Elisabet Sahtouris

sahtouris

Elisabet Sahtouris
with Michael Mendizza

M: You made an observation - not only is this a really dynamic time but also the opportunity for new, wonderful, positive things to crack open. When I read the newspapers and look at the politics, the chaos, at all of the dark things that we’re seeing, that was a really bright observation. I’d like to look at that and talk a little about your background as a Biologist and how that background, looking at living systems, brought you to such an optimistic observation - that our glass is definitely half full rather than hall empty.

E: I started out very early as a child asking what I didn’t know were the big philosophical questions of the ages but basically who are we, where’d we come from and where are we headed? And I was allowed to run free in the woods as a child and on the Hudson River in the Hudson Valley. I still have its mud between my toes. That was a wonderfully creative experience because there were no grown ups watching and you really got to explore things in ways that I don’t see my grandchildren being allowed to do.

I wanted to study Biology. My parents said science was for boys and I ended up having to do four years of art school and then getting into Biology. And as an Evolution Biologist with a post dock at the American Museum of Natural History in New York I’m really a Past-ist but a Past-ist with a very long time frame and of course I really want to know where we’re headed and that’s a Futurist. So I’m a Pastist in order to be a good Futurist.

Adult organized competition

Adult organized competition
Joseph Chilton Pearce

For all true development to unfolded up to that point, they have to have been given the secure environment, the safe space that the parent, and then the society itself is a safe space. They can enter into it with a full focus of attention. Whereas the child who is from the beginning denied a safe space, and who's having to divert a great deal of that energy to try to set up a defense system against a world they can't trust. Then at each of these periods it's going to fall into the same knee jerk reflex. They're simply going to try to defend themselves against each new stage of development that opens up. So when it comes to competitiveness, they're not going to be competitive within any kind of the developmental way. There will be no growth through it. It will simply be the necessity to create even deeper more ingrained defense patterns against a world which they now really can't trust because it's moving against them competitively which they have to interpret as threat.

MM: We tend to forget that real playing is how real learning takes place. Games are leaning experiences. They build capacity. So, what are we learning when the games we are play in aren’t safe?

J: Safety or security, what we call as the safe environment in which we learn is so critical because if you're not safe, if you feel under sensor of any nature at all, then you have to use part of your energy to defend yourself, to be on the lookout for those cues that are attacking or threatening.  And at the same time, try to open up and embrace a whole new mode of action.  Now when we speak of concentration or entrainment, where all the energy can focus on a particular activity so that we can learn it throughout our whole body, we know the whole body learns in all cases, but if part of us has to be on guard against being unsafe, or open to sensor, punishment, retribution, any of those things that we find in competition on or adult ideas imposed, or even having to measure up to standards, then we cannot entrain, which means thought, feeling, and action, the three levels of the brain, can't entrain on a single activity. We're going to be thinking well I'd better do this. We're going to be feeling I might not be able to and I'll catch it, I'll be a failure, I'm a loser, I'll be punished, I'll be ostracized, and the body which has its own wisdom, unable to integrate the energies it needs to go ahead and act accordingly.  So we're a house divided against ourselves and there's no help in us, there's no holiness in us. As a result, no concentrated learning can take place.

MM: This entrainment you described is all about attention. It is really very clear that for contracted attention to take place we need to have coherent attention and not be a house divided against itself.

J. Just bridge on over to the fact that our complaint of our children today is they can't concentrate.  They can't possibly concentrate so much of their energy is having to go out to try to protect themselves against a world they can't trust, or a world in which they fill they're in competition with.  If they're in competition with their world, they can't trust the world, if they can't trust it, there's no way in the world that they can move into it with a focused entrained energy. 

MM: so having a safe place is a prerequisite for concentrated learning right from the beginning. Describe how having a safe place to learn affects the way we learn.

J: In order for all the development to have unfolded up to that point, they have to have been given the secure environment, the safe space that the parent, and then the society itself is a safe space. So that then when they hit the period of competitiveness which is natural, that's simply as natural a part as their dream like mode was from 4 to 7. So they meet that of course then with great delight because that's what the system is expecting. Nature's agenda calls for that as we approach puberty and adolescence and so forth to enfold, and then it will be met with great delight. They can enter into it with a full focus of attention. They will not interpret this threatening, but as a chance for their own development of that skill during that period. And the development of that skill depends on another to pit your skills against, in effect. And so they look forward to that. They'll automatically, naturally create it, if not given it. Whereas the child who is from the beginning denied a safe space, and who's having to divert a great deal of that energy to try to set up a defense system against a world they can't trust. Then at each of these periods it's going to fall into the same knee jerk reflex. They're simply going to try to defend themselves against each new stage of development that opens up. So when it comes to competitiveness, they're not going to be competitive within any kind of the developmental way. There will be no growth through it. It will simply be the necessity to create even deeper more ingrained defense patterns against a world which they now really can't trust because it's moving against them competitively which they have to interpret as threat. 

