From the Intrinsic Motive Pulse of Infant Actions to the Life Time of Cultural Meanings

  • Colwyn TrevarthenEmail author
Part of the Studies in Brain and Mind book series (SIBM, volume 9)


Research on the timing of spontaneous actions made from birth—for self-sensing of the infant’s own body posture and movements, for perceptual apprehension of objects or events in the outside world, and for intimate communication with a parent—proves that innate measures of time regulate prospective control of body actions of a coherent human Self. Infants are born capable of synchronising with, imitating and complementing expressions of a parent’s feelings and interests in proto-conversational exchanges. Affective appraisals of imagined consequences for the well-being of body and mind are signalled by expressive movements of emotion that are sympathetically shared. Within a few weeks infants join with rhythms of play in narratives of expressive display, learning how to participate in conventional rituals that tell stories of a “proto-habitus.” Before the end of the first year the child shares conventional use of objects and develops proto-linguistic symbolic coding of actions that identify objects to be shared in cooperation with familiar companions.

Infants’ movements have universal temporal parameters of “musicality,” as cultivated in the “imitative arts” of theatre, dance, song and music. The same measures of “pulse,” “quality” and “narrative” are also evident in serial ordering of steps in completion of practical projects and in propositional representations. This primary sensori-motor intelligence and its intersubjective “vitality dynamics” must be considered as fundamental in any philosophy of the nature of our experience of time and its cultivated uses and measures. Understanding of inner “life time” benefits from a neuro-psychology of movements and their prospective perceptual control, a science developed over the past century.


Movement times Vitality dynamics Affects Intentions Proto-conversation Play Music Imitation Education Non-verbal therapies Language origins 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language SciencesThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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