Is mind reading like print reading?

Cecilia M. Heyes & Chris D. Frith. The cultural evolution of mind reading. Science 20, June 2014. With podcast.

“It is not just a manner of speaking: “Mind reading,” or working out what others are thinking and feeling, is markedly similar to print reading. Both of these distinctly human skills recover meaning from signs, depend on dedicated cortical areas, are subject to genetically heritable disorders, show cultural variation around a universal core, and regulate how people behave. But when it comes to development, the evidence is conflicting. Some studies show that, like learning to read print, learning to read minds is a long, hard process that depends on tuition. Others indicate that even very young, nonliterate infants are already capable of mind reading. Here, we propose a resolution to this conflict. We suggest that infants are equipped with neurocognitive mechanisms that yield accurate expectations about behavior (“automatic” or “implicit” mind reading), whereas “explicit” mind reading, like literacy, is a culturally inherited skill; it is passed from one generation to the next by verbal instruction.”

Background: Theory of Mind. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Connections (via the Open University): Paul Grice’s paper Meaning and his distinction between natural and non-natural meaning seems very relevant. When we read another person’s mind from their facial expressions, for example, we seem to retrieve natural, non-conventional, meanings, which is a very different process from retrieving non-natural, conventional, meanings from speech or texts. In the Science podcast, Sara Presby asks Cecilia Heyes whether the comparison between mind reading and print reading, which is the core of the article, isn’t made at a way too general level. 

Connections: Rebecca Saxe on reading each other’s minds. MOOC on how to read … a mind.

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