“Two-ness:” the Mind’s Binary Code

Can Parents Eliminate Envy by Better Parenting? Second Thoughts

Posted Jun 21, 2015


Normal child development is complex. Important elements about the emotional development and regulation between positive and negative emotions in early childhood are presented here from the Biomental Perspective. A developmental timetable with concrete examples illustrates relevant events. 

The subject matter is dense but fundamentally important. It is hoped it will be useful to convey insight into one's personal psychology and those for whom we care.

Envy: the Mind’s Binary Code

Envy, an unconscious operation in mental functioning, may be foremost since it contributes heavily to the balance between well-being and dysregulation throughout the lifecycle. The earliest roots of what is recognized as “envy” in later life can be understood as the normal sense of “two-ness” discussed in this article. Just as emotion cannot be eliminated from experience, envy and its abstract mental template, “two-ness,” cannot be eliminated. Both promote healthy development. Envy and “two-ness” remain non-conscious processes throughout life.

Introspection, FJ Ninivaggi, pen/ink/pastel, 1968
Source: Introspection, FJ Ninivaggi, pen/ink/pastel, 1968

The mind’s processing default template is a binary code. Information arises, gets processed, and ultimately ends in units of "two's." A binary code is a system of representing numbers, letters, commands, images and sounds using only two types of information: 1 and 0. The strings of 1's and 0's that make up the binary code are not random but organized nonconsciously according to the brain’s genetically programmed neurocircuitry. In Envy Theory, this binary code is termed two-ness and is envy’s mode of operating. Psychodynamic splitting operations are natural and typical parts of information processing. Splitting is the human emotional binary code.

Envy and the “Two-ness” Binary Code

The “two-ness” concept is an axiom in Envy Theory. Its developmental course starts in earliest infancy. Mental conception organizes itself by apprehending reality as polar opposites--- “two-ness.” There is a simultaneous attempt to reconcile perceived discrepancies and achieve meaning. When the first mental polarizations occur and are too extreme, each becomes experienced as "ideal" or "negative." This is envy’s binary code: 'one' is ideal, 'zero' is negativity. It is at this critical point that excessive envy arises and imputes distortions in meaning to experience.

Excessive envy, if not transient, may become non-normative and contribute to continuing conflict. The “two-ness” proposed here is an emotional polarization between distortions: ideal versus negativity. For example, envy’s polarizations trigger all forms of hatred, fear, inordinate anxiety, suspiciousness, and pessimism. Any possible good experience is devalued. Negativity takes the form of seeing “black spots” on what is perceived. The two poles of envy range from extremely good to extremely bad. They are experienced or felt as attitudes, not clear-cut ideas. Negativity positively correlates with emotional dysregulation, mood swings, lability, oversensitivity, and over-reactivity.

Polarized experience evokes mental dissonance---anxiety and distress. Since, in earliest infancy, cognition is unmatured and incapable of intellectually reconciling such discrepancy, emotional strategies must be used. In the preverbal period of infancy, the infant uses its emotional tools, which are primarily nonconscious parts of its implicit memory systems. These emotional tools process inchoate information, which bias the mind subliminally throughout the lifecycle.

These emotional strategies are defense mechanisms used to manage anxiety and conflict. They may span a range from avoidance and denial to blatant negation. This negation is equal to a spoiling or aggressive deletion of what is discrepant. This occurs because discrepancy is felt to be strange and hostile. Excessive envy is hallmarked by spoiling, which is a bitterly felt vitiation that becomes more intense with age. It becomes overlaid with added biases that reinforce its emotionally darkening effect.

The fundamental premise here is that the mind’s default position organizes itself in a dualistic manner early in life. The mind perceptually and conceptually grasps reality as if it comprised polar contrasts---extremely positive or extremely negative.

As development proceeds, this extreme and rigid polarizing default inclination softens and becomes more flexible. Under reasonably healthy conditions, environmental tutoring, trial, error, and learning from experience add to the mind’s more reality-based flexible apprehension. Parental modeling interacts with a child’s own intrinsic resilience so that emotional harshness diminishes and greater perspective taking develops. Daycare, preschool, kindergarten, and school cultures significantly add to this changing process.

What is the Value of Envy as an Innate Mental Faculty?

Envy integrates both emotional and cognitive frames of reference early in development. Envy adds a lasting attitudinal bias to all mental perspectives throughout life. Put differently, envy provides the capacity to notice differences and impute value judgments of superior versus inferior to that recognition of difference. Over time, this sets up strong personal attitudes that reinforce values and preferences---what is important and less important. These then drive behavior and contribute to how choices are made—consciously, unconsciously, and reflexively. 

