Not Just Lip Service

You don’t often come across an anonymous science blogger. In Googling why babies put everything into their mouths? I came across “Field Notes from an Evolutionary Psychologist” who addresses the relationship between kissing and oral learning. The author, I do not know the gender, was intrigued by a question from a relative about the affectionate, open mouthed kisses of their baby. The question it would appear is not why babies are so oral—Freud and Erikson focused on how the mouth serves the baby to survive and take in the world—the intake of food associated with the warmth and interest of the caregiver makes feeding and love deeply connected. The question is why do babies explore the world through their mouths.

I have been intrigued by this question as well—watching yesterday as Isabel and Eva both licked floors (wooden and ceramic) that were novel to them (they are carpet crawlers).

Here are some initial thoughts from the evolutionary psychologist (who is interested in seeing the connection between infant oral exploration and kissing in adults):

“Lips contain some of the highest concentrations of nerve endings found anywhere in the body, which suggests that we are programmed to derive, if not seek, much sensation from our lips. For infants, this makes nursing rewarding on a sensory level. I’d argue that infants are programmed to explore life open mouthed. Only later do we learn to associate that sensation with other kinds of physical pleasure.

Kissing of any kind is ultimately tied up with the original function of the lips – to nurse and to eat. In some cultures, mothers (and I imagine fathers too) masticate food before giving it to their babies to eat. When there is no Gerber baby jar to reach for when the baby can finally begin to have solid food and is being weaned from milk, masticating food in a parent’s mouth is a great way to solve the problem. Rather than passing masticated food to the baby with fingers that may be dirty, food is passed mouth-to-mouth. It’s easier and cleaner and very pragmatic, just the solution evolution favors.

So how then do you get from kiss-sharing food to adult romantic kisses? Originally, kisses solved an important problem of getting food, but once humans started to form pair bonds and parent with a mate, kissing took on a new ritual, that of courtship.”

What might this have to do with Kabbalah? The mouth, interestingly, is associated with the lowest of the Sefirot—that of Malchut. In class we interpret this to mean that the mouth is the vehicle of expression. Malchut refers to that which manifests in reality—be it a physical object or expression such as music, art or words. Flowing from the above discussion we can also consider that all of us first take in this world through our mouths—it is the most basic way to assimilate the world around us. As parents we might want to screech out—don’t lick that floor, but for the baby it is her way of starting from the ground up. We then can ascend through higher worlds, both physical and spiritual through the mouth—“for the love found in kisses is more precious than wine.” (Song of Songs 1:2).


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