Knowing Me Knowing You

I had never heard of Professor Theodore Zeldin until yesterday, when I heard him interviewed on the radio about his latest project. A Feast of Conversation is a fascinating concept: strangers gather together and are provided with a menu of conversational topics. And they simply talk to each other for three or four hours, just for the pleasure of sharing another’s mind and another’s world. It’s the antidote to speed-dating.

Professor Zeldin is promoting the kinds of conversation where we might ‘discover what it is like to be someone else, and what other people feel’. He has captured quite beautifully our innate desire to engage with the other meaningfully at an intersubjective level.

Developmental and evolutionary biologists are now talking about intersubjectivity as a survival-based, motivational drive, akin to attachment or sex. But what do we mean by intersubjectivity?

Do you sometimes feel as though you know what the other person is thinking, feeling or sensing even though they haven’t told you? Can you pick up another person’s emotional state without them explicitly stating it? Do you feel a sense of warmth or satisfaction when another person seems to get you without you having to work hard to explain yourself?

These are all experiences in the intersubjective realm: the experience of reading another’s mind, thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotional states primarily through non-verbal communications. Psychologists, biologists and neuroscientists now believe that this experience of intense intersubjectivity has what we call a regulating affect on our systems – we are left feeling calmed, settled and present through the experience of being seen and understood at a deep level.

So what has this got to do with Theodore Zeldin and his Feast of Conversation? I think Zeldin is promoting something very similar with this wonderful and unique project: encouraging us to talk and listen at a deeper level than normal will allow us to experience the vitality of engaging at the intersubjective level.

A bit like seeing a psychotherapist, in fact.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, July 4th, 2010 at 3:34 pm and is filed under Intersubjectivity, Psychotherapy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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