Beginning and Loneliness

We come into this world little more than a bundle of feelings, having left a warm, dark and quiet environment of nothingness, and accompanied only by our already familiar sense of touch. Our yet under-developed minds had comfortably adjusted to the warmth and closeness of our previous home, and perhaps we might even have vaguely sensed some special kind of awareness activity taking place during those rare periods when we were not asleep. Perhaps prior to birth, we had, at some point, even developed a fuzzy association between that awareness activity and our level of comfort, an activity that, unknown to us, might have slightly caused us to alter our position in our home. Our little minds, though yet not fully developed, had adjusted to the primal feeling of relating and connecting to the confining world around us.

This primal feeling of attaching to one's environment is characteristic of all beings that are conscious in any way, and likely is most intense for humans currently at the top of the evolutionary chain. Even newborns, whose consciousness level is likely still fairly weak, experience this primal urge, as do lower forms of life, such as dogs, elephants, dolphins, and chimpanzees. And conscious beings can only really adjust to new things in the context of things that are already known. Life, prior to birth, was good, and safe, and without stress, as our little minds were, as yet, incapable of sensing the pain of loneliness and boredom.

Now we are suddenly thrust into a new world, and experience, for the first time, an entirely new environment. And though our senses are not yet fully developed, we quickly become aware of a new reality that is not only temporarily painful, but also noisy, bright, and cold. We have no understanding of this drastic change in our comfort level, and no context in which to place it. The infant has a memory of things that used to be, and experiences how things are now, and longs for a return to that previous, more comforting state. The relation to its environment that it had come to know is now completely severed.

This drastic change in reality states has to be, for most of us, one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives. We are used to seeing babies cry, and usually connect it to some feeling of its discomfort, such as hunger, a cold diaper, or gas pains. If crying continues once all such needs are met, we simply assume that crying is what babies do, and often pay little further attention. Seldom does someone surmise that the infant is lonely and/or bored, longing for the environment to which it was once connected. A caring mother can mitigate this longing by bridging the infant's reality discontinuity with a warm and cuddling sense of touch, holding her baby close to her. A mother lacking the normal maternal instincts, however, will imbed its baby in a sea of disconnected loneliness and boredom.

We adults generally have no conscious remembrance of our birth, or have faced any other experience of disconnection that matches it. To get some feel for the kind of emotions that may be involved, consider the following thought experiment.

You have gone, alone, for a quiet solitary vacation to a small rented cabin in the mountains, several miles from the nearest town. To the best of your knowledge, there is not another soul anywhere within miles, as you sit down one evening to read a book to which you have long been looking forward. After several minutes, you get up and go to the refrigerator and pour yourself a glass of iced tea that you yourself had made up just that morning. Then you return to your comfortable chair, pick up your book, and take a sip of tea.

Unknown to you, you are about to be the victim of a sinister plot involving several assailants bent upon using you for a space experiment. While shopping in town during the afternoon, one of these men, armed with a key to your rented cabin, enters and places a strong, but tasteless, drug into your tea. He is very careful not to leave any sign of his having been there.

Your sip of tea now has an immediate impact, and you fall into a deep unconscious state without ever consciously realizing anything unusual. Your assailants now enter the cabin and continue their plan for you. First, a plug is placed deep inside each ear canal, making contact with the eardrum, completely nullifying your ability to hear sound. You are then placed in a 4 by 4 by 4 meter enclosed box whose interior is controlled to 70 degrees F, and which provides an atmosphere similar to what is provided to space astronauts. This box, with you in it, is now placed aboard a launch rocket, and placed into a low earth orbit. The box is fitted with one additional control, one that maintains your position at its geometric center. This is done by simply sensing your position within the box, and then using externally mounted gas jet thrusters to maneuver the box to keep you at its center. The result of all this is that you are now asleep in a zero-g, cold, dark, soundless environment. Microphones and infrared cameras sensitive to body heat are also mounted on the walls of the box to record your reactions once you wake up. This is the essence of their experiment, which basically involves nothing more than 1960's technology.

The drug eventually wears off, and you enter that zone of near-waking, where, with your eyes still closed, you become aware that you have been dozing, but perhaps for just for a moment. You are now fully awake, feel a bit cold, and are surprised by the complete stillness surrounding you, except for an uncharacteristic sense of a pounding heart and blood rushing through your veins. You open your eyes, and there is nothing, only complete darkness. What has happened? Have you gone blind? In desperation, you shout out but you can't hear your own voice, and you now notice that nothing is touching you - not the floor, not a chair or bed - not anything. You reach out in the darkness to touch something, but there is nothing to touch. A little relief is noted as you realize that you are able to touch yourself, but that is short-lived, as you realize that you are now totally naked. And, as Newton has divined, all the flailing of your arms and legs in response to your torment will not alter your center of mass, and there is no sense of any overall movement.

What has happened? Where is the cabin, the chair, the book, the tea? And now an overwhelming panic sets in, as you have no way of connecting the comforting reality that you understood with the uncomfortable world that now engulfs you. This is not the traumatic feeling of impending death, something you know a little about already. This is even more primal. This drastic change, the sudden disappearance of one reality replaced by the birth of another that is completely foreign and uncontrollable, is totally overwhelming, as all that you have understood about how to live life now seems wrong. You suffer the panic of being completely disconnected from all that you know, and completely submerged in an ocean of loneliness. Even an escape to death may no longer seem possible. Relief from this inescapable continuing panic may well dictate a path toward insanity, and you, in fact, may already feel that you have gone insane.

Note how different this experience is from being subjected to a harsh solitary confinement by some judicial system. Being locked in a totally dark room with little contact with the outside world may well cause great depression, but that experience is still linked in a knowing way to a reality that is understood. Things still make sense, and you are still part of a reality that may someday treat you more kindly. And, if not, escape is always possible through self-death. You still have some control in transitioning to a new reality, if such exists.

Of course, the trauma depicted in the above story may only partially reflect that suffered by a newborn in its sudden thrust into a new world, particularly if, as was mentioned, a warm and comforting transition is put in place by those in its care. A newborn clearly starts with a less developed mind, a memory housing much less experience, and, perhaps, a less developed sense of comfort. Feelings are a first-person experience that are invisible to the outside world, so one can never really know how someone else feels, despite the outward signs that are presented. We tend to correlate such signs with the feeling intensities that we would have when we exhibit similar signs, but this may be only partially true.

What seems true is that a sudden dramatic replacement of a comforting, accepted realty by one that is uncomfortable and entirely new is far more traumatic than one might expect. A crying baby must be comforted and not ignored. A needy baby lying on its back in its new world, helplessly staring up at the unchanging ceiling, and unable to attract any attention, faces the same loneliness as our victim in the above little story. And, as our little parable above illustrates, remaining connected to what we know and understand is just as important at all later times in our life.