Memory is at the heart of learning through trial and error. We are born knowing very little; it’s all uphill from there. Families give us a leg-up by not having to be feral children dependent on instinct. They give us enough leeway to own what we learn.

And what we learn is what to expect next time. Expectancy, recognition, identification, meaning, and understanding are gifts our sheltering families make available to us. Leading to judgment, which opens the way to appropriate behavior.

All courtesy of the families that give us room to fall on our face, pick ourselves up, and have at it again. Getting that one more chance makes all the difference because we remember the last time, and vow to do better. Our efforts add up as we go. Practice makes, if not perfect, at least for improvement.

Families give us the chance to engage through successive approximation, so that what we aim at, we eventually attain. Not trial and error just once, but again and again, showing incremental improvement each time. If we put in our ten-thousand hours of consciously appreciating those decreasing increments, we find ourselves right where we wanted to be two years ago. Courtesy of memory, room for experiment, the wisdom of patience, and the willingness to try.

Join all of the above to the life force that urges us on from every one of our cells because we need to do something with all that energy our mitochondria provide, and we have the formula for success via one earnest attempt after another.

Knowing almost nothing in particular at birth opens the door to the possibility of adapting to unanticipated conditions and situations. If we were born fully equipped with everything we needed to know, the first surprising change we encountered would throw us off our stride. We’d have no way of coping with novelty, and it would be our downfall in the end, which would come sooner rather than later.

No matter how trying family life can be, real life is far worse. Family life is a trial run for the time when we must face every challenge on our own by standing on the two feet we were born with and that our families have encouraged us to develop into an asset. Thanks, Mom; thanks, Dad; we owe it all to you. Oh, yes, and to the kids who grew up alongside us, no matter what pains they were to us at the time, or we to them.

Families are our first schools. In that sense, we all start out being home schooled. What do we learn? To be ourselves. To speak our native language. To engage. To babble, then invent our own patter. To discover meaningful speech. To understand others. To understand ourselves.

It all begins at mother’s breast while we are fed, warm, and safe. She smiles; we smile. She laughs; we laugh. She oohs; we ooh in response. Then we ooh meaningfully at the sight of her smile. She giggles; we giggle. Peek-a-boo!

We sense we’re onto something. We play off against her; she plays the same game. Back and forth; forth and back. There’s no stopping the banter. Then the flow of talk. Her turn, our turn. Then the full exchange, the loop of engagement of perception and action at the same time. She playing her part; we playing ours. Equally engaged. Paying attention. Watching, listening. Being watched; being listened to. Taking turns. Conversing. Being ourselves with each other. Not alone anymore. The biggest discovery of our lives. Or not, if there’s nobody to play the game with to get us started.


If mind is a collaborative function of brain, body, nature, culture, community, and family, what may not be obvious is that human consciousness is a largely edited version of both internal and external reality.

Our minds sharpen, clarify, emphasize, and inhibit as they go, creating models of the great world, but not an accurate rendition of that world itself. Evolution may have brought us this far by allowing us individual discretion, but the specific situations each person is born to are subject to unique, non-genetic influences that shape each life world in idiosyncratic fashion.

With the result that the world each of us lives in is unlike any other in finest detail. The more the brain sharpens and emphasizes the signals it processes (a necessity for survival based on fast and appropriate action), the less the inner world of awareness can be assumed to portray the world itself as it might exist on the far side of our senses.

Our minds leap the hurdle of non-representation by sampling our surroundings as often as possible through rapid deployment of as many loops of engagement as we can sustain on different levels of awareness. This allows each mind to update its input as frequently as it can, and so judge its situation and govern its behavior accordingly.

But such rapid sampling comes at the high cost of rendering a world as more of a précis than an accurate representation. We see what we see, and don’t what we don’t. To sense sharply and clearly means we see boldly and schematically. Our sensing becomes warped without our knowing because we see what we see so clearly that we take it as the true state of worldly affairs rather than our rash stab at portraying such a world.

We create a world that suits our purpose of the moment, which is all the more believable because memory recognizes that world not as it is but insofar as it conforms to our beliefs as based on personal experience. The world we are likely to find is the world we seek in keeping with our background of expectations.

That is, we see through the filter of the history behind us, making the now conform to the then out of habit rather than updating the past. We are gold standards unto ourselves so it makes sense to judge world situations by the performance of our own eyes (ears, nose, grasp, memory, and so on).

Successive approximation is the name of the game we play with our minds. Sometimes we are right on; other times close. Often we are dead wrong without a clue which way to turn. We muddle through, and if we are smart, learn from every engagement to do better.