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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Tale of Two Strategies

Shulman (1997) notes that in 1969, Westcott saw two widespread strategies that crossed all life, both biological and cultural, which Westcott labeled gerontomorphy and pedomorphy.  Pedomorphy was previously explored in the discussion of neoteny in the Extra Excursions chapter, and for our purposes,  neoteny and pedomorphy mean essentially the same thing, the retaining of youthful characteristics into adulthood.  Montagu (1983) in Growing Young lists many different neotenous traits and discusses them in detail.  [Neoteny is also discussed in more detail in the Cherishing of Childhood Extra excursion in Disneyland Extra-Extra chapter]. These traits are: the need for love, friendship, sensitivity, to think soundly, to know, to learn, to work, to organize, curiosity, the sense of wonder, playfulness, imagination, creativity, open-mindedness, flexibility, experimental-mindedness, resiliency, the sense of humor, joyfulness, laughter and tears, optimism, honesty, trust, compassionate intelligence, dance, and song (Montagu, p. 131). 

During the scene-by-scene-play of Mary Poppins, we will see the importance of some of these qualities that Mary 's teachings definitely instill, but just looking at the list, we can see that Mary Poppins uses all of them.  Montagu, discusses the importance of neoteny and says:

Instead of having their responses genetically fixed, as in other animal species, humans belong to a species, Homo sapiens, that invents its own responses; and it is out of this unique ability to invent, to improvise, to respond rather than react, to choose, that the great diversity of human cultures is born . . . . it is by the neoteny of plasticity, of malleability, adaptability, that the made-over ape became Homo sapiens and it is upon these same neotenous traits that his further evolution depends . . . . What stands clearly revealed before our eyes in the history of our species is that what has made us an evolutionary success has been our youthfulness and vigor, the willingness to explore, to challenge the orthodoxies with courage and imagination. (p. 78) ∆RC[mp1]

According to Westcott, humans are about midway between the ultimate pedomorphs, which are worms, grubs and snakes, and the ultimate gerontomorphs such as turtles, lobsters and other shellfish, and insects.  Gerontomorphs, in contrast to pedomorphs, look old when they are young, whereas pedomorphs look like the young of other species even when they are old (Shulman, 1997). 

Shulman (1997) discusses these two types of strategies in terms of different complex systems in her book Living at the Edge of Chaos, and the Gerontomorphy -- Pedomorphy table essentially summarizes her discussion in a table form. [click here to see it].  Westcott feels that different environments favor one strategy over the other, and we can see with Shulman’s help how these strategies play out in a variety of different spheres, including the dynamics between the ego and the unconscious. 

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