Fat little fingers hold up the toy as she peers at her reflection, laughing at herself. That she is, at two years old, very self-aware is evident in the way she plays with her own and her family’s reflections in the big, night-darkened windows. It is evident too in her naming of people and creatures, differentiating them from herself and recognising their unique individuality. She has already learned who to turn to at any given moment to have her needs and desires met and twists her father round her tiny finger with no more than a smile. She knows her own mind, there is a real and distinct personality and a playful sense of humour developing and showing in her offering and withholding of kisses and objects… and in the very definite ‘no’ with which she has established both her right and her ability to make her own choices.
She kisses her reflection and passes the little toy mirror to her father, quite obviously expecting him to look. I wonder… does she think her image will still be there for him to see? Or does she realise that he will only see his own reflection?
Her language skills are still too limited to discuss such a complex oncept, so the question goes unasked, but it is interesting and delightful to watch her emerge from the cocoon of babyhood and become a person. This infant Eve, whose hair matches my own baby locks perfectly and whose look of mischief mirrors certain treasured photographs and her big sister’s mischief, is bidding fair to become a force to be reckoned with. Watching her and sensing the dancing echoes of the future, I am glad I only had sons to raise…
But it left me wondering… when do humans become conscious of selfhood? How do we know? We can see and measure certain reactions… like the recognition of the distinction between object and reflection, for example. We can put an age to various calibrated steps that show self-awareness. But I got stuck on the word ‘show‘…
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Theoretically, around age five, but some a lot earlier. I have clear memories of a time before I learned to speak and probably, so do you. I think some of us are born that way.
My two year old granddaughter has very clear ideas about her own being and her relationship with her world. I think we need to rethink our parameters.
it’s starts very young, when they begin to feel their toes, and then see themselves in a mirror, just as you described. I love the question when you wondered about her thinking her image in the mirror might be passed along for others to see, like a photo. such an interesting thought, and it’s something I’ve never considered, but probably spot on.
There is so much we don’t know…and I would rather admit that and keep a sense of wonder than hide behind scientific theories that only reach their own limits.
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