April 1, 2002
Being Natural - Without Artifice
In my Thought of the Week 02/03/25, I wrote about the film A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and how David, its "artificial" hero, represented the genuine feeling of a child's pure love and need.
Many critics and reviewers indicated that they could not feel empathy for David because his love and attachment were too extreme, his behaviour too simple - not the actions of a "real" child. The human children in the film, on the other hand, showed behaviour that they were used to - trickery, deceit, pretense, and viciousness.
We cannot define natural behaviour by what we observe of animals in zoos and laboratory cages. Similarly, we cannot define "real," natural human behaviour by observing the neurotic behaviours we're used to seeing in this society.
To be naturally human, we must have our needs met as children. The basic developmental human needs, as I define them, are:
• to be unconditionally valued
It's the simple condition of all living things to have real needs - and a real need to have them met. If a plant needs a certain amount of water to grow to full size, it is pointless explaining to the plant that it should do with less. The plant's need is an organic cellular requirement. All plants (and children) can survive with less, but they will all become stunted in some way if they are so deprived. That's just physics.
When the basic needs of children are not met, as is often the case in this society, the result is a particular type of stunting called neurosis. Since it involves holding off and hiding the pain and unmet need in order to survive, it is characterized by an inability to be relaxed, open, and genuine. It is also characterized by the creation and presentation of a false self, which is an act to avoid abuse and to get one's needs met. It often appears in behaviours such as trickery, deceit, pretense, and viciousness - just like the "real" kids in the movie.
Using the word "real" in this context is not correct. "Common" would be more accurate. Since neurosis is the presentation of a false self, neurotic children and adults are not real - no matter how many billions there are in this world.
In A.I., David was an entity with strong, simple needs. He experienced no confusion about his right to get his needs met. Therefore he made no attempt to hide his feelings - or his efforts to act on them. If he felt joy, fear or pain, he expressed it. He was completely open and demonstrated genuine curiosity and interest without any desire to manipulate anyone. He "felt" things and simply acted on those feelings with total trust. He was completely without artifice - not artificial! Paradoxically, he was the most real person in the entire movie.
David was not disconnected from his needs and their expression. He was not neurotic. No wonder his behaviours seem strange to many people! He showed all the signs of being a healthy natural being.
It is likely that none of the critical reviewers have ever seen a natural child and do not remember a time when they were like that themselves. Like scientists studying caged animals, they may conclude that the neurotic human behaviour they commonly witness is natural - and mistakenly measure everyone against that.
People sometimes argue that "natural" is an unattainable ideal, that the state of wild animals and native humans is not perfect. The idea of perfection, however, is not the issue. The issue is - can a plant or animal get their needs met, respond directly to those needs, and reach their full potential? Of course they can. And they do. There are countless trillions of plants and animals all over this world who are getting their needs met. It stands to reason that it is equally attainable for human children and adults. Just because we are presently in a general state of emotional drought does not mean that it is unrealistic to believe we deserve - and can have - better. To deny the natural state is just the negative, resigned stance of a jaded victim.
In A.I., David exhibited the behaviours of many children I have met who have not been abused, neglected, or forced to act falsely. He exhibited the strong and innocent behaviours of animals in the wild. When they feel something, they respond - there is no internal blockage or question of right or wrong. They do not question the validity of their sensations or needs any more than they question the sun in the sky. What is, is.
A natural child is very much like David - simple, curious, open, devoted, loving - with strong, clear feelings and sensations of need and attachment. When they are hurt, they yell. When they're unhappy, they cry. When they are thwarted, they get angry. When they want affection, they crawl into arms. When they want solitude, they go off on their own. When they're hungry, they call for food. When they're tired, they fall asleep.
In an old Zen story, a novice asked, "Master, what is enlightenment?" The master answered, "Sleeping when you're tired and eating when you're hungry."
Simple, natural - and human.