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II: The Science of Mind

William James and John Dewey prefigure our current understanding of neuroplasticity in their formulations of experiential learning, growth, and adaptation, believing that the expansion of experience fosters the development of the brain throughout life. Some scholars speak of the pragmatic philosophers as America’s first cognitive neuroscientists, rediscovering the ways in which their conceptions of experience, learning, knowledge, and relational life anticipate fundamental developments in the science of mind.1

The fields of neuroscience continue to enlarge our understanding of growth and resilience across the course of life. Researchers have come to appreciate the role of nature and nurture in development, and we continue to discover the ways in which genetic action and experiential opportunities in the social surround shape the maturation of the brain and mind. We increasingly recognize the properties of neuroplasticity and the crucial role of relational life and experiential learning in the ongoing growth and integration of neural networks thought to underlie resilience, health, and well-being. The structure and function of the brain, shaped by experiential opportunities in the social surround, is unique to each individual. Conceptual syntheses bridging findings in the fields of genetics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and cultural anthropology promise to strengthen our understanding of therapeutic action across the foundational schools of thought in contemporary psychotherapy.

I explore the implications of recent work in the science of mind for clinical practice in the second part of the book, showing how orienting perspectives deepen our understanding of therapeutic action in accord with the principles and values of clinical pragmatism. I begin Chapter 2 with a brief account of recent treatments of brain and mind in the philosophy of science and show how the pluralist orientation and the humanistic values of pragmatic thought allow us to think of ourselves as physical, mental, and relational beings without recourse to a reductive materialism, bridging biological, psychological, and social realms of experience. Although educators have increasingly realized the relevance of neuroscientific research for therapeutic practice, many clinical training programs fail to address the biology of mind in their curricula. In the following section I outline our current understanding of the dynamics of neural development and describe the core structures and functions of the brain. Finally, I review conceptual syntheses and empirical findings in the field of interpersonal neurobiology that earn' particular relevance for psychotherapy, expanding our understanding of the dynamics of attachment and basic forms of memory.

In Chapter 3 I explore recent developments in our understanding of neuroplasticity and describe domains of neural integration that shape concepts of therapeutic action in the field of interpersonal neurobiolog}', drawing on the preceding overview of the brain. I introduce working hypotheses about the ways in which the core activities and processes of psychotherapy facilitate change and growth in light of the dynamics of brain function. While we must regard these proposals as partial and provisional, they offer points of reference in ongoing efforts to bridge the domains of neuroscience and psychotherapy, helping us consider the “cash value” of ideas and research findings.

The overviews in Part II provide orienting perspectives as we consider concepts of therapeutic action in Part III, exploring points of connection between neuroscience and the ways in which the facilitating processes and experiential learning of psychotherapy are thought to foster change and growth. As we will see, emerging lines of study in the science of mind reaffirm the crucial role of theoretical pluralism and diverse forms of therapeutic action in accord with the basic principles of clinical pragmatism.


1 John Shook and Tibor Solymosi characterize pragmatism as a perennial philosophy “precisely because its core views on experience, cognition, learning, knowledge, values, psychological and education development, interpersonal relationships, and social organization enjoy regular confirmation by evolutionär}' biology, developmental psycholog}', experimental sociolog}’, and the brain sciences including recent developments in neuroscience” (Shook & Solymosi, 2014, p. 1).


Shook, J. & Solymosi, T. (2014). Pragmatist neurophilosophy: American philosophy and the brain. London: Bloomsbury.

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