Heidegger and the infant: A second-person alternative to the Dasein-analysis

©2014 American Psychological Association

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, Vol 34(4), Nov 2014, 257-274. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038004

This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

Stephen Langfur

The Honors College at the University of Houston

Author Note

I thank Ted L. Estess for his superb listening and his many helpful comments on the long path to this piece, as well as Nancy Mangum McCaslin for patient, sharp readings of numerous drafts.  Section 3 draws on my paper of 2013: “The You-I event: On the genesis of self-awareness.”  Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 769–790.

Correspondence concerning the article should be addressed to Stephen Langfur, Bilu 35/5, Holon 58338, Israel.  E-mail: slangfur@gmail.com


Heidegger’s analysis of human existence has long been criticized for ignoring the full possibilities of human encounter.  This article finds a basis for the criticism in recent infancy research.  It presents evidence for a second-person structure in our earliest encounters: An infant first becomes present to herself as the focal center of a caregiver’s gazing, smiling, or vocalization.  The exchange in which the self thus appears is termed a You-I event.  Such an event, it is held, cannot be assimilated into Heidegger’s Dasein-analysis.  The article locates the origins of temporality in the early playful exchanges that make up You-I events.  The dread of losing the You is seen as the original form of what Heidegger calls dread in the face of death.  The apparently self-sufficient self of the cogito first emerges, it is held, when the child becomes capable of playing the role of a You toward herself.  This happens especially through talking “with oneself,” as in “inner” speech.  The post-infancy self is here interpreted as a derivative of the You-I event.  It is argued that because inner speech frees the child from a felt dependence on others for self-awareness, they are no longer experienced in their full significance.  The loss of fullness extends to all beings, including the self, with the result that beings are, as Heidegger puts it, depleted of being.


Keywords: intersubjectivity, infancy, Buber, Heidegger, Husserl


Heidegger’s analysis of human existence, intended as a step in his quest for the meaning of being, remains unrivalled.  Nevertheless, it is often criticized for ignoring the full possibilities of human encounter.[1]  I shall carry this criticism into an alternative analysis, using findings from the last four decades of infancy research.  The infant’s encounters, I shall argue, differ in structure from most that occur after language acquisition.  Their structure is that of a You-I event (Langfur, 2013).  This event cannot be assimilated into Heidegger’s thought and has major repercussions for it.

In order to convey what is meant by a You-I event, let me contrast it with our usual adult encounters.  Ordinarily, while listening to someone, I am not explicitly aware of myself.  I seem  “to participate immediately in the development of his stream of thought” (Schutz, 1962, p. 173).  To become explicitly self-aware requires withdrawal from that stream in an act of reflection.  The withdrawal need not be deliberate: I may simply find myself talking to myself, having missed the last thing said.  Broadly speaking, one of two cases holds: either I am caught up in the other’s stream of thought, in which case my self-awareness is dimmed, or I attend to myself, in which case my awareness of the other is dimmed.

In contrast, a distinctive feature of a You-I event is this: The more vividly present the other is to me, the more vividly present I am to myself.  The event becomes so rare after infancy that the reader may not recall an instance.  An example may aid recollection or imagination.


1.  A You-I Event in Adulthood

One evening some years ago a friend and I were sitting across from each other on benches by Manhattan’s East River, and he began to talk about a difficult decision he faced.  His eyes fixed me in their grip.  He had never confided so closely in me.  At first I listened in the usual way: I seemed, as Schutz says, “to participate immediately in the development of his stream of thought,” feeling what it was like to be in the quandary he was describing.  But then, with no preparation on my part, came something more: I felt what it was like to be choosing precisely the words he chose, in just that rhythm with that intonation and that slight forward thrust of the upper body.  It was as if I were in him there, living that life, and yet—at the same time and without any shift of attention—I felt myself to be here, quite other than him.  This odd impression continued while he talked.

Buber (1971) describes an event of similar structure:

That inclination of the head over there—you feel how the soul enjoins it on the neck, you feel it not on your neck but on that one over there, on the beloved one, and yet you yourself are not as it were snatched away, you are here.  (p. 29)

I would say, however, that I was snatched away, entranced into what it was like to be him—and yet I was here.  Moreover, in feeling what it was like to be my friend while nonetheless being me, I perceived—as if for the first time—his otherness from me.  It was one of “those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace” (Eliot, 1994, p. 408).  The commonplace was the fact that another is other.

We may distinguish two aspects of this occurrence: (a) I felt what it was like to be my friend and (b) I became sharply present to myself.  I cannot entirely explain the entrancement into what it was like to be him, but I shall hazard this much: Ordinarily, a conversation occurs within tacitly accepted boundaries that form a kind of frame, established by the type of relationship.  The frame determines the kinds of things that can be discussed without embarrassment.  Under such a condition, I can comfortably let myself be sucked into the course of another person’s developing thought, in the manner described by Schutz, but I keep, as it were, a hand on the frame and can easily pull back into silent communion with myself.  In the conversation by the river, however, my friend went beyond our accustomed boundaries.  I suppose I could have frozen in bewilderment or defense, as I generally do when a frame is broken (at a lecture, for example, if the lecturer unexpectedly singles me out).  But I did not freeze.  Perhaps his surprising act of trust evoked trust on my part.

It is easier to explain why I became present to myself with such sharpness: It was because, while drawing me out of myself, my friend was talking to me.  To lose myself (my customary self) in attending to him was to receive myself (an unaccustomed self) as his focal center.  While being so intensely there with him, I was located by him here.  This was perhaps what led to the strong impression of his otherness.

Such an event is a logical possibility, on condition that we are willing to understand the self to be the focal center of another’s attention.  I shall maintain that the self is and remains, throughout life, just that, even for the solitary thinker thinking, “Cogito.”


2.  A Fundamental Omission in Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology

Where shall we place such a You-I event in relation to ordinary adult existence?  For an analysis of the latter, I look to Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (1986; hereafter SZ).  I shall devote the present section to exploring his analysis, because the You-I account, we shall see, throws a new light on its main points.

Heidegger would probably decry the attempt to find a place in his thought for the You-I event.  He might say, as he did against Binswanger, that I am confusing “ontological insights with ontic matters” (Heidegger, 2001, p. 228).  You and I, after all, are beings, but the concern of fundamental ontology is rather with being, which each of us always already understands.  Our prior understanding of being is evident in the fact that, in our everyday behavior, we constantly distinguish between what is and what is not.  And yet this prior understanding is somehow obscure: We are at a loss to explain or indicate what being means.  The task of fundamental ontology is to discover the source of the obscurity and dispel it, so that what is already understood shows up in full clarity.

Yet the ontic cannot be ignored!  For where shall we seek the source of the obscurity?  We can only seek it among beings, including ourselves.  Even for the later Heidegger, being and beings cannot be separated.[2]  We cannot discover anything about being except through encountering beings.  If we fail to encounter them as they are, the meaning of being will remain obscure.  The first task of fundamental ontology, then, is to bring beings to light as they are.

