If some fetuses make choices, logically they have language


How do the babies communicate their need for particular antibodies?

(Christy Hemphill) #82

Why do you presume this? I really don’t think young babies have a concept of “should” or “shouldn’t” cry. They cry in response to a stimulus. It’s a not a decision they reason their way to. Have you spent much time around babies in your life?

So, you think antibodies in a mother respond to baby communication? Huh? I can guarantee there is zero medical evidence for antibodies throwing themselves into breast milk because of some kind of baby whispering on the outside of the mother’s body.

(Nick Levinson) #83

Since we’re talking about a balanced diet, when people do that they almost always are referring to nutrients, and foods (including liquid formula) can be extremely similar except for which common nutrients they contain. It wouldn’t be hard to create foods that are nutritionally different but easy for neonates to accept and consume. If the purpose is to do an experiment, it might be economically worthwhile to make them even if they cost more than the formula (or breast milk) that would normally be fed to them. It’s probably common for hospitals that provide neonatal care to make different formulas according to neonates’ diagnoses (see, e.g., https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007302.htm (as accessed 11-7-17) ("[b]abies born at less than 37 weeks gestation (premature) have different nutritional needs than babies born at full term (after 38 weeks)")).

There’s also been research into older children (ages 7-9 months at experiment’s start and small sample) choosing self-balancing diets, a conclusion being that the drive to eat one food at one time and another food at another time without adult prompting (within choices that were all healthy) is driven by a body’s internal signals about nutritional needs (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1626509/ (as accessed 11-7-17) and http://www.dishlab.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Davis-1928-Diet-in-newly-weaned-infants-1.pdf (as accessed 11-7-17)).

If a neonate can see, it may be able to notice a color. I doubt the study would have been done if there was no reason to believe neonates could distinguish at least a few colors with some consistency.

A body of psychological research into preverbal babies already uses indicia such as facial reactions to various visual stimuli. I don’t know what was done in this study but I guess one way you could do it would be to use large bright solid-color containers that might be interesting enough to attract babies’ attention. You could also videotape the interactions and ask neutral observers to rate how babies are reacting.

Babies may communicate which antibodies they need through their lips and the mother’s breast areola, both of which have high counts or concentrations of nerve endings, according to a feature story a few decades ago in Medical World News, then a non-refereed weekly magazine edited for physicians and published by McGraw-Hill and later a small firm (I don’t remember which one was the publisher when the article came out). McGraw-Hill is and was a reputable publisher. Another way may be through backwash: that a baby’s saliva enters the mother’s breast during feeding and she produces antibodies in response to what her breast is now exposed to (https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/growth-curve/backwash-nursing-babies-may-trigger-infection-fighters (as accessed 11-6-17)). One molecule is a key to the transfer of immunity (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081026101713.htm (as accessed 11-6-17)). That a transfer occurs but without an explanation is in https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12727640 (as accessed 11-6-17) and in https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/why-breast-is-best/benefits-of-breastmilk (as accessed 11-7-17) (“each mother provides custom-designed milk to protect her infant . . . . [w]hen a baby is exposed to a new germ”).

One baby crying is often not enough of a stimulus for another baby to cry, too. They might play together but still not cry in sympathy.

I’m not a parent; I’ve babysat; they’re not equivalent. One mother described me as patient after I told her about how I let her friend’s child, maybe 5 years old, choose which of 4 museums to visit; the child marched me from room to room so she could look for what she wanted to see, these were not children’s museums, and we went to two of them that day. Another mother described me as very good for her daughter. I used to think I was going to make a mistake somewhere.

In general, we needn’t assume that sophistication is necessary and use that to conclude that a phenomenon is impossible, Often, simpler methods exist, so, in children and in non-human species, sophistication is not always necessary. You made that point in a way central to this thread: that language was too sophisticated a system compared to a mere biocommunication system that accepts symbols. Simpler systems may accomplish enough for a purpose. So, if a fetus has no sense of self, it still eats because of some version of self-interest, so it has some quality related to selfishness.


