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Newer Understanding of "Growth and Development" by the System Information Theory

In general, there are many ways to approach a problem in science, but there is only one answer. This means that there are many ways to find the true answer. "Systems information theory" is one approach, but it is rather new. This science did not exist in higher education before the World War II at least, but I believe that it is a good way to overcome reductionism and by combining it with a holistic perspective, it is possible to have a better understanding of any biological phenomena.

In this lecture, I would like to state that systems information theory can be applied to gain a better understanding of growth and development.

"Growth" simply means an increase in body size and weight body to reach an adult level. This begins in the fertilized ovum as one cell divides into two, and cells continue to divide and proliferate.

During cell proliferation, cells differentiate into specific cells with the specific functions and form organs, such as the brain, the heart, the kidney and others. In this sense, the human body is a combination of organs such as the heart, the lungs, the kidney and others. These organs are composed of specific cells and tissues. For instance, the heart is a combination of myocardial cells, endocardial cells and other cells. In this way, we can say that the human body is a system of organs.

However, the human body is not a robot made by an engineer. We have to realize the difference between a robot and the human body. The human body is self-organized based on genetic information obtained during the evolutionary process. Furthermore, during the self-organization of the body, the programs are also self-organized. The programs themselves are a combination of codes to operate the system and make it function.

For example, the heart pulsates because there is a program in the brain to repeat contraction and relaxation of the myocardial muscles to push out blood. Why do we feel pleasure when listening music we like? Because there is a neuronal system of pleasure in the brain, and the music has switched on this program to make the neuronal system function. This makes us enjoy the music and feel pleasure. The brain is the control center of the human body system.

If we look at the behavioral development of the fetus and newborn, it is possible to understand the point I want to make regarding the systems of the body and its programs. It is clear that the fetus and neonate have not received an "education" and have been subject to almost no environmental influence. Their behavior is therefore genetically determined.

Thanks to the development of medical technology such as ultrasonography, we can see behavior of fetus at a few weeks after gestation. The fetus is capable of moving its extremities, hands and legs, and the heart is pulsating. This indicates that the body is organized and its programs are also organized which enables the fetus to move its hands and legs. Of course, the hand and leg movements are probably spontaneous and reflexive, not controlled by the cerebral cortex. These movements are not made by intention to will. However, we have to admit that programs to move the hands and legs exist.

It is the same with the heart beat. There is a program that controls the heart beat which circulates blood to every part of the fetal body. We assume that this program was switched on by some inner mechanism when the basic structure of the heart was organized. And everyone knows that this pulsation continues until death.

Although the programs that control the heartbeat cannot be consciously controlled, that is, by the cerebral cortex at any stage of development, the programs of hand and leg movement come under the control of the cerebral cortex after birth as the infant grows.

I would like to relate an interesting action that has been observed in the fetus. One mother had a myoma in her uterus that protruded into the uterine cavity and restricted movement of the head of the fetus. The fetus made unsuccessful attempts to dislodge its head. Finally, the fetus rotated its head and managed to dislodge it. Of course, it cannot be said that the fetus did this consciously. It was probably a combination of the movement and a balancing of strength. However, you can see here, at least, that the fetus can combine programs, in another words, there is a program to combine programs.

When a pregnant woman watches television, a fetus at 12 weeks shows an alteration in heart rate to music. There is a system to change the heart rate, and its program is switched on by the music. Of course, I cannot say whether the fetus is capable of appreciating music. The change in the heart rate is just like a reflex, but as the human being grows, this program will come under the control of the cerebral cortex. It is possible to change the heart beat by listening to a piano sonata by Mozart or Beatles' music. This is controlled by the higher brain function, the frontal cortex and also the right hemisphere of the brain where we appreciate music.

Everyone knows that a fetus can suck its finger when it approaches 20 weeks gestation. This was substantiated by the fetoscope thirty years ago and recently by ultra-sonography. We can even observe a mark on the forehand of a newborn that is the result of sucking, a well known type of reflex. Not only the fetus, but also the neonate can suck by reflex. However, this means that there is a program for sucking, which is not under cerebral control, that is, it is not controlled at will.