An example of “bringing to light” is Heidegger’s analysis of the being of equipment (Zeug).  The meaning of a hammer’s being does not yield itself to a theoretical gaze.  Nor does that meaning appear explicitly when I use a hammer to build something, for its presence is then unobtrusive, as equipment is meant to be.  Rather, the meaning of a hammer’s being is explicitly revealed at a time when it is needed but missing or broken (SZ, §16).  While I roam the yard in search of it, hand clenching and unclenching, the meaning of its being comes home to me as bound up with the shelter I need to finish, with the nails and the boards, and more.  A structure of involvements unfolds.  “If I don’t get the job done today, it will have to wait until after vacation, and my customer won’t stand for that.”  Motivating the particular project is the general one of succeeding as a carpenter, and motivating that, say, the even more general one of providing for those I love.  The hammer has its significance together with nails and boards, in order to build this or that, for the sake of certain goals, which are likely to include other people.  All these involvements are gathered, focused, in my frustration as I roam the yard.  They constitute an involvement-totality (Bewandtnisganzheit).  Earlier, when I picked up the hammer and commenced to work, I was tacitly looking into this totality.  Nailing, I looked at the nail, but I was also “looking” through it toward (perhaps without explicitly thinking of) the anticipated product, my customer, my family, our vacation, and more.  This future-oriented involvement-totality unobtrusively filled my perception of hammer and nail, as it now obtrusively fills my clenching and unclenching hand.  The hammer could not be a hammer, meaning what it means, if I did not already look into and understand the totality.

Taking this mode of presence as a model, Heidegger holds that in order to experience anything as a being, one must already have looked beyond it to the meaning of being.  It is on the analysis of equipment that he models his notion of a prior understanding of being.  The model determines his choice of the term Dasein for the being—“in each case mine” (SZ, p. 114)—that must always already be there (Da-), that is, in an understanding of being, in order to be here with beings.

In important kinds of experience, however, a You’s mode of presence is not like that of equipment.  True, there is similarity in one respect: I may not discover what you mean to me until you are gone.  But in such an instance, it is not the case that you matter to me as part of a more comprehensive, project-determined involvement-totality, to which I must already have looked in order to understand you.  If I love you, as the carpenter in the example loves his family, your being helps determine my current involvement-totality (cf. Levinas, 1979, pp. 45–48).  I need not look beyond you, as I must look beyond a hammer, in order to understand that you are a You or what a You is.  We shall take up the being of the You in Section 3.

Anyone who appreciates Heidegger recognizes his analysis of equipment as a turning point for philosophy.  The tradition had concerned itself largely with the mode of presence that beings offer to the theoretical glance.  Heidegger calls this mode Vorhandenheit, often translated as “presence-at-hand,” but for the sake of inflection we shall prefer “pat presence.”  Overlooked in the philosophical tradition was the unobtrusive mode of presence belonging to the things we use—their Zuhandenheit, “handiness”—including not just equipment like the hammer, but also natural beings like the ground, the sun, and the wind (SZ, p. 70).  Heidegger showed that pat presence is derived from handiness: In order to view a thing theoretically, one must disengage oneself from the projects that lend it significance (p. 61).  He revealed the inadequacy of understanding a human being in terms of pat presence (e.g., as a body with a mind inside or as a subject facing objects).  But if our proper mode of being is not pat presence, it cannot be said to be handiness either.  What then is it?

In his attempt to answer this question, Heidegger begins from the involvement-totality, that is, the project-shaped referential context.  This starting point may seem reasonable—one is the kind of being who understands equipment in this way—but the choice leads to a difficulty, which I shall unfold in three steps.

  1. A hammer receives its significance, we have seen, from a series of projects. (For the most part, these are adopted by Dasein from among the possibilities offered in the culture.)  Every “in order to” looks toward a goal, like the shelter in our example.  “The involvement-totality itself… goes back ultimately to a what-for in which it has no further involvement.  …  The primary what-for is a ‘for-the-sake-of-which’ (Worum-willen)” (SZ, p. 84).  Whatever the ultimate what-for may be (Heidegger at first postpones the discussion), it is clear that one does engage in projects and that thus engaged one lives with an eye to the future.  Looking into the involvement-totality that makes a hammer or a nail what it is, I am living temporally ahead of myself.  When I understand the things presently around me as having such-and-such significance, I have come back to them from out of that future, in which I nonetheless continue to live.  Thus my everyday mode of comportment with equipment has an ec-statically temporal structure.
  2. But if I am always temporally ahead of myself, how can I ever be present to myself as an entity? An entity, after all, is a whole, but it would seem that I am never whole: I am always living out ahead, where I am not yet.  To put the question more sharply: from within my living (rather than by taking a theoretical stance toward some patly present “self”), how can I become present to myself as an entity?  Heidegger answers as follows.  I cannot live farther ahead of myself than my possible nonexistence.  Death, in the strict Heideggerean sense, means in each case “the possibility of Dasein’s sheer impossibility” (SZ, p. 250), or as I shall put it henceforth, my possibility of nonexistence.  This possibility outstrips any project.  It is also prior to any.  It is present from my beginning, marks my end, and remains ever imminent.  Thus, within my living, the distinctive possibility reveals me to myself as the whole entity that I am.  When and if I let my death explicitly inform my life, I am present to myself as a whole.
  3. Here we arrive at the difficulty that I promised to unfold: My possibility of nonexistence spawns no projects leading up to it (SZ, p. 383). Nonexistence is not a goal to be accomplished.  How then can this possibility generate an involvement-totality with relations of “useful with” and “in order to”?  Rather, there would appear to be a fundamental disconnect between this possibility and equipment, as Heidegger’s interpreters have noted (e.g., Krell, 1986, p. 57; Sallis, 1990, p. 133).  If I live toward this or that ultimate what-for, immersed in the involvement-totality determined by it, then I understand a hammer, indeed, but I fail to live explicitly as the whole being that I am.  If instead I do live as a whole being, self-transparent in the light of my death, the latter refers me to no what-for, so nothing connects me to a hammer.

SZ contains an implicit solution to this difficulty: The connection between death and the hammer occurs by inversion.  Aware of my possibility of nonexistence, my Dasein flees from this awareness (SZ, p. 184ff.).  The method of flight is to adopt a goal that can be pursued in principle forever, such as wealth or survival.  Admittedly, neither wealth nor survival provides an ultimate what-for, because the question is left open: “Wealth for the sake of what?” or “Survival for the sake of what?”  Nevertheless, such goals have an advantage: The more preoccupied I am with achieving them, the less real seems my death.  I know better, of course, but the projects in terms of which I live, and the things I get involved with in their light, proclaim no limit.  Recall Skat the Actor, in Bergman’s Seventh Seal, who reminded Death that he had a performance to get to.  (The show, Death replied, has been cancelled because of the death of the actor.)

Heidegger does not spell out this solution to the difficulty.  Consistent with it, nonetheless, is the fact that he presents the project-shaped world of SZ’s Division One as a product of inauthenticity (SZ, pp. 148, 232–233).  He also presents fallenness as fundamental to Dasein’s being (pp. 221, 328), as if flight follows ineluctably and immediately from an initial awareness of death as possibility.

