If a newborn was left alone on an island, what could it know?

If a newly born baby was placed on a deserted island all by itself (and miraculously survived up to adulthood), what could it know?

It would be starved of communal sensitivities. It would not have a healthy self awareness, because self is only developed in the context of others.


Wouldn’t it be able to differentiate itself from the other objects on the island?

yes but a human being isn’t an object. Human beings are made for relationship. Without reference to others we have no meaning, identity, or purpose.


It truly would be a miracle, given the example. Since a newborn, can’t feed themselves nor ingest the needed fluids and nutrients, to survive past a few days going without…


In other words, the baby wouldn’t be able to understand it is a self-aware human if it didn’t interact with other self-aware humans?

There are s number of documented cases of children living in isolation. Perhaps not from infancy because an infant wouldn’t survive abandoned without anyone caring for there immediate needs.


How could it? Language? Compassion? Empathy? Cooperation? Forgiveness? LOVE?

An infant needs protection and sustenance. Indeed, all living people have had this when in infancy. If not, they would have died.

There’re also too many variables. Would he know how to eat coconuts? Are there coconut trees on this island? How’d he come up with a way to purify water by himself? Has he been drinking dirty water all this time?

Now you say he miraculously survived. How? Did an angel come and nurture him? If so, he may know about Heavenly things, for instance, in addition to what he needs to survive physically.

@F_Marturana in fact Francois Truffault made a movie (called 'the Wild Child" I think) that was based on a real case study of a kid who lived by himself in the woods in France until he was 10 or 12. He used to put his whole hand in a pot of boiling water to pick out a potato when they were done.

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That it has really messed up parents?

(The point of the thought experiment, of course, is the distinction between nature and nurture, and the extent to which each operate.)

Ignoring the obvious - the newborn would quickly succumb to the hostilities of the environment - and not bogging down into the details of the miracle - if the miracle allowed for the newborns survival, did it instill in the newborn as well a sense of its own humaneness - I believe that it would be possible to develop some semblance of each of your examples in this individual without human interaction. Language compacity is hard wired into the brain. Its developmental direction would depend on the environment in which it finds itself. This language could develop as a rudimentary communication system between the other animals on the island and itself or even between itself and inanimate objects as a memory enhancing tool. Some form of compassion and empathy may develop as a perceived beneficial biproduct of the individuals cooperation with its environment and itself. The concept of forgiving may be foreign to such a person since the concept of deliberate injury to the person would have to develop as well. Actions may be perceived as having certain consequences but only in an impersonal cause/effect manner. The concept of sin and forgiving would be foreign to such a person. Probably much like it was to Adam and Eve. Why would forgiving develop where there is nothing to forgive? And Love I believe is innate within the human animal regardless of its ability to express itself towards another entity. Even so, there would be other creatures on the island presumably onto which this individual could express some form of love. I do not believe one has to be taught how to love since it is an innate “ability” within each human creature.

Why’s that?

Could this person be aware they are thinking, in this scenario?

I think it depends on what you mean by aware? The average person I believe , at least this is true for me, doesn’t bring into reflective awareness the concept of formulating thoughts. We just do and this is called thinking. I am now thinking about thinking because my awareness was directed that way by your post but the individual on the island probably wouldn’t be bring its awareness towards the act of thinking simply because no one else would be available to steer him/her towards this awareness. Of course I suppose a random thought may arise in this individual about how thoughts are arising in their heads but I doubt if the process would reflect the same way we would question our own awareness and being aware. I think these more abstract reflections on concepts and ideas would take lots of time over which the individual would build upon its knowledge base. The quickest increase in knowledge would be in the more concrete, sensible things gained through observations of the environment and emotional reactions to that environment.

@WannabeSaint, what do you think?

This is on the assumption that a miracle occured first. (The scenario I imagined is God sustained the child’s body and allowed it to grow on its own.)

I imagine the child’s intelligence would be similar to that of a caveman. But then again, the cavemen had other cavemen to interact with…so perhaps even lesser than that?

This scenario is similar to what happened to St John the Baptist who grew up in the wilderness, probably by himself. Jesus said he was more than a prophet, so he did not lack anything in spiritual matters.

Not really sure but presumably a lifetime of exposure to the elements had left him insensate to pain. He lived alone in a forest for many years.

Hmmmm. Why do some things float and others do not, e.g., rocks sink, wood floats?
Hmmmm. Rocks heavier than water, ceteris paribus (cp). Wood lighter than water, cp.
Hmmmm. My body is somewhere in between the density of rocks and wood.

If I could just get enough wood underneath me then I could float and get off this #@!* island.

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