As I was saying in my last editorial, the view that the pre- and perinatal child is a perceptually and cognitively competent human being is fundamental to our discipline. This must surely mean that the nervous system of the fetus and infant is structured to know the world and the self in certain pan-human ways. That is-in the words of phenomenologists-the world and the self are "already there" prior to and just after birth. This is the opposite of a "blank slate" or "booming, buzzing chaos" point of view which would require that the nervous system has to somehow experience the world and self before making sense of it.
There is yet another area of research you need to know about that supports the inherent competence view. This one is less obvious than others, but equally telling. It derives from research into the causes of pain, and particularly into the strange phenomenon of the "phantom limb." We all know that when people have amputations they often continue to feel the missing limb, and most distressingly feel pain in the limb. What you may not be aware of is that there are people born without limbs that nonetheless feel the phantom limb. They experience a part of the body that has never been there to learn about.
This discovery has led McGiIl University neuropsychologist, Ronald Melzack to conclude that there must be an inherent, wired-in body image that develops in the pre- and perinatal child prior to experience. Dr. Melzack, you may remember, was one of the scientists who first developed the "gating" or "gate control" theory of pain around the mid-1960s. He has only recently come to the conclusion that the body schema must be "already there" in the sense I mentioned above-he calls the inherent structure a "neuromatrix." You may wish to read some of his writings on the topic (see Scientific American 266(4): 120126, April 1992, for the easiest access to his work).
And you will no doubt want to read some of the fine articles in this issue of PPPJ. Dr. LaVonne Stiffler looks at the interesting connection between adoptees and their birthparents. Dr. Paul Trad examines the relationship between the infant and its caregiver relative to the infant's internal representation of social interaction. Dr. Jaroslav Vlcek then poetically reflects upon how he started his first heartbeat. Finally, John-Richard and Troye Turner report from Holland on their Whole-Self therapy.
JOURNAL OF PRENATAL AND PERINATAL PSYCHOLOGY AND HEALTH publishes research and clinical articles from the cutting edge of the science of prenatal and perinatal psychology and health. The journal, published quarterly since 1986, is dedicated to the in-depth exploration human reproduction and pregnancy and the mental and emotional development of the unborn and newborn child.