What Heidegger does spell out is this: My flight from death is a flight from my own being (SZ, p. 184ff.), and so it obfuscates my understanding of being.  To disclose that understanding, I must cease to flee.  When I resolutely anticipate my possibility of nonexistence and smash (zerschelle) against it (p. 385), I am thrown back upon myself so absolutely [absolut] that all beings lose their project-determined significances, and even “being-with, in its concretion, becomes irrelevant [emphasis added]” (Heidegger, 1979, pp. 439–440; cf. SZ, pp. 263, 343).  No You stands with me at the edge of the abyss.  I am thrown back on my naked, factical, singled-out Dasein (SZ, p. 263).  On such an occasion I experience one being as it is, namely, the being that I am, the being that understands being.

What is the nature of this experience?  To endure my possibility of nonexistence, with its lack of specific direction for my life, is to be stopped in my tracks and placed in question.  The question posed by death is wordless, uncanny, and undermining.  To under-stand being is not to answer a question but rather to stand under one.  The interrogation holds me open.  In the light of my questionability, the flight-forged projects dissolve (SZ, p. 397).  However, despite the isolation of the revelatory moment (we shall return to this “despite,” for it signals a gap in thought), my existence remains essentially bound up with that of others; accordingly, forgotten possibilities now come to light from out of the heritage of my people (p. 384).  These are possibilities that were evaded, perhaps generations ago, in humankind’s flight from death.  Retrieved (as Heidegger retrieves the possibilities offered by the Presocratics), they offer ways of responding to the wordless question.  To be open to these ways (i.e., to let my questionability inform my life) is to “‘stand’ in and endure the clearing [Lichtung] of the concealing” (Heidegger, 1994, p. 352), that is, to endure the opening made by that which continues to close itself while disclosing possibilities.  With Krell (1986, p. 157), we may view Heidegger’s work after the mid-1930s not as a departure from SZ, but rather as an ever renewed venture at “thinking-within-anxiety.”

Recall the difficulty outlined earlier: Either I am whole and do not understand a hammer, or I am not whole and do.  In an attempt at solution, as we have just seen, Heidegger claims that there are possibilities which remain viable in the confrontation with death.  In order to retrieve and live in them, one needs, among other things, shelter.  My pursuit of this or that possibility can thus give the hammer significance, but my explicit being-toward-death preserves me from the ultimate kind of involvement that constitutes flight (SZ, p. 391).  Yet does this explanation succeed in overcoming the disconnect between death and the hammer?  Not entirely.  Recall the gap, signaled by the word “despite” in the preceding paragraph, between my putative isolation at the edge of the abyss and the fact that my existence is essentially bound up with that of others.  Which of these very different conditions is that of my proper Dasein?  The issue remains unclear.  In the You-I account, however, there is no such gap.  When we consider the You in her proper mode of presence, we shall see that she is far from “irrelevant” at the edge of the abyss.

Someone may object that the You is sufficiently included in Heidegger’s analysis, since Mitsein, with-being, is said to be essential to Dasein’s ontological structure (SZ, p. 120).  Heidegger points out indeed that other Daseins are implicitly present to Dasein in equipment: The workers at the shoe factory are in my shoes, as are the potential users for whom the shoes were designed.  But these shoe-dwellers are not present to me in the mode of a person directly encountered—that is, in the mode of a person whom I need not look beyond in order to understand her being as a You.

We said that in order to do fundamental ontology, we must encounter beings as they are.  I shall argue that the You is a being with a distinctive mode of presence.  Admittedly, the You whom we encounter in everyday adult life is mostly a reduced and flattened version, for reasons to be discussed in Section 7.  But just as the being of equipment has been brought to light by Heidegger, so the being of the You must be brought to light.  With it will come the being of the I.


3.  The Primal Instituting of the You-I Event[3]

In order to experience another person as such, I must experience an entity to be experiencing.  In this limited respect, even in my humdrum adult experience, I must be there with her as well as here.  But how did I get there?  In other words, on what basis do I experience another mind as such?  The traditional approach to this question begins by assuming my own self-awareness.  I then discover that some perceived bodies external to me enable an analogy with my own lived body, hence with myself (Mill, 1865, p. 208).  In Husserl the analogy does not occur via inference, but rather in a passive process (1960, p. 108ff.).

The objections to the analogy theory are well known (see Scheler, 2008, p. 238ff.), and I shall concentrate on one only: the assumption of an a priori self-awareness.  Here resides an old enigma: How can the content of awareness, namely the self, be the self that is aware of this content?[4]  There have been ingenious attempts to solve the riddle within an ego-based scheme, but each has problems.[5]  Yet if we do not assume a self-aware ego followed by analogy, how can we explain our experience of other persons?

The tendency to start from the self-aware ego is understandable, because each of us adults is one.  It is natural to assume that the structure of an infant’s experience must be basically like ours—to assume, in other words, a direct line of development.  But the rare event with my friend by the river had a different structure: Absorbed in him, I became (newly) aware of myself because he was addressing me.  Can we solve the old enigma by taking this structure as a model for understanding self-awareness?  We shall try.  Instead of presupposing self-awareness, we shall assume that the infant starts life without knowing he exists: He is aware of the carer as existing, but not of himself.[6]  How then does he become self-aware?

At once we encounter an obstacle: no one can remember what it was like to be an infant.  We must therefore use methods that approach infancy from outside.  First, on condition that we refuse to presuppose the self-aware ego, empirical findings can provide clues.  Second, taking care not to assume a straightforward development, we can penetrate into certain kinds of experiential contents and “find intentional references leading back to a ‘history’….” (Husserl, 1960, p. 79).  Third, we can infer to the best explanation.[7]

We make a counter-presupposition to that of the self-aware ego.  We suppose that when a caregiver (henceforth, carer) frontally engages a baby who is not self-aware, the baby sees not just two beadlike orbs against white scleras surrounded by a colored oval; he sees someone looking.  In other words, we shall suppose that when an infant who is not self-aware beholds what we adults call “a person,” he too experiences a person, at least in the minimal sense of something that can attend and intend.  Empirical research supports this even for newborns.  They look significantly longer and more frequently at persons who are gazing into their eyes than at anything else (Farroni, Csibra, Simion, & Johnson, 2002).  Several researchers hold that on seeing a person’s movements, newborns perceive these as being intended (Meltzoff & Brooks, 2001; Meltzoff & Moore, 2002; Nagy, 2008; Reddy, 2008, Chapter 8).