Where would such an unethical experiment take place? Perhaps at a hellish home for single moms and their illegitimate babies in Ireland in the 1800s?


No, the fetus does not eat! Not fetal me, anyway. As I recall, when I was a fetus I got my nutrition from Mom’s umbilical cord.


I remember those days well. It was warm. I was well fed. I was gently floating in a pool of body temperature water (when I wasn’t kicking on Momma’s bladder). Those were the days.

(Phil) #87

Of course, does not seem quite so appealing when you realize that warm pool of water is primarily your own urine. Funny how the beginning and end of life have some parallels.


And often some meconium thrown in.


The day after I was born I requested chocolate almond milk and a veggie burger. It sure beat that hospital food they were serving me!


Well I could say you don’t have any choice in the matter. :slight_smile:

(Albert Leo) #91

I totally agree with your response to Nick, but I wonder about your mention of Helen Keller. I think she was 19 months old when she was stricken and lost her sight and hearing. At this age she probably heard the word, ‘water’ and felt its softness. Anne Sullivan made use of this memory to establish a tactile means of communication. If Helen hadn’t this earlier experience perhaps she could never have reached the ‘full humanity’ that she ultimately achieved. Interesting speculation, I think.
Al Leo

(Christy Hemphill) #92

I agree that her early language exposure was probably key to unlocking language for her when she was deaf and blind. Though it is doubtful she remembered the forms of words from such a young age. (Children who are born in other countries for example and have caregivers who speak to them in another language lose all memory of that language if they are taken away before two years old and raised in a different country.) But my point was, that even without a full inventory of abstract symbols in her mind, she was able to make choices. I totally disagree with the OP that an individual needs abstract mental representations or arbitrary labels for concrete things or any kind of symbolic mental system in order to make choices.

(George Brooks) #93


I think we are overlooking the obvious…

(Albert Leo) #94

As a Roman Catholic I always thought that infant baptism was a way of enlisting the godparents to help in the formation of the child during the years before its conscience was fully developed–sort of “it takes a village” approach. Then, when the age of Reason was reached, the child/adult was ‘Confirmed’; i.e. took on full responsibility for his/her decisions. That makes it more like Protestant baptisms. I was never taught this views, but it made sense to me.
Al Leo


So she wouldn’t have reached full humanity? What does that mean?

(Albert Leo) #96

That’s it. I really don’t know. Most people would agree that a Tay-Sachs baby (that will exist for a year or so without ever becoming aware of its surroundings) is not ‘human’ in the same sense that the BioLogos posters are. But I don’t know if one can ever draw some line that unerringly serves to separate human from non-human. Do you?

Incidentally, I posted #94 before I read your #51. Personally I never believed my church dogma that infant baptism washed away a baby’s sin. I also don’t believe that the folks who write Creeds, even smart and holy ones, can isolate me from the communities I choose to join.
Al Leo

(Nick Levinson) #97

Eating: Close enough. A fetus drinks. And, in context, “eat” is an often-used colloquialism I didn’t think would be misunderstood, since fetuses consume food (had I thought to write that instead of “eat”, I would have thought it too cumbersome for here, even from me), but, apart from use of the umbilical cord, “[b]aby is able to suck and swallow” in week 17 of a pregnancy and in week 18 “[t]he baby is swallowing amniotic fluid” (https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/community/fit4allmoms/your-pregnancy-week-by-week) and “AF [”[a]mniotic fluid"] contains carbohydrates, proteins and peptides, lipids, lactate, pyruvate, electrolytes, enzymes, and hormones", thus having nutritional value (http://www.nature.com/jp/journal/v25/n5/full/7211290a.html). The quantity being swallowed in the third trimester is “up to a liter a day” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199809/fetal-psychology), up to about a quart a day.