Envy, therefore, whether raw or in its more matured state (admiration and gratitude) is amalgamated emotional color and form that gives balance to the composition of one’s life. Evaluative discrimination when not extreme alerts us to what is safe versus unsafe, pleasant versus unpleasant, good and bad, and adaptive versus maladaptive.

Cognition in Infancy

A basic knowledge of an infant’s capacity for knowing gives traction to considerations of envy as the sense of cognitive “two-ness.” Cognition (process) and intelligence (product) are the basic faculties of knowing. Cognition presupposes sensory perception--awareness of the external and internal environments, and cognitive abilities--the range of mental processes that makes sense out of what is experienced. Cognitional abilities are mechanisms of intelligence.

Perceptual and sensory functions, especially vision and hearing, mature early in infancy. The areas of the brain (cerebral cortex) that mediate more complex intellectual functions are unmatured at birth and only slowly mature and come on line during early childhood. They reach an important peak at about eighteen months when symbol formation, conceptual ability, and language capacity begin to take shape. They facilitate longer-term memory and conscious awareness with more conscious recall. Full brain neuromaturation and cognitive skills are reached at the end of the third decade. Thus, while the rudiments of intelligence are active in childhood, it has a very long developmental trajectory for its more matured consolidation.

Infant researchers recognize that an infant’s receptive understanding is much greater—although less easily measureable—than is the direct expression of its understanding. However, contemporary research with its sophisticated protocols has shown remarkable skill at measuring an infant’s comprehension in conceptual development even within the first six months. They trace this progression through eleven months and see it refining itself at the key age of eighteen months. This shows that much detailed information-processing occurring in the first few months of life.

Preverbal Infant: an Ultra-Sensitive Observer

Vision/seeing is a primary receptive modality in early infancy, especially since there is no developed speech and language in the first year and a half—the preverbal period. The rudiments of cognition and knowing—mostly in the infant’s awake and implicitly conscious state-- structure themselves with noticing—noticing differences, experiencing a biomental dissonance/distress, and then trying to reconcile this sense of discrepancy or “two-ness” between differences. Infants first show a social smile at about three to four months. This is empirical data suggesting the infant’s cognitive awareness and emotional response to the presence of another person. A sense of “two-ness” is present, and “two-ness” connotes apprehending opposites and attributing a sense of difference to each.

The first six months of life, therefore, are primary gateways to perception. Babies have innate cognitive equipment to process data. Yet, they rely heavily on input from the environment—parental modeling—for information used to shape already forming attitudes, feelings, and ideas. Although concentration here is on vision, taste and touch are also central. Parental love, biomental warmth, and engagement are experienced through taste and touch regularly. Early infancy is a protracted state of dependency and receptivity. Observational exposure, however, in this unique context may have lasting imprinting effects on infant’s evaluative discrimination.

The Second Half of the First Year

Babies’ normative anxiety to a stranger—stranger anxiety—seen typically at about seven months suggests awareness of a capacity for substantial conceptual differentiation and a fear response to perceived discrepancy and danger. It is evidence of an infant’s ability to discern differences and show an awareness of the familiar (“mother”) in contrast to the strange (“other”). This lasting phenomenon is a clear-cut behavioral expression of possessing a sense of “two-ness.”

To precisely pinpoint when an infant is first distinctly aware of “two-ness” is complex and depends on how “two-ness” is defined. One way would be to define it as an awareness of multiplicities of units in a single field. These are grasped as existing in some coherent, contiguous spatial context—many within one, or many and one. Stranger anxiety is a clear-cut example of “two-ness” recognition

Infant’s Displaying “Two-ness” by Pointing at Nine Months

The infant’s motor behavior also can suggest its awareness of “two-ness,” by its experience of being at one point in space and being aware of another point in the distance. An example is the ability to point. This distinct event is first seen at about nine months when neuromuscular integration and intent to influence another person are sufficiently merged.

Child developmentalists refer to this era as one of joint attention. It is shared interest—both attentional and emotional---in an object with another person and the recognition that both participants acknowledge their shared interest. Peek-a-boo games, smiling, and clapping show the normative development of surprise, fascination, and feelings of joy. These phenomena herald that the balance of emotional regulation are positive. This has monumental psychological significance because it indicates objective evidence that the infant is not experiencing its existence as insular, but rather as interpersonal and socially embedded. Here, a balance of positive and negative emotions can be seen. Distress from stranger anxiety, and pleasure from peek-a-boo, and other play are all present.

Social Referencing and “Two-ness” at Fourteen Months

By this time in the first twelve months, the infant has an awareness of itself and others, and can point out what it chooses to point toward. Later on, between ten and fourteen months when the phenomenon of social referencing becomes clear, the typical infant and toddler look toward and may approach something. They sense some ambiguity, and so look back toward parent for guidance, usually through a facial expression of approval that suggests safety or shows a need for avoidance. It is here that parental influences appear to exert strong effects on the child’s choices. Children’s behavior and preferences are now taking on a specific direction that typically becomes reinforced with further environmental tutoring over time.

