Thursday, March 15, 2012

"I" and "Me": A New Model for S/O Split and the Birth of the Self

Salvador Dali, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus.
Regarding theories of how the "self" comes to be known, that is, how "I" comes to meet "me," the leading figures are Charles Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead and Jacques Lacan. These three theorists  have proposed models for the way in which the knower becomes the knower of the known. Also called the self concept, conscious self, and the subject/object split, the concern is how one comes to be both knower and known. This question continues to be an area of exploration for artists, psychoanalysts, psychologists, and philosophers.

Mead's symbolic interactionist theory has roots in the pragmatist philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Building on the idea that we are born as an "I" -an active knower- and only come to develop the self, the "me," through social interaction. Mead describes how the I begins to relate gestures with reactions in others. Through these gestures the child comes to discover that they can manipulate the environment. Later, the child begins engaging in play. During solo play the child adopts contrasting roles, switching between doctor and patient, cop and robber, or "good guy" and "bad guy". Mead describes how this switching between playtime characters forms the child's ability to switch between perspectives, eventually developing the ability to see the I from the point of the other, which Mead calls the me. In social play, the child learns the rules of certain games. These rules, or limitations, Mead contends, serve as the first symbolic other,  which we can say comes to frustrate the child with limitations on action. This is the point from which Sigmund Freud picks up. 

Jacques Lacan, speculating on the work of French philosopher and psychologist Henri Wallon, proposed that the self is realized between the ages of 6 and 18 months, when the child comes to recognize itself in a mirror for the first time. Dubbed the mirror phase, this is the moment when the subject splits, becoming the object of its own subjectivity. The mirror stage is the foundation of the image of the I, what Lacan came to call the imaginaire (image of the imaginary).

Whereas Mead contends that the "I" becomes aware of the "me" through childhood play, and Lacan contends that the moment of self recognition occurs in relationship to one's image in a mirror, we would like to propose a yet unexplored aspect of the subject/object split.

The proposal is that dreaming is the evolutionary mechanism that brings about the image of the self and self consciousness.

Although evolutionary psychologists have proposed various models for the evolutionary function of dreaming, one which illustrates dreaming as a mechanism of self consciousness has not been proposed. Even in psychoanalysis, where the dream serves not only as the "royal road to the unconscious," but also as a foundation of psychoanalytic theory, does not make the dream-self connection.

An initial elaboration on this model, a speculative addition to both the social interactionists' and the psychodynamic insights, will be made here, although the idea is in need of more thorough elaboration.

Since infants are prelinguistic, their dreams are most likely to be similar to early memories, called flashbulb memories. This would mean a compilation of images, not unlike montage technique in film. In the prelinguistic state the framework of chronos time, dependent on the grammatical-logical reference (present, future, past) of most culutres, would not be acted. Instead, the dream life would mostly consist of kairos time, or the emotional connection of motion and transition between images. As the infant enters into linguistic stages (after 1st year through 6th year), the features of language begin to shape thought and thus the dream. Contrasting between the dream life and waking life, comparisons between transductive logic, analogic, induction and deduction, as well as chronos based time become evident. We cannot know that the dream follows rules that are unlike the rules of waking life until the rules of waking life are developed (learned) through grammatical framing and symbolic interaction. This would also include individuation, or what Jean Piaget referred to as object permanence and overcoming egocentricity.

In the dream the child encounters the image of the self. When we dream in the third person, we experience the emotional reaction in the first person. It is at this moment that the characteristics of the I experiencing the me, described by Mead, fall into perfect harmony with this dream model of self. Unlike Mead's model of the development of the self concept, which acts through play, this model depicts the child simultaneously experiencing the emotional experience from inside and from outside of the I. The child is, at once, actor and audience to their own performance.