Read My Mind: Actually Don’t

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Savarese and Zunshine argue that theory of mind or mindreading is the involved cognitive adaptation that prompts us to explain observable behavior as caused by unobservable mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, and intentions (21). Savarese and Zunshine make a valid argument that mindreading “limits our perception”, however, it can also allow one to attempt to understand the other. I think that mindreading should be viewed as a way of empathizing and resonating with each other rather than as something that is used to essentialize the other. This is quite evident in Alberto Rios’ short story “The Back of My Own Head in a Crowd”. The main protagonist misses her husband who has somehow disappeared and finds him in the memories they shared. The story is complicated with the multiplicity of the self, which is found in others, including inanimate objects. This deeply represents the ways in which we interact with the world by forming connections between ourselves and the people or things around us. This connects to Theory of mind because in a way, this mental assessing of the other can be viewed as searching for ourselves or our own mentality in them.

It we inspect the way that we assess literature and the relationship of readers to characters and reading the mind of those characters or even the authors themselves, we can gain insight about a text, certain period, or people in doing this. In the case of someone who has a disability within the autism spectrum or otherwise, those who are unable to share their experiences may only be able to understand such people through theory of mind. There is the “dark side” to mindreading but there is also a side that allows us to coexist; it helps us to relate to the other. ‘

That being said, I really am torn because I also agree with the serious danger of essentializing that presents itself as “mindblindness”. This is actually evident in the aftermath of the recent election. Trump is now the president of America and he has put himself in a position to represent many of the things wrong with the world i.e. racism, prejudice, misogyny, bigotry, etc. While these traits may be desirable to many (of course…), the more rational population will likely assume that anyone who supports Trump, possesses or supports at the very least, such qualities as his. This is where tension arises between trying to understand for the sake of the other or for the sake of creating labels. For instance, in “Bartleby”, the Lawyer is very observant of the character, Bartleby, and even praises himself for being so good to someone who is so different. He labels Bartleby by saying, “I think he’s a little deranged” (237). This is a great example of how theory of mind can be misused. The lawyer is not trying to understand Bartleby, but diagnose his difference.

However, it is possible that the dangers of theory of mind or more specifically “mindblindness” can be pacifies by the good it can do in understanding each other.