Colwyn Trevarthen

University of Edinburgh

Infant Imagination: Moving with Feeling in Narrative Time to Share Artificial Projects and Practices

Research on infants’ spontaneous actions and expressions of feeling, and their expectant orientation to events and persons, exposes the limitations of ‘timeless’ structural and logical explanations of how perception, cognition, learning, emotion and language grow.  A newborn infant moves with prospective control as a human agent, can be selectively aware of objects located in space and time outside its body, can generate a rhythm-based ‘narrative’ experience of time in action, can express emotional evaluations of anticipated risks of action and existence in relationships, and can sense, and imitate, the motives and emotions of other persons. Pre-natal learning favours attachment to the mother as initial companion for imaginative enterprises. Other attachments may be formed quickly.
Development before language of motives for knowledge and skilful movement and for the expression of both aesthetic and moral emotions prove that young human primates live by a creative process that is motivated for collaborative invention of cultural arts and techniques, including language, in an intimate community bound by playful affection and enjoyment of arbitrary rituals. Cognitive representations and their symbolic and rational articulation are tools of fantasy, used for sharing and elaborating the purposes of sensuous imaginations in known company. The human self is innately playful and adapted for discovery and creation of artificial practices in cooperation.
Mental and bodily well-being of an individual depends on intersubjective encouragement for imagination of an optimistic personal narrative. Recovery from defensive and unsociable habits, or from emotional illness and confusion of intentions, is possible if these inherent motives are responded to and supported with intimate sympathy, affectionate admiration and enjoyment. Coercive treatment to remove diagnosed malfunction and distress or to correct thoughts and recollections may not help.

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