Happiness: A Theory — Getting it Wrong about Others

Why do we get it wrong in ascribing motives to others?  Our brains seem prewired to guess at the mental states of others, and mirror neurons appear to play a role.  Without mirror neurons, we would be blind to the actions intentions and emotions of other people, says neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni.

Schizophrenic patients ascribe the voices they hear to third parties.  Autistic individuals have a hard time discerning the mental states of other people.   Dolphins may have an enhanced capacity to intuit the mental states of their peers, addressing a problem solved elsewhere through language acquisition.   Mirror neurons may play a role in language evolution and acquisition.  Mimesis seems to be part of our essence.  When we observe others perform an activity, we prime ourselves for like behavior.

The stage is set for getting it wrong on a massive scale.

Brains appear to need other brains to be what they are:  survival and social devices that moonlight as conduits for knowledge.  Brains don’t seem to become what they are until they engage in feedback loops, chief among them, interaction with others.  One difference between brains and computers is computational devices seem unable to care about what is going on.  Brains do care, enlisting emotional pathways that not only give impetus to thinking, they push our thoughts in directions skewed by assumptions like, these people think the way I do.


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