What “unethical experiment” (@beaglelady)? General advice is to breastfeed but there are exceptions when formula is healthier, like if the mother is ill, and breast milk does not have enough vitamin D. So, depending on the health needs of neonates, a formula might be medically appropriate, and an experiment in which neonates choose between formulae that are all healthy would hardly be unethical, even accepting that neonates are more sensitive to some stimuli than are adults. And if an experiment would be unethical today, I think ethics were formally, articulately, and consistently introduced by outside authorities or committees into the approval process for experiment designs only in recent decades, and the findings of many older experiments can still be relied upon. Natural experiments (such as a survey of cliff-climbers who fell and probably should have died, given the circumstances) are not subject to the same ethics and their findings can still be accepted. As far as I know, no experiment I referred to in this topic would have been unethical even if it were done today, and I explicitly include the study of neonates eating from differently-colored containers. If you see that study as unethical, or any other in this thread, please tell us how.

Whether a baby with Tay-Sachs disease “[n]ever becom[es] . . . aware of its surroundings” (@aleo) was a point I didn’t find agreement with among more-reliable sources. See https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/tay-sachs-disease, https://www.genome.gov/10001220/learning-about-taysachs-disease/ (e.g., “cognitively impaired” is not unawareness) (die “by age five”), https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tay-sachs-disease/basics/definition/con-20036799, & https://medlineplus.gov/taysachsdisease.html (die “by age 4”) (all as accessed 11-8-17). The view does seem to turn up in popular or nonprofessional discussions, and it may be the same view repeated in multiple places. It’s possible that a baby might be born unaware of its surroundings and that would be relevant to this thread, but apparently that unawareness woould not be due to Tay-Sachs.

A fetus might “begin to learn language”: “There is . . . a debate as to whether or not reading to your fetus can improve his or her brain development by actually helping him or her begin to learn language. While there is evidence that this is true, there is also evidence that all that the infant learns in the womb is lost after 21 days, so how much reading improves brain development is questionable.” (Https://my.vanderbilt.edu/developmentalpsychologyblog/2013/12/the-do’s-and-donts-of-pregnancy-a-pregnant-womans-guide-to-birth-a-healthy-baby/.) While I disagree that science says that everything learned is lost so soon, although some probably is, this, in support of beginning to learn language, counters a view stated hereinabove. It appears that a fetus can distinguish words, in the way that we adults mean words in language, even though they may not know what they mean; they like a native language over a foreign language (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199809/fetal-psychology), probably meaning familiar words over unfamiliar ones (familiarity could come from repetitive use), although the words when separated are probably still not significant to a fetus.

Whether symbols need to be “arbitrary” (@Christy) is not my opinion, even though they’d be abstract. Historically, symbols often start out have something in common with what they mean. It’s likelier there’ll be more in common between signifiers and signifieds when a biocommunication system and symbols are first being created. Insofar as that’s true, arbitrariness would be reduced and possibly nonexistent.

I started to research for sources on whether someone can know of a signified without having a signifier for it. An initial glance through Google results suggests not, but search engine results page snippets are not good enough for a question like this. But I also still have not figured out an example of knowing of something (a potential signified) without having a signifier for it. If someone knows enough of a potential signified to struggle to create a signifier for it, the person actually already has a signifier for it and they’re just trying to improve their signifier.

Knowing of something seems to have been questioned on the basis that thought is needed for knowledge and a fetus can’t have thought yet. If thought is a higher-order property or quality than is knowledge, I would argue only for knowledge of a potential signified, not necessarily a thought of it. A prerequisite for a symbol therefore would be a capacity for knowledge, but that would seem to exist very early in development, perhaps prefetally and if not prefetally at least early enough to allow for the building of a collection of signifiers.

The fetus can see starting at 27 weeks (https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/community/fit4allmoms/your-pregnancy-week-by-week). I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there was any light to see inside, but apparently there’s at least a little light and shadow. So it has even more potential signifieds than I thought.

It also hears, including the mother’s speech and that of other people (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199809/fetal-psychology). That, too, means more signifieds are potentially present.

