Altering Fate

Why the Past Does Not Predict the Future

Michael Lewis

Paperback
Paperback
July 13, 1998
ISBN 9781572303713
Price: $32.00
238 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
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On the psychoanalyst's couch...in the Head Start classroom...whether teasing out the mysteries of our own past or trying to brighten our children's future, few of us question the pervasive belief that early childhood exerts an inordinate power over adult achievements, relationships and mental health. Once robbed of our potential by the psychic wounds of infancy or the inadequacies of our upbringing, the theory goes, we risk being trapped in maladaptive patterns and unfulfilling lives. But does early experience really seal our fate? Daring to challenge prevailing models of child development, this provocative book persuasively argues that childhood experiences neither determine who we later become nor limit what we can do. Just as our world is unpredictable in nature, Lewis argues, so too is the course of our lives. What enables us to survive—and sets us free from our pasts—is our astonishing adaptability to change, shaped by the uniquely human attributes of consciousness, will, and desire. With insights from psychology, philosophy, education, and science, this book puts forward a compelling new vision of how we become who we are and raises vital implications for clinical interventions and social policy affecting children.

Few people question the pervasive belief that earlychildhood exerts an inordinate power over adult achievements, relationships, and mental health. Once robbed of our potential by the inadequacies of our upbringing, the theory goes, we risk being trapped in maladaptive patterns and unfulfilling lives. But does early experience really seal our fate? Daring to challenge prevailing models of child development, this provocative book argues that what enables us to survive—and sets us free from our pasts—is our astonishing adaptability to change, shaped by the uniquely human attributes of consciousness, will, and desire. With vital social policy implications, this book puts forward a compelling new vision of how we become who we are.

“Altering Fate will rattle the fixtures—in psychology, public policy, and in daily life. Here is a provocative and compelling challenge to the popular presumption of fixed paths of development. With high style and scholarly integrity, Lewis not only demonstrates the problems inherent in the current constructions of our life trajectories, but opens us to the manifold potentials of a more contextual, fluid and protean view of human nature.”

—Kenneth Gergen, PhD, Mustin Professor of Psychology, Swarthmore College, author of Saturated Self


Altering Fate is a stunning book. It is daring and well-informed in its rejection and refutation of simple 'causal' models of human development, but the objective of the book is not just to establish an alternative 'contextualist' view. Michael Lewis's aim is much more humane than that. It is to argue for human meaning making, self-construction, and consciousness as central in human development. And he argues with skill, with detailed knowledge, and with a deep sense of moral responsibility. This book speaks not only to professional psychologists, but to anybody trying to understand how the theories of development we construct change not only our public policies, but our personal interaction with the young. Bravo!”

—Jerome Bruner, PhD, Research Professor of Psychology; Senior Research Fellow in Law, New York University, author of Acts of Meaning


“In a rich, rewarding, intellectual odyssey, Lewis challenges the orthodox paradigm of psychological development. Engaging in an exciting, but logical intellectual adventure, he exposes the myth of continuous development as little more than our need as selves to believe in continuity. Concepts of traditional development characterized by linearity, gradualism, causality and direction towards a goal, are shown to be sterile. Lewis substitutes a fertile, 'contextual' model, involving the dynamic interaction of individual and environment in an adaptive, ongoing process. His exciting formulation leads to a radical reorientation of programs for social action. This literary, aesthetically pleasing work will educate laymen and scientists alike.”

—Ira B. Black, MD, author of Information in the Brain: A Molecular Perspective

Table of Contents

Preface

1. Chance and Necessity

2. Three Fixed Ideas

3. Traditional Models of Change

4. Development in Context

5. Progress and the Metaphor of Development

6. Behavior Serves Many Masters

7. Newton, Einstein, Piaget, and the Self

8. Consciousness and Being

9. Adaptation and the Nature of Social Life

10. Time, Sudden Change, and Catastrophe

11. Cure or Care


About the Author

Michael Lewis, PhD, is University Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Director of the Institute for the Study of Child Development at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He is also Professor of Psychology, Education, Cognitive Science, Biomedical Engineering, and Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where he serves on the Executive Committee of the Center for Cognitive Science and is an Associate of the Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Education. Dr. Lewis is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and is currently in the top 1.5% of scientists referenced in the Social Science Index. He is a recipient of the Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society from the APA, the Hedi Levenback Pioneer Award from the New York Zero-to-Three Network, and the Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award from the Society for Research in Child Development. Dr. Lewis has published over 450 journal articles and book chapters and 35 books, includingThe Rise of Consciousness and the Development of Emotional Life,which won the William James Book Award from APA Division 1 (Society for General Psychology),Social Cognition and the Acquisition of Self,Children's Emotions and Moods,Shame: The Exposed Self, andAltering Fate.

Audience

Anyone interested in childhood experience and its impact on adult life. Serves as supplemental reading for developmental and clinical psychology courses.

Course Use

Serves as supplemental reading for developmental and clinical psychology courses.