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by Daniel J. Siegel
Guilford Press, 1999
Review by James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. and Robert N. Grove, Ph.D. on Feb 7th 2003

The Developing Mind

In the Preface to this most readable and enjoyable book, Daniel Siegel puts the question, “What is the mind? How does the mind develop?”  From this point we are taken on a psychoneurobiological expedition exploring one of the oldest questions for mankind, i.e. soma vs. psyche; what is consciousness.

The beginning questions lead us to the philosophical conclusion that consciousness, i.e. mind, is something that is developed, and it is implicit in this that it is something that grows along developmental lines and is linked to some biological structures.  This question even after this book will continue to be debated in the best salons around the world.

Epistemology and eschatology set aside, this is a truly ground breaking work that is very user friendly.  Anyone with a high school education can follow the yellow brick road beginning with learning basic brain structures and understanding the need for consilience.

Consilience is at the heart of this book.  Edward O. Wilson the author of the book Consilience and the Unity of Knowledge said in an interview with David Gergen said about the word consilience: "Well, it's not a new word. It's been used for 160 years by philosophers of science, and essentially it means the way the different fields, you know, like Biology and Physics and the social sciences connect up at least in terms of the laws, the basic laws that they share together. It really goes back to a very old dream of the enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century when philosophers believed that you could unite knowledge. So consilience means really the uniting of knowledge at a fundamental level."

Siegel’s work empirically demonstrates what we have all been reading about how important attachment is and its effects in all areas of life and relationship.   However its implications for the healing of traumas that effect brain structure point toward a new appreciation of the wisdom teachings of the ages about meditative solitude.  He states,

Each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly.  Solitude is an essential experience for the mind to organize its own process and create an internal state of resonance.  In such a state, the self is able to alter its constraints by directly reducing the input form interactions with others.  As the mind goes through altering phases of needing connecting and needing solitude, the states of mind are cyclically influenced by combinations of external and internal process.  We can propose that such a shifting of focus allows the mind to achieve a balanced self-organizational flow in the states of mind across time.  Respecting the need for solitude allows the mind to “heal” itself—which in essence can be seen as releasing the natural self-organizational tendencies of the mind to create a balanced flow of states.  Solitude permits the self to reflect on engrained patterns and intentionally alter reflexive responses to external events that have been maintaining the dyadic dysfunction. (pg. 235).

As to the use of psychotherapy as a means toward repairing continuing trauma and restoring self-regulation, he states,

Within the clinical setting, the relationship of therapist and patient becomes the “external constraint” that can help produce changes in the individual’s capacity for self-organization. (pg. 242)

Huge amounts of evidence support the view that the “conscious self” is in fact a very small portion of the mind’s activity.  Perception, abstract cognition, emotional processes, memory and social interaction all appear to proceed to a great extent without the involvement of consciousness.  Most of the mind is nonconscious. … Nonconscious processing influences our behaviors, feelings and thoughts. …when processes become linked with consciousness, they can be more strategically and intentionally manipulated and the outcome of their processing can be adaptively altered.  Consciousness may allow us to become free from reflexive processing and introduce some aspect of “choice’ into our behavior. (pg.263)

The Developing Mind is a must read for professional behavioral scientists, people interested in parenting, early childhood development, neurobiology, and those who really want the empirical facts about the effects of parenting over the lifespan.  It is full of wonder and written so that anyone can understand and appreciate the wonders that consilience in the sciences are bringing to us in understanding how we arrived at who we are and what we can do to effect change at the systemic level.


© 2003 James E. de Jarnette and Robert N. Grove


James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. and Robert N. Grove, Ph.D.