:  These apparent alternatives are (or should be) in DYNAMIC BALANCE (an “essential tension”) in one’s progress toward a satisfying, adaptive, self-actualization; look also into “listening angels.”   

An “essential tension” was originally described by Thomas Kuhn as a state of balance or reciprocity between tradition and innovation … it involves CHANGE – sometimes perceived as an inexorable drift toward a different state of being, but also often perceived as a “maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal.” (Berman).   

BUT IS “BEING YOURSELF” the same as “KNOWING YOUR SELF” ?? Read more about your SELF


Since deep antiquity seekers of wisdom have been urged to “KNOW THYSELF

But also, in one’s behavior, to express NOTHING IN EXCESS .


And then about the dynamic balance between individuation and socialization seen in light of the differences between LONELINESS and SOLITUDE:

read A&O notes on NEEDS for SOCIALITY and SOLITUDE





“Group living enables species to come up with solutions that each individual would not have accomplished alone. These include reducing predation or accomplishing substantial tasks, such as ants’ nests or human cities. These exceptional endeavors emerge from individuals’ social interactions, which are sometimes as simple as copying local neighbors and sometimes more elaborate, involving memory of others and signaling”(Couzin, Nature 445, 715 (2007); Pentland, Adapt. Behav. 15, 189 (2007); Krause et al., Trends Ecol. Evol. 25, 28 (2010). Cited by Sliwa (2021) reporting) Toward Collective Animal Neuroscience. SCIENCE 22 Oct 2021.)

Of course, social behavior can be synchronized, but these involve individuals responding in comparable ways to an environmental stimulus such as music or rhetoric.  

BUT brains in synchrony is another level altogether, and remarkably, new developments have been able to demonstrate their ability to become synchronized!   

“The study of social interactions in neuroscience has been carried out by recording neural activity in the brains of two individuals simultaneously and led to the discovery that brains in a group of two can couple their activity (Dumas et al., PLOS ONE 5, e12166 (2010).   Brain-to-brain coupling has been reported in various social interactions, including communication, cooperation, competition, and learning. It has been shown to affect neural activity at different spatiotemporal scales (including neuronal firing, neural oscillations, and hemodynamic responses) and in different brain regions. Further, the temporally coherent link between the activity of two brains was either synchronous or asynchronous and directed from one brain to the other. Brain-to-brain coupling has been demonstrated with increasingly sophisticated analysis methods and in different species, including bats, mice, and monkeys.” (Zhang & Yartsev, Cell 178, 413 (2019;Kingsbury et al., Cell 178, 429 (2019);Gilbert et al., bioRxiv 2021). Cited by Sliwa (2021) reporting) Toward Collective Animal Neuroscience. SCIENCE 22 Oct 2021.)


RELIGION is arguably a powerful socializing phenomenon and its cultural evolution has lots of resources … take a look at anything by Roy Rappaport ( e.g., https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1999-02291-000 )





Arguably, REASON itself evolved as a result of this tension and the necessity for socialization to develop and contribute to self actualization. [recall that in our integrative biological version of Maslow’s hierarchy of motivational NEEDS, socialization preceded emergence of “esteem”–how one stood out from the group and being recognized by potential partners for your useful uniqueness.  You might, for example, act in a way to evoke a critical thought in a potential reproductive partner: “I want those genes (and/or memes) in my babies.” 

Consider in terms of the idea that amongst our most urgent needs are


Humans want to KNOW: to pursue, acquire, curate a collection of real or potentially related phenomena that makes one unique. We know things–any things– by virtue of perceptions of stimuli from internal and external sources (see A&O notes on SENSORY INPUT).  Combine these with our Congenital and acquired biases (from constitutional configurations of information processing within us, such as connections within the nervous system, to culturally acquired beliefs we may never question) and we end up with a SUBJECTIVE SELF.  

NOT SO FAST!  confidence in our subjective self comes from integrating the feedback from BEING KNOWN, an OBJECTIVE SELF informed by the feedback from others.  Our evolutionary circumstances involve intense sociality, in part because we communicate with others for corroboration of what we might believe (one of our main methods of REALITY-TESTING).

Recall that the pinnacle of human achievement is (in Abraham Maslow’s HIERARCHY of MOTIVATIONAL NEEDS, SELF-ACTUALIZATION— a state involving “being all you can be” or  “maximizing your inclusive fitness.”



(who do you know?)



