Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Theory of Mind and Human Self-Creation

I have a whole lot of thoughts that I'm struggling to sort.

The main thing on my mind is theory of mind.

What is the mind? How does it work?

The American philosophy I have read primarily addresses the second question.

There are two main answers.

1. The mind works by internally simulating the thoughts of other people from the evidence available to them. I.E. The mind works through empathy and extended forms of empathy. We reconstruct other people's thoughts in our own minds through their expressions, gestures, and words.

2. The mind works by drawing on tacit psychological theories. We are all naive psychologists that make inferences about other people's behavior. We are all use a process that is intuitive but if made explicit resembles the deductive logic used by scientists.

This is a fascinating divide. How could these two properties exist in the same mind? Well, it seems to me that both of these mental properties could easily exist within the human mind. We have mirror neurons, we have the capacity for empathy. But we also have language and the ability to generalize. We have the ability to label people and to make generalizations about other people. Language is such a fucking bitch. It is so confusing. It blurs the line between natural and constructed in the weirdest god damn ways.

So, my problem: I am convinced that both of these things are natural properties of the human mind. We are capable of empathizing. We are capable of generalizing and labeling. So what to do? What the fuck are we going to do?

Because, frankly, I think labeling is really fucking dangerous. To be comfortable with labels is to be lost. To think that your categories are accurate is to be fooled. And sure, I am hyperbolizing here. No doubt. But still, I think that we are way too comfortable with out labels. They rationalize inequality and disengaged behavior.

I think the solution to this problem lies in the notion of human self-creation. Because the truth is we can't accept our labels as facts. Instead, we need to embrace a certain epistemological view advanced by Ian Hacking, Roger Smith and Foucault: we need to accept that our nature is constituted primarily by what we say we are. We need to understand that human knowledge is reflexive. That we become what we say we are. That we create ourselves through the narratives that we construct about ourselves.

This is a way to temper the divide between theory-theory and simulation theory. We need to see that our empathy (simulation) is always grounded in a world of abstract (theoretical) concepts. And that by modifying our personal narratives we will be modifying the theory of ourselves, and thus modifying the way that we empathize with others.

In short, if we are willing to rethinking the ways that we conceptualize ourselves and others we will be able to revolutionize the way that we empathize with ourselves and others. If we take the time to create ourselves through narratives then we will be able to empathize with ourselves in new ways.

I have been drinking and all of this is unclear. But there is something very serious happening with these ideas. Simulation theory, theory-theory, and the notion of reflexivity have huge implications.

I am freaking out.

My mind is sorting.

And I will fucking sort.

I swear. I really do.

I'll figure something out someday.


I cannot express my emotions intensely enough.

Philosophy makes me insane.

Work makes me insane.

I am so emotional and so full of thoughts.

My mind goes through such strange fits of twirling and moving,

Why is philosophy taken so lightly?

Shall I flip out more?

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