Charles Young

In all acts of perception and communication, emotion comes first and thought second. An intriguing scientific argument for this proposition has been proposed in a recent book, The First Idea, by Stanley Greenspan and Stuart Shanker, experts in child development and evolutionary science. Newborn babies experience the world emotionally before they learn any words, ideas or rational concepts.

According to these authors, the heart of the mysterious processes by which humans learn to think and communicate lies in that intimate space between mother and child, where a baby looks up into mother's face and the mother looks down into baby's face. In this loving space the first gifts of thought and reason, of language and culture, are given and received.


A baby a few weeks old learns the laws of cause and effect by discovering that he can make mummy smile by smiling first. In that interface, mutual readings take place where the newborn begins to learn what those inchoate feelings mean and how to think about them.