“As the [7th] week progresses, the brain will divide into three parts: forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The forebrain will be responsible for things such as reasoning, problem solving, and forming and retaining memories. . . .” (Https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/community/fit4allmoms/your-pregnancy-week-by-week.) I don’t know if the author meant that “reasoning, problem solving, and forming and retaining memories” occur in the fetus or only some time after birth.

I, too, have a memory that I have always ascribed to being from before birth, although I think it is of the seconds before birth or during the exiting process when light reflected off my surroundings that I came out with and ending when I quickly shut my eyes to the now-bright light. The memory includes an enhancement (little faces) that I may have applied at the time rather than later. While the comment above about a pre-birth memory seemed facetious, I gather some other people have reported pre-birth memories.

Fetal temperament and personality seem to have been accepted (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199809/fetal-psychology).

The list of intrafetal symbols that I’ve thought of should, it seems, now be longer, given some of the known details of fetal development (see, e.g., https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/community/fit4allmoms/your-pregnancy-week-by-week & https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199809/fetal-psychology).

An argument that fetuses respond to stimuli without choosing becomes harder to sustain the more complicated the set of stimuli are and the less certain we are of how a fetus will respond to stimuli even after many observations. Eventually, that argument blends into someone never having choice, that everything even adults do is automatic. We should be careful about assuming that choice exists only when a possible chooser can tell us enough to convince us that they’re choosing (a problem with addiction theory as applied to adults). No one said that in this thread but it is a common theme and it seems to be reflected in some statements in this thread and it often has its grounding in theology. It took a long time for scientists publicly to say that humans are animals in a good way and that nonhuman animals have qualities previously recognized only in humans. I understand that the problem may occur here, too, and scientific standards should be rigorous, but, even within that rigor, I think we have enough to go on in order to either investigate or conclude regarding various questions with respect to fetal capabilities being beyond what we used to believe. Science can be wrong (Einstein was wrong at least once or twice on important matters) but the way to correct scientific conclusions, which are always tentative, is not to go back to older beliefs on the ground that science might be wrong but to go forward by applying scientific method to refine or overturn intermediate scientific findings and thereby discover or confirm that science was wrong.

There’s a rule, partly said tongue-in-cheek, called the Harvard rule: Given the right conditions in a properly-configured laboratory, rats will do as they ■■■■ well please. Given what we know of their culture, rats likely sometimes make choices. Can we be sure fetuses could never make choices? Or are some of us just saying that we don’t know if fetuses make choices, not that scientists know that rats and fetuses never do? Any of us saying we don’t know would be reasonable, even if we disagree. But lack of proof that something is true does not make it false; it may merely be unknown and fit for exploration.

(All URLs were as accessed 11-7-17 except as otherwise stated.)

(Christy Hemphill) #98

Arbitrary is not the same thing as random. They are arbitrary in that even if they have a relationship to what they signify, some other symbol could have just as easily functioned. There is nothing inherent in “women’s bathroom” that demands the symbol a circle on top of a triangle. The choice to symbolize it that way is arbitrary.


Feeding trials on infants.

Plenty of people have memories of a whole previous existence. Shirley MacLaine is a good example. It’s part of New Age Spirituality. And the LDS believe in a pre-existence, but God usually erases their memories of this when they are born on earth.

(Nick Levinson) #100

Arbitrariness: Okay.

Some possible feeding trials on infants are doubtless unethical, but I don’t think all of them are and I doubt ethics committees would rule that way. Provided that everything proposed to be fed to the infant (and, more critically, a neonate) meets the neonate’s health requirements, and as far as I know that was the case with the experiment in question, I think hospitals and universities sponsoring research would not object on ethics grounds.

I don’t subscribe to the concept of memories of first-hand experience from before one’s own existence or that we are reincarnated and therefore memories could be from our own prior incarnations. I don’t recall ever thinking that my pre-birth memory was from earlier than when I was in the womb. But I don’t doubt the sincerity of people whose beliefs are in those areas.