Yet the neonatal period is probably not the time of the first full-fledged You-I event.  Rather we should look to the “two-month revolution” (Rochat, 2001, p. 182), which ushers in what “is perhaps the most exclusively social period in life” (Stern, 1985, p. 72).  After the 6th week, infants become more alert and active, maintain longer visual contact, and start smiling socially.  There is a dramatic increase in playful interactions with a carer.  It appears that in a culture that prioritizes personal independence over a sense of group membership, the playful interactions will usually be distal, that is, face-to-face, as in mutual gazing accompanied by smiling and vocalizing-in-turns (called protoconversation by Trevarthen, 1977).  In contrast, where a culture prioritizes a sense of group membership over independence, the interactions are usually proximal, that is, the stress is on bodily contact, and the carer’s vocalizations while embracing the infant tend to be musical and repetitive, frequently synchronized with rhythmic bouncing (Kärtner, Keller, & Yovsi, 2010, p. 551).  On observing toddlers of 18–20 months who had experienced mainly distal interaction as infants, researchers found that, in front of a mirror, they recognized themselves “far more often” than did those who had experienced mainly proximal interaction, while the latter proved to be more socially compliant (Keller, Kärtner, Borke, Yovsi, & Kleis, 2005, p. 502).  The distal modes of interaction, then, may offer clearer clues for understanding the origin of self-awareness.[8]

On studying the distal modes, several researchers conclude that when a carer interacts with a 2-month-old, her behavior appears to the infant as attentively directed toward himself.[9]  But what can be meant by the phrase “toward himself,” unless we presuppose self-awareness?

The answer goes to the heart of the You-I account: The carer’s directed behavior brings about the infant’s self-awareness.  We shall imagine what happens from the infant’s point of view: Before him appears the full face of a person whom he experiences as attending.  Her gaze, smile, or vocalization has an implicit target.  This target is something that, before she appeared attending, he did not know existed.  It is himself.  That is, he becomes present to himself as her focal center.  The self exists by implication.

The term focal center suggests something “in the air.”  Yet I have a body.  I am an agent.  How can a carer’s act of attention first make me-the-infant present to myself as a focal center that is embodied and active?

A number of considerations will help toward an answer.

  1. We shall make use of the finding that many human neonates imitate adult orofacial gestures in ways that cannot be attributed to reflex (Meltzoff & Moore, 1977). This has been replicated in various laboratories (Fontaine, 1984; Kugiumutzakis, 1999; Legerstee, 1991).  The acts are gesture-specific: Adult mouth opening is followed by significantly more newborn mouth opening than tongue protrusion and vice-versa.  Important to our account, however, is not the fact of neonatal imitation but its underpinning.  The evidence suggests that, where orofacial movement is concerned, “we innately map the visually perceived motions of others onto our own kinesthetic sensations” (Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1997, p. 129).  This suggestion has been reinforced by the discovery of the mirror neuron system.[10]  “Part of the visual information related to facial movements appears to be matched already at birth [emphasis added] with the corresponding motor representation” (Casile, Caggiano, & Ferrari, 2011, p.  531).
  2. From studies of adults we shall also use the following. On seeing another’s facial expression, there is involuntary activity of the corresponding muscles in one’s own face (Mojzisch et al., 2006; also Schilbach, Eickhoff, Mojzisch, & Vogeley, 2008).  In an adult, neural matching does not normally produce imitation, which is inhibited by processes in the developed brain (Kinsbourne, 2002, pp. 312–13).  In extreme circumstances, however, the inhibitions are overcome: When we watch a tightrope walker, we naturally writhe and twist and balance our own bodies, as we see her do (Smith, 1759/2007, I.I. 3).  We can then feel in our bodies the effect of neural mirroring.  The kinesthetic sensations corresponding to the visible movements are underlined in our awareness.

Drawing on these considerations, let us try to understand how the carer’s focal center can be experienced as embodied and active.  First, in the initial establishment of self-awareness, not just any act of focusing by the carer will do.  Although we could take reciprocal gazing as our clue, or gazing with vocalization, we choose the most strikingly social gesture: the infant’s smile, which normally evokes a responding smile (Schilbach et al., 2008).  We continue to assume a lack of initial self-awareness: Prior to the carer’s response, the infant is not conscious of himself as smiling.[11]  Because of neural matching, the carer’s visible smile singles out, in the infant’s awareness, a particular kinesthesis from amid the swarm of sensations.  In other words, when the non-self-aware infant sees someone frontally present and smiling, sensations in the orofacial muscles are underlined.  But the carer’s smile is the form that her focusing takes!  The underlined sensations appear, therefore, distinctly in her focal center, that is, as belonging to the self.  The sensations from muscles that were activated without self-awareness will henceforth be experienced as activated in the self.  Thus the infant first becomes aware of himself not merely as a focal center “in the air,” but as an embodied focal center acting toward the carer.

Although we are only at the start of the You-I account, we can see that it dispels the old enigma of self-awareness: The one who is aware is not the same entity as the content of awareness.  The direct content of awareness is a person who is not myself, but it is a person experienced as aware of— and me is what we name the phenomenon that follows this “of.”

It may be objected that I have put too much stress on matching.  There are forms of reciprocity that do not involve it—why won’t they suffice?  Recall, though, that I am trying to account for the origin of active, embodied self-awareness.  To clarify this point, let us consider a form of non-matching reciprocity.  Suppose again that the infant is not yet self-aware.  While looking at the carer he kicks in the air, and the carer smiles.  (We omit to consider the mutual gazing at such a moment, in which the felt eyes are matched to the visible ones.)  By our assumption, he does not know the kicking legs to be his own.[12]  What is there in her smile that might pick out for him and underline, among the many sensations he is experiencing, just those of the muscles involved in kicking?  Nothing in her smile does this, and so the sensations of kicking do not appear specifically in her focal center, as is required if they are to appear to him as his own.  By contrast, the requisite underlining does occur in the kinds of exchanges that involve mirror neurons (matching), as in reciprocal smiling, gazing, and vocalization.

The You-I account provokes further objections.[13]  One is especially weighty: There can hardly be a You-I event for the solitary fetus, yet by 22 weeks he reaches for eye and mouth at different velocities (Zoia et al., 2007).  On seeing the fetus or the neonate engage in differentiated, goal-directed reaching, we adults tend to credit him with the nonverbal equivalent of an “I will,” but the action does not require this.  “We all fit into the substructures of the environment in our various ways, for we were all, in fact, formed by them” (Gibson, 1986, p. 130).  Conceivably, when an appearance affords reaching, humans have an evolved tendency, with or without self-awareness, to reach for it.  A fetus or neonate who is not self-aware, upon touching a thing that is within reach, can repeat the movements recently made and learn, by further circular reactions, to adjust them to the target (cf. Piaget 1963, pp. 138–39, 147–49).  Furthermore, when we adults attribute self-awareness to such an act, we assume that the implicit “I will” directs a hand that the fetus or the neonate already knows to be his own.  But consider the fact that a neonate typically spends much time studying one hand or the other (Van der Meer & Van der Weel, 2011).  The interest does not indicate that he thinks of the hand as his own.  “First of all, infants have to learn that the hands belong to the self, that they are not simply objects, but that they can be used to touch all sorts of interesting object [sic] in the environment” (ibid., p. 302).  As preparation, no doubt, it is important that the infant study the links between the visible motions of the hand and kinesthesis, but the hand’s incorporation into the self, we shall soon see, depends on a further factor.


4.  The Maintenance of Self-Awareness

After my being has once been revealed to me in the You-I event, how do I continue to be present to myself?  Must the carer ever interact with me, and must our gestures constantly match?  Surely not.  On the other hand, we ought not to suppose that on the basis of an initial round or two of You-I events, the infant becomes independently self-aware.  How could he?  He cannot—at least not yet—bend around in midair and focus on himself.  If we remove the You, the dynamics of self-awareness cease.

