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6. 9. 2013

Hommage to Harry Harlow

When I first read about Harry Harlow's experiments with rhesus macaques, I was excited. When I saw records of them, I was fascinated. And until recently I didn’t fully realize how this experiment could be mapped to the human world and what is the genius of Harlow’s experiment, which appears at the moment when you begin to see various forms of young macaques behavior in dimensions of human behaviour and society.
The nature and results of the experiments are clear. Monkey has two surrogate wire mothers. One of which has a bottle with food - the nourishing mother. The other has no food, but is covered with materials pleasant to touch - the cloth mother. The monkey eats by the nourishing mother, but safety searches at the cloth mother thus spending most of its time by the cloth mother.
What was long hidden from me and what is not presented as an explicit outcome of Harlow’s experiment, is the divisibility of the mother. It is obvious when you look at the infant monkey which has two artificial mothers side by side and uses each of them for different purpose. But how is such phenomenon manifested in humans?

In our case the nourishing and the cloth mother might be different people. And not only two, they can be even multiple of each type. The separation of the two Harlow’s mothers in human world might mean that your nourishing mother might be your biological mother and the cloth mother can be for example your grandmother. Your mother might have been too immature, overloaded or unable to adapt to the role of unconditional love giver. Examples with even more distant relatives and non relatives can be constructed easily.
To have the examples in gender balance and not admitting all merit or faults in infants life to their mothers, we can give one applied to father person splitting. Equivalent of a nourishing and cloth father. The nourishing one can protect you or bring home money. But in exchange for that might be demanding a debt of gratitude. And when he doesn’t get satisfied, he beats you up or is terrorizing you in some more “sophisticated” way. That’s the nourishing father who is missing the cloth part. Who is the cloth father then? The man that allows you to fight him and which is not behaving too strong to defeat you and at the same time not too weak to give you the feeling of not fighting at all. A cloth father that stands as a reality model to train the self for an interaction with the surrounding world.


Who is your feeding mother/father(s) and who the cloth mother/father(s)?


I think that finding out might give you a feeling that would be similar to reaction of someone who was told for the first time: You are adopted. Someone who suddenly has more than two pairs of parents. In our case the nourishing-cloth person separation is kind of inverse situation. Told of adoption means that in addition to the loving parents one has those biological without any emotional bond to. In case discussed in this text it seems like one has the biological parents that were thought of as those you are supposed to love but can’t, because you realize that your positive emotional structure was created by someone else.

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Tomáš Pour