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The Theory of Mind Myth

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The Theory of Mind Myth


Sometimes even the experts are unable to decide between a murder and a suicide. Then it must be a joke when somebody says that he/she can see inside the minds of others.

    Robert Burton a well-known Neurologist mentioned some things about the same in his book “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves” (2013). He wrote:

‘I don’t understand what you think that I’m saying.’

A gunman after being involved in a mass shooting in his neighbourhoods is reported by the media, his stunned neighbours tell them that he was a good, kind man. Meanwhile, his former classmates and co-workers describe him as a ticking bomb. Pundits ask to show some human behaviour while mentioning the attribution to a Twitter tirade caused by Donald Trump's unbridled narcissism or a man with a heartfelt mission to make America great again. A common assumption can be made with a reasonable degree of accuracy that what is going on in other's mind. This ability to understand to that others have separate minds containing different beliefs, desires and intentions, all this cumulatively distinguish us from other creatures.

By nature, we are character analysts, behavioural policemen, admirer and haters. We defend ourselves against contrarians. The tendency of mind reading on a basis of daily interpersonal interactions, makes a person to judge others on a mercy of our thoughts about others.

The fate of democracy depends on our ability to grasp and accept differing mindsets. We accuse those with conflicting opinions of having character defects, subliminal prejudices, faulty education, cultural brainwashing and a myriad of other ‘if only they knew better’ flaws of reasoning. But what if we really aren't capable of a sophisticated reading of other minds?

First experiment: (mirror neurons)

Like everyday experiments, A psychologist presents a child with two hand puppets – Sally (who has a basket) and Anne (who has a box). Sally puts a marble in her basket, and leaves the room. While Sally is away, Anne takes the marble from the basket, and hides it in her box. Finally, Sally returns to the room, and the child is asked where Sally will look for her marble. By around age four, most children recognise that Sally will look in her basket (where she last had the marble), not in Anne’s box. Absent neurodevelopmental abnormalities such as autism, this universal ability of young children to pass various versions of the Sally-Anne test is frequently cited by cognitive scientists as unequivocal evidence that we can know the minds of others. Recently some theories came up about how our brain might accomplish this. Italian neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti and colleagues discovered that when rhesus macaque monkeys observes a researcher reaching out for a peanut – as long as the monkey believes that the gesture is intentional and that the experimenter planner to eat the peanut. Since the same cells fire both when initiating and observing an action, they have been labeled ‘mirror neurons’; collectively, the network is called the ‘mirror neuron system’. Researchers postulated that the mirror neuron system could detect intention- and that the monkeys possess  a theory of mind. V S Ramachandran asserted that mirror neurons would ‘do for psychology what DNA did for biology.

Second (General)

Marco Lacoboni, a neuroscientist  in Los Angeles and a pioneer in the mirror neuron work, said the system operated at the basic level of recognizing simple intentions and actions. Accordingly a diversity of mental states can generate that same motor action.

First TED lecture about ToM

Rebecca Saxe at MIT in her 2009 TED lecture argues that the right temporoparietal  junction (rTPJ)- is almost completely specialized. Differences in this brain region can explain differences in adults in how we think about and judge other people.         Damaging the region via stoke or brain tumour can result in disordered self-awareness, even lack of recognition of paralysis. Despite this, according to Jean Decety, a cognitive scientist at the University of Chicago, a properly operating rTPJ is also necessary for us to distinguish ourselves from others.



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