“In psychology and ethology, imprinting is any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior.”
“Bonding typically refers to the process of attachment that develops between romantic partners, close friends, or parents and children. This bond is characterized by emotions such as affection and trust. Any two people who spend time together may form a bond.”
These two definitions come from Wikipedia which means they were probably written by male white college grads in an urban context. Or if they were written by “experts in the field,” that rather defeats the idea that the “cloud” of everyone is providing the information. Each “category” of this project is edited or guided by someone who is considered expert in the field. As those of us who follow the materials about Native American writing know, the people who run the site can’t possibly know who is blowing smoke in any field very different from those who produce male white college grads in cities, grandiose enough to play uber-editor.
One result of this is that the illusion that rational, authority-confirmed, non-emotional thought takes priority over anything else — it is the height of sophistication and achievement. Moral judgement has been displaced to anthropology. What makes a profit is good. Read the whole entries on “imprinting” and “bonding”. Then I won’t have to deal with them directly here. Note that there is a lot of amusing self-serving going on. For instance, the phenomenon called “baby duck syndrome” that means people who are imprinted with the first computer system they use and have difficulty accepting anything different. Maybe that’s why everything keeps reverting to Facebook standards and practises.
The points I want to make here are that these are involuntary responses of human bodies, closely controlled to time-spans in the process of maturation, and usually entirely unconscious to the person being imprinted or bonded and yet of enormous importance to their course of life, their very survival.
These two processes are primally but not primarily mammalian. Imprinting was recognized first in chickens and ducks and seems to be adaptive as a mechanism for taking babies out of their nests without losing them — they imprint with the mother which means following her. She also imprints them on herself, so she doesn’t acquire a following of babies not her own. Cross-species imprinting is possible and leads to strange events that fascinate humans, who — like Romeo and Juliet — can imprint with forbidden people.
One of the cruelest consequences of early childhood abuse and neglect is the destruction of the ability to imprint. Like learning language, the brain will only allow this to form (it must be molecular) for a certain part of development. No one knows how to reinstate the ability to imprint on a caregiver at a later time. No one knows the relationship between the formation of fetishes and maturational imprinting.
If a human child never imprints with a specific caregiver, how will he or she have the ability to leave the holding environment of the nest without getting lost. Won’t he or she just never realize that one path is better than another or never think of going home, wandering through life without regard for danger or sustenance?
Or many neglected children will imprint on the neglecter, so they are at the mercy of blotto drunkards or addicts, vicious sociopaths who torture in their search for feeling something, or always through life trying to save people, consuming their energy in that effort and offending people who don’t WANT to be taken care of. To people who have never experienced skillful and generous caretaking, this pseudo-parenting can feel like invasive attachment, energy-parasitism, and bondage.
Imprinting is automatic, carried genetically in the “clocks” that turn maturation tasks on and off, and not conscious while it’s happening, though it can be recognized by others or by one’s self after the passage of time.
Bonding is very much conscious and is produced by spending time together, interacting and sharing. It is not necessarily sexual, but can be intensely so. It can be one-sided, one person being bonded (possibly imprinted) without the other person’s cooperation or even consciousness. One can become “bonded” with a movie star who isn’t even present, just by watching him or her talk to you on a screen or from a pulpit.
The modern novels that so consume everyone are most often centered on these issues in all the variations that are possible. We know how intensely humans can bond with animals and I think environments or structures, which are inanimate and therefore incapable of bonding, can be the receivers of this attachment response. Bonding is something physical but also emotional, but not described as rational or logical. Mr. Spock bonds with humans, but presumably in a limited way.
Bonding can arouse jealousy and competition, esp. if there is a sexual element. But marriage to strangers, maybe chosen by parents or maybe in unhappy ways like capture or bought or politically forced, can become a relationship of bonding after time has passed.
Bonding is a form of bondage, of restraint by belonging, and therefore both a capture and a support. This can be physically acted out, as a sexual interaction, or more commonly as a necessity in child-raising. This thinking leads into a discussion of boundaries, when it is a matter of safety and when it must allow exploration. It also becomes part of the consideration of treating insanity.
But I want to return to imprinting and those who have been deprived of the ability to imprint because the time window has closed. Is it possible to achieve an equivalent to imprinting by providing a new “nest” and persuading the nestlings to bond with a provider, a form of salvation by Love? In my experience human beings, esp. those still pliable, have a drive to live, to find balance and resources, is as strong and founded in neurology as the phototrophic drive of plants to grow. The dandelion that cracks the asphalt overhead, “the force that through the green fuse drives” are very strong.
We know the wonderful stories of migratory birds raised in captivity without parents who are imprinted by humans and their ultralight aircraft who know the way. These images, “imprinted” indelibly on us, show how involuntary connection can become bonding (love) that supports ancient patterns of flight through life across the planet.
This way of thinking is nothing like the dominating, stage-formulating, benchmarking, testing, profiteering of academia, politics, denominations and other institutional profit-makers. It has to be done almost covertly to escape meddling that shuts it down. We just begin to realize it.