Some Perspectives on Intersubjectivity

The term intersubjective usually refers to the reciprocal effect of one mind upon another. Intersubjectivity refers to the area that extends between two minds. Intersubjectivity moves beyond individual psychology, and this creates formidable conceptual problems, as we do not have concepts that help us to analyze events that occur between two individuals, constructs that describe the effect of one mind's in-tentionality upon another. We need a theoretical model that includes both intrapsychic and dyadic events.

Intersubjective communication does not require language. We share with other primates the ability to communicate future intent to other minds by means of emotional signals. In social animals, detecting the probability of the other's future intent and action is predicated on the communication of feeling. Marc Hauser (2000) observed that primates will use different acoustic parameters to convey information about their emotional states. This knowledge of the other's emotional state is essential in maintaining social relationships within a group. Knowledge of the other's in-tentionality that is obtained through vocalization is not the same as imagining another's mind. A theory of mind assumes a detection of intentionality at a higher level of complexity, such as the ability to recognize that the other has the option of making a variety of choices and can dissemble or lie. Detecting intentionality at this level of complexity, has not been shown in other primates and is lacking in those suffering from autism. Temple Grandin did not know what Romeo and Juliet were up to.

Colwyn Trevarthen (1989), a biologist turned infant researcher, believes that in the human infant an intersubjective relationship, a reciprocal responsitivity, is established shortly after birth. The mother acts particularly quiet and soft if the baby is sleeping, calming if the baby acts distressed, friendly and inviting if the baby is attentive. This reciprocity of feeling is communicated through eye contact, speech, and touch. Trevarthen describes this as protoconversation. He compared this mother-infant interaction to a musical duet. There is no doubt that the infant senses the mother's intentionality.

The reciprocity and synchronicity of feeling states between mother and infant has been intensively investigated by Beebe, Lachman, et al. (1997, 2002).2 Allan Schore (1994) has described possible neural correlates of these mother-infant interactions.

While there are extensive descriptions of the reciprocal feeling states between mother and infant, as I noted, we have not yet developed the concepts that would enable us to describe processes occurring between two separate minds in terms of events in both individuals. Are there "units" of intersubjective experience that will help us to conceptualize our knowledge of other minds? Daniel Stern (1995) has proposed a notion of such an interactive "unit," inferred from the infant's experience of its mother. Stern proposes that the infant's intentionality, when directed towards the mother, leads to intersubjectively aroused feelings that are patterned and linked to memory within a temporal sequence. For example, Stern imagines a nursing sequence in which the infant awaiting the nipple feels expectation, then arousal, followed by satiation and sleepy relaxation of tension. The events and feeling contours follow a kind of "narrative" line that he calls a protonarrative envelope. I would interpret Stern's concept to mean that the infant's intersubjective ex perience of being with the mother forms a memorial category, an early antecedent of what I call affect categories in the adult. Stern, Bruschweiler-Stern, et al. (1998) later described the similar concept of implicit relational knowledge regarding intersubjective states in adult psychotherapy.

As the detection of the other's intentionality through the communication of feeling is present in nonhuman primates as well as newborn human infants, it is safe to conclude that this is a more primitive function than our knowledge of the more complex perspectives of other minds. This suggests that in our analysis of intersubjectivity in the adult, we should think of a two-phase process. The first phase is that of selection, what captures our interest and intention. The idea of cathexis, a value-driven selection, is useful here. We know that if feelings are not communicated, it is not possible to be empathic. After a feeling has captured our attention, there is a second phase of interpretation in which the self is the point of reference. One then imaginatively feels oneself into the experience of the other.

Psychoanalysis is preeminently an intersubjective experience for both patient and analyst.3 One question to be answered is: How do shared constructions of reality emerge from two different private worlds? How are meanings mutually constructed? The psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden (1994) has coined the term the analytic third, a shared, mutually constructed subjectivity that differs from that of either participant. The analytic third is reminiscent of the technique of the "squiggle game" devised by Winnicott (1971) as a technique for interviewing children. Winnicott spontaneously draws a squiggle, which he invites the child to complete. He then responds to the child's drawing, and the game continues—the final product illustrating their shared subjectivities.

The problem of shared subjectivities has been investigated in a very different context, that of literary criticism, where shared subjectivities occur between the author and the reader of the text. The Russian philosopher/linguist Mikhail Bakhtin has called this form of intersubjectivity the "dialogical mode" (Todorov 1984). The reader's subjectivity confronts the subjectivity of the author to create a new form of understanding. It is a process not unlike that of psychoanalysis.

Iris Murdoch, in her essay The Sovereignty of the Good (1970), reminds us that there is a moral dimension present when we appraise the mind of another, that to be just we must appraise the other person accurately. Murdoch provides us with the following script. We are asked to imagine a mother-in-law who feels angry toward her daughter-in-law. The mother-in-law sees her daughter-in-law as unpolished and lacking in dignity and refinement; she is brusque and always tiresomely juvenile. Gradually, however, this appraisal alters. The mother-in-law now discovers that her daughter-in-law is not vulgar but refreshingly simple, not undignified but spontaneous, not noisy but gay, not tire-somely juvenile but delightfully youthful, and so forth.

I have taken this account as an illustration that empathy, our knowledge of other minds, is never final. Rather, it is a process that we engage in over time. This is similar to William James' pragmatic concept of truth:4 that we arrive at truth by means of trial actions over time, that a truth is made "true" by events.5 This is essentially how a psychoanalyst uses empathic knowledge to arrive at an "objective" appraisal of their patient. That knowledge is never final. This open-mindedness,6 recognition, and acceptance of individuality does have a moral dimension.

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