Saturday, September 01, 2012

Branded @ Birth™ (or 'How Mommy Goes Viral')

Regardless of one's cultural background, primary language or education, some people believe babies call their mother ‘MA’ (or some version thereof) not because they’re taught do so, but because they’re programmed to do so.

This theory stipulates that just as humans are born with certain physical body parts, we're also born with a bit of a pre-birth cognitive fodder called ‘Archetypes’.

In Jungian psychology an archetype is described as “a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.” (

There are many fascinating aspects about this, if it is true, not the least of which is the implication that we are all Branded @ Birth, and then start from the very beginning of our lives branding every single thing around us (as products of our reality, our culture, even our imagination).

If this is indeed the case, then archetypes presuppose culture and are neurobiological in origin. We might then say that archetypes exist within the black box of consciousness as pre-programmed urges to express certain behaviors. These primal urges first take form as intuitive actions that are then instagrammed as  symbols intended to represent the action or capture the meaning of these urges.  That is, rendering symbols is the manner by which one documents an impression, applies a cognitive filter to it, and then shares it with others.

If every urge represents a fundamental need or desire, then every symbol is essentially a command. And these commands once produced and distributed/transmitted/communicated –put into action as it were– exhibit memetic potential.

Perhaps this potential is even the result of archetypal recognition by those receiving the transmission. But the additional result of this eternal loop is a complicated matrix of understandings and conventions we call culture. And one might also say that the reverse engineering of all this resulting symbolic data is what we now call semiotics. This could all be academic, or it could be navel gazing, but I still find it all very fascinating to consider; the mind reels.

What is the zeitgeist anyway?

We might think of zeitgeist as a series of trends, but by my calculus it's semiotics in motion; an archetypal tsunami; symbolic data moving culture the same way a strong current moves a floating object. –But equally influenced by an undercurrent of ideas and prior actions that collectively effect the NOW as they move beneath the visible surface of society, and in this way capably move highly ingrained and even resistant convictions great distances over many years, even decades, centuries and millennia.

Of course, if we define archetypes simply as pre-birth patterning, then animals are also endowed with them, and we can suppose that any instinctual activity has at its source archetypal data. It may not be enough to ask if the dog's bark is worse than his bite, but also inquire what does either bark or bite mean?

In any event, the notion of archetype supposes we arrive into the world if with not a song, then with an elemental sound already formed in our heads (or the urge to produce a sound), and that is the sound of our mother’s name –at least the name by which we will call her. Again we are branded at birth, imprinted by a distinguishing mark that identifies us as no less than a product of our Mother.

By the way, some people also believe we do actually arrive into the world with a song in our heads. It's called 'The Ur-song' and you can hear what it sounds like by playing the following video (the melody here is played straight; it is also often heard with a swing):

Incidentally, because the vocalized ‘ma’ signification precedes graphic representation, I like to think of it less as an archetype than as an ‘Archetone’.

I also think it might be true that ‘ma’ doesn't bear any archetypal or pre-natal psychological origin, but that it ehibits universal usage simply because nursing mothers interpret ‘SMA’ –the sound of lips un-puckering from a kiss or breast– as an attempt to communicate. (And by extension, ‘DA’, the sound of one opening one’s mouth when one’s tongue has been stuck to the roof of it).

Once believing their baby has begun speaking, parents might then reward a child with further affection. And by this action they thereby reinforce a lip-smack as as an appropriate designation for a god like being by an utterly helpless moppet.

It’s not quite as romantic an etymology as being in possession of an ancient archetype, but who’s to say it’s wrong?

Whatever the mechanics, 'ma’ becomes a meme, and eventually ma becomes mama becomes mom becomes mother, and this is how mommy goes viral.

If you have any interest in memetics (the study of cultural transmission), one can’t help but ask if ‘Ma’ is the smallest unit of cultural transmission exhibited in early childhood development?

–Or is there something smaller than 'ma' to be found; something that lies between archetypal urge and symbolic utterance? I believe that there is, and that thing is the actual sound of the baby’s natural and not-quite-yet semantic cry.

Although, I’m not really sure that such a cry can't be designated as non memetic because I've heard one baby set off a dozen other babies, as if they were all part of a single coddled swarm.

The fact is, any human behavior can trigger an action which once repeated becomes a pattern, and then, at that point –at the point of Pattern Manifestation– it finally assumes the potential to be transmitted along a memetic distribution system.

Or rather, it exhibits the power to trigger replication from one host to another: you, me and mommy, too.

It’s as if the archetype once given voice as an archetone, the entire process resembles nothing so much as a musical Ouroboros –the mythical image of a serpent eating its own tale, and thus forming an eternal circle.

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Photo Image: Gasp at Life, by maessive

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