Exceptionalism –the idea of uniqueness is two edged –obviously to students of Art & Organism now– we are speaking at two different levels of organization

What do you think of the quote: “Separation is an illusion that we have made real by agreement.  The fundamental nature of the universe is one of harmony and unity in relationship.  There is no separation. . . . We have no way of knowing that when we are born, our feeling of separation  flows from an illusion that is built upon our lack of experience in the reality in which we find ourselves.  We simply can’t see that our feeling of being separate is a result of our limited perception of the true nature of the universe. . . . Being born is like waking up inside a dream and not knowing it.”  – Stewart Emery (“Actualizations”))


A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. (Einstein 1950)[i]  (Jon Kabat-Zinn tells a similar story: in “No Separation” in Coming to our Senses 2005 publ by Hyperion, NY. pp 338-339)

clinical: in the balance between the multiple elements of the sense of individual uniqueness and that of social integration, any combination of specific elements can get out of balance in ways that are dysfunctional if not at least troubling: for example, the profound sense of loneliness many people experience sometimes, and some people all the time:

We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies — all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.” (Aldous HuxleyDoors of Perception) (emphasis mine)

They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness // But it’s better than drinking alone.” (Billy Joel, Piano Man (1973).

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” (Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, 1963:356.)

As Huxley pointed out (in Doors of Perception above) there are levels of organization in sociality– echoed by a Pashtun saying[ii] (cited by Isabel Hilton New Yorker Dec 03 2001 p59): Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, we and our cousins against the enemy.”     

[Now see Lao-Tze on levels of sociality]

  • Does this resemble the sociality of songbirds: Songbirds help friends and family, but not strangers
    • (“Some songbirds are more likely to help other birds in their close social circles than casual acquaintances or strangers, according to a study published in Current Biology. Researchers examined how superb fairy wrens respond to distress calls, discovering that the birds will aid those in their same breeding group but ignore calls from those they don’t recognize — a multilevel society social arrangement also found in human hunter-gatherer societies.”) (Full Story: Forbes (tiered subscription model) (3/27/2023); or 
  • The sociality of Barbary sheep: Christ Leste-Lasserre reported on animals-that-are-social-outliers-seem-to-be-better-at-solving-problems
    • Sheep, camels, goats, gazelles and other hoofed animals are better at figuring out solutions to puzzles when they are less integrated into social groups. … Such marginalisation might force individuals to find food, shelter and other needs on their own without group help, thereby fuelling innovation, says Federica Amici at the University of Leipzig in Germany” (Caicoya et al 2023): She and her colleagues found that “Innovation across 13 ungulate species: problem solvers are less integrated in the social group and less neophobic”  (see notes on “innovation in other species” in A&O notes on creativity)


We all are waiting rooms at bus
stations where hundreds have passed
through unnoticed and others

have almost burned us down
and others have left us clean and new
and others have just moved in.

–Marge Piercy[i]                 

. .


Edw Hopper, Nighthawks (1942)

CONSIDER the word “SONDER.”    It was invented by John Koenig and posted to his project, “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” I think it helps crystalize something about mutual connectivity to which check-ins at the beginning of seminar helps us aspire.  In our A&O webnotes, now look at “intersubjectivity” (below).     BTW: for all the inadequacies of language, you still must appreciate the power of WORDS: Koenig has a beautiful promotion for the book that eventually emerged from his project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkoML0_FiV4)

[i] last two verses of Marge Piercy’s “The Visble and the In-” (2015) heard on “The Writer’s Almanac

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question [about the evolution of reason]. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

“Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.   (excerpt from Elizabeth Kolbert’s essay review of  The Enigma of Reason, by the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber:  “That’s What You Think”  By Elizabeth Kolbert The New Yorker Books  February 27, 2017 Issue  pp 66-71   https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

ARISTOTLE on the necessity to be social to be fully human

“… if each individual when separate is not self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole state as other parts are to their whole, while a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god.  (from Perseus, an open educational resource for Greek and Latin)



  • DEEP ethological aspects of INTERSUBJECTIVITY, a major theme in PHENOMENOLOGY and an aspect of INDIVIDUATION X SOCIALIZATION):   so, we know a bit about mirror neurons; theory of mind; empathy– NOW, maybe you really can feel someone else’s pain:  “Researchers have found that the rat brain activates the same cells when they observe the pain of others as when they experience pain themselves. In addition, without activity of these ‘mirror neurons,’ the animals no longer share the pain of others. Finding the neural basis for sharing the emotions of others is an exciting step towards understanding empathy.”  (popular link) (technical link)
  • INTERSUBJECTIVITY is a key element in Winnecott’s psychoanalytic theories and can be fruitfully viewed from the perspectives of Empathy, Psychoanalysis, and Phenomenology.  At the core of these perspectives there is a resonance that stretches towards the ideal of “being one with everything”  (see ART and EMOTION notes and the [see Psyche essay for Winnecott). (as when subject and object enter into each other? Co-create / co-constitute a unique entity?)   READ “The Invention of Empathy”  and then Delacroix on Painting as Communication.
  • .
  • “Starbucks on Forty-second and Sixth, even has a sign that reads, “Friends are like snowflakes: beautiful and different.” … “The sign in Starbucks should read, “Friends are like snowflakes: more different and more beautiful each time you cross their paths in our common descent.” For the final truth about snowflakes is that they become more individual as they fall—that, buffeted by wind and time, they are translated, as if by magic, into ever more strange and complex patterns, until, at last, like us, they touch earth. Then, like us, they melt.’   (Adam Gopnik “All Alike” comment in “The Talk of the  Town” – The New Yorker,  Jan 3, 2011 pp19-20)[i]






