Sunday, 27 April 2008

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A Silly, Oversimplified Theory of Mind for You to Challenge and Me to Refine I think other people think processively. Today I learned most other people don't. They neither think processively themselves nor do they think other people think processively. What do I mean? The Short Version You are more knowledgeable today than you were yesterday. I'm not characterizing the knowledge you've acquired as academic. You might only know more about the North Ryoshima Coast in Okami. That counts. No matter how hard you try to learn nothing, you acquire more knowledge every day. You have a view of the world modified by the circumstances you encounter in it. If you think X about politics and then watch CNN, Blitzer will confirm or deny the validity of X. Even though Blitzer confirmed or denied X yesterday, and even though the khokhem will continue to confirm or deny X indefinitely, every independent confirmation or denial strengthens your belief in X. Your feelings about X have changed with the acquisition of new knowledge. Happens every day. So when you write about someone else's ideas it only makes sense to treat them developmentally. To wit: "He believed Y on the morning of 2 January 1900, but that afternoon read a book about Z which modified his feelings about Y. Thus when he awoke on 3 January 1900 his belief is best characterized as Y + Z." Every day brings new modifications. Note that I write "modifications." I'm not claiming we'll all be smarter tomorrow for having lived today. The knowledge we acquired might have made us dumber by lending further credence to confirmation biases. (Tell a person the media covered a Bush initiative unkindly and they'll glower at Brian Williams for a night. Teach them to ignore evidence and they'll howl against the MSM for a lifetime.) Our knowledge develops without necessarily progressing. This is why professors cringe when you say you read their article and point you to the revised version of it in their book. Or when you say you read their book they cringe and point you to their latest article. Yet we commonly encounter and produce statements which deny this basic fact. We read that so-and-so thought such-and-such and write about this another so-and-so who thinks his predecessor disowned such-and-such and embraced this-and-that. We ignore lived perturbating in favor of artificial pat. This is my implicit theory of mind. It's why every one of my chapters tells the story of a confused person who figured it out only to lose it in the subsequent tumult. I sing of surety and its inevitable failure. The Long Version It involves Darwin and Lamarck and Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior and as the above strongly witnesses I lack the wit to tackle heady matters today. I'll try again yesterday. (When I will have been smarter.)

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