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Chapter Two: The Child and Ideas

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Chapter Two: The Child and Ideas


An isolated individual cannot survive his loneliness except by reliving, at his own expense and in a limited lapse of time, the millennial experience by means of which mankind has adapted itself to its environment[1]. His adventure starts either from a blank slate of ideas like that of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, or from a blank slate of means (and things) if he has carried with him his world of ideas, as did Robinson Crusoe before the shipwreck. However, whatever the degree of his destitution and the type of his culture, his activity to secure his survival will always correspond to certain psychosomatic[2] processes. The scheme of such an action can be found in any form of human activity.

The simplest form of his activity may be represented by the action of the craftsman examining his piece of work with a chisel in his hand, by that of a ploughs-man stooping over his plough or by the soldier armed with his gun. In all these cases, the action of the craftsman, the ploughs-man and the soldier is accomplished by means of two visible factors: a man and his tool.

However, these two factors conceal a more complex reality. That is, no action can actually be accomplished except within certain conditions answering the question of "how" and "why". This is because we do not act haphazardly lest our activity becomes impossible, nor do we act for no motive lest we undertake an absurd action.

Therefore, no action can be performed without a given scheme that encompasses, simultaneously with the visible elements, an ideational element that represents its motivations and operational patterns. These motives and patterns summarize every social and technological development of society and distinguish societies from one another. As a distinctive element of the human species, the ideational element inspired in Karl Marx the following picturesque meditation:

What distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this; that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality[3]

In the final analysis, any action relates to three categories: the category of things (objects), the category of human beings (personifies) and that of ideas (ideas). Moreover, all the social, economic and political characteristics of a given action are necessarily engraved in its particular scheme woven from these three categories throughout the universal canvas of any activity. In the case of the isolated individual, this network is far from being complex. It is necessarily simple either by virtue of the lack of means (objects) as was the case with Robinson Crusoe, or due to the lack of ideas as in the case of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan.

The more an individual becomes integrated in the society and its division of labor, the greater the importance of the ideological factor to his actions; his action has to be specialized, to respect a set of rules and observe certain norms in order to be incorporated into the collective action of society. The moral and technical conditions of his integration are an integral part of the psychosomatic processes, which cannot easily be assimilated, as was noticed by Robinson about the making of the table.

In fact, the child is an isolated human being whose integration is under way. It is necessary for him to undergo those processes in order to achieve his integration in a proper way. Needless to say, the family as well as the school will help him in that process of integration. However, this social assistance can never replace the integration process of the child. Rather, it can and, indeed, must function only in such a manner as to make it shorter and better. Let us now simply follow his steps in order to realize the phases of that process.

When the child is born, objects, human beings and ideas are arranged around him in three worlds, all of which are alien to him. Even his hand is a mere object for him. It amuses him just like the lamp hanging over his cradle does. It permits him to scratch his cheek, which itself is ' another object not yet integrated to his own being. Yet, he at least starts to feel around himself a world of things represented by his hand, his fingers, his pacifier and the lamp hanging over his cradle.

At this stage, he still has no idea about the world of human beings in which he does not even recognize the face of his mother. Indeed, the mother herself is for him nothing but the nourishing breast that a feeding bottle could easily replace, had she disappeared because of some misfortune. Moreover, he does not recognize his own self as an integral entity, for he is not yet aware of any particular personal ego.

As his experience in the world of objects develops and takes root, his eyes start discerning certain faces. Firstly, the face of his mother, then the face of his father and those of his brothers and sisters will start making up the strange world of people around him. Yet, he still cannot be at ease even when he is three or four years old. It would suffice to just leave him alone on the pavement near the doorstep of the family's home to see the signs of anguish of solitude immediately painted on his face due to the presence of passers-by with whom he is not familiar.

Even at the age of six, the day of his admission to school is for him an awful test in a world of human beings that is alien to him. Only gradually will he be integrated into that world, little by little, so to speak, up to a point that corresponds to his level of sociability. His sociability varies for reasons which cannot always be enumerated, but which can, however, be classified according to Jung's analytic psychology[4] with regard to its types as follows: The extroverted type discovers the world of people more rapidly than the introverted type.

The latter type would perhaps discover more rapidly the world of ideas without, however, skipping any stage. Yet, as far as both types are concerned, the discovery of the world of ideas always takes place after that of the world of human beings. The process of the child's integration to society is at the same time biological and logical. It thus embraces his three ages:

1. The age in which he spontaneously discovers the world of things by playing with his fingers and his pacifier.

2. The age in which he gradually discovers the world of people by discerning the face of his mother.

3. The age in which he finally discovers the world of ideas.

It is the last discovery that is important to analyze here. We are well aware that, for the child, the discovery of objects is made by means of possessing them, since the bonds which link them to him are of nutritive order; thus he spontaneously picks any object up to his mouth. However, his discovery of the world of human beings reaches perfection as soon as emotional and social bonds link him to them.

Similarly, it is the moment in which he succeeds in establishing personal links with abstract concepts that marks his entrance into the world of ideas. Indeed, we need to observe a child failing to handle a simple problem in order to realize the effort he makes, sometimes desperately, to prize open the gates of this world. In general, such small tragedies go unnoticed both at school and at home. However, the child sometimes remembers that, after having come up against a difficulty many times without overcoming it, his thought and reasoning one day made considerable headway for him to solve it, thus discovering the solution on his own. Such a moment is for him the Archimedean moment. Like Archimedes, he may cry "eureka! eureka!"[5] It is the moment when, between seven and eight years of age, he steps into the world of ideas without relying on anybody.

