My own vague recollections of my earliest memories seem to begin in my third year of life, shortly before my third birthday when our family moved to Pennsylvania from Schenectady, New York.
Bits and pieces of memory from those early days still exist within me, and I remember most vividly, sitting on the large windowsill in the living room of our new home watching jealously as my siblings trotted off to school that autumn. It seemed to me to be an astonishing adventure they were enjoying beyond the boundaries of our yard, and while I had a vague sense of other people in the neighborhood, across the street and next door, my own vivid sense of experience within the confines of my home seemed truly to be the center of the universe.
The scope of my awareness of the world was extremely limited, and all of my siblings and I were being protected and limited in both geography and awareness by our parents. It was the autumn of 1956 when I first began to establish moments of conscious experience in memory, and to be capable of acknowledging my existence as an individual person. Over the previous three years, even though I had acquired a fair talent for both language and the association of words with objects and people, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the implications of my experiences, nor was I fully competent cognitively. My brain was clearly functional on a level appropriate for my age, and my ability to learn and respond to typical social interactions was well in hand by age three, but my level of awareness was still fairly low compared to what it would become as I matured, in spite of all that I was capable of doing with my brain.
Due to extenuating circumstances, I have had the opportunity to be one of the main caretakers for my granddaughter, who has lived with us, along with her mother (my daughter), since she was three months of age. She will celebrate her third birthday this October, and I look forward to sharing in her awakening to the world with great interest.
It is an extraordinary privilege to share in the blossoming of her consciousness, and as she has grown, we have been largely able to discuss her circumstances in her presence, since very little of what we say registers in a meaningful way just yet with her brain, still bursting forth with millions of new neurons everyday as she matures.
And yet, in the evenings when she plays at my feet in my office, her actions and specific movements seem now to have a clear purpose and motive. She repeats actions appropriately in similar circumstances, gestures appropriately when she is confused, or happy, or sees a particular toy or other object that surrounds her play area. Although her activities are generally conducted in a spontaneous and otherwise unplanned manner, she also now is beginning to exhibit a determined methodology which indicates that many of her cognitive skills are beginning to blossom.
So far, while all of her mental functioning is appropriate for her age, perhaps even a bit better than average, she does not, as yet, seem self-aware. Even though she is only just beginning to speak clearly and with purpose, her speech is improving with leaps and bounds, and we are beginning to see her associating language sounds with a corresponding response that tells us, “I know they go together.”
The acquisition of language, which gives voice and meaning to the world of objects and people, is a requirement for awareness. Without the ability to express a thought, to articulate a meaningful response, or to give a name to an association that takes place in the mind, we cannot hope for a full circle of awareness. Recognition and recall of sounds, associating sounds with corresponding responses, memory and discernment all precede awareness.
…more to come