Philippe Rochat

 

On his book Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness

Cover Interview of November 25, 2009

In a nutshell

Others in Mind is a book about self-consciousness: how it originates and how it shapes our lives.  Self-consciousness is arguably the most important and revealing of all psychological issues.  Why are we so prone to guilt and embarrassment?  Why do we care so much about how others see us, about our reputation?  What are the origins of such afflictions?  The book deals with the issue of self-consciousness as a unique feature of the human psychological condition.

It is because we are members of a species that evolved the unique propensity to reflect upon the self as object of thoughts—and one that is potentially evaluated by others.  But, the argument goes, this propensity comes from a basic fear: the fear of rejection, of being socially “banned” and ostracized.

From this simple premise, I look at young children and their development, but also at many other intriguing human propensities, to see what they have to tell us about the social origins and nature of human self-consciousness.

The main idea I develop in the book is that human psychic life is predominantly determined by what we imagine others perceive of us.  We exist and gauge the worth of our existence primarily through the eyes of others.  More importantly, others also determine whether I am right to feel safe, in particular, safe of not being rejected by them.  Feeling safe is part of the “good life” and it is inseparable from the feeling of being affiliated.  The argument I propose is that it all depends on the recognition and acknowledgment of self by others.