Mind readers

People don’t know themselves, let alone others, as well as they think. Sorry, David Hume.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Duke neuroscientist Alex Rosenberg debunks a popular belief that we know our minds best.

“There is no first-person point of view.”

The way you interpret yourself may be just as faulty as the way you perceive others.

But humans aren’t the only ones with the “mind reading” faculty. Jane Goodall revealed that Apes also had their “theories of mind.” Animals are trying to guess each other’s intentions all the time.


What separates humans from other organisms is language. But heard speech is only a part of the sensory experience. We also take into account other people’s’ behavior: the way they walk, talk, and dress. We’re overconfident in our ability to guess the thoughts and actions of others, most of which is wrong. We say the same faulty things about ourselves.

“there is compelling evidence that our own self-awareness is actually just this same mind reading ability, turned around and employed on our own mind, with all the fallibility, speculation, and lack of direct evidence that bedevils mind reading as a tool for guessing at the thought and behavior of others.”

The old age rings true: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.