  • “Before modern times, very few human beings lived alone. Slowly, beginning not much more than a century ago, that changed. In the United States, more than one in four people now lives alone; in some parts of the country, especially big cities, that percentage is much higher. You can live alone without being lonely, and you can be lonely without living alone, but the two are closely tied together, which makes lockdowns, sheltering in place, that much harder to bear. Loneliness, it seems unnecessary to say, is terrible for your health.” Read excerpts from “The History of Lonliness.”


Connecting to


  • [i] “Wilson (Snowflake) Bentley, the great snowflake-ologist …In 1885, at the age of nineteen, he photographed his first snowflake, against a background made as dark as black velvet by long hours spent scraping the emulsion surrounding the snowflake images from the glass-plate negatives. … over his lifetime, took portraits of five thousand three hundred and eighty-one snow crystals (to give them their proper scientific name; flakes are crystals clumped together) and inserted into the world’s imagination the image of the stellar flower as the typical, “iconic” snowflake, along with the idea of a snowflake’s quiddity, its uniqueness. …  It turns out, however (a few more slips, a bit more Googling), that Bentley censored as much as he unveiled. … Most snow crystals—as he knew, and kept quiet about—are nothing like our stellar flower: they’re irregular, bluntly geometric. They are as plain and as misshapen as, well, people.  … In 1988, a cloud scientist named Nancy Knight (at the National Center for Atmospheric Research—let’s not defund it) took a plane up into the clouds over Wisconsin and found two simple but identical snow crystals, hexagonal prisms, each as like the other as one twin to another, as Cole Sprouse is like Dylan Sprouse. Snowflakes, it seems, are not only alike; they usually start out more or less the same.

    Yet if this notion threatens to be depressing—with the suggestion that only the happy eye of nineteenth-century optimism saw special individuality here—one last burst of searching and learning puts a brighter seasonal spin on things. “As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments,” an Australian science writer named Karl Kruszelnicki explains. “So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way.” Snowflakes start off all alike; their different shapes are owed to their different lives.”


    [i]   [“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought, what is necessary is only to try to think them again” (Guterman trans of “Proverbs in Prose” (Spruche in Prosa … also there: “Doubt grows with knowledge”)  …   “New inventions can and will be made; however, nothing new can be thought of that concerns moral man. Everything has already been thought and said which at best we can express in different forms and give new expressions to.”  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Conversation with Joseph Sebastian Grüner (August 24, 1823).  http://www.poemhunter.com/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe/quotations/page-4/  SIMILAR:  “The most original authors of today are original not because they create something new but because they are capable of saying such things as if they had never been said before.”  –Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, Reflections in the Spirit of the Travellers (1829).

    [ii]. Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt‑‑ Goethe. [complete:  “Man lernt nichts kennen, als was man liebt, und je tiefer und vollständiger die Kenntnis werden soll, desto kräftiger und lebendiger muß die Liebe, ja Leidenschaft sein.”  (Goethe in einem Brief an Jacobi, 1812)] 

    One learns to know nothing but what one loves, and the deeper and more complete the knowledge is to become, the stronger, stronger and more alive must be love, even passion.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  (1749 – 1832), source: Goethe, letters. To Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, May 10, 1812

    [iii].  From Langdon Hammer’s review of  ‘God’s Silence: Poems,’ by Franz Wright:=   “In Pursuit of Revelation” (orig title in paper was “To Live is to Do Evil”) (NYT Sunday May 14, 2006, p38.

    “What kind of apocalypse does Wright imagine in his new poems? He is not waiting for the Rapture, but he is a Roman Catholic devotional poet of mystical hope. He is impatient with the real and visible (“concrete things stand for / invisible things=), and he pushes past them toward “real reality,” a higher unseeable / life, inconceivable / light / of which light is mere shadow.” This impatience extends to people C “a human face” is “the mask / of some being no one can see” as well as to language. Wright describes a moment of past vision in which “The mask was gone,” “There was no / I,” and there was no text, only what the words stood for; and then what all things stand for. 

    Wright’s poems pursue this state of revelation, as if there were a word just out of reach, beyond the words on the page. He calls that goal “some radiantly obvious thing I need to say, though quite what that might be escapes me at the moment, as it always has, and always will.”