Reflections on Child Development and Epigenetic Theory

By Luke Pinneo

(Academic summary, written June 27, 2008)

Few ideas have adversely distorted western society so much as Sigmund Freud’s audacious claims. This assignment, I am aware, is not the place to elaborate this point, but it’s important for me to illustrate my distain for Freud in order to fully convey my appreciation of emergent theories.

I will simply say that Freud emerged at a critical and vulnerable time in mankind’s history, and offered what was at the time a much-sought-after understanding of human motivation, where not long before, mentally ill humans were thought “possessed” by demons. So on a public thirsty for understanding, Freud assertively showered down upon them a warped picture of man based on a bogus sexual construct that still infects and pollutes our professional approach to the human mind today. Numerous claims that he habitually used cocaine are uncertain, but during his time, it was common practice to medicinally stir the drug into a tonic to treat headaches and the like. Few knew its full range of problems. I do not know the correlation between Freud’s beliefs and his supposed drug use – or if he in fact used cocaine at all – and I don’t feel the requirements of this assignment warrant further research into the matter, but anyone familiar with Mic Jagger, can assert that sheer arrogance and strong sexuality typifies the chronic cocaine user. Again, arrogance and sexuality.

Regardless, drug induced or not, I find it unfortunate that Freud’s shallow and ridiculous ideals have been so widely accepted and integrated into our society. To reduce our entire species to little more than primitive animals with only sexual motivations is, to understate, quite sad. If, as a species, we are to evolve to our full potential, we must have a paradigm shift in our way of thinking.

Which is why I find emergent theories exciting, namely, Epigenetic Theory.

Epigenetic Theory is refreshing if only in its title. The theory has an anchor point with genes, and then expands in every direction to account for all the other factors that influence human development. It is organic and not rigid and represents everything modern scientific models should emulate: Networks of knowledge, research and schools of thought. Early (outdated) researchers would say “She is unhappy because she is sexually inadequate,” or something to that effect. Geneticists would likely say “she is depressed because her mother and her mother’s mother have hormone imbalances.” Epigenetic developmentalists would say, “she expresses a feeling of hopelessness only lately: She lacks a healthy diet, has little moral support now, feels pressure from her work. Her mother was depressed a great deal and it’s likely that environmental factors are triggering something that may be innate, but is manageable.”

In short, Epigenetic Theory is holistic in a way all sciences and medicine should be. With that, I also think it’s important to note here the problematic divide between science and spirituality. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that after reading about Freud, we spring boarded to Erik Erikson – not Carl Jung. When studying the motivation and behavior – and spirit – of man, Jung allowed quality to remain in the foreground, where others had nearly banned it completely. I mention this because much of what Epigenetic Theory has unraveled, is better understood from a qualitative viewpoint than from numbers and figures and quantitative data. Still, traditional science clings to data and is slow to loosen its grip, dead and cold as data may be. In fact, with history as our proof, science has an embarrassing tendency to gravitate along the lines of conventional thinking, and in so doing, slows human evolutionary growth. In fact, it has only been during brief, historic periods of science unmooring itself and sailing off into the unknown, that our species has propelled itself forward. Take the Renaissance for example, the information age as another.

So upon my brief introduction with, and first glance at Epigenetic Theory, it appears refreshingly unconventional in that it integrates various bodies of knowledge, ideas and is thus not closed off. It has a fluid membrane, not a rigid wall. We will find, I am quite sure, that as we move forward, the greatest discoveries and advance of our time and future will be largely attributed to integration of the sciences.

Epigenetic Theory rests within a framework of great potential for integration with all sciences, possibly leading to unprecedented and astonishing advances. At a minimum, it deserves great praise for exploring human development as it should be explored: holistically. Epigenetic Theory is not perfectly holistic, but within it are signs that we are moving in the right direction. Where no one can be sure if we’re moving toward something promising, it is at least clear from Epigenetic methods that we’re moving away from outdated worldviews.

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