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Amodal perception

mong other things, The Attachment Research Center have been engaged in doing research on a fascinating issue, that of the way we perceive the world through our senses. In actual fact, infants' percetual world our group found confirmatory of earlier findings by researchers from England, Australia, Germany, the US and Russia.

Old Bertrand Russell's intimation that the perceptual ways were inextricably intertwined before birth (The Analysis of Matter, 1927), appeared enhanced from the empirical corroboration that infants are capable to connect experiences so that they recognize that something seen, heard and touched may in fact be the same thing. (There's plenty of bibliography: Melzoff and Moore, 1984, Maratos, 1989, Uggins, 1984; Trevarthen, 1963-1996, Stern 1985-1995. If you happened to be interested in reading something on this stuff, I can further full references).

Working on our own and in cooperation with Drs. Lewis and Trevarthen, we published a paper were we reflect the subjective experiences of very young infants. We came to the conclusion that infants experience a world of perceptual unity, in which they can perceive amodal qualities in any modality (hearing, touch, sight, kinesthesia, cynesthesia, and so on) from any form of human expressive behaviours. represent these qualities abstractally, and then transpose them to other modalities.

Music is endowed with an ideal modality to convey qualities of emotion and cognition that they would otherwise prove elusive: these elusive qualities are better captured by dynamic, kinetic terms, such as "surging", "fading away", "fleeting", "explosive", "crescendo", " decrescendo", "bursting", "drawn out", and so on.

The philosopher Suzanne Langer ("Feeling: An Essay on Human Understanding", 3 volumes) insisted that in any experience-near psychology, close attention must be paid to the many "forms of feeling" inextricably involved with al the vital processes of life, such as breathing, getting hungry, falling asleep and emerging out of sleep, or feeling the coming and going of emotions and thoughts.

Needless to say, what we first found in infants we later recognized in a variety of complex perceptual experiences in adults.


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Bowlby, J. (1969/82) A&L, vol. 1: Attachment. Basic Books.

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Bowlby, J. (1980) A&L, vol. 3: Loss. The Hogarth Press.

Darwin, C. (1859) The Origin of Species. Pelican Classics (1979).

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Garelli, J.C. (1983) Bases biologicas del miedo y la angustia (Biological bases of fear and anxiety). Buenos Aires, Psicoanalisis, 5, 477-503

Garelli, J.C. (1984) Bases etologicas de la teoria del apego (Ethological roots of the theory of attachment). Buenos Aires, Psicoanalisis, 6, 119-145.

Garelli, J.C. (1997) Attachment and Aggression. Journal of Italian Psychology (in press)

Leakey, R.E. (1981) The Making of Mankind. The Bumbridge Publishing Group.

Maynard-Smith, J. (1975) The theory of evolution. Pelican.

Trivers, R.L. (1985) Social evolution. Bejamin/ Cummings.

Wilson, E.O. (1975) Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Harvard University Press.