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Ullrich, H. (2013). The Primordial Mind in Health and Illness: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, by Michael Robbins, Routledge, London, 2011, 240 pp., $38.95.. Psychodyn. Psych., 41(4):663-666.

(2013). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 41(4):663-666

The Primordial Mind in Health and Illness: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, by Michael Robbins, Routledge, London, 2011, 240 pp., $38.95.

Review by:
Helen Ullrich, M.D., Ph.D.

Michael Robbins proposes a duality of mental activity and thought. He describes primordial mental activity (PMA) as present from the inception of life. This appears analogous to Chomsky's concept of an innate common underlying deep structure for all languages. Through the different facets of the primordial mental activity prism Michael Robbins portrays its roles in psychoanalytic theory, in different cultures, in shamanic sessions, in normal development, in dreaming, in psychopathology, and in other arenas. His case studies of a Maori shaman, the Amazonian Piraha tribe, Bob Dylan, and a patient are especially interesting and helpful in understanding varied aspects of primordial mental activity as it relates to primary process, abstract thought, shamanic trances, and psychosis.

In this book the author has met the challenge of explicating primordial mental activity in its many mutations. Distinguished from thought, Robbins regards primordial mental activity as characteristic of the unconscious, the dreaming state, the spiritual cultures, and the psychotic. Attachment relationships develop before formal thought and so belong to primordial mental activity. The many tendrils of primordial mental activity are too diffuse to comprise a coherent whole.

The classification of some cultures as spiritual is slippery, as different segments of one population may focus on abstract thought parallel to primordial mental activity, while all likely manifest both types of thought, even though particular languages such as Piraha have no means for the linguistic expression of abstract thought.

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