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Our need for encounter, or relation, Buber claims, can be traced back to our prenatal state. When we are inside our mother's womb we are in a state of pure natural relation. There is perfect reciprocity between the womb and the baby, a flowing in and out of vital elements. Further, the womb is the entire universe for the fetus. Once we are thrust outside of the womb, we immediately begin to yearn for another such relation—not necessarily for a relation just like the one in the womb, but a relation similarly immediate and all-encompassing. Instead of a pure natural association (a physical one) we yearn for a pure spiritual association. This yearning, present in us from birth, is what Buber calls the innate or inborn You. It is a desire to enter into relation, to say "You" to someone or something.
We can observe this inborn You, Buber tells us, by watching a developing child. A newborn baby is clearly only interested in relating, rather than in experiencing. The baby reaches his hands out even when he does not want anything such as food or comfort, he stares hard, he "talks" when no one is around to listen. These gestures cannot possibly be attempts to acquire, or to possess, since they do not aim at acquiring or possessing anything. Instead, they are attempts to relate. Encounter, then, the mode that we currently all but ignore, is actually the primary human state. Experience only comes later.
The progression from a state of pure relation to one of experience goes as follows: First the baby only relates. The baby is so immersed in relation that he does not even have any awareness of an I separate from a You. There is only the relation for him. Slowly, though, he begins to get the sense of an I, some constant that is present through all relations. Once he has developed I–consciousness, the baby can begin to experience the world. From the notion that there is an I he forms the notion that this I can be separated from things, and thus forms the notion of It, something separate, divided, something that can be utilized and analyzed and known.
Ace your assignments with our guide to I and Thou!