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) you have encountered in your life:  These apparent alternatives are (or should be) in DYNAMIC BALANCE (an “essential tension”); 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




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?) 






  • “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.”


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