How Do You Read The Mind Of A Mind Reader?

You’ve read the title of this post and now you’re probably wondering “how CAN you read the mind of a mind reader?” Perhaps we just know the mind reader well enough to know what they’re thinking or is there actually a cognitive science behind this? You have questions. I have answers.

While scrolling through my twitter, I stumbled upon this tweet by Stephen Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University, and I wanted to learn more.

This article, which is located within the tweet, talks about understanding common knowledge. Understanding common knowledge helps us understand others, which also makes it easier for us to know what others might, or are, thinking. “Steven Pinker examines how people use ‘common knowledge’ — the shared understanding in which two or more people know something, know that the other one knows, know the other one knows that they know, and so on — to coordinate their actions, and how people’s efforts to cooperate may fail without this infinite level of shared beliefs.”

Another article I found states that there are two different accounts of mind-reading. “According to `theory theory’, mental states are represented as inferred posits of a naive theory. According to `simulation theory’, other people’s mental states are represented by adopting their perspective: by tracking or matching their states with resonant states of one’s own.” The fact that observers take part in motor facilitation in the same groups of muscles as those used by target agents, and the activity of mirror neurons, are both findings that go with the “simulation theory.” However, these same findings would NOT be predicted by “theory theory.”

As stated in the first article, people use common knowledge to “coordinate their actions, and how people’s efforts to cooperate may fail without this infinite level or shared beliefs.” Different levels of common knowledge affect coordination.

In this study, cooperation levels were higher under different conditions. For instance, there was about 50 percent cooperation with shared knowledge and about 85 percept cooperation with common knowledge. Take note though that “the effects of common knowledge, however, are hardly limited to the type of economic games described in the study.”

There is evidence seen in these coordination problems everywhere. This study also states that emotions such as guilt or pride, are more sensitive to common knowledge and that other emotions such as blushing or crying are built around the idea. So, really, all of these factors play a role in our ability to read the mind of anyone, including the mind of a mind reader.


3 thoughts on “How Do You Read The Mind Of A Mind Reader?

  1. mturney

    I found this creative taking a topic to talk about the blog you found on twitter! It makes perfect sense that by understanding common knowledge helps us understand other people. When we even know common knowledge about your friends, you can automatically guess what they are thinking. If my friend Allie saw a sheltie on campus walk, I would know she would be thinking of her sheltie, Archie, and maybe say “Awh I miss Archie” just by knowing what type of dog she has at home. It’s like a read her mind! Fascinating.

  2. amarti22

    Wouldnt reading the mind of a mind reader make you a mind reader yourself?
    That picture…I want it in my room now.

  3. kharner

    Cool! I think this has a lot to do with empathy. We all have those friends who just KNOW when something is wrong or when you are sad. Some people are more naturally attuned to the needs and thoughts of others, so it is sort of like “reading a mind”. However, empathy has to do with what people are feeling, not the specifics of their thoughts. So that has limits.

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