How then, when the carer is not interacting with the infant, can he continue to be present to himself as her focal center?  We may envision a two-step process.

  1. Over time, in the course of interactions, new gestures are incorporated into the focal center by means of the same kind of matching as that described above.  When this happens, my sense of being your focal center persists through the changes of gesture, while the previously incorporated gestures are not forgotten.  Often one sees a carer varying her gestures while maintaining focus on the infant.  Her motive may be simply to maintain his interest, but the effect is such that he discovers ever more of the body to be his own.

For example, at first the infant knows (his)[14] hands through kinesthesis, touch, vision, taste, and smell—indeed, the observation of (his) arm and hand movements may help to develop the corresponding mirror neurons (Casile et al., 2011, p. 533).  But there is nothing in the sensations, as we have seen, to specify the hands for him as being his own.  In order that this may happen, they must enter the carer’s focal center.  Suppose that the carer, responding to his smile with a smile, imitates (his) movement of bringing the hands together.  The kinesthesis of (his) moving arms is underlined, entering the focal center to which the kinesthesis of smiling already belongs.  (His) arms become his.  At some time after that, suppose that he, unsmiling, brings his hands together, and that the carer smiles at him without imitating the movement.  Because of the associations already formed, her smile will be perceived as a response to himself.

  1. As the content of the focal center becomes enriched in this way, the carer is experienced by the infant as responding not merely to isolated acts, but to a self that persists through the acts. Furthermore, because he is now present to himself as an entity that remains in existence amid changing gestures, he can feel responded to as this entity even when no perceptible gestures are directed toward him.  It is enough if he believes that the carer remains attuned to him.  He can feel responded to by her, as one for whom she cares, even when he sees her attending to something else.  The faith in her continuing care for him is reinforced when, in response to his cry, she breaks off what she is doing and comes to him.

But what if all carers leave the infant’s field of perception?  Does he cease to exist for himself?[15]  In order that self-awareness may be maintained, a number of factors must combine.  First, the infant must have a concept of what Piaget (1963, pp. 155–6) called “the permanence of the object”—that is, he must be able to think of a carer as still existing when not perceived.  If he cannot, then, on our terms, he cannot exist for himself.  The research of Rochat (2001, pp. 96–107) indicates that infants have a concept of object permanence from at least 4 months of age.

Second, the things that remain when the carer leaves the room must remind him of her—they must be associated with her—so that in her absence they continue to bear her presence, that is, to signify her (cf. Sartre, 1966, pp. 42, 449).  I mean not only such items as the blanket, the doll, or the curtain, but also her lingering scent, as well as his own body and voice (which he has discovered through her to be his own).  Research suggests that by the age of 3 months, if not earlier, he can indeed associate the things with her (Campanella & Rovee-Collier, 2005).

Third, the infant must have faith that the absent carer continues to care for him.  The discovery of affect attunement by Stern (1985, p. 140) is relevant to this requirement, although we shall follow subsequent research that dates the phenomenon to an earlier age than he did.[16]  Stern gives the example of a 9-month-old who, on accomplishing something, looks at her mother and exclaims “Aaah!”  In response the mother makes no sound, but she scrunches her shoulders and shimmies, matching the intensity, joy, and duration of the “Aaah!”  The importance of this finding for us is that the interaction in different modalities distinguishes the shared affect from the perceived behaviors that express it.  Thus affect attunement singles out, for the infant, a connection with the carer that exists apart from perceived behavior.  On this basis he can feel that she shares in his life in a way that is not limited to external perception.  Therefore, her occasional imperceptibility need not be a barrier.  Supported by the things that signify her, he may believe that she remains attuned to him through the walls.  In faith he may remain her focal center.

When the infant feels that the carer shares in his life at a level beyond perception, the relationship, we may say, has “deepened.”  Affect attunement is probably crucial to the establishment, by 7 or 8 months, of a strong attachment with one carer above others.[17]  Once this is formed, the infant may avoid You-I events with others.  For if the event were to occur each time a new person interacted with him, the ongoing event with the now principal carer, present or absent, would be interrupted.  This threat may underlie stranger anxiety, which, along with separation anxiety, usually begins in these months (we have met the topic of anxiety or dread in Heidegger, and we shall return to it).  The infant can also use the established attachment as a shield: The ongoing unconditional relationship with the beloved but absent You enables him to keep other people at a distance, conditioning each new relationship on the stranger’s behavior.

Faith in the carer can be shattered, and we shall deal later with what happens then.  The point for the present is this: When the infant appears to us to be alone in the room, watching the mobile or playing with a blanket, the You-I event with the carer may still be going on.[18]


5. The Temporality of the You-I Event

In the original You-I event, I-the-infant am “outside myself,” ec-static, for I must be there with you—I must experience you-experiencing—in order to become present to myself here.  But this being-outside-myself does not take the form of a project, and I am not temporally ahead of myself, as in SZ.  Rather, I am found and founded by you.

The temporality of the founding may be understood as follows.  We have seen that in infancy, given the carer’s (responding) smile or (imitative) gesture, and thanks to neural matching, the kinesthesis of my present smile or gesture is underlined.  As in protoconversation, the interaction occurs in turns.  The kinesthesis of my action may be fading, but the carer’s revives it.  At work is the connection, described in Section 3, between what we see another doing and what we feel in the corresponding muscles.  On perceiving the carer’s (responding) smile, I feel the kinesthesis in its being revived: I feel what I am doing as the continuation of something I have been doing, even though, when I was doing it a moment before, I did not know I was doing it.  On this basis, the carer’s gesture is experienced by me ab initio as a response.  When I first become present to myself, therefore, it is as having been acting—but as having been acting at a time when I did not exist in my own awareness.  Thus I first come into presence for myself as already existing.  This is the meaning of thrownness in SZ, but we now see that it is rooted in interaction.  I am indeed a fact unto myself, as Heidegger says of Dasein.  I am a given that has not given itself, but I am given to myself by you.  The difference between existing for myself and not having existed for myself is for me the origin of the difference, respectively, between present and past.  Thus the horizon of the past is opened from out of a present moment.

Concerning the horizon of the future (to which SZ gives priority in the dynamics of temporality), my possibility of nonexistence (death in Heidegger) is uniquely fit to open it.  For my death can never be actual for me, nor can I willfully imagine its actualization (as long as I willfully imagine, I am).  It is a pure possibility, unmixed with any entity or phantasm from any conceivable present.

In terms of the You-I event, however, what is my possibility of nonexistence?  It is the possibility of being cut off forever from one who makes me present to myself, that is, from a You.  Let us look again at the founding of the self in infancy, when you the carer are perceived as attending and I come into being for myself as your focal center.  The experience of a person as attending includes her freedom not to attend. (I cannot both experience a machine as such and experience it as attending.)  Moreover, because I perceive your attending as a response to mine (which is only now revealed to me through your response), I too become present to myself as attending, hence as free.  The awareness of you in your freedom to attend or not reveals to me that my existence for myself depends on what you will do.  My possibility of nonexistence is experienced concretely as my possibility of losing you.