However after birth, the baby starts to suck the mother's breast as it grows. Now this is done when the baby wishes to do so, that is, under the control of cerebral cortex or the higher brain function. When you are sucking juice, you are using the same program, but controlled by your voluntary action, that is by the programs of thinking in the cerebral cortex.

We have also seen ultrasonographic images of the smiling face of a fetus. I wondered about this at the beginning, but every neonatologist knows that newborns can smile, at least, they demonstrate smiling facial expressions when they are in a "pleasant state." We can say that there is a program of smiling.

Of course, few months later after birth, the baby will "smile" in response to the parent's pleasure, using the same program, but under a higher brain function. As babies grow to adulthood, the same program will be switched on by comedy and variety shows under a higher brain function and result in laughing.

When a baby is born and makes its first cry, this simultaneously initiates the program of respiration. Why the baby has cried? The following interpretation can be made that, the program of surprise as well as the program of anxiety are switched on by passing through the birth cannel and also by separation from the mother. This is clear, because when the baby is embraced by the mother or by a nurse, the baby's crying will calm down. This indicates that there are such neuronal systems and programs of mind in the brain to feel anxiety and surprise.

After the initial cry calms down, the neonate will start to look around, so we can also say that there is a program of curiosity, too.

Here I would like to introduce an interesting experiment by Dr. Flint in the United States. Newborn babies two to five days old and infants a few months old were showed various circles the same size: red, yellow, white, made with newspaper, a concentric one, and one with a face. They gazed at the red, yellow and white circles for a same length of time, at the newspaper circle and concentric circle for a longer period of time, and at the circle with the face for the longest time. This finding was interpreted to mean that the more information the object has, the longer the baby will stare or gaze at it.

The baby is therefore born as an information seeker. This is important because children use this program to study at school, of course, under higher brain control. This is the meaning of education, childcare, and parenting.

Receiving information from the environment in which they live is essential for the growth and development of children. In addition to the programs of hearing, seeing and touching as stated earlier, the baby can taste and even smell. We can therefore say that the child is born with ability to gather information from their environment, using its five senses.

The stepping reflex is an interesting model with which to consider the facts stated above. If you support a baby, and let its legs come into contact with a hard surface, the baby shows a stepping reflex, but, if this movement is viewed from the side, the baby appears to be walking. This is called a "primitive walk" and it can be said that this indicates there is a program of walking. As you know, this reflex disappears within a few months since the baby cannot support its own weight and cannot see three dimensional space. The program can thus be switched off so we can no longer demonstrate this reflex.

However, when the child reaches over 12 months, the baby will switch on the program again as it wishes or wills, that is, it is under the control of the higher brain function, so that it changes from reflex to voluntary movement. When children enter preschool or nursery school, they will start to skip and dance. The program of walking will be modified by the programs of learning, imitating, thinking, memorizing and the other higher brain functions. Any Olympic athlete uses this same program in competition after training, learning, and studying using the higher brain functions. The programs of these higher brain functions take information during training and learning and add it to the program of walking in the game.

We can say now that a child is born with basic programs of the body and mind. In addition, the child has programs of growth and development including the growth hormone secretion, digestion, metabolism and others.

When the programs of the body and mind run well, the programs of growth and development function smoothly. The baby then thrives, that is, the body and mind grow and develop well.

These programs are switched on by information, a fact well-accepted by information science. However, there are two types of information, that is, logical information and sensitive information. In order to operate the programs of mind, the sensitive information is important. This has been well established by the maternal deprivation syndrome. Tender and affectionate care and parenting, rich in good sensitive information, are essential for the growth and the development of children.

In summary, growth can be understood as the self-organization of the body system composed of organs, tissue and cells. Development can be understood as the self-organization of programs. In the beginning, all programs are genetically determined, which are diversified in a sense. These diverse programs come under cerebral control, that is, they become centrally concentrated. This means that higher brain function, namely, the cerebral cortex, particularly frontal or intelligence and logic, can control genetically determined programs. The brain plays the most important role in this cross-over from genetics to epigenetics.

(This lecture was given to a group of pediatricians in Wuhan, the People's Republic of China in September 2001.)

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