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.

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



SOCIALITY.  “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.)




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 our most urgent needs are often TO KNOW AND TO BE KNOWN



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]                 




[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?) 
  • .
  • “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.”