The recognition of this possibility does not reach full intensity until one carer becomes supremely important (or more than one carer, provided that the infant remains, in his own awareness, a single focal center, as in a triad with the parents).[19]  This will probably be the carer with whom affect-attunement has been strong and frequent (see above, Section 4).

When one among the You’s has become supreme, at around 7 or 8 months, the possibility of separation from her, hence of nonexistence, arouses dread.  But why should the prospect of separation make the infant anxious, if he has faith that the carer will continue to care while absent?  The answer, I suggest, is that faith is never absolute.  Typically it will be ruptured on occasion—for example, if the carer does not respond as expected when he cries out—and will then require repair.

When faith is ruptured, does the solitary infant revert to sheer nonexistence-for-himself?  He cannot.  Once more, the things that remain in the room play their part (blanket, curtain, the carer’s scent, the infant’s limbs, his voice).  They keep the carer present in absence, but when faith has been ruptured, they keep her present as not responding, that is, not caring, and they keep the infant present to himself as not-cared-about.  On such an occasion he becomes present to himself as her negative focal center.

Heidegger’s descriptions of dread are reminiscent of the dread we may remember from childhood on being left alone in the dark.  In SZ he nominates dread as Dasein’s basic mood, but in his lectures on Hölderlin seven years later (Heidegger, 1999, pp. 79–80, 82, 93–97), the basic mood is that of bereavement (Trauer) because the gods have fled from us.  In SZ, furthermore, in connection with dread, he often mentions the uncanny; it is true that the uncanny may seize us as if from nowhere, seemingly occasioned by nothing, but we also sense the uncanny in the stares of voodoo masks.[20]  According to Heidegger, in my authentic moments I stand alone before nothing and am put into question.  We may interpret this condition as one in which the supremely important You has abandoned me or has otherwise been lost to me, and I become present to myself as a purely negative focal center.  The You is indeed absent at the edge of the abyss, but not “irrelevant.”  Her lack of responsiveness is the abyss.


6.  Inanimate Beings and the You-I Event[21]

From 4 months on, according to Rochat (2001, p. 160), infants look less and less toward other people’s faces.  “This decrease is linked to the fact that infants are becoming more skillful and faster at monitoring others’ faces, which allows them to maintain minimal social contact while expanding their attention to events and objects elsewhere in the environment.”[22]

Why, we may wonder, does the infant turn toward inanimate things, if the You-I event is for him the source of his being?  An answer requires three points.

  1. We recall that the infant can continue through faith to be the carer’s focal center independently of perceptible interaction with her. The turn toward objects need not signify a turn away from the You-I event.
  2. We also recall that in the You-I event, the self is radically dependent: Although I-the-infant may influence the course of an interaction, or end it by a turn of the head, I am not in control of the fact that I am, nor of what will become of me. In the course of exploring inanimate things, by contrast, I may increase my control over some to the point of mastery.
  3. And now a new point: An infant must learn to perceive a spatial thing as having hidden sides (Husserl, 1960, p. 79). In the buildup to this discovery, I-the-infant take the role of the You.  The constituting of a spatial thing is modeled on the You-I event, but with a reversal of roles.

Let me develop this third point.  In the infant’s experience during the first half year, persons and things do not appear to him as they do to us adults, for none is perceived to include hidden sides (Soska, Adolph, & Johnson, 2010).  In their initial manner of appearance, spatial entities may be described by Husserl’s term Abgehobenheiten, “prominences”: They stand out in relief from the sensuous manifold, having been partly organized in passive synthesis through association (Husserl, 1973, §16).  The carer appears to the 2–5-month-old not as a being with a hidden side, rather as a prominence attending.

During reciprocal play, the carer-prominence moves and the infant tracks her.  In moving, she displays a variety of surfaces, and the infant begins to perceive her as one-in-many.[23]  We need not suppose that in tracking her he is guided by an a priori concept of unity; rather, because of his continuing dependence on her and because of the small shifts in her facial position, the discovery of one-in-many, and hence of its concept, can result from passive association.

The transition to active synthesis may be understood as follows.  At around 7 months, the infant is able to keep both hands free while sitting (no longer needing them for balance).  He can now explore a prominence, such as a building block, by turning it in his hands while watching it.  In manipulating while observing (the combination is crucial, say Soska et al., 2010), he is behaving toward the prominence approximately as the carer behaves toward him.  Because (thanks to her) he now has the concept of one-in-many, he examines the appearances in search of a unity.  In seeking thus, he has thrown the concept of one-in-many out ahead.  This throwing amounts to his first Entwurf: the Heideggerean term can be translated both as “project” and “preliminary sketch” (SZ, p. 145), and here both senses apply.  Whereas Heidegger in SZ takes an Entwurf to be the ground of all understanding, in our account the understanding of the You as a You makes possible the first Entwurf.  Here we recall the discussion in Section 2: The problem of Dasein’s wholeness arose for Heidegger because Dasein is always ahead of itself in a project.  In the You-I account, however, self-awareness emerges prior to the first project.  I am your focal center, and there is no lack of wholeness in that.  I am whole through you.

At some moment during the search for unity, the infant discovers that a thing, whatever its position, always includes variable hidden sides (Soska et al., 2010).  With this discovery, the prominence is liberated from the sensuous manifold: It is experienced as fully rounded.  He replicates the finding on other prominences.  All appear in the new light.  So do larger entities (e.g., the carer) that he can circumvent or watch in motion.  By his You-like action on the prominence, he has discovered the integrity of the spatial thing.

Let us isolate the moment during the infant’s exploration when this fact—that a thing has variable hidden sides—occurs to him.  The thing is suddenly there in the round, no longer a mere prominence.  It stands over against him, a Gegenstand.  It exists independently of him.  Yet it can do so only by virtue of his imagining the hidden sides.  He can seek these and find them, but as soon as he does so, other sides go into hiding.  Thus the thing is both independent of and dependent on him.  It is a free-standing entity, and yet it cannot exist for him as such without his constant act of imagination.  The hidden sides incorporate his act.  To the extent that the thing depends for its completeness on him, it confirms his existence.

I speak of confirmation, not creation, because, through the entire exploration, the infant continues to be, by faith, the carer’s focal center.  On the other hand, if faith is lacking, he may preoccupy himself with spatial things in an attempt to fill the negative focal center that he has become.  In sum, the discovery of the thing is a re-enactment of the You-I event, but with the infant in the role of the You.  In a kind of reciprocity, however, the appearance of the thing as a fully rounded whole reflects his act of imagination, confirming his selfhood.

Once constituted, a thing need not forever be re-constituted.  The imagining of the hidden sides becomes habitual.  A single surface is at once perceived as the aspect of a three-dimensional thing.  Included within the current perception, in other words, is a horizon of surfaces that are not now sensuously present but that one knows can become so.  (Let an adult try perceiving a surface without its horizon!)  There is an implicit belief that if I were to rotate or circumvent the thing in direction X, I would see a different aspect of it.  I perceive each thing with a view to the effects I would make if— (Husserl, 1969, p. 207).  Being aware of the surface’s horizon, I am correspondingly aware of myself as having agent-like possibilities.


