Have you ever saw a close friend, and you immediately deduced that there was something bothering him? Or in an early morning breakfast, you decided to avoid physical contact with your wife, because you sensed she's not in the mood?
I'm sure most of us have encountered such situations. Some call it intuition, the ability to sense the intangible, a gut feeling. But it's not! It's far stranger than that!
It's mind reading!
It's the ability to interpret one's mental state. How? Countless signs: facial expression, body language, voice tune, eye movements, etc...
It actually requires skills for us to mind read; we need to extract ourselves from our state of mind and consider the others'. But we do it so often that we take it for granted. And in some other cases, "Excessive egocentrism or inaccurate expectations can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and social conflict, but these biases also suggest useful strategies for improving mind reading in everyday life." As described by Nicholas Eple, Professor of Behavioral Science from the university of Chicago.
What the upper paragraphs described is a philosophical theory known as: Problems of the Other Mind. Allow me to present a classical example: suppose you're a 5 years old kid, and you enjoy certain type of food, say chocolate! But soon you find out that your 40 years old aunt dislikes chocolate! And it flabbergasts you! You expect everyone to like what you like, and enjoy what you enjoy. Being at that age, it's difficult to grasp the concept of diabetes. But as we grow up, we grow out of those limitations. We realize the world differences and we adopt to them. Scientific accounts indicate that by the age of 5, this problem of mind reading declines and fades away. And we understand the world better.
But suppose we did pass the age of 5, and we still face this issue. This mind reading blindness. How does that happen? Three possible cases come to my mind.
First case: Blindness; this case, is elaborately described by Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, in which he discusses how people lose their sense of the visual world and stop experiencing mental imagery altogether. I think this case is straight forward and self explanatory. Blind people will have to count on other cues to read the minds of their counterparts, like voices.
Second case: Autism; when a person suffers from a disorder of neural development which limits ,if not impairs, their social interactions. A person with that conditions lose their ability to read and understand the other minds.
Third case: out of the three cases, this one saddens me the most, before I delve in to it, I'd rather use a different approach. I'll use a proverb, an example, then I'm going to discuss the psychological aspect of the issue.
Plato said: "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." I hope the following example elaborates more:
At King Abdulaziz time, 1948 in Saudi Arabia , the radio was banned! This metal box that came from the west was considered a mockery of Allah. Religious figures dismissed it. Their fear of introducing a new concept that came from the west mind blinded them. But King Abdulaziz, in a very diplomatic approach, legalized the use of Radio in some areas of the kingdom and banned it in others to absorb the fanaticism of religious figures.
Why did religious figures oppose the use of Radio? They considered it a tool of the devil! Voices coming out of boxes wasn't a common idea back then. Furthermore, it came from the west. And it scared them. Their minds suffered blindness, not to reading people, but to understand the benefits of that talkative box.
In essence, "The Other Minds Problem" stems out from the fact we can't fathom the logic of other party's point of view. Sometimes, we refuse to put forth effort to understand the other party, we build blocks to avoid that bridge. Whether it's human beings, talking boxes like radio and television, or riding the bicycle (Yes! It was banned 70 years ago!) When an adult with a normal mind suffers from mind blindness to accept ideas, it's an indication that that person is still in a 5 years mentality, autistic mentality. Or they suffer from blindness, not in sight, but in insights. I think we dismiss new, or sometimes radical, ideas because we shut our minds. It's the equivalent of not maturing enough to understand that other people have different backgrounds, nationalities, educations, cultures, and even geographical areas. Just like the kid who couldn't understand why his aunt couldn't eat chocolate.
Some years ago, the late Nobel prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer was asked by a reporter, "Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?” The great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, "Men simply don’t think!"
When we're not 5, autistic, or blind, and we fanatically refuse new ideas, it's because we're scared. It frightens us. It's against what we grew up with. We live in a comfort zone, we cling to the conventional wisdom! Concepts we inherited from our parents and culture. And it's not easy to come out of them, but it's not healthy to adhere to them. We build virtual blocks with others, we don't evolve, we don't enjoy the luxury of human interaction.
Lets view the mental hazards stated by economist John K. Galbraith who coined and popularized the phrase "conventional wisdom" in his book The Affluent Society:
"We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem."
"So the conventional wisdom in Galbraith's view must be simple, convenient, comfortable and comforting, though not necessary true." Says Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics.
For a man to think, and perceive new ideas and concepts, a man needs to liberate himself from old conceptions, and conventional wisdoms. I can only quote here the American president Abraham Lincoln from December 1, 1862 when he stood before the congress and shared those words of wisdom:
"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."