This is a crucial stage in the process of his social integration 'because it makes him take root in particular original cultural plasma. This will make of him a certain Hayy ibn Yaqdhan or a Robinson Crusoe. By entering the world of ideas, he actually steps into a cultural world and, in certain cases, into certain ideational systems distinguishing ideological societies (societies engage) from neutral and primitive ones.

Such a psychological transformation opens for him new horizons and unexpected perspectives. Thus altering his psychic being, this discovery of the world of ideas transforms him even at the physical level. Ideas, indeed, have a far-reaching effect. This effect marks the difference, even at the level of appearances, between an illiterate person and someone who is familiar with making use of the alphabetic characters to read a thought or express an idea. This fact in the child's process of integration must be taken into account, for it enables us to make the necessarily comparison with the infantile signs which may still be evident in adulthood.

A half-open mouth, ready to grab and suck anything, is a salient feature of the small child. However, as he grows older, his mouth closes as if driven by some internal springs. This morphological detail actually corresponds to a particular phase in the child's psychological development. It represents one moment in the process of integration whose significance can be appreciated either by comparing it to a similar moment in the process of the social integration of an adult person if such an experience were possible, or by making a comparison between two adults - a literate and an illiterate one who belong to the same family.

I myself had the opportunity in 1938 to experience this phenomenon with a group of illiterate Algerian workers in France whom I taught to read and write. As the experiment was gradually progressing during this nine-month period, I could see the faces of my pupils changing. Their eyes, which used to send a wild glimmer, were progressively becoming more humane. Their animal-like glimmer disappeared, thus giving way to something that denoted an inward thought process, that is, the presence of an idea. Moreover, their lips were shut or, at least, came closer to each other. Thus, their head, which receives ideas, makes the temporal muscles work and function like a spring that pulls the lower jaw upward to close the mouth. Subsequently, the faces themselves underwent a visible transformation, which, one would believe, could significantly be measured by those who are interested in the psychosomatic relations.

We can make the same observation by means of a direct comparison between the faces of two brothers who have different intellectual levels. This is a situation frequently observed in Algerian rural areas where the schooling opportunities are unequally distributed even at the level of one and the same family. We may find, in the same family, two brothers, one educated and the other illiterate.

It is a matter of fact that there are similarities between such people indicating their common genetic origin. But there are also some outstanding differences in their looks and their faces that reveal different processes of integration. In general, the population of any country consists of two types: the rural and urban types that sociologists can readily distinguish by the way they dress. Whatever rural clothes he wears, the townsman can easily be recognized, for he is but a false countryman. Similarly, the countryman is only a false city dweller even if he is in his Sunday best.

Two brothers sharing the same genetic origin and belonging to the same rural environment are also distinguishable from one another by similar obvious signs depending on whether one of them has been to school and the other not. These signs mark the process of integration of the individual who has stepped into the world of ideas.

However, following this first step, the above process will be carried j on throughout all the stages of the individual's life - maturity, adulthood | and extreme old age - in such a manner as to be gradually transformed into a process of disintegration. At the age of senility, the individual seems to reverse his movement, thus going back over his psychological ages. He will successively quit:

1. The world of ideas thus losing every creative power.

2. The world of people out of indifference or misanthropy.

3. The world of objects out of feebleness and withdrawal.

Similarly, he breathes his last at the end of a process alluded to by the Qur'an:

...[a]nd then, after [a period of] strength, ordains [old age] weakness and gray hair.

al-Rum 30: 54.

However, throughout the individual's life, the three worlds coexist with one of them having some preponderance over the others depending on the individual and the type of society to which he belongs.

In a society in which the world of ideas is centered on objects, the individual tendencies are orientated accordingly. It once happened that I questioned, in an Arab country, a boy about what they were giving him at school without my use of the word 'giving' being intentional. Yet, his spontaneous answer was so revealing: "they give us biscuits", he said. It is evident that the meaning of give for him is first articulated in the world of objects, though it is expressly used within the context of school.

Thus, the individual pays the tribute of his social integration to both nature and society. The more unbalanced the latter's development, the higher this tribute.


[1] If a child is isolated at birth, his adaptation to social life will become difficult, perhaps even impossible. There is the sociological case of the "wild infant" which refers to children in the wilderness who are lucky to survive. It is shown that they live a perfectly animal life.
[2] A physical symptom that originates from a psychological cause
[3] Ibn Khaldun, explains the process in the following way: "For instance, if a man thinks of bringing into existence a roof to shelter him, he will progress in his mind (from the roof) to the wall supporting the roof, and then to the foundation upon which the wall stands. Here, his thinking will end, and he will then start to work on the foundation, then (go on to) the wall, and then (to) the roof, with which his action will end. This is what is meant by the saying: 'the beginning of action is the end of thinking, and the beginning of thinking is the end of action." The Muqaddimah, trans. Franz Rosenthal, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967, vol. 2, pp. 413-16
[4] Jung's analytic psychology: Refusing Freud's insistence on the psychosexual origins of the neurosis (the libido), Jung rather saw in the libido a mere elementary and universal energy that may be either introvert or extrovert. He instead developed the theory of archetypes. According to this theory, the archetypes constitute the collective unconscious, and are an outcome of mankind's experience throughout history.
[5] Eureka is an expression of triumph on discovering or solving something.


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