Noted psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan has an interesting theory about infant development, something called the “Mirror Stage”. The idea is that at some point very early in a child’s development they will, on seeing themselves and a parent in the mirror, look from themselves to their parent back to themselves, in shock and laughter; this is the infant’s discovery of the Self, and the moment of differentiation from the Other, the forming brain’s earliest discovery that they are in the world, and differentiated from the other within it.
Like most early theories about psychological development, it’s bunk; it bears no relation to empirically obtained results, casual scrutiny or even common sense. The congenitally blind, for example, still believe themselves to be individuals and humans antedate silvered glass by more than a few years. But it’s really compellingly-told bunkum, and makes for good stories that are easy to retell; much like Freud, it survives in popular narrative long after it’s been deprecated or debunked by the professional community.
The main reason bunkum like Freud or Lacan’s – the urban myths of the human psyche, really – is stories like the one I’m about to tell you get told all the time.
Coincidentally about a week and a half ago and for no particular reason, I started showing Carter himself in a mirror before putting him in the bath. And in the space of a week, Carter has gone from being a wad of fussy protohuman cookie dough to tracking faces, interacting with noises and just generally acting like the early stages of an actual human. It’s really remarkable how quickly that happens, like (a lot like, I bet) something in his head just finished self-assembling and turned itself on. Carter and I have conversations, now – he makes a noise, and I respond, and he seems – how can I know for sure, really, but he seems – to understand that if we make eye contact, he can make a little noise, and I’ll make one back, and then he makes another. He tracks my face, though with about a third of a second in lag.
I’ve felt that rush of understanding, staring at code; suddenly the pieces all seem to coalesce, and the solution to the problem I’ve been staring at for hours or days is just there, intact. I can’t imagine what it must be like for an infant, to go from random shapes and noises to other people. It must be a hell of a thing.
But that thing with the mirrors is kind of silly, really.