MM: The goal of competitive activities is to come out on top, to win. How does wining fit into nature’s developmental agenda.

J: I don’t think the child until that formal operational stage comes in about eleven or twelve really thinks about winning or losing. That is not a natural process at all within the child. Winning and losing would be a premature puberty and would indicate a real defense system, a child really on guard against a world they can’t trust. And certain actions they will do to win which means they are in a safer space, or they lose even the safe space they have. And you can get an awful lot of activity out of a child that way. You can drive them to extremes, but it won’t be developmental. It won’t give them the foundations for the later capacities you are looking for.

MM: In a competitive environment there is a strong belief that early is better. We feel we must start our children very early if they are going to make the cut. What does this do to a child’s overall development?

J: We have our little children ages three and four are given a tennis racket and over and over they have their coaches and parents applauding, giving all the laurels, the safe space with the parent is established by pleasing the parent with this. So, all their entrainment, everything is going to go into this. But there is nothing in the natural agenda for development about that. This is why so very often very precocious children arriving very early in a certain activity burn out very quickly because there is not overarching foundation, fundamental structures underlying that activity. They are deficient in many ways just dealing with the world itself because everything has been specific long before the generic. But it can be done. There electing to be the best pilot in the world by age seven or this, that and the other, will always be living out of a parents expectation or a coaches expectation. But it can’t be self-generated.  It has to be the need for the safe place established by winning that kind of approval that they will do that.

MM: We keep coming back again and again to ages and stages. The environment or the activity must match the developmental stage. What happens to development if we introduce an activity appropriate for a later state too early?

J: Well I think that's everything we've talked about everything the whole morning.  The main thing is to allow the developmental stages to unfold as they are and then you'll find that you can't keep the young person from employing the kinds of competitive skill testing which they need at that stage of the game.  And if you take that and enforce it on the child earlier, again you rob them of their safe space for learning and they're not going to be able to develop into that free exercise of testing their skills with each other.  You'll undermine the very capacity you're trying to get later on if you bring it in at the inappropriate period.  I think the little league of course is a disaster, in every sense of the term.  It has not worked.  It has not given us happy well-adjusted children. 

I just the other day had an example of a parent with their child in a little league and the coach raving at them.  These were 7 and 8 year olds and the coach a great big of course coach type railing at them, calling them dumbbells and imbeciles and urging them to get in there and really put their all into it and so forth and the confusion, the utter confusion of the little children and their feeling of shame and guilt and failure and so on.  And the parents all lining up on the side of the coach so that the children were literally parents the failure to measure up to the expectations and standards of their coach.  Now this is a very strange form of modeling for this here child. These are their social models already condemning them and they don't even know what for.

Winning and losing

Winning and losing
Joseph Chilton Pearce

One competing against the other. At this stage is completely out of keeping, it's inappropriate to the stage of development itself. A child only their own, naturally, will never play in that fashion. That isn't play again. When the minute we come in with organized sports, with adults calling the shots, the rules and regulations, doing all the training of the kids and all, you have conditioning. You don't have models. The adult is not modeling. The child is not following the adult model. The adult is conditioning the child in certain forms of behavior. And so from that kind of intervention or interference, the natural intelligence of socialization in its first form is not going to unfold.

Now to take a highly stylized, rigid specific form of action in which winning and losing is everything, everything, in which sensor plays a heavy role, in which error dogs the child at every single breath and put it into that period and say this is going to make them part of a social team is ridiculous. They will end up largely crippled in their ability to cohere as part of a social group because it's wrong with possible error, possible failure on every hand. And competition, as any organized sport is like that, it's always competition. One competing against the other. At this stage is completely out of keeping, it's inappropriate to the stage of development itself. A child only their own, naturally, will never play in that fashion. That isn't play again. When the minute we come in with organized sports, with adults calling the shots, the rules and regulations, doing all the training of the kids and all, you have conditioning. You don't have models. The adult is not modeling. The child is not following the adult model. The adult is conditioning the child in certain forms of behavior. And so from that kind of intervention or interference, the natural intelligence of socialization in its first form is not going to unfold. 

