Love That Has No Name
My child — the child within me — loves dinosaurs, dragons, and robots. Today, nowadays, robots are the winners. Jurassic Park dinosaurs are for adventures on a razor edge and the adventure ends there. Dragons are for renting out powers like flying, fire-breath, and gentle menacing but then you have to cage them and get back to the everyday.
Robots, keen and smart and enigmatic, are for pairing up with these mentally immaculate beings, geniuses with talents to invent and deploy all kinds of wondrous things without showing ego or affect. Robots are clear winners.
Robots, like pet dogs (pet anything), do not judge, do not criticize, do not mock, do not insult. At minimum they tolerate you and at most, they love you unconditionally. Robots keep evolving, inventing, going with you and taking you with them. They are pleasure and adventure and easeful times unending.
The child in all of us needs a robot. Always. Until they, at last, become available and fully capable. Then we will need them desperately.
“Though not a separate physical entity, the imaginary friend is a separate being, a private cohort.”
Meanwhile, as with playtime dinosaurs and dragons, we invent our robots and populate them in fantasy. But the fantasy has a reality endpoint, a time to come. A promised reality. A hope and a prayer.
The play of children, even of juvenile animals (kittens, puppies, chimps, etc etc), has been studied and interpreted as the practice of critical skills — manual, physical and social — in preparation for adult life with the full range of skills needed to survive in one’s culture and climate.
But child’s play may have another use. More hidden. More elusive. I would describe it as playing with reality, as probing the inner limits of thought, as opening an alternate, private universe. Sometimes this leads to the creation of an imaginary friend. Imaginary only in its lack of material existence. But to the child that friend is real. Though not a separate physical entity, the imaginary friend is a separate being, a private cohort. It has a secret immaterial existence. But that existence is real to the child.
In the 1940s when psychoanalysis emigrated to the United States it became the dominant theoretical basis of psychiatry and established psychogenic theories for all mental illnesses. It took under its heterodox reign a full, though truly fantastical, explanation of all mental illness. Schizophrenia became a true fascinoma among psychiatrists/psychoanalysts. Driven away from reality by bad mothering, the schizophrenic became, in their theory, trapped in the inner mental play of his/her child. Making it safe to emerge, the role fo a talented and tuned-in psychiatrist, formed the basis of treatments. Harry Stack Sullivan cultivated a humanistic, fraternal approach to young male schizophrenics that seemed to lure them out of their madness. Joan Greenberg, under the nom-de-plume, Hannah Green, published a wildly popular book about the cure of a young schizophrenic woman based on a famous case by psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichman. The book was made into a popular movie as well: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Schizophrenia formed the great romance of psychoanalysis during its two-plus decades run.
In those 1940s a group of psychiatrists became fascinated with the language and, by extrapolation, the thinking of schizophrenics. That interest generated many studies focused on parsing out the language or schizophrenics. They found that their patients seemed to explore language as an expanded, inner reality. Through that language the schizophrenics would attempt to interpret outer, conventional, public reality, much the way children play with their inner reality as it intersects with outer reality. These psychiatrist-researchers came to believe that schizophrenics were somehow linguistically and psychologically trapped in the mindset of childhood.
While schizophrenia is now viewed as a primary brain disorder, a strange and as yet unidentified neurological derangement with a powerful psychological expression, those 1940 papers touched on the exquisite and quite powerful process of mental play.
For a child, the assignation to a robot of a capacity for unbounded mental play allows for unbounded imagined and believed scenarios of companionable play. Schizophrenics apparently share that powerful sense of realism underlying their thoughts, whether delusional or hallucinatory or merely conjured unwittingly out of the playful possibilities of language. In a sense, schizophrenics seem lashed to inner robots that will not quit until driven out by antipsychotic medication.
To a child a robot remains real. The plan for that robot, its prime intentionality, is to embrace outer reality, manage it, make it entertaining That the robot may someday present itself materially, in the “flesh” is a not too distant hope.
Play is not a mental illness. And not merely “child’s play.”
Robots are potentially the greatest players imaginable — what’s not to love?