7.  Flight from the You-I Event

For about three months after discovering that things have hidden sides, an infant is typically occupied either with a carer or with a thing but not with both at once (Tomasello, 1999, p. 62).  Both are included only after crawling begins (Campos et al., 2000).  He then starts indicating things to the carer by pointing, as well as following her points.  The carer’s verbal referencing during similar but contrasting joint-attentional scenes enables the infant to connect a given word to the specific thing, property, or event to which it refers; for example, it enables him to know that ball refers to the ball and not to its color or direction of movement (Tomasello, 1999, pp. 108–118).

When child and carer attend jointly to a third thing, we should not conceive the child’s experience of the thing as of something in addition to the ongoing You-I event.  The thing gains its significance in the context of the event.  Reddy puts this as follows: “[T]he changes in the infant’s relation to the object of others’ attention…are in each case expansions and elaborations of an existing mutuality—that between self and other expanding to involve other ‘topics’” (Reddy, 2009, p. 102).  We may conceive how, through such expansions and elaborations, the You-I event comes to include the beings that Heidegger calls innerworldly.  In joint-attentional scenes that are accompanied by speech, the event incorporates items from the carer’s involvement-totality.  The groundwork is laid for imbibing the presuppositions and projects of the culture.  But it is only the groundwork.  It is not yet the cultural projects themselves.  To the toddler, the hammer is not a tool but a toy.  As with the You, he need not look beyond it in order that it have integrity as a being.

The joint-attentional triangle also helps the child to get distance on the carer’s style of relating.  Given acquaintance with that style, together with the emergence of basic narrative competency at around 2 years, I-the-child can institute a new method for coping with your freedom to abandon me.  The method is grounded in the fact that while speaking, I hear.  I can speak about something as if I were you, and, at the same time, hear in the role of the one who is being addressed, that is, the one being focused on.  I can play you toward myself—becoming you, as it were, to my own ears.  “At the end of infancy and in early childhood, children duplicate social roles: behaving ‘as if’ they were mommy, acting from a mommy-like perspective, and expressing mommy-like desires and beliefs, even if they are not the child’s own” (Meltzoff & Moore, 2002, p. 54).  Talking-to-oneself is a practice that at first takes place aloud, but it soon proceeds in silence, continuing throughout life (Wertsch, 1993, pp. 86–92).

We possess an example.  The bedtime monologues of a 2-year-old named Emily were recorded on tape for a year.  Much of what Emily did was to re-enact aspects of her father’s speech from a few minutes earlier when he had put her to bed; she repeated the structure of his talk, the themes he introduced, and the peculiar emphases he placed on names; the rhythm of certain phrases was virtually identical to his (Dore, 1989, pp. 245–46).  Stern (1985, p. 173) writes that Emily spoke “in order to reactivate his presence and carry it with her toward the abyss of sleep.”  The child had often experienced her father experiencing her, but after months of joint attention to things with him, she was able to take his position, as it were, and hear herself speaking about this or that as if she were he.  Just as he had reassured her on putting her to bed, so she-as-he continued reassuring herself.

We may be tempted to describe such talk-with-oneself by saying that the child “internalizes” the You.  The notion derives from Freud, who proposed that a major defense against the danger of losing a carer’s love is to identify with her, setting her up “inside” oneself (Freud, 1960, pp. 28–31).[24]  However, the You-I event has disclosed no personal “inside,” radically separate from an “outside.”  Its space is different.  Distance is at once maintained and traversed.  You are as other as other can be, and yet you are “nearer to me than my I,”[25] because I must experience you-experiencing in order to experience myself.

After acquiring language, I can play both our parts in the joint-attentional triangle: I can play you attending to a third thing by talking to “myself” about it in your style.  Conversely, I can talk about the thing while also playing the role of you listening.  When the played-You speaks or listens, a “self” becomes present to me, as in the You-I event.  But this “self” ought not to be likened too closely to the self of the event.  The latter includes a bodily dimension.  By contrast, in the talk between the played-You and its “self,” where is the body?  Both share a single body.  Addressing the played-You, “I” may speak about something, or in the role of the played-You, I may speak about something to “me”; in both cases, the kinesthesis is that of the speaker.  (With one body to share, the speaker always wins, for there is no equally salient kinesthesis of hearing.)  Suppose the played-You does the talking, as when Emily speaks like her father.  The kinesthesis of speaking belongs to the played-You, so “I” the addressee am present to myself in a vague and ghostly manner.  And now let us reverse this.  Suppose that “I” do the talking, submitting thoughts to a played-You.  For example, an adult thinks, “Damn shop didn’t fix that dent” or “Cogito sum.”  Here the kinesthesis belongs to “me,” and the addressed “You” is ghostly; but the resulting sense of self cannot be fuller than the “You” who bestows it.  In either case, the “self” is a ghost of the original self.

Ghostly though it be, the new sense of self is one that I can bestow on myself at will.  I no longer need a flesh-and-blood You for this.  Even when I do not talk to myself, the option to do so is ever available.[26]  The option frees me from absolute dependence on the carer; it protects me—and prevents me!—from experiencing her in the full importance that she earlier had.  But doesn’t her diminishment entail a flattening of the prized relationship?  It does, but the gain is liberation from the threat of abandonment, that is, from awareness of the possibility of nonexistence.  A recurrence of the true You-I event would undermine my sense of self-sufficiency.  The age of 2 years, when talking-with-oneself begins, is typically the age when separation anxiety fades.

Philosophers and psychologists have long wondered about the function of inner speech, which many regard as a favorable development.  But they often ignore the fact that much of it is pointless, inane, repetitive, and—except among adepts of meditation—unstoppable by an act of will.  It is difficult to stop because there is a stronger will: to usurp the role of the other in providing a sense of self.

The played-You is a counterfeit You, a fashioned duplicate.  The resulting “self” is a counterfeit self.  Between them arises a counterfeit of You-I spatiality.  This is the famous “inside” where much of what one calls thinking occurs.  The inside is the illusory space between (a) the played-You speaking or listening and (b) the ghostly self.  The two in their reciprocity make up the subject.  The transaction between them usually occurs amid joint attention to a third thing, such as the dent that the shop should have fixed.  This is the object, which is “outside.”  Only now does the misguided question arise as to how I am able to leave my inside, go out to things, and bring back knowledge of them (cf. SZ, §13).

The self-certain, counterfeit self of the cogito can doubt the existence of other minds, but it cannot rid itself of certainty that they exist, because it is founded in the You-I event.

Counterfeiting changes the structure of experience.  I become a walking dyad, an independent individual, chattering with myself.  The inner chatter creates a barrier, beyond which are depleted You’s and depleted things—depleted of much of their importance to me because they are no longer needed to bestow on me the awareness of my existence.  I relate to persons and things without experiencing the original basic need for them—and, consequently, without experiencing a basic claim from them or connection with them.  I cannot recall, and can hardly imagine, what life would be like without the option of inner speech.

