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Guntrip, H. (1965). Learning from Experience: By W. R. Bion. (London: Heinemann Medical Books, 1962. Pp. xii + 111. 15s.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:381-385.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:381-385

Learning from Experience: By W. R. Bion. (London: Heinemann Medical Books, 1962. Pp. xii + 111. 15s.)

Review by:
Harry Guntrip

This is a difficult book and, considering the subject, there is no reason why it should not be. Dr Bion says: 'Unfortunately obscurities exist because of my inability to make them clearer, ' but he is perhaps less than just to himself in this. He is exploring new ground, or rather old ground in a new way. When thinking ventures beyond the familiar frontiers in any subject, it is impossible to make everything clear at first. We have to begin with obscurity and only gradually can it be cleared up. This is likely to be most true when, as here, the old ground to be studied in a new way is the problem of 'thinking' itself, the function through the exercise of which we 'learn by experience'. The philosopher has long been concerned to understand the processes of rational thinking and has evolved the discipline of Logic. The psycho-analyst must go deeper. So long as the patient's thinking is reasonably rational, i.e. not too much influenced by emotions which are not realistically orientated to outer reality, it can be taken for granted in itself, and used as illustrating his problems, external and internal.

Sometimes, however, the patient's basic personality problems are revealed, or embedded in, disorders of thought itself. The logic of the philosopher no longer applies to its understanding. Bion states that 'even psycho-analysts rarely undertake cases of disturbed thought processes'. This is Bion's field of study, and he investigates it in such a way as to try to discover the very origins of the process of 'thinking'. He writes: 'This book deals with emotional experiences that are directly related both to theories of knowledge and to clinical analysis.' In a word, he seeks to go behind rational to irrational thinking, to find out how the thinking function develops ab initio within the whole of the personality. The analysis of disturbed thinking in its beginnings should show how this particular function is related to, and affected by, the total state of the whole psyche, and therefore throw much needed light on the early development of the ego. This is, in the first place, a contribution to the study of the earliest ego-development through the investigation of normal and pathological intellectual development.

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