One of the most interesting moves in 4EA cognitive science has been the attention paid to infant development studies. Among others, special attention has been paid to the work on "primary intersubjectivity" by Colwyn Trevarthen, Andrew Meltzoff, and Daniel Stern. (References to other important researchers would be welcome in comments.)
- Meltzoff's work on neonatal facial imitation is used here in an article by Shaun Gallagher and Meltzoff in discussing an infantile body schema (which makes individuation a process of modulating a relation rather than breaking free of a fusion with the mother).
- Stern's recent Forms of Vitality has some concise descriptions of "affective attunement," in which a caretaker matches the affective dynamics of the infant, but in another modality (e.g., voice rather than gesture), so that there is no mere imitation, but a "signature" indicating the matching of internal states (41; 113).
- But it's Trevarthen's interest in "musicality," in the rhythmic interaction of caretaker and infant, that makes the connection with Plato, specifically with his discussion of law, custom, and the skill of nurses in administering lullabies in the Laws. (The Athenian's assumption that slave women do child-rearing for citizens explains [in addition to my interest in Hrdy's Mothers and Others -- see Catarina on "allomothers"] why I'm using "caretaker" rather than "mother.")
Book 7 of the Laws begins with the Athenian saying that despite its importance the nurture and education of children can only be a matter of advice to heads of household rather than law (788b-c), even though habits of transgression from petty misdeeds can ripple up to bad effect in a polity (790b; 793c). So it can be hoped that citizens will take the advice to them on these matters as a law to them and to their households (790b).
With regard to bodily health, the Athenian recommends that pregnant women take walks so that the external shaking of the fetus help its body grow into robust health (789b-790b). And with regard to the soul we must pay the same sort of attention to imposed movement; analogous to the way dancing prescribed by priestesses will help those afflicted with "Corybantic troubles" (see Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 78-80, for a social and somatic functionalist / cathartic reading of this passage), so too will rocking and singing calm an infant (790d).
Continuing the discussion, the Athenian explains that "fright is due to some morbid condition of soul. Hence, when such disorders are treated by rocking movements the external motion thus exhibited dominates [kratei] the internal, which is the source of the fright or frenzy" (790e). The lawgivers must rely on custom for the most efficacious selection of these songs and on the caregiver's sensitivity and skill in delivering them at the proper time, with proper intensity, and with proper rhythm. The lawgiver can set the context for their use, but cannot discuss the details of the lullaby or its somatic/psychic effects.
Now why is the Athenian so concerned here? It's because temper (the proper relation to fear) and moral excellence are so closely connected (791b-c). But then comes the admission at 792a that the harmonizing of the soul of the infant with regard to the placidity of its temper must rely on the "guesswork [tekmairontai]" of nurses, who are able to discern the proper course of action -- the right rocking motion, the right lullaby -- in placating a screaming child.
Political affect is of the utmost importance to Plato, and the lynchpin of the system described in the Laws (that is, a city that relies on the philosophic direction of custom, rather than the tabula rasa of the Republic) is the guesswork of slave women. No wonder the Athenian is such a control freak!