The Partially Examined Life (Citizens): (Protected Content)
Radio legend and PEL fan Dr. Drew Pinsky introduces us to some psychology papers on the theory of mind and the establishment of the sense of self:
- “Attachment and reflective function: their role in self-organization” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (1997) (read it online)
- “Attachment and the regulation of the right brain” by Allan N. Schore (2000) (read it online)
- “Right-Brain Affect Regulation" by Allan N. Schore (2009) (read it online)
"Theory of Mind" is not what philosophers talk about when dealing with the philosophy of mind, but a term in psychology referring to how we impute intentions, desires, and goals to other people. Fonagy uses the term "reflective function" to describe our ability to "read people's minds," in the sense that we can predict others' behavior based on our ability to think of them as having minds. A schizophrenic, for instance, can't do this, and so everyone else is strange to him. He doesn't know how to behave as other people would want him to because he doesn't know what they want, or really think of them as wanting at all.
Much of the story here is developmental—like learning language (according to the Chomskyan picture of language acquisition at least). Reflective function is a built-in human ability, with a number of predetermined steps in its development, but individuals can vary in how it develops, and certainly things can go wrong for various reasons. Using a story that goes back to John Bowlby, Fonagy points at attachment with caregivers as a key component in the normal develop of this faculty. If our parents are attentive, then they react to us as babies as if we have minds, and in this way we figure out what having a mind is, and that both others and we ourselves have them. If this doesn't happen, we not only fail to connect with others but don't even have a coherent sense of self.
This idea that we get our own sense of self from interaction with another should be familiar to PEL listeners, and a lot of the purpose of this discussion was to reflect on some of these older philosophical ideas using modern, experimental psychology. We recommend that you check out first and foremost our episodes on Hegel's Phenomenology (#35 and #36) where we more or less introduced this topic. We gave variations on this story in our Kierkegaard, Buber, and Lacan episodes, among others. We also refer to the distinction that Sartre made between "the me" and "the I" in ep. 47 and his consequent views on freedom described in ep. 87. Another recent stab we made at discussing this confrontation with "the Other" was in our Levinas episodes (#145 and #146).
Listen to Dr. Drew's various podcasts at DrDrew.com. He has actually interviewed Allan Schore, and then more recently interviewed Wes and then Mark.
End song: "Anything but Love" by Steve Hackett, as featured on Nakedly Examined Music #45.
John Goggin says
Really enjoyed this episode. A lot of grist, both for self and societal analysis. I wonder, though, if the uptick in “associative disorders” that is mentioned, somewhat in passing, isn’t more a matter of perception than of actual increase. Seems to me that history is replete with characters whom today we would label as maladjusted. Certainly the erosion of extended families, the demise of village life, the romantic glorification of the individual over the group… all have contributed perhaps to a decline in nurturing. None of that is new.
Evan Hadkins says
From an experience with someone close to me, and who had an awfully traumatic childhood; it is the neglect that is trickier to heal. It was not as traumatic at the time, and the dealing with it is not as traumatic, but it is much harder to shift.
Some kind of re-parenting is probably needed. And organising this is very difficult, even if there were those willing and skilled enough to do it.
Jennifer Tejada says
Word. And it’s expensive.
Evan Hadkins says
Luke T says
Anecdotal evidence of children attributing a “theory of mind” to inanimate objects?
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