Growing up, encountering this or that impressive other (a potential You), I play him or her toward myself.  The counterfeit You’s are amalgamated into what Mead called the generalized Other, which Gallagher identifies with Heidegger’s das Man, “the Anyone” (Mead, 1967, pp. 152–64; Gallagher, 1998, pp. 115–17).

The played-You lacks otherness, the counterfeit self is ghostly, flesh-and-blood others are depleted of importance, and there is, on the edge of experience, a vague intimation of emptiness.  Beneath inner speech, therefore, persists a longing for the banished You.  The longing is accompanied by dread, because fulfillment would entail surrendering control.  The persistent longing and its inhibiting dread give rise to the projects in which we live—for example, to gain this or that mark of success in the eyes of a ghostly You.

Hidden from us, and as forgotten as the meaning of being, is the You-I structure of our relations with persons and things.  Today I regard a thing and see that it exists—there appears to be nothing remarkable about this fact, and the question of being seems empty, abstract, and artificial.  Originally, however, nothing could exist for me without my coming into being for myself in relation to it.  Originally, in the You-I event, I explicitly lived the meaning of being.



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[1]  Heidegger’s analysis of human existence occurs chiefly in his Sein und Zeit [Being and time] (1927/1986).  Among those criticizing his treatment of encounter are Binswanger (1942/1962, passim, but see especially pp. 51–52, 65, 69ff., 88ff., 93, 105, 241–43); Buber (1971, pp. 163–170); Levinas (1979, pp. 45-48, 67-68, 89, 298-99); Löwith in his Habilitationsschrift, written under Heidegger’s supervision (1928/1969, pp. 72–74); Nancy (2000, pp. 26–27, 82, 93ff.; 2008); Sartre (1943/1966, pp. 334–37); and Theunissen (1965, pp. 170, 178-79).


[2] “‘To think being without beings [das Seiende]’ thus does not mean that for being the reference to beings is unessential and that this reference may be abandoned” (Heidegger, 1969, pp. 35–36).  Here and hereafter, unless otherwise noted, translations from the German are mine.

[3] This section draws on Langfur (2013).

[4] “That I am conscious of myself is a thought that already contains a twofold self, the self as subject and the self as object. How it should be possible that I, who think, can be an object (of intuition) to myself, and thus distinguish myself from myself, is absolutely impossible to explain, although it is an undoubted fact” (Kant, 1804/2002, p. 362, Allison translation).

[5] Husserl’s solution to the enigma of self-awareness requires reifying the temporal phase, which he admits to be an abstraction (1966, pp. 27, 81).  For this criticism see Gallagher (1998), p. 65; also Langfur (2013), p. 778.  For a critique of other solutions, such as double-touch, see Langfur (2013), p. 783.  Among the proposals of Gibson (1986, Chapter 7), the one that successfully confronts the enigma depends on self-locomotion, but most human beings evince self-awareness some months before they can crawl.  Self-locomotion might be an alternative path, to be sure, for infants who lack the possibility of a You-I event.

[6] Because infancy research usually involves mothers and infants, to avoid confusion I shall use feminine pronouns for the caregiver, masculine for the infant.

[7] The reader of Heidegger may again object that by introducing infant development, I confuse the ontic with the ontological, deriving a universal phenomenon (self-awareness) from the vicissitudes of early life.  We shall not build upon vicissitudes, however, but rather upon factical human universals (as Heidegger does in connection with birth, death, anxiety, language, tool-use, and everydayness).  One such universal is the fact that humans are born helpless.  Another is the fact that infants engage with caregivers in bouts of gazing, smiling, and vocalization.

[8] The recognition of oneself in a mirror, as in the rouge test, is a behavioral indicator of self-awareness, but a much earlier indicator is coyness (“smiles with simultaneous gaze and head aversion and the curving of both arms in front of the face”), discovered in 2-month-olds by Reddy (2000, p. 187).

[9] See Hains and Muir (1996); Murray and Trevarthen (1985); Nadel, Carchon, Kervella, Marcelli, and Reserbat-Plantey (1999); Reddy (2000); Reddy, Markova, and Wallot (2013).  Against the objection that the infants in these studies may perceive mere contingency without intention, as when they cause the baubles on a mobile to dance, see Langfur (2013), p. 776.

[10] See Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia (2008), Chapters 4 and 7.  On mirror neurons in human infants, see Nyström (2008) and in newborn rhesus macaques, Ferrari, Paulkner, Ruggiero et al. (2009).

[11] If it is hard to imagine that the infant can lack self-awareness while smiling, we may be aided by the observation that we adults too are often unaware of our facial expressions.

[12] The kinesthesis of an action does not specify an entity that is feeling it.  A sensation does not point beyond itself.  Compare Gallagher (1996), p. 135: “[P]roprioceptive awareness, on its own, provides an awareness of one’s own body but not of one’s own body as one’s own [his emphasis].”

[13] For example, how can the account explain self-awareness in blind, neglected, or feral children?  See the discussion in Langfur (2013), pp. 777, 781, 785.

[14] I shall parenthesize words that may help the reader grasp my meaning, although they are not to be taken as part of the infant’s experience prior to the You-I event.  In the present sentence, for example, an external observer would refer to the infant’s arms as “his,” although—as argued in Section 3— the infant does not yet know them to be his own.

[15] By the phrase “for himself” I shall always mean “in his own awareness,” “from his point of view.”

[16] Stern discovered affect-attunement in dyads of 9 months or older, but Jonsson et al. (2001, pp. 379–80) found it to begin at 2 or 3 months and to be more dominant than imitation at 6 months and beyond.

[17] The strong attachment begins to form much earlier.  Already from the 2nd month, and increasingly through the 5th, infants during interaction are most responsive to persons whose rate of maintaining contact with them (the rate of “contingency”) is similar to that of their mothers (Bigelow & Rochat, 2006).  In this way, despite You-I events with different people, they preserve a measure of self-continuity.

[18] This point holds promise for understanding certain events of later life (e.g., the dawning of an insight, artistic inspiration, or divine revelation) as forms of dialogue with a You who is not perceived.

[19] On triadic relations with the parents from 3 months of age, see Fivaz-Depeursinge and Corboz-Warnery, 1999, pp. 103–106.

[20] Compare the effect on an infant when his mother adopts a still face (Tronick, Als, Adamson, Wise, & Brazelton, 1978).

[21] This section has been revised in response to the criticisms of an anonymous reviewer, whom I thank.

[22] Yet infant responsiveness in the face-to-face context increases through the 5th month, according to Lamb, Morrison, and Malkin (1987, p. 251).

[23] At the age of 3 days, neonates can re-identify a face on both full and three-quarter views, although not in profile (Turati, Bulf, & Simion, 2008).

[24] According to Wilson and Weinstein (1990, p. 34), the desire to identify with the carer is a factor motivating language acquisition.

[25] Buber uses the quoted phrase in connection with God as the You (1923/1958, p. 79).

[26] Although the option of inner speech is ever available, much of life occurs without it, as demonstrated by Heavey and Hurlburt (2008).  I am not giving a complete account of the methods for reducing dependence on the You, but it is talk-with-oneself that first alters the structure of experience.  Later methods, such as involvement in infinitely realizable projects (above, Section 2), begin from the altered structure.