The Interpersonal and Emotional Beginnings of Understanding: A Review of Peter Hobson's The Cradle of Thought: Exploring the Origins of Thinking
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The Interpersonal and Emotional Beginnings of Understanding: A Review of Peter Hobson’s
The Cradle of Thought: Exploring the Origins of Thinking

Hobson's book (2002) is extremely accessible, interestingly interdisciplinary, and knowledgeable in all the right ways. He pulls together work in psychiatry, experimental psychology, and psychoanalysis in a framework that is relevant to issues in the philosophy of mind. We are told much of this in the preface, and it is true. I think it is an excellent book for students and for theorists who have an interest in, but who are not working in the specific areas of, cognitive development. I recommend it highly for those audiences. For those who are already working in these areas, and for those who are already familiar with Hobson's work, there are no surprises. As someone who has learned a good deal from Hobson and who is in substantial agreement with many of his conclusions, I read the first six chapters of the book looking for something new and exciting, but did not find it. The reader will nonetheless find clear and careful discussions of contributions from evolutionary theory, developmental psychology, and psychopathology to our understanding of the mind.

Hobson does tackle the difficult question of why we should include psychoanalysis as part of the investigation. He views psychoanalysis as a kind of experimental procedure. Like the experimentalist, the psychoanalyst "sets up an unusual situation that allows him to observe things that would otherwise remain hidden" (p. 19). What the psychoanalyst looks for in these arrangements are patterns of relationship that shape all of the patient's behavior and thought, relations with others and with herself. The analyst has to engage in something like a second-person phenomenology, examining not only the subjective [End Page 253] patterns of the patient, but also the effects (specifically the emotional effects) those patterns have on the analyst himself. The outcome of analysis, for purposes of the research project that Hobson is engaged in, is twofold. First, the psychoanalytic procedure reaches certain dimensions of thought and social relationships that seem unavailable to experimental approaches. "We find that the mind works in ways that are more complex than common sense or even experimental psychology would suggest. In particular, there are ways of thinking and relating to people that appear to be more primitive and less rational than we might suppose" (pp. 21-2). Second, psychoanalysis shows that what happens within an individual's mind is essentially related to what happens in her social relationships. The latter point, as Hobson notes, is a central theme of his book.

This is all well and good, the experimental psychologist might say, but it seems overly subjective. After all, if the data include the emotional effects that a patient might have on the investigator, how precisely can we make that scientifically objective? I think that the right answer to that question is embodied in Hobson's approach, and perhaps in who Hobson is. Hobson is himself an experimental psychologist, as well as a practicing psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. He balances the claims that he bases on psychoanalysis with results from studies (including many of his own studies) in experimental psychology and psychiatry. To put it precisely, the task is not to turn the subjective or intersubjective data from psychoanalysis into objective data, but to explore subjectivity (which is certainly part of what we want to explain) by means of a method that gets at things from a different perspective, but that is also consistent with and balanced by the more objective results of experimental science. My own doubts about psychoanalysis are somewhat mitigated by the balance that Hobson maintains throughout this book.

Chapters 2 through 6 summarize a large number of studies that ultimately make the case for the importance of intersubjectivity in the development of mental abilities. Chapter 2 explores the necessary prerequisites for the emergence of thought in infancy. Evidence found in experiments on and observations of the interaction between infants and caregivers, early imitation, and emotional relatedness supports the picture of a mix of innate and acquired aspects that move the child toward thought. Significant emphasis is devoted to the role of perception and...