MM: Competition implies winning and losing and losing isn’t safe. By this definition competitive activity, and that means sports, isn’t real play.

J: there simply were no games of that nature in the 7 to 11 period. The play we did was let's pretend, let's pretend this, let's pretend that, playing cowboy and Indian, or any of these games, or war, whatever the games were we were playing, which were group activities, but always this let's pretend inside, projecting it on the external world.

Organized play such as teams against other teams or competing against other teams crop up somewhere around 11. There's no doubt of that. If you just watch as the child before that period will be playing other forms of group activity, but not competitive. The competition comes in around 11 or 12 as a pre-puberty and puberty form of activity. You can't keep children from that period, from grouping together in some form of competitive activity. They'll create their own sports. You'll find it in very primitive societies, what we think of as pre-liberate societies. The children of that age began to divide off and compete. Before that they don't because it plays no part in the natural agenda of building their world structure. And around 11 or 12 it's going to start and play more and more of a role because you're moving up into the whole gene pool activity of competition, your males, the winner and the hierarchy of losers that forms around them. That's a natural part of the system. But if you try to impose that prematurely, then you're acting very inappropriately to the whole development of the child.

MM: So it is quite natural for young people to organize themselves, band together in groups and make up rules. I remember the neighborhood pick-up games. But now that is all gone. Now the adults do all the organizing.

J: But when we moved in, first of all on that play period of the sandlot baseball, sandlot football, and so on and so forth with adults and organized it in little leagues, then of course we upset the entire purpose of it with children. We just would spontaneously get together, spontaneously form sides, spontaneously compete, form their own rules and regulations. Only by forming their own rules can you have a game. A game is simply acting out the boundaries set by rules, unless the rules are agreed upon, then they're no boundaries for the game, there can be no game. And young people work all that out on their own. It's allowed. And that's the critical part. Now you're getting very specific in your socialization. It's very generic from 7 to 11. Now it becomes extremely specific. We're going to even hammer out our rules and regulations for getting along together in this competitive period we're going through. So you take adults and they come in there and they make all those rules and regulations. They do the setting up of the teams and so on, you've literally wronged from the young person, their capacity to spontaneously form more specific rules regulated social structures. 

But then two more things happen. You take that very same idea on the part of the adult and impose it on the 7 to 11 year old child, in the operational stage, when they're in their generic global social stage, you're going to impose this much later stage on them from an adult standpoint. So now they're doubly damned in effect. Then you, the final part of it is, that the adult, they're actual role models, coach that you're counting on, who's become father in affect, becomes the seven million dollar a year professional t.v. player. They've become the model. So you've abstracted out of any concrete reality an almost impossible to obtain kind of a superior non-real kind of a model and that then begins to become the dictate right down the line to the 7 years olds.

Essential Joseph Chilton Pearce 54

Organized Play Deprivation
Joseph Chilton Pearce

What has been termed the ‘disappearance of childhood’ reflects the inability of many children to engage in spontaneous imaginative play. Why? Because then have not develop the capacity to imagine nurtured by descriptive language. Often the only play is through adult organized activities, competitive sports and games which are not authentic child’s play but the response to adult supervision. It is not the child’s imagination leading them into that play activity. The motivation is wining adult approval and rewards. True sandlot pick-up games were child organized. Children made up the rules and children were the referees. Adults stepped in and too all that away, and with it the ability to self-organize and negotiate human relationships.

Essential Joseph Chilton Pearce 44

Play, Intelligence & Learning
Joseph Chilton Pearce

The state of authentic play, as opposed to cultural competition, is the state of true learning and it is universal. Play for the Eskimo child will involve completely different content from a child living in the Philippines, but the state of engaged, entrained, play-full learning will be the same. Content is incidental to the leaning blueprint. The blueprint will respond to an infinite variety of content. The blueprint is to learn and learning to the child is play.

Essential Joseph Chilton Pearce 40

Punished by Rewards
Joseph Chilton Pearce

The early stages of brain development are experience dependent. If the environment is constantly saying no, don’t, the child’s brain adapts accordingly by self-censoring. This limits development on every level. Each negative response is a threat. This shapes the adaptive nature of that brain, rendering a totally different brain structure. By age three or so this stunted adaptive pattern is locked in, and most developmentalists say this is for life. We know they can be changed but at great expense. Schooling is based on the same idea; if you conform you are rewarded. If not, watch out.