6 Apr 2009

Our Eyes of Child: Shepard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Ch.3, subsection 2

Paul Shepard

Coming Home to the Pleistocene

Chapter III: How We Once Lived

Subsection 2

Our Eyes of Child

Our evolution was a gradual adaptation to wild life on the African savanna.
Our bodies are niche-fixed, defined by the characteristic features of our ecology in the strict sense of the word -- that is, the energy and symbiotic patterns and demographics of our genus, Homo, as they have existed for perhaps two million years. (38c)
Our genome was shaped by our environment. And our culture is guided by our genome.
Because of our evolutionary past and the extraordinary way life has shaped our mind and bodies, we are required by the genome to proceed along a path of roles, perceptions, performances, understanding, and needs, none of which is specifically detailed by the genome but must be presented by culture. Mentally and emotionally, children, juveniles, and adolescents move through a world that is structured around them following a time-layered sequence of mother and other caregivers, nature, and cosmos. (39a)
Childhood is humanity's most crucial experience. Children obtain social bonds. They explore the non-human world, learning its names and identifications. The child learns speech, but "nature is the child's tangible basis upon which symbolic meanings will be posited." Many of our metaphorical meanings we use through adulthood are based on our naming and recognizing plants and animals during childhood.
The ability to read the landscape or the environment, later in life, grows from establishing natural things as its anatomy, keys to the wholeness and well-being of the habitat. (39d)
Children undergo bodily changes such as tooth eruptions, growth spurts, or personality changes. All the while, culture responds appropriately in a way "that is analogous to the optimal environmental conditions necessary for a butterfly to emerge from a chrysalis." (40b)

Consider how some of us obtain our wisdom teeth in adulthood. Normally we teethe in childhood. But the human species exhibits many traits in adulthood that are proper to child development.
This is called "neoteny," and it bound-up with the way we relate to our environment.
Neoteny, the immaturity factor, is intimately associated early in life with a topographic intuition -- that is, place in consciousness as an aspect of one's own body and physiognomy. Early correlation in human subconsciousness between body and earth, as the child and then the youth explores and wanders through his or her home range, is basic to future visualizing of nonphysical reality and cosmological "places." (40b)

Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

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