Toddler’s “No” and “Two-ness”

During the toddler years, biomental maturation expresses itself in several remarkable advances: walking, speaking, and the ability to say “No.”
These developmental achievements herald a burgeoning capacity for psychological complexity, preference emergence, and more choice. Independence is emerging. The “two-ness” attitude is seen in the “black-and-white” thinking that becomes clear in the preschool and early school years. It softens as more healthy mental integration accompanies interpersonal experiences and learning over time.

Elementary and Adolescent School Age Years

In the elementary and adolescent school age years, emotions become more complex and color thought processes. Healthy integrations of these help make thought processes less rigid; greater flexibility is emerging; evaluative extremes begin to diminish though remain influential.

Can Parents Eliminate Envy by Better Parenting?

Normal child development is complex. Just as color perception has survival benefits, so does envy. Both help evaluative discrimination and making sense out of what is perceived and experienced. The regulation between positive and negative emotions in early childhood has a natural maturation yet can be facilitated by sensitive and flexible parenting. Thus, envy can become regulated and have adaptive value when changed within a balanced emotional frame of reference. Not elimination, but rather balanced integration is the goal.

This article has surveyed earliest infancy to show the development of sensing “two-ness.” While “two-ness” has cognitive dimensions (e.g., understanding objects as separate and distinct), and interpersonal dimensions (e.g., the infant gradually sensing itself as separate from mother and sensing mother and father as distinct from one another), the emotional dimension (e.g., strong feelings determining value-laden attitudes) has been emphasized.

Envy Theory proposes that envy is a primary dispositional attitude. Its deciphering template recognizes the world by first attempting to position reality into one of only two opposite ends of an emotionally laden, polarized spectrum—superior (ideal) or inferior (valueless). In typical development, almost instantaneously, attempts are made to equalize these extremes toward a view more in accord with the nuances of reality, a view less prejudiced and negatively biased. This is the mind’s natural inclination, its way of making sense out of its experience.

How Can Parents Modulate the Experience of Envy through Parenting?

Modulating the role that normative envy or the sense of "two-ness" plays in early development is possible. Parental tools to normalize envy in both infancy and childhood can be suggested. It helps to be open to considerations that normative envy is an attitude at play in very early childhood. If this idea is accepted as a reasonable proposition, guidelines can be considered. Intellectual understanding alone, however, does not give an infant with the nurturance required for healthy development. The “milk of human kindness” is a complete response from and between two human beings that transcends mere intellectualized generalizations. Valuing the goodness of this “milk” and not envying or spoiling its beneficence can challenge! Given the aforementioned, the following simplifications may be useful.

First, recognizing an infant’s innate disposition is possible and necessary, particularly early in development. Family involvement is essential. Temperamental proclivities may be clear in the neonate, and span the spectrum of active to less active, very responsive to less responsive, sensitive to less sensitive, and so forth. In the first three months, a baby’s disposition is becoming recognizable; by six months, it is much clearer. Parents can adapt their own style of parenting to suit both the infant’s needs and the interactional needs of the infant-caregivers, and parents themselves. This helps the infant to modulate its biomental rhythms spanning physiology to psychology.

Modeling and behaving in a way that shows kindness exposes infants and children to environments conducive to biomental balance and integration. Such a modulating attitude conveys equilibrium and proportion, not extremes. The healthy maturation of envy, therefore, may be given a chance to emerge as a sense of admiration and gratitude. De-emphasizing polar contrasts in value judgments, especially idealizations versus demonizations (negatively perceived “black spots”) fosters the healthy maturation of envy in powerful ways.

In childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, the conscious derivatives of envy organize and become much more recognizable and experience-near—both personally and seen in others and society. Some of the more conscious derivatives of envy are jealousy, greed, and exploitation. Envy and possessiveness are also correlated. Modulating excessive envy and the sense of “two-ness” early in life may decrease trends toward emotional dysregulation and help balance a healthy developmental trajectory.

A word of caution: developing a “sense” is the preliminary step that prepares a child for the culmination step: performance. It is only in doing, perhaps, at first, practice with motivated, voluntary intention that true refinement in empathy occurs. All this practice and “doing” occurs in the emerging character of the individual through learning from experience over the lifecycle.

These strategies may appear simple, but they foster empathy and the gradual development of perspective taking. They help children respect that a balanced world—subjective and objective--is composed of multiple points of view. These perspectives have different shades of meaning, a variety of contrasting emphases, and together comprise the brilliance that gives meaning to the human portrait. It is not the elimination of envy but its transformation into admiration, emulation, and gratitude that is an important and doable goal of effective parenting.

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