The inner smile

Sucking is amongst the first actions performed in our life. Already in the womb, the foetus starts to practice to suck her thumb. Some suggest that early signs of lateralization can be related to the preference toward the right or left thumb. Minutes after the birth the newborn seeks the mother nipples to suck, at this stage the sucking movement seems to me mostly a lip action with little participation from the jaws; even if the action as in most infant activity seems to travel through her whole body.

The sucking action can be stimulated by the touch of a finger on the cheek, what probably simulates the nipple presence, however as sucking in the womb starts without any external action I think of sucking in newborns as a  “voluntary” action.

The novelties present in the after birth action are the arrival of the milk in the mouth and stomach of the baby, what reinforces the comforting nature of sucking, and satisfy a primary need of the newborn and the contact with the mother. Without considering all the aspects of breastfeeding, let’s focus on the end of the feeding when the baby “let go” of his head and shows an expression of intense satisfaction.

Is this expression a smile? If so, is it different from the social smile, seen later on in child development?

This expression is in my opinion different, despite the similarities, from the social smile. Duchenne pioneered the investigation of the muscular pattern leading to express specific emotions in men and identified as an essential feature of an authentic enjoyment smile the simultaneous symmetric contraction of the zigomatic and orbicularis muscles. Darwin in his “Expression of Emotions in Men and Animals” recognized the orbicularis contraction as a key ingredient of a smile, what gives us crow’s feet, and proposed that the social smile initiated as a suppressed aggressive gesture, due mostly to the teeth exhibition, however this suggestion does not seem supported by adequate evidence, even if it is difficult to completely reject it.

As in most human activity several complex layers are present, cultural differences can explain the observed variation of the smile frequency amongst different populations and genders, concealed emotions ranging from contempt to flirtatious feelings are accompanied with different types of smiles as pointed out by P. Ekman. The distinction between artificial and felt smile is in a certain way artificial as all of the smiles types express different emotions and it is only our limited attention to the person smiling that limits our ability to discern the emotions behind. In this sense the expression of the newborn after feeding is a “Buddha” smile, it is aggression free and free from any social pressure, it is an inner smile, the baby is pure joy in that moment and she lets us know through a wonderful expression.

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Fear and regression

Moshé Feldenkrais lived through extremely hard times, at the epicentre of huge political crisis, ethnic and religious conflicts.  Pogroms, the organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe, were such a frequent activity that the word “pogrom” was coined to refer to these riots. As a child and later a young boys Moshé directly experienced such events, in my opinion only the sense of insecurity and the desire of a better future could push him to leave his house aged 15 to a difficult journey toward the British mandate Palestine. Once he arrived in Palestine the complex relationship with the local Arabic population started, conflict and fights accompanied the birth of Israel. In a brief lapse of time dictatorship took power in most European countries.  Few years later the second World War saw such a period of regression in the core set of moral values that allow the human species to share our planet to cast doubt about the future of our specie.

There are thousands of page written about the origin of the second world war conflict analysing in detail the economical, social, cultural and political mood in the years leading to the conflict.

A less discussed approach, present in Moshé Feldenkrais books,  look at the emergence of the dictatorship and wars as due to the promptness of the automatic instinctual response under extreme stress and insecurity. Both individual and society to face an immediate danger revert back to simplified responses. An existing species survived adopting a certain tactic and it would be very challenging to modify such a tactic for a different one in hard time. The hedgehogs still curl up in front of a moving car, despite such strategy is clearly not the best one for that situation.  Such a strategy is however effective in many circumstances and the loss of individual hedgehogs along countryside roads does not seem to have an impact on the species.

If we consider possible causes of extinction for us the humans,  external causes, like meteorite induced climate changes, are beyond our control and relatively unlikely, internal causes are mostly related to our own behaviour, in particular to the instinctual component that has been fundamental for the evolution of our species  but that we need to recognise and  moderate to be able to survive.

Two tropical fish of the same species are in an aquarium with many others of different species, as soon as they spot each other they start to fight, in the confined space of the aquarium the fight will only end once the weakest will die. Once the concurrent is dead the fish remaining, in most cases,  will not show any aggressive behaviour against the fish belonging to the other species. Konrad Lorentz in his beautiful book “On aggression” discusses the aggression amongst member of the same species in the framework of the evolution and he suggests possible reasons behind aggressive behaviours. He also discusses the importance of rituals to reduce the aggressive behaviours within a given community.

It seems like we are again near the edge of a sharp transition where due to an oversimplified response we are not able to recognise members of others tribes as similar to us.  The current mood toward foreigners in Europe reflects mostly  a fearful attitude toward differences that are considered so substantial to consider as “others” people not belonging to our tribe. The dream of Europe was first of all a desire to enlarge  the European tribe so that catastrophic conflicts would not occur again. We should never ever forget this aspect when we think about Europe.

Brexit in my opinion is similar to the hedgehog response to the danger represented by a car,  integration presents many danger and unknown, however the reflex response does not seem adequate to address such issues.  Hopefully, the slowing down of the actual exit process will be beneficial to moderate the gut response.