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"On the Self-Organizing Origins of Agency"

05.07.16

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"It seems likely that agency emerges even earlier than 3 months. One might argue generally that the human is a self-organizing system from the moment of conception, through embryogenesis, the post-natal period onward to the infant stage, and beyond. My interest, however, just as in early quantitative studies of movement coordination, is in establishing empirically and theoretically whether the concept of self-organization is even relevant to agency or end-directedness and, if it is, to identify the self-organizing dynamics in a concrete situation. Certainly, early studies showed that 2-day-old infants (in a state of ‘quiet alertness’) engage in more frequent sucking bursts to their own mother's voice reading Dr Seuss's ‘To think that I saw it on Mulberry Street’ over that of another female. A main focus of such research is to investigate how effective the fetal auditory system is in detecting and responding to the maternal spoken voice. Evidence of differential sensitivity to the mother's voice occurs very early in life, even prenatally. What is less emphasized (and again not measured) is that the infant's sucking produces the mother's voice and, as in the baby–mobile case, the mother's voice causes the baby to suck more. Two-day-old infants, in fact, do work to produce their mother's voices in preference to other mother's voices or acoustic stimuli. Whereas the neonate's preference for the mother's voice suggests a role in infant bonding, these data are also highly consistent with the theory here, namely that the basis of agency is making something happen in the world. And making some things happen is more important than others."

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