A cover I did for the McGill Chaplaincy in 2005.
Nas said, ‘born alone, die alone’. That never quite made sense to me. You’re born with family, at least your mother, and you hopefully go out the same way. Even if family misses the death, that’s why we have funerals. Humans are a deeply altruistic species. Hence the word, altricial.
Altricial means ‘requiring nourishment’. It refers to species where the babies are born helpless, like humans. I read it in Religion And Human Evolution, where I think Mr. Bellah is getting around to saying that the virtual reality of religion is rooted in the childhood virtual reality of play.
In his analysis, play only takes place in a ‘relaxed field’, one without the dire consequences of survival. This is only possible with parental support. Anyways, here’s Bellah on the word altricial:
Humans are an altricial species, that is, unlike precocial animals, the young are born helpless, in a sense “premature”, because developments that would have taken place in the womb are completed after birth in a state that needs constant parental care…
Great ape babies, whose mothers share their care with no others, have the capacity for a kind of direct emotional relation to their mothers, especially in their first few weeks of life, but never learn to generalize that capacity to others and even lose it in relation to their mothers at an early age. [note, this also happens to cats. Alex’s mother and him were chummy and then fighting when he grew up]
Human babies, from the beginning cared for not only by mothers, but by mothers’ mothers, aunts, older female siblings, and possibly even nonrelatives, do not lose this capacity for close emotional synchronization with others but go on developing and generalizing it.
I’m jumping ahead in the book, but I think Bellah is connecting this type of play to ritual, and the generalization of emotion from mother to family to humanity and finally, the higher love, God, in whatever aspect. ie, the ultimate abstraction of love.
So, to return to the word, altricial child-rearing can lead to altruistic adults. Not sure if the words are intrinsically related, but I think the concepts are.